Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mauer's history of injures hard to ignore

For fans of the Twins and for fans of Major League Baseball, it has been no secret to say a healthy Joe Mauer is one of the best players in the sport. In the course of his eight year career, he has redefined the catching position with his ability to hit for average and win batting titles in the American League. His MVP season of 2009 was a culmination of everything the Twins had hoped to get with Mauer when they picked him with the first selection of the 2001 MLB Draft. He combined average with power numbers that were off the charts and he showed he was the complete package.

In the midst of his greatness, one of the main problems for Mr. Mauer has been his ability to remain healthy and stay on the field for an entire season. Since debuting with the Twins in 2004, he has missed time in every season due to injury or illness. The biggest concern for fans of the Twins could be his long list of leg injuries that do not look good when he is signed to be the team's catcher for greater part of the next decade.

Here is the year-by-year breakdown of injuries for Mauer:
2004: Surgery to repair a torn medical meniscus in left knee; pain and swelling in sprained left knee
2005: Groin pain; shoulder injury
2007: Stress reaction in left fibula; back injury; left hamstring injury
2008: Surgery for a minor kidney obstruction; stiff neck
2009: Inflammation in the sacroiliac joint (back); bruised ankle
2010: Bruised left heel; right shoulder tendinitis; tissue inflammation in left knee; offseason arthroscopic surgery on left knee
2011: Bilateral leg weakness; soreness in hips, elbow, shoulder, neck; pneumonia
Mauer career injury map
The Twins watched Mauer suffer through numerous injuries in 2011 and he played in the fewest amount of games (86) since his rookie year. Mauer is in the first year of a monster contract that will play him $184 million to be the catcher and face of the franchise for the Twins. For the franchise to get value out of the contract, Mauer needs to be able to hold up behind the plate. During the course of his eight seasons with the Twins, he has started at catcher in 740 games. That translates to an average of 70 games a year without Mauer behind the plate for the Twins. 

As I wrote about in the waning months of the season, Mauer could be in the midst of a career defining offseason. His offseason training regime must change and he made it be known to the local and national media. His large six foot five inch frame has not been able to stand-up to an entire season of catching. That trend needs to change in the future for the Twins to find success again. 

The Twins will need to walk a fine line with Mauer in his future years with the team. The coaching staff and Mauer have repeatedly stressed the point about him being the catcher of the team and he will continue to play behind the plate. Mauer was able to show his athletic ability this season by playing at different positions in the field. He made the transition look fairly flawless and the Twins now have the option to relieve some of the stress of catching on a daily basis. 

There are other offseason issues which could have an impact on the team's use of Mauer next season. Besides recovering from neck and wrist surgery, Justin Morneau is still dealing with concussion symptoms. Diving for a ball in foul territory seemed to bring back some of the headaches for Morneau and he could see more time at designated hitter in 2012. The other option for first base had been Michael Cuddyer but he is now eligible for free agency. Chris Parmelee showed some promise in limited time but it is tough to know if he will be ready to take over at first base.

2018 and the end of Mauer's contract are a long ways away. Mauer has the chance to be one of the greatest catchers of all-time... 

...If injuries do not get in the way.

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