Who’s the greatest living player for each team?

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Dan Shaughnessy has a column up about Carl Yastrzemski and what he’s doing these days. It’s a good read and I recommend it.

But more interesting to me than the column itself, however, is a passing line Shaughnessy uses: “Fifty years after his rookie season, the greatest living Red Sox player …” That has sparked a fun debate over at Baseball Think Factory, with some agreeing that Yaz is the Greatest Living Red Sox Player and others arguing for Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens.

There are a couple of different ways to go with that, because you have to decide if “Greatest Living ___ Player” means greatest while in the uniform — which certainly favors Yaz — or greatest overall who ever happened to wear the uniform, which means you can count Clemens’ Blue Jays/Yankees/Astros years and Pedro’s time with the Expos. And then, of course, you have to make some logical cutoff, or else you’re saying ridiculous things like “Wade Boggs is the greatest living Devil Ray” or “Willie Mays is the greatest living Met.”

My view: Yaz takes it, because I think you really should have an extremely large portion — like monstrously large — of your career value with the team in question to get that made-up title.  Plus I think that, with a friendly nod to John Thorn, the stats shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of such a designation given that it’s primarily a fun fan exercise as opposed to actual history or scholarship.  Yaz is the Red Sox as far as I’m concerned. The contenders for that title excelled elsewhere and didn’t carry the banner for the team in quite the same way.

And now, since I’m bored, I’m going to try — very quickly — to guess who should get the title of Greatest Living Player for each team.  Which, for the record, I’m doing with almost zero analysis and almost 100% gut.  Let’s argue about it. I will probably change my mind on a bunch of these if pressed:

Yankees: Derek Jeter. He’s the Captain. And count the rings, baby. Yogi Berra actually may be a less controversial choice, however.
Red Sox: Yastrzemski, reasons noted.
Rays: Has to be Carl Crawford, doesn’t it? I don’t think anyone else is in the conversation until Longoria gets a few more years under his belt.
Blue Jays: Roberto Alomar may have played in too many other places. Dave Stieb? Yeah, I’ll go with Stieb.
Orioles: Ripken, in probably the easiest choice on the list.

Tigers: Al Kaline has held this title since Ty Cobb died I think. May be the longest-tenured to hold the title.
White Sox: Frank Thomas, though I feel like there’s some old timer who is still alive that I’m forgetting.
Royals: George Brett, and he may actually be an easier call than Ripken.
Twins: Hmm. Lots of good choices here. I think Killebrew has to be the man, though. Carew is defensible.
Indians: This is hard now that Feller is gone. It might actually be either Manny or Albert Belle. Which should at least make the Greatest Living Player banquet pretty interesting.

Angels: Another toughie for me. Jim Edmonds, unless you think he had too much time in St. Louis. Tim Salmon? Yikes.
Athletics: Rickey says that Rickey would like a custom made “Rickey is the Greatest Living Oakland A” t-shirt made, please. Said Rickey.
Mariners: Ken Griffey, Jr. What, you were expecting Alvin Davis? And is Alvin Davis still alive?
Rangers: I think for political purposes we have to say Nolan Ryan, but it’s probably actually Pudge Rodriguez in terms of value.

Braves: Hank Aaron, in another easy choice.
Mets: Tom Seaver
Phillies: Mike Schmidt, though if you listen to Phils fans who didn’t follow the team until 2008, you’d think it was “Chooch!”
Marlins: Do they still call Jeff Conine “Mr. Marlin?” And even if they do, does it matter? Hanley Ramirez has to be getting close to the legit title.
Nats: Because they have mostly rejected their Expos heritage, they are not allowed to use Raines or Dawson. This I command. They can have the Livan Hernandez they deserve.

Cubs: Ernie Banks is the Cubs’ Yastrzemski. Discuss.
Cardinals: Does any team have a better 1-2 punch for this list than Musial (current) and Pujols (on deck)?
Brewers: Robin Yount, because Molitor excelled elsewhere too long. I need to find some other list for Rob Deer, though, because he rules.
Astros: Jeff Bagwell, unless someone has “suspicions” that he wasn’t really an Astro. That’s how this works, right?
Pirates: Pretty soon there won’t be any living Pirates who ever finished above .500. For now I guess it’s Dave Parker.
Reds: A ton of choices here. I’ll go with Joe Morgan, though I’ll accept arguments for Rose and Bench based on longevity and more homogeneously Reds career, respectively.

