MLB Injuries: Buster Posey and the Player Each Team Can't Bear to Lose
"Shocked" is the best word to describe the state of the San Francisco Giants fan base.
The Giants have endured an onslaught of injuries this year, but fate dealt its harshest blow yet when Buster Posey crumpled into a heap Wednesday night following a collision with Scott Cousins that ultimately decided the 12-inning game.
Buster Posey means a lot more to the Giants than his .264/.368/.369 line. His comfort with Giants pitchers and calm demeanor behind the dish has had a tremendous impact on the pitching staff, his cannon of an arm keeps runners pinned to first base and his quiet, diligent work-ethic has makes him a model teammate and a leader in the clubhouse.
Traits like those are hard to come by and even harder to replace.
Here is the player each team could not bear to lose, not necessarily their best, but who their team would be most devastated to see go down with an injury.
Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton
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We have already seen the repercussions of the reigning AL MVP being sidelined by injury.
With Hamilton this year, Texas is 11-3.
Without him? 15-21.
Hamilton is the best hitter in the Rangers lineup, arguably best in the league, but he is also the biggest catalyst and leader for the offensive-minded Texas Rangers.
His enthusiasm for the game is contagious—no batter can truly replace him in the No. 3 hole.
Los Angeles Angels: Dan Haren
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Dan Haren and Jared Weaver combined to be April's best one-two punch but have since tapered off a bit.
That said, Weaver has a 2.35 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP, while Haren has been slightly better, with a 2.24 ERA and 0.87 WHIP.
Haren, the second ace acquired at the deadline last year, has historically posted one of the lowest WHIPs around the league, and that is why he edged out Weaver here on this list.
Either of them fit the bill here though. The 26-26 Angels are relying heavily on their staff, which boasts the AL's second lowest ERA. Their two aces have gotten them to only .500 by mid-May. If the team is going to stay in the AL West race, Haren and Weaver will both have to shoulder the weight to alleviate pressure on the offense.
Oakland Athletics: Trevor Cahill
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Oakland's ace has notched a 2.02 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in his 11 starts this year.
Both of Cahill's two losses came from quality starts. His largest obstacle seems to be the lack of run support from his own team.
Cahill has upped his K/9 rate from 5.4 in 2010 to 7.1 so far this year and is looking like a serious Cy Young contender.
His consistency on the mound is great for the struggling A's offense, which will need all the help they can get from the staff if the team wants to compete deep into the season.
Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki
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Ichiro has been the face of the franchise in Seattle for a decade now but has recently been supplanted by Felix Hernandez as the team's best player.
But King Felix cannot touch Ichiro when it comes to importance to the team. Ichiro is arguably the best leadoff hitter in all of baseball and has been since his "rookie" year in 2001.
With 200 hits in 10 straight seasons, Ichiro and his trademark warmup routine have been the only rocks of consistency recently in the Mariners struggling offense. Without him, Seattle would have a tough time scoring any runs at all.
Cleveland Indians: Asdrubal Cabrera
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The 25-year-old shortstop is a big and largely unheralded reason for Cleveland’s surprising start in 2011.
His average, OBP and slugging percentage are all team highs. His 33 runs and 34 RBI are both best for AL shortstops and top five in the AL overall.
He provides nice pop from the two-hole—his 10 homeruns, .539 slugging percentage and .902 OPS lead AL shortstops.
Cabrera is no scrub on the basepaths or in the field either. He is a perfect 7-for-7 on steal attempts and has notched a .979 fielding percentage.
Cabrera’s incredibly cool first name and all-around excellence make him too valuable to lose for the major league-best Cleveland Indians.
Detroit Tigers: Alex Avila
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Detroit's young catcher has burst onto the major league scene in 2011 and is one of the brightest spots on an underachieving Tigers team.
While his .292 average from the last third of the lineup his incredibly valuable, his most impressive stat is his .366 caught stealing percentage, which is fourth in the majors.
Avila's consistency from the bottom of the order and solid defense behind the dish make him crucial to the success of the Detroit Tigers.
Chicago White Sox: Paul Konerko
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Konerko is following up his surprise 2010 campaign with another impressive one in 2011.
Chicago's first baseman has sneakily hit 10 homeruns and 37 RBI, good for fifth and third best in the AL, respectively.
His .293 average is the best on his team, and he has missed only one start all year.
Pretty good for a 35-year-old.
Konerko's veteran leadership also makes him a valued commodity inside the White Sox clubhouse.
Kansas City Royals: Aaron Crow
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The rookie righty has been stellar out of the 'pen for Kansas City this year.
