In the first installment of the MLB Trades that Should Happen (But Won’t) series, I started rather conservatively and suggested that Dodgers go out and get an upgrade at first base by acquiring Billy Butler from the Kansas City Royals. I’m going about three steps crazier on this one.
The Minnesota Twins are in the middle of a lost season and have completely fallen off the tracks that made them a powerhouse franchise for the better part of the previous decade. Their minor league depth is gone, there are very few extremely talented arms at both the major and minor league levels, and the offense is merely getting older and more expensive. They have shortcomings all over the field and no young star around which to build. This is a team that really needs to start cutting costs and building from within again. Trading Joe Mauer would be the perfect move to jump-start the rebuild.
Mauer, at this point in his career, is no longer an everyday catcher. He’s proven over the past 2-3 years that, given exclusive playing time behind the plate, his body breaks down and he doesn’t play as well as he can. He can still catch, and is still good defensively behind the plate, but there is too much value lost in missed games when paying him $23 million a year, even when he maintains a .330/.400/.475 batting line. There are 1B’s to be had on the open market for $7-11 million that can post OPS’s in the .850s and create a lot of runs for your team without the prohibitive $23 million a year behind the name. As a result of that, the Twins, even with expanded payroll, cannot afford to keep Mauer.
The Washington Nationals, on the otherhand, are on the upswing. They have the most exciting young pitcher in the game in Stephen Strasburg. They have one of the two most exciting young hitters in the game (who is also the youngest) in Bryce Harper. They’re generally young everywhere around the diamond and have a lot of high end but also high-risk talent in the minors as well. They also have an owner in Ted Lerner who has loosened the purse strings in recent years as well.
This is a match made in heaven.
The Nationals acquire Mauer at the cost of $17 million to serve as their full-time catcher for the remainder of the year – his knees should be able to handle a little over 2 months worth of catching – and in the future, he can maintain a similar role to the one he has in Minnesota now. Mauer’s addition to the Nationals lineup gives them a player who will hit for average and will get on base, as their team average of .257 and team OBP of .314 sits them directly in the middle of the pack. In this instance, Mauer takes an average offense and makes it potentially very good.
The Twins re-acquire Ramos from the Nationals in a deal they should have never made in the first place when they traded for Matt Capps. It’s an expensive price to pay to get him back, especially knowing that he’s now coming off a torn ACL, but he’s shown that he can, at the very least, hold his own at the major league level offensively – and there may be room to grow as well.
Also coming over is hard throwing right-handed reliever Henry Rodriguez. Rodriguez is so talented that Davey Johnson had actually used him in the closer’s role earlier this season before command and consistency struggles sent him to the minors. He has a world of talent though, and the Twins are generally pretty good about harnessing the talent of hard throwing pitchers out of the bullpen.
The final piece is a bit of a wild card, as Nathan Karns was a 12th round pick by the Nationals in 2009. Coming out of Texas Tech after transferring from North Carolina State, Karns has a big, hard sinker as well as a power breaking ball and a developing changeup. After signing in 2009, he missed the remainder of the season with illness and then missed 2010 with shoulder issues. In the previous year and a half though, he’s been as unhittable as any pitcher in the minor leagues. His development level is probably not on par with his age, and if his changeup doesn’t develop he may not make it as a starter, but he has all the tools of being an impact MLB arm.
Why it won’t happen
The Twins simply won’t trade Mauer. The Nationals may not be able to take on that much salary, but this simply boils down to the Twins being afraid to make a risky move. There are reasons to understand why – Mauer’s a great hitter, still is only 29, is still a good all around player when healthy, is from the Twin Cities, is a non-controversial superstar in the Major Leagues – but if the Twins wanted to improve their baseball team, this would be the quickest way to do it.
In fact, I am probably underselling Joe Mauer by quite a bit. However, with that contract situation finding a taker will be hard. Unless the Twins want to fork over more cash, a return like the one outlined above is probably the max value they would receive.
What do you think? Would the Nationals be instant title contenders with Joe Mauer?