Fan happiness (part one)

Everywhere you look, there are power rankings, lists, indices, and other ways to put teams, players, mascot, and logos in some sort of order. What I’m trying to accomplish here is a little different. It’s a nebulous concept that can’t be wrapped up in a neat bow. I tried Fans’ Organizational Power Rankings, which was close (and could be packaged as FOPR!). But that doesn’t quite get us there. Alternatively, I thought about a Hope Index or Misery Rankings. But neither of those are quite right, either. There are teams sort of high on this list who can’t realistically hope to compete very soon, and there are consistent winners relatively low.

What I’m going for is that heading into 2010, how happy is a fan with an organization? Everything counts. Wins and losses are big, but so is the ballpark experience. The past matters only to the extent that it affects the future. A GM who has shown a pesky tendency for awful moves counts (sorry, Royals fans). Curses and a mostly-irrelevant history of losing doesn’t (looking at you, Cubs fans). I suppose another way to look at this is that the higher your team on the list, the less justified you are in complaining about the state of the franchise, at least to a fan of a lower-ranked club.

I think I’m only getting in the way here. Let’s get to the teams. Today, we’ll hit organizations 1-10. Check back the next two Tuesdays for the second and third tiers of the rankings. Or list. Or index. Whichever you prefer.

1. Philadelphia Phillies

Back-to-back trips to the World Series, a relatively new ballpark, and another shiny new ace. Yeah, the Phillies might not have “won” the Roy Halladay trade, which depleted what was a pretty strong system. But they kept Dominic Brown, which counts. What’s more, they’re just moving in the right direction. The Phillies look to be in great position to make the postseason tournament each year going forward. And, oh yeah, they have a player who doesn’t quite get his due as a megastar in Chase Utley. Reasons for hope abound in Philadelphia.

Grumbling about: The recent prospect purge. Ryan Howard‘s decline.

2. New York Yankees

Somehow, this might be too low. They’ll never hurt for players, that’s for sure. And scarily (for non-Yankee fans), the team’s started to spend smart, not just often. Really, in my mind, Yankees Fan has only two gripes right now. First, the New Yankee Stadium experience is lacking something. It’s disastrously expensive, for one, and simply enormous. Second, the way champions are named, the Yankees can assemble the greatest regular season roster in history, and it still won’t guarantee postseason success. College basketball fans know what this is like. The regular season becomes something of an afterthought, and what remains is the paranoia of the postseason. It’s not fun to know you have the best team and also that the odds are still against you.

Grumbling about: Johnny Damon‘s reluctance to break. Ugly back ends of the Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia contracts. Tension over Derek Jeter‘s future.

3. Seattle Mariners

Has being a Mariners fan ever been better? You’re already in one of the best markets in the game, there’s a neat stadium, and the AL West is, well, down. And best of all, you’ve got a sorcerer in the front office. Yeah, it’s early, but Jack Zduriencik sure looks like he’s for real. He was ahead of the curve on Franklin Gutierrez, he finally gave Russ Branyan a shot (something I’d done in baseball sims long ago, but Z gets all the credit these days), and he found himself on the winning end of the Halladay-Lee series of deals. I can’t imagine there’s a set of fans happier with the direction of their franchise than Mariners fans. I see only one problem on the horizon: Z’s going to catch Billy Beane Disease. He’s consistently de-pantsing everyone else right now, and, at some point, his competitors will be afraid to deal with him.

Grumbling about: The weather?. Passing on Tim Lincecum. Lingering disgust over the Erik Bedard deal.

4. Boston Red Sox

The Boston process has lost its novelty, but not its effectiveness. Value guys your own way, stick to your guns, and don’t use pesky details like roster space to keep you from acquiring talented players (See: Adrian Beltre). Is it just me, or does Boston have a nearly inexhaustible supply of players who can be included in megadeals? Yeah, the club misses from time to time (looking directly at you, Daisuke Matsuzaka), but the revenue streams are so abundant that such misfires aren’t difficult to absorb. Really, the only bugaboo is a matter of circumstance: the AL East. Boston is an extraordinary organization, but it has to be to compete with the juggernaut in New York.

