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MLB Players Of The Decade: Twins' Joe Mauer Obvious Choice At Catcher

Looking deep into our crystal ball, we rank baseball's five best catchers for this entire decade, nine seasons before it's over.

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Yesterday, I promised that I would spend the next few weeks trying to figure out the best players at each position in this decade. We've got a one-year head start, which does make things a little easier. Still, if my last attempt, 11 years ago, is any indication, this business is a lot harder than it looks.

I'll give it another shot, though, starting with catchers. Just a few things to keep in mind: Everything counts, players typically peak in their late 20s before beginning a slow-but-steady decline, and nine years is a really long time. Got all that? Cool. Let's get started.

When searching for the best catcher of this decade (2010-2019), we've got only four reasonable candidates: Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Buster Posey and Matt Wieters. Perhaps I'll look back in a few years and scold myself for ignoring prospects Jesus Montero and Wil Meyers and Hank Conger, but a) they're already one season behind the others, and b) both might wind up playing another position fairly soon. Not to mention the difficulty in projecting young catchers, period.

Among our four serious candidates, Mauer's the obvious choice. Over the last two seasons, Mauer topped major league catchers in runs, hits, doubles and walks ... while posting a .347 batting average, the highest among major league players. Only Mike Napoli and Victor Martinez have really trumped Mauer's power, and of course they're both DH's waiting to happen.

Are there any arguments against Mauer? Well, there's been some talk about him changing positions, eventually. He's big, and he's had a few injuries over the years. The Twins do what they can to rest him, and Mauer has caught more than 120 games in a season just once in his career. He might be one serious injury and a roster opening away from shifting to first base ... but can we assume that's going to happen in, say, the next six or seven seasons?

Probably not.

Still, Brian McCann has three virtues. One, he's a year younger than Mauer. Two, he catches a lot and nobody's seriously suggested moving him. And three, he's really good. To this point, McCann's career stacks up with a fair number of Hall of Fame catchers. For these reasons and others, there is a real chance that he'll be more valuable than Mauer over the next nine years as a catcher.

It's just not a big enough chance.

Meanwhile, Wieters and Posey are all potential. Especially Wieters.

After Wieters' 2008 season in the minors -- what Baseball Prospectus described as "arguably the best minor league performance of the last 40 years - he was supposed to join the Orioles and become the next Johnny Bench. BP projected him with MVP numbers as a rookie.

It didn't quite work out that way. Not in 2009, nor in 2010 when Wieters actually hit worse than the season before. He still projects as a solid major leaguer, but that magical 2008 campaign is now looking pretty distant in the rear-view mirror.

Posey's another story. He didn't post MVP numbers, but might have given it a shot if the Giants hadn't kept him in the minors for a couple of months. He did post Rookie of the Year numbers and won that award. He's built like a catcher, looks great behind the plate, and with a name like "Buster" he might actually be legally prohibited from playing any other position. There simply isn't reason to think he won't be a big star for a good chunk of this decade.

Just not as big a star as Mauer, who's doing things that catchers just aren't supposed to do. And considering that he's won three straight Gold Gloves, it doesn't seem likely that he's moving anytime soon.

So, I make them like this:

  1. Joe Mauer
  2. Brian McCann
  3. Buster Posey
  4. Matt Wieters
  5. Kurt Suzuki or one of the prospects

What do you think?

Update: Yes, I should have mentioned Carlos Santana. He wouldn't have made my top three, maybe not even my top five after that serious knee injury that cost him the last two months of the season. But if he comes back strong, he's going to be in this conversation someday.