MINNEAPOLIS -- When Joe Mauer inked his eight-year, $184 million deal before the 2010 season, the Twins hoped they'd have one of the game's best catchers behind the plate for many years to come.
But it didn't quite work out that way, as the Twins announced on Monday that Mauer will be transitioning to first base starting next season after suffering a season-ending and career-altering concussion on Aug. 19.
It fills a crucial hole at first base after the departure of Justin Morneau, but it now leaves the Twins with an interesting decision behind the plate for next year, as they can turn to their current crop of catchers or add a veteran backstop via free agency or trade.
The Twins have promising young catcher Josmil Pinto on the roster as well as veterans Ryan Doumit and Eric Fryer, and versatile catcher/outfielder Chris Herrmann.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan said pitching remains the club's top priority, but he's open to looking for catching help, as he's not ready to commit to Pinto as the starting catcher just yet.
"We've got a pretty good group back there, but it doesn't stop us looking elsewhere as well. That's always a possibility," Ryan said. "Even if we went to Spring Training as is, we've got four guys that have some experience and a couple guys with plenty of experience. We're in decent shape there, a lot better shape than actually over at first base."
Pinto, 24, burst onto the scene late last year with the Twins, hitting .342 with four homers, five doubles and 12 RBIs in 21 games in September. It was a carryover from his strong numbers in the Minors, as he hit .309/.499/.482 with 15 homers and 74 RBIs in 126 games between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester
But the organization believes that Pinto still has work to do defensively, as he needs to improve his game-calling and receiving skills behind the plate. So it's certainly no lock the Twins hand him the keys to the position next season.
"It's open," Ryan said. "Pinto is a guy that we've got high hopes for, and we consider him a guy that's an everyday catcher in the future, but as we saw, he has some things to work on. So we'll certainly be looking around. But he has a good chance to be a good catcher for us."
Doumit, Herrmann and Fryer figure to be used in backup roles, so if the Twins decide Pinto isn't ready to be their regular catcher, they could turn to a veteran catcher on the market to help mentor him.
They've reportedly already reached out to free-agent catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski, but Saltalamacchia figures to be too expensive while Pierzynski might prefer to sign with a contender. There are other veteran backstops on the market who could be a fit such as Kurt Suzuki, Dioner Navarro, Jose Molina or Kelly Shoppach.
The decision whether to add a catcher is expected to come later in the offseason, as Ryan said he's currently focused on improving the club's starting rotation.
But one thing is for certain: Mauer won't see any more time behind the plate, even in emergency situations, because of his concussion.
"No catching -- all it takes is one [foul tip]," Mauer said. "That's one of the things I really had to realize, that if I said, 'No, I'm catching, I'm coming to Spring Training,' all it could take is one foul tip in pitchers' batting practice and I'd be out two or three months or even more. That's not something that I want to put my team in that position."