Each team’s most indispensable player

Detroit Tigers

Every team has a certain someone who is absolutely essential to its success. The All-Star. The glue guy. The clubhouse leader. The one who knows everything from which button to push to which song to play. It may not always be the most talented or acclaimed player, but everyone in the clubhouse knows their team would be much worse off without him.

With that in mind, MLB.com’s beat reporters chose the most indispensable player for each team to this point in the 2021 season.

Here’s a look at their selections:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien are off to tremendous starts while George Springer still projects to star alongside them when healthy, but this lineup has depth. It’s a different story in the rotation, where any stretch of time without Ryu would be very difficult to manage for the Blue Jays. Ryu has been excellent in his second season with Toronto, posting a 2.53 ERA while working deeper into games more consistently. He’s filling the exact definition of an ace for the Blue Jays.

How much do the Orioles need Means? Their lefty ace leads the American League in ERA with a 1.70 mark through nine starts, while the O’s staff still ranks second in the AL in most earned runs allowed. Who knows what their numbers would look like without him. Means, who threw the franchise’s first solo no-hitter in 52 years on May 5, is one of only two Orioles starters to complete six innings in a game this month.

What makes the Rays the Rays is that nobody is truly indispensable, yet everyone is valuable. Their roster is a well-put-together puzzle in which all the pieces matter. Every pitcher in their bullpen is a high-leverage arm. Every hitter has a role, and despite Randy Arozarena’s brilliance last October, none of them are charged with carrying the lineup. They began using openers out of necessity, the same reason they designed a creative pitching plan for this season, and always find new ways to maximize the complementary talent they have. But the pick here is Glasnow, simply because his mix of top-of-the-rotation stuff, production (2.90 ERA, 87 strikeouts) and workload (62 innings in 10 starts) is unmatched by anybody on their staff.

The longest-tenured member of the Red Sox, Bogaerts is still smack in the middle of his prime at 28 years old. His value to the team is enormous in various facets. His stellar production in the middle of the batting order — hitting after J.D. Martinez and before Rafael Devers — is key. Bogaerts is also the captain of the infield and better defensively than you realize. Manager Alex Cora recently called Bogaerts the most consistent person in the entire organization. Bogaerts is a mentor and a leader in the clubhouse.

Corey Kluber may have pitched the Yankees’ first no-hitter since David Cone’s perfect game in 1999, but Cole remains the unquestioned staff ace. The right-hander is a leading Cy Young Award contender, most recently extending the Bombers’ run of terrific starting pitching with seven scoreless innings to defeat the White Sox on Saturday. Cole improved to 6-2 with a 1.81 ERA in that effort, and in 64 ⅔ innings, he has registered a remarkable 92 strikeouts against eight walks. Cole was the anchor that the Yankees leaned upon in April, counting upon his consistency when nothing else seemed to be going right. They need his stabilizing presence for about five more months.

Ramírez is the heartbeat of the Indians’ lineup. Cleveland’s offense entered play Sunday ranked 25th in the Majors in runs scored (171) and tied for 26th in wRC+ (83) despite Ramírez being tied for sixth with 12 homers and tied for 17th with a 1.8 fWAR. Without him, this offense would be lost. He’s consistently been the spark the team has needed whenever it hits a skid. In games in which he’s logged at least one RBI this season, the Indians have gone 13-3. And now that Franmil Reyes, who’s been the second-most impactful hitter for Cleveland, is sidelined with an abdominal strain, the team absolutely can’t afford to lose Ramírez.

There’s a case to be made here for reliever Scott Barlow, who’s their most reliable reliever with an arm that bounces back quickly and who has come up so big for the Royals in high-leverage spots all season. But Perez has come up big for the Royals at the plate, behind the plate and in the clubhouse as the veteran leader. Perez is currently hitting .280 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs, second on the team behind only Carlos Santana. His bat has been needed in the middle of the lineup with Jorge Soler struggling and Hunter Dozier struggling before hitting the injured list. At a premium position, Perez is the steady backstop on a Royals team looking to take the next step toward contending this year.

Grossman was the only Tigers position player who entered Sunday with better than 1.0 WAR, according to baseball-reference and Fangraphs. The switch-hitting veteran’s ability to work counts, foul off pitches and wait out pitchers to pounce on mistakes has set the tone for a Detroit offense that has adjusted from its early feast-or-famine approach and strung together rallies on solid contact and timely situational hitting. His 31 walks were tied for fifth among MLB hitters entering Sunday night, producing a .384 on-base percentage despite a .259 batting average. Add in a better-than-expected success rate in the outfield while alternating in the corners, and his offseason signing to a two-year, $10 million deal looks solid so far.

The Twins’ rash of injuries among their position players have put them in a challenging spot depth-wise, but they’ve endured the challenges on offense. If a beleaguered bullpen were to lose Rogers, it would be very tough for the Twins to recover. Minnesota’s bullpen is worst in the American League in Win Probability Added — by a wide margin — and the Twins’ late-and-close bullpen core took a big hit when Alex Colomé struggled mightily to open the season. That left Rogers, Tyler Duffey and Hansel Robles to pitch the late innings for Minnesota, and considering the struggles that both Duffey and Robles have had with their control, the Twins simply need Rogers’ consistency, which has included 28 strikeouts and only three walks in 19 innings.

