Just what does it take, actually, to be all-time in major league baseball?
Big stats? Sure. Leadership qualities of a statesman? Yup. Clutch hitting and pitching? You betcha.
A look at the MLB standings with just over a quarter of the season gone sees many potential candidates for all of baseball’s major awards.
Boston Mookie Betts is a serious candidate for AL MVP and a Triple Crown, leading the league in average (.362), home runs (16) and a tie for seventh in RBI (35). Ditto Manny Machado (.335, 15 HR, 44 RBI) and J.D. Martinez (.328, 15 HR, 41 RBI) as of May 25.
Over on the senior circuit, Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera is making a name for himself, sitting second in average at .343 and hitting seven homers and driving in 30 runs. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman is on a tear, too.
As for Cy Young candidates, Washington’s Max Scherzer (7-1, 1.78 ERA 104 strikeouts) and New York’s Jacob deGrom (4-0, 1.54 ERA, 77 K) are neck and neck in the NL. Justin Verlander is lights out in the AL at 6-2, 1.08 ERA and 93 Ks.
These are but a few players we deem worthy of being most influential on their respective teams. We’ve got one all-timer for each, with honorable mentions in italics at the end.
30. 1B Paul Goldschmidt – Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs are locked in a four-way battle for first place in the NL West, which means Paul Goldschmidt breaking out of an uncharacteristic slump even more imperative. In the six seasons preceding this one, the veteran first sacker and five-time All-Star has been the club’s chief run producer. Between 2012 and 2017, he hit 168 homers and drove in 601 runs. He also smacked 223 doubles, stole 113 bases and drew 545 walks. However, he is off to an extremely poor start by his lofty standards. Through 49 games, Goldy is hitting just .200, which is 94 points below his lifetime average and even more alarming, he leads the NL in strikeouts with 65. So far he has just eight doubles, two triples, six homers, 14 RBI and two stolen bases. Yet, we don’t see him floundering around the Mendoza line for very long, since he is the straw that stirs the D-Backs drink. Honorable mentions: 3B Jake Lamb, SP Patrick Corbin, SP Zack Greinke, RP Brad Boxberger.
29. 1B Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves
The Braves are the surprise of the young MLB season, sporting a 29-19 record as of May 25 and leading the also surprising Phillies by a half game for first in the NL East. There have been a few young bright lights getting things done in Georgia, like SS Ozzie Albies, but for our money, veteran 1B Freeman is the Braves most influential player. Like Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona, Freeman has been a reliable presence in the middle of Atlanta’s order since 2011. He missed a significant chunk of the 2017 season, but still put up decent stats, with a .307 batting average, 35 doubles, two triples, 28 homers and 71 RBI in 117 games (his lowest total since 2010). In 48 contests this year the big Californian is hitting .324, which is fourth in the NL, with 12 doubles, a triple, nine homers and 35 RBI (third in the NL). He is this generation’s Chipper Jones, just on the opposite side of the field. Honorable mentions: SP Sean Newcomb, SP Mike Foltynewicz, SS Ozzie Albies, CF Ender Inciarte.
28. 3B Manny Machado – Baltimore Orioles
Should the bottom-fielding Orioles do the obvious and trade Manny Machado for a passel of prospects, it will leave a gigantic hole in their line-up. There is no other position player or pitcher on the O’s roster who is more important to their success — or lack thereof — than the 25-year-old veteran third baseman. Where other stars like Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo have fallen off recently or endured slumps, Machado has maintained an even keel in his sixth full season in the bigs. And, on as bad a team as the Orioles have been this season, he is gunning for a Triple Crown. So far, he is hitting .335 (third in the AL), with 15 homers (second) and 44 RBI (first), as well as registering a .409 on base percentage, .634 slugging percentage and 1.043 OPS (second to Mookie Betts). At his pace, he should easily eclipse his highs in doubles (he has 13 and his best was 40), homers (37), average (.294) and RBI (96). He just might be doing it with someone else after July 31.
