By Joe Sparacio
If we mention the phrase "franchise player," which names come to your mind from the past? Derek Jeter? David Ortiz? Chipper Jones?
These stars all fit the bill, even if the definition is somewhat up for debate. We don't necessarily just look at just stats for something like this, but rather a collection of amazing plays and clutch moments, or the presence that transformed a franchise or shook up the baseball world.
There is no clear definition of the term "franchise player" and what it means … but as a baseball fan, you sort of just feel it. Let's try to figure out the current franchise players for every Major League club. These are, of course, unofficial designations and could change every year (heck, maybe even every month), but they're always fun to discuss.
Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman
There's a reason why the entire baseball community let out a sigh when Freeman hit the DL with a fractured wrist in May. The slugging first baseman is the heart and soul of the Braves and undoubtedly the best player on the team. At the time, he was toward the top of the league in RBIs, runs and batting average, and he will be at the core of the rebuild in Atlanta going forward. He's improved every season and upon coming off the DL has even moved to third base to help his club. It's nice for baseball fans to have him back.
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton
This mountain of a man is not only the Marlins' franchise player but also one of the most dynamic players in baseball. The Fish have some other great young players, like Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, but this race isn't even really close -- there's a reason why the club committed $300 million to Stanton. As the baseball world migrates to Miami for the Midsummer Classic, prepare to see plenty of Stanton throughout All-Star Week. And you know what? I'm totally OK with that.
New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard
The Mets' pitching staff hinges upon a guy who is 6-foot-6 and throws 100 mph. Syndergaard is one of a kind, and for all that talk of him being a Norse God and having a great nickname and gimmick, he backs it up on the mound. Thor is one of the best pitchers in the game, and it was a shame to see him hit the DL early in the season after a partial tear of his right lat. To the delight of everyone, he is still staying somewhat active on social media, and Mets fans still love him.
Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola
We picked Nola here because he is likely the best young player on their roster. Maikel Franco is a close second, but even he is involved in trade rumors after struggling badly, and J.P. Crawford isn't in the Majors yet (and isn't quite a superstar). Despite what Mike Schmidt may think, Odubel Herrera also belongs in the discussion.
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper
It says something when you have arguably the best pitcher on the planet right now on your team -- yes, even possibly better than Clayton Kershaw -- and he takes a backseat to Harper. Harper is nearly just as good at only 24 years old, and he has no problem reminding people of that.
Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant
Rookie of the Year Award? Check. NL MVP Award? Check. World Series Ring? Check. Is there anything that this phenom can't do? Probably not. I mean come on, he's even gone swimming with sharks. Yes, he's the best player on a very loaded Cubs team and he's also their future.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto
Not only is this guy possibly a machine, but he's also one-of-a-kind gem. Votto has been with the organization since the Reds drafted him in 2002, and he's been through all the ups and the downs with the franchise -- from World Series contenders to cellar dwellers. After winning an NL MVP Award in 2010, he has barely slowed down, and there is no one more suited to be the Reds franchise player than Mr. Canada. Who knows, he may be headed to the Hall of Fame one day wearing a Reds cap.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun
Yes, he is a hot commodity on the rebuilding Brewers, and this one could change soon. And yes, Braun has had PED problems. But through it all, it's undeniable that Braun has been the heart and soul of the Brewers for over a decade. He has both a Rookie of the Year Award and an NL MVP Award with the team.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen
For all that chatter this offseason about crazy trade possibilities, McCutchen is still in Pittsburgh and is still the backbone of the team. He has rebounded from a slow start and looks locked in, on pace for his highest home run total since his 2013 NL MVP Award campaign. The Pirates may finally deal Cutch if that helps them jumpstart a rebuild, but as of now, the five-time All-Star is still the most beloved player on the Bucs. His off-the-field contributions to both the game and the community are even more stellar than his on-field efforts, and that's saying something. All around, McCutchen checks every box needed to be the face of a franchise.
