Everywhere you look, there are power rankings, lists, indices, and other ways to put teams, players, mascots 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 that can’t realistically hope to compete very soon, and there are consistent winners relatively low.
What I’m going for is this: 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.
Last week, we looked at the top 10, which was led by the Phillies, Yankees and Mariners. Today, we’ll hit organizations 11-20. Check back next Tuesday for the final tier of the rankings. Or list. Or index. Whichever you prefer.
11. Atlanta Braves
This one feels too low already, but there’s just so much uncertainty on the horizon. I truly believe Chipper Jones has no interest in playing through a steep decline. And, for whatever managers are worth, it will sure be strange to see someone else on the bench in 2011. But gosh, how can you not love the pieces Atlanta’s assembled? Jason Heyward is Jason Heyward, and I just love Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Jurrjens, in particular, intrigues me. He cut his GB/FB ratio nearly in half from 2008 to 2009 (1.94 to 1.10), but his FIP changed by just 0.09. What an odd trajectory for a guy whose K/BB didn’t move much. As a Braves fan, I’d be generally optimistic about the direction of the franchise, but at least a little sad to see the Chipper/Cox era come to a close.
12. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers really should be a whole lot higher. Clayton Kershaw is a stud, Chad Billingsley is much better than even his own employer believes, Manny Ramirez can still rake, and Andre Ethier hits enough to make up for his dismal glove. And, oh yeah, they have a superstar in 25-year-old center fielder Matt Kemp.
Add in the glorious setting of Dodger Stadium and we should be looking at a top-shelf organization every bit the Phillies’ and Cardinals’ equal in the National League. However, the long-term future of the club is in significant jeopardy—due only in part to the McCourts’ pending divorce. For the last few years, the club has been cutting every possible corner, and it’s bound to come back to bite at some point. This should be an enjoyable season for Dodger fans. Everything beyond is up in the air.
Grumbling about: Razor-thin depth. Rapidly escalating salaries of young cornerstones. An offseason of maddening inertia.
13. Texas Rangers
Rangers fans have every right to be excited. There’s a ton of young talent already in the majors, like Neftali Feliz, Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus. There’s more on the way, and in bucketfuls. But, to me, there’s something just a bit unsettling that would worry me, as a Rangers fan. So much has to go right for the pitching to be in place. While Texas’ failure to get a whole lot out of the DVD trio (John Danks, Edinson Volquez and Thomas Diamond) isn’t necessarily predictive of the fate of the current young pitchers, it’s an example of the fickle nature of pitching prospects.
I’m not a fan of bringing in veterans for the sake of their veteran-ness, but there’s something to be said for protecting a club from downside. As sparkling as the Texas kids are, I’m concerned about the volatility of the pitching.
Grumbling about: That Nelson Cruz hasn’t been moved to a team with a Shiny Objects GM. That nothing has come of the once-outstanding catching pipeline (sound familiar?). The albatross that is Michael Young.
14. New York Mets
I’m guessing that many wouldn’t have the Mets this high. After all, Omar Minaya’s something of a mess, there’s not a ton of help on the way, and the club’s outclassed in its division by the Phillies, who seem poised to win for a long time. But all hope shouldn’t be lost for Mets fans. Ownership seems to spend as required, and last year, while ugly, looks like an aberration. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I believe in the core of the lineup: Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright form a powerful troika. Potentially. If Wright’s 2009 was for real and Beltran and Reyes can’t stay on the field, the Mets’ placement on this list is going to look ridiculous. I still believe.
15. Chicago Cubs
Noticing a trend? The NL’s non-premium teams are just a cut below their AL equivalents. The Cubs, I think, are in pretty good shape. Yeah, Alfonso Soriano fell off a cliff and, at the very least, seems a lock to fail to live up to that contract. And you might end up justified in saying the same about Carlos Zambrano. But Aramis Ramirez continues to put up one of the quieter very, very good careers of his generation. And did you see what Derrek Lee did last season? I wasn’t the only one who completely missed his .412 wOBA 2009 campaign. It wasn’t so many years ago, either, that he’d steal you a few bases to boot, although his success rates weren’t great. It’s strange to me that he and his Ramirez don’t get a ton of love, as they’ve both been very good for years.