Anderson sets the tone at the top of the lineup as the winner of the 2019 American League batting title and tying for the 2020 AL lead in runs scored. He has worked diligently to strengthen his defense at shortstop and has committed just two errors this season. But Anderson is also the heart and soul of this first-place squad and really has been for the past three years. He energizes this group, from his “play hard and always have fun” mantra to his occasional celebratory bat flips. A case could be made for first baseman José Abreu, who is a true team leader and really a driving force in the middle of the lineup, as well as center fielder Luis Robert, who has immense value at the plate, on the basepaths and with his Gold Glove defense in center. But the White Sox have a different overall feel when Anderson is absent for any period of extended time.

The two-way star has been an incredible constant for the Angels, appearing in 44 of their 47 games as a hitter while also making six starts with a 2.37 ERA as a pitcher. He’s putting up an MVP-caliber season and finally showing what he can do now that he’s healthy, as he entered Sunday tied for the American League lead in homers and leading the Majors in extra-base hits. With fellow superstar Mike Trout sidelined another five to seven weeks with a right calf strain, the Angels can’t afford to lose Ohtani to an injury.

Considering the inconsistent nature of the Astros’ bullpen so far, it’s hard to imagine where they’d be without Pressly, who has been their best and most steady reliever by a mile. The Astros signed Pedro Baez to a two-year deal in the winter, but he’s yet to pitch because of a positive COVID test and a shoulder injury. Joe Smith returned after missing last year and was rusty. And newcomer Ryne Stanek has been inconsistent. Pressly, who took over as the full-time closer, has recaptured his 2019 form, when he was an All-Star setup man for the Astros.

ATHLETICS: Ramón Laureano

Laureano is the heart and soul of this A’s squad. His electric five-tool ability allows him to make game-changing plays with his glove, bat and on the basepaths. Entering Sunday, the center fielder’s 2.1 fWAR ranked eighth-highest among all Major League position players. More importantly, his fiery passion for the game is unmatched and provides energy for the rest of the club to feed off of.

We could’ve listed any starting pitcher here, but we’ll go with Kikuchi since he is arguably their best one left who hasn’t hit the injured list and chiefly because he’s been an innings-eating machine, going at least six frames in seven of his eight starts entering Monday, when he is scheduled to take the hill in Oakland. After losing Marco Gonzales, James Paxton, Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome to the IL — the latter three likely lost for the season — the Mariners need every starter to stay healthy right now, and really, the rest of the way.

It’s not even close, especially after a hot weekend as Texas swept the Astros in a three-game series at home. In Game 1, Garcia hit a walk-off homer to win in 10 innings. He hit two home runs in Game 2 and walked it off again in Game 3, this time with an RBI single. He has three walk-off hits on the season and has been nearly unstoppable in the month of May in which he’s hit .329/.367/.671 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. Manager Chris Woodward called him the greatest hitter in the world and it’s hard to disagree with him right now.

BRAVES: Ronald Acuña Jr.

The Braves persevered as Acuña missed a couple weeks in August and then spent last season’s final month bothered by a sore left wrist. So, maybe Freddie Freeman should be deemed the club’s most indispensable player. But the reigning National League MVP benefits from the what Acuña provides as one of the game’s best catalysts. Acuña also contributes more defensive value, especially with his ability to play center field if necessary.

Much has been said about the return of a 162-game season and how that might affect pitching staffs. Two years ago, Alcantara tallied 197 1/3 innings, by far the most for any member of Miami’s young rotation. The club already has been mixing and matching with Elieser Hernandez and Sixto Sánchez sidelined. The Marlins cannot afford to lose Alcantara, who has gone at least six frames in eight of his 10 starts, for any period of time.

Villar is the leader of the team’s “Bench Mob.” Filling in for J.D. Davis at third base, Villar has been a superb defender. It seems like he makes spectacular plays at the hot corner almost every night. Don’t be surprised if you see him play around the infield throughout the season. He is that good defensively. Villar’s .210 batting average doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, he got off to a slow start, but he has nine RBIs in his past 16 games. All four of his homers have also come within those 16 games, including three in his past nine.

The NL batting title at 21 years old was impressive. The MVP votes were, too. The comparisons to Hall of Famer Ted Williams, well, that’s on another level. Soto already put up ridiculous numbers in his first three Major League seasons, and he is projected to continue doing so. Last season alone, his .490 on-base percentage, .695 slugging percentage, 1.185 OPS and 201 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) were the highest rates by any qualified hitter since Barry Bonds in 2004. Soto entered Sunday ranked fourth in the NL in on-base percentage (.407).