St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina
Two World Series rings. Eight Gold Gloves. Now eight All-Star Games. What more could you ever ask out of a player? Molina might be on his way to the Hall of Fame and he would certainly enter wearing a Cardinals uniform. The backstop has been one of the best two-way catchers in the game behind the plate in St. Louis for 14 years and fans absolutely love him there. And the Cardinals signed him through 2020 to secure his legacy, so the front office must agree.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt
Maybe this is the season that Goldschmidt wins an NL MVP Award. It's been a long time coming -- somehow Goldy goes unnoticed to the casual baseball fan, despite the fact that he is a four-time All-Star and has finished second twice in NL MVP Award voting. He doesn't seem to get a lot of love in jersey sales -- somehow a guy who hit 24 homers, topped 90 RBIs and 100 runs scored and swiped over 30 bases is underrated -- but he is worshipped in Arizona and rightfully so. And hey, you never know … maybe he leads the D-backs to the promised land this year!
Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado
Arenado does it all. He came just short of the Triple Crown last year, leading the NL in home runs and RBIs for the second year in a row (to go along with a .294 batting average). He makes plays like this. He has won four straight Gold Glove Awards. This man is the face of the Rockies who had Troy Tulowitzki up the middle for so long. The torch has been passed, and Arenado is carrying it proudly. The Rockies are in contention this season and Arenado is toward the top of the league in every offensive metric yet again. That's not a coincidence.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
Well, he's done basically everything a pitcher can do and he's still only 29 years old. He might even be a Hall of Famer right now. There's one last open spot on his mantel and that's for a World Series ring. Yes, Kenley Jansen is great. And Corey Seager. And Cody Bellinger. We still vote Kersh.
San Diego Padres: Wil Myers
Myers has done enough to earn himself this title, as he finally played over 100 games last season and parlayed that into a 28-homer, 28-steal campaign. He picked up where he left off this year he's also under contract until 2020. And it's not like we can give this title to All-Star Brad Hand yet, can we?
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey
Posey and Madison Bumgarner are both nearly as irreplaceable and have integral positions on the team -- bona fide ace and all-world catcher -- and they are elite when compared to their peers. I give Posey the nod because of his NL MVP Award and because he was the eighth-most popular jersey last year (for what it's worth, Bumgarner was only four spots behind him). They both have three World Series rings and four All-Star Game appearances (though Posey just got elected to his fifth), and you really can't go wrong with either of them. We can't forget that Posey is also in that weird commercial, which tips the scales slightly in his favor as well.
Baltimore Orioles: Adam Jones
If you wanted to go with Manny Machado here, I can't blame you, but to me Jones holds the torch as the franchise player for the Orioles. Despite his struggles this season, Machado may have a brighter future than Jones, but he has a little ways to go to top Jones' five All-Star selections and four Gold Gloves. Jones has been outspoken about social issues in the game and has been at the helm of the Baltimore franchise for over a decade. I'm going with the elder statesman here. He also has one of the best Instagrams in the league, and that shouldn't go unrewarded.
Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia
In one or two years, Mookie Betts will likely take over the role as the new star of the franchise. But right now, the mantel still belongs to Pedroia, who has an AL MVP Award and was part of two World Series teams. Until he retires, nothing can quite top that -- and they'll likely retire his jersey at Fenway, as well.
New York Yankees: Aaron Judge
CC Sabathia could certainly make an argument here as one of the last of the Yankees' "old guard," but the verdict is already in on Judge. If he keeps doing things like this, he might just win both the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP Award this season.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
Chris Archer is a strong candidate to fulfill the franchise player role for the Rays, but Longoria just edges him out. Why? The 2008 World Series. It was Longoria who brought the Rays all the way through the postseason during what seemed like a miracle run in just his rookie season, and fans will never, ever forget that until they actually see the franchise win it all. He won the Rookie of the Year Award and one decade later and he's still averaging 30 home runs and 100 RBIs per season.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
In another interesting race, the slugger that came out of nowhere edges out a youthful ace like Marcus Stroman. Yes, Bautista is polarizing. The guy has gotten heat for both the greatest bat flip in baseball history and his pugilism. But no one can deny his six All-Star selections and 279 home runs with the Jays.
