• 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. Larsbars08's Avatar
      Larsbars08 -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      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.
      It does say on Harper's wiki page that he was moved from catcher to speed up his development AND extend his career. You can't really argue that injury concerns played no part in the decision.

      Obviously having an elite hitting catcher is incredibly valuable, but if all those guys are a figurative roll of the dice away from a potentially debilitating brain injury, at what point do you move them?
    1. adjacent's Avatar
      adjacent -
      At this point, all I want is at spring training time, Mauer reporting without any issue. I would leave the position discussion until that time. In the meanwhile, cross your fingers.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Larsbars08 View Post
      It does say on Harper's wiki page that he was moved from catcher to speed up his development AND extend his career. You can't really argue that injury concerns played no part in the decision.

      Obviously having an elite hitting catcher is incredibly valuable, but if all those guys are a figurative roll of the dice away from a potentially debilitating brain injury, at what point do you move them?
      The weights I apply to your wiki source
      95% speed up his development (getting that first big contract 2 yrs sooner)
      5% extend his career (it would have happened anyway)

      I think we are in the era where elite hitters like Posey and Mauer get moved in their early 30's anyways. The question is whether or not they catch 6-10 years before getting moved.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      I am concerned that symptoms will linger throughout the winter. Joe will not be able to maintain his workout regimen over the winter. He comes next spring in poorer physical condition (not his fault) having lost some weight and struggles at the plate. These brain injuries are serious and can have lasting impact.
    1. Larsbars08's Avatar
      Larsbars08 -
      Maybe I'm being unnecessarily alarmist about this. I'm guessing that Mauer's career would have had less and less catching each year he got older regardless.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      What value he loses moving to 1B vs C he can at least partially make up for by playing more games which I assume he will. I liked his 2012 where he played about half the games at catcher took a dozen off and split the other half between 1B and DH. I think he can bring some value by being available to play C and probably could learn corner outfield. Let's say the Twins have Hermann and Josmil as the teams catchers with Joe at 1B. Josmil seems to have enough bat to play some DH and could possibly learn 1B as well. Hermann can play some C and is reportedly a solid defender at OF. I honestly haven't seen him enough to judge but reports I've read seem to say he's a good corner outfielder.

      The point I'm saying does a platoon situation of Mauer as primary 1B playing maybe 20-30 games at C a year along with Pinto and Hermann make sense? I would push for Pinto to learn 1B as well. That way you can avoid callups if a guy has to miss a few days. Three capable catchers that are capable of filling DH and 1B on a semi regular basis could have some value.

      Oh, and Doumit.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Let's put an end to all plans that involve Pinto spending any significant time at DH. He had a great season but realistic expectations have him as a .700-.750 OPS hitter. If scouts thought he was a good enough hitter to DH regularly (.775-.850 OPS) AND catch then he would be a top 50 (probably top 25 prospect).

      I don't think Herman ever becomes a player worthy of regular starts either. Definitely not as an OF'er. His value is a once/twice a week starting catcher that has versatility to play the OF if needed. he just doesn't hit enough especially anywhere other than catcher.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      We've had Mauer behind the plate for most of 10 outstanding years. He can play 1B and give us superior defense there. He has the ability to alter hist swing and give us more power. I say, "Thank you Joe. May you give us 10 more years at 1B."
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I worry this is all premature until we actually know we have another catcher. Play Pinto plenty....but no permanant move yet for Mauer.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Why is it that any Twins player which receives a concussion doesn't just receive any, but it is a catastrophic concussion that lingers? Are these more severe than football concussions where guys come back in a week? I just don't get it. Maybe he is feeling "symptoms" still, its obviously not worth pushing it in this season but that shouldn't alter the entire future plans for him.

      I don't really know how bad it is, none of us do. Concussions changed Morneau's and Koskie's career so it isn't something you can just play through without any effect. I hope this is not something we have to continue to talk about. Moving Mauer from catcher permanently is not in the best interest of the Twins.
    1. ChiTownTwinsFan's Avatar
      ChiTownTwinsFan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      Why is it that any Twins player which receives a concussion doesn't just receive any, but it is a catastrophic concussion that lingers? Are these more severe than football concussions where guys come back in a week? I just don't get it. Maybe he is feeling "symptoms" still, its obviously not worth pushing it in this season but that shouldn't alter the entire future plans for him.

