Previewing MLB's 2015 "M.I.P." Team, Position-by-Position

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIFebruary 7, 2015

Previewing MLB's 2015 "M.I.P." Team, Position-by-Position

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Some MLB players are simply indispensable. 

    Clayton Kershaw fit that description during his historically dominant 2014 season. The lefty ace won 21 of his 27 starts, which made him the first pitcher to accomplish that feat in 134 years, per ESPN Stats & Info

    In 2014, Kershaw was the most important member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. What follows is a look around the league at the "most important players" at each position entering 2015. The idea isn't just to compile a list of the best big leaguers at their respective spots, but rather it's to single out the players who have the ability to swing the playoff races in the upcoming season.

    Some of the standouts on the "M.I.P." team will have to overcome significant injury concerns in 2015. There's also room on the squad for a couple of rising stars who will be tasked with becoming game-changers for their teams.

Catcher

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    In the Running: Russell Martin and Yadier Molina

    The "M.I.P.": Salvador Perez

    The American League Central is shaping up to be extremely competitive in 2015.

    The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are both rebounding from October appearances, and the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians are also on track to enter the playoff conversation in the upcoming season. 

    Salvador Perez, who has been an All-Star for the Royals in back-to-back seasons, has the chance to impact that race in a major way. What makes the 24-year-old so pivotal is that the backstop influences the game on nearly every pitch the Royals' staff throws. Last season, Perez led baseball in innings caught. He also claimed a share of the lead in the AL in defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs.

1st Base

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    In the Running: Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu and Albert Pujols

    The "M.I.P.": Miguel Cabrera

    Spring training is still a couple of weeks away, and 2015 is already trending in the wrong direction for the Detroit Tigers. 

    As Lynn Henning of The Detroit News reports, Victor Martinez will be on the sidelines for at least 6-10 weeks after the veteran designated hitter sustained a torn medial meniscus in his left knee. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Martinez isn't the only star dealing with a serious injury issue.

    Miguel Cabrera's availability for Opening Day is still to be determined, as the 31-year-old is recovering from an ankle surgery that he underwent back in October. With Martinez on the shelf, it becomes all the more urgent that the club gets Cabrera back to 100 percent health as soon as possible.

2nd Base

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    In the Running: Jason Kipnis, Howie Kendrick and Dustin Pedroia

    The "M.I.P.": Dee Gordon

    With an unheralded but talented rotation, and a lineup anchored by the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna, the Miami Marlins have the chance to make a dark-horse run into October in 2015. 

    Dee Gordon, the club's new second baseman and leadoff hitter, will be tasked with setting the tone for the Fish. There are plenty of second basemen who are better all-around players than the 26-year-old, but there aren't any who can match his disruptive speed. Last year, Gordon led the majors with 64 steals.

Shortstop

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    Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

    In the Running: Didi Gregorius, Ian Desmond and Jhonny Peralta

    The "M.I.P.": Jimmy Rollins

    After letting Hanley Ramirez walk in free agency, the Los Angeles Dodgers opted for the trade route, acquiring Jimmy Rollins to become the team's new shortstop. There is certainly some risk in counting on the 36-year-old veteran to step in at that spot. 

    Last season, the switch-hitter posted a career-worst .243 batting average for the Philadelphia Phillies. However, it's worth noting that Rollins connected on 17 home runs and racked up 28 steals. 

    Rollins also plans to provide the National League West club with some leadership in the clubhouse, telling Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times that he hopes to "be the glue that holds everything together."

3rd Base

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    In the Running: Josh Donaldson, Pablo Sandoval, Josh Harrison and Casey McGehee

    The "M.I.P.": Manny Machado

    The Baltimore Orioles have lost some big names this offseason with both Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis departing via free agency. This spring, the O's will also be getting a big name back in the form of Manny Machado.

    The rising star underwent left knee surgery at the end of the 2013 season, and his 2014 campaign was wrecked by a right knee surgery in August. However, the 22-year-old is now good to go for spring training, as he explained via Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun

    “Spring training is a big key. It’s a key to a lot of players to get your reps. … People take spring training for granted, and I think it’s a very big key to the success in the year.”

