5 most indispensable players in the AL Central

May 16th, 2019

The team is better because he's on it. Take him out of the equation, and the results could be disastrous.

That's the definition of an indispensable player: He's reliable, steady and productive (and has a history of staying relatively healthy), so much so that it's hard to imagine the team being able to perform at the same level if he were removed from his role.

In the American League Central, a team's most indispensable player doesn't fit one mold -- maybe he's a healthy starter in a banged-up rotation, or a utility player who can do everything but pitch and catch, or a reliever unfazed by any situation presented to him.

Indians: RHP Trevor Bauer

Although Carlos Santana has carried the Indians' offense through the first month of the season, Bauer may be the most irreplaceable member of the Tribe given the state of the starting rotation.

Heading into the season, the Indians knew they may struggle at the plate, but put all their hope into what was projected to be one of the most dominant starting staffs in baseball to find success. After injuries to Corey Kluber (right ulna fracture) and Mike Clevinger (upper back strain) landed them both on the injured list, the team is leaning on Bauer more than ever.

The right-hander has averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings so far this season and has posted a 3.02 ERA. Not only have his stats been crucial in recent weeks, but Bauer's ability to pitch deep into games has saved the Indians' bullpen a handful of times this year. He's tossed at least six innings in seven of his nine starts and averaged approximately 112 pitches per outing.

-- Mandy Bell

Royals: Whit Merrifield

Merrifield led the Major Leagues in stolen bases and hits last season and is the driving force behind the Royals' offense from the leadoff spot. “Two-hit Whit” has become his moniker among Royals fans.

“He is the key to our offense,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “When he gets on, things happen for us. He can steal a bag, he can take an extra base. He just puts pressure on opponents and sets the inning up for our 2-3-4 hitters.”

Merrifield also is invaluable defensively. He plays above-average defense at second base, third base, right field and center field, and can back up at shortstop in a pinch as well. He is arguably the top super-utility man in baseball.

He's also the ultimate "team guy," as is evidenced by how he embraced moving to the outfield to make room for second-base super-prospect Nicky Lopez.

"Now it’s best for this team to play outfield," Merrifield said the day Lopez was called up. "I'm excited for Nicky. He's a great kid and a great player. I think he'll help our team. At the end of the day, I'm sick of losing. I really am."

-- Jeffrey Flanagan

Tigers: Matthew Boyd

With Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Matt Moore and Tyson Ross out, Boyd is the only projected member of the Tigers' rotation who's still actually in the rotation. He's also the one Tigers starter who can be consistently counted on for quality starts, having delivered seven in a row before the Astros chased him after four innings Tuesday at Comerica Park.

Boyd's days on the mound are the days when Detroit's overworked bullpen can usually expect a light workload. No wonder he ranks among the AL leaders in pitching Wins Above Replacement on a team that sits well under .500.

-- Jason Beck

Twins: Taylor Rogers

The Twins' lineup is deep enough and the bench versatile enough that either can likely weather the loss of any one position player. Their starting rotation, led by strong starts from Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez, has been more consistent than expected by most entering the season.

But Taylor Rogers, the lone left-hander in the Twins' bullpen, has been instrumental to the team's success for his ability to not only match up against both tough lefties and tough righties, but also the potential to pitch multiple innings in high-leverage situations when needed.

He has a 1.47 ERA with 25 strikeouts and four walks in 18 1/3 innings this season. Such is the team's confidence in Rogers that the left-hander was manager Rocco Baldelli's choice to face Mike Trout late in two consecutive close games.

"To be honest, you kind of like [Rogers] against almost anyone," Baldelli said. "He’s a tough customer, and I think his stuff plays against most Major League hitters. ... Just having him for those types of situations, he goes out there and throws two innings, throws 30-31 pitches yesterday, and he feels good."

-- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Tim Anderson

A case could be made for Jose Abreu, who is not only a clubhouse leader but an elite middle-of-the-order presence. But Anderson has become the energetic and entertaining force at the epicenter of the rebuild. He's tied for the Major League lead in stolen bases while on pace for 32 home runs, 97 RBIs, 101 runs scored and 49 stolen bases.

Although he has made nine errors, Anderson has worked tirelessly to make himself one of the more reliable defensive shortstops in the AL. Any extended absence for Anderson would mean Yolmer Sanchez, Jose Rondon or Leury Garcia moving to shortstop, with all three being capable replacements. But it would be a decidedly different feel without Anderson.

-- Scott Merkin