The Phillies’ lack of starting pitching depth has been an issue for some time, but they can manage as long as they have Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin anchoring the top three spots in the rotation. But Wheeler really has been something special this season. He has dominated at times, including a May 6 shutout against the Brewers. Wheeler has arguably been the best of the Phillies’ Big Three. They will need him to continue pitching like this the rest of the regular season to give them any shot at the postseason.

Christian Yelich is the Brewers’ most valuable player if he uses Sunday’s breakthrough performance and continued good health as a springboard, and starters Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes are their most valuable pitchers. But the Brewers have shown they can win over a few weeks without Yelich, and there are two of Woodruff and Burnes, so the team’s single-most indispensable, irreplaceable player is Hader, who is perfect in his first 10 save opportunities while striking out 30 of the first 64 men he’s faced. The past two Sundays aside (a 10-run outburst in a win over the Braves at home and a nine-run day at the Reds), Brewers hitters have not consistently put crooked numbers on the scoreboard, making it more imperative than ever that Hader and his setup man, reigning NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams, lock down the close victories that are there for the taking. Williams was shaky early before settling in. Hader has been solid as a rock all season so far.

Edman’s numbers won’t make you drop your jaw. They’re solid, no doubt, and exactly what you want from a leadoff man — and a switch-hitter at that. But it’s everything he does while putting up those solid stats that has made him one of the most valued members within the clubhouse. Pegged to be the starting second baseman in spring, Edman has found himself slotting in at shortstop and the outfield — wherever the Cards need him, essentially.

Bryant might seem like an obvious answer, but his play to this point this season makes him, without question, the most indispensable player on Chicago’s roster right now. When a rash of injuries hit the Cubs in late April and early May, Bryant moved off third base and willingly accepted a super utility role. In his case, consider it a “superstar utility” role. To help manager David Ross maneuver through various health setbacks, Bryant has started multiple games at all three outfield positions, as well as first base. He has not manned third since April 20. And Bryant has done this while continuing to hit at an MVP-caliber level again, helping pull the Cubs’ offense out of its early season funk.

There’s a hard argument in favor of Ke’Bryan Hayes here, but he’s played only two games this season, so the Pirates have had to make due without him. Reynolds, meanwhile, has anchored an outfield group whose pieces haven’t quite fit together yet. After beginning the season in left field, Reynolds has shifted to center as Anthony Alford and Dustin Fowler couldn’t figure out their offensive games early on and were designated for assignment and sent to Triple-A. The 26-year-old has also helped power an injury-stricken lineup, slashing .298/.389/.472 with an MLB-leading 16 doubles.

Winker has come into his own this season and has been pivotal from the leadoff spot. He’s not trying to hit home runs but hit three in one night on Friday versus the Brewers and has a repeatable approach that often keeps him out of slumps. With Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel on the IL and Eugenio Suarez in a season-long abyss at the plate, Winker and Nick Castellanos are carrying the Cincinnati offense.

The list of injuries the D-backs have suffered this year is staggering. Five members of the starting lineup have been on the injured list at some point and four pitchers in the rotation have missed time. While they were able to withstand the injuries for a period of time, they have caught up to the D-backs over the past few weeks. Peralta has been able to stay healthy and continue to produce. In addition, Peralta’s enthusiasm has helped keep the team energized and playing hard.

The Dodgers have a lot of stars on their roster, but in many ways, Taylor is who pieces everything together. Taylor has been one of the Dodgers’ most consistent hitters this season with an .892 OPS. Defensively, he has started games in the outfield, shortstop, third base and second. Los Angeles has battled a lot of injuries this season, but Taylor’s versatility has helped the team while they wait to get healthy.

After a year away from baseball, Posey has returned to reclaim his status as the Giants’ undisputed leader. He entered Sunday batting .355 with a 1.075 OPS and nine home runs while also guiding San Francisco’s starting rotation to a 2.57 ERA, the best mark in the Majors. Manager Gabe Kapler has been tempted to play Posey more often, but the Giants are staying disciplined with the 34-year-old catcher to make sure he gets enough rest and recovery to remain productive over the 162-game season.

The Padres’ offense, as we’ve learned over the past two weeks, seems to function no matter whom you remove from it. Arguably the team’s five most important hitters — Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Wil Myers, Trent Grisham and Eric Hosmer — have missed time over the past two weeks. The Padres kept right on winning. On the pitching side, the Padres have been just as deep, but it’s impossible to ignore Darvish’s impact. With a bullpen that’s been overburdened early this season, Darvish has served as something of a reset button, regularly working deep into games and giving those overworked arms a respite.

In the grand scheme of a season, the easier answer here would be Trevor Story or Charlie Blackmon — veterans who were mainstays on the Rockies’ postseason clubs of 2017 and 2018. But with the Rockies having cast their eyes on the future, McMahon is a central figure with this team. Offensively, he has had streaks of power and effectiveness, but also has had to battle some swing flaws. Smooth those out and he’s a force. Defensively, McMahon is an above-average defender at second and third, and likely would be as good at first if necessary. His role offensively and defensively can be manipulated to meet the Rockies’ needs, now and in the future.

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