Grumbling about: The corpse of Jason Varitek. The ghost of David Ortiz. 35-year-old John Lackey at $15.25 million.

5. St. Louis Cardinals

Assumption: the Cardinals finally ink Matt Holliday.

The Cardinals might be baseball’s model organization (non-coastal division). Consistently solid on-field product, ownership with generous pockets when required, a new yard, and fan intangibles by the boatload. Cardinals Fan has to be pretty satisfied. Other than minor hurt feelings over an occasional lack of respect as a big boy, there aren’t many problems in St. Louis. Yeah, Albert Pujols is signed only through 2011, but they’re not really going to let him get away, are they? The club survived Walt Jocketty’s departure just fine, and appears comfortable approaching a $100 million annual payroll. I’m not sure what it would take to move them higher here. Maybe the point is that these top five organizations are rock solid.

Grumbling about: Tony LaRussa‘s quick trigger. Colby Rasmus‘ non-instant stardom.

6. Minnesota Twins

Assumption: the Twins will sign Joe Mauer to an extension.

So how far off are the Twins from becoming the AL’s Cardinals? Not as far as you might think. They enter a new era with the opening of Target Field, and indications are the team can extend its payroll toward $100 million. Why the sudden change? The Twins weren’t getting a dime from luxury suite sales in the Metrodome. Granted, having resources and using them properly are two very different things, but Target Field is a start. And including the new digs, I just don’t see anything for fans to be upset about. The best player in the league is likely to be locked up before long. The division is just miserable. And there are already signs that the organization is evolving; the Twins of the past never would have landed Miguel Angel Sano. Throw in the J.J. Hardy trade, some prospect help on the way, and terrific organizational stability, and you’ve got some happy fans.

Grumbling about: Summer in Minnesota not beginning until approximately Flag Day. Francisco Liriano‘s lack of progress. Michael Cuddyer‘s contract.

7. San Francisco Giants

We’re starting to get away from “what’s not to like?” territory. There are copious reasons for optimism in San Francisco, leading with a glut of elite young talent. Obviously, Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval could easily be the best pitcher and hitter on a championship team; you can win with those guys. So what’s giving me pause? There’s not as much talent in the mid-to-lower levels of the minors, and Brian Sabean still has an annoying habit of falling in love with gritty, tough, mediocre veterans. To a fan in this enlightened age, all of the older guys on this roster are a little unsettling. It’s not that Mark DeRosa, for instance, will be a bad player in San Francisco. It’s just, well, boring. Still, the Giants are in a very good position to be competitive over the coming seasons. And whatever it is they’re calling the stadium now (is it AT&T Park?) is simply magnificent.

Grumbling about: The bad contracts. Freddy Sanchez for Tim Alderson. Lincecum going year-to-year.

8. Los Angeles Angels

From a “trusting the ownership” standpoint, Angels fans have to be pretty content. Arte Moreno will spend what he’s got to spend. Problem is, that spending isn’t always as efficient as it could be. (See: Gary Matthews Jr.) And as a longtime fan of Brandon Wood, I still hold a slight grudge against them for not giving him a shot. Generally, though, they’re in a terrific position. Prior to this offseason, they would have ranked substantially higher. Watching Chone Figgins and John Lackey sign elsewhere has to hurt, though. Vladimir Guerrero… not so much. The short-term future of the franchise depends on how the 2009 and 2010 draft classes pan out. This coming season won’t represent a high point in Angels history, but they’ve been so good for so long that fans should be patient.

Grumbling about: Not getting to play with four outfielders on defense. Overpaid relievers.

9. Florida Marlins

I’ll admit it: I love the Marlins. As a non-fan, I really admire them. There’s something wonderful about their commitment to the binge-purge cycle. I love that they recognize that they can’t win the way most teams do, so they play things the best way they’re able. The Marlins raise an interesting question for fans: Would you rather be consistently decent but rarely great, or generally bad but occasionally dominant? I like the Marlins’ style. And—knocking on wood—they’re actually getting a new stadium. I got the same feeling typing that as I do saying “no-hitter” mid-game. “Did I break it?” Anyway, I like the Marlins. They’ve got a superstar in Hanley Ramirez, some exciting young players elsewhere, and big-time help along the way (get here soon, Mike Stanton!). It’s not a perfect situation, by any means, but I like where things are headed.

