Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Who's on first? Joe Mauer

We should expect to see more of Joe Mauer as a first baseman
in the future, but not with the green cap.

Joe Mauer and the Twins made it official Monday: The best catcher in franchise history — not just the Minnesota Twins, but the Washington Senators before them, a span of more than 110 seasons — will not catch again.

Ever. Which is just fine with me.

I was listening to Pat Reusse rant on the radio Monday afternoon about how Mauer should be available to fill in behind the plate and thinking: That all sounds good, but the point of moving Mauer to first base now is to protect his noggin against future concussions.

Better that he focus on becoming the best defensive first baseman in the league — which, really, he should be. Hands? Check. Throwing arm? None better.

Mauer to first became the increasingly obvious move as his concussion symptoms lingered through September and October. It took this long to announce the move, I believe, only because Mauer genuinely likes the pitch-calling role and was reluctant to give it up. I inferred weeks ago that general manager Terry Ryan favored the position switch but wasn't about to force it on Mauer. That appears to have been the case; Ryan, as quoted by the Star Tribune's Phil Miller:

I'm happy he has chosen to make the transition, but if he decided he wanted to catch, I'm not sure anybody was going to stand in his way. We had a conversation in October, just about the future. One thing that was apparent, (after) Joe was on the (disabled list) for quite some time, the important thing was his health, and it led from there. Joe did some searching, talked to some people he had a lot of confidence in, and ultimately he got back to me and said he was willing to make the move. I think it's the right decision.

Moving Mauer to first base likely rules out the return of Justin Morneau. It makes it really difficult to see a role on the 2014 Twins for Chris Parmelee or Chris Colabello.

And it raises some interesting questions about the catching job. The Twins now have four catchers on the 40-man roster: Ryan Doumit, Eric Fryer, Chris Herrmann and Josmil Pinto. Doumit and Pinto are pretty weak defensively; Fryer is not a hitter; Herrmann is probably a better defender than the two hitters and a better hitter than Fryer, but not a serious full-time candidate. (I don't really expect Fryer to make it through the winter on the 40-man roster.)

I can imagine the Twins trying Doumit and Pinto in a time-share at catcher and DH, with the versatile Herrmann in reserve. I can also imagine them signing a true No. 1 catcher and having Pinto open 2014 in Triple A to work on his defensive skills while Doumit does the DH/backup catcher thing he's done the past two seasons, with or without Herrmann as a No. 3 catcher/reserve outfielder.

Theoretically, the Twins could try to trade Doumit, but I doubt he has much value right now. He turns 33 in April, he's no help in the field, and his hitting numbers this year weren't good enough to justify the DH role.

I think Doumit sticks this winter, and I think the Twins will try to sign someone like A.J. Pierzynski or Jarrod Saltalamacchia to buy time to polish Pinto in the minors.

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