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All 30 MLB Team's Most Indispensable Player in 2014

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2014

All 30 MLB Team's Most Indispensable Player in 2014

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    Gene Puskar/Associated Press

    What does the term "indispensable" really mean when used in sports vernacular?

    In my mind, a team's most indispensable player is not necessarily their best overall player, but rather he is the one guy they can't succeed without.

    The following article is my take on each MLB team's most indispensable player, and in order to determine who received that honor I asked my self one simple question: which player would be the most devastating loss for his team if he were to hit the disabled list for an extended period of time?

    A case can certainly be made for a handful of guys on each team, so I have done my best to fully justify each selection, and I look forward to hearing about how each team's respective fan base feels regarding my selections in the comments section.

     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted. All injury information courtesy of MLBDepthCharts team pages.

Baltimore Orioles: SP Chris Tillman

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    The Baltimore Orioles may not have a bona fide front-line starter atop their rotation, but Chris Tillman has quietly emerged as a reliable staff ace over the past few seasons and is having a good year once again.

    He was 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA last season, making his first All-Star appearance in the process, and he is off to a strong start once again through his first nine starts of 2014. He threw the first complete-game shutout of his career against the Kansas City Royals his last time out, and he has a 3.34 ERA on the year.

    A subpar starting rotation remains the biggest concern for the Orioles this season, and losing their one consistent starter in Tillman would be a huge blow for them to overcome.

Boston Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    After leading all of baseball in runs scored a year ago, the Boston Red Sox have not been nearly as potent offensively this season. The loss of a handful of guysmost notably Jacoby Ellsburyhas certainly had something to do with that.

    With the starting pitching looking strong (minus Clay Buchholz) and plenty of depth there should injury strike, the team's most indispensable player is certainly a position player. In the end, it came down to a choice between Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.

    A strong case can be made for either guy, but Pedroia is the pick here. He's arguably the best all-around second baseman in the game, hits all over the lineup and is the emotional leader of the club with his gritty style of play.

New York Yankees: SP Masahiro Tanaka

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The New York Yankees missed the playoffs for just the second time since 1994 last season, and they responded by spending nearly $500 million this offseason to revamp the roster.

    It was the addition of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka that garnered the most attention, though, as the team shelled out a seven-year, $155 million deal with a $20 million posting fee in order to acquire his services.

    He's been as good as advertisedso far, if not better, and with CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda currently on the DL and Ivan Nova already lost for the season, the Yankees rotation has already been stretched incredibly thin. Tanaka is undoubtedly the ace of the staff at this point, and losing him would likely be too much for the Yankees to overcome.

Tampa Bay Rays: SP David Price

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    A strong case can be made for Evan Longoria being the choice here, as the Rays have struggled mightily in the past when he's been sidelined by injuries. However, given the issues they've had with the starting rotation and the added factor of him potentially being a trade candidate, David Price is the pick here.

    Price is not off to a great start by any means this season, as the big left-hander is 4-4 with a 4.28 ERA (3.22 FIP) through his first 10 starts. However, he got off to a similarly slow start last year, and by season's end he was in ace form once again.

    If the Rays are going to get their season on track, Price will be as important as anyone in turning things around. On the flip side, if they continue to struggle and wind up selling come July, Price could net a massive return on the trade market.

Toronto Blue Jays: RF Jose Bautista

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Jose Bautista broke out with monster numbers in 2010 and 2011, but he followed that up by missing a total of 115 games over the past two seasons with wrist and hip injuries.

    He's been healthy so far in 2014 and has looked like an early MVP candidate as a result, hitting .293/.432/.543 with 11 home runs, 30 RBI and an AL-high 39 walks out of the No. 3 spot in a dangerous Toronto Blue Jays lineup.

    Pitching remains the X-factor for the Blue Jays, and veteran Mark Buehrle has been huge for them this year as a reliable starter atop the rotation, but Bautista is still the one single player who means the most to the success of this team.

Chicago White Sox: SP Chris Sale

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    There are two schools of thought here, but either way you slice it the White Sox are currently without their most indispensable player.

    On one side of the argument, you can say that the offense has been the strength of the team this year, and at the forefront of that offense has been rookie phenom Jose Abreu. However, he recently landed on the DL with an ankle injury, which appears to be nothing serious, but losing his bat is still a huge blow to the team.

