MINNEAPOLIS — For the first time in a while, Joe Mauer has been healthy for an entire offseason.
The Minnesota Twins catcher caught pneumonia at the end of the 2011 season and got a late start on offseason workouts. The year before, Mauer played in 137 games but was a bit dinged up heading into the winter. In 2009, a back injury kept Mauer on the bench for the first month of the season.
Now, with just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the 29-year-old Mauer is in the midst of perhaps his most productive offseason in years. Mauer got married in his hometown of St. Paul in December. Earlier this month, he was chosen to play for Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Mauer and the Twins have suffered back-to-back 90-loss seasons, something Mauer is hoping to change.
“It’s been tough. Obviously, nobody in the organization wanted the last couple seasons to go the way that they have, but things come up, injuries, you lose some great people moving on to different teams,” Mauer said Tuesday at a stop on the Twins’ Winter Caravan. “I think every year, I have the same goal. One is to get back to the playoffs. I think that’s every team’s goal at the beginning of the season.”
On a personal level, one of Mauer’s goals for 2013 is to stay healthy and play as many games as possible. He set a career high in games played last season with 147, thanks in part to splitting time between catcher and first base. Of the 147 games Mauer played in 2012, he was behind the plate for 74 of them and at first base for 30. The move away from the plate helped keep Mauer’s legs fresh, which allowed him to bat .319 with 10 home runs.
Mauer said Tuesday that he’ll do the same in 2013 if that’s what is asked of him but still considers himself a catcher first and foremost.
“I think it gets kind of twisted in the media. … I’ve never been reluctant to go over there. When it first happened, I was a little reluctant because I hadn’t taken a ground ball in eight years,” he said. “If I need to go over there to help the team out, I will. I feel we’re a better team when I’m back behind the plate and (Justin) Morneau’s at first and (Josh) Willingham’s in left.”
Mauer is one of three catchers on Team USA’s roster for the World Baseball Classic. It’s the first time the Twins All-Star has taken part in the event, and he’ll be joined on Team USA by Minnesota closer Glen Perkins. Mauer will have a rare opportunity to face one of his closest friends on the Twins in Morneau, who will play first base for Team Canada. The United States and Canada are in the same pool and are scheduled to meet March 10 in Phoenix.
“He’s a very proud Canadian, as everyone knows,” Mauer said of Morneau. “It’ll be fun. … I’ll let him do all the talking until it actually happens and go from there.”
Before Mauer heads to Phoenix in early March for the WBC, he’ll spend time in Fort Myers, Fla., adjusting to a new pitching staff. Minnesota’s offseason priority was to acquire starting pitching, and the Twins did just that. They traded Ben Revere to Philadelphia for Vance Worley and signed free agents Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Those three will join Scott Diamond in the Twins’ rotation, which had the highest ERA in the American League last season.
Mauer said the adjustment to the new pitchers will take a bit of time, but he’s excited for what the new additions can bring to the team.
“I faced Worley a couple times down in spring training,” Mauer said. “The guy’s got good stuff. That’ll be fun to get to know him and be able to work with him a little bit. I think he’s going to be a good one. Correia had a great year last year. Pittsburgh kind of had six starters going there, so it’ll be nice to give him an opportunity to see him up close. Pelfrey is another nice signing. I know he’s coming off of Tommy John. It’ll be fun to get down there and get to know these guys and start working with them.”
The Twins certainly have plenty of work to do in order to bounce back from last year’s 66-96 record. It will start with pitching, but Mauer is still very much a cornerstone of this franchise. There will be plenty of question marks in other areas when the Twins head to spring training, but Mauer remains optimistic about what lies ahead in the 2013 season.
“It’s funny, the other teams out there, a lot of teams look great on paper but you never know what’s going to happen. You really don’t find out what type of team you’re going to have until mid-summer,” Mauer said. “Looking at the moves that we’ve made, obviously losing (Denard) Span and Revere, that’s going to hurt. But you’ve got to trade talent to get talent. We’ve got some young arms and some guys that can throw right away. I think we’re in pretty good shape heading into this year.”