Much will depend on the consistent health of team talisman Mauer, who was limited to a mere 82 appearances in 2011, the second lowest total of his big-league career. His batting average and OBP fell 40 points each in his injury plagued campaign, and he posted his worst home run and RBI totals since his rookie season in 2004. This was hardly the return the team was looking for on the $23 million investment the Twins committed to the face of their franchise. While Mauer’s transition to playing games at first base will no doubt ease fans fears regarding his long-term durability, the variety and extent of his health issues leaves Twins fans apprehensive for the man the franchise has locked up to be its primary backstop through 2018. If the Twins are to offer any resistance in an improving AL Central in 2012, Mauer’s health will be critical to their chances of success.
Early in his second term as Twins GM Terry Ryan made a move that will endear him to Twins fans all over again, the acquisition of Ryan Doumit; whom he locked up to a 1 year $3 million deal. With Mauer’s health still uncertain his new backup will have Twins fans breathing a heavy sigh of relief, if only because it will save them having to watch Drew Butera’s horrendous struggles at the plate. While posting a line of 167/210/239 last year Butera was a constant source of frustration and a rightful scapegoat for a team that lacked depth across the roster.
While not possessing a strong defensive game and often succumbing to niggling injuries himself, Doumit’s 303/353/477 2011 line is a gargantuan improvement from the anemic Butera, while also allowing Ron Gardenhire a little more flexibility due to his versatility, having the ability to log time at catcher, in the outfield and at the corner infield positions.
If Mauer can stay healthy (a huge ‘if’ and ‘healthy’ meaning playing 130 games in 2012), catcher should be one of the Twins primary areas of strength. Twins fans everywhere will be hoping Mauer can return to his erstwhile status as one of the elite offensive catchers in the game and his perennial role as an on-base machine.