The defining career moment when Mauer finally realizes that he is no longer the backstop performer he once was and vacates the important defensive position cannot come a moment too soon. His defensive capabilities have been gradually slipping for several seasons now. While much of his reduced capacity is no fault of his own as numerous left knee injuries and unique physical traits for a catcher are finally “catching” up to him (no pun intended), the time to admit that he is hurting the club more than helping behind the plate is fast approaching.
The six-foot-five inch Mauer has never fit the prototype catcher build, but his extreme athletic abilities have carried him to three Golden Glove Award achievements from 2008-2010. Disregarding the fact that these awards are sometimes given to players that have as much offensive accomplishments as recognition for their defensive abilities, Mauer was definitely a top notch defensive catcher earlier in his professional career.
Fast approaching the age of 30, Mauer’s natural athletic ability has decreased marginally, but it’s apparently enough of a decline that any bad habits he might have been able to overcome before, simply do not carry over enough at his present stage of defensive performance. He never has looked comfortable blocking pitches in the normal defensive posture that one routinely sees from reserve catcher Drew Butera, a defensive standout, but offensive liability that is currently down in the minors recuperating from injury.
His lanky build undoubtedly plays a role in the difficulty abruptly shifting defensive positioning and remaining low enough to effectively block pitches in the dirt. Needless to say, the recurrent knee difficulties contribute as well. The fact remains that current Joe Mauer is not the defensive catcher he once was and he may have been slightly overrated in the defensive department to begin with.
His throwing arm is still strong, but almost every athletic motion begins with the legs and his throws have not been as accurate as well.
In the last week there have been several instances where his lack of defensive prowess has become more evident. Mauer even dropped a routine foul ball, a once heretofore extreme abnormality.
There have always been subtle hints in the press that some pitchers were not particularly happy with Joe’s pitch calling, but that seems to be a common occurrence from some pitchers that cannot simply accept blame for their own liabilities. He has to be given a pass in this area, but it still might be an organizational concern for the future.
The ultra-offensive talented Mauer will undoubtedly always be a threat at the plate and his defensive decline does not take away his tremendous accomplishments as a Minnesota Twin worthy of high praise for his career performance, but it would not be a surprise to see Mauer permanently moved to first base after the likely Justin Morneau trade. The time has come for his rumored transition to become reality as the Twins attempt to rebuild their franchise to playoff capacity in the next two years after 2013.
The club could go with any of their minor league catchers in the interim until the team can settle on a catcher for the future, perhaps via the expected trade of Morneau or from the MLB draft where a college catcher taken in the first two rounds could be major league ready in just a couple of professional seasons.
Joe has grown up quite a bit in the past two years as he is now married and ironically expecting twins of his own in the coming months ahead. It all seems perfectly natural for the new father to settle down at one position that is less taxing on the body. With marriage and a couple of newborns, the man has enough to take care of without worrying about knocks behind the plate. Real life will undoubtedly provide enough hard knocks for any one superstar to handle.