Chicago White Sox: Yoan Moncada
I'm going out on a limb here, I know. Moncada hasn't swung a bat in the Majors this season. But he is the future, and that's all White Sox fans care about right now. Chris Sale was the obvious answer here for so long, and Jose Quintana will likely be out the door next month, along with Daniel Robertson in the bullpen. Jose Abreu simply doesn't excite as much as he did the first season he broke into the Majors and Carlos Rodon has no track record. It's all about the future on the South Side of Chicago… and that future should be celebrated.
Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor
Lindor helped lead the Indians to the World Series last year, and Indians fans will likely not forget it for a long time. His joy on the field is contagious. On top of all his leadership qualities, Lindor place Gold Glove defense and has a career .292/.345/.455 slash line. He just edges out Klubot for the top spot in the Cleveland organization.
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera
There is no player in the league quite like Miggy. He is a seven-time All-Star with the Tigers and won two AL MVP Awards and even a Triple Crown. He even secured that elusive World Series ring in 2003 (albeit with the Marlins) and is a surefire Hall of Famer. But it's the little things that he does that Tigers fans -- and baseball fans in general -- all love. I mean, who gives someone a thumbs up after striking out? This is arguably the easiest call on the list.
Kansas City Royals: Salvador Perez
If a fire sale is coming for the Royals, one untouchable piece will certainly be Salvy. A four-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glover and a World Series MVP, there's not much left for the backstop to do to prove that he's one of the best at his position. His 18 WAR is 22nd-most in Kansas City history, second among active players on the team after only Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon. And with Cain and Gordon likely leaving and Perez fresh off a long-term deal, Salvy's smiling mug should be on team calendars for years to come.
Minnesota Twins: Jose Berrios
Joe Mauer undoubtedly has the best resume on the team and has been a staple in the Minnesota lineup since 2004, having won and MVP Award and having made six All-Star Game appearances. But Twins fans are ready to turn the page and look toward the future, and Mauer's production has slowed to such a crawl in recent years that it's worth wondering if this might be the St. Paul, Minn., native's last season. Berrios, meanwhile, is on the upswing as one of the game's budding aces. He boasted a 2.98 ERA and seven wins in his first nine games started and is striking out a batter per inning on top of that. The torch seems to be already in the young hurler's hands, and his electric stuff has fans excited for the future.
Houston Astros: Jose Altuve
Which superstar, on a team of young superstars, rises above the rest? Along with being one of the most recognizable stars in the league thanks to his height, Altuve is known to be one of the friendliest and one of the fastest. He has two batting titles, a Gold Glove and now five All-Star selections, and he was in Houston before Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer even made it to the Show. As of last year, he might have already been the best player in franchise history. That's evidence enough, if you ask me.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout
Not much to say here. Next.
Oakland A's: Khris Davis
Players shuffle in and out with very few holdovers nowadays, so it's tough to make this pick. If anything, most players get platooned all over the diamond and in the outfield, and so it feels natural to go with a pitcher, yet Sonny Gray has been anything but effective the past two years and may also be on his way out the door. That leaves Davis, a slugger with holes in his swing but also plenty of power. And he's young, so we think he'll stick around awhile.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez
Robinson Cano is good, but there is only one King Felix. He has his own court in the stands and he deserves it, with a Cy Young Award and six All-Star Game selections under his belt. At this point he is probably the best pitcher in Mariners history, and Seattle had Randy Johnson for a while, so that's saying something. He is also one of the game's most marketable stars, especially in an international sense, and good vibes abound when he's on the mound at Safeco. No one is taking the King's crown anytime soon.
Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre
Rounding out the list is Texas' ageless wonder. Beltre is widely regarded as one of the most-liked players in the league by his peers and to fans he is also one of the funniest when it comes to the top of his head. He is likely to notch his 3,000th hit with the Rangers, and that is reason enough for him to be bestowed this honor. And besides, Yu Darvish is likely leaving, Elvis Andrus doesn't quite have that star power and Rougned Odor still has plenty to prove. Beltre is simply the best the franchise has to offer, and to me that's more than OK.
Agree with these picks? Disagree? Did I leave anyone out? Let me know in the comments or tweet at me why I'm wrong.
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Joe Sparacio is an associate producer for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @joetsparacio.