Some MLB teams are looking forward to the playoffs, or at least playoff chases. Others are looking to 2018 or, in some cases, 2019 or later. But regardless of where they stand, every MLB team has that one guy. The guy who will most help the team get to where it needs to be.
Who are those guys?
Obviously, some teams are harder than others. Which players are the important figures in the rebuilding efforts for teams like the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox? Who are the most important guys on stacked teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros?
Who is the most indispensable player on each MLB team?
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt
We start with one of the more obvious. Goldschmidt is not only a leading MVP candidate in 2017, but he’s been one of the game’s best offensive players since debuting in 2011. From 2012-16, Goldschmidt averaged 94 runs scored, 96 RBI, 26 home runs, 19 steals and a .302/.402/.528 slash line. Even those numbers are hindered by an injury-shortened 2014 season. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Goldschmidt has also won two Gold Gloves. You could count the number of MLB players as valuable as Goldschmidt on one hand, with room to spare.
Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman
If Dansby Swanson was having a better year, this would be more of a debate. But while we’re not worried about Swanson long term, 2017 has shown that he is still a work in progress. Freeman is an established guy. He has a career .290/.376/.495 slash line and has shown a consistent ability to hit 20 (or even 30) home runs in a season. Freeman has done all of this, and is also only 27. It would be awfully hard to find that kind of value elsewhere.
Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado
From 1998-2011, the Orioles were terrible. Not only did Baltimore not make the playoffs, but it never finished better than 79-83. In 2012, Machado came around and the Orioles haven’t had a losing season since. While that can’t be attributed solely to one player, Machado has been a big cause. Remember, while Machado has come around a bit recently, he’s having something of a down year in 2017. Still, he’s on pace to hit 30 homers and drive in 93. That’s not bad for a down year. When we also consider that he’s one of MLB’s best defenders, Machado’s value only gets better.
Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale
As valuable as outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Bets are, Sale is even more indispensable. He has a 2.57 ERA, 0.88 ERA, and is on pace to strike out more than 300 batters. Pitchers like that are incredibly valuable in the regular season. In the playoffs, though, they’re even more important. If the Red Sox have to settle for the Wild Card game, who in the American League matches up to Sale? If they win the division and he gets a Game 1 start, then the odds are with Boston to be up 1-0 against anyone.
Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant
From 2010-14, the Cubs underwent a massive rebuilding project. In that time, they compiled a great deal of talent. But things didn’t really turn around until Bryant got to Wrigley Field in 2015. Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and the NL MVP in 2016, while the Cubs won 97 and 103 games in those seasons. Bryant is a star. He’s capable of getting on base via the hit and walk. He hits for great power but also runs the bases well. On a team of stars, Bryant is the most indispensable talent.
Chicago White Sox: Yoan Moncada
Chicago’s organization is loaded with young pitchers. In addition to the already up Carlos Rodon, the White Sox’ organization features highly-touted guys like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. So even if a few don’t pan out, the pitching should be in good shape. The offense isn’t thin, but it doesn’t have that depth, either. For the rebuilding project to work quickly, Moncada, who MLB.com graded as 2017’s No. 1 prospect, will be the most-important cog.
Cincinnati Reds: Adam Duvall
If the goal is to win a game, this is Joey Votto and it’s not close. But Votto is nearly 34 and the Reds are still in the early stages of a rebuilding project. Zack Cozart is another option, but he’s a free agent at year’s end. So, by the time Cincinnati is ready to contend again, both may be gone. Duvall, on the other hand, hit 33 homers and made the All-Star team in 2016, and has 25 already in 2017. He’s also under team control for 2018, and then has three arbitration years. So, in addition to being one of the team’s best current players, he also figures to be a long-term piece.
Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor
Cleveland doesn’t lack for choices here. We could make a case for Lindor’s double play partner, Jason Kipnis, ace Corey Kluber, or even relief stud Andrew Miller. But ultimately, Lindor is someone who can hit .300, will draw walks, and can both steal bases and hit for power. On the other side of the ball, he plays Gold Glove defense at shortstop. It’s also worth noting that he’s only 23. Hypothetically, if the Indians were to put their entire roster on the trade block, Lindor would be by far the most heavily inquired upon player.
Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado
Arenado is only 26. But in each of the last two seasons, he’s hit 40 home runs and driven in more than 130 runs. He’s on a comparable pace in 2017. Not only is Arenado a stud at the plate, but he’s a stud who plays otherworldly defense at the hot corner. Keeping runners off of the bases is always important, but especially at Coors Field. Arenado does that incredibly well. The Rockies have been one of baseball’s best, most-surprising teams of the 2017 season. If you’re looking for the main reason for that, look at their third baseman.