He has 2-0 record with four holds, a 0.76 ERA and 1.10 WHIP and 22 strikeouts to nine walks for the AL's second worst pitching staff that recently featured the 14-run Vin Mazzaro debacle.
Crow has taken up the mantle as the setup man, generally pitching in the eighth or ninth inning and is certainly circling the closer role as Joakim Soria continues to struggle.
The Royals seem to be bringing up a new prospect every week, but none of them are relievers. Crow's health is instrumental if Kansas City wants to lead a youth movement to a surprise AL Central title in 2011.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer
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Minnesota was 4-6 the day Mauer injured his leg. His first day out, they shot off on a four-game losing streak and have been in a veritable tail-spin ever since.
The ML-worst 16-32 Twins have fallen far from their division championship last season. Not only one player is to blame. The worst pitching in the AL, the injury to Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka and the complete disappearance of first baseman Justin Morneau's bat are also culprits.
But nothing hurts more than losing their undisputed captain and best hitter, Joe Mauer. Only a couple years ago he was flirting with .400, a feat impressive for any player but even more so for a catcher.
His accolades—four-time AL batting champ, three-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover and 2009 MVP—speak for his incredible talent.
I would not be surprised to discover that the poor play of Mauer's teammates is directly related to void he left behind. A supremely gifted guy like Mauer inspires his teammates to play better, and his absence could have rattled the entire team.
New York Yankees: C.C. Sabathia
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Sabathia is really the only dependable pitcher in the Yankees rotation. He has the most innings pitched, most strikeouts, most wins and lowest ERA of all starters. He is the workhorse ace every team dreams of having.
New York is enjoying the early successes of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, but they are both pitching far better than their career statistics suggest they should and doing so in a home park with little league dimensions.
Their numbers are very vulnerable to a sharp regression in the coming months.
CC has done spectacularly as the Yankees ace in both years he has been in pinstripes. Losing him would put an enormous strain on the bullpen, since no other starter could match the innings he eats up, and on the offense to score even more runs.
Boston Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis
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Youk, as he is affectionately referred to by Sox fans, is a core member of the Boston team and has been since his debut in 2004.
He is a team player in every sense. He plays first or third, depending on who else the Sox have on their roster. He has even played second base, left field and right field over the course of his career.
He takes walks like no other, as noted by author Michael Lewis when he dubbed Youkilis the "Greek God of Walks," showing an unselfish attitude and willingness to help his team win however he can.
He is a positive voice in the clubhouse and always upbeat, wanting to play the game.
To top it all off, his OPS flirts with 1.000 on a yearly basis. The only thing stopping him from being perennially in the MVP race have been injuries that have cut his season short each of the past two years.
Youkilis is a very productive player in an unselfish and non-flashy way, the type of player every team should want.
Tampa Bay Rays: Kyle Farnsworth
This is a tough one to pick, since whenever they lose a starter to injury, trade or free angency, Tampa Bay always seems to have another player just as good waiting in the wings.
The Rays surprised us all this year. After starting 1-8 and seeing their franchise player hit the DL in the first couple weeks, they are just a game-and-a-half out of the AL East race.
If Evan Longoria isn't missed, then who would be?
The answer is Kyle Farnsworth, since he the only reliever on the team with an ERA under 3.00. If any other Rays pitcher had to close out the ninth regularly, the Rays could expect to surrender one run every third start.
That won't cut it in the AL East.
Farnsworth has turned out to be another genius pickup for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has a 1.69 ERA and 0.88 WHIP to go along with nine saves so far in 2011.
Baltimore Orioles: Zach Britton
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Only in his rookie year, Britton has emerged as the O's ace. He has logged a quality start in eight of his 10 starts, including three performances in which he allowed no runs over seven or more innings.
His record currently sits at 5-2, and his 2.35 ERA and 1.12 WHIP are both team lows.
The return of Brian Matusz will definitely alleviate some of the pressure on the rookie, but until then, he has a lot on his plate as one of only two pitchers with an ERA under 4.50 on the Orioles staff. His turn on the rotation is one that the Orioles need to be good if they hope to stand a chance in the AL East.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
The Blue Jays slugger leads all major leaguers in on-base percentage (.492), slugging percentage (.795), walks (41) and homers (19). He is fourth in average.
The crazy thing about Bautista is that no other power hitter even comes close to being as all-around productive as him.
Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Mark Teixeira, the players with the next three highest homer totals, are all hitting at least 50 points lower than him in average. And their OPS's are each over 300 points lower.
