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Finding the Twins Next "Face of the Franchise"

Posted by dave_dw , 30 January 2018 · 2,986 views

joe mauer byron buxton brian dozier jose berrios face of the franchise
Finding the Twins Next "Face of the Franchise" On March 21, 2010, the Minnesota Twins locked up Joe Mauer to an 8-year extension.

They also locked up Joe Mauer's face.

The "Face of the Franchise" or FotF (as no one calls it), is an oft-cited, nebulously-valued sports phenomenon. It’s hard to say with certainty that there actually is value to having a FotF, but even if we all agreed there was value, how much value a FotF adds is impossible to quantify.

Does having a specific player's face plastered on banners and billboards around town help sell more season tickets? Does it help the team in any way to have a sought-after shirsey at the team store? Does giving away adhesive sideburns boost attendance and thus payroll which in turn puts a more competitive team on the field?

NO ONE KNOWS! The whole Face of the Franchise concept is deserving of the shrug emoticon topped with a New Era cap.

This off-season has seen a few Faces of the Franchise dealt away. Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria, and Andrew McCutchen were all traded (mostly to the Giants) in the past couple months. The effects of those moves will likely first be felt internally with a stagnation of season ticket sales, more so for the suddenly rebuilding Marlins and Pirates than the Rays.

Let’s say the Pirates had decided to rebuild while keeping McCutchen. Would his presence help recoup ticket sales that would be lost in his absence? I think so. An average baseball fan will more likely want to watch a 90-loss team with former-MVP Andrew McCutchen than a 94-loss team with Adam Frazier in left field (no offense to Adam and his family).

Having a FotF kind of matters. It matters more than a batboy but less than a manager. It's more important than a retractable roof, but less important than park factors. A Face of the Franchise is more meaningful than meaningless, but means less than something meaningful.

Picking a New Face

Regardless of the exact benefits that a FotF has for an organization, Joe Mauer's occasionally-bearded, milk-loving face has been synonymous with Twins baseball for more than a decade now. But he and his mug are reaching the end of their reign.

This season will mark exactly one octennium since Mauer signed his 8-year extension, meaning that the Twins may very well be Mauer-less after this season when his contract expires. If that is the case, he will leave a face-shaped hole at the FotF position, so we need to speculate about his replacement.

First, we need to establish some criteria for what elevates a normal face to a FotF level. Looking across the league, both now and historically, there are certain aspects of a player that make them FotF material.

A good player is more likely to be a FotF than a bad player. Where talking about All-Stars here, not 4th outfielders.

They need to have been with the team for a long time. Ask yourself, “Who is the longest-tenured player on Team X?” and quite often you’ve named the face of that franchise. Familiarity also takes into account how often that player is on the field. Hitters are more often the FotF than pitchers due in part to the fact that hitters play everyday while pitchers play every fifth day (in the case of starters).

Similar to Familiarity, but with deeper roots. A FotF bonus is giving to a player who came up with the organization—someone who was home grown. With more and more fans following prospects from the draft through the minors, coming up with an organization and providing hope for a brighter future is appreciated by the fans.

All of these attributes are really just parsing the main factor that determines the Face of the Franchise:
Fan Likability

The FotF is all about the fans—getting them to turn out on cold Tuesday nights, getting them excited for Spring Training games, giving them a reason to fill out an All-Star ballot, getting them to tune in to a September game after the team has been eliminated from playoff contention. A FotF makes a baseball team more marketable to the fans.

Who will be the Twins next “Face of the Franchise?”
Here are the candidates:

Brian Dozier
Dozier is the obvious heir apparent. Among position players, he’s been the leader in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) each of the past 4 years, and he’s been the league leader in HAIR since his major-league debut. Along with his quality on-field play, he came up through the Twins’ minor league system and has been on the major league roster since 2012, making him the 2nd-longest tenured player on the roster after Mauer. If he’s on the Twins next year and Mauer is not, he’s the clear FotF.

The primary problem with Dozier is the same as Mauer’s—he’s a free agent after this year. Even more than Mauer, Dozier seems destined to sign elsewhere after this season given that he will probably be sought after by several team. The Twins seem more likely to spend free agent money on pitching in the next few years than hitting, so it would make sense for them to let Dozier walk (assuming he's not traded during the season).

Byron Buxton
The long-hyped, former-#1 prospect in baseball has shown, at times, why he received so much love from the scouts. We’ve seen incredibly high highs both with the glove and with the bat. If he can do anything close to what he did at the plate in the 2nd half of last year while continuing to dominate on the defensive end, he could easily earn some down-ballot MVP votes.

At this point in his career, most of Buxton’s value comes with his glove. He’s had flashes at the plate, but he’s inconsistent and still strikes out A LOT. It’s difficult for fans to rally behind a glove-first center fielder who struggles to make contact at the plate. There are only so many flailing strikeouts that a diving catch will atone for. Pair that with the residual hype that Buxton received as a prospect, and anything short of greatness could be seen as a disappointment to many fans.

Miguel Sano
He’s most likely to be the best hitter on the Twins for a while, and, unlike prime Mauer, Sano provides value in the most-exciting, fan-friendly way: he hits massive dingers.

The recent sexual assault allegations bring character concerns to the fore. Add that to existing questions, unfair or not, about his work ethic, and you’re looking at a player who may be unsympathetic to the Twins’ fanbase.

Jose Berrios
Current Twins fans know how pitching-starved the team is. The pitching staff needs a savior for the team to take the next step foward, and if Berrios can become an ace, the fanbase will correctly understand how essential he is to the team's success.

It’s hard for a pitcher to become the FotF [see Familiary]. Starters who have become FotFs are typically current or former Cy Young-caliber guys like Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. Berrios would have to be great, not just good, to become the FotF.

The Young Others
Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, heck even Mitch Garver are all a breakout away from being in contention for FotF. The problem is, in order to get there, one of these guys would have to outshine all the other candidates above or have some sort of transcendent, high-leverage moment late in the year or in the post-season to reach FotF heights.

The same would be needed from the prospects. Nick Gordon, Fernando Romero, and Stephen Gonsalves are not far from the majors, while Royce Lewis and the other, younger prospects are endearing themselves to the fanbase despite being years away yet. Secondary & tertiary prospects who are also near the bigs, like Brent Rooker, LaMonte Wade, and that guy that currently has you thinking, “He didn’t mention so-and-so?” Any of these guys would need to be insanely good right away, or would need some sort of famous, Freesian playoff moment.

So that’s it.
Those are all the faces. I’m not going any deeper on this roster (sorry Taylor Featherston, it’s just not gonna happen).

Who do you think the Twins next Face of the Franchise will be?

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