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May 21, 2009

Prospectus Today

AL All-Stars

by Joe Sheehan

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I filled out my All-Star ballot Sunday at Yankee Stadium. For those of you new to this space, allow me to explain. There are two reasons why this piece runs now, in May, rather than closer to the All-Star Game. The lesser reason is that I like to fill out the ballot at the ballpark, during a game, as tradition dictates. I used to fill out a bunch of ballots—all Yankees, favorite players, best players, etc.—and while I no longer do so (I figured out at one point that the votes often canceled each other out), I still prefer to punch the chads at the game, without a laptop or stat sheet in front of me, and if it entails arguing about the picks with a friend the next seat over, all the better.

The second reason stems from that last part. To me, the All-Star Game is for the very best players in baseball, and generally speaking, I don't need elaborate reams of information to make those choices. This specifically means that the current season's performance matters less to me than the body of work, and it means less to me than it does to most other people. If you weren't an All-Star candidate in March, you're probably not one in May. The six-week hot-streak All-Stars, the Aaron Hills and Russ Branyans and Jason Bartletts... I don't vote for them.

The primary weakness in this approach is that you can be a year too late on a transition, when young player A has passed veteran B, but it's not completely clear at the time of the vote. However, that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make when it means that my ballot consists of the best players in baseball, and not just the best players over the first couple months of any given season. I find that approach to be completely indefensible, and the trend towards it is one of the things that has chipped away at the prestige of the game.

So this is how I filled out my AL ballot:

First Base: Mark Teixeira, Yankees. By splitting his last two seasons between the AL and NL due to deadline trades, Teixeira has given up some perceived ground. In a deep field—Carlos Pena, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau—he has an edge on most due to one of defense, longevity, or OBP. The tough call is with Kevin Youkilis, who was comparable to Teixeira last year and started out this year outplaying him. My sense is that Teixeira is in the midst of a Hall of Very Good peak, whereas Youkilis is having the best seasons in a lesser career, and despite the gap in their value so far, Teixeira remains the superior player.

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox. This seems like it would be easier—Pedroia has been nothing but good in his career and was the AL MVP a year ago. Brian Roberts is a very good player, though, and Ian Kinsler has done nothing but hit during his time in the league, and were it not for an injury, would have been more valuable than Pedroia last season, even with Kinsler's issues defensively. It wasn't that long ago that this spot was a wasteland; now it's deep.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter, Yankees. Something of a compromise pick, and if you want to make an argument for someone else, I'll listen, as long as "someone else" isn't Marco Scutaro. Orlando Cabrera is the next guy on the list, and I guess there's an argument for Jason Bartlett that's half defensive value and half great 2009 stats. When in doubt, I'll vote for the guy who might end up as the first unanimous Hall of Fame selection. In contrast to the field at second base, this isn't a strong group to pick from.

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees. The missed month doesn't mean much in the context of his body of work, and it's silly to not vote for the second- or third-best player in baseball, depending on how you rate Johan Santana, as an All-Star. Evan Longoria is the heir apparent to this slot, and it could be a while before he starts an All-Star Game. Just the difference in home attendance alone is going to be tough for him to overcome.

Catcher: This is an easy one, as Joe Mauer is head and shoulders above the pack, even with a nod to a healthy Victor Martinez.

Outfield: Nick Markakis, Orioles; Grady Sizemore, Indians; Torii Hunter, Angels. One of these things is not like the others... one of these things just doesn't belong. Markakis and Sizemore were easy calls, the two best outfielders in the league even if Sizemore is off to a subpar start. Markakis doesn't get nearly enough press, reminiscent of Carlos Beltran when Beltran was starting his career in Kansas City, except that Markakis hasn't had the performance valences Beltran experienced—it's just all good stuff.

The third spot... look, I went over this and over this and over this, and what I came to is that the gap between the third- and 11th-best outfielder in the AL is tiny. I almost voted for Adam Jones, who I like in a creepy kind of way. I looked at Jason Bay, Ichiro Suzuki, J.D. Drew, Curtis Granderson, Matt Holliday, Josh Hamilton, and B.J. Upton; all had some kind of problem with their candidacy. In the end, I went with Hunter because he had the fewest black marks. I hated the contract the Angels signed him to, but he's played well under it. Honestly, if you picked Drew, Bay, Granderson, or Hamilton, I'd have no objection.

I blame B.J. Upton for this problem. If he'd played to expectations, none of this would have been necessary.

On Friday, I'll turn to the National League.

--

As I write this, we're still waiting to hear whether or not Jake Peavy will waive his no-trade clause and join the Chicago White Sox. Frankly, I don't know what to make of this; my initial reactions were that adding a starting pitcher to the White Sox doesn't really address their offensive problems, and that I didn't think the Sox had the prospects to bring in a Peavy. It's entirely possible that I'm underrating Aaron Poreda—who I do like—but a deal centered on Poreda and Sox prospects who aren't Gordon Beckham doesn't seem like enough. I guess if Tyler Flowers is in the deal, I'd like it; if it's Poreda and Clayton Richard and two other guys... it doesn't make sense for a Padres organization that desperately needs position players.

We'll have more on this on BaseballProspectus.com as it develops, and I'll take questions in my chat session this afternoon as well.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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