Let’s play “Find The All-Star,” the game in which there can be only one winner, whether he’s qualified or not!
Actually, the rule requiring every team to have a representative on the All-Star team is a harmless one-it’s certainly better than the ridiculous “12 pitchers” rule, and less of a complicating factor than mandating that the players’ second choice makes the team if they and the fans agree on the #1 pick. In every season, though, identifying a deserving All-Star from a handful of rosters is a challenge, whether you look for a true All-Star or, more likely, one of the three-month-hot-streak variety. This year, it’s a real problem in the AL:
Baltimore Orioles: In fairness, while the Orioles usually represent an annual challenge, this year they do not. George Sherrill is second in the AL in saves, and may make the team for that reason; both Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis would be deserving as well. I suspect Roberts will go as a players’ choice, Sherrill as a manager’s pick, and Markakis will be left off.
Detroit Tigers: Icky. Placido Polanco got my vote for the team, one I’ll stand by, but I don’t think the fans or players will vote him on, and his case for being a manager’s pick isn’t great. Magglio Ordonez has been the Tigers’ best player, and is coming off of a near-MVP season; he’ll probably land a players’ spot. Todd Jones doesn’t have enough of anything to warrant a fallback “saves on a bad team” type of selection.
Kansas City Royals: Thanks to Joakim Soria, this should be easier than it might have been otherwise. Neither David DeJesus nor Zack Greinke is playing at a real All-Star level, but Soria is fantastic, and is arguably already up there with the best closers in baseball.
Oakland Athletics: Maybe the first really interesting spot, as it’s hard to see any of the A’s players getting picked by the fans or players, and there’s no one having a year like Soria’s for the A’s to make Terry Francona‘s job of picking a player himself simple. Mark Ellis is having a good season and provides excellent defensive value, but adding a third second baseman to the roster, one without numbers that demand election, could be awkward. The A’s best hitter is Jack Cust, who has a .252 BA, 33 RBI and negative defensive value. Their best pitcher is Justin Duchscherer, who has made just 11 starts, although his numbers are very good. Huston Street has also pitched well, but with just 13 saves and a 3.16 ERA, he isn’t a great fit. Assuming Duchscherer doesn’t blow up in the next week, he’s probably going to be the pick, the classic “good three months” All-Star.
Tampa Bay Vestigial Descriptive Noun Rays: This isn’t as easy as you’d think, given how well the Rays are playing. So much of their success is tied to their defense that finding obvious All-Stars is a bit difficult. I don’t see the fans or players picking any Rays to make the team, which will leave Francona choosing from among Dioner Navarro (third catcher), B.J. Upton (good year, lacks big numbers), Scott Kazmir (pitching great in nine starts) and Troy Percival (pitching well, 17 saves). The Rays should actually get more than one All-Star, so I think Francona will find a way to put both Upton and at least one of the pitchers on there.
I think one way or another, the AL is going to have some unimpressive position players, most likely through the “players’ second choice” path and perhaps a weak but necessary manager’s pick.
The National League isn’t in bad shape this season, as the lesser teams in the league are all getting solid performances from a number of players. Think Tim Lincecum with the Giants, Edison Volquez with the Reds, Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy with the Padres, and any number of Pirates. With that said…
St. Louis Cardinals: Neither Albert Pujols nor Adam Wainwright will be available for the All-Star Game. That leaves Ryan Ludwick, who is having a monster season out of nowhere, as the best Cardinals candidate. No one else has a .370 OBP or .470 SLG, and while I like Yadier Molina‘s defense a ton, he’s at best the third-best catcher in the league behind Brian McCann and Russell Martin (or vice versa). Ludwick is overly qualified by “current season” standards, but I can’t help but think his getting selected will look weird three months from now.
Washington Nationals: If Nick Johnson were healthy…well, lots of things would be different. The Nationals’ best position player is probably Jesus Flores, who has no chance of being selected. After that, you have Cristian Guzman, who isn’t in the top half of NL shortstops, and Jon Rauch, who fits the “saves on a bad team” meme. Rauch actually has just 15 saves, but he will be the Nats’ All-Star even if he has a Brian Fuentes-level collapse heading into the end of June.