Mauer has put up with the booing of fans that couldn’t understand why he couldn’t hit .300 with injured legs. He never responded to the members of the media who call him soft when he didn’t play with a neck injury.
The St. Paul native has never complained about team management after he decided to stay home instead of bolting to join the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers or any other big-market team that throws around television dollars like Monopoly money and play on a club that now has had three straight losing seasons.
Mauer has deal with those situations gracefully, never letting his emotions get the best of him. He may suffer injuries like the rest of us, but beyond his athleticism, what separates him from the common man is his ability to just let things roll of his back.
So when Mauer reportedly got irritable with team management for asking about his injury, you now something is wrong with Gentleman Joe.
"'Irritable' is one of the descriptions many times you will hear (associated with) concussion symptoms," general manager Terry Ryan told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "You've got to feel for the guy. He's a pretty pleasant guy, so (irritability) would be concerning."
“It's not the easiest thing to figure out because Joe is a pretty laid-back guy all the time,” echoed manager Ron Gardenhire. “I know when he's irritated. He's pretty good about not showing it around too many people, but I've been around him a long time.”
There are other signs too. He could not sit in the dugout because the cacophony of the game triggered symptoms, and he has done interviews with his ball cap pulled over his eyes because he was sensitive to the light of the cameras.
He has a concussion, and Twins fans need to look no further than Justin Morneau to see how brain injuries have, at least in some capacity, hampered the ability of the former American League MVP.
It’s time to shut him down. The season is over, the team does not want his level of play to deteriorate and if he remains healthy, he will be valuable to the team long after his playing days are over.
Remaining a Superstar
Make no mistake about it: Mauer wants to continue to play. He ramped up workouts in late August before having reoccurring symptoms and told La Velle E. Neal of the Star Tribune that he is trying to get back as soon as he can.
He may have signed an eight-year, $184 million deal in 2010, but make no mistake, he has not lost his hunger for the game.
Mauer is also adamant about staying behind the plate. While he has played at first base and been used as a designated hitter (and been suggested as a potential third baseman), the former three-sport athlete at Cretin-Derham Hall has said over and over again that he wants to be a full-time catcher.
This creates a predicament now that he has suffered his second concussion (his first occurred during childhood) and spent half of the 2011 season on the disabled list.
If he wants to remain behind the dish, his best bet is calling it a season now and coming back next year healthier than ever. He is most valuable as a catcher, and it’s not worth risking another concussion, whose effects are cumulative, just because he wants to get a couple more at-bats in before the season is over.
Even if Mauer’s catching days are numbered, he is still a valuable bat in the middle of the lineup. Sure, there are first basemen and designated hitters who hit for more power, but anybody with a career .323/.405/.468 line, 135 OPS+ and a 44.0 WAR over his 10 seasons should not risk injury in a losing season.
The Team is Struggling
While Minnesota will probably finish with a higher win total than last year, it's still out of the pennant race and, more pertinently, trying to figure out which players are part of its future right now.
Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano may not have been called up yet, but they appear to be bona fide talents who will help turn things around in the Twin Cities. Buxton was named the Minor League Rookie of the Year by Baseball America, and Sano has his own documentary.
Kyle Gibson is a strikeout thrower who showed raw talent, but needs to find consistency, and Aaron Hicks has the potential to be a legitimate five-tool player. Both of those guys will benefit down the road from their auditions this season.
Brian Dozier and Oswaldo Arcia are the only two players that have earned a spot next season. Dozier, the former shortstop, has shown power at the plate with his 17 home runs, has an OPS+ of 100 and is sound defensively with a WAR of 3.8.
Arcia, an international pickup in 2007, also has an OPS+ of 100 and has hit 11 home runs.
There are a lot of other players who need to earn a spot, however, and these last few games should be used to evaluate them.
Trevor Plouffe has raw power, but his streaky bat and shaky fielding at third base are a concern. He could be a potential first baseman if he can hit around .280 and replicate that 24-home run season he had last year.
Like Plouffe, Chris Parmelee is a former first-rounder with a big bat out of Southern California. While he plays the ball of the wall exceptionally well in right field, he needs to make contact more consistently.
Chris Colabello is also an option at first or as a designated hitter. He spent most of his professional career playing independent ball, but the 29-year-old rookie has hit more home runs than anyone other than Sano in the Twins system.
Most importantly, however, is that there are three catchers fighting for jobs next year. Chris Herrmann’s play at the plate, behind the dish and in the outfield is making Ryan Doumit, potential trade bait, more expendable by the minute. Josmil Pinto can take the cover off the ball, but needs more time behind the plate.
Playing Mauer now may result in a few more wins, but at this point, the team is better off losing a couple more games and ending up with a better draft pick.
A Lifelong Twin
Unless all the Mauer haters gather and chase the hometown kid out of town, Mauer is here to stay.
He will probably finish his career as a Twin, hopefully having won a championship or two with Buxton and Sano at his side, and remain a part of the organization for years to come.
His brother Jake was a stud player at the University of St. Thomas, a Division III school in St. Paul, and drafted by the Twins in 2001. He is currently the manager of the Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernels. Doug Mientkiewicz began his career in Minnesota and manages Class A in Ft. Myers.
Three members of the big league coaching staff—Tom Brunansky, Terry Steinbach and Scott Ullger—are former Twins. Bert Blyleven, Tim Laudner and Roy Smalley all have a role with the local media.
Mauer will remain with the Twins in some capacity long after his playing days are over. He may be a coach, a member of the media or just a presence in the clubhouse. Whatever it is, he will be more capable of doing it if he is smart about how he handles his head injury now.
Mauer should not play another game this season. His head injury is too serious to be meddled with, and his future is much brighter than the present. The team is better off giving the young guys a chance and holding off for a better pick that can help him two years down the road when the team is contending again.
And, most importantly, Mauer is going to be a big part of the organization for years to come, and nobody wants to see his life impacted by a concussion sustained because he came back too quickly.
Joe Mauer is not himself, and that means something is wrong.
All advanced statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.
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