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10/12/09 7:15 PM EST
Contract year ahead, Mauer eyes offseason
Twins catcher set for hip exam, hopes rest will be enough
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Mauer stood beside his locker inside the Twins' clubhouse at the Metrodome on Monday morning, packing up his equipment into boxes the day after his club's postseason run ended in a 4-1 loss to the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. While the offseason came earlier than the catcher had hoped, the time off will provide Mauer an opportunity to rest up and heal some of the bumps and bruises he acquired over his MVP-caliber 2009 season. Mauer batted .365 -- winning his third AL batting title in four years -- with 28 homers and 96 RBIs this season, but he has been battling a sore right hip flexor muscle since Tuesday night's Game 163 against the Tigers after he injured the muscle when he fell while rounding first base. Yet Mauer was determined not to let the injury keep him off the field while his team was still playing in the postseason. "I was beat up," Mauer admitted Monday. "Now I get to rest up for next year, but I wasn't going to come off that field. It was that time of year." The hip flexor never really got better as he continued to play, Mauer said, but the hope is that the injury will heal with rest. He'll get a full checkout by doctors this week to make sure the strained hip flexor is nothing more serious and just to make sure that everything else checks out OK as well. "I just want to try not to have an offseason like last year, where something might sneak up and set me back," Mauer said. Last offseason, Mauer battled back problems that had actually started in the final weeks of the 2008 season. He had offseason surgery to repair a kidney obstruction, but it didn't solve the back pain, and Mauer was forced to miss the first month of the regular season once his problem was finally diagnosed as an inflamed sacroiliac joint. Mauer had no recurrences of back problems this season, saying that he was "very pleased with my back this year." Besides the hip flexor at the end of the season, Mauer said that he was only bothered by the usual soreness that comes from catching nearly every day and the wear it takes on his entire body from his thumbs, to his arms and legs. Although it's nothing, he said, that the rest of the offseason can't fix.
But while Mauer hopes not to have physical issues to deal with this winter, there will be other question marks surrounding the catcher as his future is bound to be one of the biggest topics of discussion surrounding the Twins this offseason.
The 26-year-old catcher is entering the final year of a four-year, $33 contract. It's a similar position that Johan Santana was in following the 2007 season. The Twins wound up trading Santana in the offseason when a long-term extension could not be reached.
There is no feeling that the same thing would happen with Mauer. But with the catcher only signed through 2010, there is no question that one of the top priorities for Twins general manager Bill Smith this offseason will be to lock up Mauer long term.
"I really haven't thought about it," Mauer said of his contract. "I always said it will happen when it needs to happen. I'm not a guy that's saying we need to get it done right away. Let it happen when it happens."
Mauer might not appear to be in any hurry, but this seems to be the right time for the Twins to get a deal done. The club has already expressed a strong desire to sign the St. Paul, Minn., native to an extension, and doing so before the Twins open the 2010 season would eliminate any chance that Mauer's contract status becoming a distraction during the first year at the new Target Field.
And Mauer certainly doesn't want his contract to be an issue.
"I don't like to ruffle any feathers or anything like that," Mauer said. "I just like to go out and play the game and try to win. That's what I'm all about. I don't want it to be a distraction, but it will happen when it needs to happen."
Mauer has said recently that he's more interested in winning a World Series than being the highest-paid player in baseball. As for whether the Twins have shown him that they are on the same page in terms of wanting to win, Mauer only had to reference the club's season that had just ended.
"We can win here, I think we proved that here by getting to the postseason," Mauer said. "Ultimately, that's what I want to do."
Mauer said that he's spoken a little with his agent, Ron Shapiro, about his current contract status, but the two hadn't gotten into any serious discussions.
"We thought there were more important things going on," Mauer said, referencing the Twins' postseason run. "We tried to focus on things like that. But you know, we'll figure it out. We'll get some time to think about things like that and the season we just had, and we'll go from there."
|"We can win here."|
|-- Joe Mauer|
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.