Tied to the Whipping Post

The Human Target...

Public Enemy #1...

Use whatever clever name you want, but the trade of Muscle Branyan to Seattle reduced the number of players who universally draw the ire of a fanbase (deserved or undeserved) down to 29 for a couple of weeks.  That is, until the population of Cleveland finds another player upon whose shoulders they can heap their frustration and voice their disappointment.  Since he was signed late in the off-season by the Indians, Branyan was seen as an unnecessary veteran signing for an rebuilding organization with a history of such unnecessary veteran signings.  His mere presence on the roster made stomachs turn for some and each of his sweet strokes that ended simply creating more wind on the shores of Lake Erie became fodder for a fanbase that had grown tired of Branyan blocking the "Future 1B", Matt LaPorta, from playing more than intermittently in the early months of the 2010 season.

Of course, it bears worth mentioning that Branyan hit well in his brief time with the Tribe, posting the 3rd highest OPS on the team, even as he became a lightning rod for criticism as the poster boy for all that was wrong with the Indians' manner of bringing in veterans to play in front of prospects.  Despite the fact that Branyan remains 3rd in WAR for Indians' hitters at 1.2 (and he'd be second if Carlos Santana wasn't blistering MLB pitchers at a Pujolsian pace in his first few week), his trade back to the Emerald City (for what looks like organizational fodder) was welcomed with open arms in Cleveland.

All of that begs the obvious question - what did Russell Branyan do to deserve such contempt?

Sure, his defense was abysmal at 1B and he looked like he'd rather be seeing his proctologist...but on a team that was largely bereft of power, he posted the highest SLG among regulars (at .491) and hit 10 HR in 52 games with the team.  For that performance, he was largely ridiculed and his departure garnered the usual "thank goodness that he's gone" rhetoric.

What's most interesting about the public opinion on Branyan in 2010 in Cleveland is that it brings to mind the idea that every team has a "Whipping Boy" for writers and fans alike to pile on as a sub-replacement level player or as a poster child for organizational flaws.

The most obvious example (who fits both of the aforementioned requirements) is Yuni Betancourt in Kansas City, he of the -0.1 WAR, playing every day at the age of 28 for a club that should ostensibly be building for 2012 or 2013 at every position.  As Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer regularly land body blows on the Royals for the presence of Betancourt, you have to realize that every team in every market has a player like this.

On the North Side of Chicago, Big Z, Kosuke Fukodome, and Al Soriano all draw the ire of a fanbase who sees the huge numbers remaining on their contracts and depicts each player as emblematic of the organization's failures in doling out contracts that were too long (with no-trade clauses) to boot to players that they deem undeserving of such contracts.  However, while each is seen as an organizational albatross because of those aforementioned contracts, Soriano sits 2nd among Cub hitters with a 2.4 WAR and Fukodome has posted a 0.6 WAR to date, meaning that they're not spiking themselves out there.  On the flip side, Zambrano's 0.7 WAR (as he sits off the 25-man roster) pegs him as the 8th most valuable pitcher on the North Side as he's bounced between the rotation, the bullpen, and a padded room.

For some of these players, the contempt is palpable, but is it always justified?

While the performances of the players can be largely quantified, the emotional factor plays a major role as certain players become the perfect place upon to place frustrations for organizational tendencies:

The Royals play "going nowhere" veterans that shouldn't be playing at all, much less for a rebuilding team?  Yuni Betancourt arrives to fit the bill, and "plays" right into the hands of the critics...

The Indians sign a limited 1B/DH with a balky back on a rebuilding team with the "prize" from their trade of CC Sabathia in 2008 looking like a future 1B, perpetuating the organizational tendency to "block" prospects with middling veterans?  Sacrificial Lamb, thy name is Russell...

The Cubs' bloated roster is full of underachieving, overpaid stars that could handcuff the franchise for the foreseeable future?  Really, take your pick...

Not too long ago, the Yankees were going through their self-imposed exile from the World Series, brought on by their own foolishness in rash FA signings?  As a result, Carl Pavano was back-page fodder as every bit of wordplay demeaning "The American Idle" was printed in black and white, and read all over...

For whatever reason, it would seem that most fanbases "need" that player upon whom they heap their unhappiness, that singular pair of shoulders to throw their frustration upon.  That pervasive aggravation may simply make its way to those shoulders not necessarily as a result of his play as much as the perception that he represented something disappointing about the organization. The player simply becomes representative of all that is wrong in the Front Office of a particular team with the player remaining firmly in the cross-hairs of the fanbase.

Whether that player's presence in the cross-hairs is justified or not, every team has one of them and while some may be obvious around baseball, others or not; so I put it to you - who else makes this Public Enemies list around MLB in 2010, rightfully or dubiously?

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