Picking Each MLB Team's Most Indispensable Player
One player does not make a team, but one player can be a team’s anchor.
On the field, these players are irreplaceable. They are the cornerstone of the team and the fanbase’s best hope of leading their club to a World Series run in the near future. In short, they are indispensable.
Without further ado, here are the most indispensable players on each MLB team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
2014 Stats: .310/.398/.554, 32 2B, 1 3B, 16 HR, 58 RBI, 64 R, 8 SB
At just 26 years old, Paul Goldschmidt has already established himself as one of the best young hitters in baseball.
In 2013 he led the league in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS. This year, he is producing nearly identical numbers (.302/.401/.551 in 2013), including a league-leading 32 doubles.
Aside from being the most indispensable player on the Arizona Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt has a legitimate chance to win MVP in the near future.
Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran, SP
2014 Stats: 18 GS, 8-5, 2.29 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 108 SO, 26 BB, 126.0 IP
The Atlanta Braves have a deep and talented roster. But Julio Teheran stands above the rest.
He is already the ace of a fearsome rotation that includes Mike Minor and a reborn Aaron Harang. The young star has impeccable command, averaging just below a strikeout per inning, along with just 1.7 BB/9. Many pitchers struggle to achieve that walk rate at any point in their careers; Teheran is only 23 years old.
The Braves recently locked him up for the next six seasons, giving fans plenty of time to enjoy his brilliance.
Baltimore Orioles: Adam Jones, CF
2014 Stats: .312/.336/.507, 18 2B, 2 3B, 16 HR, 53 RBI, 52 R, 4 SB
Baltimore has another deep roster of names. Among this group of standouts, Adam Jones is undoubtedly the Orioles’ most indispensable player.
For nearly a decade, he has quietly and steadily improved at each facet of his game. Last year, Jones hit .285 with 35 doubles, 33 home runs, 108 RBI, 100 runs and 14 stolen bases.
If there is any weakness in his game, it is plate discipline. Jones had just 25 walks last season in 653 at-bats. And considering he also added 136 strikeouts, he is clearly not a free swinger, either.
That said, Jones was also an All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glover in center field in 2013; he may have earned the benefit of the doubt.
Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia, 2B
2014 Stats: .283/.354/.387, 24 2B, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 47 R, 2 SB
Dustin Pedroia embodies the tough, scrappy, relentless attitude of the city of Boston.
At 5’8” and 165 pounds, he is perhaps the least physically imposing player in baseball. But with an MVP and Rookie of the Year award, he is also one of the most talented.
Despite recently entering his 30s, Pedroia has not lost his edge. He is just as productive as ever. His current numbers are a fraction worse than his 2013 numbers, when he was an All-Star and Gold Glover and finished seventh in the MVP race.
Pedroia simply plays baseball the right way, and Boston fans are reaping the benefits.
Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, 1B
2014 Stats: .277/.385/.489, 13 2B, 1 3B, 17 HR, 45 RBI, 56 R, 2 SB
If general manager Theo Epstein dreams of reversing another curse, he made the right move by signing Anthony Rizzo to a seven-year extension last May.
Rizzo has only completed one full season in the majors, but he is clearly the first baseman of the future and the catalyst of the Chicago Cubs offense. At just 24, he already has incredible plate discipline to complement some serious home run power.
While he has been spectacular this season, his 2013 numbers show more about the player he will become.
In 2013 he struggled at times. Normally used to a high batting average, he finished 2013 hitting .233. But Rizzo, then 23 and trying to prove himself, still managed to produce 40 doubles, 23 home runs and 76 walks. If a young Rizzo can accomplish that, then what can a confident, veteran Rizzo produce?
The Cubs will live and die by his left-handed bat, and that is just fine.
Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu, 1B
2014 Stats: .276/.326/.6218, 17 2B, 1 3B, 27 HR, 69 RBI, 46 R
This one was a close call.
Jose Abreu, playing for the first time in a foreign country, has already become an MVP candidate and one of the best sluggers in baseball. His 27 home runs and 69 RBI lead baseball.
