March 22, 2010

Twins Keep Mauer Through 2018 With $184 Million Deal

Months of speculation, assumptions, rumors, false reports, and anxiety finally came to an end yesterday afternoon when the Twins immediately overshadowed news of Joe Nathan officially opting for Tommy John surgery by signing Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million contract extension that includes full no-trade protection and will keep the reigning AL MVP in Minnesota through his age-35 season in 2018.

Target Field was built to give Minnesotans the pleasure of outdoor baseball after decades in the Metrodome, but also to increase revenue enough to support a competitive payroll capable of retaining star players nearing free agency. As a 27-year-old homegrown former No. 1 overall pick coming off an MVP season Mauer fits that bill as well as any player ever will, which is why the decision was a no-brainer for the Twins despite the incredible amount of risk involved.

A list of the largest contracts in MLB history shows that long-term deals exceeding $100 million tend to work out well for the team far less than most people seem to think. For every Albert Pujols or Manny Ramirez deal that proved favorable for the team there are several massive deals that proved unfavorable to varying degrees: Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano, Ken Griffey Jr., Kevin Brown, Todd Helton, Jason Giambi.

Some of those were full-blown busts, some were a mixed bag where ultimately the player was paid significantly more than he was worth, and some simply saw the team overpay for a good player, as the "bad" pretty clearly outnumber the "good" even though in nearly every case the team and its fans were thrilled at the time of the signing. In other words, if given a chance to go back in time more often than not teams would opt against handing out a $100 million deal.

None of which means the Twins will regret this deal, just that committing that much up-front money over that many guaranteed years to even the very best players leaves all kinds of room for things to go wrong. Mauer is both younger and better than most of the guys to crack $100 million, but while those are key distinctions they're also offset somewhat by the fact that he plays a notoriously taxing position and has already experienced several major injuries.

All of which is mostly just a long way of saying $184 million is an awful lot of money, no matter the circumstances. However, in this case the player isn't merely great, he's truly elite, right in the middle of his prime, and clearly on an inner-circle Hall of Fame path. In five full seasons as a big leaguer Mauer has won one MVP and had a compelling case for two others while never playing at less than an All-Star level.

According to Fan Graphs' player valuation system he was worth an average of $22 million over that five-year span, including $26 million in 2008 and $37 million last season, so based on his established track record of performance $23 million per year seems about right. That figure is also in line with the most recent $100 million-plus contract given to a hitter, which is the nearly identical eight-year, $180 million deal Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees last offseason.

Teixeira signed that contract as a 29-year-old first baseman and .290/.378/.541 career hitter with an adjusted OPS+ of 134. Mauer is a 27-year-old catcher and .327/.408/.483 career hitter with an adjusted OPS+ of 136. Mauer is two years younger with superior defensive value and every bit as strong offensively even before factoring in the huge hitting disparity between first basemen and catchers (showing his value even if a position change is needed down the line).

Now, obviously it's a lot easier and less risky for the Yankees to throw around $180 million and there's actually a legitimate argument to be made for not committing that much money to any player, but in terms of his established level of performance and the going rate for elite hitters Mauer's deal is right around fair market value and perhaps even represents a bit of a discount if there can be such a thing at $184 million.

Beyond that, for any talk of Mauer's contract being so big that it could hinder the Twins' ability to maintain a quality roster around him it's important to note that their payroll has been in the $70 million range in recent years. Moving to Target Field has allowed them to push the payroll to around $100 million for 2010 and presumably the near future, in which case the $23 million devoted to Mauer will still leave more money to spend than they had in any previous season.

History says there's a high likelihood of the Twins living to regret Mauer's deal, but that would be true at $124 million or $184 million because once you get into that stratosphere remaining healthy and similarly productive is a must for the pact to work out. Whether that's a sound risk is certainly debatable, particularly for the Twins, but if anyone is worth their taking on the risks associated with a $184 million contract Mauer would seem to be the guy on and off the field.

If nothing else, the folks in Cooperstown can now start engraving a Twins hat on his plaque.

