It isn’t yet clear if Joe Mauer will retire or return for the 2019 season, though if Sunday’s game was his last hurrah in the big leagues, it was a special one. Mauer went 1-for-4 in the Twins’ 5-4 victory over the White Sox, though the most memorable moments included Mauer’s two daughters running onto the field to greet him at first base for the national anthem, as well as one final appearance behind the plate. Making his first appearance at catcher since 2013, Mauer donned his old gear to catch the first pitch of the ninth inning before being substituted out of the game to a standing ovation from the Target Field fans. “It’s just been an emotional roller coaster,” Mauer told reporters, including MLB,com’s Jarrid Denney. “I’m not 100 percent sure [about retiring or not], and like I said, I want to make sure I have time just to take a deep breath and really be behind that decision. But I couldn’t have asked for a better last day of the 2018 season, and I’m looking forward to just taking a breath and spending some time with my girls, my family, and we’ll go from there.”
Here’s more from both the AL and NL Central divisions…
- Salvador Perez will undergo surgery this week to repair ligament damage in his thumb, as per an announcement from the Royals (Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star was among those to report the news). Perez said he has been playing through the injury for the last six weeks, and that while he’ll face some rehab time, it won’t keep him from being ready for Spring Training. “Twelve weeks [off], then start to hit,” Perez said of his immediate timeline. While Perez hit 27 homers this season, he contributed only a .235/.274/.439 overall batting line in 544 plate appearances, as his bad thumb and a Grade 2 MCL tear suffered in March likely kept him from operating at close to 100 percent all year.
- Harrison Bader will be the Cardinals’ incumbent center fielder going into 2019, GM Michael Girsch told MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch and other media today. “It’s pretty obvious that he’s the best defensive center fielder we have. He’s hit more than well enough to earn the first shot at it,” Girsch said. Bader posted 3.6 fWAR in his first extended stretch of Major League action, hitting .264/.334/.422 with 12 homers and 15 steals over 427 PA, while also displaying outstanding glovework (+23.3 UZR/150, +11 Defensive Runs Saved) over 607 1/3 innings in center.
- While Bader is in center and Marcell Ozuna has left field spoken for, right field is a less certain area for the Cardinals, despite several options. The Athletic’s Mark Saxon (subscription required) thinks St. Louis could even target Bryce Harper to solidify the position, since the team has the funds to make a big splash in free agency. That would be an eyebrow-raising signing to say the least, in no small part because the Cards have right field options available, though all have question marks. Jose Martinez is a poor defender, Tyler O’Neill is unproven as a Major Leaguer despite a promising start, and Dexter Fowler endured an injury-shortened and mediocre 2018 season. It would likely require trades of both Fowler and Martinez to fit Harper, which would be difficult given Fowler’s struggles and big contract.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington told reporters (including Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, MLB.com’s Adam Berry, and The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel) that if Jung Ho Kang returns to the team next season, it will be as a third baseman only. Forty-nine of Kang’s 187 Major League games have come at shortstop, though it doesn’t appear as though the Bucs have any interest in utilizing him even as a backup. As to the question of Kang’s $5.5MM club option, the Pirates “have significant interest in seeing if there’s a middle ground” if the option isn’t exercised, Huntington said, though no contractual decision has yet been made. Injuries and legal issues have kept Kang out of Major League Baseball for almost all of the last two seasons, so it isn’t surprising that the Bucs are seeing if they could bring Kang back at a lower price, given that his market as a free agent could be rather limited.
- Since Kang isn’t being considered for the backup shortstop role if he does return, Jordy Mercer could be a fit to return as a utility infielder. Huntington said the Pirates will “keep the door open” about possibly re-signing Mercer and Josh Harrison, though Mercer seems the better bet of the duo to return, as Mercer can fill the part-time role behind Kevin Newman at short.