As we learned in 2011, baseball teams can survive the loss of even a superstar player. When Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who had finished second and third in the Cy Young voting the previous two seasons, went down in spring training with season-ending Tommy John surgery, many wrote off the Cardinals. "Wainwright injury deals crippling blow to Cardinals' chances," blared the headline of one major online publication.
We all know what happened.
That said, some players would seem to be more vital than others. I asked the question, "Who is the most important player in 2012?" on Twitter on Tuesday and received a wide range of answers. I'll list my top five followed by some reader responses. My one rule: I think the team involved has to be a legit contender. Joe Mauer and Felix Hernandez are obviously important to their teams, but the Twins and Mariners are unlikely contenders even if those guys deliver monster seasons.
The Marlins are probably borderline contenders even if everything breaks well -- I projected them to win 86 games -- making it imperative Johnson stays healthy after making just nine starts in 2011. The 2010 NL ERA leader, Johnson's health is even more vital since the Marlins would appear to lack rotation depth past their top five.
The Reds lineup will feature two rookies, inconsistent Drew Stubbs, injury-prone Scott Rolen and mediocre production at best from left field, making it imperative the 2010 NL MVP stay on the field. He did that last year, missing just one game.
The Red Sox could survive the loss of one of their big hitters, but if Beckett struggles like he did in 2010 (21 starts, 5.78 ERA), the rotation will likely be exposed.
Considering his position and skill-set, perhaps the most irreplaceable player in baseball today.
As the Phillies continue to get older and score fewer runs, the pressure on the Big Three increases. You don't replace the best pitcher in the game.
From the readers:
Jordan Walden. The angels have the rotation, but will walden be able to close games, because no one behind him looks promising -- @matte1727
Josh Beckett decides whether Boston is title contender or third place in East. --@TheFanManifesto
Jason Heyward. --@jasonwright
Kendrys Morales! If he comes back & b the hitter he was be4 the ankle injury then #Angels offense will b balance & powerful. --@LAngelsteelers
Ryan Braun! He will be mentally and emotionally tested in every ballpark that he plays in --@jcbritt13
I gotta say Verlander ( and I hate Detroit) that team is in big trouble without him --@Poptart_Larson
'most important' an interesting concept. Wright perhaps. Other teams may cope without their superstar(s), but The Mets... --@samjturner
Michael Pineda. A whole lot of organizational strategy, let alone a post season berth, hinges on his success --@MagicRatSF
Has to be Josh Johnson...so many expectations, but without a big JJ year, team could finish 4th --@m_techner
thinking Fielder...epic fail for Tigers if they don't make playoffs --@ChadMacNeil
@dschoenfield gosh, so many. Darvish needs to work for TEX, Pujols for LAA, Lawrie & Bautista for TOR, Fielder for DET, Adrian for BOS, etc
Evan Longoria plays like a top 10 fantasy player and I can see the Rays winning the division. --@KCs_Corner
daniel bard. red sox need him to be a decent 4th starter/3rd if bucholtz cant go all year. --@Conley76
Troy Tulowitzki. Five tool player at the most premium of positions. --@FSportsSchiel
Johan Santana. With him back to form, Mets could be alright. If not, they will probably be a joke. --@Doug_Gausepohl
Wainwright's return to form (or not) will go long way in deciding tight NLC --@rausdenmoore
Buster posey --@nimyaj