Last week, I identified the face of each National League franchise and explained my reasoning behind each pick.
Usually, the face of a franchise is a player skilled enough and with a bright enough personality that his organization can build a team and advertising campaign around him.
Sometimes, as when incompetent ownership makes fans wary of any official club messages, the face of the franchise is not the player marketed as such by the team.
Oftentimes the franchise face embodies the state and direction of the team, like a young star on a team trending up.
In this article I will make and defend my picks for the face of each AL franchise. My criteria will include talent, age, salary, club tenure and personality, among other things. For each team the criteria may be weighted differently, and of course this list is colored by my own biases and whatnot.
Face of the Franchise: 1B Albert Pujols
That’s all you really need to know, but I like to blather so allow me say more.
Angels’ owner Arte Moreno is likely making a play for the enormous Latino population in the greater Los Angeles area. There are no standout Latino players on the Dodgers, so the time was right for Moreno to try to sway the allegiance of millions of Southern Californians.
For die-hards, fandom isn’t that fickle, but the ploy might just work on casual fans and front-runners.
Furthermore, Pujols’ mammoth contract cannot possibly be justified by his on-field production, so he will have to provide returns at the ticket booths and merchandise shops for Moreno to consider this a good investment.
Face of the Franchise: GM Billy Beane
Mentionables: 2B Jemile Weeks, CF Yoenis Cespedes, Owner Lew Wolff
If Brad Pitt plays you in a movie, you are the face of your franchise. Beane brought unexpected success to Oakland in the early-to-mid 2000s partly through finding and acquiring undervalued players. That the team has been in a perpetual rebuild for a while now is not his fault, but can be blamed on the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the Athletics’ stadium and finances.
Wolff is one of the reasons for this development, since he is adamant that the team cannot compete in Oakland, or at least in the O.co Coliseum. Wolff, also the owner of Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, has been pushing for a move to San Jose ever since his plan to move the team to nearby Fremont fell through. The San Francisco Giants are blocking this deal, however, claiming territorial rights to the area; so far Bud Selig has not ruled in either team’s favor, leaving Oakland in limbo for the foreseeable future.
While Wolff’s designs occupy the minds of die-hard Oakland fans (about the only ones left), Weeks and Cespedes have shown that they are good enough to be on the mythical contending team of the future—if the stadium concerns are resolved before they, too, are traded for prospects. Cespedes is the more talented of the two, but it is hard for him to be the face as someone who doesn’t speak English well.
Face of the Franchise: 2B Dustin Ackley
Mentionables: RF Ichiro Suzuki, SP Felix Hernandez
Ackley is so good-looking that my friends and I call him H. Dustin Ackley. (The H is for Handsome.) He is also the best of the promising young position players the Mariners have called up recently.
While Ackley is the future, Ichiro is the past. Ichiro had a good run as face of the Mariners, but he is clearly at the tail end of his career and might not even be on the team in a few years, when they expect to contend.
King Felix by far the best player on the team—indeed, one of the best pitchers in the league. But he has the stink of the truly horrendous late-2000s squads on him, and he is the likeliest trade candidate if the slow build toward the playoffs doesn’t go as planned.
Face of the Franchise: Owner, President and CEO Nolan Ryan
Mentionables: 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Josh Hamilton
The Rangers’ outstanding success coincides with Ryan’s tenure as owner, president and CEO of the club. A workhouse in his playing days, Ryan expects the same of current Texas pitchers. A pitching philosophy that ignores pitch counts is certainly unconventional, but perhaps it can explain how the rotation thrived last year after losing Cliff Lee, and has thrived (so far) this year after losing C.J. Wilson.
Kinsler excels at every facet of the game, kind of like the Rangers. His recent five-year, $75 million extension means that he will probably stick around longer than Hamilton, the ludicrously talented outfielder who is a free agent after this year.
Face of the Franchise: GM Kenny Williams
Mentionables: 1B Paul Konerko, SS Alexei Ramirez
Williams has been GM since 2000, and his aggressive moves brought a championship to the South Side in 2005. He has retained his job despite a recent stretch marred by losing and bad contracts (Adam Dunn and Alex Rios are two prime examples). That suggests ownership trusts him to see at least one more rebuild through.
Earlier this week Konerko hit his 400th major league home run—all but seven have come with the White Sox. Ramirez is a great all-around shortstop, just one tier below Troy Tulowitzki.
Face of the Franchise: C Carlos Santana
Mentionables: SP Justin Masterson, SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Santana, a switch-hitter with both power and patience, might be the most promising catcher to come up since Joe Mauer.
Cabrera exploded onto the scene last year, but his ceiling isn’t as high as Santana’s.
Santana’s path to the big leagues was cleared with the help of Masterson, the main prize in the trade that sent Victor Martinez to the Red Sox. The 27-year-old starting pitcher might be the ace of the staff, but he doesn’t rack up strikeouts the way a franchise pitcher usually does. Instead, he uses a good hard sinker to induce a lot of groundballs—he had the seventh-highest groundball rate in the majors last year, according to Fangraphs.
