When you think of the St. Louis Cardinals, the first thing that comes to mind is Albert Pujols. The same can be said for the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter.
That is precisely what makes a player a "Face of the Franchise."
It's not only dictated by who is the favorite amongst the hometown fans because each respective city gets different media attention on a local level than they do on a national level. Believe me, there are a whole lot of baseball fans in the world that do not live in your hometown.
The following list is comprised of the players seen as the faces of each franchise on a national level—a level where the media creates superstar status.
With many looming free agent possibilities along with many young stars ready to break-out, there could be many new faces atop of each franchise in the coming seasons.
Here are the faces of each franchise right now—along with the top candidates who can take over in the future.
NOW: Justin Upton is clearly the face of the young Arizona Diamondbacks squad. Still only 23 years-old, Upton is signed to to team-friendly deal that will keep him in Arizona through the 2015 season.
FUTURE: There has been mild trade speculation involving Upton over the last few months. Assuming it remains only speculation, Upton will be the face of the D-Backs now and into the future. If they do end up trading him, top prospects in Chris Owings (SS) and Matt Davidson (3B) may make a run at the title.
NOW: Chipper Jones has been the face of the Atlanta Braves for a long, long time. People may argue that Bobby Cox was the face of the franchise for many years—but that is not a distinction that belongs to a manager, no matter how great he is. A member of the team since 1993, Chipper—a future Hall of Famer—is one of the most beloved Atlanta Braves of all-time.
FUTURE: With so much young talent surrounding Chipper during what will be his final couple years in the league, the Braves don't need to look far for his replacement. Young outfielder Jason Heyward—who has already been anointed the "J-Hey Kid"—will immediately take over the reigns as the face of the Atlanta Braves upon Chipper's retirement.
NOW: This was tough seeing as Baltimore hasn't had much success over the last 10-15 years, but Roberts has been an Oriole' his entire career (since 2001). With two All-Star appearances to his name, Roberts narrowly beats out Nick Markakis—who appeared ready to bear the distinction after breaking-out in 2006 but hasn't shown much improvement since.
FUTURE: Many people thought that Matt Wieters could be to the Orioles what Joe Mauer is to the Twins. So far there has been no comparison whatsoever. Adam Jones is also a potential stud who might someday take over as the face of the Orioles. I believe, however, that the distinction will be had by either young pitching phenom Zack Britton or future shortstop Manny Machado.
NOW: Many legends have called Fenway Park home over the past 100 years. After leading the Red Sox to two World Series championships in the last eight years, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek are the two deserving of consideration. Although Varitek is the long-time Red Sox captain, he never had the star-power or the stats to compare to "Big Papi." Ortiz is clearly the face of the Red Sox.
FUTURE: While players such as Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia appeared to be on the fast-track to taking over when Ortiz hangs up the cleats, the Red Sox found their new face of the franchise when they traded for Adrian Gonzalez—who they have since signed to a contract that will let him spend the remainder of his career in Bean Town.
NOW: Sad but true. Alfonso Soriano being the face of the Cubbies further represents one of many bad contracts the Cubs have given out over the last decade. Soriano wasn't always bad—he really isn't even bad today. However, he clearly isn't worth the $18-million per season the Cubs are paying over the next few years.
Carlos Zambrano could have been considered before his catastrophic meltdown last season and Aramis Ramirez has always been somewhat under the radar as far as star-power is concerned.
FUTURE: After trading away many top prospects to land Matt Garza this past offseason, it appeared the role of being the face of the Cubbies was Starlin Castro's to lose. Maybe Tyler Colvin or Andrew Cashner could have someday made a run at it, too. Doesn't matter though—either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols will be wearing a Cubs uniform in 2012. That is their future.
NOW: Mark Buehrle has quietly been one of the better pitchers in baseball over the last decade—winning two Gold Gloves and being elected an All-Star four different times. Buehrle, who has thrown a no-hitter as well as a perfect game, also led the White Sox to a World Series championship in 2005. Paul Konerko was also considered but he has not had the impact on the White Sox that Buehrle has.
FUTURE: The White Sox were hoping they had had their next franchise player in Gordon Beckham but he has failed to live up to expectations on the big-league level. Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn aren't "Face of the Franchise" type of material. The most likely candidates to take over for Buehrle would be left-hander Chris Sale—if he is eventually made a starter—and third base prospect Brent Morel. So far this season, neither has impressed in limited opportunities.
NOW: If Joey Votto wasn't the "Face of the Franchise" in Cincinnati before last season, he sure as heck is now. Coming off an MVP-season in which he led the Reds to their first division title in 15 years, Votto was given a contract that bought out all of his arbitration years and will keep him in Cincinnati through 2013.
