Joe Mauer’s been a lot of different things since being the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 draft.
First, he was surprising. When the Twins passed on Mark Prior to take the hometown kid No. 1, they were mocked for appearing to base their decision on “signability.” Prior was seeking a record bonus that the Twins apparently had no intention of paying, so they drafted the cheaper player.
But Mauer wasn’t just the cheaper player — he was the better player. This was apparent by 2006, where Prior was throwing what (at least for now) would prove to be his final major league pitches as Mauer was hitting .347 en route to becoming the first American League catcher to win a batting title.
Only then Mauer began to vex. His average dropped 54 points as a variety of injuries limited him to 109 games in 2007. Just as quickly as he spoiled the party, however, he restarted it. Appearing in a career high 146 games the next season, Mauer rebounded to hit .328 and win his second batting title in three seasons.
After beginning 2009 on the disabled list with a back injury, Mauer decided to end all the debate: he wasn’t surprising, vexing or injury prone: he was the best player in the league. The hometown kid went 2-for-3 with a home run in his May 1 debut and never looked back, batting .365/.444/.587 as he slugged 28 home runs, tallied 96 RBI and won his third batting title and first MVP award.
Which brings to where we our now. It turns out Mauer wasn’t only vexing, he was confounding. After a victory lap 2010 where he hit just nine home runs but nevertheless batted .327/.402/.469 as the Twins yet again made the playoffs, Mauer has missed 84 of a possible 218 games as he’s battled all manner of ailments. Along the way, he’s hit “only” .292/.379/.388 while homering just six times in 134 games.
So as a thumb injury held him out for the third straight day Wednesday, it became hard not to ponder: what is the future of Joe Mauer? Of the Twins’ $184 million man? More frustration, or more resilience? More batting titles, or a deeper feeling of missed opportunity? A fizzling out, or future vengeance?
At least when it comes to his short-term future, we should have an answer by the weekend. But if the first nine years of Mauer’s career are any indication, that answer could be different — and dramatically so — by this time next week.
Mauer is, of course, far from baseball’s only enigma. Two of the others reside on the Mets. Wednesday brought new chapters to the stories of both Jason Bay and Ike Davis.
For Bay, it was a return. Or at least the first half of one. Sidelined since April 23 with a broken rib, Bay came off the disabled list, but didn’t take the field in New York’s 5-3 loss to the Nationals. Whether he’ll play in today’s matinee remains to be seen, but if he does, he’ll be coming home to a .240/.316/.460 slash, a line more or less the same as the .251/.337/.386 one he posted in 2010-11. Unlike Mauer, it’s unlikely the narrative will be changing with Bay.
With Davis, it’s possible a changing of the narrative was what we witnessed on Wednesday. For just the second time in 54 games this season, the Mets’ 25-year-old first baseman reached base three times. A stunning stat in a vacuum, but not when you consider his .164/.237/.282 slash. One game is just one game, but the cliche is indeed true: you have to start somewhere.
If “starting somewhere” wasn’t what Davis was doing last night, it’s quite possible he’ll be starting somewhere entirely different in the very near future: Triple-A.
Freeman Goes Down
Just one week removed from his return from a case of blurred vision, Freddie Freeman went down again on Wednesday, this time with an injured left index finger.
Whether Freeman’s digit is bruised or broken will be determined by a Thursday morning X-ray, but at the very least, he shouldn’t be expected to suit up for this evening’s rubber match with the Marlins.
Game Notes: Brandon Morrow tossed his league-leading third shutout of the season. … Zack Greinke embarrassed the Cubs. … Allen Craig went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. The Cardinals savior and fantasy dynamo is now batting .366/.420/.746 with seven home runs and 24 RBI in just 18 games. Hopefully he can stay healthy. … Michael Brantley hit his first home run. … Cameron Maybin hit his second. Off Madison Bumgarner, no less. … Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista all did their thing. … Pitching in a non-save situation, Carlos Marmol allowed one-out singles to Edwin Maysonet and Martin Maldonado before serving up a three-run homer to Taylor Green. He’s a long way away from stopper duties. … Adam LaRoche showed signs of life. … Rajai Davis stuffed the stat-sheet.
National League Short Hops: The Astros reached a verbal agreement with No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa. The 17 year old appears poised to get a much, much earlier start on his pro career than most No. 1 picks. … The Diamondbacks were called a “long, long shot” to trade for Kevin Youkilis. … CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported the Padres may look into signing Carlos Quentin beyond 2012. … A second opinion confirmed Roy Halladay’s (shoulder) strained lat diagnosis. … Jeff Francis returned home to the Rockies. … Justin Upton responded to his owner, missed another game. … Jaime Garcia (elbow, shoulder, hip) got bad news. … Jim Thome (back) came off the disabled list.
American League Short Hops: Alex Avila (hamstring) landed on the disabled list. … Jered Weaver (back) is tentatively expected to return when first eligible on June 13. … The Orioles signed Jamie Moyer to a minor-league contract. … Felipe Paulino recorded just two outs against the Twins before leaving with a groin injury. The injury-prone righty is likely to miss at least one start. … Austin Jackson (abdomen) will begin a rehab assignment today. … As will Salvador Perez (knee). … Paul Konerko (wrist) sat out for the second straight day. He’s day-to-day. … Daisuke Matsuzaka (elbow) will make his 2012 debut on Saturday against the Nationals.