On the heels of a bounceback 2017 season in which he posted a strong .305/.384/.417 slash line and finished as a finalist in AL Gold Glove voting, Joe Mauer tells MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger that he believes he can continue playing beyond the 2018 season — the final year on his eight-year, $184MM contract. Mauer adds that he cannot envision himself donning a uniform other than that of his hometown Twins, with whom he’s spent his entire professional career since being the No. 1 overall pick back in the 2001 draft.
“As long as I’m contributing and having fun and physically able to do that, I want to go as long as I can,” says Mauer. “Sometimes, that decision is made for you, but if it’s up to me, I’d like to play as long as I can because I enjoy to go out and compete.” The former AL MVP says his future with the team isn’t something he’s focusing on with the season approaching. Mauer went through a rough patch as concussions and lingering effects of back surgery dampened his production for a few years, but both OPS+ and wRC+ pegged his bat at 16 percent better than the league average in 2017 to go along with solid defense.
Elsewhere in the AL Central…
- Another former No. 1 overall pick, right-hander Luke Hochevar, is eyeing a big league comeback after sitting out the 2017 season following thoracic outlet surgery, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. The recovery rate from TOS has been spotty in recent years, though, and agent Scott Boras tells Dodd that Hochevar had some complications in his rehab that leave his timeline back to the mound somewhat murky. Medical experts have told Boras and Hochevar that they believe the right-hander will eventually be able to make a recovery and return to pitching, but Boras says the nerve issues his client has faced are “extended” relative to other pitchers that have gone through the TOS process. The now-34-year-old Hochevar posted a 2.96 ERA with 9.7 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 in three seasons out of the Kansas City bullpen after converting to a reliever when his career had stalled out as a starter. He hasn’t appeared in the Majors since July 24, 2016.
- The Indians will face decisions on a trio of out-of-options players this spring, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and southpaw Ryan Merritt figures to face the toughest path of them all. While Erik Gonzalez and Giovanny Urshela are both out of options as well, they’re vying for a presently vacant utility infield job; Merritt, on the other hand, is faced with a full rotation and a bullpen that, at best, has one open spot. While it’s certainly possible that an injury creates a more obvious spot for Merritt to break camp with the big league club, there’s also the possibility that he’s exposed to waivers or traded at some point, given the overall strength of the Indians’ pitching staff. The 26-year-old Merritt etched his place in Cleveland sports lore when he blanked the Blue Jays over 4 1/3 innings in a spot start during the 2016 ALCS, and he has a 1.71 ERA in 31 2/3 MLB innings in his career. But, he’s also struck out just 13 hitters in the Majors and averages just 87 mph on his fastball. Merritt has a career 3.48 ERA with 6.0 K/9 against 1.7 BB/9 in 289 1/3 Triple-A frames.
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn spoke with the media at the team’s Spring Training facility today (links via The Athletic’s James Fegan and the Sun-Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen) and downplayed the possibility of adding a player to the 25-man roster. Hahn acknowledged having conversations with all 29 other clubs as teams still try to set their rosters in a slow-moving offseason, but said that the Sox are “preparing right now [to] choose the 25 from the group that’s in camp.” Asked about the potential of bringing in a designated hitter option (e.g. Corey Dickerson), Hahn spoke of the trickle-down effect such a move would make in evaluating longer-term assets. “[W]hat does that do to Matt Davidson or Nicky Delmonico or Daniel Palka or Casey Gillaspie or guys who conceivably might be picking up at-bats if we stay with the current roster?” Hahn asked rhetorically. “We’re at a stage right now when we talk about development over the course of this year, it’s important for us to know what we have in these guys at the end of this season.”