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Major League Baseball's regular season is drawing ever closer, meaning that it's time to ready oneself for the year to come. For some, that means fine-tuning mechanics or expanding workloads; for others, like us here at CBS Sports, it entails identifying the key storylines and pivotal players for each team. To wit, we've used the space below to preview the season by highlighting who we believe to be each team's most crucial player for the awaiting year.

What, precisely, does "most crucial" mean? Think of it as our way of saying "this player's arc will tell the story of the team." In other words, it's a vague designation that can mean whatever the author wants or needs it to -- the best player, the player most difficult to replace, and so on. Maybe that seems cheap or flimsy to you, but let's face it: variety is the spice of ensemble pieces.

With that out of the way, let's get on to the reason you're here.

Most crucial players, 2023

C Gabriel Moreno: There's always risk in trading established big-league talent for prospects. That's why it was notable to see the Diamondbacks add to their budding core over the winter by obtaining Moreno, one of the game's most promising young backstops, in the deal that shipped Daulton Varsho to Toronto. Varsho, for his part, had just posted five wins in his age-25 season. What made the Diamondbacks value Moreno more? Presumably the combination of his lofty ceiling (a product of his good feel for hitting and his improved defense) and their organizational depth in the outfield. Fair enough, but we're naming Moreno as the Diamondbacks' most critical player because him proving to be a quick study at the big-league level, both at and behind the plate, would go a long way toward validating Arizona's side of the trade. 

OF Ronald Acuña Jr.: They're not going to get more straightforward in this column than this one. Acuña had a relatively down season last year in what served as his first action since tearing his ACL, posting a 114 OPS+ that doubled as a career-worst mark. Acuña returning to his pre-injury form, when he produced like a Most Valuable Player Award candidate, would help the Braves' chances of remaining the team to beat in the National League East. 

SS Gunnar Henderson: Henderson, the top prospect in baseball, will also count as the biggest addition to the Orioles lineup following a quiet winter. He should provide Baltimore with plenty of left-handed thump, as well as some defensive versatility thanks to his ability to play any of the infield positions. Henderson hit the ground running in his big-league cameo last year, and he'll need to maintain a healthy output in 2023 if the Orioles are to crack the playoff field.

OF Masataka Yoshida: The Red Sox were criticized throughout the offseason, but especially after 1) allowing Xander Bogaerts to depart for San Diego and 2) handing Yoshida a five-year pact worth $90 million. Evaluators who spoke to CBS Sports think Yoshida will be a solid player, one who excels in making contact and drawing walks. The questions around his game are about his secondary value (he's not a great defender or speedy baserunner) and power, with scouts expressing doubt about him slugging 20-plus homers annually. If Yoshida overperforms in that respect, he'll make Boston look pretty smart.

OF Cody Bellinger: Bellinger is only three winters removed from winning the Most Valuable Player Award, yet it feels like it's been much longer than that. He's coming off consecutive disastrous seasons, and now it's up to the Cubs to help him turn back the clock ahead of his age-27 campaign. A full return to form seems improbable -- if the Dodgers couldn't get him right, what chance does anyone else stand? -- but, as with buying a lottery ticket, the ultimate upside is so alluring that it's easy to overlook the unlikelihood of it. 

3B Yoán Moncada: Moncada feels much older than he is at the ripe old age of 27. Part of that is because he debuted young (at 21), and part of that is because he's had a frustrating career that has seen him alternate between good and less-good efforts. Consider that these are his OPS+ over the last four seasons, from least to most recent season: 140, 94, 116, 76. The White Sox could use another good showing from him this season if they're to fancy another October run.

RHP Hunter Greene: The Reds had a pair of former first-round arms break into the majors last season, in Greene and Nick Lodolo. Greene happens to have the higher upside, and he ended his rookie year on a high note. In his final five outings, he notched 45 strikeouts (versus seven walks) and allowed three runs in 29 innings. Now comes the hard part: maintaining a high production level over the course of 30-plus starts. Even if Greene doesn't emerge as a true ace this season, he could make the rebuilding Reds worth viewing every fifth day.

3B José Ramírez: There's an argument to be made for Steven Kwan, Andrés Giménez, or Oscar Gonzalez on the grounds that they need to prove last season was legitimate. For our money, sometimes it's as simple as nodding toward the best player on a playoff hopeful's roster. Ramírez fits the bill, and while the Guardians have an impressive amount of infield depth, we don't think there's any replacing a player of this caliber in a satisfying way. 

OF Kris Bryant: The Rockies don't have playoff aspirations, but we think it's fair to write that they'd like to see more from Bryant this year. We mean that literally. He played in just 42 games last season, in what was the first campaign of his seven-year pact with Colorado. Bryant performed well when he was available, hitting for a 127 OPS+ that would've been his highest mark of the Pandemic Era. He simply needs to stay healthier in year two.

