MLB: Every Team's 'Franchise' Player
For every franchise in professional sports, there is a player, or players, associated with that time. When you think of the first name “Kobe,” just about everyone who isn’t dead associates the name with the Los Angeles Lakers. Or, in years past, Babe is associated with the New York Yankees.
Many players gain their names and reputations through the team they play for, and in some cases, the franchise has a name, or has become popular, because the of the players associated with that franchise.
Even though baseball is a sport in which each franchise consists of a 25-man roster, in almost every instance, there is always one name that people remember from that particular team.
Bleacher Report will identify the name associated with each team, who happens to be labeled as their “franchise” player.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton
Before the 2011 season began, it may have been difficult to name a specific player whose name stood out above all players. However based on his spectacular season, and the fact that he helped lead the team to a surprising NL West title, that player is now fairly well known—right fielder Justin Upton.
Upton stepped his game up big time this past season, hitting .289 with 31 HR and 88 RBI. At just 24 years of age, Upton has become one of the elite outfielders in the National League, and by example helped lead the D-Backs to a surprising postseason berth.
Atlanta Braves: Brian McCann
Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, the unquestioned leader of the Atlanta Braves was third baseman/left fielder Chipper Jones, and rightfully so. During the decade of the 2000s, Jones hit .311 and averaged 27 HR and 85 RBI per season.
However now, with Jones approaching 40 years of age and the twilight of his career, a new leader has emerged in Atlanta—catcher Brian McCann.
In McCann’s six full seasons in Atlanta, he has made the All-Star team each year, has captured four Silver Slugger awards and will win a fifth one this year, and consistently provides solid offense as well as handling a terrific pitching staff. Atlanta is now McCann’s town.
Baltimore Orioles: Adam Jones
The Baltimore Orioles have certainly experienced a long drought, not experiencing a winning record since 1997. Orioles fans have seen six managerial changes during that time, not to mention a plethora of players that have passed through the clubhouse.
However, for the past four seasons now, O’s fans have laid witness to the maturation process of one particular youngster who dazzles with his defensive skills and continues developing a solid bat—center fielder Adam Jones.
Back in June, Jones was the talk of the league with his Willie Mays impression on a ball hit by Seattle Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo. The catch literally went viral on the web and was the subject of “Web Gems” talk for several weeks.
But Jones has also progressed at the plate as well, hitting career highs this season with 25 HR and 83 RBI. Together with J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis and Mark Reynolds, the Orioles have pretty solid production in the middle of the batting order, and Jones figures to be at the center of things in Baltimore for some time to come.
Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia
Several weeks ago on MLB Network, analyst Mitch Williams referred to Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia as one of the smallest guys in the league, but the man with the biggest heart.
Unfortunately, Pedroia’s heart alone couldn’t save the Red Sox from an epic September collapse, but it’s become pretty clear that Pedroia has in fact become the heart and soul of the Red Sox.
While the Red Sox may have players who will produce bigger numbers, Pedroia, at just 5 feet 9 inches, hits and rolls with the best of them, along with adding at least 20 stolen bases each season and playing a stellar second base.
For all of the talk that surrounded the Red Sox and their collapse, Pedroia was one of the few who faced the media and owned up to it.
Chicago Cubs: Ryan Dempster
When Ryan Dempster joined the Chicago Cubs in 2004, he started out in relief, eventually becoming the team’s closer and serving in that capacity for three seasons before moving back to the starting rotation in 2008.
After his eighth season on the North Side, it’s unclear whether or not Dempster will remain with the Cubs, that will depend on how he feels about exercising his player option for the 2012 season. However, one fact is clear—Dempster has given his all to the Cubs in whatever capacity they’ve asked, and with all of the upheaval and disappointments and the like in Chicago, Dempster has been the one constant.
Chicago White Sox: Mark Buehrle
It’s hard to believe that 12 years have gone by since Mark Buehrle was first seen in a Chicago White Sox uniform, and it’s even harder to imagine him not wearing one now.
Buehrle is a free agent this offseason, after posting 161 wins with the White Sox during his career. He epitomizes all that is good about the White Sox, and unless GM Kenny Williams steps in and ponies up, Buerhle will no longer be the face of the franchise.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto
The baseball world got full of crazy-talk over a period of a few weeks recently when stories started popping up in print and online about the possibility of the Cincinnati Reds trading their franchise first baseman, Joey Votto.
The talk got so crazy that GM Walt Jocketty felt obliged to step in and say something about it.
Last week, in response to all the trade talk, Jocketty told USA Today:
"I'm not interested in that. To have a player who's one of the best hitters in the game -- and we try to build our offense around him -- I'd be more inclined to sign him long-term if we could beyond the 2013 season.”
Votto helped lead the Cincinnati Reds to the 2010 NL Central Title, their first title in 15 years, on his way to winning the NL MVP Award.
Yeah, makes perfect sense to trade the franchise player.
Cleveland Indians: Asdrubal Cabrera
Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera emerged this season as a clear leader for the Tribe, hitting .273 with 25 HR and 92 RBI. The Indians kept themselves in contention for a significant portion of the season before the Detroit Tigers finally pulled away and Cleveland faded, but Cabrera clearly established himself as a team leader.
