On August 19, the Minnesota Twins hosted the New York Mets in a make-up game at Target Field. In the game, Twins catcher Joe Mauer took several foul tips off the face mask. The cumulative effects of foul tips finally reached a point where it was no longer funny.
Mauer was put on the 7-day concussion disabled list after attempting to play the next day. Seven days later, reports came that Mauer was doing better, but that he would not be coming off the DL on the eighth day. Seemingly weekly, fans were told he was continuing to make progress, but he was having good days and bad days.
Twins fans started to think that this sounded a little too familiar to reports about Justin Morneau in 2010, or Denard Span in 2011. Earlier in the 2013 season, Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit had already spent time on the 7-day concussion DL.
Twins fans have become skeptical when it comes to reports coming from the Twins medical staff, and often for good reasons. However, in this case, such thoughts were unfair.
Aaron Gleeman said it over a year ago, and it rings true more and more with each concussion situation: maybe fans, media and others would talk or write about concussion differently if we called it what it is, a brain injury. There is no way to know how any individual’s brain will react and respond to the trauma.
Finally, on September 23, five weeks after going on the DL, the Twins announced that Mauer would not return to the playing field in 2013. He was being shut down. Nick Nelson wrote the next day that Mauer’s catching days should be behind him.
After much speculation about what the Twins and Mauer should do, on November 11, the Twins and Mauer announced that he would be moving to first base full time. In fact, he won’t even bring a catcher’s mitt to spring training. By making the decision official very early in the offseason, it allowed the Twins to plan accordingly.
Of course, we all realize that players can get hurt anywhere. Catchers are not the only ones who get hurt or are affected by concussions. First baseman Justin Morneau suffered his concussion sliding into second base in an attempt to break up a double play. Like Morneau, Trevor Plouffe’s concussion came when he was kneed in the head on the base paths. However, in 2013, many MLB catchers missed time on the concussion DL after being hit by foul tips. Moving to first base eliminates the frequent foul tips.
Joe Mauer is arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball. He has tremendous value as a catcher as shown by a 5.4 bWAR and a 5.2 fWAR. As a first baseman his WAR will likely drop simply because there are more power-hitting first sackers than catchers. However, even if his numbers stay about the same, he will still be one of the better offensive first baseman in the game.
Importantly, playing first base should allow him to play more games. Instead of playing 130 to 140 games primarily at catcher, he should be able to play 150 to 160 games as a first baseman. An extra 20 games means an extra 80 to 100 plate appearances, and I can’t help but think that will help the Twins offense.
As a 30-year-old catcher in 2013, Mauer hit .324/.404/.476 (.880) with 35 doubles and 11 home runs. Compare that to the numbers he has put up over his ten big league seasons, .323/.405/.468 (.873). Some may argue, but I am of the opinion that Joe Mauer is already a lock for baseball’s Hall of Fame. Certainly if he can put up some quality numbers for just a few more seasons, it would increase his chances of going in on the first ballot.
Of course, by Mauer moving to first base, the hope is to extend his career and the number of effective years he can have. Very few catchers in baseball history have hit .300. Even the best catchers in baseball history have typically played other positions as they aged beyond 30. Johnny Bench played third base. Yogi Berra played some left field. A catcher with the incredible durability behind the plate like Ivan Rodriguez is very, very rare.
So, it is likely Mauer would have moved from catcher sometime within the next couple years. Rather than wait for one more foul tip to jar his brain again and force the move, or even end his career, the Twins and Mauer wisely decided to be proactive and make the move now.
More important than the baseball side of things, Mauer became the father of twin girls during the season. Let’s not forget that finding ways to avoid more concussions (or, brain injuries) will help his quality of life as he grows older which is so important for his family.
When it comes to major stories of 2013 for the Minnesota Twins, the decision for Joe Mauer to move to first base is certainly one of the biggest. One of baseball’s best players switching position is one thing. Another is that baseball has added the 7-day concussion disabled list and other measures so as to be more cautious with this type of injury. These steps should be positive for the game and its players. Finally, the decision was the first of the Twins offseason moves, the timing of which was important because it allowed them to time to plan for its implementation.
Soon, you will see the final top story in the Twins Daily Top 13 Twins Stories of 2013 series. If you would like to look back on any of the other stories, they are linked to below. Please feel free to comment on this and any of the previous stories.
#13 – Twins in the WBC
#12 – Drew Butera Traded to Dodgers
#11 – Twins Sign Kubel, Trade Doumit
#10 - Brian Dozier Breaks Through
#9 - Kyle Gibson Promoted
#8 - Aaron Hicks' Lost Year
#7 – Twins Draft Kohl Stewart
#6 – Justin Morneau Traded to Pirates
#5 – Twins Dismal Starting Pitching
#4 – Buxton and Sano Dominate Minors
#3 – Twins Spend on Free Agents
#2 – Joe Mauer Moves to First Base