Grumbling about: Lack of human contact at home games. Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin struggling to break through.

10. Tampa Rays

This already feels too low, but there are two very significant negatives: that dreadful stadium and the misfortune of being in the AL East. I love the team; Evan Longoria‘s going to be as good as anyone over the life of his wonderful contract, and the pipeline is strong. One key factor in fan happiness, though, is sustainability of success. By no fault of the Rays’ own, challenging for a postseason spot each year is going to be awfully difficult. And without a new stadium, will they be able to keep the right guys in the fold? If I’m a Rays fan, though, in Andrew Friedman I trust. He’s been quite savvy. I sort of wonder if he throws in the occasional strange decision (See: Pat Burrell, Russ Branyan) to avoid contracting Billy Beane Disease.

Grumbling about: The Carl Crawford situation. B.J. Upton‘s stubborn refusal to become a star.

Next Tuesday: teams 11-20.

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Comments

  1. Trent Bailey said...

    Good story, definitely enjoy the ups and downs.  What I would have liked to see would have been seeing the #1 followed by the bottom of the barrel.  That would have led to a great compare and contrast.  Thanks and keep up the good work.

  2. Will said...

    Have you been to the new Yankee Stadium? I am a season ticketholder and have nothing but great things to say about it. Most of my fellow section members were equally impressed. Life as a Yankee fan is very good in deed.

  3. ecp said...

    Mariners fans can’t claim the exclusive right to grouse because they passed on Tim Lincecum; eight other teams did as well – including four who picked ahead of the M’s.  Heck, you may as well say they get to grumble because they didn’t select Evan Longoria.  Or Clayton Kershaw.  If that’s all they can find to complain about they do not have any of my sympathy.

  4. The A Team said...

    I went to one Yankees game (price subsidized by my cousin).  Considering the price printed on the ticket, anything short of a life changing experience would have been a let down.  NuYankee is a fine stadium in a vacuum, but if you consider cost, I’d much rather watch games at the Metrodome (especially $3 Wednesday night games!  I’ll miss those).  I’m not sure there was anything in there that impressed me more than Citizens Bank Park.

  5. Will said...

    A-Team: Maybe you sat in the exclusive seats (which were always expensive and rarely available outside of season plans in the old place), but the bleachers and most of the Grandstand are both great seats and very affordable.

    The perception about YSIII from those who have either never been there or know little about it couldn’t be further from the truth. If you ask people who actually go to YSIII, a lot of the complaints ring very hollow.

  6. Detroit Michael said...

    The Marlins are rated way too high it seems to me.  Even when they have a good young core of talent, the ownership won’t invest in the extra players to make the team a contender.  Jeffrey Loria’s treatment of the Expos convinces me that he’ll do anything to help us bottom line without regard to the long-term damage it might do to his fan base.

    Last time I checked, attendance at Marlins games wasn’t very high.  The fans’ skepticism is well-earned at this point.

  7. Josh said...

    ecp—

    It’s true that many teams passed on Timmy. He only played college ball in one of their back yards.

    Detroit Michael—

    The Marlins are a tough team to place on here. But there are Marlins fans born in the 1990s who can remember two championships. That counts.

  8. voxpoptart said...

    You do seem to be assuming that the fans in question don’t actually live in the same city as the team.  At least, you’re assuming that we’re all happiest if, instead of living in a city with libraries and good schools and well-trained police, we live in a city where all the spare tax money is being spent to buy some rich guy a stadium he could easily afford for himself.

    Yes, the new stadiums are great places to spend games.  Even so, are you really making such a good assumption?

  9. claremont said...

    As a Yankees fan I cannot possibly understand how anyone could be happier. First, the obvious, we are coming off a championship.

    Second, the days of the team making poor personnel decisions and directly flushing money down the toilet appear to be history now that Cashman has complete and unadulterated control of the FO. If you combine this with their payroll, that is absolutely scary.

    Third, this offseason has been about as close to optimal as possible. Several significant upgrades in talent over an already elite team, at the cost of losing a couple of prospects, who while nice, had a low chance of turning into major contributors for a team like this, and without committing any serious long term cash? What a coup.

