Twenty-one years and nine days ago, Carlton Fisk signed a one-year/$1.3 million contract, making him the highest-paid catcher in American League history. Sunday, the sports world took a brief detour from a wacky NCAA tournament when word surfaced that the Twins’ Joe Mauer did the same.
Only, Mauer’s record-breaking deal is worth $184 million and spans eight years. The average annual salary of the agreement is $23M, which Mauer will reportedly earn in an equal amount each season, with no front-loading or back-loading. It also includes a full no-trade clause.
The length and salary of the deal are unprecedented. It will make Mauer the highest-paid catcher in the history of Major League Baseball, with the next-closest competition being nearly one-hundred million dollars less – Mike Piazza earned $91 million with the Mets from 1999-2005.
Before Sunday, Jorge Posada was the game’s highest-paid backstop, earning $13.1M per season in a pact that ends after the 2011 season.
The Twins, a notoriously frugal organization, have allowed stars like Johan Santana and Torii Hunter to walk in recent years via free agency and an inability to open the checkbook. Since 2000, the team’s highest payroll in a single season was $71 millon; the Phillies have topped that number six times over the past nine years.
However, extending Mauer, a Saint Paul product, was a necessity. All things considered, he will likely go down as the best player in team history. Prior to 2006, no catcher had ever won an American League batting title. Since that time, Mauer has won three.
At his position, Mauer is an incomparable offensive threat and an above-average fielder in terms of holding runners in check. He has thrown out 38% of would-be base stealers in his career en route to two Gold Gloves (if you’re into meaningless defensive awards that only truly go to good offensive players.)
Eight years/184 million dollars is a huge investment for any team to make and it carries significant risk, given the rapid deterioration and decline that catchers face. In the crouch, knees take a beating, which, more often than not, results in worse baserunning and offensive output. Mauer, though, is built differently than most catchers – his 6’5, 225 lb. frame gives him the look of a player who could succeed anywhere on the diamond.
Keep in mind, this is the American League we’re talking about. Mauer can potentially be DH’ed on occasion for protection, and if, by year eight of the deal, he can no longer effectively field his position, a move to first base (if Justin Morneau is no longer a roadblock) or full-time designated hitter would be likely.
Simply put, Mauer’s other-wordly offensive prowess makes the record-breaking contract a sound investment, whether or not he mans the plate for the duration of it.
Chooch > Mauer
The lone flaw of Mauer’s game is his average-to-below average ability to block balls in the dirt, an area in which our beloved Chooch excels, as evidenced by his 2nd and 3rd place finishes found here. (Courtesy of Beyond the Boxscore, with an additional thanks to Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley for the link.) Defensive metrics which measure a catcher’s ability to block balls are few and far between, with these lists being an early attempt. While they appear valid in terms of results, this is not a “be-all, end-all” compilation.
(Just kidding on the sub-head…or am I?)