Plenty has been written about the value of the villain. His mere presence in a story adds depth, giving the reader or viewer that much more incentive to cheer for the hero to take him down. Sure, we root against them, but they are still fun characters to see in action, moving the story along. Batman has The Joker. Superman has Lex Luthor. Jerry has Newman. Social media has Curt Schilling.
For over a decade now, the Yankees have had David Ortiz. They have certainly had their foes before, from Schilling to Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, and more. These players weren't pushovers like Armando Benitez. They were scary in their potential to actually strike back and cause damage, and no one fit the bill more than Ortiz. The numerous big home runs launched by Ortiz against Yankees pitching were agonizing, and including the playoffs, he has taken them deep 52 times in 238 games. His brazen statements, overlooked rage-fests, and mysterious presence in PED stories have only added to the ire from fans in the Bronx.
Regardless of how little Yankees fans might think of Ortiz, it will be strange one year from now to prepare for the 2017 season in a baseball world without Ortiz. Every hero needs a heel. After all, he has been public enemy number one in the Bronx for quite some time. So who is the best candidate to fill his role?
Some boundaries need to be set. It's unlikely that a number one heel can emerge from outside the division simply because the Yankees don't play them as much. It's possible--just ask George Brett--but it usually requires a long playoff rivalry. So although Felix Hernandez and 2015 nemesis Dallas Keuchel have given them fits in the past, they don't play in the Bronx enough. For that same reason, soon-to-be free agents like Edwin Encarnacion, perennial pest James Loney, and Jose Bautista (the active leader in homers against the Yankees behind Ortiz) don't make sense since who knows where they will be after this year.
There are a few notable candidates--so who should it be?
Ol' Pedey is 32 and a 10-year veteran at this point, but he has been such a presence in the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry for long enough that he's the favorite. While he is not the same constant power threat that Ortiz is, he has still been a formidable threat for the Yankees in the past, batting .305/.367/.437 with 41 doubles and 10 homers in 129 games.
As many Yankees fans can attest, there's just something painfully annoying about him. The David Eckstein -esque gritty media narrative plays a big role there, and much like Kevin Youkilis before him, his face is just so dang punchable. He's unfortunately quite good, though. As much as we love him, I'm sure Red Sox fans would probably say the same thing about Brett Gardner if his career remotely sniffed the 45+ rWAR levels of Pedroia.
Most importantly, Pedroia will be the veteran leader on the Red Sox for awhile yet. He's under contract through 2021, and with a no-trade clause in addition to being such a popular figure in New Engladn, he's not going anywhere.
Teammate Evan Longoria has belted his share of memorable home runs against the Yankees, but no one outside Boston gives Yankees fans more headaches than Codename: Duchess. His predecessor as Rays ace could never get the hang of facing the Yankees, but Archer was pretty much dominant from the get-go. If he played in Boston and carried even a small portion of Pedro's swagger, this would be no contest.
Entering only his fifth major league season, the 27-year-old has left the Yankees in the dust with a 2.25 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 10 career showdowns. Just three Yankees have taken him deep in 68 innings. The scariest part of Archer is that he's only getting better, having finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting last year with his first All-Star season. On an obnoxiously affordable $25.5 million extension with team options in both 2020 and 2021, Archer will probably remain a constant threat for years to come.
Betts is the underdog here simply because his major league career is only a year and a half old. He hasn't even played 200 games yet, and as talented as he is, better players have wilted after that little time.
Nonetheless, Mookie is a Beantown menace. He's just 23 years old, under team control through 2020, and ha already reached 8.1 career WAR. Around the same age, Derek Jeter's career WAR was only between four and five. He can play several different positions and has slugged an attention-grabbing .602 against the Yankees in 24 games, blasting six homers.
Like Archer, his personality is not nearly the grating level of Ortiz, which makes it a bit difficult to approach his heel levels. That doesn't mean he can't be the top villain though. A positive persona did not stop Red Sox fans from being haunted by Jeter's opposite-field daggers. Pedroia's potential decline could easily open the door for Betts (or Xander Bogaerts) to step into the role. Beware.
Who do you think is Ortiz's successor as the Yankees' number one heel? Pedroia, Archer, Betts, and other AL East foes like Josh Donaldson all have decent cases. It could very well end up being someone we barely know at this point, too.
Ah screw it. It's probably still Papelbon.