Joe Mauer retires with a fascinating Hall of Fame case

Joe Mauer, the face of the Minnesota Twins franchise since his debut in 2004, is officially retiring after 15 seasons in Major League Baseball.

According to Phil Miller and La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the decision came down to wear and tear on Mauer’s body and the risks associated with suffering another concussion. Mauer saw his catching career end after a concussion during the 2013 season. He also had a concussion on May 18 of last season, which sidelined him for close to one month. Mauer just completed an eight-year, $184 million contract at the end of the 2018 season.

“After much consideration I have decided to retire from playing baseball,” Mauer wrote in his retirement announcement. “The decision came down to my health and my family. The risk of concussion is always there, and I was reminded of that this season after missing over 30 games as a result of diving for a foul ball.”

“Thank you, Minnesota Twins, and thank you, fans, for making my career as special and memorable as it was. Because of you I can leave the game I love with a full and grateful heart.”

There was a feeling during the Twins game against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 30 that Mauer was set to retire. Mauer returned to catching for one pitch during that game, which seemed to cap his terrific career. In that same game, Mauer fittingly doubled in what will now be his final MLB at-bat.

Now the focus will turn to the next stage of Mauer’s life in baseball, and that’s whether he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame case for Joe Mauer

Mauer definitely checks a lot of the necessary boxes as a Hall of Famer. His career 54.9 bWAR ranks him as the seventh-best catcher of all-time. Every catcher ahead of him is in the Hall of Fame. On Hall of Fame expert Jay Jaffe’s JAWS list, which analyzes and dissects players’ Hall of Fame standing, Mauer also ranks as the seventh best catcher in MLB history.

Mauer had a strong and extended peak. From his rookie season in 2004 until 2013, when injuries really started to impact his career, Mauer hit .323/.405/.468. The batting average was second only to Miguel Cabrera during that span. Power was never Mauer’s game either, but he did hit 29 homers during his lone MVP season in 2009. During that stretch he earned six All-Star selections.

Mauer’s body of work is very solid. He finished with a .306 career batting average and a .388 on-base. He finished with 2,123 career hits, which is a nice milestone to have under his belt. And don’t overlook his defense. Mauer has the sixth best fielding percentage for all catchers and the fifth best for all first baseman. He was never a liability with the glove even as his health began to limit him.

Still, Mauer is far from a lock because his career path didn’t follow the same path of other Hall of Famers, in particular those who were catchers.

Minnesota Twins’ star Joe Mauer has officially retired after 15 MLB seasons. (AP)

Case against Joe Mauer in the Hall of Fame

Many experts believe that if Mauer had finished his career as a catcher and put up the same career numbers he did, he’d be a Hall of Fame lock.

Unfortunately, his injuries forced a move to first base for his final five seasons, which might make it difficult for him to garner enough support.

Defense aside, Mauer never measured up as more than an above-average player at first base. The question then becomes should he be judged by what he was, an all-time great catcher who had to play first base to extend his career, or a first baseman who rarely gave his team an advantage at the plate.

Over his final five seasons, Mauer hit .278/.359/.388 while at first base primarily. There’s not a lot wrong with that. But again, we’re making a Hall of Fame case, and voters might need to push Mauer through. Perhaps the good news for Mauer is that he figures to hang around on the ballot for a long time even if he doesn’t get in right away. That could allow time for a change in perspective or even a change in how the Hall of Fame is voted.

The other thing potentially working in his favor is that he did retire now. At 35, he surely had some big hits left in him. By leaving now though, he leaves a positive final impression, rather than one of a player simply trying to hang on.

Mauer’s career figures to ignite many fascinating Hall of Fame debates. What can’t be debated is how fun he was to watch, and how much he’ll be missed. Especially in Minnesota.

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