16. Colorado Rockies
Lots of interesting pieces in Colorado. It’s impossible not to love Troy Tulowitzki, and I’m very interested in how Carlos Gonzalez develops. I just look at that pitching staff and see too many questions to move the Rockies up higher on my list. Ubaldo Jimenez is mostly excellent, of course, but I’m not a believer in much else in that rotation. Even if he gets back to 100 percent, I don’t look at Jeff Francis as a front-line guy. Christian Friedrich should excite Rockies fans, and I’m a big Tyler Matzek fan, but those guys still have a long, long way to go. It’s not that I don’t like the outlook for the Rockies in 2010 and beyond. I just think they’re behind a whole lot of talent in that division.
17. Detroit Tigers
The first time I compiled this list, I had the Tigers very, very low. But then I took a closer look, and saw a lot to like. Justin Verlander is exceptional, of course, and “promising” doesn’t quite do Rick Porcello justice. I love the upside of Max Scherzer, and I think Daniel Schlereth can be an effective bullpen arm.
Things aren’t quite as rosy on the offensive side of the depth chart, but Miguel Cabrera remains a beast and doesn’t figure to slow down too soon—he’s still just 27! While the Tigers aren’t in as strong shape as, say, the Rangers (from an organizational perspective), they have much less in front of them. The Twins should be the class of the AL Central, assuming a Joe Mauer extension, but Tigers fans can reasonably hope to contend just about every year.
18. Arizona Diamondbacks
Another NL team with lots for fans to be excited over. Justin Upton, of course, is fabulous, and there’s a lot to like about the rest of the roster. Diamondbacks fans, though, see their team as stuck in the middle of an NL West with young stars all over the place. And while I firmly believe that Josh Byrnes at least had a plan in the Granderson-Scherzer-Edwin Jackson trade, I’m not sure it makes sense for this Diamondbacks team. It was a downside-mitigation move by a team that really needs to find some upside in its pitching.
Brandon Webb seems likely to be in his last spring as a Diamondback, and things get awfully thin after him and Dan Haren. While the club might have thought Scherzer couldn’t be counted on for 30 starts per season, it’s a safe bet his best innings are still ahead of him. The same might not be said for Edwin Jackson.
19. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have a problem that is sort of the opposite faced by the Texas Rangers. They know exactly what they’ve got, and it’s probably not good enough to contend. The middle infield (Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez) is very nice, but the corners (Mark Teahen and Paul Konerko) fail to inspire much confidence. And, gosh, is that outfield ugly.
From a fan’s perspective, the lack of punch is likely to be very disappointing, as the pitching shows a ton of promise. White Sox followers, though, might want to temper expectations for Jake Peavy. I would be surprised if he beat his CHONE projection of a 3.51 FIP. The move from the NL to the AL will, on its own, hurt his performance. Add in the injury problems and subtract Petco Park, and I see him as a bad bet to perform to his $15 million salary. It’s not that things are dismal, just that the near future upside is limited.
20. Kansas City Royals
This is borderline insane, I know. Everywhere you look, there’s an absolutely atrocious player. They’re going to give Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Kendall 1,000 plate appearances in 2010, and both are under contract for 2011 as well. The Royals have virtually no hope of competing for a postseason berth under Dayton Moore. So how can an organization this putrid make the top-20?
Well, for one, there’s some pitching help on the way. That matters. There are Billy Butler and Joakim Soria, and they matter. The recently renovated Kauffman Stadium is a gem, and that matters. But you know exactly where I’m going with this: Royals fans get Mozart every fifth day. Zack Greinke matters. As a fan, if you know you won’t contend, you might as well get to watch brilliance every fifth day.
Grumbling about: Let’s just go with the entire concept of “replacement level.”
Next Tuesday: the bottom 10. Train wrecks abound.