April 15, 2011

Joe Mauer placed on the disabled list with bilateral leg weakness

For a brief time last night Joe Nathan and Matt Capps both blowing saves against the Rays to waste Carl Pavano's eight shutout innings seemed like a pretty big deal. And then the Twins announced after the loss that Joe Mauer has been placed on the disabled list with what they are calling bilateral leg weakness. Details on the injury are somewhat scarce for now, but he'll be examined by a specialist in Baltimore early next week and it certainly doesn't sound good.

Mauer, who clearly hadn't looked like his usual self while hitting .235/.289/.265 in nine games, has apparently been experiencing significant soreness in his hip and shoulder in addition to his surgically repaired knee. According to manager Ron Gardenhire "compensating for weakness in his upper leg ... is causing a lot of other problems" and after initially trying to play through the pain Mauer asked out of the lineup last week before missing the past two games.

From asking around and doing a bit of Google digging there are some extremely scary aspects of bilateral leg weakness, but it doesn't make much sense to speculate on anything until he's seen the specialist next week and more details are known. However, it certainly doesn't sound like Mauer will be back from the disabled list anytime soon and unfortunately after trading both Wilson Ramos and Jose Morales the Twins are exceptionally short on catching depth.

Drew Butera will take over as the primary catcher and the Twins have called up minor-league veteran Steve Holm from Rochester to serve as his backup. Butera is very strong defensively and Holm had a couple brief stints in the majors with the Giants in addition to 11 seasons in the minors, but there isn't a worse catching duo in the big leagues and asking them to replace the best catcher in baseball represents just about the largest possible dropoff.

Butera has hit .194/.230/.284 in the majors after batting .214/.296/.317 in the minors, making him perhaps MLB's worst hitter, and Holm has hit just .249/.330/.380 in 170 games at Triple-A. Even if they collectively perform relatively well the Butera-Holm combo is likely at least 60 runs worse offensively per year than Mauer. Or at least a reasonably healthy Mauer, which despite the frequent criticisms of his durability is mostly what the Twins have gotten.

Since missing most of his 2004 rookie season after knee surgery Mauer has played an average of 134 games per year and his 3,494 plate appearances during that time lead all MLB catchers. He also leads all catchers in plate appearances since 2006, since 2007, and since 2008. Not all of those plate appearances have come at catcher, but he's ranked among the league's top five in innings caught in four of the past five seasons.

Mauer has seen 12 percent of his career action elsewhere, but that's common for good-hitting catchers in the AL. For comparison, Victor Martinez is at 12 percent and Jorge Posada is at 10 percent. Mauer's overall lack of durability has largely been overstated because every injury is a huge story and many people don't appreciate that standard catcher workloads involve taking off more games than other positions. Of course, none of that feels like it matters right now.

  • Jontler

    That lack of middle infield and catching depth is starting to seem like not such a good idea.

  • grubah

    Right now a guy wishes that Redmond was still playing…

  • crowwing

    Lymes? “They said it was bilateral leg weakness, which is causing all kinds of soreness in his hips,” Gardenhire said. “He’s starting to get sore in other places, both his legs, his shoulder, his elbow, so we’re just going to shut him down.” Plus flu- like symptoms.

  • Tom

    I get the feeling this is much more serious than anyone is letting on. I know we can’t change hsitory, but damnn…I wish we had Wilson Ramos to plug in the lineup. Doe snayone really think Mauer will be healthy the rest of the year?

  • ganderson

    Crap. Not optimistic about this- I guess the Twins can now catch up to the Wild, T-Wolves, Vikings and the various iterations of Gophers to complete what may be the largest collection of pro and semi-pro sports awfulness anywhere. (With of course, apologies to the Football and Hockey Bulldogs!)

  • mike wants WINS

    It was stupid to trade Ramos. It was extra stupid to then trade Morales. Now they can enjoy the fruits of their hubris.

  • phil

    This is no good. The only silver lining I can see is that the Twins never seem to play well until they’re missing at least one of their best players. Many of the great winning runs they’ve had the past few years involved starting guys like Punto, Tolbert, etc.

    It does stink that they traded Wilson & Morales, but I’m not convinced Gardy would start either of them over Butera, given his unpredictable love for defense/scrappers.

    And I know it’s not sustainable if it does exist, but it SEEMS like Butera has a better batting average with RISP. Big single last night with the bases loaded…..