27. SP Chris Sale – Boston Red Sox
With so much firepower at the plate, one would think that a slugger would be Boston’s most influential player. But, we firmly believe the key to the Red Sox staying atop the AL East standings rests with their starting pitching. Specifically the habitual strong outings provided by staff ace and perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. He just suffered his worst loss of the season against Atlanta, five hits and six earned runs, on Sunday as Boston fell 7-1, but that performance raised his ERA from a very impressive 2.17 to 2.76. Before that, though, the lanky Floridian was nearly untouchable in 11 starts and now sports a 5-2 record, with 0.960 WHIP (7th in the AL) and 104 strikeouts (2nd) in 75 innings. He’s an early front-runner for Cy Young, an award he has shockingly never won. Honorable mentions: OF Mookie Betts, OF Andrew Benintendi, OF J.D. Martinez, RP Craig Kimbrel.
26. 3B Kris Bryant – Chicago Cubs
If there is any indication that 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant has put it all together offensively, just take a look at his walks vs. strikeouts. The man who led the senior circuit in strikeouts with a whopping 199 during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2015 (while walking 77 times) has struck out just 35 times in 44 games this year (with 26 walks). Every season since 2015 Bryant has shaved his strikeouts down and walked more, resulting in better on base percentages and OPS. This year he isn’t tracking to beat the 39 homers and 102 RBI he posted in his MVP season, however, Bryant is leading the NL in doubles (16) and figures to have personal bests in average (currently .292) OBP (.411 now) and OPS (.960). He has slugged eight homers, with six of them coming in May, and driven in 26 runs (16 this month) so he is trending up. Honorable mentions: 2B Javier Baez, C Willson Contreras, SP Jon Lester, SP Kyle Hendricks.
25. 1B Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox
It’s been a positively miserable 2018 campaign for the South Siders and there isn’t much relief in sight. That doesn’t mean, however that some players aren’t shining. One is fifth-year run-producing machine Abreu, who has driven in 100 or more runs in each of his first four seasons, including a personal best 107 during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2014. Consistency at the plate doesn’t even begin to denote what Abreu means to the Chisox. He averaged 36 doubles, three triples, 31 homers and 102.5 RBI in his first four years and his overall batting average sits at .302. This year, for the woeful Sox, Abreu is leading the AL in doubles with 19, along with a .313 average, nine homers and 30 RBI in 49 games. He has also made just five errors on 383 chances for a .987 fielding percentage (he is .992 lifetime).
24. 1B Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds
This may well be the year that long time Red and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto gets moved in a Cincinnati rebuild. Not that the five-time All-Star and Reds on-field leader has openly lobbied to be moved — plus he has a no-trade clause — but at age 34 he is still a feared hitter and excellent fielder. Now in his 12th big league season, the Toronto native has seen his numbers take a bit of dip, but most major leaguers would welcome his nine doubles, six homers, 24 RBI and .285 average in 53 games. Career-wise, Votto has been one of the National League’s most prolific hitters over those 12 years, five times leading the league in walks, six times in on base percentage and twice in OPS. Overall, in 1,483 games, Votto has a .312 batting average, .427 OBP (12th all-time, just .006 behind the legendary Ty Cobb), .537 slugging percentage and .964 OPS. He also has 353 doubles, 263 homers and 854 RBI. Honorable mentions: 2B Scooter Gennett, RP Raisel Iglesias.
23. SP Corey Kluber – Cleveland Indians
Were it not for reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber’s outstanding pitching, the Cleveland Indians would be in dire straits. The Tribe, as of May 28, were just one game above .500 at 26-25, 3.5 games up on Detroit in the AL Central. Kluber, a two-time Cy Young man in his seven seasons, has seven of those victories, against just two losses. Each and every one of his 11 starts this season has been a quality one, which puts him in the major league lead in that category. He’s also tied for most wins, is 11th overall in strikeouts with 78 in 78.2 innings, first in WAR at 3.1, third in WHIP at 0.860 and seventh in ERA at 2.17. Anyone needing confirmation that Kluber is among the elite pitchers in baseball — and maybe one all-time — need only look at his last two starts. On May 19, he limited the powerful Houston Astros to six hits and two earned runs, while striking out 10 in seven innings during a 5-4 Cleveland victory. Then, on May 25, he was even more dominant, handcuffing those same Astros on seven hits and no runs, with 7 Ks in 6.1 innings. But, the Tribe’s bullpen, starting uncharacteristically with Andrew Miller, blew up in an eventual 11-2 loss. Honorable mentions: RP Andrew Miller, SP Trevor Bauer, 3B Jose Ramirez, SS Francisco Lindor.
