For Mauer, even this price was right

Eight years and $184 million.

It’s a ton of money. It’s more than most of us can fathom. It’s the biggest baseball contract signed by someone not named Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez.

No organization in the major leagues had handed out that much money since the economy went south. But if there is such a thing as a ballplayer worth that much, recession or no recession, then his name is Joe Mauer.

The deal had to happen. And it finally did.

Mauer, the Minnesota legend, is the favorite son who always said he never wanted to leave. On Sunday, he put it in writing. His new deal with the Twins lasts through the 2018 season and includes a no-trade clause.

The timing of Sunday’s announcement was ironic, coming hours after the team learned that its All-Star closer, Joe Nathan, would be lost for the season because of elbow surgery. But this contract is far more significant than even the Twins’ chances of winning an American League Central title this season.

Joe Mauer will be a Twin for life. Those are special words to type. If you truly care about the game, you should be ecstatic about that.

Even the Tigers and White Sox fans who hate it when he plays against their team should be happy. Even the Red Sox and Yankees fans who dreamt about how he would look in their colors.

For folks who don’t pay much attention to baseball in the heartland, here’s the five-second Mauer bio: Even though he endures the rigors of catching, Mauer has won three of the last four AL batting titles. He is coming off a season in which he won his latest crown (.365) and earned the AL MVP award in a near-unanimous vote.

Gold Gloves? Yep. Two in a row.

In short, if the major leagues held a dispersal draft tomorrow, you could find a lot of baseball people who would take him with the No. 1 overall pick. Ahead of Jeter. Ahead of A-Rod. Maybe even ahead of Albert Pujols.

One big reason: Mauer turns 27 next month, and there is a very strong chance that he will only get better from here.

Sure, there is risk. (I would imagine that most $184 million investments carry some risk.) Some may raise the question of how many more years Mauer’s body will be able to take the beating that accompanies life as a catcher. Remember that lower-back pain forced him to miss the start of last season.

But there are two pretty strong counterarguments to that. One is that the early-season back trouble obviously didn’t affect Mauer’s performance once he stepped onto the field last year. The other is that Mauer is a team-first superstar who would probably be willing to switch positions if the Twins deemed that necessary.

Mauer probably could have broken the $200 million mark as a free agent, but I don’t think he cared too much about the last dollar. From what I can glean, Mauer has a relatively modest lifestyle despite his status as one of the greatest players of his era.

And my sources tell me that you can have a pret-ty nice life in the great state of Minnesota on $184 million.

Mauer may have left some money on the table, but I don’t think he’s going to spend much time dwelling on that when he steps into the batter’s box at Target Field for the first time.

And on some level, that’s what this is all about.

Mauer is a Minnesota icon who played in five state championship games (across three sports) at Cretin-Derham Hall in his native St. Paul. His family can watch every home game. The Twins have built a gorgeous new ballpark and are (at last) increasing their payroll.

Do you think either party wanted Mauer to be a one-and-done at the new yard?

Why move out right after the dream house has been built?

It was that way for Ken Griffey Jr. and Safeco Field. The Mariners built their new ballpark with Junior in mind (big center field, short porch in right), but he got to play outside for only half a season. He wanted to play closer to home and forced a trade to the Reds … but it didn’t work out precisely as he envisioned.

Now Griffey is back in Seattle and loving life. It makes you wonder where those nine years went.

With Mauer, there will be no regrets. He knows how lucky he is. He is well aware of his good fortune, that his favorite team was there to draft him No. 1 overall nine years ago.

He belongs in Minnesota. Now there is a good chance that he’s never going to leave. Amen to that.