The unhittable Chris Sale was a very close second, with an impressive 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 96 strikeouts in 87.1 innings. But Abreu’s presence has completely transformed the White Sox. They went from 29th in runs scored in 2013 to sixth so far in 2014.
As a result, Abreu wins by a hair.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto, 1B
2014 Stats: .255/.390/.409, 16 2B, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 32 R, 1 SB
Somehow, Joey Votto is left out of the discussion of the best players in baseball.
On offense and defense, he is one of the best first basemen in MLB. Except for his rookie season, where he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year, he has never finished with a batting average below .300. Thanks to incredible plate discipline, he has also led the league in on-base percentage for four straight years.
This year, Votto has still produced despite a shockingly low batting average of .255. He is 11th in on-base percentage, and no one above him in OBP has a batting average below .294.
Moreover, he also has 47 walks to just 49 strikeouts this season. While his low batting average is worrisome, Votto is still seeing the ball well and just as good as ever.
Cleveland Indians: Michael Brantley, LF
2014 Stats: .321/.385/.511, 20 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 57 RBI, 58 R, 10 SB
The Cleveland Indians have a lot of high-quality players, but Michael Brantley is the best.
He has an exciting blend of power and speed, and when he is on his game he is one of the most dynamic players in baseball. This year, he is finally putting it all together, becoming a complete all-around player.
Right now, Brantley is on pace to shatter his career highs in doubles, home runs, RBI, runs and walks. Aside from a potential first career All-Star game, he should also be getting some outside MVP consideration.
The Indians have a special player to build around in Brantley. And at just 27, his best days are still to come.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki, SS
2014 Stats: .349/.440/.606, 17 2B, 1 3B, 18 HR, 47 RBI, 66 R, 1 SB
What can be said about Troy Tulowitzki that hasn’t already been said?
When healthy, he is the best shortstop on the planet. It’s no coincidence that the last time he played a full season, he was an All-Star, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and MVP front-runner. The 29-year-old is entering his prime too, which is a scary thought for opposing pitchers.
In 2014, Tulo is leading the majors in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs. He is a shoo-in for the All-Star Game, as well as the early favorite for MVP.
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, 3B
2014 Stats: .311/.371/.540, 32 2B, 14 HR, 67 RBI, 54 R
Without question, Miguel Cabrera is the most indispensable player on the Detroit Tigers and perhaps in all of baseball.
The 31-year-old has terrorized pitchers for more than a decade, with another decade of dominance likely on the way. Perhaps the funniest part is that Cabrera, who is hitting .311 with a league-leading 32 doubles, 14 home runs and 67 RBI, is in fact having a down year by his standards.
In fairness to the rest of the world, not all players can go by his lofty standards. Instead, let’s just enjoy his presence while we can.
Houston Astros: George Springer, RF
2014 Stats: .238/.346/.468, 8 2B, 1 3B, 17 HR, 46 RBI, 40 R, 5 SB
Even though he has played only 71 major league games, George Springer has already become indispensable for the Houston Astros.
The Astros, who have redefined tanking over the last three seasons, do not have much competition for Springer. But that is not to say the 24-year-old is a replaceable player by any means.
Last season, he hit .303 between Double-A and Triple-A, finishing with an astonishing 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases.
In the majors, he has characteristically struggled with high strikeout totals but uncharacteristically struggled with defense and batting average.
But Springer is already posting an impressive home run rate in his first exposure to major league pitching. In a short time, he will become a household name and solidify his role as the cornerstone of this team.
Kansas City Royals: Salvador Perez, C
2014 Stats: .285/.332/.443, 17 2B, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 34 R, 1 SB
Very rarely do teams find defensively sound catchers who can also contribute at the plate. But that is exactly what the Kansas City Royals have in Salvador Perez.
Last season, he was an All-Star and Gold Glover. The 24-year-old hit .292/.323/.433 with 25 doubles, 13 home runs, 79 RBI and just 63 strikeouts in almost 500 at-bats.