22. 3B Nolan Arenado – Colorado Rockies
In a fairly close race, we chose three-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glover and three-time Silver Slugger award winner Arenado over 2017 NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon. The sixth-year third baseman has been the Rockies chief run producer three years running and led the senior circuit in homers twice (42 in 2015 and 41 in 2016) as well as in RBIs in the same two seasons (130 and 133 respectively). Last year, when he finished fourth in the MVP race, Arenado was tops in doubles with 43, had seven triples, 37 dingers and another 130 RBI to go with his personal best .309 batting average. This year in 48 games for the NL West leading Rockies, Arenado is hitting .324 with a NL best .991 OPS, along with 10 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs and 29 RBI. For those who think the thin air in Denver has a lot to do with Arenado’s success, it’s noteworthy that he has more doubles (7 to 3) and the same number of homers (5 and 5) on the road this season. Honorable mentions: OF Charlie Blackmon, 2B D.J. LeMahieu, Sp Kyle Freeland, RP Wade Davis.
21. 1B Miguel Cabrera – Detroit Tigers
We’re going to point out that the Cleveland Indians are very lucky that Miggy has missed all but one game in May. The face of the Tigers franchise since 2008 has played just 26 games this season but even in his absence the Tigers have managed to stay only 3.5 games behind the first-place Tribe in the AL Central. Before being put on the DL with hamstring and back ailments, Cabrera was hitting .323, with nine doubles, three homers and 21 RBI. Pretty much his usual. He is easily Detroit’s most influential player, twice copping MVP honors in a Tigers uniform, as well as seven All-Star nominations and five Silver Slugger awards. Cabrera has twice led the AL in doubles, twice in homers, twice in RBI and has four batting championships. The 35-year-old Venezualan has also been tops in on base percentage on four occasions, slugging percentage twice and OPS twice. Defensively, the corner infielder owns a sterling .994 fielding percentage in 10 seasons at first. Honorable mentions: OF Nicholas Castellanos, SP Michael Fulmer.
20. 2B Jose Altuve – Houston Astros
So many good players, so little space to laud them all here. The Houston Astros, who are in a dog fight with Seattle for first in the AL West, literally have a roster full of All-Stars. Altuve, though, deserves special mention here for the fact that he packs a wallop for such a tiny guy (5’6″, 165 lbs.). Yes, he has an elite glove, but he was the AL MVP in 2017 based mostly on his bat (he has just one Gold Glove from 2015). Altuve won his third batting crown and second in a row last year, with a .346 average. It was the fourth season he led the AL in hits (204), including 39 doubles, four triples, 24 homers and 81 RBI. The elite base stealer, who has topped the AL in that category twice, also recorded 32 thefts last season. In 54 games so far this year, the tiny Venezualan is again leading the loop in hits with 73. Among that number are a .330 batting average, 15 doubles, two triples, three homers and 28 RBI. He is tracking to at least a sixth All-Star campaign and another batting title. Honorable mentions: Just about the whole roster.
19. RP Kelvin Herrera – Kansas City Royals
The fall from grace for the 2015 World Series champion Royals has been shockingly swift. After making it to the Fall Classic and losing in 2014, they made good on their appearance in ’15, but missed the playoffs all together in 2016 and 2017. The roster has been gutted and outside of a few players, no one is having a career year in 2018 as the Royals sat second last in the AL Central just ahead of the sorry Chicago White Sox. The only real all-timer they have, then, and one who could be on the trade block, is closer Kelvin Herrera. The Royals had one only 18 games as of May 28, so save opportunities were few and far between. Herrera has been lights out when called upon, recording 11 saves in 12 opportunities. Those 11 saves tie him with a slew of players for 10th overall in the MLB. He also owns a miniscule 0.760 WHIP and 0.92 ERA in 19.2 innings of work. The two-time All-Star has been a workhorse since breaking in with the Royals in 2011 and easily their most effective reliever. Honorable mentions: 3B Mike Moustakas, 2B Whit Merrifield.
