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June 5, 2007

Prospectus Today

AL All-Stars

by Joe Sheehan

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My American League All-Star ballot always feels more difficult, with more close calls and at least one position where I find myself trying to vote for a retired player.

First Base: Justin Morneau, Twins. Although the MVP award was simply a mistake by the BBWAA, Morneau is still a terrific player. There's a pretty good case to be made for Mark Teixeira here, although the gap between him and Morneau last year was wide enough that I'm comfortable with this vote.

Two related points: one, I won't validate the practice of listing DHs at first base by voting for David Ortiz or Travis Hafner. Why not just list them at second base for all the legitimacy this has? Interleague play is the only reason either ever dons a glove. Two, the DH rule should be in effect for every All-Star Game. It's an exhibition, and having pitchers hit-or more accurately, be listed ninth in the starting lineup-does nothing but screw up scorecards.

Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Rangers. This is just a nightmare. The current crop of AL second baseman combines for maybe seven All-Star caliber seasons. I skipped this position and came back to it, punched a name, and for the first time in memory, changed my mind after punching a chad. I initially chose Robinson Cano, figuring I'd just take last year's best guy. But then I thought about how poorly Cano has played and switched to Kinsler, who was good last year and, a month ago, playing well.

A reader wrote in yesterday to suggest I should have voted for B.J. Upton, which is not going to to happen given my criteria. I considered about 10 of the players listed, and in retrospect, I should have gone with Brian Roberts, who's been the best second baseman in the league over a period of years. His decline last season stuck in my head more than his overall track record. I'm not that upset-there's a tallest-midget flavor to this discussion-but I did vote for the wrong guy.

Shortstop: Miguel Tejada, Orioles. This is one of the positions for which doing it at the ballpark is a burden. The differences among Tejada, Derek Jeter, and Carlos Guillen are very small, and I'm no longer convinced that the Oriole has an edge on the other two. It's a defensible pick, because Tejada is a star in the middle of his career and was the top shortstop in the AL for a number of years, but both Jeter and Guillen have outplayed him since the start of 2006.

My NL pick of Rafael Furcal over Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez generated a lot of e-mail, as expected. As I look at the pick I made at AL shortstop, I wonder if the issue is the presence of two hard-to-separate options, which makes it easier to choose the incumbent. Comparing two players head-to-head is relatively simple, even without immediate access to data. When a third, or more, joins the party, it becomes harder. Would I have taken Reyes over Furcal had Ramirez not clouded the matter, or Guillen over Tejada without Jeter's resurgence? I don't know, but it's an interesting question to me.

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees. Thank heavens for an easy one.

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins. Mauer was playing at the time, and coming off of his near-MVP campaign, so he had an edge over Victor Martinez. Now, it's much more difficult to say. Mauer doesn't have a long track record of greatness, making 2007 a more important part of the discussion. Martinez is hitting well, and one of the AL's incumbents, Jorge Posada, is having a great year. The Mauer vote, and the Kinsler one for that matter, points up one of the problems with weighting the current season too heavily: things can change very quickly within a month.

Outfield: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels, Manny Ramirez, Red Sox, and Grady Sizemore, Indians. I'm happy with these. There will be some eyebrows raised by the pick of Ramirez instead of Magglio Ordonez, I'd imagine, but that's your classic difference between choosing All-Stars based on two months' work and not doing so. There are usually more of those in any given season, but the choice Ordonez and Ramirez is the only one that jumped out at me this time around.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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