Fan happiness (part one)by Joshua Fisher
January 05, 2010
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.
Josh is a lawyer in the Kansas City office of Bryan Cave LLP. He created the website DodgerDivorce.com.