FUTURE: The Reds have a lot of young stars on their squad and it seems unlikely they will be able to give Votto a massive deal after the 2013 season—which may have been proven by Votto being reluctant to agree to any years beyond his arby years. Young Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman may take his 100-MPH fastball and become the face of the Reds if Votto moves on. They also have a top prospect in catcher Devin Mesoraco waiting to slug his way onto the roster.
NOW: Considering the fact that the Indians have generally traded away many of their big-name stars for prospects in recent years, there isn't a whole lot to choose from at this point. Shin-soo Choo narrowly beats out Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner—mainly because both have battled injuries the last few years and have lost most of their star-power. Both look to rebound in 2011 on what appears to be a breakout year for the Indians.
Choo has been stellar since given a chance to play every day by the Indians—batting .300 with 20-plus home runs and 20-plus steals in each of the past two seasons. He seems to be on course to accomplish the feat again in 2011.
FUTURE: The number one candidate is slugging backstop Carlos Santana—who debuted at the end of 2010 and is the full-time catcher for Cleveland in 2011. If Santana fails, either Matt LaPorta or third base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall may fit the bill in the future.
NOW: Todd Helton has been one of the best hitters in baseball since he debuted with the Rockies way back in 1997. Helton is a five-time All-Star with a .324 career BA—ranking 33rd of all-time. With an outside chance of being the first Rockies player to enter baseballs Hall of Fame, "The Toddfather" is undoubtedly the face of the Rockies franchise.
FUTURE: Helton is signed through the 2013 season but may lose his tag as the "Face of the Franchise" before that. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez both recently signed contract extensions to stay in Colorado for the foreseeable future—and both will be vying to become the next face of the organization. I give the slight edge to Tulowitzki.
NOW: Fresh off of his second career no-hitter, Justin Verlander gets the nod over Miguel Cabrera partially due to Cabrera's off-field issues detracting from his performance on the field. You can't have the face of your franchise repeatedly being busted for various drunken escapades—it's not good business.
Verlander is as deserving as anyone, however, as the three-time All-Star and former AL Rookie of the Year is one of the premier pitchers in baseball.
FUTURE: It appears that Verlander will remain a part of the Tigers organization for a long time—so his tenure as the face of their franchise will presumably continue well into the future. If he does have a fall-off in performance, second-year player Austin Jackson may have what it takes after taking second place in AL Rookie of the Year voting a year ago.
NOW: There is so much turnover within the Florida Marlins organization that many players aren't in town long enough to be considered the face of the franchise. Regardless, Hanley Ramirez is a fine choice to represent the Marlins on this list. I also had to consider stud pitcher Josh Johnson—but "HanRam" is one of the best players in all of baseball.
FUTURE: Again—the fact that the Marlins generally receive so many great prospects via trades makes it almost impossible to pinpoint one that will be their next franchise player. At this point, rookie outfielder Logan Morrison appears to be on the fast-track to gaining status within the organization. I also believe top prospect Matt Dominguez (3B) stands a chance at being the future of Marlins' baseball.
NOW: The Astros may be in rebuilding mode but Hunter Pence has established himself as a fan-favorite and as an all-star caliber outfielder. Pence will probably be one of the few veteran players to survive the overhaul in Houston—as players like Carlos Lee, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez may have one-way tickets out of town in the near future.
FUTURE: The first player that comes to mind is rookie first baseman Brett Wallace. Although he hasn't found his power-stroke in the big leagues at this point, Wallace appears to be every bit of the good hitter scouts thought he would be. Intriguing outfield prospects Delino Deshields, Jr. and Ariel Ovando may be next in line to become the face of the Astros' organization.
NOW: Joakim Soria is the only closer to make this list. After trading away Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke this past offseason, the Royals are in many ways a "faceless" organization. Don't worry Royals fans—this is about to change.
FUTURE: Newly promoted first baseman Eric Hosmer has everything you want in a franchise player—with early signs pointing to greatness. Considering he has been in the league for all but a week and is already receiving comparisons to Mark Teixiera, I'd say he's a perfect fit to be the leading-man in Kansas City.
NOW: I'll be honest—Weaver's hot start to the 2011 season helped earn him this honor. He is a young stud pitcher with some Cy Young recognition to come in the future. I considered guys like Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu—but they are aging and they both spent most of their careers establishing themselves in other organizations.
FUTURE: Mark Trumbo. Hank Conger. Peter Bourjos. All three have the potential to steal the show in Los Angeles. Yet I give the future nod to the top prospect in all of baseball—outfielder Mike Trout. Trout should join the Angels later this year or early in 2012. Either way, there seems to be a promising future in Los Angeles (at least for the Angels, that is).
