Is the end of the Joe Mauer era near?

The chess pieces are moving over at Target Field and some of them are beginning to point to the beginning of the post-Mauer era.

Mauer, the Cretin grad, is arguably the best player the Twins have had in the last decade, but since a concussion forced him to give up catching, he’s the punching bag du jour for all of the Twins’ ills.

Today, the Twins announced they’ve won the bidding rights to Byung-ho Park, a slugging Japanese Korean league first baseman. That, you may recall, is where Mauer plays.

For just $12.85 million, the Twins won the ability to negotiate with Byung-ho, who hit 53 home runs and 146 RBI for Nexen in 2015. In a lesser league, that’s better than Mauer.

So where does he play? Where does Mauer play if he plays at all?

The local kid’s contract is untradable. He’ll be 33 next spring, making $23 million.

Mauer played more games this season — 158 — than he’s ever played in a single season. He remains a constant threat, but he’s never been a big personality and baseball fans like their superstars to be larger than life. Torii Hunter, for example, wasn’t much of a player in 2015, but he remained a fan favorite.

It’s possible one of those first basemen could become a designated hitter, but that job is currently occupied by Miguel Sano. That makes an announcement last week make a little more sense regarding what the Twins have in mind. They want Sano to play left field in winter ball.

He plays third base by trade, although it’s not at all unheard of for third basemen to move to the outfield (See Alex Gordon of Kansas City and Lonnie Chisenhall of Cleveland).

But the outfield already has Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton. And third is occupied by Trevor Plouffe.

This, of course, suggests a platoon. But Mauer’s statistics were virtually identical in 2015 when facing righties and lefty pitchers. And Byung-Ho Park’s output suggests the righthander isn’t really a platoon player.

The Twins still have to convince him to sign with Minnesota. That’ll be a tough undertaking if they tell him he won’t be playing every day. Plus, the Twins will have to make him rich to get him to accept a deal. They’re not going to pay that kind of money to put him on the bench, and he’s not going to want to leave Japan South Korea to sit there.

A more likely scenario? One of the regulars is leaving town.

“No one saw this coming,” baseball writer Aaron Gleeman says today. “They could find room for Park, Mauer, and Sano in the same lineup by either trading incumbent third baseman Trevor Plouffe–which is a possibility I wrote 1,000 words about two weeks ago–or making Sano a left fielder.”

  • Here’s hoping the Twins use Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario in a platoon and give Sano a start at 3B once or twice a week. This is bad news for Kennys Vargas and if I were another team, I’d try to steal Oswaldo Arcia for .20 cents on the dollar. Oswaldo will make the Twins look foolish for giving up on him so early once a smarter team realizes he’s a valuable hitter if he doesn’t start against southpaws.

    The Twins have already said that Buxton is starting next season in AAA, so the outfield logjam won’t become an issue until May.

    • lkalliance

      I hadn’t heard about Buxton. OK, so that means building up to…this?

      2B Dozier
      CF Hicks
      DH Mauer
      LF Sano
      1B Park
      3B Plouffe
      RF Rosario
      C Suzuki

      SS (Escobar or someone else)

      Something like that?

      • I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mauer batting lead-off or 2nd. Paul tried this a few times at the end of the season because he likes having Sano bat in the first inning. So I would expect to see Sano hit third. But otherwise, that looks correct.

        The Twins likely expect Kepler to earn a full time call-up this season. That means we’d (eventually) have Rosario/Hicks/Buxton/Kepler/Sano all playing the outfield in August. Something will have to give to free up some playing time. Whether that’s a Hicks/Rosario trade or a Plouffe trade to move Sano to 3rd.

      • I don’t get the logic of declaring in November that someone will start the season in the minors.

        Of course, *my* team did the same thing last year and all it cost the team was a playoff spot. And the kid turned out to be the likely runner up for rookie of the year.

        • The Twins control Buxton and Berrios for another year if they “aren’t ready” and stay in the minors until May.

  • Gary F

    Tsuyoshi Nishioka?