At the end of the 2007 season, Torii Hunter was 32. His smile, though, retained the youthful vigor of a player fresh out of the minors.
The Twins made Hunter contract offers that left him with the clear understanding that the franchise didn’t value his winning smile and all it brought to the clubhouse. He signed with the Angels.
In the spring of 2010, Joe Mauer was 26. The previous season, he had earned the American League MVP award by performing like a power hitter for the only time in his career, like some kind of butthole. He was quiet and never once questioned the threat of gay marriage or tried to punch some leadership into Justin Morneau.
The Twins did what they had to do: Signed him to an eight-year contract worth $184 million so people with screen names like "mooseknuckle420" who leave comments on newspaper websites could say things like "$23 million dollars a year for a singles hitter" for almost a full decade while questioning his toughness and ignoring most rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
As the Twins return to Target Field for a weekend series, they are surprisingly competitive. This has more to do with Hunter’s smile than Mauer’s beard. Given how the two have performed since Hunter left the franchise, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, especially if you completely disregard WAR, which I choose to do.
In short, the older player with the winning smile and narrative I've helped craft makes me feel warm inside. The younger player with a beard that can't hide an inability to lead through brain injuries leaves me cold.
Mauer has a clear advantage over Hunter in only one area — he's never once called Mike Berardino a prick for asking a legitimate question. Mauer’s ability to not do that gives him an advantage of "not being an asshole" to "being an asshole."
In addition to being more productive, Hunter was and is the more inspirational clubhouse figure, a player who takes pride in making those around him better. I am a grown man and I just wrote that sentence. The world is a place of fearful wonders.
The Twins owe Hunter nothing beyond this season. They owe Mauer $69 million over the next three seasons. Nice. Nice.
Mauer’s value has been hurt by injuries, especially the concussions that forced him to stop catching. I am furious that my editor made me remove the scare quotes around "concussions" and "forced." Even as a catcher, he probably would not have been nearly the value that Hunter has been, as a player and a leader. I have zero way of proving this, but it sounds nice, so let's go with it.
The Twins thought they could afford to lose Hunter and that they couldn’t afford to lose Mauer. Both judgments were based on age, logic, scarcity and statistical profiles. Both were understandable at the time, and are still understandable now unless you have a narrative you are just never, ever going to quit flogging.
In conclusion, Torii's smile equals wins. Joe's beard equals zero dingers in 2015. And these are the only stats that matter in the real world.