Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper among the faces of every MLB franchise

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MLB may have entered a Home Run Renaissance
Wednesday May 10th, 2017

On Sunday, the Yankees will retire Derek Jeter’s  No. 2 jersey and honor him with a plaque at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. For most of his career, Jeter was the face of the Yankees—and, in fact, of baseball as a whole—but two and a half years after he played his last game, it’s less clear who would inherit that mantle either in the Bronx or for the entire sport.

For some teams, the identity of the face of the franchise—the club’s most iconic, popular player, not just among his own fan base but around the game—is in flux. For others, it’s an easy call. Below are SI’s choices for the face of every franchise in baseball.

KERI: Yankees rising up power rankings

Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt

As a star for the Diamondbacks through thick and thin—from their 2011 NL West title to their 98- and 93-loss seasons in 2014 and '16—Goldschmidt is one of the easiest picks in this exercise. The four-time All-Star and two-time runner up in the NL MVP voting is fifth in the majors in OPS+ (149) and WAR (30.1) since the start of the 2012 season. He's signed through next season with a club option for 2019.

Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman

Dansby Swanson has been hailed as a future franchise player, but even if he were hitting .300 instead of far below .200, as he is this year, the choice here would be clear. When the Braves made their sudden shift into rebuilding mode after the 2014 season, they began dealing away most of their top young players, including closer Craig Kimbrel, outfielders Jason Heyward and Justin Upton and shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Freeman, however, has remained untouchable, with general manager John Coppollella saying of the first baseman—who in the fourth year of his eight-year, $135 million contract is off to the best start of his career—"I’d give my right arm before we trade Freddie Freeman. It is not happening."

Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado

An argument can be made for outfielder Adam Jones, whose willingness to speak out on issues of race in baseball and whose play for Team USA in their World Baseball Classic championship run raised his profile, but his star isn't the equal of Machado's. Though once in awhile—as in his recent tirade amid the Red Sox-Orioles beanball war—the 24-year-old third baseman winds up in the middle of a mess he helped create, there's no denying that Machado is one of the game's most entertaining and valuable defenders as well as an outstanding slugger. His presence has been a major reason why Baltimore has made the postseason three times in the past five seasons after missing it for 14 straight years. 

Boston Red Sox: Mookie Betts

Former AL Rookie of the Year and MVP Dustin Pedroia has been part of Boston's last two World Series championship teams, but as the Red Sox shift into the post-David Ortiz era—talk about a face of the franchise—it's the charismatic, cerebral and ultra-talented Betts who gets the call over his fellow Killer B's, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. With 31 homers, 26 steals and off-the-charts defense, Betts finished second to Mike Trout in last year's AL MVP voting, and as he's only in his age-24 season, time is on his side to win some hardware. 

Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant

There's certainly an argument to be made for three-time All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose January 2012 acquisition from the Padres made him the first major piece acquired in Theo Epstein's rebuilding effort. That said, the 2015 arrival of Bryant—the third pick of the 2013 draft, after the team lost 101 games the year before—heralded the team's turn toward contending. The slugging third baseman has taken home NL Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in his two seasons while helping the Cubs to back-to-back playoff berths, not to mention their first world championship in 108 years. 

Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu

Chris Sale's trade to Boston may have brought back the next face of the franchise in 21-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada, but as he's yet to play a major league inning for the rebuilding White Sox, the honor goes to his fellow Cuban. Abreu took the AL by storm in 2014, clubbing 36 homers, slugging a league-leading .581 and winning AL Rookie of the Year honors. While he hasn't equaled those numbers since, he's remained the team's top offensive asset. 

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

The 2010 NL MVP is in the midst of a $10-year, $225 million contract with the only major league team he’s ever played for. At times, Votto's patient approach at the plate has served as a flashpoint for debate, with some fans and local media wishing he'd pump up his RBI totals rather than his OBP, the latter a category in which he has led the NL five times. He's simply one of the best hitters in the game; his career 157 OPS+ trails only Mike Trout among active players, while his .424 OBP is tops—and ninth among post-1900 players with at least 5,000 plate appearances.

Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor

Corey Kluber's stony countenance—to say nothing of his Al Cy Young Award and status as the ace of the reigning league champions—would certainly make him a strong choice as the face of the Indians' franchise, but the extended disabled list stay he's undergoing for a back strain doesn't help his candidacy here. But even if the man known as Klubot was healthy, the choice would still be Francisco Lindor, the 23-year-old shortstop with a Gold Glove, a power-hitting bat, a strong arm and a magnetic smile. Lindor finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 and then batted .301/.358/.435 with 15 homers and 19 steals during last year's regular season before improving to .310/.355/.466 in the postseason. He's still under team control for several more seasons, so Lindor figures to be a major factor in whatever continued success the Indians have.

Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado

Now in his sixth season, Arenado has been an impact player since he arrived in Denver for the 2013 season. Sure, Coors Field has helped Arenado lead the NL in homers, total bases and RBIs in each of the past two seasons, but the altitude has nothing to do with his prowess at the hot corner. His quick reflexes, instincts and arm strength have made him a four-time Gold Glove winner and a must-see defender, and he’s been a big part of the Rockies’ return to relevance in the NL West early this season.

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera

Former AL Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander has a claim here, particularly given his link to the team's competitive resurgence in the mid-2000s as well as his own resurgence last year, which nearly added another Cy Young Award to his mantel. Even so, it's Cabrera who gets the nod. He also has accumulated plenty of accolades—two AL MVP awards, four batting championships and the 2012 Triple Crown—in his first nine years in the Motor City and as he’s signed through 2023 with a pair of vesting options after that, Miggy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He should reach 3,000 hits and 500 (maybe even 600) home runs before he’s done in Detroit.

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve

Dallas Keuchel has recovered his Cy Young-winning form this year, and former AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa may become one of the game’s great shortstops one day, but the evolution of Altuve from a Punch-and-Judy hitter on a 107-loss team just five years ago to a power threat on a potential powerhouse team has been something to behold. It's doubly impressive given his 5’6” stature; who can resist rooting for the shortest player to win a batting title (two of them, actually) since Wee Willie Keeler in the 19th century?

Kansas City Royals: Salvador Perez

This was one of the more difficult choices of this project, with more people whom I canvassed naming first baseman Eric Hosmer than Perez. The No. 3 pick of the 2008 draft, Hosmer has vacillated between solid seasons and subpar ones, all of which have been papered over by timely postseason performances. "I guess it depends on who the face is for," replied Baseball Prospectus co-founder, Royals blogger and former Grantland writer Rany Jazayerli. "If it’s for the fans—Hosmer. If it’s for baseball people—Salvy.” 

Every choice here is a snapshot in time, but with Hosmer a pending free agent who's in danger of being traded this summer due to the team's sluggish start, the vote goes to Perez, who, it should be pointed out, led all major league players in last year’s All-Star voting. His five-year, $7 million deal signed in 2012 paid big enough dividends that nobody blinked when the team extended him for another five (through 2021) at $52.5 million. Though hardly an elite hitter, Perez's durability, defense, power and pitcher handling have put him at the center of the Kansas City's turnaround—and its future. 

Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout

Trout might be the closest thing baseball has to a face of the sport. His understated, all-business style may not make him the game's most magnetic superstar, but the two-time AL MVP has, by age 25, already laid the groundwork for a plaque in Cooperstown. In his five full seasons Trout has averaged 33 home runs, 28 steals, a 173 OPS+ and 9.5 WAR, leading the league in the last category each year and inspiring comparisons to the legends of the game.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

In 23-year-old shortstop Corey Seager—last season’s NL Rookie of the Year—the Dodgers have a budding superstar, but in Kershaw, they have the game's best pitcher. Still just 29, Kershaw is a four-time ERA leader and a three-time Cy Young Award winner whose credentials harken back to another Los Angeles southpaw whose last name begins with K. Kershaw has lowered his career ERA in each of the last eight seasons, with command so precise that he makes news for the rare occasions in which he yields multiple walks in a given start. Kershaw can opt out of his seven-year, $215 million contract next season, which would put him in line to again sign the richest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, a spot he held until being passed by David Price's $217 million deal with the Red Sox after the 2015 season.

Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton

The tragic death of ace Jose Fernandez last September robbed the world of a brilliant, exuberant talent whose style and back story made him a perfect fit for the Miami market; he was the face of his team as much as of the other 29 choices we've made. That shouldn't be taken as a slight against Stanton, whose incredible power is one of the game's signature skills. For all of the credibility problems the Marlins have had during their quarter-century of existence, few things in the sport are more satisfying than when a towering Stanton drive sets off the Dinger Machine, the $2.5 million circus of flashing lights, rotating marlins and waterspouts comprising Red Grooms' animatronic sculpture beyond the centerfield wall at Marlins Park. 