      I don't really know how bad it is, none of us do. Concussions changed Morneau's and Koskie's career so it isn't something you can just play through without any effect. I hope this is not something we have to continue to talk about. Moving Mauer from catcher permanently is not in the best interest of the Twins.
      The NFL hasn't taken concussions seriously until recently; I think the lawsuit of former players vs the NFL was just settled. Also, see: Dave Duerson. I'm glad that baseball is taking this more seriously. That said, I think we need to really see what we have, who is here, who is gone, who we get, before Mauer is moved. I don't think any decision made rashly is a good one. Still, I think we see Mauer behind the plate next year, even if half time or less.
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      The Twins just drafted 3 catchers in the first 7 rounds of the draft as well! On the outside, it does appear that the FO sees Mauer's time behind the plate is winding down as well.

      To me this issue is rather simple. Either he is to catch and a lot of this is a smokescreen to shut him down at the tale end of a lost season or he is genuinely having major issues. If it is the former, keep him as the primary catcher, send down Pinto to be the AAA catcher and have Doumit continue as the backup. Mauer will also play 1B and DH same as he did in 2012. If it is the latter and he really is having major symptoms, then it needs to be over for Mauer at catcher. His bat is what has made him so valuable. His defense is replaceable (not necessarily within the organization), but his bat regardless of position is top 10. If this is a legitimate concussion situation and not a "shut him down and give Pinto AB's" situaton then he needs to be done as a catcher and not even the emergency guy. One more foul tip could end his career.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      I have now moved to the camp of putting him at 1B. This article turned me. People say his value goes down at first and I get it but take a look. His career hitting numbers vs the 1B numbers from the whole league this year would have him 1st in Avg, 2nd in OB% and 6th in OPS. Not to mention that I feel he could step in and contend strongly for a gold glove right away. I'll take it. The bat is way too important and although less exceptional, his numbers would still make him one of the best hitting first basemen (and players) in the league. And, like others have pointed out, he could be the emergency catcher. Sorry, Joe. This move should happen.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      This article doesn't change my mind that Mauer should stay at catcher for a number of reasons. I'll list them in descending order of importance.

      1) He's had one concussion in 10 years behind the plate. At that rate he's unlikely to have another one. He's at risk for a concussion batting and running the bases and he isn't going to stop doing either one of them. There are things they can do to mitigate his concussion risk while catching.
      2) He's their best defensive option at catcher. Until that is no longer the case I can't support moving him from behind the plate. The team has a better chance of winning ballgames with him catching.
      3) He doesn't want to move and it gives Mauer his best chance at making individual accomplishments the longer they leave him there.
      4) If they move him from behind the plate now he might not make the 2014 ASG at Target Field.

      I fully support using Mauer more at 1B and DH but his primary position should be catcher as long as it helps the team win.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      I agree that Mauer should be moved to first base, full time. I understand his previous statements about being a catcher and that is where he will play. With this concussion lingering, much like Morneau, at some point he is going to have to understand that his future both on and off the field is at risk if he goes behind the plate...even for part of one game as an emergency option.

      Mauer is now married with a wife and Twin daughters. At some point this winter he is going to have to come to the understanding that his health and future as a husband and father dictate that he no longer risks his future health by catching.

      The Twins are fine without Mauer behind the plate, even in an emergency situation. Doumit and Pinto can share catching and DH with Herrmann a good bench option who catches a game every now and them. If they trade Doumit at some point, Pinto is the starter and they need to find a backup or emergency catcher.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Are we sure the "concussion" wasn't just an excuse to get out of playing on a terrible team and instead play video games with his best bud?

      I took liberties with the Patriot Act and recently recorded a telephone conversation between Mauer and Morneau soon after the Canadian was traded to Pittsburgh. It went like this:

      Canuck: I got traded to them Pittsburgh Pirates.

