Joe Mauer signs 8-year/$184 million contract extension to stay with Twins

Take a breath through your nose -- hold it -- and exhale . . .

Ending years of stressful speculation that Joe Mauer may entertain offers on the open market post the expiration of his current, four-year/$33 million contract, the St. Paul native and reigning

A.L. MVP ended speculation of leaving his home state with the announcement of his new eight-year/$184 million contract extension to stay with the Twins through 2018.

The signing will be made official at a press conference tonight at 6 p.m. (Central) in Fort Myers, and will be broadcast live on Fox Sports North.  The contact -- the fourth-largest in baseball history -- will play the catcher $23 million annually and includes a full no-trade clause.

The deal is both the richest (and longest) in Twins history, readily usurping the 6 year/$80 million deal signed by 2006 MVP and former Mauer roomie, Justin Morneau back in January of '08.  In addition, Mauer's deal marks the greatest sum ever paid to a catcher in the history of Major League Baseball, surpassing the 7 year/$91 million contract Mike Piazza inked with the Mets prior to the 1999 season.  The average payout of $23 mil per season also betters the active positional-record of $13.1 million currently cashed in by Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada and is the longest current contact among players at his position, besting the six-year deal signed by Brave backstop Brain McCann in 2006.  Another note of Midwest monument: the Mauer deal is also the largest contract in the history of Minnesota sport, beating out the $126 million contract that Kevin Garnett signed with T-wolves from 1999-2005.

With his MVP, the Twins' catcher became the fifth Twin to win the award, following the accomplishments of Zoilo Versalles (1965), Harmon Killebrew (1969), Rod Carew (1977) and former Mauer roomie Justin Morneau (2006).  The MVP made Mauer just the second Minnesota-born athlete to be named MVP since the accolade's inception in 1911.  The first was Roger Maris, the 1960 and 1961 AL MVP, who was born in Hibbing and moved to Fargo, N.D. at the age of 10.

Mauer concluded '09 with what many' a scribe consider to be the finest offensive season ever for a catcher.  Along with owning the A.L.'s highest slugging (.587) and on-base percentage

(.444), he won his third batting title in four years, becoming the first catcher in the history of hardball to thrice claim a batting crown.  Adding to the accolades, Mauer's .365 batting clip ousted Piazza's .362 mark of 1997 to stand as the highest batting average ever attainted by a player at his position.  Some consider Babe Phelps' .367 clip with the Brooklyn Dodgers to be the highest, however Phelps' caught just 64 percent of his team's 154 games and had 7 fewer games behind the plate than teammate, Ray Berres.  Prior to his MVP, Mauer also won his third Silver Slugger Award and second Gold Glove. In June, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the second time in his illustrious, six year career. 

Amidst the feverish anticipation of the Twins' Golden Anniversary year that presents a new ballpark, a cache of celebrated off-season additions and a club coming off a Central Division title -- the cloud of the Mauer contract situation had served (prior to Joe Nathan season-ending injury) as a solitary sobriety hanging around the party that is our return to outdoor baseball.  While few believed that Mauer would ever leave the Twin Cities, the blemish of uncertainty no doubt festered with the onset of Spring Training and the approach of Opening Day.

To add a small measure of mixer to this elixir, however, it is worthy of note to reprint this nugget unearthed via the fine Strib baseball bard Joe Christensen in his late-November column from last year:

"Choosing to pay Mauer and a good supporting cast will be difficult even if the Twins push their payroll to $100 million by 2011. Only one team in baseball history has won the World Series with one player making 20 percent of the payroll -- the 2003 Marlins with catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
In 2007, the Rockies made the World Series despite having Todd Helton eat up 30 percent of their payroll. But Colorado had tried trading Helton to the Red Sox, hoping to unload his $141.5 million contract."

Can the Twins help to bruise that stat?  Perhaps.  But making the Series is usually as much about timing as it is about talent -- and the Twins can now coolly enjoy the latter in unfettered abundance. 

Would Mauer have received, say, $30 million a season from the Yankees or Red Sox?  Perhaps.  But now we won't know, and won't ever have to suffer the bidding war that surely would have occurred should the catcher have waded into the waters of the open market.

Of course, I can't reasonably project any lament Mauer would have felt suiting up elsewhere -- but I do believe I can offer with lucid certainty that seeing Joe Mauer in Pinstripes or behind the dish at Fenway would have socked our T.C. in the gut for time immemorial.  It would have served as a sporting sacrilege similar in gravity to watching Wayne Gretzky skate in Los Angeles or seeing Michael Jordan hoop with the Wizards.

But now we don't have to sweat those horrifying hypotheticals, nor endure unquestioned anguish that would have come with seeing Mauer play in Target Field donning another jersey.

Now, we can just enjoy the progression of what may be the finest catcher in the history of baseball, and watch the greatness ensue.


Images courtesy of Keith Allison

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