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  • Catching No Longer an Option For Mauer

    Exactly five weeks after he last played in a game, the Minnesota Twins announced on Monday that Joe Mauer would be shut down for the remainder of the season. The decision has seemed obvious and inevitable ever since it was revealed the catcher was still suffering symptoms weeks after sustaining a concussion while behind the plate.

    Ultimately, the incident will end up costing Mauer 39 games, or roughly a quarter of the season. In other words, this is a serious brain injury. The Twins have understandably tried to downplay the severity of the issue by insisting there have been no setbacks and stubbornly maintaining that he'd be back before season's end, but that's the reality we're facing.

    And here's another reality we must face: Mauer's days of catching are done.

    Despite major strides in recent years, we still don't know a whole lot about concussions. But here are a couple things we do know: they can be debilitating -- both professionally and personally -- and they are much more likely to be suffered by those with a history of having them before.

    The risk of Mauer experiencing another blow may not have been quite so worrisome had August's incident proven to be relatively minor, but that's far from the case. Five weeks after his brain was shaken by the fateful foul tip, Mauer still has not engaged in any baseball activities and still reports symptoms such as sensitivity to light and noise.

    Even if the complications clear up completely during the offseason and Mauer reports to spring training at 100 percent, there's still no way that a return to catching duties would be palatable. No position in baseball exposes the head to more frequent potential trauma than catcher, where batted balls to the mask and full-body collisions are part of the job description. Mauer is one of at least six backstops to be diagnosed with a concussion resulting from a foul tip this year, joining Detroit's Alex Avila, Kansas City's Salvador Perez, New York's Austin Romine, Houston's Carlos Corporan and Minnesota's own Ryan Doumit. If he ends up back at catcher, Mauer and Twins fans will live in a constant state of apprehension every time a ball is deflected back into his mask.

    Of course, the risk doesn't disappear if Mauer switches positions. Justin Morneau notably re-triggered his concussion symptoms when he made a diving attempt for a ball at first base more than a year after his July 2010 injury. But clearly the danger is far greater behind the plate at the game's most punishing position, one which has been mostly responsible for Mauer missing an average of 44 games per season in his career.

    Now, in fairness, I've been a proponent of moving Mauer away from catcher for two years, so I might be more predisposed to this conclusion than most. My original concern stemmed more from the condition of his legs than of his head, but these are both areas subjected to significant wear and tear.

    We know all too well how concussions can linger and relapse almost at random. We've seen it up close with Morneau and from afar with Corey Koskie, Jason Bay, Brian Roberts and countless others. Mauer, who will be integral to any return to contention within the next handful of years, is already going to be a sensitive enough case. Even without accounting for the percentage of payroll they dedicate to him, how can the Twins justify putting him back at a position where he's essentially guaranteed to take a jarring hit to the mask every other game, and maybe worse?

    I don't think they can, and with the precedent set by Morneau fresh in their minds, I suspect they know that. Posturing about the organization's intent to fulfill Mauer's wish of continuing to catch full-time is just that. He's too valuable to the franchise -- monetarily and otherwise -- for such an undeniably substantial risk.
    This article was originally published in blog: Catching No Longer an Option For Mauer started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 116 Comments
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      I would be curious to hear from those who have advocated him remaining as catcher because of the greater difficulty of finding a catcher who can produce offensively than a first baseman. I wonder if the length of his being sidelined, which is far longer than most people were anticipating, has given them any pause.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I'm still in the boat of playing him at catcher until it's obvious he can't physically handle it anymore. But during these lean years when we are awful I'd like to see them scale it back considerably to protect him for the long run.
    1. blindeke's Avatar
      blindeke -
      what a bummer.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      I haven't been advocating one way or the other. I get that Mauer's value is higher when behind the plate but we knew the amount of time there would always diminish.

