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Twins' Joe Mauer on Logan Morrison addition: 'Definitely a good thing'

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The last time Joe Mauer entered the final year of his contract, the Twins made sure to lock him up before Opening Day even rolled around. It was March 22, 2010 that Mauer signed his much-discussed eight-year, $184 million extension that runs through this season.

Even his four-year, $33 million deal in early 2007, the one that bought out his three arbitration years plus one year of free agency, was made official on Feb. 11 as he made a flight connection in Dallas. Mauer was on his way to Arizona for an arbitration hearing to settle a difference of the $3.3 million the Twins submitted and the $4.5 million his agent, Ron Shapiro, requested.

Seems quaint now, doesn't it?

And yet, one must wonder if lightning could strike a third time with Mauer entering a potential walk year and a deafening silence around his future with the team.

"I'm not going to blindside you here this spring with anything," Mauer, set to turn 35 in April, said with a smile Tuesday, Feb. 27, on the eve of his first Grapefruit League game. "To be honest, we really haven't had any conversations, which is fine. I think they know kind of where ..."

Here, he caught himself.

"I don't get too far ahead of myself," he said. "I really just want to enjoy this season and go out and play some baseball. I'm going to enjoy this year."

Hedging their bets

As for the surprise addition of 38-homer first baseman Logan Morrison, set to be introduced after taking his physical exam on Wednesday, Mauer said he hadn't even thought about how they might split the duties between first and designated hitter.

"I'm excited we were able to add a talent like that at this time in camp," he said. "I think that just lengthens our lineup and really puts a big bat in the middle of the order. Definitely excited to add him. Adding talent is definitely a good thing."

That's true from a team perspective, for sure, especially when it seemingly comes at a discount. Morrison's one-year guarantee is just $6.5 million, but there also are team and vesting options that could keep him around through 2019 for a total of $16.5 million.

Considering the past four seasons have seen Mauer (5.0) and Morrison (4.7) produce virtually identical wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs.com, the Morrison signing also could give the Twins' front office a nice hedge in the event of a Mauer downturn this season.

Even if Mauer continues the 2017 resurgence that saw him hit .305 and post his best all-around production (16 percent above league average) since his career-altering concussion in 2013, the Twins might have added leverage in extension talks with Mauer.

What's the proper number at which to begin those as Mauer comes off a deal that pays him $23 million per year? In large part, that's what this year will help determine.

In the meantime, Mauer doesn't know Morrison, a fellow left-handed hitter, all that well but is eager to fill in the blanks.

"It's just from playing against him a little bit, but from what I gather he seems like a pretty good guy," Mauer said.

What about the "big personality" reputation that Morrison built early in his career via Twitter and sometimes outrageous radio appearances?

"I think he'll fit in nicely here," Mauer said. "Sometimes things can be a little overblown, too. I'm excited to get to know him better. I know his bat can definitely help us."

Less is more

The main reason Mauer hasn't played this spring is the continuation of the "less is more" policy that Twins manager Paul Molitor instituted for him last year. Tentatively, Mauer should start again on Friday.

"He's doing great," Molitor said. "Joe's not always about (spring) at-bats. It's just kind of how he feels and trying to get him ready. We're trying to slow him down a little bit. It seemed like a good plan for him last year, and I'm kind of sticking with it."

After seeing his DH time spike to 33 of 126 starts (26.2 percent) in 2016, Mauer pulled that number all the way back to just 13 DH starts out of 131 total (9.9 percent) last season.

He might yet huddle with Molitor to figure out the best split between him and Morrison at first base, but it hasn't happened yet.

"We really haven't had that conversation, and I don't think we really need one either," Mauer said. "My mindset doesn't really change. Just keep coming to the park ready to play. I'm looking forward to doing that this year."

Even as Mauer threw his body around at first in a Rawlings Gold Glove-level defensive performance that many felt should have made him the first former Gold Glove catcher to claim the award at another position, Mauer seemed to grow stronger as the 2017 season went on. Perhaps less DH time was the secret; maybe it kept his body flexible and able to recover from those three-hour tests each night.

"That's the goal every year, to be out there as much as I can," he said. "It was good. I was able to stay healthy for the season and was able to have a good year and contribute. That's what I'm trying to do again this year."

Morrison, for his part, started exactly 17 games at DH in each of the past two seasons with the Rays. If Mauer remains healthy, Morrison could see that number climb exponentially this year.

It's also interesting to note that Morrison has worn just three numbers in the majors: No. 5 (currently taken by Eduardo Escobar), No. 20 (Eddie Rosario) and No. 7, which quite likely will never be worn by another Twin after Mauer departs — whenever and however that may be.

"I try to worry about things that I can control," Mauer said, "that we can control here in this room."

And what does Mauer think when he looks around the Twins clubhouse this spring?

"I like it a lot," he said. "I like our chances. I like the pieces that we added already to a team that was in the postseason last year. I'm excited to go out and compete with these guys and get to know our new guys even better."

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