This story is part of ESPN The Magazine's Oct. 12 Owners Issue. Subscribe today!
Title track: T44
Fan relations: 22
Stadium experience: 11
Bang for the buck: 7
Change from last year: +21
Two years ago, the D-backs were fans' picks as the best team in MLB and sixth-best overall. Last year, well, they weren't. The worst record in baseball -- and the dealing of several key players -- caused the squad to drop all the way to 30th. While the team's record isn't that much better this year, fans were a bit more forgiving, and Arizona climbed back to the top 10 (second only to the Pirates in MLB). What's behind the change?
One of the Diamondbacks' biggest assets is the wallet-friendly nature of Chase Field; its average cost per game, $29.56, is by far the cheapest in baseball. Adding to the convenience and affordability factor is the Salt River Valley's burgeoning light rail system that, for $4 round-trip, takes fans to and from Chase for the cost of a beer. The stadium's amenities also are a draw -- the 11th-place ranking is sixth best in MLB. They include a retractable roof, an outfield pool and an array of concessions ranging from traditional to regionally appropriate (tamales, Sonoran hot dogs and margaritas) to bizarrely American (ahem, the 1,200-calorie Churro Dog).
While a trip to downtown Phoenix for a ballgame is fun and cheap, the Diamondbacks have put a mediocre team on the field for more than a decade (two playoff appearances in the past 13 seasons). After finishing with baseball's worst record in 2014, the club has improved, but that success has been mitigated by personnel decisions that have flummoxed the rest of the industry -- and the team's fans, who voted the D-backs' ownership and coaching the club's worst attributes. The team left a huge chunk of its signing bonus pool on the table in June and essentially sold hard-throwing prospect Touki Toussaint to the Braves in order to rid themselves of Bronson Arroyo's contract. That helped place the Diamondbacks in the middle of the pack in the title track and ownership categories.
The team's biggest jump came in fans' opinions of its players -- up 43 spots over last year, no doubt thanks to the slugging of superstar first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and the emergence of outfielder A.J. Pollock. Talented and charismatic (the D-backs were voted the fifth-most likable team in MLB), the squad will soon be joined by No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson, who'll be part of a potentially formidable core in a few years. Whether the Diamondbacks' front office can fill the talent holes around those players and begin to compete with the bottomless money pit in L.A. and the player development machine in San Francisco will determine whether Arizona's spot in the top 10 is stable -- or whether it's in for another drop.