One of 2011's most pleasant surprises was the success of Showtime's "The Franchise," the MLB Productions creation that embedded itself with the San Francisco Giants and aired throughout the summer. Though the debut episode was a bit broad, the unfiltered look at a title defense gone sour was great as it became more concentrated on the individual stories in the Giants' clubhouse. From the late-career rise of Ryan Vogelsong to getting behind the beard of Brian Wilson, "The Franchise" became must-see TV for baseball fans who had pined for a "Hard Knocks" view on their favorite sport.
For those of you who also enjoyed the show, the good news is that I'm hearing rumbles that "The Franchise" will return for a second season. The bad news is that no one is yet willing to cough up the identity of the squad. I'm told that it will be announced in the near future.
Intrigued by the mystery of which franchise will be tabbed to drive ratings and premium cable subscriptions, I've created a "wish list" of possible teams and ranked them in loose order with the pros and cons of their separate cases. Which one would be your choice?
1. Miami Marlins
Pros: New ballpark, new manager, new players, new uniforms. The Marlins seem best-equipped for their turn in the, uh, fish bowl, and the possibilities of Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano earning a "Miami Vice"-type spinoff after the taping would be great. Giving closer Heath Bell a wider forum for his offbeat sense of humor would also make for good television.
Cons: Jeffrey Loria and David Samson getting prime face time would qualify as television's biggest flop since "Cavemen."
2. Texas Rangers
Pros: Three words: Nolan Ryan face. But the two-time defending AL champs have much more to offer than a personable team president and a bona fide star in Josh Hamilton. The (assumed) arrival of a Japanese ace, the breakout stardom of Mike Napoli and the conversion of Neftali Feliz from closer to starter would make for interesting segments.
Cons: The show might be driven by the disappointment of the past two World Series and the team's drive to finally capture the big prize. How many replays of Nelson Cruz failing to catch David Freese's triple in Game 6 can Rangers fans really take?
3. Los Angeles Angels
Pros: The Halos conducted the offseason's biggest makeover with the addition of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and it'd be awesome to get an up-close look at how Mike Scioscia goes about his job as the most tenured manager in the bigs.
Cons: Pujols may be a lot of things — there's a reason the Angels will pay him a quarter of a billion over the next 10 years — but a warm and engaging media presence isn't one of them. If he's not fully on board with the project, there's little reason to resurrect "The O.C." on cable TV.
4. Boston Red Sox
Pros: Bobby Valentine and Dustin Pedroia are two of the most entertaining baseball personalities around and there will be plenty of drama and conflict as the Red Sox try to erase the disappointment of their collapse in 2011.
Cons: After the fried chicken-and-beer debacle last season, it's hard to imagine that Red Sox ownership would green light anything that could again divide the clubhouse or provide a big distraction.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Pros: Just as we'd like to see Scioscia do his thing, watching Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee as they prepare for each start would be a treat. Ryan Howard's injury, Charlie Manuel's press conferences and the added star power of Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Jim Thome probably make the Phils the true dark horse in this race.
Cons: The Phillies are an old team and Major League Baseball might want to turn the spotlight on a younger squad.
6. Washington Nationals
Pros: With Stephen Strasburg on opening day, the possible addition of Prince Fielder and plenty of other young stars, the Nats could be considered the "safe" version of the Marlins if MLB is looking to cover a team on the up.
Cons: There's no guarantee that Bryce Harper will be with the big-league team come opening day, so would baseball commit to Washington on just a hunch?
7. New York Yankees
Pros: The biggest team in the biggest market, the Yankees have enough fans to drive big ratings even if no one else watches. Plus, there's always a story afoot at Yankee Stadium.
Cons: With the amount of media that the team already deals with, there wouldn't be much room for the added thrust of even more producers and cameramen.
8. St. Louis Cardinals
Pros: Showtime would get to start a tradition of a "Franchise" appearance being part of the victor's spoils when a team wins a World Series. Lance Berkman could carry the show by himself, but David Freese, Jason Motte and Adam Wainwright bolster the amount of likable characters that could be featured.
Cons: The Cards lost a lot of starpower once Pujols and Tony La Russa left town. No one's going to tune in to see what Mike Matheny has to say.
9. Los Angeles Dodgers
Pros: The star power of Matt Kemp, the burgeoning wizardry of Clayton Kershaw, the poetry of Vin Scully and the beauty of a midsummer night at Dodger Stadium. Need I say more?
Cons: There's no way the Dodgers will get tabbed with the ownership situation still in flux. But once Frank McCourt sells and a new group takes over, a spot on a future season of "The Franchise" is one of the surest bets in baseball.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks
Pros: Yeah, this might be a real reach. But I'd love to see the maturation of that young pitching staff as well as how the gruff Kirk Gibson interacts with his players.
Cons: The D'Backs wouldn't be able to move the national needle very much on a show that needs more success to guarantee that it keeps on running.