      Question, though: there was always interest among some fans in Mauer going to 3rd instead of 1st. Do we now find that to be an impossibility? Has he aged out of playing 3B? Are we so sure that Sano will be at 3rd that we aren't even interested in trying Mauer there?
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      Question, though: there was always interest among some fans in Mauer going to 3rd instead of 1st. Do we now find that to be an impossibility? Has he aged out of playing 3B? Are we so sure that Sano will be at 3rd that we aren't even interested in trying Mauer there?
      Where does Sano play then? First? Short?
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by IdahoPilgrim View Post
      Where does Sano play then? First? Short?
      Probably 1st although I also saw something about one of the outfield spots. It just seems like the articles lately are still talking about his defensive problems more than his offensive.

      I don't know the answer. Maybe Sano sticks at 3rd but if not, I guess I'm asking if it is ludicrous to think of Mauer at 3B???
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      Probably 1st although I also saw something about one of the outfield spots. It just seems like the articles lately are still talking about his defensive problems more than his offensive.

      I don't know the answer. Maybe Sano sticks at 3rd but if not, I guess I'm asking if it is ludicrous to think of Mauer at 3B???
      I've long been an advocate of Mauer to third base.

      But...if Sano can play third (and I don't know, but if) then it makes no difference if Mauer is at first and Sano at third, or vice versa.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      But...if Sano can play third (and I don't know, but if) then it makes no difference if Mauer is at first and Sano at third, or vice versa.
      Sure it does. Mauer is taller and he is accustomed to digging balls out of the dirt. Sano isn't. First base is not a dumping ground, you actually need some skills to play and it is one of the most important defensive positions in the game because of the frequent contact...

      And Sano is a fine third baseman. Matter of fact better on the field than most of the Twins' starting third basemen the last few years (including Koskie at similar stages of their careers. Coskie was a butcher in the minors...)
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      I haven't been advocating one way or the other. I get that Mauer's value is higher when behind the plate but we knew the amount of time there would always diminish.

      Question, though: there was always interest among some fans in Mauer going to 3rd instead of 1st. Do we now find that to be an impossibility? Has he aged out of playing 3B? Are we so sure that Sano will be at 3rd that we aren't even interested in trying Mauer there?
      The Mauer to 3B thing never made sense, and it was never something given and credence by the Twins or by Mauer...
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Sure it does. Mauer is taller and he is accustomed to digging balls out of the dirt. Sano isn't. First base is not a dumping ground, you actually need some skills to play and it is one of the most important defensive positions in the game because of the frequent contact...
      One of my favorite parts of Moneyball:

      Scott Hatteberg: [Responding to being asked to play first base for the Oakland A's] I've only ever played catcher.
      Billy Beane: It's not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.
      Ron Washington: It's incredibly hard.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by IdahoPilgrim View Post
      One of my favorite parts of Moneyball:

      Scott Hatteberg: [Responding to being asked to play first base for the Oakland A's] I've only ever played catcher.
      Billy Beane: It's not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.
      Ron Washington: It's incredibly hard.
      Movie line used to create tension.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by IdahoPilgrim View Post
      One of my favorite parts of Moneyball:

      Scott Hatteberg: [Responding to being asked to play first base for the Oakland A's] I've only ever played catcher.
      Billy Beane: It's not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.
      Ron Washington: It's incredibly hard.
      Haha. Good reference here.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      Movie line used to create tension.
      I know. I like it anyway.

      It's right up there with:

      Billy Beane: Would you rather get one shot in the head or five in the chest and bleed to death?
      Peter Brand: Are those my only two options?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I am on board with ending Mauer's time behind the plate. He can serve as the third (emergency, in game) catcher only.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      I am on board with ending Mauer's time behind the plate. He can serve as the third (emergency, in game) catcher only.
      Great point. If Gardenhire is still around, that really solves the 3 catcher problem although since Sweet Drew went to LA, its been less of an issue anyway.
    1. Larsbars08's Avatar
      Larsbars08 -
      Is it worth having a good hitting catcher, considering how volatile and the significant injury risk that playing catcher has? Is it worth paying a catcher big money considering how volatile the position is?

