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02/01/10 9:19 PM EST

Mauer's new deal is a matter of when, not if

Gardenhire believes extension will be inked by Spring Training

MINNEAPOLIS -- For much of this offseason, as the Twins put together their club for 2010, fans have anxiously been awaiting word on whether the Twins will sign Joe Mauer to a long-term contract extension.

That word has not yet arrived, but the general feeling from those around the team is that it is not a matter of if the club will sign Mauer to a long-term deal, but when.

The catcher is entering the final year of his four-year, $33 million contract, and he would be eligible for free agency next fall. Mauer's agent, Ron Shapiro, and the Twins have been engaging in contract talks. And although both sides have been reluctant to talk publicly about negotiations, there is a growing sense of optimism from those around the organization that a deal will get done soon.

On Monday, WCCO-TV in Minneapolis reported that Mauer and the Twins had reached preliminary agreement on a 10-year contract, but two sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations said there was no truth to the report.

Though there is no deal in place, all signs point to progress being made. And the belief of many, including manager Ron Gardenhire, is that Mauer will be signed to a contract extension by the start of Spring Training.

"I don't sit and fret about it," Gardenhire said on Friday during the kickoff of TwinsFest. "I think the right thing is going to happen. I think we all know the ramifications if something weren't to happen and it were to go the other way. That wouldn't be a good thing for anybody, except for maybe some clubs out east.

"I think everybody knows what needs to get done here. From our owners to our general manager to our fan base, we all know what everybody wants. It is right out there for us ... and I think they'll make it happen."

That optimism is unique considering that in the past, the idea of a mid- or small-market team such as Minnesota trying to lock up a superstar on the verge of free agency was typically met with trepidation at best or resignation at worst. It was only two years ago that the Twins said goodbye to two of their biggest stars -- Torii Hunter and Johan Santana -- in the same offseason.

So the fact that there is neither widespread panic nor concern regarding Mauer is a drastic departure from what has happened in Minnesota in the past. But then again, Mauer's situation isn't like many that have come before.

A native of St. Paul, Mauer was selected by his hometown team as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, and he's long enjoyed the advantages of playing for the team he grew up watching -- such as having his grandparents at nearly every home game.

The Twins consider Mauer to be their franchise player, but that has to do with much more than just his hometown roots. Mauer has won three batting titles, two Gold Gloves and an American League MVP Award -- all before his 27th birthday. He's considered to be among the best in the game at his position, both offensively and defensively, and such teams as the Red Sox and Yankees are already considered to be among those that would come calling if Mauer were to hit the free-agent market.

And though the Twins have been constrained by financial issues in the past, the organization is embarking on a new era with the opening of Target Field -- their own outdoor ballpark -- at the start of the 2010 season. The expectation is that the club's revenues will see a marked rise thanks to the new park, and the team has already shown a willingness to raise its payroll. Right now the payroll for 2010 is projected at a little more than $91 million, a significant jump from last year's $65 million Opening Day figure.

Another reason for the optimism is, oddly enough, Mauer's agent. Shapiro, who was the agent for Minnesota's Kirby Puckett and Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr., has a history of keeping superstar clients with one team when the situation is right.

During Thursday night's Diamond Awards banquet, Mauer reiterated that he'd like to spend his entire career in Minnesota and that he wants to win a World Series championship, something he feels could happen with the Twins.

Many of the current players gathered at the Metrodome for TwinsFest this past weekend, and they all seemed confident that a deal would be struck. In fact, their main question was what the terms of the contract would be.

Various media reports have placed the deal anywhere in the 7-to-10-year range and in excess of $20 million per year. FOXsports.com even stated that some believe Mark Teixeira's eight-year, $180 million contract might be used as a comparable deal.

Mauer has been hesitant to set any deadlines, but he indicated this weekend that getting a deal done soon might be his preference.

"I just don't want [the contract situation] to be a distraction for what we're trying to do as a team for 2010," Mauer said. "I just want to prepare for that season and hopefully not be the focus of everything. We've got a great lineup coming in.

"I'm really excited about Jim Thome and J.J. Hardy coming in, and Carl Pavano is back. We're looking pretty good heading into 2010, and I hope this doesn't take away from any of that."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.