Some of my best friends are bad teams. I fell in love with baseball all over again in 1996, when I was home from college for the summer, and Candlestick Park was 15 minutes away. Two or three times a week, I drank things that could have gotten get me arrested, grilled things that made me fatter, shivered uncontrollably in the -49º wind chill, and watched a bad Giants team play bad baseball. It was the best.
It wasn't all bad, of course. I'm laying it on thick. It wasn't all Dax Jones and Kim Batiste. The Giants also employed Barry Bonds at the time, and he finished that season with 42 homers, 40 stolen bases, and a .461 on-base-percentage. He was doing something absurd every night, and Giants fans were lucky enough to watch it.
They were a bad team, sure. But they were also eminently watchable.
Your job today is to pick the lousy baseball team that's the most watchable of the lousy baseball teams. There will be some 90-loss teams in 2016. There might even be a 100-loss team or two. That doesn't mean that these teams won't have anything to offer.
Some housekeeping is in order. I'm classifying the Padres as boring, not bad, and I'm still not quite sure what to make of the A's and Rockies, even though some of you are absolutely sure what to make of them. That's fine. Express your disdain for those teams in the comments, and tell us if you would watch them. But I'm restricting my field to four teams: The Phillies, Braves, Brewers, and Reds. Which team would you want to watch for 162 games if you were forced to?
The argument for the Braves
Here's where we have to define watchable for each team. It's a variable term. Cal Ripken was still a reason to watch some lousy Orioles teams. The 2013 Mets lost 88 games, but they also introduced Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, giving their fans a glimpse of the pitching-saturated future. Those are two very different scenarios, under the same umbrella of watchability.
The Braves have one of the best farm systems in the game, so that's their hook. According to ESPN's Keith Law, they have the very best stable of prospects in baseball, and more than a couple of those prospects will have a clean shot at a major league gig if they perform well in the minors. If John Gant, Mike Foltynewicz, Casey Kelly, Aaron Blair, or Chris Ellis all have breakout seasons, they would just need to leapfrog over Bud Norris to get starts for the second half of the year.
By September, every pitcher in the rotation could be a part of the team's long-term plans. Even in a 90-loss season, that's indescribably exciting for hardcore fans. The losses are a bummer, but if there's a brilliant start from a young pitcher once a week, it nourishes you. You get to be a baseball camel and store it in your baseball-can-still-be-fun hump, where it will sustain you through the darkest winters.
The Braves have oodles of prospects. You might see some of them this year. Not all bad teams are created equal. Imagine if Dansby Swanson rides a three-stop rocket to the majors by September, for example.
The argument for the Reds
Prospects are dandy, sure. But there's also the comfort of watching an outstanding veteran do what he's done for your team for the last decade. Just like the '96 Giants team that turned me into a rabid fan somehow, the '16 Reds are going to have Joey Votto, and that might be reason enough to watch them. Votto's nervous system is a supercomputer that processes balls and strikes .01 seconds quicker than the typical player's, and it makes him an absolute joy to watch.
Beyond that, though, the Reds' rotation might not be as bad as you think. It might be downright competent, if not better. Raisel Iglesias was a second-half revelation, flashing strikeout stuff and the stamina to work into the seventh inning regularly. Anthony DeSclafani was fine last year, and he still has the top-prospect potential that made him so sought after in trades. Michael Lorenzen was kind of a mess last year, but he still has the arm. Brandon Finnegan should do well with an unambiguous role after a couple years of getting yanked around.
Long argument short: Every starting pitcher for the Reds might be a pitcher relevant to the team's long-term goals, which means they're all pitchers worth watching. And they still have Joey Votto, just in case you get tired of erratic young pitching. That's a solid combination.
The argument for the Brewers
Similar to the Reds, in that they have the homegrown Ryan Braun, still beloved around those parts, and they have a rotation that might be better than you think. Unlike the Reds, though, the Brewers' rotation of possible competence is a little older.
That's good in the sense that they might be steadier and far less erratic. Young pitchers can wear your brain out, but Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, and Wily Peralta are slowly transitioning into veteran status. It's bad in the sense that you can't daydream about All-Star potential quite as easily. They would settle into more of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get role, which is outstanding if what you see are All-Stars, but it's a tad discouraging if you see more Mike Maddux than Greg in your young pitchers.
The lineup might be unspeakably bad, though. That goes for all of these teams, sure, but the Brewers might start the season with two hitters who wouldn't look out of place on a contending team, maybe three. That's typical rebuilding-team stuff, but an injury or two could make things even worse, which could lead to the least watchable lineup in baseball.
The pitching might make up for it if Matt Garza isn't contagious.
The argument for the Phillies
We've gone from Votto to Braun to Ryan Howard. While I'd probably root harder for a 40-homer season from Howard than I would almost anything else, it's probably not gonna happen. It's comforting to watch the homegrown superstars stick around and do great things in the lean years, but there's a tipping point. Howard's was about four years ago, and he's perennially made a sad team even sadder.
But of all the pitchers on all of the above teams, I'm not sure if any of them have a 1-2 pitching combo like Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff. None of them have a burgeoning dinger monster quite like Maikel Franco. The Phillies are the team of extremes, then, where they have the best of the watchable young players, and the worst of the unwatchable old friends.
They also have one of the best prospects in baseball, J.P. Crawford.
A September glimpse of Crawford might make the whole season worthwhile, but it's okay to have delusions of grandeur and hope he can force his way into the lineup by May. The Phillies are keeping his spot warm with Freddy Galvis, after all, which is organization-ese for "Whenever you're ready, kid."
Honestly, writing all of these teams up, I got excited to watch them all. We'll see if I feel the same way in August, when I'm picking out an afternoon game to watch on MLB.tv, but right now I'm having a tough time picking between them.
Give me the Phillies, then, if only because I'm expecting Crawford up sooner rather than later, and because they also have the added bonus of being a dormant financial leviathan that will be able to spend and spend to fill in the missing gaps. That doesn't necessarily make them more watchable, but it facilitates the daydreaming that all bad teams need to offer if you're going to spend three hours a day with them.
There's a poll. Vote in the poll! Let's spend the day saying good things about bad teams.