The future is bright in Cleveland, with several young stars like Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis. But Cabrera is that type of player that teams can build around, and at 25 years of age, Cabrera will be at the center of the Indians’ turnaround.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
With a contract extension that has him playing for the Colorado Rockies until at least the 2020 season, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki could very well break a number of franchise records before his playing career is finished.
Together with Carlos Gonzalez, Tulo and Gonzalez will form a 1-2 punch in Colorado that will be one of the best hitting tandems in the league for years to come.
Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander
If there was any doubt about how good Justin Verlander was before the 2011 season, he certainly put that to rest.
In one of the most outstanding pitching performances in a single season since Pedro Martinez in 1999, Verlander was 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. Verlander captured the Triple Crown of pitching, and will be a shoo-in for the American League Cy Young Award.
Without Verlander this season, the Tigers were just another run of the mill team.
Florida Marlins: Mike Stanton
Florida Marlins right fielder Mike Stanton is only 21 years old. One would be hard-pressed to find 21-year-old ballplayers who can put up 34 homers in one season and make crowds stand on edge with his prodigious blasts.
However, that’s exactly what Stanton has done already in his brief two-year career. While Hanley Ramirez was the talk of the town for four or five years, many are growing weary of his entitled attitude, and Stanton will be the man that the Marlins eventually build around, especially as they move to their new digs and develop a new identity.
Houston Astros: Wandy Rodriguez
Two years ago, the face of the Houston Astros franchise was Lance Berkman. Last year, it was Hunter Pence. And now, basically just by proxy, the title falls on starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez.
However, fans may not want to get used to Rodriguez as being the face of the franchise for long, especially if Jim Crane is finally approved as the new owner and he instructs his new management team to clean house.
Kansas City Royals: Billy Butler
The Kansas City Royals have built a stable of great young talent, with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar and Joakim Soria. However, at the center of that young talent is a player who continues to raise his talent level year after year—Billy Butler.
Butler broke in just five years ago after being selected as the 14th overall pick in the 2004 MLB Draft out of high school. Butler has shown improvement each year as he continues to mature, and with the great young corps growing up in the Royals system, Butler will be there to guide them and lead by his example.
Los Angeles Angels: Jered Weaver
The Los Angeles Angels served notice last August that starting pitcher Jered Weaver is the cornerstone of their franchise.
With the five-year, $85 million contract given to Weaver in August, the Angels clearly sent a message that in Anaheim, Weaver is the main guy.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp
Los Angeles Dodgers young star player Matt Kemp just completed his fourth full season as the Dodgers' full-time center fielder, and not many can lay claim to the season that Kemp put forth in 2011.
Kemp fell just short of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in the National League since Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals last pulled off the feat in 1937, leading the league in home runs and runs batted in, and losing the batting crown in the final weeks of the season to Jose Reyes.
With all of the nonsense surrounding the Dodgers all season long, Kemp kept his focus and became the player many expected, and there certainly doesn't look like there's any turning back for Kemp.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun
The Milwaukee Brewers came within just two games of reaching the World Series for the first time in 29 years, and while much of the discussion has surrounded the status of pending free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, this team has without a doubt become Ryan Braun's team.
When the Brewers extended Braun's contract through the 2020 season earlier this year, they sent a clear message to that very fact. While Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and others are important components, Braun is the cog to the Brewers' wheel.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer
When the Minnesota Twins locked up catcher Joe Mauer with an eight-year, $184 million contract last year, they essentially let Twins' fans know that they clearly want Mauer to play his entire career in Minnesota. Mauer, the 2009 AL MVP Award winner, is indeed special.
The trick will be in keeping Mauer on the field. If the Twins and Mauer are able to do that, he will break long-standing franchise records when all is said and done.
While Mauer is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, it's clear that the toll his body is taking behind the plate has been a big factor in the injuries suffered over the past couple of seasons. Look for Mauer to eventually wind up at first base, where he will continue to lead the Twins for some time to come.
New York Mets: David Wright
While the New York Mets may have made some questionable decisions regarding bloated contracts to several players over the past 10 years or so, one of the smartest moves they made was locking in third baseman David Wright to a six-year, $55 million contract before the 2007 season.
Wright, a five-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, was slowed by injuries this season, but came back after the All-Star break and should absolutely be back to his old form when spring training opens in 2012.
There had been much talk about the Mets' financial woes and the possibility that Wright was/is on the trading block, however, there should be no question that as Wright goes, so go the Mets.
New York Yankees: Robinson Cano
For the past 17 years, the New York Yankees triumvirate of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada were the constants in the Yankees' teams that won five World Series championships. However, with Posada likely gone and Jeter and Rivera aging gracefully, second baseman Robinson Cano has picked up the mantel.
Cano has steadily risen to the top of the charts in terms of offensive and defensive production, and stepping up his game when the pressure is on. While the Yankees will almost certainly always be a team loaded with stars, Cano will carry the torch in terms of leadership and presence.