    Fourth, I honestly really like the new stadium. I went to plenty of games, and I really didn’t feel like the park was “missing something”. Yes, it was weird to not be in the old one, and it does have an uncomfortable corporate feeling. However it is waaaay better designed, and I think those complaints are going to go away after a few years as it gets “broken in”. 5-10 years from now I seriously doubt people are going to be going on about how they wish they had kept the old stadium. During the regular season, I found most tickets to be very affordable due to the recession, this potential problem did not materialize.

    I do agree that the Jeter situation is a potential big problem. The idea of paying that much for a guy in his late 30s who is a defensive disaster, just because he is “Jeter” does scare me. However he did just put up an incredible season, so while it might be irrational to ignore this problem, it doesn’t bother me much.

    The back ends of those contracts are a problem, but considering how much dough the team has, it does not make sense to pass up elite and otherwise unobtainable talent like Arod Tex and CC. Yes, there is a very real chance they could turn very ugly and limit future flexibility… but they improve the team so much I do think that downside is worth it. Now the Burnett deal… that was extremely stupid.

  10. Joshua Fisher said...

    voxpoptart—

    You point about the stadiums is fair. We know that a new ballpark isn’t what the owner wants us to think it is.

    But still…as bitter as we might be about spending public money so inefficiently, does it detract from the 3-4 hours you spend there on a summer night? For me, it doesn’t. Pizza’s bad for me, but still delicious, you know?

    And it’s true that out-of-town fans don’t benefit from new ballparks as much. But they can be points of pride or destinations for summer getaways.

    Thanks for the feedback…you have a very good point.

  11. claremont said...

    “You do seem to be assuming that the fans in question don’t actually live in the same city as the team.  At least, you’re assuming that we’re all happiest if, instead of living in a city with libraries and good schools and well-trained police, we live in a city where all the spare tax money is being spent to buy some rich guy a stadium he could easily afford for himself.

    Yes, the new stadiums are great places to spend games.  Even so, are you really making such a good assumption?”

    This is a separate issue of whether the stadium is a nice place to watch baseball games, and does not change the fact that the the new stadium is much more accessible, has better views, and is not falling apart. And apart from a very small number of games, basically those against the Sox and a handful of primetime games agains the Mets or other top teams, if you perused on stubhub shortly prior to most games you could get a very affordable deal. If the new stadium has actually made prices exorbitant, believe me I would be pissed. But believe me, it didn’t.

    As for the merits of public stadium financing, I definitely agree that the practice is absurd, and that it is very wrong for team owners to enrich themselves and increase the value of their team by using public assets.

    However, I am EXTREMELY skeptical that the common people of NYC would see much benefit from the city government getting to distribute that money as they see fit. The idea that the alternative is “nice libraries good schools and great cops” is laughable, that money would end up going to the political allies of the politicians who got to spend it, to reward those who put them in office. Are you familiar with the NYC public school system? It is an utter disaster, its problem is most definitely not underfunding, it is the graft and waste which has been encouraged by the city perpetually giving them more and more money whenever they ask, along with a destructive teacher’s union.

    If some politician comes and tells you, “Vote for me because instead of spending it enriching those fatcats through a new stadium, I will spend that money to make the schools nice and the parks safer!”… if you believe him you are a sucker.

  12. Yankee Guy 09 said...

    Has this guy even been to the new Yankee stadium? It seems like he’s the type of guy who sits around his condo in Minneapolis, reading blogs about baseball and shopping for cats that hes not allowed to have under his building contract.

  13. Lucas A. said...

    I went to New Yankee Stadium for the first time last September.  Sure, it’s not the old one, but it really was a surprisingly fantastic experience.  No gripes on my part.

  14. Bob Rittner said...

    You have the Rays much too low. First, not only do we not grumble about being in the AL East; we consider it one of the great benefits being able to beat the behemoths. Nothing can surpass 2008 (except winning the WS, of course) in that NY failed to make the post-season and we beat Boston every which way, for the division title, in the head to head seasons series and in the playoffs.

