The All-Star Game is still nine days away, but this year’s event is already on the verge of becoming the most-hyped Midsummer Classic ever. The game will be played at Yankee Stadium in the Yankees‘ last season in the venerable Bronx ballpark. Major League Baseball and the Yankees plan to boost the event’s memorability factor by bringing in more than three dozen Hall of Famers for a dizzying array of events and ceremonies.
There is also a palpable buzz among the players about this year’s game. Even those who might normally prefer to take a three-day break in the middle of the season admit that they want to be picked for this All-Star Game. “I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to play in this one,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “You’re playing in the last All-Star Game in the most famous ballpark ever. How could you not be excited about that? Every All-Star Game is special in its own way, but this one is really going to be memorable. I think the guys who get a chance to be a part of this one won’t ever forget it.”
The rosters will be announced this afternoon during the TBS pre-game show before the broadcast of the Cubs–Cardinals game. While we all wait to see who gets in and who gets snubbed, what follows is one baseball writer’s picks for the squads. Unlike my esteemed colleague and friend Joe Sheehan, who makes a good case for selecting players at least partially based on career achievement, I determine my picks solely on how the players are performing this season. It is the 2008 All-Star Game after all, which in my mind is all about what’s happening in the year 2008.
Considering that this is Baseball Prospectus, I also feel I should weigh my selections using the statistics found on this website, rather than on the more traditional numbers that fans and players everywhere generally use in making their picks. So, if you want to know why Brandon Webb isn’t on my NL team, check out his SNLVAR as opposed to the other pitchers in the league. In picking the 32-man rosters, I also follow MLB’s rules calling for a 12-man pitching staff, and for representation for every team by at least one player.
AL Starting Lineup
SP: Cliff Lee, Indians. An amazing turnaround for a guy who was banished to Triple-A Buffalo last season.
C: Joe Mauer, Twins. Has his sights set on breaking the catcher mold by winning another batting title.
1B: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox. The Greek God of Walks is also able to hit and field.
2B: Ian Kinsler, Rangers. Rather quietly having an outstanding year.
3B: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees. Will Madge-as the tabloids love to call Madonna-be sitting in the front row at Yankee Stadium? Will C-Rod and Lenny Kravitz be in the house?
SS: Michael Young, Rangers. As underrated as his double-play partner Kinsler is.
OF: J.D. Drew, Red Sox. Having that big year the world has long awaited.
OF: Josh Hamilton, Rangers. An amazing comeback story gets even better in its second year.
OF: Grady Sizemore, Indians. Has blossomed into a true superstar this season.
DH: Milton Bradley, Rangers. May have a hard time controlling his temper, but the man can hit.
SP John Danks, White Sox. Has put last year’s woes in the rearview mirror
SP: Justin Duchscherer, Athletics. He always insisted he could be a quality starter if given the chance, and he was right.
SP: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays. The last nine-inning pitcher in captivity.
SP: Rich Harden, Athletics; Healthy for a change, he has been nearly untouchable.
SP: Felix Hernandez, Mariners. Someone from Seattle has to make it, and King Felix has been a bright spot.
SP: John Lackey, Angels. Inappropriately named.
SP: Joe Saunders, Angels. The bubble may burst in the second half, but you can’t deny he’s had a great start.
RP: Joe Nathan, Twins. Quietly Mr. Consistent.
RP: Mariano Rivera, Yankees. It would only be fitting for him to be on the mound in the ninth inning of this game.
RP: Francisco Rodriguez, Angels. Look out Bobby Thigpen, here comes K-Rod.
RP: Joakim Soria, Royals. Emerging as the next superstar closer.
C: Dioner Navarro, Rays. Has blossomed into an above-average major leaguer this season.
C: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox. Everyone hates him, but the guy can play.
1B: Jason Giambi, Yankees. The moustache alone gets him an invitation to this party.
1B: Justin Morneau, Twins. One of the big reasons why Minnesota is hanging tough.
2B: Brian Roberts, Orioles. Baltimore must be glad it didn’t trade him to the Cubs this spring.
3B: Carlos Guillen, Tigers. For all the pre-season hype, Detroit has no truly worthy candidate, and this bumps Evan Longoria off of the roster.
SS: Derek Jeter, Yankees. By decree: He Must Play in an All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
OF: Jermaine Dye, White Sox. Having a fine season in his usual understated way.
OF: Carlos Quentin, White Sox. Has been a real steal for GM Ken Williams.
OF: B.J. Upton, Rays. The athleticism and talent are finally showing with the move to center field.
DH: Aubrey Huff, Orioles. Bubba The Love Sponge‘s favorite guest, and a dangerous hitter too.
NL Starting Lineup
SP: Edinson Volquez, Reds. Though struggling some lately, he’s been sensational all season, finally living up to the potential he didn’t fulfill with Texas.
C: Russell Martin, Dodgers. Not having as good a season as last year, but still the best of the backstop crop in the NL.
1B: Lance Berkman, Astros. Anyone nicknamed both Fat Elvis and Big Puma, and who hits like he has this season, deserves to be here.
2B: Dan Uggla, Marlins. Having a sensational season. Gets the razor-thin nod over Philadelphia’s Chase Utley.
3B: Chipper Jones, Braves. He won’t hit .400, but he is having one of his best seasons in a Hall of Fame career.
SS: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. Someday, the rest of the world is going to find out how talented this kid is.
OF: Jason Bay, Pirates. Must put to rest all that talk from last season that dismissed him as washed up.
OF: Pat Burrell, Phillies. Finally having the breakout season those tough Philadelphia fans have long been waiting for.
