It's been a long season for the Minnesota Twins, who've suffered through injuries to essentially every key member of their team - and ineffectiveness even when healthy. But with the return of second baseman/shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and reliever Glen Perkins yesterday, the team put itself on a path to health that should continue for the next couple of weeks.
While those two returned yesterday, the Twins will get their best player back today as Joe Mauer makes his much awaited return to the Twins lineup. Since leaving the team with what was initially diagnosed as bi-lateral leg weakness, a neurological condition in which weakness in the legs is caused by misfirings in the brain, spinal cord, or nerves - there has been a massive amount of hand wringing, speculation, and misinformation - and a notable lack of information coming from either the organization or Mauer himself. Whatever the problems Mauer was having were, they were most certainly exacerbated by a prolonged bout with the flu which left Mauer (along with other members of the team) hospitalized and taking fluids.
Some fans seem to be under the (mistaken) impression that Mauer's time away from the game was somehow the result if inadequate off season conditioning following his knee surgery this past off season. That largely stems from a misunderstanding of the condition Mauer was dealing with along with an unfortunate naming of his diagnosis - bi-lateral leg weakness - which many fans simply translated as "out of shape."
Thankfully to say, the condition is treatable and it certainly appears that the team has given Mauer all the time necessary to recover from the condition prior to sending him out on his rehab stint. The problems however could've become much worse as bi-lateral leg weakness, if left untreated can lead to all kinds of nasty neurological conditions in the future. This largely helps explain why the team treated their 23m dollar man with such an abundance of caution.
The case has also given those who've called for Mauer to change position yet another straw to grasp at - even some writers who I have a lot of respect for have, unfortunately, chosen to join this faction. The Twins for their part, are thankfully brushing aside such nonsense and leaving Mauer at catcher where he belongs, and where his value is maximized.
In any case, regardless of where you fall on the "is Mauer simply being too soft," or the "should he change positions," debate - the return of Mauer is beyond any shadow of a doubt, the biggest and best possible news the Twins could receive.
Mauer is more than just the face of the franchise, with due respect to Justin Morneau, he's the teams best player by a massive margin - accumulating no less than 5.6 WAR since 2007. In fact, since 2006 Mauer's 29.1 WAR is nearly double that of his closest competitor and fellow MVP, Morneau, who comes in at 18.2.
Of course, comparing Mauer only to players on his own team is almost an insult to his greatness; since 2006 Mauer's 29.1 WAR is 8th best in all of baseball amongst position players - the next best catcher is Brian McCann at a distant 22.9. And keep in mind that's he's posted no WAR at all in 2011.
In Mauer's absence the team has received the expected meager production from it's backup catchers and in his return, will be able to transition from being one of the weakest overall positions in the league, to one of the strongest. If he performs as he's capable of doing (no sure thing given his long layoff and the rust that should be expected) it'll be a significant offensive boon to a Twins team that is currently surging, having won eleven of it's past thirteen games to elevate it's won-loss record from a, "potentially historically awful 17-37," to a just, "really bad 28-39."
To make room for Mauer, the Twins have outrighted the out-of-options infielder/outfielder Brian Dinkelman. Should he clear waivers, he'll return to AAA. Dinkelman hit .286 in his 17 plate appearances, drawing a chuckle-worthy two intentional walks.