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun

Eric Thames' torrid April has made him the focal point not just of the Brewers' surprisingly solid start but their resourceful rebuilding effort. Still, it's probably premature to anoint him the face of the franchise so long as Braun is around—and with over $70 million remaining on contract that runs through 2020, not to mention his rapidly approaching 10-and-5 rights, he figures to be around for awhile. Braun's bad behavior leading up to his 2013 PED suspension made him one of the league's least marketable players, but the combination of strong post-suspension performances, charitable work in Milwaukee and a good relationship with the team's fans has kept him from being a total pariah.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer

Mauer is a St. Paul native, a former number one overall draft pick, the 2009 AL MVP and the only three-time batting champion among catchers, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Target Field, which opened in 2010, was once dubbed “The House That Mauer Built.” (That certainly beats the moniker for the Metrodome, the venue it replaced, which was often called "The Hefty Bag.") That said, neither Mauer's concussion-mandated move from catcher to first base nor the back half of the eight-year, $184 million contract that runs through 2018 has worked out so well, and he's become a symbol for the team's recent underachievement. But until Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton or another young player leads the Twins back to contention, nobody is likely to supplant Mauer as the face of the only franchise he’s ever known.

New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard

An unending series of injuries took this title away from third baseman David Wright, New York's captain and its longest tenured player. Thanks to a variety of arm problems (and perhaps his taste for the nightlife), Matt Harvey's shot at selection ran out before his swagger did. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is a defensible choice, but the foundation of the Mets roster—and lately of their headaches—is their young rotation, headed by the 24-year-old Syndergaard. His combination of triple-digit heat and a 93 mph slider have made him an NL Cy Young contender, but, like Wright, he too won't be on the field anytime soon. Last week, Syndergaard's youthful foolishness—he refused to take an MRI before having to leave his subsequent start with a lat strain—contributed to what could be a three month stint on the disabled list.

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge

Even putting Jeter aside, the Yankees for years had several players who could have been possibilities for this selection. But with the Core Four long gone the best pick at this time a year ago might have been Alex Rodriguez (yes, really), as he was the team’s longest tenured player and fresh off his milestone-collecting, image-rehabilitating rebound from a year-long PED suspension. But after his late-season retirement and the team's sudden shift toward a youth movement, the nod might have gone to rookie catcher Gary Sanchez, whose late-season flurry of home runs illustrated the value of turning the page. Then a triceps injury sent Sanchez to the sidelines early this season, and rookie Aaron Judge took the league by storm with his own binge of homers—smashing 13 in 25 games—that landed him on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated as he helped lead the Yankees to the best record in baseball.

Oakland Athletics: Billy Beane

The A's endless roster turnover means that nobody becomes too entrenched in Oakland, save for the architect of their unique way of coping with the disadvantages of their small market. As their general manager (1997 to 2015) and executive vice president of baseball operations (‘15 to present), Beane has overseen eight playoff teams by pioneering the the integration of analytics into teams' decision-making processes as a means of overcoming shoestring budgets—a strategy sexy enough that he was portrayed onscreen by Brad Pitt in the film adaptation of Moneyball.

Philadelphia Phillies: Odubel Herrera

With Ryan Howard having left after last season—following shortstop Jimmy Rollins, catcher Carlos Ruiz, pitcher Cole Hamels and second baseman Chase Utley out of the city of Brotherly Love in recent years—the core that anchored the Phillies' five straight NL East titles from 2007 to '11 and their 2008 World Series championship is now history. Philadelphia’s long overdue rebuilding effort has yet to pay full dividends, but the club hit the jackpot when it chose Herrera in the 2014 Rule 5 draft. In the span of two years, he went from being buried on the Rangers organization's middle infield depth chart to becoming an All-Star centerfielder and a foundational piece of their future thanks to a five-year, $30.5 million extension he signed in December 2016.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen

McCutchen won the NL MVP award in 2013, the same season the Pirates reached the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. That was part of a five-year run (2011 to '15) during which the homegrown Cutch averaged 25 homers, 20 steals, a 152 OPS+ and 6.4 WAR; during that span, only Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera were more valuable.

Yet whether it was due to injuries, shallower positioning in centerfield or some combination of the two, McCutchen endured a career-worst season on both sides of the ball in 2016, and over the winter, it appeared likely that he'd be wearing colors besides the black and gold for the first time this season, particularly with outfield prospect Austin Meadows waiting in the minors. But GM Neal Huntington's efforts to trade the former NL MVP fell short, and so McCutchen remains in Pittsburgh, where he is relatively underpaid at $14 million this year and, if his option is exercised, $14.5 million next season.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina

His recent three-year contract extension may be questionable from a performance standpoint, but there's no disputing that the Cardinals and their fans value the leadership and game-calling prowess of their longtime backstop, now in his 14th year with St. Louis. Though his time as a top-notch hitter proved fleeting, Molina has won eight Gold Gloves while serving as the starting catcher for eight playoff teams, including two World Series champions. His 89 postseason games played are the most ever for a franchise that has been a regular October participant for decades.