    Second, Rays fans expect, and legitimately so, that our window of contention is not near closing. Between a smart front office, a pipeline of talent and a willingness of ownership to spend when a special opportunity arises, we are confident that we can contend at least for the next few years.

    Third, while many of us would love a new stadium, the criticisms of Tropicana Field are far more intense from those outside the area than for those of us who live here. In fact, the attitude here falls between it is not bad to it is a terrific place to watch a game.

    To put Rays’ fans satisfaction below that of Marlins’ fans is perversely wrong. In fact, given a community friendly ownership, a savvy front office and a contending team in the league’s toughest division, it should probably be within the top 5.

  15. Matt said...

    Yankee Guy 09 -

    I love that you come in with guns blazing at a guy who puts you #2 on a list about fan happiness.  Truly impressive.

  16. Ian said...

    I can understand you not wanting to take “curses” into account, but I can tell you as a Cub fan that a history of losing does weigh on one’s psyche. Even when things are going well there’s always this nagging feeling that somehow they’re going to screw it up. Everyone was predicting the Cubs would win their third straight division title last season, but after watching them get swept out of the Playoffs two years in a row I decided to temper my optimism (which turned out to be a smart move after the way 2009 went).

    I don’t believe the Cubs are cursed. I only know that until they finally win a World Series in the live ball era I won’t be able to rest easy with the state of my team. That drought is a mental burden.

  17. Bob said...

    You mention the “ugly back ends” of A-Rod, Tex and CC’s contracts. But A-Rod’s contract is actually front-loaded. His highest figures are $32M in 09 and 10. By 2017 it goes down to $20M.
    Tex and CC’s contracts are backloaded but not that heavily. CC has a big jump from $14 in 09 to $23 in 10, but it stays at $23 annually from then on. Tex is $20 in 09 and 10, then $22.5 from then on.
    http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com/2005/01/new-york-yankees_111398168678860040.html

  18. kingcarcas said...

    There are several things that aren’t ideal in the NYS, i can see why a fan wouldn’t want to admit it. Having been built much later Dodger Stadium isn’t in as bad shape as the OYS so i see why they wanted to build a new one, but i wouldn’t be happy if they wanted to replace DS with something like that.

  19. AndrewJ said...

    The view from Philly: Phillies fans were surprisingly even-tempered after the ‘09 Series defeat, unlike Eagles fans after the ‘05 Super Bowl or Sixers fans after the ‘01 NBA Finals. Maybe it was because the Yanks were clearly better (there’s no shame in being shut down by Mariano in the last two innings of Game 6), maybe it was the fans already got the naturally-excessive negative feelings out of their systems in April after Harry Kalas died… or maybe the team’s serious about winning again in ‘10. There’s already a positive buzz about Opening Day.

  20. MsFan said...

    As a Mariners fan, our gripes are with the sheer incompetence of the past GM, Bill Bavasi.

    1) Drafting Brandon Morrow ahead of local Tim Lincecum (I Hear that Tim boy is pretty good)
    2) Giving CARLOS SILVA 12 million a year for an ERA of what, 8?
    3) Having 0 foresight as shown by giving Beltre 15 million and trading Adam Jones for Erik Bedard

    I was at the last game of the season, and really I’d be surprised if there were any happier fans than Seattle’s right now. It’s just the whole feeling of hope after bouncing back so well from last year. I’ve seen a lot of Yankees fans upset over losing Matsui/Cabrera and even after winning a championship Girardi’s gonna get a lot of unnecessary crap.

    The Mariners still might not make the playoffs next year, but we’ll still be happy.

    Oh also I have to disagree completely with the AL West being down this year. The A’s came in last place and were by far the best last place team in the MLB. The Angels are the second best team in the much stronger American League, and the Rangers weren’t far behind the Red Sox for fourth best team in the AL. Even the AL East has awful teams in the Orioles and Blue Jays.

    The National League is pretty far behind the American right now. Somehow it has all the top home run hitters right now, but you’ll notice the trends in the World Series, interleague play, and all-star games that the AL is consistently coming out on top. Both Central divisions are also particularly bad as of late. No disrespect meant towards the twins, but they’re about the 7th best team out of 14 and had their win total inflated by playing the Royals and Indians so often.

