For the past two months the Twins have repeatedly insisted that they plan to have Joe Mauer remain at catcher next season despite sitting out the final 40 games following a concussion, but today the team announced that Mauer is moving to first base.
Mauer spent 10 seasons at catcher, hitting .323 with an .873 OPS while making six All-Star teams and winning three batting titles, three Gold Glove awards, five Silver Slugger awards, and one MVP. Among all catchers in baseball history through age 30 he ranks sixth in Wins Above Replacement, behind only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Joe Torre, and Ted Simmons. Mauer was an amazing all-around catcher.
Back in August when Mauer suffered the concussion I wrote a lengthy article breaking down how a position switch would impact his all-around value. The short version is that big batting averages and on-base percentages would continue to make him a very good-hitting first baseman, but his lack of power would keep him from remaining as elite there as he was at catcher. Instead of being a top-three catcher every season, he projected to be in the 5-10 range among first basemen.
However, at some point this issue became less about value and more about health, and given how he struggled with post-concussion symptoms and given how many catchers spent time on the concussion disabled list this season the move makes sense for both Mauer and the Twins. He needs to be healthy and in the lineup, which is far more likely at first base than catcher.
Minnesota will likely turn to Josmil Pinto as their primary catcher following an impressive September debut, with Ryan Doumit and Chris Herrmann also in the mix to catch.
Update (7:01 PM EDT): David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the deal has been completed.
ESPN’s Keith Law reported on Saturday evening that a bad contract swap involving the Braves’ Hector Olivera and the Padres’ Matt Kemp was “getting close.” Olivera has been pulled off the field, per Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that only a last-second medical would kill the deal at this point, and that the Padres will be sending money to the Braves.
Kemp, 31, will have $64.5 million remaining on his contract through 2019 after this season, but the Dodgers will pay $3.5 million annually over those remaining three years, so the $64.5 million is really $54 million. The veteran has compiled a .262/.285/.489 triple-slash line with 23 home runs and 69 RBI in 431 plate appearances for the Padres this season.
Olivera, 31, will have $28.5 million remaining on his contract through 2020 after this season. The outfielder was handed an 82-game suspension, beginning on May 26, for his involvement in a domestic dispute on April 13. The suspension is up on August 2. He has a .501 OPS in 21 major league at-bats this season and a .278 OPS in 37 PA at Triple-A.
Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Padres will consider designating Olivera for assignment. The trade is all about the salary dump for the Padres, as they’d rather give outfield playing time to prospects Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot.
The Athletics and Royals swapped outfielders on Saturday. The Athletics sent Billy Burns to Kansas City and the Royals sent Brett Eibner to Oakland.
Burns, 26, doesn’t provide much in the way of offense, but he runs the bases well and plays solid defense. He was hitting .234/.270/.303 with 11 doubles, four triples, and 14 stolen bases in 274 plate appearances.
Eibner, 27, was batting .231/.286/.423 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 85 plate appearances. He has spent most of the season with Triple-A Omaha, where he’s put up a .902 OPS in 219 PA. Eibner played the outfield corners in the majors, but racked up a ton of time playing center in the minors, so his versatility will be valuable to the A’s.
Burns will become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2017 season while Eibner has hardly accrued any service time, which might explain part of the motivation behind the trade for the small-market Athletics.