The Minnesota Twins placed Joe Mauer on waivers Wednesday, and as expected, he made it through unclaimed (h/t ESPN) and is now eligible to be traded to any team if the Twins do in fact intend to move him.
This time of year, players with large contracts being placed on waivers is commonplace, but the fact that the Twins did so with full knowledge that it would attract a good deal of headlines could mean they are at least willing to entertain the idea of trading Mauer.
The 29-year-old Mauer is owed roughly $142.5 million through 2018, and while there were questions surrounding his health entering the season, he's bounced back nicely and once again ranks among the top offensive backstops in the game.
He's not without question marks, though, as his power has been nonexistent since a 28-HR season in 2009, and he's spending more and more time at first base these days. A permanent move could be in his future, and that would cut into his offensive value.
Still, he's a terrific hitter, and there would likely be plenty of teams interested if he were in fact made available. How much salary the Twins would be willing to take on in the deal would go a long way toward determining how big of a return they could net.
He'll make $23 million annually, so if the Twins want to bring some top prospects their way in a trade, they will likely need to take on tens of millions of dollars over the length of the deal.
For the sake of him getting some time off outside of playing first base, my best guess is that he remains in the American League, where he can spend some time at DH.
So here's a look at three teams who could have interest in Mauer and the prospects to acquire him if the Twins are willing to move him and willing to send a good deal of cash along with him in a deal.
I explored a potential Mauer-to-the-Red Sox deal in an article yesterday, as the team certainly has the payroll flexibility after unloading more than $270 million in a trade with the Dodgers last week.
Next year alone, the trade freed up roughly $60 million, and with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kevin Youkilis' contracts also coming off the books, money would not be an issue for the Red Sox in a deal for Mauer.
They may be hesitant to pull the trigger, not only for fear of bringing on another long-term mega-deal, but because the pitching-starved Twins would likely target guys like Felix Doubront and top prospect Matt Barnes in a deal.
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway could also be sent as a replacement for Mauer, and slugging outfielder Bryce Brentz would no doubt also be of interest, as he's crushed Double-A pitching this season.
Incumbent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could be brought back in Boston, and Mauer could split time between behind the plate and at first base. The Red Sox have the money, the need and the trade chips. It's simply a matter of whether or not they would be willing to deal.
The Rangers already have a stacked offense, but catcher Mike Napoli is currently battling a strained quad and could be gone after this season, as he is set to hit free agency. Geovany Soto, who was acquired at the deadline, has one year of arbitration left, but the team likely won't want him to be their everyday backstop.
On top of that, if the team opts not to re-sign Josh Hamilton, who is also headed for free agency, Mauer could be the perfect replacement as an impact left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup.
Top-prospect Jurickson Profar isn't going anywhere, but with Justin Morneau no longer the player he once was and likely gone after next season, slugger Mike Olt could be of interest as a centerpiece for the deal.
After that, big-league-ready pitching prospects Martin Perez and Justin Grimm could step in and help the Twins immediately and give the Twins some pieces with which to rebuild their staff.
Pitching is the Rangers' biggest issue as they gear up for the stretch run, but adding someone like Mauer certainly wouldn't hurt their playoff chances and would be even more significant in 2013 and beyond.
This deal, more than any other, would require the Twins to pick up a good deal of salary. At the same time, though, the Rays could put together the most appealing package, as they have a wealth of the big-league-ready pitching talent the Twins so desperately need.
Catcher has been a gaping hole for the Rays this season, and they really have no long-term solution in their minor league system moving forward.
Guys like Wade Davis, Chris Archer and Alexander Colome could all conceivably be made available in a deal, and all would be ready to step into a rotation spot by next season at the latest.
While they lack a marquee prospect to include, they could offer a solid quantity of players in a deal and in a thin Twins organization that may very well be more available. It's a long shot, but the Rays could be a fit.