18. OF Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels
Trout is not only the Angels most influential player, he might the MLB’s elite performer, period. The Halos “Mr. Everything” has been the American League’s top player since winning Rookie of the Year in 2012 and also finishing second in MVP voting. He has worn the MVP mantle twice and finished second on three occasions since 2012, as well as garnering six All-Star nominations — and a likely seventh this year — and five Silver Slugger awards. There is hardly an offensive category he hasn’t been best in since 2012 and it won’t be long before he wins a triple crown, in our estimation. This season, the Millville Meteor is leading the AL in homers (he’s never done that) with 17 and is batting .306, with 12 stolen bases and a league leading .453 on base percentage (due to a AL high 48 walks). As far as defence goes, Trout had yet to make an error in 51 games in center field and with three assists already, is on track to beat his personal best seven from 2016. Honorable mentions: DH/SP Shohei Otani, SS Andrelton Simmons.
17. SP Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers need Clayton Kershaw like the rest of us need oxygen. And they need their ace hurler to come back soon in 2018, if they want to get back into the National League playoff picture. Even still the Dodgers were 24-28 as of May 28, just 3.5 games back of Colorado. And, they haven’t had Kershaw start a game since a 4-3 loss to Arizona on May 1. A three-time NL Cy Young winner and two-time runner-up, as well as NL MVP, Kershaw was having a hard luck season a year after leading the senior circuit in wins with 18 (18-4). Through seven starts the big lefty was just 1-4, but still had a great ERA at 2.86, along with 48 strikeouts in 44 innings. He has left biceps tendinitis and was slated to make his first start in the month on May 31 at home against Philadelphia. The rest of the NL West ought to be a little apprehensive about that development. Honorable mentions: RP Kenley Jansen, C Yasmani Grandal, SS Corey Seager, 1B Cody Bellinger, SP Kenta Maeda.
16. C J.T. Realmuto – Miami Marlins
With big names like Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich all gone to greener pastures, it really only left one or two guys in Miami as anything close to influential. One of them, catcher J.T. Realmuto may be one of the last and biggest pieces of the Marlins big roster shake-up come the July 31 trade deadline. The fifth-year veteran has been routinely good to great on both sides of the plate since becoming the full-time catcher in 2015. This season he is hitting .323, with nine doubles, a triple, six homers and 17 RBI for the NL East cellar dwelling Marlins. Lifetime, he was hitting .283 as of May 28, with 93 doubles, 14 triples, 44 homers, 29 stolen bases and 186 RBI in 448 games. Behind the plate, Realmuto sports a lifetime .993 fielding percentage and a 32 percent success rate gunning down would-be base stealers (77 for 237). Honorable mentions: 1B Justin Bour, 2B Starlin Castro, RP Kyle Barraclough.
15. OF Christian Yelich – Milwaukee Brewers
Miami’s loss is Milwaukee’s gain. The surprising Brewers, who led the NL Central by four games as of May 28, dealt a package for the Marlins’ fleet outfielder and he has lived up to all expectations so far. In 42 games, the sixth-year veteran was hitting .305, with eight doubles, two triples, five home runs, four stolen bases and 23 RBI. At one time a pop-gun hitter who hit for good average, Yelich started banging more extra base hits the last two seasons in Miami. In fact, he hit more homers in 155 games in 2016 (21) than he did in the 332 contests before that (20). He also drove in as many runs in 2016 (98) as he had in the two seasons previous. On the defensive side, Yelich owns a career .991 fielding percentage, won a Gold Glove in 2014 and has played all three positions for the Brewers this year, the first time ever. Honorable mentions: 3B Travis Shaw, OF Lorenzo Cain, RP Josh Hader.
14. 1B Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins
Until someone younger on the Twins steps up, 35-year-old veteran and 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer is still “the man” in the Twin Cities. The three-time batting champ and six-time All-Star has played each and every one of his 1,769 career games in a Twins uniform and owns a .308 lifetime average, along with 138 homers and 886 RBI. He is on the shelf right now with a cervical strain and concussion-like symptoms, but in 38 games for the third place Twins, he was second in batting with a .283 average, to go with seven doubles, a homer and 11 RBI. Not eye-popping numbers, however, no one on the Twins roster is enjoying a break out year. Mauer, who won three Gold Gloves as a catcher, has transitioned well to first base and lifetime is a .997 fielder there. Honorable mentions: OF Eddie Rosario, 2B Brian Dozier, SP Jose Berrios.