  • Swanee

    It seems to a small town guy like me the Twinks have spent a fair amount of money bringing in help to keep Mauer, Morny, & Nathan “happy” & give the boys a chance to “win it all.” It certainly begs the question how much will be left to fill in the gaps to win it all. It is hard to believe the rollercoaster ride from possible contraction to New Stadium & a 184 million Yankee kind of contract.

    It seems like a mind blowing amount Little Baby Jesus receives. But as Aaron pointed out if anybody is worth it maybe our Joe is.

    From going to the Met with my Dad on bat day to being blown away by the first $100,000.00/year MLB contracts. I gotta say I was skeptical about how much the Pohlad’s would spend after getting the new stadium and this contract answers that question in atomic fashion!

  • festivus

    high risk / high reward. lets hope the man stays healthy & delivers MN a world series!

  • Pfglines

    The twins have around 26 mil coming of the books after this season, & over 20 mil more after 2011. Not only that but this increases Mauers contract by 10 mil and the Twins payroll could go up at least 5 mil next season to 100 mil. So just not resigning Punto and Thome would be more than enough to cover the increase of Mauers contract. So until Mauer gets hurt or forgets how to hit, I’m not worried about the contract.

  • http://heavenlypeanuts.blogspot.com ScruffyRube

    Well done column, in particular, I like the notation about recent increases in the Twins revenue stream and how this will allow them to continue to field a team that fits within their system, a team that mirrors the kind of squad that has run out on to the field for the last 8 years, a team that has won 5 of the last 8 division titles.

    Ultimately, the Twins can win without spending as much as the Yankees do. Because while we will have one player paid like a Yankee, we will also fill the holes with inexpensive up and comers. If they can win without a big money player, they can probably win with one.

  • joeymitch

    Well done as always Aaron.

    I think it is necessary to explore what would have happened if we didn’t sign Joe Mauer as well. Now this is nearly impossible to predict more than a year or two down the line, but with new stadium that was largely publicly funded, you have to consider the pr nightmare the twins would have face if they let Mauer walk.

    This would potentially open up the club to intense criticisms for letting a homegrown superstar in his prime get away (likely to the Red Sox or Yankees), which could lead to decreased attendance and interest from fans. I don’t know about everyone else, but I would have taken at least two years off from the Twins. How can I support a team that won’t put it’s money into an investment like Mauer? Especially, (as Aaron mentioned) the stadium was billed as a way to increase the teams payroll and competitiveness long term.

    What a great day yesterday was! The public tours the beautiful new Target Field and we sign Baby Jesus. Win Twins!

  • http://www.amazinavenue.com Eric Simon

    Trying to figure out how the Carlos Beltran deal was unfavorable for the Mets. If we stick with your FanGraphs valuation premise, Beltran has been worth $95.4 million in the first five years of his seven-year, $119 million deal. Merely decent 2010 and 2011 seasons from Beltran will have him “worth” what the Mets paid him.

  • Cris E

    >>The twins have around 26 mil coming of the books after this season, & over 20 mil more after 2011. Not only that but this increases Mauers contract by 10 mil and the Twins payroll could go up at least 5 mil next season to 100 mil<<

    Sort of. One other number to consider is that they will still be receiving revenue sharing money in 2010 but that will go away in 2011. That old stream of cash on top of the new park river is enabling them to spend like crazy for this particular season. Next year things will have to be a bit tighter, and "spontaneous" signings like Hudson won;t be as likely.

  • Ben

    Good to keep the hometown kid, I really didn’t care how much they paid him as long as we locked him down long-term. I wonder how his knees/back will hold up playing 130 games/season til he turns 35 though.

    Side note: I like the new layout of the blog more than than the old one. Seems a little cleaner and more modern.

  • Dave T

    I thought all along that Mauer would get a Texiera-size contract. What surprised me was the no trade clause. Mauer really DOES want to stay here. Good for him that he put pressure on the Twins to get the bench players out of the starting lineup.