  • http://twitter.com/achester99 Alex

    Phil:

    http://bit.ly/iiCWsK
    Drew Butera with RISP: .220-.227-.244
    Drew Butera total: .194-.230-.284

    He is actually slightly worse with RISP (identical on base, 40 points worse slugging).

    The guy he’s replacing, BTW, is .326-.406-.479 overall and kicks it up to .342-.456-.508 with RISP, which might be the best in baseball over that time (certainly that OBP has to be the best in baseball by a long shot, no?)

    CRAP.

  • pk

    I watched Morales and the Rockies v Mets yesterday. The kid can hit. I don’t think that was ever a question but defensively it wasn’t a work of art. Mets ran without caution and he would likely be DH’ing if still playing for the Twins.
    Butera, as offensively limited as he is, is a dynamite defensive catcher.

  • jimbo92107

    Meanwhile, Wilson Ramos is batting .455 for the Nationals. On the other hand, Matt Capps is doing okay as a reliever, so I guess it all evens out. If you don’t need a starting catcher…

  • TMW

    It’s desperate and rash, but someone’s got to say it.

    Miguel Sano and Kyle Gibson for Jesus Montero and B/C level prospect.

    F it. Let’s get it done.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    It’s desperate and rash, but someone’s got to say it.

    Miguel Sano and Kyle Gibson for Jesus Montero and B/C level prospect.

    F it. Let’s get it done.
    That’s the sort of short-sighted thinking that got us in this mess.

  • Brian

    No actually, let’s not make any rash moves.

    The Twins were a .500 ballclub at best before Mauer went down. Now with his season in jeopardy the Twins are definitely not at a point on the win curve where they should be giving up future value for the sake of winning now.

  • TMW

    By the way, I’m mostly kidding. But now I’m just going to play devil’s advocate.

    How exactly would getting Montero mean giving up future value? Giving up future value is a Capps/Ramos trade. A prospect swap from a position of depth (SP) for a position of weakness (RH power at Target Field, Catcher/1B/DH depth in the future because Kubel and Thome are all but gone after 2011) makes a lot of sense to me. I like Sano and all, but he’s a long way and a ton of health and development variance away.

  • Jack

    i am sure glad we traded Ramos for a over paid set up guy.

  • by jiminy

    Wow, guys, the sky hasn’t fallen (yet). There’s at least a possibility it’s just what they said: When you’ve got a sore leg, you overcompensate and mess up other joints, so they’re shutting him down till the legs are stronger. Makes sense to me. He is coming off knee surgery, and it’s sore — not totally unexpected. Give it some time, instead of rushing back and messing up the rest of his body — sounds prudent to me. Sure it might be something worse, but given what we know now, there’s no reason to panic. I still expect to see him back soon and fairly healthy for the bulk of the season.

    That said, I hated the Ramos trade then, and I see no reason to change my mind now. Idiots.

  • Brian

    Well that is a different can of worms.

    I ignored the actual trade you proposed, because the Yankees wouldn’t make it. So yeah, sure, that trade makes sense, but its not happening.

    On the other hand, the Twins very well could decide that they need to make a move with idea of giving up future talent to improve in 2011. That general idea I am very much against.

  • Cory

    Why don’t they seriously look at Mauer at SS? They need a SS, and Mauer is definitely athletic enough with a great arm. I thought he somewhat played there in high school, and he is definitely smart and athletic enough to make the switch. Maybe not right away, but it is a position where he wouldn’t get beat up as much and would be healthy enough to still be hitting in September/October.

  • mike wants WINS

    Just as there are no 6’4″ catchers that play a long time*, there are no SS that do that.

    Mauer will be a 3B, 1B, or DH (maybe RF). The team and the person are kidding themselves if they think otherwise. They can’t spend $23MM and have the guy miss time all the time (or, by his own admission, be tired at the end of every year).

    *there probably are, but those are exceptions.

  • glass half empty guy

    Mauer hospitalized last night with “flu like symptoms”

  • Cory

    A-Rod, Ripken, there have to be others that are 6’3 or 6’4 or taller. I’m not saying it’s a perfect fit, but he is athletic and has an arm. At the very least he won’t get beat up like catching.

  • Abe

    Perhaps a poor year can be an opportunity to blow this thing up a bit and get some of the young talent in at the end of the year and on the roster next year. Let’s find a position for Mauer and then figure out next year’s catcher in the offseason if need be. Let’s say goodbye to Cuddyer/Kubel/Thome and perhaps Delmon and get Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks and Ben Revere in here. If Denard has another up and down year let’s give him some real competition with Revere in camp next year.

