Is Joe Mauer Soft?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN: Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins in the dugout during the seventh inning of their game against the Oakland Athletics at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Athletics defeated the Twins 1-0. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

According to Jim Souhan, Joe Mauer is "the softest of stars" ... and wait, there's so much more. Just two snippets, for the flavor ...

That Mauer didn't start at catcher on Sunday wasn't a crime. His manager, Ron Gardenhire, is determined to protect Mauer's legs and back by keeping him from catching in day games following night games. Mauer didn't beg out of the game; Gardenhire never gave him the chance.

Mauer's crime is that he didn't volunteer to play first base for a team desperate for hitting, leaving Gardenhire to play Luke Hughes out of position at first.

--snip--

With his team desperate for runs and wins, Mauer has relaxed. That's why some of his teammates have been rolling their eyes this season whenever his name is mentioned.

He has proved to be the softest of stars, and if that wasn't bad enough, his $184 million contract could prevent the Twins from retaining a valuable veteran who plays whenever and wherever the Twins need him.

Later in the piece, Souhan compares Mauer (unfavorably, of course) to

- Michael Cuddyer, who happily plays 11 positions and is very close to curing colon cancer, and

- Alex Avila, a catcher who actually played one game at third base, once.

Look, I don't know if Joe Mauer is soft. I do know that a sportswriter can't have any real idea how badly a player is hurting. I also know that while a player's teammates might have some idea, they generally think no injury is serious unless it's their own. That's just human nature.

And of course, Mauer did try to play hurt, at the start of the season. That was a disaster.

Could he play first base? Sure. Anyone can play first base, right? Except every time I say that, someone tells me it's a lot harder than I think (which it is). Anyway, Mauer did take some grounders at first, Monday. He's a good athlete, when he's healthy anyway, and could probably do a passable job there with some practice.

That doesn't seem to me the issue. The issue is whether you want your best player, recovering from a mysterious-but-presumably-real-enough injury, playing more often than his doctors and his manager think advisable. With his team nowhere near first place, and the club's other superstar out until August.

And a question, too ... Did anyone now criticizing Joe Mauer, or questioning his $184 million contract, raise any objections in March 2010 when the deal was done? All I heard at the time was, "Yes it's a lot of money, but the Twins had to keep Mauer. He's a hometown guy!"

To Souhan's credit, he did mention the caveats. Just before the Twins locked up Mauer, Souhan wrote a long column that included this:

A public relations expert would urge the Twins to sign Mauer at any cost. A statistician or scout might argue that he might never duplicate his remarkable 2009 season, that he has been plagued by injuries, that the Twins are high on catching prospect Wilson Ramos, that the franchise might be better off spending the $200 million it might take to sign Mauer on a handful of other players.

So at least he's been consistent about the money.

I don't believe that Joe Mauer's soft. I don't believe Joe Mauer should consider "giving back some of those millions" (as the headline on Souhan's latest column suggests). I do believe, as Souhan believed a year ago, than committing nearly $200 million to a player coming off his best season was more than a little risky.

Obviously, any huge contract is a calculated risk. We just don't if the calculations were done correctly. And seeing as how 2011 is the first year of the contract -- which pays Mauer $23 million per year -- to this point the risk hasn't paid off.

For much more about Mauer and the Twins, please visit Twinkie Town.

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