People are hailing the contract as a great thing for baseball. The fact that a small-market team is finally holding onto one of its stars is great for the game. Right? I’m not exactly sure. I’ve often said that the problem with the escalating salaries isn’t the large market teams. Look at the rosters of the teams in NY, LA, or Boston. Unless it’s the shortstop in the Bronx, most of those contracts are just fine. Yes, ARod makes a boatload of money. But, he’s also a boatload better than most third basemen. If you look at the large market teams, and the ratios between their ability and others, and their pay and others, it’s about the same. So, the problem isn’t that the large market teams are paying their players a disproportionate amount of money. It’s the small market teams setting the bar too high to begin with. Mauer is a classic example of that.
Don’t get me wrong. If a player was ever worth $23 million a year, Mauer is it. He’s the reigning MVP, and plays a premium position. But, was he more valuable to Minnesota than he would be to other teams? The Twins were in a bind. This was their guy. He was the local boy. He’s an elite player. If you can’t pay him, how do you ever face your fans again? If he left, the only explanation you can give is that you were too cheap to keep him. They had to sign this guy to justify their franchise. So they bit the bullet, and signed their guy. But, was it a good deal?
The first thing that jumps out at me is the length. The Twins gave an eight-year extension to a catcher. A catcher? Mauer is 26 years old. At the end of the deal, he’ll be 35. Is there a chance that Mauer will be an effective catcher at 35? I doubt it. Since the deal has a no-trade clause, the Twins will have him in their roster if he’s effective or not. I don’t imagine that the Twins will have the resources to hide his contract on the bench. Nor will they be able to ship him off if he plays beneath his contract. They’ll have to do something with him. If he’s still good enough, they may have to move him to third, first, or DH. Is it still a good deal at $23 million if he’s just a pretty good first baseman? Naturally, the annual salary is something else that grabs me. Can the Twins afford to give that much money to one guy? Look what happened in Texas when they opened the bank for ARod. Have they limited themselves to being Joe Mauer, and a bunch of rookies? Is that good for the Twins? The AL?
What about other catchers? If I’m a young catcher, has my salary demand just gone up? I know that Victor Martinez can’t walk into Theo’s office and claim to be Joe Mauer’s equal. But, what can he claim? Is he 50% of what Joe Mauer is? 75%? Is V-Mart now a $14 million catcher? If he is, it won’t be because the large market team overpaid him. It will be the small market team driving up the price. What about five years from now? Will Mauer still be winning batting titles? Will he still be elite? Will some young catcher in 2014 be able to say, “Mauer’s making $23 mil to hit .290. I want at least $19 mil to hit .275.” Will that happen in 2012?
So, no, I don’t hail the Mauer deal as a win for the little guy. I don’t think it’s a banner day for baseball everywhere. I think it shows the problems that the game really has. I think it’s sad that a team like the Twins was forced to overpay their own player based on what another team has the ability to offer. I know that I can’t see Theo making Mauer an 8-year offer next year. Maybe the Yankees would have. Maybe another team would have. But, the Twins couldn’t wait to find out. They had to deal with the possibility. When will it really be a banner day for baseball? When a small market team can sign its own player to a reasonable contract. They don’t have to hope that Joe Mauer stays healthy, or that Evan Longoria lives up to the hype. They can make an offer based on what the player is actually worth. The Twins should have been able to offer Mauer 4 years and $80 million. If every team was on a level playing field, that’s probably all he would have gotten anywhere else.
Someday someone will figure out how to make that work.