    The other side, which is the way this article leans, claims that because the starting rotation is so weak, the White Sox can ill afford to be without their ace and one of the game's best pitchers in Chris Sale. He too is currently on the DL, but he could return by this coming weekend, according to a report from the AP (h/t ESPN).

Cleveland Indians: SP Corey Kluber

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    With Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir departing in free agency, the starting rotation was something of a question mark for the Cleveland Indians entering the season.

    Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar are all currently pitching to an ERA north of 5.00, as the questions surrounding the staff are far from answered and the Indians currently find themselves 27th in the MLB with a 4.65 starter's ERA.

    Somewhere along the way last season, Corey Kluber became the team's best starter, and he's been the one constant in a shaky rotation this year. In 10 appearances, he's tallied seven quality starts while putting up a 3.43 ERA (2.34 FIP) and 74 strikeouts in 65.2 innings of work.

Detroit Tigers: 1B Miguel Cabrera

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Since their starting rotation is so deeparguably the best in all of baseballno one starter can really be pointed to as indispensable. The team also has some depth to work with in that area, as Robbie Ray looked terrific filling in for an injured Anibal Sanchez.

    That makes Miguel Cabrera the obvious choice here, as the remains the best hitter on the planet and has just now started heating up at the plate after a rather pedestrian first month. He's currently hitting .384/.413/.699 with eight doubles, five home runs and 24 RBI in 18 games this month.

    While Cabrera is the pick, Victor Martinez deserves a mention here as well, as he has done a phenomenal job stepping into the all-important cleanup spot behind Cabrera this year following the departure of Prince Fielder. He led all of baseball in batting average in the second half last season and currently has a .323 average, .969 OPS and 11 home runs in 2014.

Kansas City Royals: SP James Shields

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The strength of the Kansas City Royals is their pitching staff, a group that currently ranks fourth in the American League with a 3.59 ERA. And at the head of it all is workhorse James Shields.

    The 32-year-old has won at least 11 games and pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past seven seasons, including an AL-high 228.2 innings of work last season in his first year with the Royals.

    The free-agent-to-be is putting up the best numbers of his career right now, as he's 6-3 with a 2.67 ERA (3.13 FIP) through his first 10 starts. He has eight quality starts on the year, and he truly possesses everything you would look for in a front-of-the-rotation arm.

Minnesota Twins: 2B Brian Dozier

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Big things were expected from Joe Mauer offensively this season, as he has made the move from catcher to first base full-time. However, he has not seen the spike in power numbers that many predicted, and he has now lost the value of being one of the game's top backstops.

    Mauer is still an on-base machine, and when all is said and done he could very well have the best offensive numbers of anyone on the Twins. But as things stand right now, second baseman Brian Dozier looks like their most indispensable piece.

    After a breakout season of sorts last yearduring which he posted a .726 OPS, 18 home runs, 66 RBI and a 3.8 WAR thanks to some plus defensehe's been even better this year. A 30/38 BB/K has helped his on-base percentage jump from .312 to .374 this year, and he currently ranks fourth in the AL overall and first among all second basemen with 11 home runs.

Houston Astros: SP Dallas Keuchel

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    USA TODAY Sports

    As the Houston Astros continue the rebuilding process, it's all about player evaluation for them right now. They should be focused on trying to determine which players are a piece of the future and which players are simply place-holders.

    One player who has emerged as a potential building block this season is left-hander Dallas Keuchel, as he is 5-2 with a 2.92 ERA (2.81 FIP) and 55 strikeouts in 61.2 innings of work. Aside from the fact that he has accounted for nearly 30 percent of the team's wins this season, his peripheral numbers suggest his hot start is for real.

    Losing him right now would be a devastating blow for the team, as it would derail his breakout season and force the team to wonder if the 26-year-old really can be a part of their future plans.

Los Angeles Angels: CF Mike Trout

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Right-hander Garrett Richards was nearly the choice here, as he has quietly emerged as the best pitcher on the Los Angeles Angels staff, going 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA (2.60 FIP) and showing some terrific stuff. The rotation as a whole has been vastly improved, though, and losing any of their starters would hurt.

    Instead, the pick has to be Mike Trout, though things have not gone nearly as swimmingly for him here in his third big league season. He currently leads the American League with 56 strikeouts, and his average is down to .270 as a result.

    That being said, he still ranks 12th in the AL with an .872 OPS and is tied for ninth in the league with 89 total bases. An argument can be made that teammate Albert Pujols is actually out-performing him right now, but the all-around production of Trout makes him the team's single most important player once again.

