Monday, February 05, 2007

Locking Up Mauer

The Twins avoided arbitration with Justin Morneau last week by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. They also reached one-year agreements with Lew Ford and Juan Rincon and inked Nick Punto to a two-year pact. That leaves just two arbitration-eligible players yet to reach mid-point agreements with the Twins: Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer.

This is interesting, particularly in Mauer's case. When I initially heard that the Twins had come to mid-point deals with several of their arbitration players and that Mauer wasn't one of them, I figured it was because they were working on hammering out a long-term deal with the hometown catcher. After all, there is little doubt that getting Mauer locked up is going to be the team's top priority. Johan Santana is the Twins' best player, but Mauer is their biggest draw. He's local, he's likable, and he's damn good.

Charley Walters of the Piooner Press reported Sunday that the Twins are believed to have offered Mauer a four-year contract worth $33 million. Such a deal would average out to $8.25 million per season. That seems like a lot when you consider that Mauer is only asking for $4.5 million in arbitration this season, but it would almost certainly end up being a good deal when you consider that it would allow them to avoid the rest of his arbitration years and would also lock him up through his first year of free-agent eligibility. Mauer would be 28 by the end of that contract, and when it concludes the Twins would be in a new stadium with (presumably) a higher payroll which would allow them to potentially offer a massive contract that would keep Mauer in a Twins uniform for the rest of his career.

A long-term deal would be a good thing, but it would also force Carl Pohlad to open the wallet. As it stands, the Twins and Mauer are quite far apart on their arbitration figures, with the Twins offering $3.3 million and Mauer asking for $4.5 million. The deadline to reach an agreement of some sort is tomorrow, so if nothing can be worked out, this case will go to arbitration. If that happens, I think Mauer wins.