1B Spencer Torkelson: Torkelson was the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft on the basis of his polished offensive game and middle-of-the-order upside. Unfortunately, he had a miserable introduction to the majors last season, hitting for a 77 OPS+ in 110 games. He even found himself back on the farm for a stretch, where he also failed to produce inspiring results. Torkelson's profile doesn't grant him a wide berth; if he doesn't hit, he's not going to remain playable because of his defense or speed. As such, this is a critical year for him and for his place in Detroit's long-term plans. 

1B José Abreu: The reigning World Series champions made more changes to their front office this winter than they did their roster. In fact, the only external addition projected to make their Opening Day club is Abreu, who surprisingly received a three-year deal despite being a mid-30s first baseman. Abreu's bat still shows plenty of signs of life, and putting forth one of his typical seasons would quiet the skeptics and bolster Houston's chances of becoming the first repeat World Series champions in more than two decades.

RHP Brad Keller: The Royals have a new general manager and a new coaching staff. Now, they just need a developmental win to tout. Keller supposedly made gains over the winter, and it would reflect well on the new bosses if he were to solidify himself as a big-league starting pitcher after a couple rough seasons. There are even greater stakes at play than that, however, since this is his walk year. A strong first half could make him an attractive trade candidate, and a good year overall would make him a compelling free-agent target next winter.

LHP Tyler Anderson: The Angels have had their share of stinkers when it comes to veteran starter additions in recent years. Remember Matt Harvey? Trevor Cahill? José Quintana? Dylan Bundy, to an extent? You can understand why there's skepticism about Anderson's chances of porting over the success he had with the Dodgers. It's important to note that there's no rule that says every Angels addition has to fail, even if history suggests otherwise. Besides, Anderson has a track record of being at least a league-average starter. Even so, until he proves that's the case, people are going to have reservations. 

2B Miguel Vargas: With Gavin Lux out for the season and Max Muncy coming off a down year, the Dodgers are staring down the possibility of having an underwhelming infield. Vargas might turn out to be the saving grace. He's a quality prospect, albeit one who is moving from his traditional third-base perch to the keystone. If he takes well to the positional change, all the while hitting like he's shown he's capable of in the past, then the Dodgers should be able to rest a little easier. Shy of that, they could be on the prowl for multiple infielders ahead of this summer's trade deadline.  

2B Luis Arraez: In an era where everyone wants to slug, the Marlins have instead veered hard the other direction, prioritizing contact and hitting for average. Arraez, who possesses elite bat-to-ball skills, is essentially their platonic ideal. The question to be answered this season is whether a lineup that trades this much power for that much contact can keep up in today's game. While it's not reasonable to pin the success (or failure) of Miami's offense on Arraez and him alone, it is fair to suggest he'll end up serving as the face of the strategy. Whether or not that ends up being a good thing is to be determined.

OF Jesse Winker: The Brewers made two bets when they obtained Jesse Winker in a trade with the Mariners. One, that he would bounce back from the worst offensive showing of his career; and two, that he would do so in a way that would atone for Milwaukee's decision to trade away Hunter Renfroe following the best offensive showing of his career. Obviously there's more nuance to the whole thing than "they swapped Renfroe for Winker," but some regression both ways could make it look more reasonable than it may appear at present.

CF Byron Buxton: There are two eternal truths about Buxton. The first is that he always seems to have trouble staying healthy for a full season -- to wit, he hasn't appeared in more than 100 games since 2017 (though he did appear in 39 of Minnesota's 60 games in 2020). The second is that he plays like an MVP candidate when he is able to suit up, having amassed nearly 11 Wins Above Replacement in 192 games during the Pandemic Era. The Twins may have landed a decent insurance policy when they traded for Michael A. Taylor, but there's no question that they're at their best when Buxton is in the lineup. As he goes, they'll go.

RHP Justin Verlander: Verlander has the unenviable tasks of following up on last season's brilliance and replacing Jacob deGrom. Given his career thus far, we think he'll find a way to manage. His success -- and, perhaps more notably, his health -- will go a long way toward dictating whether the Mets are able to secure their first National League East title since the 2015 season.

SS Oswald Peraza: Perhaps this is putting too much on Peraza, but he feels like the fulcrum of the Yankees' infield. If he can hold his own at shortstop -- and his glove, at least, should be up for the task -- then the Yankees can take their time with top prospect Anthony Volpe, inserting him at second base whenever the need arises. (In this scenario Gleyber Torres could, conceivably, shift to third base if Josh Donaldson flounders.) If Peraza isn't up to par, then all those best-laid plans are dashed, and the Yankees may have to resort to Volpe (or, gasp, Isiah Kiner-Falefa), thereby limiting their options elsewhere. 