Detroit Tigers: Michael Fulmer
Not unlike the Reds, Detroit’s players can’t just be looked at for their current skills. The Tigers are rebuilding and thus, we have to figure out who’s likely to be a star when the team is back to being a contender. That’s Fulmer, the 24-year-old quality start machine with a career 3.32 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Guys like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera may be better players now, but it’s hard to imagine them being integral parts of a rebuilding project. Fulmer, however, will be a front and center star in Detroit for a while.
Houston Astros: Jose Altuve
Houston does not lack for good options here. But since 2014, Altuve has slashed at .337/.385/.498. He also stole 30 bases a year from 2014-16 and is well on his way to eclipsing that total again in 2016. As if that wasn’t enough, Altuve has emerged into a guy who can hit more than 20 home runs in a season, and he does all of this while playing Gold Glove defense at the keystone. The Astros are a team of stars. But it’s hard imagine one standing taller than the 5-foot-6 Altuve.
Kansas City Royals: Salvador Perez
The Royals are a tricky team. At its best, Kansas City has been a team with many good players, but have lacked in the star department. Still, Perez has made five straight All-Star teams. Perez hit 20 home runs in both 2015 and 2016, and has already exceeded that total in 2017. He’s accomplished all of that all while winning each of the last four Gold Glove Awards, and don’t bet against a fifth in 2017. For a team that relies heavily on pitching (and many different pitchers), that’s even more important than his offense.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout
Trout didn’t win the MVP in 2012. But a credible argument could have been made that he should have been the MVP over Miguel Cabrera, the man who won the first Triple Crown in 44 years. That’s how good Trout was then, and he’s only gotten better. Trout has finished first or second in MVP voting in each of his first five years. He’s never won a Gold Glove, but plays elite defense at the premium position of center field. Trout is not only the Angels’ most indispensable player, but has been baseball’s absolute best for more than five seasons.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
It would be easy to justify the man who won 2016’s Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager. It would be easy to justify the man who will win the award in 2017, Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers are loaded, so it would be easy to justify a lot of people. But playoff trips in 2013-16 all ended in disappointment. If that’s going to change in 2017, Los Angeles will need someone who can not only match up against the likes of Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Zack Greinke, but also beat them. As good as Yu Darvish is, Kershaw is the man for that job.
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton
We could talk about Stanton’s immense power and stats. But those only scratch the surface of Stanton’s value. The Marlins have consistently struggled to draw well in South Florida. There are a multitude of reasons for that. But in many ways, it boils down to the fact that Miami doesn’t keep its stars. Well, Stanton has been there since 2010 and is under contract through at least 2020. Stanton represents something different for the Marlins. He represents a guy that kids can grow up watching. For a franchise that hasn’t had that guy, Stanton’s value is almost immeasurable.
Milwaukee Brewers: Orlando Arcia
Milwaukee finds itself in a unique position in that while it’s a contending team, it’s still very much in the rebuilding phase. So, we have to look at not only the best players of 2017, but also the best going forward. When combining the two factors, it’s hard to top Arcia. He’s having a nice season (11 home runs, .284/.328/.424), plays a premium position, and is only 23. Arcia was one of baseball’s best regarded prospects before making his debut in 2016. And while that was a rough season, 2017 has shown that he’s on his way towards being that star player.
Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano
Much like the Brewers, while the Twins have contended for much of 2017, Minnesota is still a rebuilding team. And for a rebuilding team, it’s hard to get much more valuable than a 24-year-old who’s already twice exceeded 25 home runs and is presently on pace to hit more than 35. Sano still has a lot of work to do to be a complete MLB star. But for a team whose best years should be forthcoming, Sano is the perfect mix of potential and already realized skill.
New York Mets: Michael Conforto
At the beginning of the year, this would have been Yoenis Cespedes, or now injured ace Noah Syndergaard. But Conforto has emerged as the guy this year. He’s thriving with the Mets, hitting 23 home runs and posting a .293/.397/.573 slash line. Additionally, whether we’re talking about 2018 or some time down the road, Conforto figures to be key when New York is ready contend again. He’s only 24, after all. Like Sano, it’s a good mixture of “right now” ability and potential to get even better over the next decade.
New York Yankees: Aaron Judge
Rookies with 35 home runs and a .297/.424/.622 slash line in mid-August just don’t come around all the time. Judge has taken the world by storm in 2017, passing long held marks by Yankees legends and earning the praise of others. In fact, while Judge isn’t MLB’s best player, he may be its most-important in some ways. New York has done a brilliant job rebuilding itself over the last few years, going from a team dependent on washed-up veterans to one with a strong, young core. Judge isn’t the only reason that that has changed, but he is the team’s most important player.