    I think the Twins will regret not building a bigger stadium. The demand is there, and they will need more revenue.

  • http://www.mog.com/funoka funoka

    If I recall correctly what I read over the weekend, I think it’s interesting that the Twins only have about a million tickets left to sell for the 2010 season. Assuming the remain competitve over the next few years, that translates into big bucks for Pohlads . . . and Twins players who perform. It’s an amazing state of affairs that this is a team that was nearly “contracted” and that in some dark years they couldn’t draw a million fans.

    I live in DC now and the new stadium attendance “halo” effect as some call it didn’t work for The Nationals, but the Nats are a 100 loss team the past two years. The Twins should be in the playoff mix for the next few years, so signing Mauer makes both financial and PR sense.

    I heard an ESPN analyst be somewhat critical of the signing, unless the Twins’ long-term plans are to relieve Mauer of his catching duties. This guy said nobody as tall as Mauer has ever caught as many big league games as he has. I thought the comments were off base and the Twins would have been murdered by the national press if they didn’t sign Mauer. Looking forward to seeing the new stadium. I plan on going to both April exhibitons.

  • Grant

    I think another benefit to the Mauer signing is it could mean more revenue in terms of radio and tv contracts and corporate sponsorship. The Twins have many good players, but no one is as marketable as Mauer. Knowing that he will be here for sure has to make the bidding higher on TV and Radio deals moving forward. They made this deal based on 2010 revenue, but my guess is that signing Mauer puts additional revenue on the table that makes the signing cost less overall (basically funds that would only be there if Mauer stayed or if another face of the franchise emerged).

    The length and value make me very nervous, but if some of the size is offset by new revenues or prevents revenues from dropping, then it is well worth it.

  • hab94

    Other $100M+ contracts that have worked out well for the teams are Derek Jeter and A-rod. Even though Texas didn’t win with A-rod, he definitely put up numbers to support that contract (with the juice of course).

    Twins definitely got a discount. If Joe waited for FA, he would have gotten more than $23M from NY/Boston/Mets/Angels. This really puts into perspective letting Hunter and Santana go.

  • Woo

    If you look at cost of living indexes, Mauer’s “hometown discount” doesn’t look like it’ll hurt. $23 million a year in St. Paul is equivalent to $27.7 million in Boston, or a whopping $45.9 million in Manhattan.

  • jackattack

    Good write up, Aaron, but allow your writing to show how excited I know you are about this. If the Twins wanted keep Mauer, this is what they had to pay, so discussing whether or not they’ll regret it is sort of moot.

    Also, while the Twins certainly made this deal to keep this team competitive, as you and every here has insinuated, this is an insanely good PR move. Not to mention a PR move that works for finances. Talking about jersey sales might seem silly, but the front office made sure that they’ll be raking in cash off of Mauer jerseys for the next decade with this deal.

    This deal is good for baseball, it’s spectacular for Mauer, it’s amazing for the Twins, and it’s downright extraordinary for Twins fans and the state of Minnesota.

  • Jthomas

    I want to push back a little on the list of contract busts. All of those you list were either pitchers or hitters older than 29. The list of >100mm contracts given out to players younger than 29 is ARod’s first deal (25), Derek Jeter (27), Miguel Cabrera (25), Carlos Beltran (28), Albert Pujols (24).

  • Kurt E.

    Funoka – That person makes a legitimate argument toward Mauer being too tall to play catcher. Mauer is 6’5” 225 pounds, that is pretty big to be crouching down year after year. Mauer has already had major injuries and I just don’t think it’s feasible that he remains a catcher his whole career. I think if the Twins were smart, in about 3 or 4 years, (Mauer would be 30)they would move Mauer to 3rd base and have Ramos be the catcher. This would allow Mauer to hopefully remain healthy in the last 4 years of his contract.

  • pierre

    Please stop referring to Joe Mauer as baby jesus. It really inappropriate. Not needed. that being sad very happy he is here for the next 8 years.

