Baseball: Twins sign Mauer to record contract

By Paul Hurst
The Minnesota Twins and catcher Joe Mauer last night agreed to an eight-year contract worth $184m, including a full no-trade clauseTwins and Mauer agree an eight-year contract worth $184m

The Minnesota Twins and catcher Joe Mauer have agreed to an eight-year contract worth $184m, including a full no-trade clause.

The 2009 American League MVP had been in talks with the Twins throughout the off-season, and has now been rewarded with the fourth biggest contract in baseball history. The deal is worth more than twice as much as any contract ever handed out to a catcher, dwarfing Mike Piazza’s $91m deal with the New York Mets in 1998.

Mauer has developed into the game’s premier catcher, winning three batting titles in the last four seasons. 2009 saw a real breakout year for him, as he developed a surge of power which saw him club 28 home runs, after having never hit more than 13 in any previous year.

The Saint Paul native was selected first overall in the 2001 Draft by his hometown Twins after one of the most distinguished high school sporting careers in American history.

At Cretin-Derham Hall HS, Mauer played baseball, basketball and American football, excelling in all three. During his four-year high school baseball career, he struck out just once. He is the only athlete to have ever been named National High School Player Of The Year by USA Today in two different sports, and rejected football scholarships to enter the draft in 2001.

His decision has been repaid many-fold by the Twins with this contract, keeping him in the Twin Cities through the 2018 season. The 26-year-old would have become a free agent at the end of the upcoming season, and speculation was beginning to grow over how much Mauer could command on the open market, despite his insistence that he wanted to stay with his hometown club.

The deal is certainly a sign of intent from the Twins, who look determined to push on from their status as perennial contenders in the AL Central, to try and win their first World Series title since 1991.

The Twins move into their new stadium, Target Field, next month, and they hope it will be the springboard they need to move away from their traditional small-market status. The size of the contract handed to Mauer will put significant strain on their payroll, which on Opening Day 2009 stood at $65m.

Mauer will earn an average of $23m a year over the life of the contract, which would suggest the Twins payroll will have to go up to, and remain, around the $100m range, particularly when it is time for them to re-sign players like Michael Cuddyer.

It is certainly a good story for Major League Baseball that a club like the Twins has managed to hold on to a homegrown superstar rather than have them poached by the Yankees or Red Sox, but there is a definite risk in a small-market club handing out such a vast contract. If things do not work out, it could be a real millstone the Twins for years to come.

However, for now, there is great jubilation in the state of Minnesota that their hero will be there to usher in exciting times to come at Target Field.

Amongst the Mauer hype, there was also bad news for the Twins yesterday, as it was confirmed that closer Joe Nathan will miss the entire 2010 season.

Nathan was diagnosed with a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing arm a fortnight ago. It was widely expected when the injury was revealed that he would require season-ending Tommy John surgery, but Nathan announced he would rest for two weeks and see if there was any improvement.

Nathan has become one of the best closers in the game, along with the Mariano Rivera, and will be a difficult piece to replace for the Twins.

There were rumours of the Twins looking to trade for Cleveland’s Kerry Wood as a replacement, but with the Indians announcing on Saturday that Wood is heading to the disabled list for six to eight weeks with a shoulder strain, the Twins may now have to promote from within.

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