Monday, February 1, 2016

Mr. 3000... Maybe Not

When the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an 8-year, $184 million contract after the 2010 season, the team had high hopes for their hometown star as he started to age at one of baseball's toughest positions. Mauer was coming off an MVP season in 2009 and batting titles in 2006, 2008, and 2009. It looked like Mauer was on pace to be one of the best hitting catchers of all time.

Things change and Mauer's career has taken a different turn in recent years. Twins fans are well aware that concussions caused him to be shifted from catcher to first base. With the shift has come a different version of Mauer at the plate. After being a .323/.405/.468 hitter through the first ten years of his career, Mauer's declined to the point where he's hit .270/.348/.376 over the last two seasons while averaging over 100 strikeouts for the first time in his career.

Mauer's Hall of Fame case looked to be in good standing when he was a perennial All-Star as an American League backstop. Unfortunately, a light hitting first baseman don't usually get inducted into Cooperstown.

One of the most important milestones for Mauer to reach could be the 3,000 hit mark. Only four members of the 3,000 hit club are not in the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose because of his lifetime ban from baseball, Rafael Palmeiro because of his steroid use, along with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez who are not yet eligible.

Mauer enters the 2016 season just three hits shy of 1,700 and he has been averaging just over 142 hits over the last three seasons. In fact, Baseball Reference has him projected to have exactly 142 hits this season. If Mauer could keep up that pace for the next nine years, he'd be just shy of the 3,000 hit total following his 21st season in the league. He'd be over 40 at the time and it's hard to know how players will age in the twilight of their careers.

Derek Jeter retired in 2014 when he was in his age 40 season. He actually led all of baseball with 216 hits in 2012 when he was 38 years old.  Alex Rodriguez is the only active member of the 3,000 hit club and he combined for 131 hits last year in his age 39 season.  This was his highest total since 2010 but he was suspended for the entire 2014 season.

Is it still possible for Mauer to reach the 3,000 hit plateau?

Anything is possible in the baseball world and there have been weirder things that have happened. It would take a resurgence from Mauer in the second-half of his career. He'd have to show the longevity to stay productive well through his 30s when the Twins might have younger more productive players ready to take over.

Ichiro Suzuki could join the club this season with 65 more hits. It seems more likely that players like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols, and Adrian Beltre will all have a better chance at joining the 3,000 hit club than Mauer. Pujols and Beltre are further into their careers but they are a both in striking distance. Cano is the same age as Mauer and he is over 300 hits ahead of him. Cabrera seems destined for 3,000 and he could end up with one of the best hit totals of all-time.

The Twins could always find a line-up spot for their hometown hero but the organization is trending upward and Mauer would need to continue to contribute to a team that is hopefully fighting for the playoffs. He can be a free agent after 2018 so the finances of keeping Mauer will also contribute to his long-term role with the club.

Mauer could end up being Mr. 3000 but maybe not...

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