  • BR

    I think AG correctly identifies this as an inherently risky contract, given its size, but one worth undertaking, given the player. Really, there are three types of player-associated risks the team weighs:
    1. Character: Is this the kind of player who is likely to become fat and lazy once he gets paid?
    2. Performance: Is the team paying for a mirage? In other words, has the player really established an elite levle of performance justifying the big bucks? (Think Mike Hampton, A.Soriano, V.Wells, even B. Zito here.)
    3. Durability/injury risk: Is the player injury prone, or at an age where you’d expect physical breakdowns early in the deal? (The Red Sox have let players like Pedro and even Jason Bay go rather than offer them the extra year/$$$ they ultimately got, based on these kinds of concerns. See also Todd Helton.)

    With Mauer, the Twins have about as close to zero concerns as possible in #s 1 and 2. They were only really dealing with risk in #3. And Mauer’s relative youth mitigates this risk, to some extent. But it’s also a reason, I think, that they settled on an 8 year deal, rather than go to 9 or 10, which I bet was discussed. And I also bet they paid an extra mil or so per year to keep the deal at 8 years (8/184 instead of 10/220).

  • Jeff H

    BR did a nice layout in the post above mine. However, I’m not as convinced that issue #2 (Performance) is as much of a sure thing as he assumes. Aside from the fact that perfomance and injury are tied together (i.e., he could have a wrist injury like Rickie Weeks and hit like garbage), Mauer’s only had one year where he displayed anything more than 13-HR-per-year power. People look at 2009 and assume that it just “clicked” for him, and that’s what he’ll be from now on. But he was a healthy 25-year old with 27 more plate appearances in 2008, and that season only produced 9 HR’s. Mauer’s performance as an AVG hitter is long established, but we can’t say it’s a forgone conclusion this guy his 20 HR’s 5 out of the next 10 years, and if he doesn’t, $184 million was too much.

    But, of course, this contract didn’t happen in a bubble, and Mauer HAD to be kept. This is a franchise with momentum right now, and losing the hometown Baby Jesus would’ve been about the most unforgivable act imaginable.

    But the one thing this signing (as unlikely as it would’ve seemed 8 years ago) does NOT do is make this team any more competitive in the long run against the Yankees or Red Sox. Mauer has only participated in two postseasons with the Twins. In 2006, he was terrible. In 2009, he was very good. But this same core group of guys has demonstrated time and time again that they do not have the firepower and/or mental toughness to win in the playoffs. Being competitive year in year out is certainly a worthwhile accomplishment, but for this team to take a step forward, it will depend on supporting cast, not just Mauer.

  • PeteD

    As Eric and Jthomas have also pointed out, I also want to make note of one of the busts you mention. Using the FanGraphs valuation system, Todd Helton has been worth $111.5 M over the course of his $141.5 M deal. Now, while the odds that Helton would be worth $30 M over the next two seasons are low, it should be noted that FanGraphs had him worth $16.5 M last season. So while it will probably turn out that the deal overpaid Helton, I wouldn’t go as far to label him a bust in a list that includes guys like Hampton, Zito, Wells, Giambi, and Soriano.

  • Spookymilk

    PeteD – the main knock against Helton’s contract isn’t that he hasn’t been worth it, it’s that the Rockies were unable to put a strong team around him for years because of budget constraints. It’s only recently after some guys panned out – and after the NL West became pretty a pretty weak division for a few years – that the Rockies have been able to get over the hump.

  • Chris

    I think it is a good deal for the twins, Joe and the city, but i also think..8 yers is too long. In 8 years so many can happen…5 or 6 years would have been enough.
    Good news: Mauer seems to be a twin 4ever!

  • http://kkvb.blogspot.com Karl

    It’s funny that there is a even a hint of buyer’s remorse in the fan/blogosphere community when considering the alternative – not signing Mauer would have been akin to driving your car for the next year without auto insurance.

    Incredibly nerve racking and always worried about long term ramifications.

