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first_imgWhen Joe Mauer held his press conference Monday, he looked like a random guy pulled out of a Minneapolis night club, not someone who just signed an eight-year, franchise-record $184 million contract extension with his hometown Minnesota Twins.I mean, the guy couldn’t even be bothered to put on a tie. But I suppose you don’t concern yourself with those kinds of things when you start making $23 million per year.For Mauer, it’s OK to be all smiles and wax poetic — or as poetically as the normally stoic Mauer does — about staying in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. He’s clearly earned it.But for Bill Smith, general manager of the Minnesota Twins, his grin — while genuine — will be backed by lots and lots of worry.The Twins were valued by Forbes in 2009 at $356 million, or just the 22nd most valuable franchise in Major League Baseball. Smith just handed Mauer a contract worth over half the franchise’s worth. All the money is guaranteed as well.Guaranteeing $23 million a year to an oversized catcher who already had knee surgery as a rookie. And don’t forget Mauer missed a month last year after back surgery and has seasons of just 35 and 109 games played.Gulp.When Mauer’s meniscus tore in 2004, and from then on any time he so much as had a hangnail or case of the sniffles, there were murmurs about moving him to third base.Or first base. Or left field.Basically, anywhere other than catcher, where the 6-foot-5, 225 lb., Mauer would have to bend those knees into a crouch four days a week and take foul tips off his hands.Everyone from Sports Illustrated columnists to those at The Minneapolis Star-Tribune have weighed the pros and cons of taking one of baseball’s best pure hitters and giving him a chance to possibly prolong his career.The Twins’ typical answer has been if something comes up, they’ll deal with it later.Well, it’s later. It’s time to start giving serious thought as to whether a position change is in the best interest of not only Mauer, but also the team.Mauer is an investment. His teammate and friend Justin Morneau signed a six-year, $80 million deal a couple of years back, at that time the richest and longest deal in team history.You have to protect your investments — especially when one of them involves the fourth-largest contract in baseball history. That’s why you take care of your house and remodel it, or you buy beer for the cute freshman girl in your discussion section; you’re paying now, hoping that down the road what you’re getting back is at least as good as what you initially expectThere’s really no argument that Mauer is the best catcher in baseball. Some would argue that due to him playing catcher — where it’s acceptable to be adequate defensively and a black hole in the batter’s box — he’s more valuable an asset than all-everything first baseman Albert Pujols.So the question is, can a big guy with knee problems really catch for eight more years — and even if he can, are you playing with fire by letting him?I don’t doubt that Mauer can play another position.He was the only guy to ever win the USA Today’s High School Player of the Year award in two sports. He had a full-ride to Florida State to play quarterback and was all-state in basketball. Hell, according to features in The Star Tribune and Sports Illustrated, he even bowls, golfs and plays hockey better than, well, most everyone he knows.So maybe five years down the road, Joe’s playing third base and he’s probably doing a pretty good job of it. The Twins either go with Mauer’s mini-me in the minors, prospect Wilson Ramos, or decide they can live with a .250 hitter calling games behind the plate.But on the other hand, while he’s certainly a solid third baseman, he’s not the best. There are plenty of guys in the league at the position who are probably a bit better defensively too.Although this certainly isn’t a terrible scenario, it hamstrings two of the arguments best used to justify spending all that money, and they both have to do with position.Smith spent $184 million on the best catcher in the game, not on one of the better third basemen. The fact that Mauer is one of the top hitters in the game at a position where hitting is the least of a manager’s worries means the team can (eventually, I hope) find another masher to play third and hit 30 home runs from the hot corner.Moving Mauer from catcher not only is diminishing the value of your investment, but also is preventing your organization from filling in other holes in more cost-efficient ways.Likewise, you don’t remodel your house into a sports bar/aquarium, and you don’t settle for discussion section girl’s “attractive in bad lighting” friend.When you pay for something, you had better at least get what you thought you were investing in initially. If there’s a chance that getting the most out of it could backfire, so be it. At least you’re not settling for less.I’ll accept two or three seasons of Mauer battling balky knees or a bad back off and on. I won’t settle for another third baseman who’s more valuable in a fantasy draft than on the actual diamond.The Twins would be wise to feel the same way.Adam is a junior majoring in journalism. Is Mauer’s value that much higher as a catcher, or is it more important to just have him? E-mail him at [email protected]last_img read more