Oakland Athletics: Gio Gonzalez
The Oakland Athletics are clearly considered a small-to-mid market team, and over the past decade or so, general manager Billy Beane has struggled to keep several star players long term, unable to sign them to lucrative deals in order to keep them in Oakland.
With the current crop of A's, Beane should work diligently to keep one particular player who has stood out with his outstanding performance—starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzales is fast becoming one of the best left-handed pitchers in the American League, posting a 16-12 record and 3.12 ERA in the 2011 season. At 25 years of age, Gonzalez has become a stopper for the A's, and figures to continue developing into one of the elite pitchers in the American League.
Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard
A Rookie of the Year Award winner, 2006 NL MVP and three-time All-Star, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is the linchpin that drives the Phillies' offense.
The Phillies sent a message when they signed Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension that keeps him in Philly until at least 2017. The message was: Howard is the man in Philly, and Howard is the man that will continue to drive the Phillies' offense for years to come.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Neil Walker
Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker is a blue-collar kind of guy. Born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, Walker fits in perfectly with a Pirates team that prides itself on its hard-nosed play that characterizes the Steel City.
A local guy who makes good, Walker is fast becoming a star in Pittsburgh, and as GM Neal Huntington continues building a team that clearly made progress in 2011 for the first time in years, Walker will be at the center of the development.
San Diego Padres: Heath Bell
It is anyone's guess at this point as to whether or not closer Heath Bell will be finishing games for the San Diego Padres next season, but Bell has made it clear that San Diego is his choice.
The San Diego Union-Tribune has reported that the Padres are willing to offer two years for $7.5 million to $8 million annually with an option for a third year to the 34-year-old three-time All-Star. However, Bell has stated that he wants a three-year deal.
Bell has also stated he will give the Padres a hometown discount to stay, so if the Padres can add another year to the deal, Bell just might likely consider staying.
Considering that the Padres and GM Jed Hoyer have shipped everyone else out of town and have started from scratch with a rebuilding effort, Padres fans certainly hope that Bell will stick around.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum
San Francisco Giants star pitcher Tim Lincecum had a losing record in the 2011 season, however it was more a product of terrible run support than it was Lincecum's performance. The two-time Cy Young Award winner is just as nasty as he has ever been, and he continues to lead one of the best pitching staffs in Major League Baseball.
Lincecum has become synonymous with the Giants, and his eclectic personality fits in perfectly with a city known for its diversity and lifestyle.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez
The Seattle Mariners are one of the only teams left in the majors who have never made a World Series appearance. While the team has had a number of great stars who have shined in the Northwest, the biggest prize has eluded them thus far.
That prize will continue to elude them if they even think of getting rid of their star pitcher, Felix Hernandez. Hernandez, the 2010 Cy Young Award winner, is the glue that holds the starting rotation together, and if the Mariners can somehow entice a few decent hitters to join them, Hernandez will have the support needed to lift Seattle to an as-yet unseen destination.
St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols
As the St. Louis Cardinals prepare to face the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the 2011 World Series on Wednesday night, much talk is still circulating regarding whether or not superstar first baseman Albert Pujols will be playing his last games as a Cardinal.
For 11 seasons now, Pujols has been the driving force that has guided the Cardinals to three World Series appearances since his arrival in St. Louis. The three-time NL MVP will attempt to carry his team to their second championship in six years, starting tonight.
I have offered my thoughts regarding whether or not Pujols will stay in St. Louis in the past, and while there is no certainty regarding Pujols' status, he is the guiding force for the Cardinals and will forever be linked to St. Louis, no matter where he ends up in 2012.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
A Rookie of the Year Award, three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner, the accolades continue piling up for Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.
The image of Longoria hitting a 12th inning home run to lift the Tampa Bay Rays into the playoffs after being left for dead in early September seemed fitting for a star who continues to deliver exciting moments in a city otherwise bereft of big moments.
Longoria is under contract with Tampa Bay until 2013, with another three year option held by the team. It seems unthinkable at this point that Longoria should be anywhere else.
Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton
When looking at the career of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, it's a real testament to his resolve that he has made to this point in his career. After a drug addiction that nearly robbed him of his livelihood, Hamilton has risen above and has led his Rangers once again to the brink of greatness.
The Rangers are certainly loaded with incredible talent, however it's Hamilton who stands above as the face of the Rangers' franchise.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
It took several years and several team changes before Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista finally matured as a ballplayer, and that maturity has led to him becoming the clear leader that drives the offense for the Blue Jays.
Signed to a long-term contract extension at the end of last year, Bautista outdid himself in the 2011 season, leading the American League once again in home runs and raising his batting average a full 42 points. His 1.056 OPS and 181 OPS+ were tops in the league as well.
The Blue Jays are developing a great stable of young players, and Bautista will be there to help guide and lead them along the way.
Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg
When Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg debuted in June 2010 with a 14-strikeout effort against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he started a phenomenon in the Washington area where each subsequent start made by Strasburg was the event that everyone in town patiently awaited.
After Strasburg went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required Tommy John surgery, the Strasburg watch officially started, with everyone in the nation's capital awaiting his return.
After making five starts upon his return in September, Strasburg continues to be the most watched celebrity in a town loaded with high-profile faces.