Within the article, Justin Morneau suggests that the public backlash against Mauer might have been lessened if the team hadn't initially put out such a vague and mysterious diagnosis:
"Joe's not one to make excuses," Morneau said. "The reality is, he tried to come back too soon from knee surgery. Could [the Twins] have helped him out if they said he never built back his strength, instead of calling it bilateral leg weakness? I think it would have been a lot different if they said, he tried to come back too soon so he could help our team win."Morneau is sticking up for his friend and teammate, and there may be some validity to what he's saying, but I think he's missing the point. As I recall, the Twins made it fairly clear at the time that Mauer's ailment related to his offseason surgery, and I believe most people understood that the catcher had rushed himself back before he was ready. That was evident in his paltry April numbers and his very quick trip to the disabled list.
This resource, www.sportsmedicineschools.org, has information for people who want to help injured players like this out and get them back into the game faster.
Regardless of how you want to label Mauer's leg issues, though, the explanations we continue to hear ring hollow. Granted, he faced an abbreviated recovery timetable during the offseason because he didn't undergo surgery until December. But that still gave him two months to prepare for spring training, and once he arrived in Fort Myers he spent several weeks rehabbing there as well.
Mauer started a total of 16 games at catcher between spring training and the regular season before being shut down and placed on the DL, where he'd remain for over two months. Then, from his June 17 return through the end of August, Mauer batted .302 but managed a measly .375 slugging percentage, notching only 14 doubles and one homer in 255 plate appearances. He continued to complain of leg weakness and rarely caught more than two or three games in a row.
Catching is of course very hard on the knees and Mauer undoubtedly set himself back by forcing an early return. But the surgery -- which Bill Smith stressed at the time was a "minor procedure" -- is now nine months old and between the offseason, spring training and his DL stint, Mauer has had no less than five months to work on rehabbing it. That's more time than he's spent playing. His persisting issues simply don't add up; a healthy 28-year-old body should not recover this slowly.
Christensen's article continues to downplay the notion that Mauer is being afflicted by anything more than post-surgery complications. A passing reference is made to the "frenzy of speculation" about a "more serious illness" that arose when the bilateral leg weakness diagnosis was first announced. However, I've heard from multiple (albeit secondhand) sources that the Twins are privately concerned that there are deeper issues in play.
Hopefully none of those whispers will turn out to have substance. Mauer has looked much better at the plate lately, with a .346/.433/.538 hitting line since August 20th. Of course, the caveat is that August 20th marks the last time he caught in back-to-back games. At no point this season has he shown that he's capable of producing offensively while regularly crouching behind the plate. Perhaps Mauer's many years of catching have simply taken their toll and his legs aren't equipped for it anymore.
Reporters are doing a good job of shedding more and more light on this troubling situation, but I still don't believe we know the full story. For the time being, Mauer's future as a catcher is very much in doubt, which means finding another competent option at the position should be a high-ranking priority for the front office in the upcoming offseason.