Perez has been even better this year and figures to continue to develop on offense and defense in the coming years. The Royals would be wise to hold onto someone as valuable as Perez.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Mike Trout, CF
2014 Stats: .307/.401/.604, 23 2B, 5 3B, 20 HR, 63 RBI, 58 R, 10 SB
Once again, no surprise here.
Mike Trout has been the face of the Los Angeles Angels since shortly after his debut.
He already has back-to-back seasons of being an All-Star, Silver Slugger and MVP runner-up. He is the first player in history with two seasons of both 25-plus home runs and 30-plus stolen bases. Trout has also played only two full seasons.
This year, it has been business as usual for the 22-year-old, who leads the league in OPS at 1.007.
Despite an expensive and talented roster of teammates around him, no one on the Angels is as valuable to the team as Trout.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, SP
2014 Stats: 13 GS, 10-2, 1.85 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 115 SO, 12 BB, 87.1 IP
This is another expensive and talented team, but another player sits above the rest.
Clayton Kershaw recently received a seven-year, $215 million contract, which is the highest ever for a pitcher. Yet he is arguably worth even more than that.
Every year, he puts up gaudy numbers for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After his rookie year, he has never finished a season with an ERA above 2.91. He piles on strikeouts, limits hits and does not give up walks. In 2014, he has an unbelievable 12.1 strikeouts per walk.
It is tough to call Kershaw the clear winner on a roster that includes Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Josh Beckett. But, quite simply, Kershaw is that good. And at 26 years old, the sky is the limit for him.
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton, RF
2014 Stats: .309/.407/.568, 21 2B, 1 3B, 21 HR, 62 RBI, 61 R, 8 SB
The Miami Marlins have been a pleasant surprise this season, in large part thanks to the hulking power of Giancarlo Stanton.
He is one of the most terrifying hitters in baseball, as evidenced by his league-leading 15 intentional walks already this season. Even with nagging injuries some seasons, Stanton has yet to hit fewer than 22 home runs in a season. Considering Stanton already has a league-leading 21 home runs this season, that streak looks like it will remain intact through 2014.
Stanton is also a 24-year-old entering his fifth season in the league. He has plenty of years left, and who knows how far his power will take him.
He is the easy choice for most indispensable player on the Marlins.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun, RF
2014 Stats: .288/.340/.507, 17 2B, 5 3B, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 45 R, 8 SB
Ryan Braun’s name may forever be tainted due to his PED suspension, but he is still invaluable to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Braun’s numbers have taken only a modest hit since his return from suspension. It is anyone’s guess whether that is due to rust, deteriorating skills or even a lack of PEDs. Regardless, he has 33 extra-base hits and eight stolen bases this season and should continue to be very productive.
Thus, Braun maintains his pre-suspension status as the best and most indispensable player on the Brewers.
Minnesota Twins: Brian Dozier, 2B/SS
2014 Stats: .235/.343/.418, 12 2B, 16 HR, 39 RBI, 63 R, 15 SB
The Minnesota Twins long relied on the bats of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Now, Brian Dozier is the new offensive leader of the Twins.
He is the only player in the majors this season with 15-plus home runs and 15-plus stolen bases. He has also contributed an impressive 51 walks, as well as a league-leading 63 runs. On defense, he has a nice glove to go along with spectacular range.
At only 27, Dozier’s best days are ahead of him. If the Twins can surround him with some lineup protection, he is a potential All-Star.
New York Mets: David Wright, 3B
2014 Stats: .274/.329/.392, 21 2B, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 35 R, 4 SB
Despite the roller coaster that is the New York Mets front office, David Wright has somehow played high-quality baseball on some pitiful squads.
Over his 11-year career, he has become a consistent hitter and third baseman. With two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, as well as seven All-Star appearances, he has earned plenty of hardware for his accomplishments.
The Mets have accrued plenty of young pitching around Wright, most notably Matt Harvey, but no one is currently as valuable to the franchise as Wright is.