CF Esteury Ruiz: The Athletics caught flack over the winter when they traded Sean Murphy for a package led by Ruiz. As such, there's a lot riding on him playing as well as the A's front office seems to think he can -- lest they have received a suboptimal return on a top-notch backstop. Ruiz is a speedy center fielder who posted a .935 OPS in Triple-A last season. That number is less impressive with two pivotal pieces of context: 1) his team as a whole hit for an .850 OPS; and 2) his exit-velocity numbers were not particularly good. Ruiz's secondary skills will give him a wider berth at the plate than if he were a plodding first baseman or corner outfielder, but as his predecessor Cristian Pache proved last year, he'll still need to hit some to remain playable. 

SS Trea Turner: No need to make this selection complicated. The Phillies responded to losing the World Series by adding one of the best free agents the winter had to offer in Turner, a speedy veteran shortstop who has regularly turned in four-plus wins per season. Provided he plays like he has, Philadelphia could again be making a deep run into October.

SS Oneil Cruz: Let the record show that we almost put Dylan Crews here as a nod toward how little the Pirates are concerned with wins and losses in the conventional sense. Instead we opted for Cruz. This year will be critical for his development as a shortstop. If all goes well, he'll solidify himself as one of the most dynamic, captivating players in the league. That's no small thing, even if Pirates fans would prefer their seasons once again have playoff implications. 

OF Fernando Tatis Jr.: Another straightforward call, in our opinion. Tatis didn't play last season because of injury and suspension. He'll return in late April to a Padres lineup that looks a lot different than the one he last appeared in. (His most recent regular season appearance saw him take the field with Jake Marisnick, Adam Frazier, and Webster Rivas, among others.) How Tatis performs -- and remember, he was well on his way to being known as one of the best players in the league -- could help dictate if the Padres have what it takes to win their first National League West crown since the 2006 season.

LHP Sean Manaea: You could go any number of ways here. We went with Manaea because he's a heck of a test for a Giants organization that has excelled at getting the most from reclamation pitching projects. Manaea looked bad last year through most any lens, so getting average or better production from him in 2023 would be a feather in San Francisco's cap.

OF Jarred Kelenic: Kelenic isn't far removed from being regarded as one of the best prospects in the league. He's had a disastrous run in the majors since, hitting for a 66 OPS+ in his first 147 games that ranks him 291st out of the 300 hitters with at least 500 plate appearances during that time. It feels silly to completely write off someone nearing their 24th birthday; nevertheless, this is probably his final chance to make good on his promise with the Mariners. 

RHP Jack Flaherty: One thing this Cardinals roster appears to lack is a frontline starter -- or, the kind of pitcher Flaherty was earlier in his career. He's now entering his walk season, and a return to his old form, before injuries laid waste to most of his 2021-22 efforts, would aid him in pursuit of two goals: 1) helping the Cardinals repeat as National League Central champions; and 2) ensuring that he lands a lucrative, multi-year free-agent contact this winter.

SS Wander Franco: Coming into the offseason, the Rays front office stated their desire to upgrade the offense. They then subsequently failed to add a single position player from outside the organization. Said improvements will have to come from within -- like, say, in the form of a full season from Franco. He's been really good when he's been available, posting a 122 OPS+ and 6.1 Wins Above Replacement in his first 153 games. The one problem with Franco is that he's been prone to injuries, requiring three trips to the IL over the last two years. If he can avoid the shelf this year, he could be in for a big season.

RHP Jacob deGrom: The Rangers made several bets on free-agent starting pitchers staying healthy and productive. None was bigger than the $185 million they handed to deGrom, who was limited to 26 starts over the past two seasons. Should the Rangers win their gamble, a healthy deGrom (among others) could help guide them to their first playoff appearance since 2016. And if they don't? Well, they'll have to hope some of their young arms are ready to step in and step up if they want to keep the same destination in mind.

RHP José Berríos: The Blue Jays made a sizable financial commitment to Berríos after acquiring him at the 2021 trade deadline, keeping him in town with a seven-year pact worth $131 million. It's fair to write that they expected better from him than what they received last season, when he nearly set new single-season career worsts in ERA+ and strikeout rate, and he finished in the 13th percentile in average exit velocity against. The Blue Jays have the making of a good, well-rounded roster, one that should again compete for a postseason berth. Getting Berríos back on track would help in that pursuit. 

SS CJ Abrams: The rebuild will continue in D.C. for the foreseeable future, but the early returns would look more promising if a few of the Nationals' young big-league players take steps forward. Hence selecting Abrams, now 22 years old, as their most critical player. He missed out on valuable reps in the minors in recent years because of injury and the pandemic, so maybe him looking overmatched in the majors last season (76 OPS+ in 302 plate appearances) should have been expected. Abrams certainly needs to work on his swing decisions if he's to become more than a bottom-of-the-lineup hitter: his 41 percent chase rate was 13 percentage points worse than the league-average mark. He'll also need to firm-up his internal clock: he made 11 errors in 43 games as the Nationals shortstop, with eight of those coming on poor throws -- some of those could be charitably described as being extremely poor throws.