    Meanwhile the NL Central has 6 teams and only one of them (Cards) can even compete. Meanwhile the media predicts the Cubs and Mets to make it to the postseason every year and the fans paying attention can only laugh.

    Apologies for blogging, but my opinion is that the divisions by strength go

    AL East (Yankees/Red Sox/Rays, even with 2 cellar teams the AL East is always gonna be strong when you have the top two payrolls)
    AL West (Angels/Mariners/Rangers, with the A’s a relatively strong last place team)
    NL East (Phillies are far and away the best NL team, the Mets do alright if they can stay healthy and not have chemistry problems, and the Marlins and Braves are always teams with high potential.)
    NL West (Dodgers/Rockies/Giants are all at about the same level, very entertaining to watch. However I don’t think any of them compare to the Phillies/Yankees/Red Sox/Angels)
    AL Central (the two worst teams in the AL in one division inflating the meager win totals for the three decent teams. Detroit makes its fans cry, White Sox don’t live up to potential, Twins lucky to be placed here)
    NL Central (ugh, Cardinals are a great team. After that we got the Cubs in second place (out of six mind you) when they’d be in 4th place in EVERY NON-CENTRAL DIVISION.)

    Sorry for the blog, guess I had a lot I wanted to say. But I really would appreciate a rationale for calling the AL West weak.

  21. MsFan said...

    Since I just typed up that huge blog I thought I’d better backup the divisions by average wins. Since each intradivisional game breaks even on the average this just shows how each division as a whole fairs when playing outside of its own. Of course, even if the Yankees and Red Sox were the two best teams in the game and the bottom three teams were horrible this would make the AL East look bad, but still these numbers will tell us how each division competes against each other.

    AL East: 85.4 wins on average
    AL Central: 76.4 wins on average
    AL West: 86 wins on average (Weak AL West, yeah okay)

    NL East: 79 wins on average (Nats bringing them down a lot, but that’s something to keep in mind when looking at the high win totals of the other teams)
    NL Central: 78 wins on average
    NL West: 82 wins on average

    Only one of the three NL divisions (the one without the Pirates or Nats) even averaged above 50%.

    Anyway, once again I would like to see some reasoning for the AL West being weak.

  22. Marc Schneider said...

    So, Claremont, your point is that since city officials might waste money, we shouldn’t bother spending on schools, police, etc at all and that, instead, we should use the money to build stadiums?  Why not just give money directly to owners and forget about city services entirely?

  23. Kyle Cook said...

    Fisher-

    Please don’make me suffer through reading Part 2.  If you do, I’ll make you lay in a puddle for three hours.

    Kyle Cook

  24. George said...

    Even though I’m part of a Yankee fan family whose lineage stretches back to 1928, when my father saw his first game at YSI (the Bambino hit a home run), I can be objective.  The Phillies could be #1 in fan satisfaction right now.  It is a great team of (mostly) home-grown stars, a nice stadium and even some prestige in regularly beating the rest of the NL East.  I spent a good part of October praying that the the top of the Phillies line up wouldn’t wake up!

    The Yankees will be #1 next year because this group of Yankees had better team chemistry than any Yankee team in the last six or seven years.  Fans like them.  If their success continues (winning the AL should be enough), the current team could regain the prestige they had in 1998-2001.

    YSIII is a great place to watch a game.  Yes, it is expensive but the place feels “classy” and the services are good. One of the problems at YSIII is that the price for the best seats went so high that it created a lot of ill will among close-in seat holders.  When the Yankees asked for a 400% increase last year I said “no ******* thank you” and moved to another section.  A lot (maybe most) of the close-in seat holders had to do that.  As a result, all of the empty seats near the field last year looked awful at the stadium and on TV and pulled a lot of energy out of the games.  It got better by the end of the year and I think the problem will go away.

    All things considered, I think that both the Phillies and the Yankees have created fan heaven.

  25. Farrokh Bulsara said...

    Ryan Howard’s decline? What did he do, go from 148 RBI to 143 or something? And his batting average WENT UP 20+ points. Why do you make such dumb statements? Ugh! We are the NL Champions my friend.

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