Oakland Athletics: SP Sonny Gray

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Few would have predicted that the Oakland Athletics would be sitting with the second-best record in all of baseball here at the end of May after they saw starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin go down with season-ending injuries this spring.

    They have rallied around that, though, and currently rank third in all of baseball with a 2.88 starter's ERA. The contributions of Jesse Chavez and the addition of Scott Kazmir have been huge, but it's the emergence of 24-year-old Sonny Gray as a bona fide ace that has been the biggest factor in the team's success.

    The young right-hander is currently 5-1 with a 2.10 ERA (3.36 FIP) on the year, and he has turned in a quality start all nine times he's taken the mound. He will need to continue to anchor the staff moving forward, and he would be awfully hard to replace at this point.

Seattle Mariners: SP Felix Hernandez

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Seattle Mariners rotation has been much better than expected so far this season considering all the injuries they have had to deal with, and the unexpected contributions of Roenis Elias and Chris Young have had a lot to do with that.

    A healthy Hisashi Iwakuma has certainly given the staff a boost, but at the end of the day it is still Felix Hernandez who is the unquestioned ace and the face of a franchise that is looking to take a step forward after a busy offseason.

    The 28-year-old is an absolute horse, having pitched at least 190 innings in each of the last eight seasons, and he is currently tied for second in the AL with 67.1 innings of work this season. He also has eight quality starts in 10 games, and is pitching to a 2.94 ERA with a 2.44 FIP that suggests that he's been even better than his numbers indicate

Texas Rangers: SP Yu Darvish

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    With news coming last week that both Martin Perez (Tommy John surgery) and Matt Harrison (spinal fusion surgery) would be lost for the year, and with Derek Holland already sidelined until midseason, the Texas Rangers have already been stretched to the limit as far as their starting rotation is concerned.

    Even before all of the injury issues, Yu Darvish would have been the choice for the team's most indispensable player, but he has become that much more important atop a rotation that includes the likes of Scott Baker, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Nicholas Tepesch.

    The 27-year-old took a huge step forward in his second big league season last year, lowering his ERA from 3.90 to 2.83 and striking out an MLB-best 277 batters in 209.2 innings of work, which led to a second-place finish in AL Cy Young voting. The numbers are great once again, as he has a 2.32 ERA (2.39 FIP) through his first eight starts, and the team will be leaning heavily on him the rest of the way.

Atlanta Braves: 1B Freddie Freeman

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Offensive consistency was an issue for the Atlanta Braves all year in 2013, and with essentially the same group of guys in place this season it is something they have been forced to deal with once again.

    The team has scored one or zero runs in 14 of their 44 games this year, and they currently rank 29th in the MLB with an average of 3.39 runs per game. A surprisingly dominant starting rotation has helped them get off to a nice start, but the offense has to pick things up if they hope to legitimately contend for a title.

    The one constant at the plate this seasonand last season for that matterhas been first baseman Freddie Freeman. He was a legitimate NL MVP candidate last year when he hit .319/.396/.501 with 23 home runs and 109 RBI, and he has put up similar numbers in the early going this season. Losing him would be really tough for the offense to overcome.

Miami Marlins: RF Giancarlo Stanton

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    The Miami Marlins may have already lost their most indispensable player for the season when right-hander Jose Fernandez went down and needed Tommy John surgery, but for my money it is slugger Giancarlo Stanton who is the one guy the team absolutely can't afford to lose.

    The team has one of the best young rotations in all of baseball and still boasts a solid trio of arms in Tom Koehler, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez. That's not to say losing Fernandez was not a major blow, but pitching still has a chance to be a strength of this team.

    Meanwhile, an offense that was the worst in all of baseball last season has taken a huge step forward this year, and a healthy Stanton has been at the middle of it all. He's currently hitting .312/.405/.601 with 12 home runs and an MLB-best 43 RBI, as he's finally putting together the monster season we've all been waiting for.

New York Mets: 3B David Wright

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    He may not be off to the best of starts offensively, but David Wright remains the most important player on the New York Mets roster, both for his inevitable on-field production and his leadership skills as the face of the franchise.

    He's hitting a respectable .285 and currently leads the team with 25 RBI, but his on-base percentage is just .328 after he entered the year with a .382 career mark. He has also managed just two home runs so far.