Bautista leads the Jays in virtually every offensive category aside from steals, a category in which he is fifth. He is by far and away the most valuable player on the Blue Jays and is making a strong case for the most valuable player in the league.
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey
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As mentioned before, Posey is without a doubt the last player the Giants want to see on the disabled list.
Even ace and two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum would be less of a blow—with the emergence of Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants will have six good starters when Barry Zito returns from the disabled list.
Posey's offense will be tough to replace, and it most certainly will not come from the catcher's spot.
Eli Whiteside, now in his third year with the club, has a good rapport with the pitching staff (particularly Jonathan Sanchez, whom Whiteside caught during his 2009 no-hitter) and will be able to hold down the fort defensively.
But he is not nearly the hitter Posey is.
The offensive woes look to worsen for the national league's lowest-scoring offense, as their young catcher will be out at least six to eight weeks and could be out for the rest of the season.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy
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Kennedy established himself as Arizona's ace last year, and is having an even better 2011.
Currently at 6-1 with a 3.01 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, Kennedy is taking full advantage of his time away from Chase Field—his 1.62 away ERA makes us wonder how good he could be if he didn't play half his starts in a home run haven.
The Diamondbacks have risen to second place in the NL West, and if they hope to catch the Giants, they'll need Kennedy to go toe-to-toe with some of the game's top pitchers in divisional games down the stretch.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
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Tulowitzki has a career .287/.359/.496 line and has eclipsed 24 homeruns and 90 RBI in each of his three full injury-free years in the majors.
And he does all this while playing gold glove defense at one of the more demanding positions on the field.
The fact that he can hit at all would make him extraordinarily valuable as a shortstop. That he hits cleanup makes him a truly special player.
The fate of the Colorado Rockies very much goes hand-in-hand with their shortstop's performance. In September 2007, Tulowitzki propelled the Rockies to an unprecedented 21-1 run from September 15th to the World Series, including coming back from a six-game defecit in the NL Wild Card in September to force a memorable playoff against San Diego.
The following season Tulowitzki injured his quadriceps and missed 61 games. The Rockies dropped to 74-88, a disappointing follow-up to their 2007 pennant victory.
Tulowitzki is a leader for the team, and his bat, glove and energy are sorely missed when he is not in the lineup.
San Diego Padres: Cameron Maybin
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Padres fans haven't had much to cheer for in 2011.
A year after being edged out of the postseason on the last day of the regular season by the San Francisco Giants, San Diego has fallen to the cellar of the NL West.
One bright spot has been young center fielder Cameron Maybin, a good fielder with decent speed on the basepaths.
He is hitting only .260, but that is second-best amongst Padre regulars. His 24 runs lead the team.
Without Maybin's strong center field play, the error-prone Padres could have some embarrassing plays in the spacious outfield at Petco Park.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp
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Kemp's combination of power and speed make him one of the deadlier forces in the game.
Hitting .317, Kemp already has 12 homers and 13 steals through the first two months of the year. His slugging and on-base percentages are both top-10 in the MLB overall.
You can bet that Matt Kemp accounted for several of Ethier's hits during his 30-game streak to start the season—with a demon like Kemp on-deck, pitchers were certainly more disposed to give Ethier, the lesser of two evils, a pitch to hit.
St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Holliday
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St. Louis is leading the NL Central without their ace and two-time Cy Young runner-up Adam Wainwright, but they wouldn't be there without their cleanup hitter.
Many would argue Albert Pujols for this spot, noting that the Cards managed to win a championship in 2006 without Holliday.
But the 2006 team featured Scott Rolen as their cleanup hitter. Rolen protected Pujols, ensuring that pitchers had to face the great slugger.
Matt Holliday fills the same role, except he does it much better. He is off to a tremendous start in 2011, hitting .349/.439/.557.
Even with Pujols hitting only .261 so far this year, St. Louis still boasts the majors' second best offense. Some of the credit is due to the resurgence of Lance Berkman, but Matt Holliday deserves his fair share. The fate of the Cardinals will ultimately rely more on Holliday than on the aging Berkman.
Clearly Pujols is a great player, and St. Louis would be hard-pressed to win without him. But Matt Holliday's value as Pujols' protector far supersedes his numerical statistics, which is why he makes this list.
Milwaukee Brewers: Shaun Marcum
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In recent years, the Brewers have not been known for their pitching.
The new offseason acquisitions are changing that, and it's not the former Cy Young award winner making the biggest impact.
Former Blue Jay Shaun Marcum leads the rotation with a 2.37 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He is singe-handedly keeping the Brewers staff in the middle of the pack statistically in the National League.
