Baseball is a team sport, maybe the most team-oriented sport of them all. Every player means a lot, but they can only mean so much. Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball for a decade, and what has it got him? Zero postseason wins. There’s no other sport like that.
Still: Every team has an indispensable player, someone they simply could not live without. You can replace anybody, but you can’t just replace anybody, if you know what we mean. So, today at the Thirty, we take a look at the most indispensable player on every team. They lose this guy, they’re an entirely different team. They’re nothing close to the same.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Hyun Jin Ryu, LHP
It’s a little scary when your most indispensable player is also your most fragile from a health standpoint, but such is the state of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff. If something happens to Ryu, this staff thins out dramatically.
Rays: Brandon Lowe, 2B
His struggles in the postseason revealed what the Rays were most worried about (and what Randy Arozarena helped to temporarily disguise): Without Lowe hitting, this offense gets wobbly fast.
Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts
With all the turmoil this team has gone through, Xander has been a constant. There’s a lot to worry about, but he’s never part of it.
Yankees: DJ LeMahieu
The Yankees went from “team the Blue Jays might possibly chase down” to “obvious AL favorite” the second they re-signed LeMahieu.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Cleveland: José Ramírez
As frustrated as fans are right now, imagine how sad they’d be if José had never pulled out of that early-2019 slump?
Tigers: Matthew Boyd
In the long term, they have pitchers coming. But for now, they need every inning Boyd can give them.
Twins: Byron Buxton
The easiest choice on this list. The Twins are a first-place team with Buxton in the lineup, and a middling one without him.
White Sox: José Abreu
He has long been the rock for this team. Now he’s the MVP. (And still the rock.)
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Mike Trout
The Angels wouldn’t be the only ones lost and forlorn without him: Everybody in baseball would be.
A’s: Matt Chapman
Even when he has a somewhat down year like last year, he’s the center of everything they want to do both offensively and defensively.
Astros: Alex Bregman
Remember when he was an MVP candidate? It’d be nice to have that guy back.
Mariners: Kyle Lewis
He’s a big, happy arrow pointing in the right direction for this whole franchise, and boy do they need someone like that right now.
Rangers: Kyle Gibson
The toughest team on this list to choose from, we went with Gibson because this team needs all the innings eaten that it can get.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Freddie Freeman
It will likely be Ronald Acuña soon, perhaps as early as this year. But for now, it’s still the MVP.
Marlins: Sandy Alcantara
With all the young arms in this rotation, it’s Alcantara they have learned they can count on the most.
Mets: Jacob deGrom
The Mets have much more around him now than they’ve had in the past, but they still need their ace as much as any team in baseball needs their ace.
Phillies: Bryce Harper
He has been terrific for the Phillies since signing with them. So imagine where they’d be without him.
Nationals: Juan Soto
Take away Soto, and this is just a middling team with some big names on the back end of their primes.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Christian Yelich
Look what happens when Yelich struggles: They go from locked-in playoff team to an under-.500 one. (Albeit still a playoff team, at least when you expand those playoffs.)
Cardinals: Jack Flaherty
The bigger worries have been about the lineup lately, but the Cardinals’ rotation depth is thinning. They need Flaherty to be a Cy Young contender again.
Cubs: Anthony Rizzo
We may find out just how indispensable next offseason.
Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes
There really tends to be just one answer on every Pirates question this offseason.
Reds: Luis Castillo
Any upside you’re hoping for from the Reds this year tends to come from hoping Castillo is about to make a substantial leap.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Ketel Marte
He had a down year last year (.732 OPS), and the whole team collapsed around him.
Dodgers: Mookie Betts
You may have noticed that after they traded for Mookie Betts, they won the World Series his first season with the team.
Giants: Mike Yastrzemski
You will get a good idea of what the Giants are up to over the next few years based on what they do with Lil Yaz.
Padres: Manny Machado
Fernando Tatis Jr. is the superstar, but Machado is starting to become the steadying veteran presence the Padres imagined he’d become.
Rockies: Trevor Story
And he’s a free agent after this season. If he leaves, this question becomes very hard to answer, and not in a good way.