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Twins GM mum on Mauer's extension

FARGO, N.D. -- When it comes to any possible contract extension for the Minnesota Twins' MVP-winning catcher, general manager Bill Smith stood as firm publicly as the fog that passed through Fargo-Moorhead on Monday night.

Smith joined pitchers Matt Guerrier and Nick Blackburn and former Twins great Tony Oliva on a stop in Fargo as part of the team's annual Winter Caravan.

As expected, Smith had little to say regarding any deal being reached this offseason with Joe Mauer.

The Minnesota-born Mauer won his first MVP award last season, hitting .365 with 28 homers and 96 RBIs as the Twins won the American League Central division title. Mauer is the only AL catcher to win a batting title, and he's done it three times.

But many fans wonder whether or not the Twins will keep him past the upcoming season, when his contract expires.

When asked what he had to say about any ongoing negotiations with Mauer, Smith said, "Nothing." He added that negotiations are best served not being disclosed to the public.

"We'll do that work in the background," Smith said.

Mauer is expected to command a contract that would make him among the game's highest-paid players.

The added revenues the Twins expect to make from their new stadium, Target Field, have led to them increasing payroll for the upcoming season to a franchise-record level. That figures to help them retain star players like Mauer.

Smith didn't elaborate further on Mauer's future with the club, but he didn't hesitate to think ahead to how Target Field will play for Mauer.

"The dimensions of Target Field are very close to the Metrodome," Smith said. "The biggest difference is it's about eight feet shorter in left-center field. There's a certain left-handed hitting catcher who likes to drive the ball that way."

Oliva, who still does spring training work with the team, sarcastically said of Mauer: "He's no good. He can go."

He then added: "I'm about 99 percent (sure) he wants to play in Minnesota. I believe they're going to keep him happy. ... Minnesota will be very happy."

Blackburn hopes that Mauer will stay for the simple reason that he doesn't want any other team to have him.

"I've been watching the guy hit for a little over two years now," Blackburn said, "and still have no idea how to get him out if I did have to face him."

Besides the Mauer contract rumors, the other big story from this offseason has been the Twins trading outfielder Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Hardy is considered one of the game's better defensive shortstops. But his offense disappeared last season.

After combining for 50 homers in a two-year span from 2007-08, he hit just .229 with 11 homers in 115 games last season. He even spent some time in the minor leagues.

"We needed some stability in the middle of that infield," Smith said. "He brings that.

"We think he had a bad year last year. Sometimes, you get into one of those funks."

With the addition of Hardy and the return of veteran pitcher Carl Pavano, the players hope to repeat as division champs next year.

And there's still Mauer, too. At least there is for one more season.

"I think they're going to get Joe Mauer signed," Guerrier said. "I don't see it going any other way."

Hayden Goethe is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo, N.D., which, like The Daily Republic, is owned by Forum Communications Co.