Miguel Cabrera is the best right-handed hitter on the planet, a future Hall of Famer who is the most important player in the Detroit Tigers organization. It goes without saying that without Cabrera in the lineup, the Tigers are a much lesser team; we saw that play out last season. Inherent in any possible success for Detroit is the assumption that Cabrera has to be the foundation of it, and this can be said for Andrew McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Jose Abreu and others who are the best players on their respective teams.
But then there are the Linchpin Guys, those players who might not be a sure thing like a Cabrera or Kershaw but are positioned to make a major difference, good or bad. For the Tigers, the Linchpin Guy is Justin Verlander, who had to work his way back from injury and had a 6.62 ERA for his first six starts in 2015 after he was activated from the disabled list in June -- then pitched great for the Tigers after making some adjustments. In his final 14 starts, he had a 2.27 ERA and limited opponents to a .207 batting average while striking out 91 batters in 99 1/3 innings, with just 20 walks.
Verlander turns 33 later this month, and if he continues with the career resurgence he demonstrated in the second half last year, the Tigers' rotation has a chance to be pretty good. But if he takes a step back, the group of starters will look very different. This is what makes Verlander a Linchpin Guy for 2016, along with the 13 players below.
A common denominator among many of the Linchpin Guys: They are part of units that don't have much depth, so the success or failure of those particular players will be especially important.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: They have a lot of pieces among their position players for new manager Dave Roberts to work with, but they need some sources of consistent production beyond Adrian Gonzalez. It may turn out that Corey Seager could be that in his rookie year, or maybe Howie Kendrick. But if Puig bounces back to what he was in 2013 and, with better conditioning, begins to grow again as a player, this could be a very different-looking lineup.
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals: There were a lot of days last year when the Nationals' run production seemed to rest on the shoulders of Bryce Harper because Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth were either hurting or out, or because Ian Desmond was mired in a deep slump. Rendon, 25, already has shown how great a hitter he can be -- he finished fifth in the National League MVP voting in 2014 -- and the Nationals desperately need him to be that guy again, especially as opposing teams continue to make a habit of pitching around Harper.