- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
I benched Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer in a weekly league this morning. It wasn't that painful, but the truth is I really don't know when Mauer, dealing with a sore heel, is going to play. I would have felt a bit better -- I'm all about the clarity -- had the Twins actually placed Mauer on the 15-day disabled list. Give him a few weeks off, and while it might turn into a longer stint, a la Jimmy Rollins, at least we know and can replace him with confidence. Instead, we get manager Ron Gardenhire saying this could be a week-to-week situation, rather than day-to-day. That's frustrating.
Gardenhire wants to play it safe with one of the top players in baseball, and I can't blame him. But this wishy-washy report can wreak havoc with fantasy decision-making, too. If those in weekly leagues thought there was any chance Mauer would play this week, they'd leave him active. He can do more in a game or two than all but about five catchers can in a week. Then again, I don't know for sure that Mauer will play again this month. Going week to week is an odd thing to say. As I wrote Friday about Kurt Suzuki of the Oakland Athletics, we want catchers healthy for the duration of the season, not only early May. Put Mauer on the DL and let the Twins, and everyone, move forward without him for now.
The Twins kind of moved forward Sunday by calling up enticing catcher prospect Wilson Ramos, and he had quite the debut, getting four hits against the Cleveland Indians. No catcher since 1900 had recorded four hits in his major league debut, and only 20 hitters of any sort had done so, so I'm guessing this will make Ramos pretty popular in fantasy leagues. Full disclosure, I had the chance -- multiple times, really -- to select Ramos in a dynasty league minor league draft a few months ago, but each time I wanted to take him I thought, "He's a catcher, and the Twins have that Mauer dude, so why bother?"
The fact the Twins bothered tells me Mauer isn't going to play this week, and a DL stint will eventually happen. Sit him this week with (relative) confidence and move on, with Ramos being one of the guys in deeper formats to take a look at. In truth, those in ESPN standard mixed leagues don't need to dig that deep; those teams need only one catcher, and there are more than 10 available who are worth more than Ramos. I added A.J. Pierzynski in a league, but there were several other unowned choices as well, such as Ryan Hanigan, Mike Napoli and the power stars of the position this past week, John Buck and Rod Barajas. Mauer is awesome, but -- and I write/say this often -- I'd much prefer he takes three weeks off so his final four months are rock solid.
Ramos is 22, a righty-hitting catcher who brings power and strong defense to the table, but he wasn't hitting or walking much at Triple-A Rochester (.179 batting average, .214 OBP). Despite a strong spring, the Twins sent him down because they wanted him to play. I'd assume he'll play over Drew Butera, but with Jose Morales also in the mix when healthy for backup catching duties, the fact is Ramos is really good organizational trade bait for down the line. I shouldn't have ignored him in a dynasty league; he could start for a team by 2011.
This week the Twins play seven games at home against the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, respectively, and they avoid Justin Verlander in the first series. So Ramos does appear to be a decent short-term add for AL-only owners, over such catchers as Lou Marson, John Jaso and the .324-hitting mirage that is Jason Varitek, but still, it would be better if we knew for sure he'd play. Only Mauer's returning in the next day or two, or heading to the DL, would make that point clear.
I have three more brief thoughts about the Twins:
• Carl Pavano used to be one of the most overrated, overpaid players in baseball. Currently, I think fantasy owners are avoiding him based on his name, because his numbers warrant more attention. He has delivered quality starts in four of five outings, his 3.73 ERA and 1.12 WHIP look legit, and he should perform well this week against the Orioles. Pavano has that look of a 15-game winner, but when many fantasy owners see his name, they simply run. They shouldn't.
• Any Mauer absence would likely mean more playing time for Jim Thome. The DH had another good weekend, and should be an every-day player -- at least against right-handed pitching -- by this point. When Justin Morneau missed a few games, Thome hit cleanup. With Mauer out, Jason Kubel hit third Saturday and Michael Cuddyer did so Sunday, but Thome was in there, as the team would be lacking power. Despite a big Sunday for Delmon Young, I reiterate that his playing time is in jeopardy.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy remains owned in 86.2 percent of ESPN standard leagues, which seems awfully high. Yes, I was calling him a sleeper in March, and I preach patience all the time, but it's not like Hardy inspired confidence in us to begin with. Most of us move on from sleepers -- as opposed to strugglers like Javier Vazquez -- after a month when they're hitting .228 with little power and no speed. Shortstop is not a deep spot, but 86.2 percent? Get Marco Scutaro, Cliff Pennington or yes, even Alex Gonzalez (8 home runs?) instead of Hardy.