Here's a fun Player A vs. Player B side-by-side: Both men play the same position, they're roughly the same age, they've each played for one major league organization their entire careers, and they're making tons of cash.
Player A, 2014-16: 1,644 plate appearances, 64 home runs, .960 OPS (160 OPS+).
Player B, 2014-16: 1,760 plate appearances, 25 home runs, .733 OPS (103 OPS+).
Salaries (by average annual value): Player A, $22.5 million; Player B, $23 million.
No, things aren't exactly equal between 33-year-old Joey Votto (A) and 33-year-old Joe Mauer (B), despite the similarities.
That's part of the gamble of giving franchise cornerstones huge contracts. Mauer's eight-year, $184 million deal felt excessive when the Twins signed him to it in 2011, but he was an All-Star catcher entering his age 28 year at the time. Votto's 10-year, $225 million deal with the Reds was much closer to market value when it went into effect during Votto's age 30 season in 2014.
Votto has given the Reds a solid early return(13.5 bWAR, including an injury-marred 1.9 in '14). As for Mauer's current value to the Twins ... well, it's mostly intangible. He's a respected veteran, a solid citizen and a local guy, all of which is the nice way of saying he's barely a league-average first baseman. Concussions and other injuries forced him to move to the position full time in 2014, which is why the above side-by-side is for that period.
A power hitter in just one season of his career (28home runs in 2009), Mauer hasn't compensated with his sweet line-drive swing. The WAR numbers over the past three seasons bear that out: 5.8 bWAR, including injury-marred totals in 2014 and '16.
Actually, there are a few other areas in which Votto and Mauer are equals. Both have won an MVP award. Both have been in the playoffs three times. Both have stuck around during rebuilding periods. They have the hammer of no-trade protection, but they've decided to be part of the solution in their respective cities.
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Conversely, those rebuilding projects expose another way the two are not equal: Mauer's Twins could return to contention much sooner than Votto's Reds.
Minnesota is in the AL Central, which is poised to experience a big shakeup next offseason as the Tigers, Royals and White Sox all retool/rebuild. Even if they trade second baseman Brian Dozier, the Twins will still have a solid young outfield (Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler), a monster power hitter in Miguel Sano, and promising young pitchers Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, has to deal with the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates in the NL Central, and those franchises aren't backing off. Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez have been finds, and Jose Peraza and Nick Senzel are about to become infield fixtures, but the pitching seems light-years away from being playoff-caliber. The organization is making noise about experimenting with multiple pitchers throwing multiple innings in games. Necessity is the mother, etc.
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There were rumors last year that the Blue Jays were interested in acquiring Votto, an Ontario native. Nothing came of that talk. With Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips all leaving Cincinnati over the past year-plus, Votto is the last star standing. He also has seven years remaining on his deal.
The Twins would have to eat a lot of money to deal Mauer if they were inclined, but based on where they are in relation to their division, maybe Minnesota shouldn't be in any hurry to move him. The intangibles, if not the production, that a veteran leader such asMauer can bring to a young team might finally have value in 2018, which, coincidentally, is the last year of Mauer's megadeal.
What luck. Guess that's why they call it gambling.