13. SP Jacob deGrom – New York Mets
Jacob deGrom will be a Cy Young winner, sooner than later. There, we said it. And judging by his progression in five seasons, it wasn’t a difficult prognostication. One half a hirsute starting pitching monster with nearly equally worth Noah Syndergaard, deGrom figures to be an anchor in the Mets rotation for years to come. The early returns on his 2018 season see a guy on pace to eclipse some modest previous highs. He is 4-0 in 10 starts, with a NL best 1.54 ERA, a year after having his winningest season at 15-10, with a 3.53 ERA. His blazing fastball has been the catalyst for 77 strikeouts in 58.1 innings and his WHIP was under 1.000 for the first time since 2015 at 0.994. He had an average start to the year, but in his last five starts, he has been outstanding, despite the fact the Mets lost three of them. In 32.1 innings he has surrendered just 21 hitsand one earned run, while walking 10 and striking out 45. Honorable mentions: SP Noah Syndergaard, RP Jeurys Familia, OF Yoenis Cespedes, SS Asdrubal Cabrera.
12. OF Aaron Judge – New York Yankees
Just like the Houston Astros, the Yanks have a roster full of influential players. For our money, 2017 AL Rookie of the Year and power masher Aaron Judge stands head and shoulders above them all, literally and figuratively. He may not likely top the league leading homers he hit last season (52), nor the runs (128) and walks (127), but the 6’7″ right fielder will have another All-Star and MVP worthy season. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton is in town, but his numbers through May 28 paled in comparison to Judge’s. The big Californian was hitting .290 through 50 games, with 11 doubles, 14 homers and 39 RBI. More importantly, the AL strikeout king will likely shave his unmanageable 208 whiffs down from a year ago, as he had 66, with 42 walks. One place he would like to take his team to is the World Series. Judge, after hitting just 1-for-29 in the ALWC and ALDS last year, with 16 strikeouts, came up bigger against Houston in the ALCS, going 6-for-24 in seven games, with three home runs and seven RBI. Honorable mentions: RP Aroldis Chapman, SP Luis Severino, OF Giancarlo Stanton, SS Didi Gregorius.
11. OF Khris Davis – Oakland Athletics
No one hitter in the A’s line-up strikes more fear in opposition pitchers than Khris Davis. For three seasons in Milwaukee he was a decent, if unpolished hitter and the Brewers found him expendable in early 2016, trading him for a couple of minor leaguers who have yet to pan out. We think the Brew Crew may want a do-over on that one. In the two seasons after the trade, Davis’ bat boomed, to the tune of 85 homers and 212 RBI in 2016 and 2017. Remarkable, in that in two and a half seasons with Milwaukee, Davis clanked out 60 homers and drove in 162 runs. The A’s, who are still in the thick of the wild card hunt, have been without his bat in the line-up since May 22, when he was put on the 10-day DL. Prior to that, Davis was hitting .235, with nine doubles, 13 homers and 38 RBI in 47 games. Honorable mentions: 2B Jed Lowrie, SP Sean Manaea, RP Blake Treinen.
10. SP Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies
Even with Jake Arrieta toeing the rubber in Philly, the designation of staff ace goes to young fireballer Aaron Nola. He had a breakthrough year in 2017 for a mediocre Phillies team, going 12-11 in 27 starts, with a 3.54 ERA, 1.210 WHIP and 184 strikeouts in 168 innings pitched. This season, he’s been even better through May 28. In his last start against Toronto on May 26, Nola carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, before surrendering one run on three walks and two hits, with 10 strikeouts in six and two thirds. His team won 2-1 later, meaning he didn’t even get a decision. However, he is 6-2 in 2018 in 11 starts, along with a 2.27 ERA, 0.980 WHIP and 67 Ks in 71.1 innings. Those are the kind of numbers that should get him an All-Star nomination and consideration — if he keeps it up — for Cy Young. Honorable mentions: OF Odubel Herrera, SP Jake Arrieta, 1B Carlos Santana.