New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka, SP
2014 Stats: 17 GS, 12-3, 2.27 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 130 SO, 18 BB, 122.2 IP
In a disappointing season, Masahiro Tanaka has done everything to keep the New York Yankees in contention.
The aging Yankees have been holding on by a thread, mostly due to a lack of depth beyond the everyday starters. But Tanaka, and his league-leading 12 wins and 2.27 ERA, is keeping the Yankees in the race.
The historic Yankees have some indispensable names on the team, such as Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury. Yet Tanaka has gone above and beyond on the mound to keep the Yankees relevant, and he has been the most indispensable player in pinstripes.
Oakland Athletics: Josh Donaldson, 3B
2014 Stats: .243/.322/.463, 13 2B, 2 3B, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 58 R, 3 SB
Fittingly, the most indispensable player on the Oakland Athletics, a team of castoffs, is a former castoff whom the A’s traded for and patiently developed in the minors.
Josh Donaldson, who became a regular in 2012 at age 26, is now one of the best third basemen in baseball.
Aside from displaying fantastic defense, he has become a fearsome middle-of-the-order hitter. After 24 home runs last season, where he finished fourth in MVP voting, he has already mashed 19 in 2014. Despite a disappointing .243 batting average, his plate discipline and hitting in the clutch have been as good as ever.
The A’s may be a group of motivated and underappreciated players, but Donaldson is a special player who would be an asset to any team.
Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley, 2B
2014 Stats: .286/.344/.432, 24 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 46 R, 2 SB
Surrounded by aging and declining Philadelphia Phillies teammates, Chase Utley has somehow continued to produce at 35 years old.
With four Silver Slugger awards and five All-Star games, he has been one of the better second basemen in baseball over the last decade. And with 94 hits and 33 extra-base hits already this season, Utley is still one of the best.
The Phillies are a bit older and trending in the wrong direction, but they have an ageless wonder in Utley.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, CF
2014 Stats: .324/.424/.547, 26 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 48 R, 13 SB
When you lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to the playoffs for the first time in decades, you become quite a popular figure. When you also win the MVP the same season, you become the face of the franchise.
Andrew McCutchen, who did just that, is the easy choice for most indispensable player on the Pirates.
Impossibly, he is doing even better this season than last, when he won the MVP. Last season, he hit .317/.404/.508 with 38 doubles, five triples, 21 home runs, 84 RBI, 97 runs and 27 stolen bases.
This year, he has continued to dominate. He is fourth in the league in WAR at 4.2, per Baseball-Reference.com, as well as fourth in batting average and RBI.
McCutchen is the toast of Pittsburgh right now, and at just 27 years old he can only get better.
San Diego Padres: Andrew Cashner, SP
2014 Stats: 12 GS, 2-6, 2.36 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 59 SO, 22 BB, 76.1 IP
Slowly but surely, Andrew Cashner has turned into an ace for the San Diego Padres.
Last season, his first full one in MLB, he went 10-9 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 128 strikeouts in 175 innings.
In 2014 he has battled a couple of injuries but boasts an impressive 2.36 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 12 starts. While Cashner’s hits allowed are up a fraction, his home run rate has plummeted, as he has allowed just two this season.
The 27-year-old is entering his prime now, and expect him to only get better.
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey, C
2014 Stats: .286/.342/.435, 15 2B, 9 HR, 41 RBI, 33 R
The San Francisco Giants have plenty of talented players to choose from, but Buster Posey wins for a couple of reasons.
First, he is a catcher. It is extremely rare today to find a catcher with offensive potential. But Posey, a former MVP and Rookie of the Year, is an elite hitter in the middle of the Giants lineup.
Second, Posey is posting numbers similar to last season, when he was an All-Star and even earned some MVP votes. Compared to his MVP season, he may even be underperforming on offense right now.