Even though he is technically the third pitcher on the staff, Shaun Marcum has played like a veritable ace for the Brewers rotation.
He is probably just happy he doesn't have to face the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays anymore.
Regardless, Marcum's performance is a big reason why Milwaukee is sitting only 2.5 games out of first in the NL Central.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto
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The Reds went from a 78-win irrelevancy in 2009 to division champs in 2010 largely to the stellar performance of reigning MVP Joey Votto.
Votto contributed offensively and defensively, leading the league in OPS and playing Gold Glove caliber defense at first base.
In 2011, he is doing much of the same. He is hitting .331/.457/.534, and has yet to commit and error.
Votto is doing his best to put the entire Reds team on his shoulders again in 2011 and will surely be in the MVP discussion for his efforts.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton
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The 27-year-old right-hander is having a surprising resurgence in his fourth year in the big leagues.
Morton has a 5-2 record and 2.61 ERA through nine starts. Seven of those have been quality starts.
He leads a Pittsburgh rotation that has improved from the worst in the majors last year to just outside the top 10 in 2011.
If Morton can keep rolling, he can propel Pittsburgh to its first winning season since Barry Bonds was on the team in 1992.
Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro
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Castro has emerged as the Cubs best everyday player. He is following up his sensational rookie campaign with a .328 average to start 2011.
Aged only 21, Castro leads his team in hits, at-bats, steals and runs and is second in RBI.
As with Tulowitzki, the offense is even more valuable when it comes from the shortstop, an offensive black hole for many teams around the league.
Houston Astros: Michael Bourn
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Houston's center fielder isn't going to win batting titles any time soon, but Michael "Bourn to Run" certainly has an impact on opposing pitchers.
The two-time reigning stolen-base champion is leading the league once again in 2011 with 18 through the first two months of the season.
Since the start of 2009, Bourn has been successful on 83 percent of his steal chances, a mind-bogglingly high rate.
Almost as valuable as the stolen bases themselves are the distractions that it causes pitchers who have to split their attention between him and the batter. Bourn's impact, whenever he reaches base, extends to the batter's box, where hitters are more likely to get a mistake because the pitcher is so worried about Borun.
Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay
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Philadelphia has no shortage of star pitchers, but their ace of aces, Roy Halladay, is just too good to replace.
The reigning Cy Young winner has already racked up a league-high 84.1 innings pitched in his 11 starts this year.
The amount of innings Halladay eats helps mask a relatively weak Phillies bullpen, which could be their Achilles heal down the stretch.
Losing Halladay would be more than losing an ace: it would mean exposing the team's largest and possibly only weakness.
Florida Marlins: Gaby Sanchez
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The second-year pro hits cleanup for the upstart Fish.
His .324 average shows he is still getting better, since he hit .273 in what was widely considered an impressive rookie campaign. He has been the team's leading RBI-man so far in 2011.
For Florida to score runs off the tough Phillies and Braves staffs, they will need Gaby Sanchez to keep swinging the bat and generating runs in the middle of that lineup.
Atlanta Braves: Martin Prado
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Prado, the current left fielder, leads Atlanta regulars with a .285 average. Wednesday was the first day he did not start this year, but he appeared as a pinch hitter.
Very versatile, Prado can play second or third base as well as outfield, which is a nice benefit for the Braves as they make late inning switches and try to get backups into the lineup.
Prado hits from the leadoff spot and leads the team in both runs scored and RBI. His consistency is a real asset, and Atlanta would sorely miss him if he went down.
New York Mets: Jose Reyes
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We all know Reyes is a great player. He is hitting .316 and has 17 steals, one off the major league lead.
His biggest value to the Mets, however, is as a trade piece. Owner Fred Wilpon has already gone public saying that Reyes will not receive the kind of money he will certainly be looking for in an extension.
Logic follows that the Mets will be attempting to shop Reyes to see what they can get back for him. If their shiniest toy breaks before the deadline, the Mets might not get a very good return on a Jose Reyes trade.
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman
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Fans in Washington DC had a lot of hope for the future after being dazzled by Stephen Strasburg's electric stuff in 2010.
His injury, and then that of offensive cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman have taken most of the wind out of the sails for this year.
Big things were expected of Zimmerman in 2011 coming off a season where he hit .307 with 25 homers and 85 RBI.
But we have yet to see much of the star third baseman. The Nationals have struggled in his absence—even with the addition of Jason Werth, the team has a collective .229 batting average, better only than the anemic San Diego Padres.
Washington hopes Zimmerman can come back quickly if they want to end 2011 with a respectable record.