MLB Players Who'd Be National Superstars If They Played in Big Cities
It's never been a better time to be a Major League Baseball superstar. From social media to the ability to watch any game, any time and in any city, fans have been given a unique privilege of watching the best players in baseball on a daily basis.
Years ago, that simply wasn't the case. Before the rise of the Internet, cable and incessant day-to-day coverage of every team in every sport, fans were beholden to the players in the cities where they lived. On that same note, players—regardless of market size or off-the-field financial constraints—were forced to adapt to the cities in which they played.
That led to small-market stars feeling for the bright lights of New York and Los Angeles. In 2014, that type of thinking doesn't exist at nearly the same level. With media and luxury-tax money spread around to every team in the game, star plays aren't reluctant to re-sign with mid-market clubs.
But that doesn't mean exposure is the same. Great players can be recognized by Bleacher Report and MLB Network regardless of the cities they play in, but casual fans still put big-market stars on a pedestal because they are easier to access and have swarms of media members covering their every at-bat or inning in the field.
The following five players are stars regardless of the cities in which they play. But if they were performing at a high level in New York, Boston or Los Angeles, true superstar status would follow them on a yearly basis.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts. Stats valid entering play May 8, 2014.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
In theory, Joey Votto's 2010 NL MVP award should have made the Cincinnati Reds first baseman a household name. But even within circles of knowledgeable sports fans, it feels as if Votto is underrated and known more for his keen batting eye and his patience at the plate than for a career that could land the 30-year-old in Cooperstown.
Buoyed by a .419 career on-base percentage, Votto's career OPS sits at .956 through the first eight seasons of his career. That mark is good enough for seventh-best in the history of first basemen, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required). Amazingly, Votto's adjusted OPS of 154 is just as prolific, ranking seventh in the history of first basemen and ahead of names such as Jeff Bagwell, Willie McCovey and Don Mattingly.
Since Votto debuted in 2007, the average on-base percentage across baseball has plummeted from .336 to .317, per ESPN.com. Despite a league-wide movement toward power pitching and less offense, Votto's on-base percentage hasn't dipped below .400 in any full season since 2009.
With nine years remaining on a long-term deal in Cincinnati, Votto's career likely won't play out with millions of eyes watching on a nightly basis, but the face of the Reds isn't anything less than a superstar.
Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
If things had gone differently for Carlos Gomez, he wouldn't be on this list. Instead, his dynamic, must-watch ability would be on display at Citi Field in New York. The former Mets prospect—shipped away as part of the Johan Santana deal in 2008—has emerged as one of baseball's best players in one of America's smallest markets.
The Milwaukee Brewers are known more for Bud Selig, Bob Uecker and Bernie the Brewer than they are for filling roster spots with nationally recognized superstars. But two currently occupy the 25-man roster and share an outfield for the best team in the National League.
Fairly or not, Ryan Braun's fame has more to do with performance-enhancing drugs than all-time great ability. On the other hand, Gomez's stardom hasn't reached enough fans to make him a superstar across the sport. But when you look at the numbers since the start of the 2013 season, the work of a superstar is evident.
Over the last calendar year, Gomez's 6.8 fWAR has been bested by only five players: Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. That means the Brewers center fielder has been more valuable to his team than Yasiel Puig and Robinson Cano have been to their respective squads.
Furthermore, Gomez and Trout are the only players with at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases since the start of the 2013 season.
It's time to acknowledge that Gomez's ability is real and a major part of Milwaukee's success. If he played in a bigger market, perhaps more fans would realize how good the former Mets farmhand has become.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Most baseball fans understand how great Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has been since arriving in the big leagues as a 19-year-old in 2005. Over the last decade, Hernandez ranks sixth in ERA, fourth in FIP, 13th in SO/9, sixth in games started, 10th in wins, sixth in innings pitched and fifth in WAR among starting pitchers.
Of course, not all fans are locked into day-to-day results, highlights and box scores from Seattle Mariners games. In reality, many casual fans only pay attention to out-of-market teams and players during the annual All-Star Game and postseason games in October.
While Hernandez has represented the Mariners as an All-Star in four separate seasons, the future Hall of Famer has never had the opportunity to pitch in a postseason game. Through no fault of his own, the Mariners have been inept since his arrival, finishing over .500 only twice and never topping 90 wins in a single season.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com recently profiled Hernandez's October-less career. During a conversation with first-year manager Lloyd McClendon, the Mariners skipper said the star righty can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"He can see the tide starting to turn a little bit," McClendon said. "He can see this team getting better. I told him in the spring, 'Remember where you came from and how tough it was? When we get there -- and we will get there—I want you to enjoy this journey and really celebrate.' His time is coming."
When his time comes, perhaps casual fans will realize just how special this pitcher has been for all these years in Seattle. Until then, Hernandez's star shins dimmer than it could in a major market.
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is recognized as the face of a small-market franchise, a clutch hitter and an outstanding defensive player. While that praise is merited, it may not be enough to accurately sum up just how prolific the 28-year-old has been throughout his career.
In 2008, Longoria and the Rays burst onto the major league scene together. Prior to that season, the Rays had been a franchise for a full decade, but few outside of American League East rival cities would have actually known. When years of losing netted yearly top draft picks, the team turned one into Longoria.
Since the day of his call-up in April of 2008, Longoria has played like a star. His value—using WAR as a gauge—backed up the notion of excellence.
The Rays third baseman ended the 2013 season with 36.5 WAR through his first six big league seasons, good for the third-best among third baseman ever, trailing only Wade Boggs (43.3) and Eddie Mathews (38.9), per Baseball-Reference.
If Longoria's day-to-day excellence, power and defensive wizardry were playing out in front of capacity crowds in Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium or Chavez Ravine, the face of baseball might belong to a player who chose to commit to the Rays long term.
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
In this case, the superstar in question is dealing with playing outside the United States of America in a country crazy about hockey and on a team that hasn't qualified for the postseason since Joe Carter's walk-off home run ended the 1993 World Series.
Despite two decades of baseball mediocrity in Canada, Blue Jays fans have been treated to some special players over the years. From Roger Clemens' two-year stint to Carlos Delgado's underrated brilliance to the monotonous tones of Roy Halladay pounding the strike zone, star players have been buried in Toronto for years.
The latest: Jose Bautista.
While most of Bautista's story centers around his out-of-nowhere rise from fringe major leaguer to AL MVP candidate, his five-year run of dominance has put him in rare company among great outfielders in baseball history.
Since the start of the 2010 season—doubling as Bautista's age 29-33 seasons—the Blue Jays star owns a 159 OPS+. That mark puts him in rare company among superstar outfielders at the same age, per Baseball-Reference. In the history of the sport, only 14 outfielders posted higher adjusted OPS marks at the same age.
Some names below Bautista on that list: Gary Sheffield, Larry Walker, Roberto Clemente, Vladimir Guerrero and Reggie Jackson.
Regardless of which side of the border Jose Bautista is smashing the baseball, he's a true superstar.
Agree? Disagree? Which superstars are overshadowed by the market in which they play?
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