It's Presidents Day, a holiday to commemorate some of the more heralded leaders in United States history. We thought we would mark the occasion by devising a modern-day "Mount Rushmore" for every club.
That's right. Four players on the current roster who previously defined and/or most define the franchise. Note that not every team's Rushmore will necessarily be comprised of the four "best" players; some veterans might take precedence based on longevity and legacy with said team.
However, other players might also be included based on future expectation, meaning you will see a few new acquisitions from this winter take up the mantle for their respective teams.
Let's get down to business.
The Four: Nick Ahmed, David Peralta, Ketel Marte, Zac Gallen
The Arizona Diamondbacks would have hoped Madison Bumgarner could claim a spot here with a stellar debut. Alas, that was not the case after an injury-riddled 2020 in which he posted a 6.48 ERA in nine starts.
Zac Gallen, on the other hand, continued to excel. Gallen had a 2.75 ERA in 12 starts, even finishing ninth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. He has a 2.80 ERA since coming to Arizona from the Miami Marlins and figures to be a staple of the rotation.
Ketel Marte's power numbers declined last season, but he still hit .287. Marte finished fourth in the NL MVP voting in 2019, and his positional versatility is quite valuable to the D-backs.
Nick Ahmed and David Peralta are essentially the elder statesmen.
Ahmed is a two-time Gold Glover and one of the best defensive players at the shortstop position. He can also hit for some power despite striking out too much and not drawing a ton of walks. Health has occasionally been an issue for Peralta, but he has a .291 career average and .820 OPS in seven years with the club. He also won a Silver Slugger in 2018, followed by a Gold Glove in 2019.
The Four: Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Max Fried
Pretty self-evident selections for Atlanta.
With respect to Mike Soroka, Max Fried gets the nod after going 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 2020. Fried ranked in the top 2 percent in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate this past season, and his breaking stuff is ridiculously good.
The other three are easy choices. Freddie Freeman continues to build his resume as one of the greatest Braves ever after winning NL MVP, and at 31, he is firmly in his prime.
Ronald Acuna Jr., meanwhile, is already one of the best players in the game at just 23 years old. He nearly had a 40-40 season in 2019 and followed that with a career-high .987 OPS in 2020. Acuna is an elite five-tool threat, which explains why the Braves locked him up through at least 2026.
Ozzie Albies was an All-Star in 2018 and the NL hit leader in 2019, when he also won a Silver Slugger. He ranks seventh among second basemen in fWAR since 2018 and is a cornerstone in the middle of the infield.
These four guys are a major reason the Braves figure to be contenders in the NL for years to come.
The Four: Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, John Means
I quite honestly considered Chris Davis for one of the spots. Perhaps nobody in baseball can match his production and subsequent fall from grace. The notorious nature of it all was enticing.
The issue with adding Davis is twofold. For starters, the last four years have been every bit as definitive as his 2012-16 stretch when he averaged 39 homers and 99 RBI. Since then, however, Davis has been worth minus-6.3 wins in just four years.
Secondly, though Davis garnered quite the reputation as a slugger, was he ever as large a franchise icon as Adam Jones or Manny Machado, especially when the latter was a budding young star in Baltimore? I would argue that he was not.
Alas, we will avoid that one. Instead, let's start with Trey Mancini, a guy who hit 83 homers between 2017 and 2019 before taking on a far greater challenge in colon cancer. Mancini completed his chemotherapy in September, a testament to his willpower.
Anthony Santander is only just getting his feet wet despite making his MLB debut in 2017. But he hit 20 homers in 93 games in 2019 and 11 more in 37 games this season, compiling a .575 slugging percentage and .890 OPS before an oblique injury sidelined him. Santander looks like a budding star, which is perhaps why he is garnering trade interest.
John Means was the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 2019, but he was a puzzle in 2020. Means had an excellent 0.99 WHIP and slashed his walk rate to just 1.4 per nine innings, compared to 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. But he also gave up 12 homers, and the long ball has been a problem in his young career. Still, he is one to watch.
We'll round out the four with Ryan Mountcastle because, well, why not? The 23-year-old hit .333 with an .878 OPS in 2020. He is the first representative of the next wave of young talent that will be coming through Baltimore’s system.
Boston Red Sox:
The Four: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez
The Red Sox might have finished last in the AL East in 2020, but they still have ample star power.