    Wright told Mark Simon of ESPN New York:

    Obviously it works against you when you’re up there trying too hard or you’re trying to hit the ball extra hard. Instead of just being nice and easy and taking what they give you, you start over-swinging, you start not seeing the ball as well, and swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. You’re not going to be successful at all when you do that.

Philadelphia Phillies: 2B Chase Utley

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Phillies felt the effects of being without starter Cole Hamels to open the season, and losing either Hamels or Cliff Lee for an extended period of time would certainly be a blow, but the choice here is Chase Utley.

    After averaging just 100 games per season from 2010-12, Utley finally stayed healthy last season and showed that he still has plenty left in the tank, posting an .823 OPS with 18 home runs and 69 RBI on his way to a 3.2 WAR.

    Furthermore, he's been the team's most productive hitter by far here in 2014, hitting .335/.397/.548 with 24 extra-base hits, and his presence in the clubhouse as a veteran leader only adds to his value. He re-signed on a two-year deal last year that includes three vesting option years, and right now it looks like there's a good chance he'll retire as a Phillie.

Washington Nationals: SP Stephen Strasburg

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    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    I have made mention of the importance of Bryce Harper to the success of the Washington Nationals before, pointing to the fact that the team was 65-53 (.551) with him in the lineup last season compared to 21-23 (.477) without him.

    However, with Harper currently on the sidelines along with two of the team's other top offensive threats in Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, the success of the team's pitching staff has become that much more important as they try to catch the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

    Getting Doug Fister back healthy gives them one of the better rotations in all of baseball, but it is Stephen Strasburg who remains the staff ace. He may be just 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA so far, but a 2.45 FIP and 74 strikeouts in 61.1 innings better illustrate just how good he's been.

Chicago Cubs: SP Jeff Samardzija

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    It's odd to think a team's most indispensable player could be someone who is likely to be moved at the trade deadline, but that is precisely why Jeff Samardzija is the choice here for the Chicago Cubs.

    The right-hander currently leads all of baseball with a 1.62 ERA, though he is still winless on the season thanks to a terrible supporting cast. That is setting him up to be the prize of the July trade deadline, provided David Price and Cliff Lee wind up staying put.

    If he were to go down with a significant injury tomorrow, his trade value would plummet, and a rebuilding Cubs team would miss out on a prospect haul that could very well be greater than the one they received from the Texas Rangers last season for Matt Garza.

Cincinnati Reds: SP Johnny Cueto

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Johnny Cueto was roughed up for the first time this season on Tuesday night, allowing six earned runs in 5.1 innings of work against the Washington Nationals, and he saw his ERA sky-rocket to 1.86 as a result. That just speaks to how good he was through his first nine starts.

    Tuesday was the first time he failed to record a quality start this season, and he still leads all of baseball with a 0.737 WHIP and .146 BAA on the strength of three complete games and a pair of shutouts.

    With Mat Latos sidelined and the Cincinnati Reds offense performing well below expectations, the performance of Cueto atop the rotation is more important now than ever before, and he will have to bounce back from his first real adversity of the season his next time out.

Milwaukee Brewers: RF Ryan Braun

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    At this point, center fielder Carlos Gomez may be the best all-around player on the Milwaukee Brewers roster, but there is no denying that their lineup has a completely different feel to it when Ryan Braun is penciled into the No. 3 spot versus when he's on the sidelines.

    After leading the NL in runs scored in 2012, the Brewers fell to eighth in that category last season, and the fact that Braun played in just 61 games was probably the single biggest reason why.

    They are 18-11 when he is in the lineup this season, compared to 7-8 without him, and he will have to stay relatively healthy all year if the team is going to remain in contention. A vastly improved starting rotation has been the biggest reason for their early-season success, but Braun remains the Brewers' most indispensable player.

Pittsburgh Pirates: CF Andrew McCutchen

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Andrew McCutchen is an easy choice here for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as he has done most of the heavy lifting offensively for the past two seasons. He is being counted on to carry the offense once again this year.

    The reigning NL MVP is currently hitting .308/.431/.472 with 16 extra-base hits and a 35/32 BB/K. And while second baseman Neil Walker is having a nice season with an .801 OPS and nine home runs, there is no question McCutchen is the Pirates' most valuable player.

    The pitching staff certainly has to step their game up if the team hopes to make it back to the postseason, but with an offense that is far from balanced McCutchen is still the most indispensable player on the roster.