    On the pitching side let’s figure out if we can move Liriano for something decent. If we can we’ll open up a slot for Kyle Gibson and perhaps shore up a spot or two.

    Time to inject some life into this team.

  • The Twin

    The Twins aren’t what they use to be.

  • Dome Dog

    Calm down people…the Twins don’t need to blow the whole thing up and look to the future like some other teams in this town. With that said, I could see things breaking very poorly for them and this year being an outright disaster. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think they can quickly retool and be legitimate contenders again next year. I think their “window” for being World Series contenders with this group was from 2006-2010. Unfortunately, Target Field was built too late to pay for Santana and Hunter, and Morneau (their biggest offensive threat during those years)hasn’t played in a playoff game since 2006 due to his health. If this season goes downhill fast (and its WAY too early to know), I think they’ll make some moves to set themselves up well for next year to go along with the salaries that they’ll have coming off the books (Cuddy, Kubel, Capps, Nathan, Thome). Keep the faith Twins fans :)

  • Steve

    Twins fans, do not overreact. Yes, Joe Mauer is the best catcher in baseball at both hitting and playing defense/calling a game. But how have the Twins reacted the past couple years when their one of their best players is injured? Last year, they blew away the division AFTER Morneau had a concussion, ending his season. Morneau would have won the MVP in 2010 if he completed the season. They also lost closer Joe Nathan in spring training, a cornerstone for a team that often wins 1 run games.

    Two years ago, they rallied to win the division when Justin got injured in mid-September, while he had a solid ’09 after winning the MVP in ’08. The Twins still won the AL Central because they rallied together, with the surrounding players meeting the challenge.

    Remember 2009, when Joe sat out all of April after being diagnosed with a sacroiliac joint that March. He only came back to lead the league in batting average, OBP, and slugging. Let’s ensure he is healthy, bring him back slowly as a DH when he is, and put him behind the plate soon after.

    The team has shown it’s willing to give surrounding players a chance to step up, and earn a better spot in the lineup. Let’s give our guys a chance to adjust to their new roles (Young, Cuddyer, Kubel hitting in Joe/Justin’s spot, Hughes filling Nishi’s, Capps as setup, Mijares and Hughes as go-to bullpen, etc.) Then let the chips fall where they may. The team can always make a move (think Capps after Rauch closed well) if necessary.

    I’m confident our talent and experience at rallying/winning will still win us the AL Central.

  • mike wants wins

    Mauer is not even close to the best defensive catcher in MLB. He isn’t even the best defensive catcher on the Twins.

    I backed down from 90 to 88 wins right before Mauer was hurt. If Mauer is out for more than 2 weeks, I’ll back that down to 86 (or lower) if the roster is not changed.

  • Al

    Nathan is finished. And Capps is not a winning team’s closer. They won’t do it but Mijares should be the closer. As far as Mauer I doubt he’ll play 100 games this year. Casilla should be trashed now in favor of Ploufe. What can they get for Liriano at this point? If it was Jose Reyes I’d say yeah. But, prospects? Forget it. This year they’ll be lucky to finish up 79-83.

  • jimbo92107

    If the baseball season lasted one month, I’d be more worried. However, since it goes on and on into October, there is time for a lot of players to get better and/or heal up from various injuries.

    The Twins organization does have some very talented players coming up through their minor league system, but they probably are not mature enough to help the team win more division titles.

    Nathan is NOT finished. Is it okay if he _gradually_ gets better one year after Tommy John surgery? His heater is up to 93mph now, and his control is getting better. He’s working with a new mix of pitches. A bit of slack would be nice.

  • Dane

    Liriano for Montero…get it done.

  • Confused

    “…at least a reasonably healthy Mauer, which despite the frequent criticisms of his durability is mostly what the Twins have gotten.”

    Haha. You’re a riot, Gleeman.

    “…reasonably healthy Mauer.” Guffaw! You kill me.

  • al

    They have scored once in the first two innings of their 13 games I believe. This is equal to 1 run every 3 games.This is relatively not good.

  • ML

    Twins fans aren’t what they used to be.

  • brian

    I like the Lyme Disease theory. That’s worth checking out.

  • al

    Lyme Disease can be inflicted by tics; have they checked him for tics?

  • brian

    He stores them under his armpits to get that “extra gland feeling.”