      I have very mixed feelings about this. Obviously there's a huge problem with Catchers and concussions. Catcher is clearly the most dangerous position on the diamond. Whether from concussions or home plate collisions. There has to be some sort of solution to this, because it's a massive baseball problem when 10 of the 18 players who have gone on the concussion DL are catchers. Considering that's pretty much 1/6th of all catchers in the MLB. It seems like there is a small chance every pitch, that a catcher will suffer a concussion. There has to be a way to protect catchers, because otherwise every catcher out there is a ticking time bomb. Some might get lucky and others won't be lucky, and that seems unacceptable.

      If Buster Posey or Yadier Molina had a concussion, would those teams move them from behind the plate? Should they be preemptively moved? The Nationals moved Bryce Harper to the outfield as soon as they drafted him, should that be done for any promising hitter who also plays catcher? I know I'm asking a lot of questions and I'm not sure there's many answers, but major league baseball has a serious issue. I don't know why teams aren't throwing millions of dollars into new and improved helmet tech. Because something needs to be done, and improving the helmets seems to be the only answer that doesn't involve changing the game.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I have been an opponent of moving Mauer from 1/2 time catcher but a serious concussion changes things. There is a substantially higher risk of another concussion (my understanding of concussions) after you have had one and catchers are always at risk.

      I think Sano has shown enough this season defensively that the Twins shouldn't block him by moving Mauer there. If the Twins had no decent 3B prospects in the minors (like most years) and a good 1Bman then 3B would be an option but this isn't the case.

      This would create a spot for Doumit on next year's roster if Mauer isn't catching part time. Previously I felt he was expendable with Mauer/Pinto catching and the fact that he really doesn't hit enough to be a regular DH. In addition to the Twins have other options at DH like Willy.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Larsbars08 View Post
      Is it worth having a good hitting catcher, considering how volatile and the significant injury risk that playing catcher has? Is it worth paying a catcher big money considering how volatile the position is?

      I have very mixed feelings about this. Obviously there's a huge problem with Catchers and concussions. Catcher is clearly the most dangerous position on the diamond. Whether from concussions or home plate collisions. There has to be some sort of solution to this, because it's a massive baseball problem when 10 of the 18 players who have gone on the concussion DL are catchers. Considering that's pretty much 1/6th of all catchers in the MLB. It seems like there is a small chance every pitch, that a catcher will suffer a concussion. There has to be a way to protect catchers, because otherwise every catcher out there is a ticking time bomb. Some might get lucky and others won't be lucky, and that seems unacceptable.

      If Buster Posey or Yadier Molina had a concussion, would those teams move them from behind the plate? Should they be preemptively moved? The Nationals moved Bryce Harper to the outfield as soon as they drafted him, should that be done for any promising hitter who also plays catcher? I know I'm asking a lot of questions and I'm not sure there's many answers, but major league baseball has a serious issue. I don't know why teams aren't throwing millions of dollars into new and improved helmet tech. Because something needs to be done, and improving the helmets seems to be the only answer that doesn't involve changing the game.
      Having an elite hitting catcher is worth it. Buster Posey ripped his knee up catching and he still catches almost full time. Yadi would punch somebody if they tried to move him from catcher.

      Harper (and also Myers) were moved from catcher because it could have delayed their MLB arrival by 2 years. Boras actually pushed for it because Harper started accumulating service time significantly sooner. So injury risk wasn't really a factor in these decisions.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I was opposed to moving Mauer going into this season. With the impending free agency of Morneau and his subsequent trade, I then advocated making Joe a part-time first baseman believing that Pinto could be behind the plate for about half the innings, with Joe and Doumit or Herrmann splitting the other 50% of the innings. Now, I am with those saying that Mauer shouldn't be considered a catcher any more. He's one hard foul tip or home plate collision from perhaps being a shadow of himself and the Twins have a lot of money tied up in him. I agree that he could be the emergency third catcher. The time is now to make the move--the Twins don't have an incumbent first baseman and Mauer would have the entire spring to polish his first base skills, providing he has recovered from the concussion symptoms.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Mod note: nice thread so far. The moderators will be taking a dim view of trolling, so keep up the good work.
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