- With Derek Jeter's number being retired this weekend, we take a look at the face of every big league franchise. Some answers may surprise you.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.