    For the Orioles, a healthy Machado will be key to the club's efforts to defend its AL East title.

Left Field

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    In the Running: Hanley Ramirez, Michael Brantley and Starling Marte

    The "M.I.P.": Justin Upton

    Ranked last in runs a season ago, the San Diego Padres had all sorts of problems getting on the board in 2014. Justin Upton, whom the team acquired in a December trade with the Atlanta Braves, will play a crucial role in making sure that offensive ineptitude doesn't carry over into 2015.

    The right-handed hitter went yard 29 times last season, and he has a track record of success at Petco Park. In 46 career games at the Padres' home field, Upton has collected 10 home runs and put up a slash line of .291/.359/.541.

Center Field

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In the Running: Denard Span, Rusney Castillo, Marcell Ozuna and Carlos Gomez

    The "M.I.P.": Andrew McCutchen

    It's no accident that Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP Award winner, has finished in the top three spots on the ballot in each of the past three seasons.

    The 28-year-old center fielder is unquestionably the most important player on a Pittsburgh Pirates team that has made back-to-back trips to the postseason. If the NL Central squad is once again going to make an October appearance, the Pirates will need McCutchen to turn in yet another MVP-level campaign.

Right Field

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    In the Running: Mookie Betts, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Giancarlo Stanton

    The "M.I.P.": Bryce Harper

    It's easy to forget that Bryce Harper, who has already played three seasons for the Washington Nationals, is still just 22 years old.

    During his brief career in the nation's capital, the left-handed hitter has posted a more-than-respectable .816 OPS, but he has yet to live up to the tremendous hype which led the club to select him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft.

    With left fielder Jayson Werth currently working his way back from shoulder surgery, the 2015 season is the opportune time for Harper to step up and become a game-changer for the Nats.

Designated Hitter

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    In the Running: Alex Rodriguez, Victor Martinez and Billy Butler

    The "M.I.P.": Nelson Cruz

    The Seattle Mariners came within a single game of snapping the club's 13-year playoff drought last season. One of the central problems facing the M's was that the team simply didn't have enough offensive firepower—especially from the right side of the plate,

    That's where Nelson Cruz enters the equation. The 34-year-old, who inked a four-year, $57 million deal with Seattle, led baseball with 40 home runs a season ago. However, there's no guarantee that Cruz will match that output in 2015, as the right-handed hitter totaled just 12 home runs after the All-Star break.

Starting Pitcher

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    In the Running: Chris Sale, Marcus Stroman, Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, Felix Hernandez and Sonny Gray

    The "M.I.P.": Adam Wainwright

    There were an array of pitchers under consideration for this spot, but ultimately the decision came down to Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. 

    The nod goes to Wainwright because, while neither team wants to lose either starter for any period of time, Wainwright's absence would be more devastating for the St. Louis Cardinals than Kershaw's loss would be for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Wainwright, who will need to prove that he's back to 100 percent after undergoing elbow surgery in October, is backed up in the rotation by Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha. Meanwhile, Kershaw headlines a staff that also includes the likes of Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Closer

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    Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

    In the Running: David Robertson, Greg Holland and Kenley Jansen

    The "M.I.P.": Koji Uehara

    Thanks to the acquisitions or Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the Boston Red Sox have significantly upgraded the club's lineup this offseason.

    Along with David Ortiz, those two bats should provide the Red Sox with plenty of leads in 2015. The question is whether Koji Uehara will be able to preserve those leads in the ninth inning. At the end of the 2013 season, the veteran reliever was far from a lockdown closer. In August, Uehara checked in with a 5.56 ERA, while that mark jumped to 6.23 in September.

The "M.I.P." Team Starting Lineup

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    The Lineup

    1. Dee Gordon, 2B
    2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
    3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
    4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
    5. Nelson Cruz, DH
    6. Bryce Harper, RF
    7. Justin Upton, LF
    8. Salvador Perez, C
    9. Manny Machado, 3B
    • Adam Wainwright, SP
    • Koji Uehara, CL

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com. All videos courtesy of MLB.com. All salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProspectus.com.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.

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