June 5, 2008
Last week I went to the Memorial Day Marlins/Mets game, during which I undertook one of my favorite tasks: filling out an All-Star ballot during the game. As I've written in this space many times, I think the All-Star Game is for the very best players in the league, and I think the way to vote for the All-Stars isn't by perusing the EqA lists from the comfort of your couch, but between innings while kibitzing with your friends, hot-dog breath filling the air. (This may come as a surprise to some, but I do not have a laptop open when watching a game from the stands.)
There are other ways to fill out an All-Star ballot, of course. You want to fill out a homer ballot? Go for it. Vote for your personal favorite players? Hey, more power to you. Reasonable minds can disagree about who the best players are at some, even many positions, which is where the best arguments come into play. My only objection is to the common standard of "guys with the best stats when I vote." There's simply not enough information to be gleaned from six, eight, 10 weeks of baseball to have that be the sole qualification for All-Star status. Current performance can come into play to separate comparable candidates, but if considering a player an All-Star would have been ridiculous in March, it's still ridiculous in June, no matter how high their VORP is.
With that framework in mind, here's my American League All-Star ballot, with rationales. It's earlier than most All-Star columns, but again, because I don't weight the current season's performance very highly, my All-Stars don't change from month to month.
First Base: Justin Morneau, Twins. It was a tough call here between Morneau and Kevin Youkilis. Remember when the AL had six or seven All-Star-caliber first basemen? Morneau has the slightly longer track record, which is basically the difference between the two. I also think that, gun at my head, I'd take Morneau to be the better player going forward, as his power is the best tool between the two players. Casey Kotchman picked up brief consideration, but will be a stronger candidate in 2009. I wouldn't argue too strenuously against him this year, I guess.
Second Base: Placido Polanco, Tigers. Polanco has quietly become one heck of a player in the American League, although his 2008 performance has been lacking. Ian Kinsler has outplayed him this year and was only about 10 runs behind him last year, so you could argue strongly for the younger player. Brian Roberts also deserves mention. Like first base, it's a relatively deep top level, just one that lacks a top-tier star, and which leaves any number of guys as viable candidates. I just don't know how this isn't Howie Kendrick yet. Oh, wait, I do: Howie Kendrick is made of balsa wood.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, Yankees. Yes, his defense is overrated, and he's having a poor year by his standards. Jeter has still outplayed Michael Young in every year of their respective careers, so there's no case for Young based on two months in 2008. No one else is close.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees. Finally, an easy pick. The best player in baseball gets my vote even if he misses some time to the DL. If he'd missed more time, or if he was "just" an All-Star and not Alex Rodriguez, perhaps Mike Lowell would have had a better shot.
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins. Jorge Posada's absence from the 2008 season made this easier than it might have been had Posada been healthy and active. Posada was one of the five best players in the AL last year, and while Mauer outplayed Posada in 2005 and 2006, Posada was better in 2007, and with Mauer's power regressing-he's lost 60 points of ISO in two years-there might have been a case for Posada had he played well this year. No, I didn't consider Dioner Navarro. Much, anyway. (Bandwagon!)
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox. Yeah, I know, he's having a lousy year, and now he's on the DL. (He wasn't when I voted.) At that, he's been one of the best hitters in the league for five years, and it's not like this is a slot where young talent makes a big run at the incumbent. It would be delicious if Frank Thomas found his way onto the team as a replacement for Ortiz. Thomas is hitting .319/.417/.516 as an Athletic.
Outfield: Manny Ramirez, Red Sox; Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners; Grady Sizemore, Indians. This isn't easy at the park, where you have to sift through a list of 42 names, many of whom have made no impact whatsoever on the 2008 baseball season. Ramirez and Suzuki are evergreens, safe bets even on the back ends of their careers. The third slot…I went over and over the list, and all of the candidates were marginal in one way or another. Josh Hamilton just hasn't played enough; Bobby Abreu and J.D. Drew have slipped below this level; Curtis Granderson has one year at an All-Star level. In the end, it came down to two young stars, and I went with the center fielder in Sizemore over the right fielder in Markakis.
As I look over the ballot, I'm stunned by how unimpressive it seems. Where have all the superstars gone? The National League, perhaps? We'll look at that list tomorrow.