Chris Sale led baseball in innings pitched, strikeouts and fielding independent pitching (FIP) in an All-Star first year in Boston in 2017. He was an All-Star in 2018, posting a 2.11 ERA in 27 starts before helping the Red Sox to a World Series. Boston is hoping he makes a successful return from Tommy John surgery later this summer.
J.D. Martinez also had a terrific debut campaign in Beantown when he nearly won the Triple Crown in 2018, hitting .330 with 43 homers and an MLB-high 130 RBI. Martinez hit 36 more dingers and drove in 105 runs in 2019. He hit just .213 with a .680 OPS in 2020, but the return of in-game video could help Martinez regain his stroke.
Then, there are the homegrown stars. Rafael Devers exploded in 2019, hitting .311 with 32 homers and 115 RBI while leading MLB with 359 total bases. Despite the regression in 2020 (.793 OPS), the exit velocities and hard-hit rates are nothing to scoff at.
As for Xander Bogaerts, all he has done is dominate over the course of the last three seasons. Bogaerts ranks second among shortstops in fWAR since 2018 and first in weighted runs created plus (wRC+). He has held down the shortstop position since 2014 and will continue to do so for a Red Sox team desperate to contend again.
The Four: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks
History is likely to ask whether the Chicago Cubs' core underachieved in winning just one World Series title. But that core has accomplished quite a bit.
Javier Baez made his big league debut in 2014 and has since become one of the magnetic attractions in the game.
"El Mago" was NLCS MVP and dazzled with spectacular defense in the team's World Series run in 2016. He was runner-up for NL MVP in 2018 after hitting .290 with 34 homers and an NL-high 111 RBI. This past season was a struggle at the dish (.599 OPS), but Baez continued to prove he was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball by winning his first Gold Glove.
Kris Bryant garners immense scrutiny from Cubs fans. But other than a subpar 2020 (.644 OPS), he has mostly produced magnificent results. Bryant won NL Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts produced more fWAR than Bryant from 2015 to 2019. That's…pretty good.
Nothing about Kyle Hendricks is flashy. But he produces year in and year out. The Dartmouth grad has used location and a nifty changeup he can move both ways to produce a 3.12 ERA in over 1,000 career innings. He won the ERA title (2.13) in 2016 and started two of the biggest games in franchise history in Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS and Game 7 of the World Series later that year.
But nobody has meant as much to the franchise as Anthony Rizzo in this current generation. Rizzo has an .866 OPS in nine seasons with the Cubs. He has won four Gold Gloves and hit 31 or more homers in four consecutive seasons between 2014 and 2017. Most notably, Rizzo ranks second only to Trout in win probability added since 2014.
It remains to be seen what will become of this group in the coming years—Bryant, Baez and Rizzo are all free agents in 2022—but they have provided Cubs fans with indelible memories.
Chicago White Sox:
The Four: Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Eloy Jimenez
We move from the North Side of Chicago to the South Side. Unlike the Cubs, the White Sox have yet to even reach their pinnacle.
Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Lucas Giolito are all representatives of the young batch of stars the White Sox are relying on to get to the top of the mountain.
Anderson won the batting title (.335) in 2019. Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, he went out and hit .322 in 2020, also raising his OPS by 21 points and leading the AL with 45 runs scored. Anderson leaves something to be desired defensively but has the athleticism to make gains.
Jimenez has light-tower power. He really found his stride in the second half of 2019, and the momentum carried over into 2020. The 24-year-old hit .296 with 14 homers and an .891 OPS, winning a Silver Slugger for his efforts. Jimenez will be an anchor in the middle of Chicago's lineup for years to come.
Whereas Jimenez will anchor the lineup, Giolito anchors the rotation. His transformation into one of the best pitchers in baseball has been nothing short of miraculous.
Giolito had a 6.13 ERA and walked an AL-high 90 batters in 2018. He responded by going 14-9 with a 3.41 ERA the following season. In 2020, Giolito had a 3.48 ERA and career-best 3.19 FIP. The 26-year-old is the established ace.
Finally, we arrive at Jose Abreu. The 34-year-old produced 100-RBI seasons in his first four years with the White Sox and led the AL with 123 RBI in 2019. He took it a step further in 2020, hitting .317 with 19 homers and an MLB-best 60 RBI. Abreu also led the AL in hits (76) and slugging (.617) while ranking first in total bases (148) en route to winning AL MVP.
Abreu has not always garnered the same acclaim as other first basemen around the league. But he has been every bit as productive and is one of the leaders for a White Sox team on the rise.