The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen believes that catcher Joe Mauer is on the verge of signing a long-term extension with his hometown Twins.
Born and raised in the Twin Cities, the 26-year-old Mauer was the first -overall pick in the 2001 draft. He quickly became a fan favorite at the Metrodome and rapidly rose to elite status in the majors. Mauer was the American League’s MVP last season after a brilliant offensive campaign, highlighted by a .365 batting average, 28 homers and 1.031 OPS.
Due to hit free agency after the coming season, Mauer would be the hottest commodity on the market. It’s not a stretch to think that he might become baseball’s next $200 million man, if a team is fully convinced that his 6-foot-5, 225 pound frame will hold up behind the plate long-term.
However, the Twins — set to move into their new ballpark, Target Field — are determined to keep the face of their franchise in the city that he has called home since birth. According to Christensen, some sources believe that the mutual interest between GM Bill Smith and Mauer may have already resulted in an agreement on the framework of a blockbuster extension.
If Mauer and the Twins are able to finalize a contract, the star-studded group of players whose contracts expire after the coming season will lose its leader. And the ramifications could be felt immediately.
Mauer is believed to be coveted by big-market teams across baseball, including the Red Sox, whose incumbent backstop, Victor Martinez, is also a year away from free agency. If Mauer comes off the market, GM Theo Epstein will likely feel pressured to ensure that the 31-year-old V-Mart says in Boston beyond the 2010 season.
Martinez amassed a terrific .336 batting average and .915 OPS in 56 games with Boston after being acquired from the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline. Though he is considered a below-average defensive catcher, the switch-hitter is among the elite run-producers at the position, and he developed strong chemistry with the Red Sox pitching staff during his first few months in Boston.
There are a few prospects with the potential to blossom into solid catchers of the future for the Red Sox, but letting Martinez walk and relying on Luis Exposito, Mark Wagner or Tim Federowicz to progress enough to take over as the full-time backstop for Boston in 2011 would be a risky strategy for Epstein.
Hence, if the Twins go to great lengths to keep their star catcher at home, expect the Red Sox to eventually do the same with theirs.
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