I had a conversation over Thanksgiving with one of my cousins. We were talking about how bad the Twins were and trying to figure out how we would improve the team. We had very different ideas. We both agreed that pitching was priority. We started talking about how to acquire more starting pitching. He pretty much wants the Twins to sign every free agent, regardless of money, fit and logic. I have an approach that involves a blend of free agency and trades. Trades became our focus as he hadn’t really even thought of making trades. I asked him if he would trade Joe Mauer for a starting pitcher.
He thought for about a beat and then simply said “no.” I decided to be more specific. I asked if he would trade Mauer for Felix Hernandez.
Hmm. That seems unreasonable. What about Mauer for Clayton Kershaw?
Ok, this is getting crazy. We went through a few more players. He said no to the following players: Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Johnny Cueto, Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Chris Sale, Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. He did say yes to Justin Verlander and Johan Santana(!!).
I’m perplexed. So, I asked him why.
“Joe Mauer is my favorite player.”
Well, mine too, I suppose. I’d still trade him for most (not all) of those pitchers, if given the chance. We talked about how each of those pitchers he turned down are better than Mauer for some reason or another. Some are cheaper, some are younger, some are just better right now, and some are a combination of cheaper, younger and better. Each of these players fits a need. In the end, you have to give something to get something, and Mauer is the best something the Twins can give.
He also didn’t care.
Joe Mauer is his favorite player and he would rather watch the Twins lose with him, than win without him. He would take Justin Verlander (he isn’t crazy after all), and he would willingly take Johan Santana back, as he was his other favorite player. I thought that was the most interesting part of this little exercise. Johan Santana is great and I love him, but he isn’t worth trading Joe Mauer for. That is not a rational decision.
At the core, my cousin is more of a Twins players fan than a Twins team fan. He cheers for Joe Mauer above the Twins team. He would still rather root for Johan Santana, over players like Stephen Strasburg, David Price and Roy Halladay, even though each of those three players are much, much better than Santana is right now. He doesn’t take it so far as to follow Johan Santana to New York, but he does secretly wish that Santana would come back to Minnesota. He wanted the Twins to sign Torii Hunter a few weeks ago, ignoring the fact that the Twins have no need for an outfielder. He isn’t an irrational person or anything like that, he just likes those players.
I am more of a Twins team fan. I enjoy Joe Mauer’s work. I laughed when some suggested the Twins sign Torii Hunter. I was a little sad when Johan Santana was traded. However, I would have been head over heels excited had the package of players that Santana brought back panned out. I would have been cheering just as hard for Deolis Guerra and Carlos Gomez, had they helped the team win games. I would have gladly forgotten about Santana had the team improved as a result of his trade. I would trade every player I love for better players. I would wheel and deal until the team was perfect. I would trade for robots if that were legal. Maybe that makes me a robot; a cold, emotionless robot.
There is an unavoidable, emotional element of fandom that clouds judgment. We watch players grow before our eyes from promising prospects to contributing big-leaguers. Some players blossom into stars and stars help teams win games. If we are lucky, we get to see the twilight of their careers, when they are being celebrated by fans of not only the home team. Joe Mauer fits that category. We are watching a Hall of Fame player. Mauer is even more special, as he was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. If Twins fans are lucky, we will get to watch the whole Joe Mauer show. If Twins fans are really lucky, we will get to watch the whole Joe Mauer show, complete with a World Series title or two.
However, I think that many of the fans of the players are malleable. Right now, my cousin wouldn’t trade Joe Mauer for Felix Hernandez. However, if it happened, he wouldn’t lead a revolt down to Minneapolis and burn Target Field to the ground. He wouldn’t stand in the shower, fully clothed and sob softly as a slow piano plays in the background. He would be upset (perhaps) and then get over it. He likely would learn to love King Felix. Hernandez would dominate the AL Central as he has dominated the AL West. Hernandez would possibly be the best pitcher in Twins history. I am guessing anyone would warm up to that.
There is nothing irrational about being a fan of Twins players. We are humans. We aren’t teams. If that makes sense (not sure it does). Is it better for me to be a robot in charge of making marginal improvements to the team at the expense of popular players, or for my cousin to turn down trades because he has a Joe Mauer jersey? As a fan of the team above the players, I have to understand why others would make decisions that I would not make. I would trade Joe Mauer for many players, if it improved the team. Others would trade Joe Mauer for no other player, regardless of what needs it fills. We are all individuals, and that is nice.
So, are you a fan of the Twins team or the Twins players? Are you a fan of both?