First, let me say that I have no special insight into what makes Joe Mauer tick. My only real contact with him was when he was a sophomore in high school, and I umpired a game behind the plate with him catching. He was already becoming something of a high school legend, and it was obvious after just an inning or two that he had special talent.
But as the Twins bow out of the playoffs again (3-16 in their last 19 post-season games) and Mauer enters the final year of his contract, I find myself wondering what his goals and dreams are.
Obviously, the life he already has far surpasses the dreams of most people: Playing for your hometown major league team, winning three batting titles, becoming a perennial all-star, making millions of dollars and serving as a hearthrob to the young ladies of the Upper Midwest. Nice work for anyone, let alone someone who won't turn 27 until next April.
And if that's all he wants out of life, he can continue to have that by staying here. Target Field appears to be a good park for hitters, he can continue to be the most popular man in Minnesota and as long as the Central Division is comprised of Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City and Chicago, the Twins should be able to compete on a regular basis. He can play here another 10 years, make $150 million or so in that time, and keep living the life he leads.
But what if other things matter more? What if the chance to win a few World Series titles is what really motivates him? What if he wants the REAL money, the $250 million or so that the Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, Mets and, presumably, a few other teams will be willing to throw at him, money that is probably not available in the Twins' budget? Is he content with the amount of fame he garners here in Minnesota, or does he want to be on the bright stage of New York or Los Angeles, with the increased business opportunities that would bring?
I don't know the answers to any of those questions. But he seems to have a bright competitive spirit, and if winning is what matters most, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that his opportunites are better elsewhere.
The Twins didn't lose this series to the Yankees because of the payroll disparity; They lost because they didn't pitch well in the clutch and they didn't run the bases very well. But long-term - say, over the next 10 years - I think it's hard to find anyone who believes that the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers will have fewer post-season opportunities than the Twins. And these are clubs that can spend the money when it's needed.
I love to watch Mauer play. But if I'm in his shoes, and I look across at the Yankee dugout and think about catching a pitching staff with guys like Sabbathia and Pettite and Rivera, and then I look down the Twins' bench and bullpen and see guys like Pavano and Crain and Mijares and Keppel, I have to wonder where I'm going to have the best chance to earn a World Series ring.
As I said, I don't know what goes on in Joe Mauer's mind, but we're going to find out sometime in the upcoming months.