Every team in baseball has that guy; the one that ignites everything the team does and is the very glue that holds them together. You know the guy, the one that goes out and does his job day in and day out without question; the one guy that provides the big hits and still does the little things to keep an inning moving.
Recently, the Boston Red Sox lost that guy, when it was revealed that second baseman Dustin Pedroia suffered a fracture of his left foot after fouling a pitch off of it in a game against San Francisco on June 25th. Pedroia was coming off a career night the game before, going 5 for 5 with three home runs and five runs batted in. Pedroia’s stellar defense at the keystone position, as well as his hitting prowess and base running skills make him one of the elite team players in all of baseball. Somehow, the Red Sox are going to have to weather his loss for the next six weeks and still hope to stay in the tough American League East race with New York and Tampa Bay.
That all said Pedroia’s not the only player in baseball that epitomizes the “heart and soul” guy that each team needs. Each contender has that guy on their roster that would make it next to impossible to win without him in the line-up. The following guys are also just as irreplaceable as Pedroia to his own team:
Derek Jeter – New York Yankees
Love or hate the Yankees, you have to carry a certain amount of respect for what Jeter brings to the table. Sure, he’s not the flashy defender he used to be, but he makes the plays he is supposed to. Jeter is also one of the smartest hitters in baseball, seemingly taking a pitch to whatever part of the field it needs to be for any given situation. And none of that takes into consideration what he brings to the clubhouse with his professional demeanor and wherewithal.
A couple of missed games this season has already showcased the fact that the Yankees would be stuck without him. They lack any sort of depth at the shortstop position and don’t have a true situational hitter to replace him in the line-up. The loss of Jeter would derail them from a championship contender to a mere playoff team.
Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins
The Twins showed last year that they could still win and make the post season without Justin Morneau in the line-up, but could they do the same without Mauer? Probably not.
Mauer is perhaps the most elite player in the game; a perennial batting champion with growing power who just happens to play the most rigorous position on the diamond, not to mention well. The loss of Mauer to the middle of the Twins line-up would almost certainly make Morneau a moot point as well, giving opponents a sure-fire spot in the line-up to pitch around at any given time.
Couple a loss of Mauer with the loss of Joe Nathan that Minnesota is already dealing with and this is a team searching for itself rather than playing in October.
Josh Hamilton – Texas Rangers
In 2008, Josh Hamilton put up MVP-caliber numbers and the Rangers started on their path of success. In 2009, Hamilton fought through numerous injuries that sapped his production and the improved Rangers were unable to hold on to a playoff spot at the end of the season. Healthy again in 2010, Hamilton is again raking at a MVP level and coincidentally; the Rangers have a comfortable lead in the American League West.
But if you take Hamilton out of the mix, like he essentially was in 2009, the Rangers are still a quality team that could likely make the playoffs playing in one of the worst divisions in baseball, but they would also represent no immediate threat to the powerhouse teams in the East. Hamilton is the five-tool player that IS the Texas Rangers and he’s the perfect player to feature in the heart of the Rangers line-up with Vlad Guerrero and Nelson Cruz. Neutralizing one part of a triple threat is hard to do, but take one piece out of the puzzle and it is suddenly a lot easier to solve.
David Wright – New York Mets
Hits for average and power; check. Runs the bases well; check. Plays stellar defense at a challenging position; check. Represents the only true threat you can’t pitch to in the Mets line-up; check.
Wright had a tough time adapting to Citi Field in 2009, but he’s put himself at the top of the class in 2010. With the uncertainty of what the Mets will get out of Carlos Beltran if and when he returns, the ongoing health issues of Jose Reyes, and the ineffectiveness of Jason Bay thus far in 2010, Wright is the major bright spot in the Mets line-up, and perhaps the only reason they are in second place in the NL East. Take him out of the equation and the Mets are back to where they were a year ago, and Omar Minaya is out looking for a new job.
Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals
A lot gets said about Pujols’s offensive prowess, but people tend to forget about what he does for the other people in his line-up. Look no further than Matt Holliday in 2009 to see what I’m talking about, who saw his numbers nearly double after he was traded from Oakland to the Cardinals. Then there is Ryan Ludwick, Colby Rasmus, and any other piece of that line-up that benefits from the trickle down effect from Pujols.
Sure, Albert Pujols’s batting average is lower this year than any point in his career, but he’s still hitting .306 on the season, with fifteen home runs, fifty runs batted in, and forty runs scored. And let’s not forget that he’s perhaps one of the best fielding first basemen in either league.
You just cannot put a price on what Albert Pujols brings to the Cardinals line-up, but St. Louis is certainly going to have to figure out what soon, or they’ll be trying to fill that hole in a few seasons.
Adrian Gonzalez – San Diego Padres
No baseball expert thought that the San Diego Padres would be in first place at this point in the season. In fact, most were predicting that the Padres would be shopping Gonzalez at this point to further their rebuilding project. Boy were they wrong!
The Padres have ridden to first place on the back of their young pitching staff, but it goes without saying the Gonzalez is the center piece of their offense. What boggles the mind is why the rest of the National League hasn’t figured out that beyond Gonzalez, there is no other player in the Padres line-up that can beat you offensively. Instead, they’ve allowed him to put up a batting line of .310, 16 HR, and 48 RBI. Take him out of the line-up, and the best San Diego can throw at you is a bunch of role players who put up power numbers below their position averages.
It is no wonder that there is no longer talk of San Diego moving Gonzalez, as this team cannot possibly stay in the playoff hunt if they do.
Sox Lose Pedroia With Foot Fracture, MLB.com
MLB Standings, MLB.com
Albert Pujols, MLB.com
Adrian Gonzalez, MLB.com