9. INF Josh Harrison – Pittsburgh Pirates
Josh Harrison is back, and not a moment too soon. The Pirates, who owned a 28-24 record as of May 28 and sat five games behind NL Central leading Milwaukee, got their two-time All-Star infielder into the line-up after a 30-game absence on May 20. Now, the team has gone 2-5 since then, but Harrison was 10-for-28 (.367) in six of those contests (he didn’t play May 27), with two doubles, a triple and four RBI. It would seem then, that the 2017 All-Star hasn’t missed a beat and should he stay off the DL, will play a large part in Pittsburgh’s fortunes. Harrison was an all around threat in 2017, hitting .272, with 26 doubles, two triples, 16 home runs, 12 stolen bases and 47 RBI batting mostly lead-off. He is very versatile as a defender, having played second, third, shortstop, right and left field and even pitching a third of an inning in relief in 2013. Honorable mentions: OF Starling Marte, 1B Josh Bell, RP Felipe Vazquez.
8. RP Brad Hand – San Diego Padres
For a guy on a team with just 22 wins, Brad Hand’s 16 saves are truly eye-opening. Converted to closer midway through the 2017 season, the Minneapolis native has become one of the better ones in the National League in 2018. The Padres workhorse made 24 appearances through 24 games converting on 16 of 18 save opportunities, including the last 10 in a row. Hand has also recorded 40 strikeouts in just 27 innings, along with a 2.00 ERA and 1.110 WHIP. After coming over from Miami in 2016, Hand worked in 154 games between 2016 and 2017. Last year, in 72 contests, the southpaw was 3-4 and registered 21 saves (26 opportunities), 16 holds, a 0.930 WHIP, 2.16 ERA and 104 Ks in 79.1 innings. That was his first All-Star campaign since debuting in 2011 and it won’t likely be his last. Honorable mentions: 3B Christian Villanueva, 1B Eric Hosmer.
7. C Buster Posey – San Francisco Giants
The Gigantes, after some much needed off-season re-tooling, are better off than they were in 2017 — but not that much. One constant, as usual, has been the play of 2012 MVP and five-time All-Star catcher Buster Posey. In good times (three championships) and bad (last year’s last place finish), Posey has always put up good to great numbers. For instance, in 2012, when the Giants were champs, Posey was named MVP after a massive campaign that saw him lead the league in average of .336. More impressive, he was the first catcher to lead the senior circuit in batting since Ernie Lombardi of the Boston Braves did it in 1942. Even as his team pretty much imploded around him in 2017, Posey still managed to hit .320 in 140 games, with 46 extra base hits and 67 RBI. The Georgia native is also an outstanding defensive catcher, throwing out 33 percent of would-be base stealers, lifetime (209 of 626). Honorable mentions: 1B Brandon Belt, SS Brandon Crawford, SP Madison Bumgarner.
6. SS Jean Segura – Seattle Mariners
The M’s are riding a wave in 2018 and former All-Star shortstop Jean Segura is happily perched on top. He had an All-Star worthy campaign for Arizona in 2016, hitting .319 (NL high 203 hits) with 68 extra base hits, 64 RBI and 33 steals. But, the D-Backs wanted pitching and sent him in a multi-player deal to Seattle for a package that included Taijuan Walker. Segura has continued to be a formidable presence at short in the northwest and in 2018 he owns a .324 average, with 20 extra base thits, 34 RBI (on pace for a personal record) and 12 thefts in 50 games. Segura, along with usual 2B Robinson Cano form a very good middle infield for Seattle, but, Cano has been suspended for violating the MBL drug policy and Segura missed a game Sunday with an undisclosed day-to-day injury. Honorable mentions: 2B Robinson Cano, OF Dee Gordon, OF Mitch Haniger, RP Edwin Diaz, RP Alex Colome.
5. C Yadier Molina – St. Louis Cardinals
There aren’t many more players more valuable to their team than future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina in St. Louis. For the last 10 seasons, he’s been the best catcher in baseball, copping eight All-Star nominations, eight Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. He’s won two World Series with the Cards and four times has led the senior circuit in base stealer throwouts. The Cardinals, though, will be without him for some time, as he underwent surgery on his pelvis, in early May after playing 30 games. What makes his consistent production and defence so noteworthy is the fact that he established career highs in homers (18) and RBI (82) in 2017, at an age, 34, when most catchers are experiencing deep decline. In addition to the hitting exploits (he has an admirable .284 lifetime average), Molina also threw out 24 of 67 potential base stealers last year. He will be missed, however long he is out. Honorable mentions: SP Michael Wacha, SP Adam Wainwright, OF Marcell Ozuna, 1B Matt Carpenter.
