With a new eight-year, $184 million contract that includes a full no-trade clause, the Minnesota Twins have essentially guaranteed their fan base that hometown hero Joe Mauer will be spending the majority of his career in the Twin Cities. The guaranteed money is steep -- the contract is the fourth-largest in the history of the game -- but only pays Mauer as if he's worth an average of six wins per year over a replacement-level player. He was worth eight wins over a replacement-level catcher a year ago, so even if the power surge of 2009 doesn’t carry over, the Twins still have a good chance of getting their money’s worth.
The risk surrounding this deal is not about 2010 or 2011, but whether Mauer can continue to play well through age 35, when this new contract will expire. Catchers age in dog years, as the physical strain of crouching behind the plate 130-plus times per year takes its toll. However, a look through the history books shows that catchers who can really hit have not just survived, but thrived even after a decade in baseball.
Here are the 10 best-hitting catchers in baseball history through their age-26 season. While John Romano offers a cautionary tale of a guy who didn’t last much past 30, the
list is surprisingly positive for Twins fans. Romano is the exception, not the rule. Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench, Joe Torre and Yogi Berra were all excellent well beyond their age-27 peak, and there is certainly no discernable trend of these catchers flaming out in their early 30s.
While an eight-year deal is a risk for any player, history does not suggest that we should expect Mauer’s bat to wilt in the next few years. He may eventually have to change positions, but regardless of where he plays, we should expect Mauer to be one of the game’s best hitters until he decides to hang up his spikes.
Dave Cameron is an author of FanGraphs.