Giants: Say Hey! And actually, the Mays-Bonds combo may rival the Musial-Pujols one depending on how we define “greatest.”
Dodgers: Harder than you’d think. Their good teams were always populated by lots of good players, not one mega-stud. Koufax? Dare I say … Garvey? Help me people.
Padres: Has to be Tony Gwynn.
Rockies: Todd Helton may be the most boring Greatest Living Player for any team.
Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson probably is the one Greatest Living Player who did the most good stuff for other teams. But you’ll have that when you’ve only been around since 1998.

Argue away, folks.

Report: Braves not expected to pursue Bryce Harper

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Thanks in part to a rebuilding effort that got ahead of schedule, the Braves in 2018 had their best season in five years, finishing 90-72 and winning the NL East. They were stopped in the playoffs by the Dodgers, falling in five games in the NLDS. Outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and Brian Snitker won the NL Manager of the Year Award. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis even got some down-ballot love in NL MVP voting, finishing 18th behind teammates Freddie Freeman (fourth) and Acuña (12th).

Markakis is now a free agent and there happens to be a very talented and still-young outfielder available in free agency this offseason who could replace him and then some. He goes by the name Bryce Harper. You might have heard of him. David O’Brien of The Athletic initially said to not be surprised if the Braves became players in the Harper sweepstakes, but quickly retracted it as a source he trusts assured him the Braves are not, in fact, in on Harper and added that he thought there would be no way Braves ownership (Liberty Media) would sign off on a 10-year deal.

Since being taken over by Liberty Media in 2007, the Braves’ Opening Day payroll has been in the $60 million to $137 million range, according to USA TODAY Sports. On average over that period of time, the Braves have had the 18th-highest payroll among the 30 major league teams. The Braves increased payroll to a franchise-record $137 million on Opening Day in 2017, but cut that all the way back to $83 million in 2018, dropping their rank in baseball from 13th to 27th. In April, the Braves disingenuously played service time games with Acuña, then an uber-prospect who was undoubtedly major-league ready, in order to cheaply get another year of team control over him.

Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution wrote in March this year that Liberty Media has $42 billion in assets. This corporation is not hurting for cash. Yet the Braves cried poor in order to bilk taxpayers of $400 million to fund the totally unnecessary new ballpark that moved the Braves’ home from Atlanta to Cumberland (Cobb County). The stadium is not as easily accessible by way of bus or subway, hurting a lot of the Braves’ poorer fans and those who live in the city, sans car. As Meris Lutz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year, Cobb County found itself in a $30-55 million budget shortfall, even after “raiding $21 million in rainy-day funds to plug a gaping hole in the 2018 budget.” Liberty Media, of course, doesn’t lose anything from this.

The Braves were one of 13 teams in baseball to see an attendance increase from 2017 to ’18, seeing over 50,000 more fans go through the turnstiles. Braves ownership had said that a spike in revenue — from increased attendance as well as from leasing offices and retail space — would lead to increased payroll. Instead, the Braves’ payroll was cut by approximately $54 million and now the organization has reportedly already taken itself out of the running for Harper, unarguably the best free agent outfielder to hit the open market in quite some time. Adding a talent like Harper (or Manny Machado) would solidify the Braves’ legitimacy in the NL East and it would, at minimum, be a show of good faith to Braves fans, whose tax dollars are on constant display during all 81 home games in Cobb County.

This is in stark contrast to Phillies owner John Middleton, who recently said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” He added, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid.” This confirms what everyone already knew: the Phillies are major players for elite free agents Harper and Machado. Heck, they might even get both. Either player could exceed the record for the largest contract in baseball history, currently held by Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Marlins in 2014.

This past season, the Phillies fell flat on their faces in the second half while the Braves continued to press forward with a better-constructed team. The Phillies didn’t have an Acuña or a Freddie Freeman and their minor league system still doesn’t quite match up with the Braves’. Sniping Harper from the Phillies would seem almost critical, then. Or at least keeping up with the Phillies by signing other free agents to fill the gaps left by Markakis and others.

Sadly for Braves fans, it seems like Liberty Media got what it wanted, largely on the taxpayers’ dime, and is happy to keep the Braves near the bottom-third of the league when it comes to payroll. If the Braves finish behind the Phillies in 2019 and beyond, fans and the players will have only ownership to blame.