It is scary to think that Posey, with 24 extra-base hits and 41 RBI, could be underachieving. But the 27-year-old continues to put up big numbers for the Giants; don't expect it to stop.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez, SP
2014 Stats: 19 GS, 10-2, 2.11 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 145 SO, 23 BB, 136.1 IP
The Seattle Mariners may have paid Robinson Cano $240 million, but Felix Hernandez is the most indispensable player on the team.
For the last decade, Hernandez has been electric every five days for the Mariners. He has accrued one Cy Young award and four All-Star games but arguably deserves more of both.
This year, he has a league-best WHIP of 0.92, as well as a career-high K/BB ratio of 6.23.
Hernandez is an early Cy Young candidate for 2014 and one of the most dominant pitchers of this era.
St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright, SP
2014 Stats: 17 GS, 11-4, 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 106 SO, 24 BB, 124.0 IP
The St. Louis Cardinals have been stacked with talent for the better part of a decade, but no player has been more valuable than Adam Wainwright.
He is one of the many tall, powerful right-handed pitchers that the Cardinals seem to churn out every year. But as an annual Cy Young candidate, he is clearly the face of the rotation.
With a career 3.03 ERA, Wainwright has dominated major league hitting since his debut in 2005. And despite a plethora of other Cardinals who are worth consideration, including Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Michael Wacha, Wainwright is the man who makes this team go.
As long as he leads the charge, the Cardinals will be a postseason favorite for years to come.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria, 3B
2014 Stats: .266/.343/.402, 13 2B, 1 3B, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 48 R, 4 SB
The frugal Tampa Bay Rays have had trouble holding onto the stars they develop, but even they realize the importance of holding onto Evan Longoria.
The former Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger and two-time Gold Glover has been an offensive and defensive catalyst for the Rays for the last seven seasons. Last season, he hit 32 home runs en route to finishing sixth in the MVP voting.
The 28-year-old is perhaps the most popular player on the Rays, as well as a cornerstone third baseman.
Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish, SP
2014 Stats: 16 GS, 8-4, 2.63 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 134 SO, 39 BB, 109.1 IP
Yu Darvish somehow gets better and better every season.
After finishing ninth for the Cy Young and third for Rookie of the Year in his rookie season, he led the majors in strikeouts in his sophomore campaign and finished as the Cy Young runner-up. That year, he had a 2.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 277 strikeouts in 209.2 innings.
This season, Darvish has been just as unhittable. More impressively, his home run rate, perhaps the lone weakness in his game, has been cut in half in 2014.
On a talented Texas Rangers team, Darvish is solidifying his name as one of the best power pitchers in baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays: Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
2014 Stats: .277/.368/.591, 21 2B, 2 3B, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 57 R, 2 SB
Quietly, Edwin Encarnacion has been one of the best right-handed sluggers in baseball.
He has crushed 78 home runs over the last two seasons and already has 26 in 2014. At this pace, he would finish the season with 49 home runs. With an impressive .277 average, 21 doubles and 45 walks, he is also a very skilled and disciplined hitter too.
Encarnacion has plenty of productive years ahead at just 31 years of age, and he should be an invaluable piece of the Toronto Blue Jays’ future.
Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, SP
2014 Stats: 18 GS, 7-6, 3.53 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 131 SO, 24 BB, 112.1 IP
The Washington Nationals are stacked all over the field, but Stephen Strasburg is the future of this team.
An elite prospect coming up, he has been as good as advertised. For his five-year career, he has a 3.08 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 10.5 K/9.
The Nationals have many high-quality pieces, including Bryce Harper, Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman. But the 25-year-old Strasburg wins out due to his youth, talent, consistency and upside.
Ironically, he is a potential All-Star even during one of the worst seasons of his career. He has given up 116 hits in 112.1 innings, which is a drastic increase from last season. But he still has a 3.53 ERA, 24 walks allowed and a league-leading 131 strikeouts, which have helped limit the damage.
In time, once Strasburg’s hit rate returns to normal for him, he will remind everyone why he is one of the most electric pitchers in baseball, as well as the most indispensable player on the Nationals.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.