Yes - he is the face of the franchise and his jersey is popular.If we went buy jerseys we'd be in the hunt for Carew, Killebrew, and Puckett too.This has nothing to do with it.
I don't speak for all fans, but I don't know if I ever bought a ticket just to see Mauer play.He's just not that type of player.I bought a ticket to watch Johan pitch, I bought tickets to see McGuire and Sosa, I bought tickets to see a really good Twins team in the mid-2000's, but I have never once bought a ticket to see Joe slap an opposite field single.This isn't me ripping on him...I appreciate everything about Mauer, but my point is that he's not that "must see" type of player IMO.
If they bring him back it should only be based on the market value and whether they believe he makes the team better.Don't get me wrong - it would be awful to see Joe in another uniform but I'm also more impressed with wins than watching aging stars bring down a team.At this point, I don't see a viable replacement so as long as we can get him at a fair deal, then I see him in a Twins uniform for the next few years!
I don't think Kelly is saying that people go just to see Mauer - she's saying that Mauer has value beyond what is on the field. For one thing, he certainly sells memorabilia that benefit the bottom line. I'd also argue that while you may not be going to see games to see Mauer, plenty of Minnesotans still see him as a big draw. No one goes to a game for one position player (well, maybe Bonds back in the day?) but Mauer is a big part of the Twins experience.
I can't tell you the number of times I've been queueing for a day game (hooray "working" downtown in the summer!) and heard people in line talking about whether or not Joe will get the day off. He's no longer the face of the franchise but he's top-5 player on a given day for most Twins fans. For me still #1 but I'm an extreme Mauer-lover.
I think some sense of decorum plays into this. The Twins could likely go out there and find someone cheaper with more upside, especially since they have Sano and Morrison for next year at 1B if need be. But there's a sense of doing the right thing - if Mauer can play at an MLB level and isn't asking for $18 million/year, it seems like you're picking a fight for no reason.
It also can't hurt to have demonstrated that kind of loyalty, especially when you think about the Twins FO need to sign guys like Berrios, Buxton, Kepler etc. in the coming years. Showing you take care of your guys has to have some impact. I was thinking about that when Joe was getting his standing O for #2000 - you have to think that Kepler, Buxton and co. were thinking about whether that could be them someday. These guys play for the money but they were all little kids too, thinking about being the hero in the big game.
All of this will be a moo point when Mauer hits .400 for the year of course.