NOW: No person better exemplifies what it takes to be the face of a franchise than does Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier. Unfortunately for Ethier and the rest of the Dodgers' players, none may make it through the sale and restructuring of the beleaguered franchise.
FUTURE: The Dodgers may be entering a dark-era in their prestigious franchise history. Young players such as Ethier, Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley all stand a chance to be moved—with whoever remains taking over as the face of the Dodgers. No eye-popping candidates sit in their minor league system either, with shortstop prospect Dee Gordon being the best of the group.
NOW: Prince Fielder may be on his way out of Milwaukee, but until he is gone no other Brewer' can take hold of being the face of the team in MLB's smallest-market. Prince narrowly edges out Ryan Braun—only because Prince has much more star-power at this point.
FUTURE: Without a doubt, Ryan Braun will be the face of the Milwaukee Brewers for a long, long time. Braun recently signed a contract extension that will keep him in town through the 2020 season, all but ensuring the All-Star outfielder and former NL Rookie of the Year will end his career in Milwaukee.
NOW: There is no question that Joe Mauer is the face of the Minnesota Twins. The only question that remains is whether Mauer can ever stay healthy enough to play for an entire season or will his future be at first base or designated hitter? I give him the benefit of the doubt in this case—but he better get healthy soon to start earning that $23-million per year salary he is set to receive through the 2018 season.
FUTURE: This all depends on Mauer's health because if healthy, the Twins catcher will be the face of Minnesota now and in the future. If not, top prospects Aaron Hicks (OF) and Miguel Sano (3B) should be in Minnesota soon trying to garner attention within the franchise.
NOW: Yes, that is Bobby Bonilla—who the Mets will pay almost $30-million over the next 25 years. Good thing Bernie Madoff set up a good trust-fund for the Mets organization a few years back!
All jokes aside, David Wright is the obvious choice as the face of the New York Mets franchise. Wright, a five-time All-Star, is one of the best third basemen in the league. Given the Mets financial concerns, Wright may not last in New York past 2012—the final guaranteed year in his contract.
FUTURE: Incumbent first baseman Ike Davis looks to take over should Wright depart via trade or free agency. The Mets also have prospects who'd like to take the honor in Wilmer Flores (SS/3B) and Cesar Puello (OF).
NOW: The Yankees squad is full of players who would be the face of most franchises around the league. In the end, it is hard to argue against Derek Jeter being the face of the Yankees. The only other player that received consideration was Mariano Rivera.
FUTURE: The Yankees are not built on youth—with only a handful of players under the age of 30. Robinson Cano may be next in line to be the face of the Yankees, but they will probably bring in a few free agents by the time Jeter hangs up his cleats so that could change. Top catching prospect Jesus Montero also stands a chance of getting extra face-time in New York.
NOW: Built on a core of solid young pitching, it's only right for the face of the Athletics to be one of those young arms. The nod goes to Trevor Cahill—who has gone 24-8 with a sub-2.50 ERA since the beginning of the 2010 season.
FUTURE: The Athletics are in need of a young power-bat to go along with their plethora of young pitching. They may have their answer waiting in the wings with outfield prospect Chris Carter slugging homers galore in the A's minor league system the past couple seasons. They also have shortstop prospect Grant Green ready to make his mark in Oakland.
NOW: The Phillies are another team loaded with franchise players, but none of them fit the mold to be the face of the franchise as much as their homegrown star in Ryan Howard. Howard followed his NL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2005 with an NL MVP award in 2006, and he has been in the top five in MVP voting on four occasions. Chase Utley received consideration and Cole Hamels would have if not for the Phillies bringing in Doc Halladay and Cliff Lee.
FUTURE: The Phillies are loaded with veteran superstars for the near future—but two top prospects are ready to make a name for themselves in Philly. Outfielder Domonic Brown—who has had a taste of the big league's—and first base prospect Jonathan Singleton look to be the future of Phillies baseball.
NOW: The future is now in Pittsburgh—with Andrew McCutchen being the leading man in what hopes to be an improving franchise. McCutchen—a five-tool star who should be given a hefty contract extension before next season—is ready to lead the Pirates back to glory. Rookie third baseman Pedro Alvarez will garner attention if he can begin to maximize on his potential.
FUTURE: If McCutchen somehow ends up on the trading block and Alvarez lays an egg, the Pirates have one player in their farm system that stands out amongst the rest—top catching prospect Tony Sanchez. Sanchez has above-average power with the ability to hit .300-plus and—with his notable work ethic—if he can keep his weight under control he could be a great backstop for the Buc's.
NOW: The Padres traded their franchise player when they sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox this past offseason. Immediately upon his departure, young right-hander Mat Latos became the face and the future of the San Diego Padres. Yes—Latos has lost ten consecutive decisions for the Padres dating back to last year and has been horrible out of the gate so far in 2011. If the first part of 2010 is any glimpse of what's to come, however, then Padres fans have nothing to fear.
