|Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports|
Flash-forward six seasons and that optimism has run out. Mauer is no longer behind the plate and Minnesota is in the midst of one of the franchise's worst stretches. So what can fans expect from Mauer with two years left on his monster deal?
Mauer will turn 34-years old during the first month of the coming season. He's slowly moving out of his prime and many Twins fans might argue that he's already past his prime. There are still two years remaining with Mauer in a Minnesota jersey and there's been glimmers of hope when it comes to the offensive side of the ball.
During last March/April, Mauer got off to a fast start as he hit .321/.453/.440 with seven extra-base hits and a 20 to 9 strikeout to walk ratio. By the end of April, he combined for five home runs and posted a .741 OPS. It looked like the season was off to a strong start.
The season's middle months didn't go so well and a quad injury bothered Mauer starting at the middle of August. He still ended that month hitting .337/.419/.533 with 13 extra-base hits. However, the injury continued to bother him into the season's final month. He posted a .111 batting average and a .468 OPS while being limited to 12 games during September/October.
There was good in 2016 like Mauer sharing co-American League Player of the Week honors with rookie teammate Max Kepler. There was bad like the month of June where he hit .223/.308/.287 with 22 strikeouts and 12 walks. There was ugly as he tried to fight through the final month of the season and posted the number mentioned above.
When Mauer's quad injury was originally reported, he was hitting .284/.384/417. Those are numbers most fans could handle especially since his defense at first base ranked among the best in the American League. So what version of Mauer will show up in 2017?
Over the last three season's Mauer has combined to bat .267 with a .733 OPS while averaging 40 extra-base hits per season. FanGraph's ZiPS 2017 Projections predict Mauer will hit .262/.350/.378 with nine home runs and 23 doubles. Injuries will tell the tale of Mauer's future. If Mauer has other nagging injuries, those numbers seem accurate. If he can stay healthier in 2017, I'd expect those numbers to be higher.
Mauer's final year under contract will be an interesting one. Is he going to want to continue to play? Does he want to finish his career in Minnesota? Do the Twins want to keep him around into his late-30's? Earlier this off-season, I projected the 2020 Twins line-up and it didn't include Mauer in the picture. In fact, another current member of the roster has taken over for him at first base.
Trying to make predictions can be a murky proposition especially in the baseball world. Mauer was one of the best hitters in the game before concussions and injuries took something away from him.
Even if these are his final two years in Minnesota, I am going to continue to appreciate every time he steps up to the plate. He's one of the best players in team history and he deserves fans respect especially if his Twins tenure is concluding.
What are your expectations for Mauer over the next two seasons? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.