St. Louis Cardinals: C Yadier Molina

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    john bazemore/Associated Press

    Yadier Molina gets my vote not only for the most indispensable player on the St. Louis roster but in all of baseball, as there is no single player that means more to the success of his team than the Cardinals backstop.

    An elite defensive catcher throughout his career, Molina has flicked the switch offensively the past three seasons, hitting .313/.361/.481 while averaging 35 doubles, 16 home runs and 74 RBI per year. He has finished in the top five in NL MVP voting in each of the past two seasons, and he is sitting on a string of six straight Gold Glove awards.

    It goes beyond accolades with him, though, as Molina is essentially a second manager at this point for the Cardinals behind skipper Mike Matheny. Teams don't even bother running on him anymore, as he faced just 46 stolen-base attempts in 131 games last year and threw out 20 runners. Also, his ability to handle the Cardinals stable of young arms may be his most valuable skill of all.

Arizona Diamondbacks: 1B Paul Goldschmidt

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    A horrendous start to the season by their starting rotation buried the Arizona Diamondbacks at the bottom of the NL West standings, and while they have started to turn things around of late, they still lack a legitimate staff ace and feature a collection of middle-of-the-rotation arms.

    That means if they hope to climb back into contentionand it's worth noting they are 9-7 in May after a 9-22 start to the seasonthe onus will likely fall on their offense to carry the load and help mask their shortcomings on the mound.

    Center fielder A.J. Pollock is in the middle of a breakout season, but it is once again Paul Goldschmidt whom is at the center of it all, as he has emerged as perhaps the most feared hitter in the NL. He's currently hitting .317/.367/.561 with 19 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBI, making it fair to say that he is indispensable for the D'Backs.

Colorado Rockies: SS Troy Tulowitzki

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Colorado Rockies have always been an offensive-minded team, but what they have done at the plate as a team so far this season is nothing short of ridiculous.

    They are currently hitting .299/.346/.493 as a team, giving them a collective .840 OPS that is higher than all but 14 NL players not currently on the Rockies roster. A number of players are putting up great numbers, but if the season ended today Troy Tulowitzki would be your NL MVP.

    The 29-year-old is currently hitting .389/.492/.757 with 12 doubles, 13 home runs and 35 RBI for a ridiculous 4.4 WAR less than two months into the season. He's dealt with injuries in the past, and it has always been a major blow when he's hit the DL, but it would hurt that much more this season if he were to miss time.

Los Angeles Dodgers: SP Clayton Kershaw

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    With star-caliber players up and down the roster, the Los Angeles Dodgers don't have one clear player who could be tabbed as indispensable, but Clayton Kershaw seems like a reasonable choice here, as he was certainly missed when he was sidelined for the first month of the season.

    Zack Greinke is a second ace-caliber starter, and the trio of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett gives the Dodgers perhaps the best rotation in the National League, but Kershaw remains the best pitcher in the game today.

    This is a team that is not only looking to win the division and reach the playoffs, but they are a suad with legitimate title aspirations, and that's something they would almost certainly not be able to accomplish without Kershaw firing on all cylinders.

San Diego Padres: SP Andrew Cashner

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    Looking around the league, most teams have one guy or a couple guys who serves as the clear faces of the franchise. That can't be said for the San Diego Padres, though, as they lack a true superstar talent and are still looking for those core pieces to build around.

    At this point, the best player on their roster is right-hander Andrew Cashner. Since he joined the rotation full-time in the second half last year, he has been one of the best pitchers in the National League.

    The 27-year-old was 5-4 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break last season, and he has a 2.35 ERA (2.79 FIP) through his first nine starts this year. He's currently sidelined with an arm injury that was revealed to just be "soreness and irritation," per Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, and the team will be counting on him to continue his emergence as a star once he returns.

San Francisco Giants: CF Angel Pagan

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    It's tempting to just say "the starting rotation" for the San Francisco Giants, as they have virtually no rotational depth and would be devastated by a season-ending injury to someone like Madison Bumgarner.

    Buster Posey is another reasonable choice here, but with a vastly-improved offensive attack, including the addition of Michael Morse to shoulder some of the run-production responsibilities, the choice is table-setter Angel Pagan.

    Pagan missed significant time last year with a hamstring injury, and the team missed him dearly as they were 39-32 (.549) when he was in the lineup and just 37-54 (.407) when he was sidelined. He's off to a hot start this season, hitting .321/.370/.440, and he must stay healthy for the Giants to succeed.

     

     

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