Face of the Franchise: SP Justin Verlander
Mentionables: 1B Prince Fielder, 3B Miguel Cabrera
Verlander, on the other hand, epitomizes the dominant strikeout ace. Not enough can be said about his pitching acumen, but the fact that he actually throws harder as the game goes on, regularly cranking it up to 100 mph in the ninth inning, says more about him than any other statistic could. He is also highly visible in the media, appearing on the cover of MLB 2K12 and in Chevrolet commercials.
Fielder has also appeared in the same line of Chevrolet commercials. His personal relationship with his father Cecil is strained at best, but the fact that he now plays in the city where Cecil hit 50 home runs and enjoyed his greatest success must endear him to long-time Tigers fans.
Cabrera has mastered the art of hitting, but his well-documented troubles with alcoholism prevent the team from marketing him as the face of the franchise.
Face of the Franchise: 1B Eric Hosmer
Mentionables: LF Alex Gordon
Hosmer leads the youth movement that many think will eventually lead to the postseason; Gordon embodies the agonizingly long time it took for this movement to come to fruition. Dubbed the next George Brett when he came up in 2005, Gordon needed six years and a position change to fully realize his potential.
Face of the Franchise: C Joe Mauer
Fake Alex Trebek: This catcher is a native Minnesotan who stars in Head & Shoulders commercials. For better or worse, the Minnesota Twins have invested $180 million in him. His offseason training regimen consists of two things: chopping wood and building log cabins.
“Who is Joe Mauer?”
Face of the Franchise: C Matt Wieters
Wieters took offense at what I wrote about Carlos Santana earlier, texting me, “Ouch bro that’s cold as ice.”
Sorry, Matt, I don’t know how you slipped my mind. Wieters is another switch-hitter with power, and he’s better defensively than Santana. He is clearly the player in the Orioles organization with the brightest future.
Face of the Franchise: 2B Dustin Pedroia
Mentionables: Manager Bobby Valentine, Owner John Henry, 3B Kevin Youkilis
Pedroia is one of those small, scrappy, for-the-love-of-the-game types that the Boston media loves to venerate.
Red Sox fans seem especially fatalistic at the moment, and Bobby Valentine is the lightning rod for all the criticism. I think this is what the organizational brass hired him for; his oversized personality shields the players as much as possible from a hyperactive media and a fanbase that gets venomous quickly. Even so, I think these struggles will pass, and by the middle of the season the panic will be gone, with all that energy and attention focused back on the players (Pedroia especially).
Speaking of organizational brass, Henry assembled the team that assembled the team that broke the fabled Curse of the Bambino and seems to be one of the most visible owners in baseball. As majority owner of the New England Sports Network, Henry wields immense power in the Boston sports scene.
Big Papi is nearing the end of his career but is still an icon.
Face of the Franchise: SS Derek Jeter
Mentionables: RP Mariano Rivera, 2B Robinson Cano, 3B Alex Rodriguez (just kidding)
Jeter is another icon, the revered captain, the clutch performer, the ultimate professional, the embodiment of the Yankees. He will be the face of the franchise until he retires.
Rivera is too absent in the media to be the face of a team in the media capital in the world. To my knowledge, he only has performed in one commercial in his career, a Taco Bell spot that I can’t get enough of. It's a great ad, you know, for a (television) rookie.
Cano gets a mention because he will likely assume the status as face of the Yankees once Jeter retires.
Face of the Franchise: 3B Evan Longoria
Mentionables: Manager Joe Maddon, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman
Longoria is the best third baseman in the game, damn young and signed on the cheap for the next few years. All this makes him clearly the most marketable of all the Rays players.
The thing about Rays players, though, is that they don’t stay long. The miniscule payroll probably will not be enough to keep Longoria once his club-friendly contract is up, which is why Maddon and Friedman get a mention.
Maddon has earned the reputation of evil genius/matchup wizard, squeezing every last drop of value out of his team with his tailor-made defensive shifts, mix-and-match bullpen and by making full use of a versatile bench. He also appears in national commercials for One A Day vitamins—that’s a hit!
Similarly, Friedman is known for leaving no stone unturned in finding extra value. The Rays’ front office under Friedman was profiled in Jonah Keri’s book The Extra 2%. Their scouting, playing development and synergy with Maddon can be credited with the club’s success since 2008.
Face of the Franchise: RF Jose Bautista
Mentionables: 3B Brett Lawrie, GM Alex Anthopoulos
Bautista, despite his outrageous mid-career leap from mediocre third baseman to best home-run hitter in the game, is merely a placeholder for Lawrie, a Canadian future-superstar for all of Canada to enjoy.
Anthopoulos gets a mention because he somehow shed the awful Vernon Wells contract on the way toward building this team into a contender.
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