San Diego Padres: Wil Myers

General manager A.J. Preller’s whirlwind rebuilding effort in the winter of 2014-15 didn’t pay off, but after stripping the Padres roster for parts, Myers remains. The former Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year and the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year with Tampa Bay stayed healthy for a full season for the first time in '16, enabling him to set career highs in homers and stolen bases (28 apiece) while earning his first All-Star honor. That in turn led San Diego to sign him to a six-year, $83 million contract with the hope that he’ll be able to anchor their next winning team.

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey

Madison Bumgarner put the Giants on his back and carried them to  their third World Series championship in five years in 2014, but the country's most notorious dirt biker still takes a back seat to his backstop as San Francisco's biggest star. Not only has Posey been a staple of all three title teams, he's collected NL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, a batting title and four All-Star selections. The face of the Giants hardly looks a day over 22—the age at which he arrived in the majors back in 2009—but he actually reached his 30th birthday a week before Opening Day. He's in the midst of a nine-year, $164 million contract and, by the time it ends, he could have an excellent case to wind up in Cooperstown.

Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez

Felix Hernandez arrived in Seattle in 2005 as a 19-year-old phenom. A dozen years later King Felix stands as the best pitcher in franchise history, topping Mariners leaderboards in starts, innings, wins, strikeouts and ERA, among other categories. Each of his home starts at Safeco Field is made in front of his loyal King's Court supporters, in front of whom he delivered the best performance in team history, twirling a perfect game against the Rays on Aug. 15, 2012. A six-time All-Star and the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner, Hernandez may already be slowing down at age 31 because of the heavy workload he has endured in the big leagues, but he still has two years remaining after this one on the $175 million contract extension he signed before the 2013 season, with the promise of more thrills to come.

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria

The Rays were banking on Longoria becoming the face of the franchise from the time they made him the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft and he didn't disappoint. He reached the majors in mid-April 2008, and just six days later he signed a six-year, $17.5 million contract that included three team options. That season Longoria led Tampa Bay on its unexpected charge to the World Series and he has helped them reach the postseason three other times, the last in 2013. His wild-card-spot-winning, walk-off home run to beat the Yankees on the final day of the 2011 season remains one of the most iconic moments in the history of the franchise, one he leads in games, home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. He earned a much bigger payday, cashing in with a six-year, $100 million contract that just started this year, ensuring he'll be an anchor for the Rays for years to come.

Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre

At various points in his 19-year career Beltre was supposed to be the face of the Dodgers or the Mariners, and while he had excellent seasons with those teams it wasn't until he arrived in Texas for his age-32 season in 2011 that he truly found a home. He has finished in the top 10 in the AL MVP voting four times as a Ranger while making three All-Star teams and winning three Gold Gloves for his always excellent defense. His endearing traits—like a swing that often brings himself (and opposing pitchers) to his knees and his buddy cop bromance with shortstop Elvis Andrus—have made him a fan favorite in the Lone Star State. His stellar play there has left him just 58 hits shy of 3,000, a milestone he should reach this season provided he ever gets off the disabled list for a calf injury, and made him all but a lock for the Hall of Fame. 

Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista

Toe and knee injuries suppressed Bautista’s productivity in 2016 and prevented him from netting the massive payday he sought on the open market, but his diminished contract demands enabled the Blue Jays to keep him in Toronto for at least one more year. The outspoken, late-blooming slugger has made six All-star teams in nine seasons north of the border, and his 251 homers since the start of 2010 are the most in the majors. Not included in that total is Bautista’s 2015 AL Division Series Game 5-winning shot off the Rangers’ Sam Dyson, punctuated with an epic bat flip that rivals Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-winning homer for the most iconic in franchise history.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper

In Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals have committed nearly $400 million to two pitchers signed through 2021 and ‘23, respectively. They might have to spend something close to that just to keep Harper, who’s been building his case as the face of baseball since appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old in 2009, one year before the Nationals made him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. While injuries have cut into his productivity at times, he has already won the NL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards while making four All-Star teams and he has become a rare lightning rod player whose comments, fashion choices and style of play alternately thrill and enrage both fans and opponents.

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