      Mauer: Say what?! I thought I had it written into my contract that we get to play together until we retire or die from drinking a combination of cola and pop rocks.

      Canuck: Bill Smith pulled the old razzle dazzle and put some of that fine print on your contract, it didn't count I guess. You also gotta clean the Target Field bathrooms if your OBP dropps below .360.

      Mauer: Well that's it, I'm going to Pittsburgh to play with you.

      Canuck: You can't play there, don't ya know Minnesotan's can only play for the Twins?

      Mauer: Well then I'll quit. I'm moving with you, I'll start looking for a two-bedroom for us.

      Canuck: Make it three, we can turn the extra room into planetarium like at our old place. I still have some of those glow in the dark stars to stick on the ceiling. But don't quit, just tell Gardy you been getting headaches. We might be able to make this work if we try the old "Canadian Brain Freeze" trick.

      Mauer: Isn't that when you Canadians ride a Moose naked through town with an ice bucket on your head?

      Canuck: No, that's the "Frozen Furry Wedgie" and it's a bucket of maple syrup.
      Remember that time I was into those Saskatoon mobsters big time in 2010 and ended up missing the rest of the season? I think the concussion thing can still work.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I don't care if Mauer is in the ASG, or in the Hall....so those don't matter to me. I care if the Twins win.

      The best way to do that is to have your best player on the field 160 games a year, not 120, imo. He should move to 1B full time, with some time at DH also.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      Let's put an end to all plans that involve Pinto spending any significant time at DH. He had a great season but realistic expectations have him as a .700-.750 OPS hitter. If scouts thought he was a good enough hitter to DH regularly (.775-.850 OPS) AND catch then he would be a top 50 (probably top 25 prospect).

      I don't think Herman ever becomes a player worthy of regular starts either. Definitely not as an OF'er. His value is a once/twice a week starting catcher that has versatility to play the OF if needed. he just doesn't hit enough especially anywhere other than catcher.
      I don't know Pinto seems like something clicked over the last couple years. He's had a .844 OPS in 2012 and .882 OPS in 2013 along with a really nice start in the majors. Will he be a .850 OPS hitter? Probably not. Could he be around .800 though? I think so. I think he wasn't on prospect lists because a year ago he had had one nice season. Well now he built on that with an even more impressive season this year. Nice K/BB ratio and 15 HR pop. Probably should be a top 100 prospect if he doesn't use up his eligibility. I guess in my plan he would be the primary C and DH maybe 30-50 games.

      I agree with you on Hermann but it is nice that he can at least be a solid emergency option in the outfield, possibly late game defensive replacement type guy.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      1) He's had one concussion in 10 years behind the plate. At that rate he's unlikely to have another one. He's at risk for a concussion batting and running the bases and he isn't going to stop doing either one of them. There are things they can do to mitigate his concussion risk while catching.
      I'll leave the full context of your first point, but I have to disagree with the second sentence of it. According to Concussion: Risk factors - MayoClinic.com :

      Factors that may increase your risk of a concussion include:

      • Participating in a high risk sport...
      • ..
      • Having had a previous concussion

      Mayo's stats apparently mean his "rate" is no longer what it once was.

      Now, we've seen serious concussions by our CF (Span) and 1B (Morneau), but what we need are other stats to show whether catching has more of the "high risk sport" elements than those positions. My guess is the answer is yes, with foul tips and home plate collisions being part of the job; but diving for balls may be just as big a risk. And in any case the defensive side of the job is only part of the total risk, since for example home plate collisions require two to tango.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by roger View Post
      Mauer is now married with a wife and Twin daughters. At some point this winter he is going to have to come to the understanding that his health and future as a husband and father dictate that he no longer risks his future health by catching.
      By that logic anyone who has a concussion should quit playing baseball because they're putting their family at risk. Baseball is a game that has inherent injury risks. Playing 1B doesn't keep him from getting beaned at the plate or hit by an errant throw during practice.
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