4. SP Chris Archer – Tampa Bay Rays
The only knock we can put on Rays staff ace Chris Archer is that his ERA has ballooned nearly a full point in the last three seasons, compared to his first full three campaigns. Even still, Archer was an All-Star for Tampa in 2017, sporting a third straight losing record of 10-12 in 34 starters, but also striking out 249 batters in 201 innings. That was the third straight year he’d thrown over 200 innings. If anything, Archer has been the victim of bad luck and lack of run support, especially in 2016 when he was 9-19 in 33 starts. He started out slowly this season, giving up four or more earned runs in four of six starts in April, but still coming out with a 2-1 mark. In May, Archer allowed only four or more once — six earned earned runs in a loss to Baltimore on May 12. Otherwise, he had surrendered just four earned runs in 25.2 innings over four other starts, however, his record for the month is 1-2. Honorable mentions: SP Blake Snell, C Wilson Ramos, OF Kevin Kiermaier.
3. OF Nomar Mazara – Texas Rangers
You know a team is in trouble when 45-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon is one of the top hurlers on your team. No knock against the portly Colon, but the Rangers are due a house-cleaning after being a top team in the AL for a couple of seasons prior to 2017. Thus, we think there will be an exodus of older high priced talent for the last place Rangers on or before the deadline. One player who likely won’t be dealt is 23-year-old slugger Nomar Mazara. After finishing top-5 in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2016, Mazara came out booming in 2017, hitting .253, with 30 doubles, two triples, 20 homers for the second straight year and 101 RBI. He’s off to an All-Star worthy start this year, too, hitting .270 through 54 games with nine doubles, a triple, 12 homers and 34 RBI. He is a better than average corner infielder too, logging a career .986 fielding percentage and 18 assists in 319 games. Honorable mentions: SP Cole Hamels, 3B Adrian Beltre, SS Elvis Andrus, OF Shin-Soo Choo.
2. 3B Josh Donaldson – Toronto Blue Jays
At this point in a very disappointing Blue Jays season, the choice for most influential would be starter J.A. Happ, who has seven wins and is far and away the Jays top starter. But, that is an “impulse buy” pick and we decided to go with longer term influential player Donaldson, the 2015 MVP, who, while he isn’t having a good season at all, is still the team’s go-to guy. In the last three seasons, Donaldson was an All-Star twice, MVP and won two Silver Slugger awards, based on hitting 94 doubles, seven triples, 111 home runs and driving in 300 runs in 426 games. Through 35 games in 2018, the Bringer of Rain, who has been saddled by arm fatigue and various ailments the last two seasons, is hitting a paltry .228, with 11 doubles, five homers and 16 RBI. There is no denying, though, that when he is healthy, his bat is still very, very dangerous. Too bad, though, that he may likely be traded before the deadline. Honorable mentions: SP J.A. Happ, INF Yangervis Solarte, RP Roberto Osuna, SP Aaron Sanchez.
1. SP Max Scherzer – Washington Nationals
The most dominant pitcher in baseball — sorry Clayton Kershaw et al — is Max Scherzer. In the last five seasons, the hard-throwing Nats right hander has won three Cy Young awards, been an All-Star five times, led the AL in wins once the NL twice, had the most complete games twice and shutouts once, pitched over 200 innings in five straight seasons and led the senior circuit the last two years running in strikeouts. To watch Scherzer is to watch a strikeout machine that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He is tracking to his most dominant season yet in 2018, posting a 8-1 record in just 11 starts, with a complete game shutout and a NL leading 108 strikeouts in 71.2 innings. In addition to the lofty win and strikeout totals, Scherzer also sports a superb 2.13 ERA and 0.907 WHIP. At the very least, Scherzer will be an All-Star again and the front-runner for a third straight NL Cy Young. Honorable mentions: OF Bryce Harper, SS Trea Turner, SP Stephen Strasburg, SP Gio Gonzalez.