Oakland Athletics: Khris Davis
Billy Beane has recently expressed frustrations with Oakland’s inability to keep stars around, noting that he hopes it changes when the team eventually moves to its new stadium. With that in mind, keeping Davis is important, especially now that Sonny Gray is gone. And make no mistake, Davis represents more than just a symbolic look towards a shift in organizational policy. After hitting 27 home runs in an abbreviated 2015 season for the Brewers, Davis hit 42 in his first year for the A’s in 2016, and is on pace to top that total in 2017.
Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola
The Phillies are in rebuilding mode, so we have to look at the younger guys. At 24, Nola is that. But he’s not just hype. Nola is in the midst of a stellar season. He has a 3.12 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and has 117 strikeouts in only 112.1 innings. That’s a great season for most pitchers, let alone someone as young as Nola. Philadelphia is building a team that will ideally be ready to compete in a few seasons. Nola will be an integral part of that process.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen
While there have been trade rumors, McCutchen has made it clear that Pittsburgh is where he wants to be. That’s important because in the era before Cutch, the best Pirates players were typically not there for long. That explains why Pittsburgh had nothing but losing seasons from 1993-2012. But with McCutchen as the driving force, the Pirates made three straight playoff appearances from 2013-2015. When it appeared as though he had lost a step, Cutch was also the driving force behind 2017’s revival after Starling Marte’s suspension.
San Diego Padres: Wil Myers
While Myers has been around for a while, we must not forget that he’s only 26. He’s signed through at least 2022 and therefore, will be an integral part of San Diego’s rebuild. In many ways, 2017 has been a down year for Myers. Still, he’s on pace to hit 30 home runs, which would be a career high. The Padres haven’t had that kind of player in a while. They’ve had some decent players, but it’s been a while since they’ve had one who can be productive through a bad year. Myers is that guy. That is invaluable to a team like San Diego looking to contend for the first time in years.
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey
A case could be made for Madison Bumgarner, especially when we note how bad the Giants have been in 2017, a year when Bumgarner missed a great deal of time. But as great as Bumgarner has been, especially in the postseason, he’s a pitcher that appears every fifth game. Posey is an every-day player. When the Giants win, they win with pitching. As the catcher, Posey handles the pitchers. Additionally, Posey has consistently been one of the league’s best hitters since coming up, with a .308/.377/.476 slash line. Bumgarner is a key. But Posey is indispensable to the Giants.
Seattle Mariners: Robinson Cano
It may not seem like Cano puts up quite the numbers that he once did. But he still has 19 home runs, 75 RBI and a .271/.333/460 slash line. That’s not something that many second basemen can claim. Also, while there’s no way to quantify this, Cano has been to the playoffs many times in his career. That could prove to be vital experience for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, which is MLB’s longest postseason drought.
St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina
Much like Cano, Molina isn’t the player he once was. But this comes down to a simple question. Who can St. Louis least afford to lose for an extended period of time? That man is still Molina. He’s remains a plus offensive catcher, all while holding firm as one of the game’s top defensive backstops. Molina not only handles his pitchers, but he essentially shuts down the opponent’s running game. It may not be as clear as it once was, but Molina remains the most indispensable player for St. Louis.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
In some cases, we’ve looked more into the future. In the case of Longoria, though, we have to look at his past. Looking solely at this year, the answer would be Logan Morrison. But Longoria isn’t having a bad year by any means. With 17 home runs Longoria is easily on track to top 20 home runs for the ninth time in 10 years. Morrison is having a great year, but he doesn’t come close to having Longoria’s body of work. Because of that, we have to say that Longoria is the man that the contending Rays can least afford to lose.
Texas Rangers: Nomar Mazara
We freely admit that some of 2017’s stats may not entirely back this up. Guys like Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor have significantly more home runs. Still, Mazara has 14 bombs and is slashing at .247/.324/.423, which is far better line than either of those two. He’s also only 22, which works in his favor. Some of the stats aren’t great, but he hasn’t been overwhelmed, either. Much like Conforto with the Mets, Mazara gets this nod partially because of what he’s done this year, and partially for what we figure he’ll do going forward.
Toronto Blue Jays: Josh Donaldson
Toronto’s third baseman is similar to Myers in San Diego. He’s not having a great year for his standards, but has still been productive. For example, he has a .247 batting average. Despite that, his .370 OBP is only one point lower than his .371 mark in 2015, when he won the American League MVP. As good as the Blue Jays offense was with the likes of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion anchoring it, Toronto hadn’t made the playoffs since 1993 until Donaldson showed up. In the two years since, the Jays have made the playoffs twice. It’s hard to beat that kind of value.
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper
We started with an obvious one and that’s where we finish. Harper is a past Rookie of the Year and could be on his way to his second National League MVP award this year. He’s a five-tool stud who’s been the central figure as the Nationals have gone from mediocre to bad (2005-2011) to one of the leagues best teams (2012-2017). With all of that in mind, it’s also to important to remember that Harper is only 24 and is only getting better. Players just don’t get much more indispensable than Harper.