Monday, November 11, 2013

Joe Mauer to First: My Thoughts

Joe Mauer is moving to first base.  His concussion last season is the likely impetus, but this move was probably on the horizon anyway.   He is getting older and his offense is good enough that he can remain productive at a different position.  I actually addressed this move in my November mailbag, mostly because I have crazy foresight.  Here is what I wrote:

Would you move Joe Mauer to first base to alleviate any potential concussion issues going forward?

Brad S., St. Paul, MN

Thanks for reading!  First, moving Mauer to first will not remove all risk of a concussion.  The Twins used to have this guy named Justin Morneau.  He was a former MVP and he played first for the Twins for like a decade.  I think he played for Pittsburgh most recently.  Anyway, he actually was injured while running the bases, so he could have been a DH and still gotten a concussion. 

Now, the risk of getting a concussion is still higher behind the plate.  So yes, I would move him to first.  A, first base is open right now.  B, the Twins have a reasonable replacement at catcher in Josmil Pinto.  C,  Mauer may not hit a lot of home runs, but his .476 slugging percentage would have been sixth among qualified catchers.  D, Mauer would be able to play more games at first than at catcher.  E, if Miguel Sano breaks camp with the Twins (and I think he will), there will be plenty of over-the-fence power at the other corner.

"F, you're a gimp."

Maybe so, but this is a low risk move and I'd do it right now. 

Now, the Wayne's World reference might not be super relevant.  The movie is over 20 years old, which is crazy.  However, since that historic response was written, one thing has changed.  Miguel Sano has a strained UCL that doesn't require surgery right now.  This has to affect his chances at making the team next year.  Therefore, the Twins might go into 2014 with Trevor Plouffe at the other corner.  This is not something I personally want to see, but it might not affect the overall production from the lineup that much.  

Plouffe had a 94 OPS+ last season.  Not exciting, but I think it would be unreasonable to expect Sano to top that as a 21-year-old rookie.  Thus, Mauer at first and Plouffe at third won't be that much different than I predicted in my response.  

There are many other Twins players affected by Mauer's move to first.  

First, Chris Colabello and Chris Parmelee are no longer in the running for the first base job.  If Mauer is healthy, he's going to be at first 90% of the time.  Both Colabello and Parmelee can play outfield, but the Twins' outfield is getting pretty crowded.  Neither guy can play center and Oswaldo Arcia is going to play one of the corners.  Of course, the DH spot can be used too.  That leaves two spots for Colabello, Parmelee, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit.

Willingham and Doumit should both play DH, but playing two designated hitters at the same time is illegal.  If the Twins can't trade one of those guys, then Willingham stays in left and Doumit becomes the DH.  Colabello might be a bench guy/mid-season replacement for a traded/injured player and Parmelee is likely not even part of the plans for 2014.  

Second, Josmil Pinto is in line for more playing time.  He'll have to earn it, but he certainly hit well in his September debut.  It would be unfair to expect him to maintain that September level of production for a full season, but if he can simply match Justin Morneau's production in 2013 (103 OPS+), the lineup won't any worse.  Pinto can't catch every day, so a back-up/insurance policy will be needed.

I wrote about potential catcher free agent targets last week:

Wish List:  Carlos Ruiz, Jose Molina and Dioner Navarro.  Navarro is the least adept defensive catcher of the three, but has the most offensive upside.  He has been in the league for 35 years, but will be just 30 next season.  That kind of paradox is intriguing.  He is a switch hitter too, and I love versatility.  Molina and Ruiz are both great defensive catchers.  It would be interesting to see what kind of effect the Molina Framing Technique would have on Twins pitchers.  Ruiz might be past his prime, but he also might be able to inject some life into the Twins.

I wouldn't spend more than a few million bones on any catcher and I probably wouldn't give out anything but a one-year deal.  Each of these three guys could fill the void until Pinto is ready for full-time catching duties.

Based on the fact that Mauer is not in the mix any longer, I'd be willing to spend a little more than "a few million bones" on a catcher.  I'd also lean more toward Ruiz and Molina, since the Twins will get more offense from Pinto and could really use a good defensive catcher to help mentor Pinto.  

And for those who think Mauer doesn't have the bat for first base:

Mauer's OPS+ in 2013:  144
Number of AL first basemen with an OPS+ greater than 144:  2 (Chris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion)

A great hitter is a great hitter.  

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