    The point made about the Hunter and Santana ontract situations being brought into copmarison is good. Simply put, although Hunter was/is a star player – he was not a necessity to the viability of the franchise going forward. At the time, it was like looking at your household budget and having to cancel cable tv. Yes you certainly were going to feel it’s absence – but priority was placed on groceries/electricity etc…

    Also – the Denard Span development has helped alot of folks slowly forget about Hunter.

    The real comparison can be made to Santana – as close to a sure fire elite player the Twins have ever had in this era (“this era” not including Puckett).

  • BR

    Jeff H raises a good point, although I’d argue that the line he’s drawing is between an all-time great level of performance (Mauer’s 1.000+ OPS season, SABR triple crown year as a catcher) and a consistently excellent, All-Star, eventual HoF level of performance (Mauer circa 06-08). I think Mauer gets a deal like this even if last year’s numbers were 5-10% lower.

    We know he’s a .400 OBP guy. It’s easy to project him to continue as a .500+ SLG player through his prime years. And a 900+ OPS from a gold glove caliber catcher is so rare (Victor Martinez was at 861 last year, and he’s not good defensively) and gives you such a competitive advantage as to be worth a mint.

  • McPete

    With MacDougal recently being released, is this an option for one year reliever to fill Nathan’s shoes? His walks are a bit high, but he is familiar with the AL Central gets a lot of ground ball outs. He kind of reminds me of an everyday Eddie in some ways. Any thoughts?

  • Jeff H

    Mauer’s press conference answer to the question about whether his deal would hurt the Twins’ ability to surround him with quality talent in the future was awful. He essentially said that he only worried about himself. But whatever, Mauer was never accused of being a dynamic public speaker.

    I’ve been critical of Mauer at times in the past, but I really don’t see how this gets turned around on Mauer in the future. This isn’t like Kevin Garnett, where the team was mediocre and hampered by a salary cap. The Twins are a “good” team now signing Mauer helps ensure that they’ll remain good in the future. But the economic disparities in baseball are so much more extreme than in, say, the NBA, that the dirty truth is that spending another $10 or $20 million might make the Twins a dominant Central team, but probably still wouldn’t bring us to an elite level where we could consistently beat the Yankees or Red Sox. So to blame Mauer for earning $23 million is such a small piece of the picture compared to the larger issues in baseball. The Twins already are big enough spenders to be perennial favorites in the Central, which gives them at least a shot to knock off somebody in a 5-game series and get to the ALCS…it just hasn’t happened since 2002.

  • Jeff H

    Also, for all the heartwarming goodwill we’re seeing in the media that is happy for the Twins that this little engine that could kept their hometown prospect…it’s also a little embarassing when you consider that there’s been no change in ownership, yet the same Pohlad family that apparently was so unable to profit from this team that they considered the Twins for contraction has now handed out one of the richest contracts in MLB history.

    We hear things like “small market” or “mid market” all the time, but the truth is that Pohlad family always had the money to make this team competitive, but were only willing to do so once the fans demonstrated that they would be willing to fill the seats, that the team had been competitive for over half a decade, that the taxpayers helped them buy a new ballpark, and that their money was going towards a local product cash cow like the Baby Jesus. I love this team, but never forget that this is a business first, and a hobby second.

  • Joe

    I don’t think they ever really did. The increase in payroll is all about the Twins having a new stadium. A state of the art one built solely for baseball. One that THEY own and not the Vikings.

    It is hard to have two stadiums farther removed than Target Field and the Metrodome in terms of how much they do economically for their baseball team.

  • Jonathan

    Jeff H wrote: “The Twins already are big enough spenders to be perennial favorites in the Central…”

    Perennial favorites? Contenders, definitely, but this might be a little thick on hyperbole. The Tigers have outspent the Twins of recent and aren’t afraid to go over slot in the draft, unlike the Twins. They look to be good (relative to the Central) for the foreseeable future. Thankfully the White Sox are a very old team that will need to be torn apart and rebuilt soon and the Indians are in rebuilding mode. With the loss of Nathan, I’d say the race for the Central is going to be extremely tight this season. Hopefully the Twins can swing a reasonably priced deal for Bell.