FUTURE: Should Latos fail to regain form, the Padres have two big-time sluggers ready to take swings in San Diego—first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Jeff Decker. Both could be in the major league's by 2012, so Latos better regain form soon.
NOW: Winning two Cy Young awards in each of his first two full seasons and delivering a World Series championship to San Francisco in his third season is more than enough to give Tim Lincecum the nod as face of the Giants franchise. "The Freak" is freaky good and should be the face of the Giants for long into the future.
FUTURE: Between Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, the Giants have two other players that would possibly end up being the face of many franchises. With Lincecum owning that spot for presumably many years to come, both Posey and Sandoval look to take a back seat for the moment. There is also top prospect Brandon Belt—a first baseman who the Giants recently sent back down to AAA but should have a bright future ahead of him in the Bay-area.
NOW: A strong argument could be made for "King" Felix Hernandez—who is coming off a a CY Young 2010 season. My vote still goes to Ichiro at this point. Ichiro has been a staple in Seattle since 2001. He has won a Gold Glove and has been selected as an All-Star in each of his 10 seasons in the league—amassing 200-plus hits each year. Until Ichiro retires or is traded, no one can replace him as the face of the Mariners organization.
FUTURE: Depending on when Ichiro leaves town, Hernandez looks to take over the top spot in the organization. If some team is lucky enough to trade for the services of Hernandez, the Mariners have a core of young players waiting to break-out in Justin Smoak, Carlos Peguero and Michael Pineda.
NOW: It's no question that Albert Pujols is the face of the St. Louis Cardinals. Heck, he is probably the face of baseball in its entirety. The looming question around the country is where Pujols will play come 2012.
FUTURE: If Pujols decides to team up with new best friend Jim Hendry—the GM of the Chicago Cubs—then the Cardinals will lose a lot more than the face of their franchise. Matt Holliday may be forced into the role should Pujols leave. Adam Wainrite (if he stays) and even Colby Rasmus could get some votes as well. Unfortunately, the Cards' don't have a first base prospect that will be ready in the near future to ease a possible transition—similar to Pujols taking over for Mark McGwire a decade ago. Matt Adams—who is still a few years away—is the closest to MLB-ready prospect they have at first base.
NOW: Evan Longoria is the face of a Rays' squad loaded with young talent. Longoria—an All-Star in each of his first three seasons—is signed to a team-friendly deal that will keep him in Tampa through the 2016 season.
FUTURE: You never know if the Rays will be able to afford the last couple of years on Longoria's contract, especially with a slew of other young players that will be looking for raises over the next few years. David Price and Jeremy Hellickson are probably the most likely to step in should the Rays move Longoria—but at that point they could both be gone as well. The Rays also have a building block of the future in prospect Desmond Jennings (CF). Jennings should reach the majors at some point this season or early next season.
NOW: Reigning NL MVP Josh Hamilton is the face of the resurgent Texas Rangers' franchise. Hamilton—a recovering drug and alcohol addict—has been an inspiration in turning his life around. The Rangers just hope that the many years of abusing his body don't come back to haunt him. When healthy, Hamilton is arguably the best player in all of baseball—with Pujols maybe being the only player better. Hamilton is only signed through the 2012 season and it remains to be seen whether the Rangers will offer him a lucrative contract extension.
FUTURE: Depending on how Hamilton's future plays out, the Rangers may look to current rookie Mitch Moreland to become their new franchise player. Neftali Feliz could also be considered, along with young studs like Julio Borbon (if he ever reaches his potential) and Elvis Andrus.
NOW: Jose Bautista slugged his way to becoming the face of the Blue Jays in 2010—and he has picked up right where he left off to begin the 2011 season. After ridding themselves of Vernon Wells contract this past offseason, the Blue Jays were able to begin anew with Bautista as their leading man. At least Bautista appears to be earning his money in Toronto.
FUTURE: The future looks bright north of the border. Young players such as J.P. Arencibia, Kyle Drabek and Ricky Romero all look to fight for the role of being the face of the Jays. They also have a young stud in Brett Lawrie (2B/OF) who might come in and steal the show someday in Toronto.
NOW AND FUTURE: Generally, I am not one to anoint players to superstar status at this point in their respective careers. So many things can happen to change the course of the future, i.e. Tommy John surgery. Yet without a doubt, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper together are the faces now and in the future of the Washington Nationals franchise.
No players have ever received the hype that the two have been stormed with over the last two years—Strasburg proving worth every bit of it after he debuted last season. No franchise has more promise heading into the future—and no franchise has put as much weight on two individual players as the Nats' have with Strasburg and Harper. One thing is for sure—I can't wait to see them play together.