OF: Nate McLouth, Pirates. Dave Littlefield and Jim Tracy thought he was only a fourth outfielder, which is why they are no longer employed in Pittsburgh.
SP: Cole Hamels, Phillies. Keeps getting better with seemingly every outing.
SP: Dan Haren, Diamondbacks. The real ace of the staff in Arizona this season.
SP: Tim Hudson, Braves. Finally pitching like he did in his Oakland days.
SP: Tim Lincecum, Giants. This will be the first of many All-Star trips for the tiny flamethrower.
SP: Carlos Zambrano, Cubs. Ryan Dempster has the wins, but Big Z is the man for Chicago.
RP: Hong-Chih Kuo, Dodgers. Though under the radar, he has been outstanding.
RP: Brad Lidge, Phillies. Sometimes a change of scenery is really all it takes.
RP: Carlos Marmol, Cubs. Recent struggles aside, he is having a monster year.
RP: Brian Wilson, Giants. That 100 mph fastball shows he is more than just a beach boy.
RP: Kerry Wood, Cubs. His transition to the bullpen has been just fine.
C: Brian McCann, Braves. Besides Chipper, he is in many ways the Braves’ rock.
C: Geovany Soto, Cubs. NL Rookie of the Year will likely be his next honor.
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Padres. A single bright spot in this bleak San Diego season.
1B: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. This superstar never has an All-Star break.
2B: Chase Utley, Phillies. People are finally recognizing he is one of the game’s best.
3B: David Wright, Mets. Remains steady in the eye of the storm that surrounds him in New York.
SS: Cristian Guzman, Nationals. An All-Star is reborn.
SS: Jose Reyes, Mets. Juvenile-like fits aside, he is pretty darned talented.
OF: Carlos Beltran, Mets. Will never live up to his contract, but is having a fine season.
OF: Matt Holliday, Rockies. Proving that his 2007 breakout wasn’t a fluke.
OF: Carlos Lee, Astros. El Caballo is truly a horse in Houston’s lineup.
OF: Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals. Who would have guessed back in spring training that he would receive All-Star consideration?
As we end the first full week of July, the Twins are 49-38 and just one game behind the division-leading White Sox in the AL Central. That seemed unimaginable at the beginning of the year, as the Twins appeared to be retrenching following an offseason in which they traded ace left-hander Johan Santana to the Mets, and lost star center fielder Torii Hunter as a free agent to the Angels.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland insists that he is not surprised to see the Twins in the thick of the division race, knowing they’ve won four division titles in the last seven years. “They never get talked about but they’re always in the hunt,” Leyland said last week after his team lost two of three to the Twins in the Metrodome. “They’re a good team. They have their stars but also have a bunch of dirtballs who are baseball players complementing their stars.”
Leyland believes that the Twins’ strong showing is no fluke, and that they have the talent necessary to win the division. “They’re really good. Delmon Young is a good player. They have an MVP (Morneau) and a batting champion (Mauer). They do things right. They have a center fielder (Carlos Gomez) who might be the fastest guy in the league. They have energy, a great manager in Ron Gardenhire, and a great organization. They’ve been doing it for years, not just this year.”
While Leyland loves the Twins, he hates their home, and looks forward to the inaugural season of the new open-air ballpark in Minneapolis come 2010. “The Metrodome is a tough place. You can have nightmares about it,” Leyland said. “I will not miss it by any means, although I might if it’s 15 degrees.”
The Padres won the NL West in the ’05 and ’06 campaigns, and lost to the Rockies in a one-game playoff for the NL Wild Card last season. While no one can truly be counted out in the woeful NL West, it seems fairly certain that there will be no pennant race in San Diego this September, as the Padres are dead and last in the division with a 35-53 record.
Jake Peavy, the ace of the pitching staff, minced no words in discussing just how bad the Padres are after losing 9-2 to the Mariners last Sunday for their eight consecutive loss at home. “I don’t want this taken wrong, but when I gave up that two-run homer to (Adrian Beltre) in the sixth inning, I didn’t have a good feeling,” Peavy said. “I’m real with myself. A quality start doesn’t mean much these days around here. That’s not being ugly toward anyone. It’s a cold, hard fact.”
As recently as 10 days ago, Padres CEO Sandy Alderson said that he had not determined whether his team would be buyers or sellers at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. However, Alderson changed his tune this past week in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s probably easier to see us as sellers at this point,” Alderson said. “If we were to be buyers, it would be hard to choose among catcher, shortstop, outfielder, starting pitcher, half the bullpen. There’s not a shopping cart big enough.”
Spoiled by their winning ways in recent years, the Padres’ players admit that it will be tough if General Manager Kevin Towers becomes a seller at the end of the month. “The way things are going, normally teams take the sellers’ direction,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t wish that would happen. You always want to have a winning attitude instead of a development attitude when it comes to being a team. But you’ve got to get to one point where it’s either we’re going to make trades to make the team better, or we’re going to make trades to make next year better. The bottom line is we’re making the decisions for them a lot easier when we should be making it tougher.”
When the Mariners begin their search at the end of the season to replace recently-fired GM Bill Bavasi, Rick Hahn’s name will be on the list of executives they’ll want to get permission to interview. While Hahn might have a low profile as the White Sox’s assistant GM under Williams, he is well known in baseball circles. The Pirates and Cardinals both approached Hahn about their GM vacancies last fall, but he turned down their overtures to stay with the White Sox, while also getting a raise from owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
Williams figures to eventually lose Hahn, though. “He’s probably overqualified to be a GM,” Williams told the Chicago Tribune. “Rick is one of the smartest people I know, and one of the most prepared people you’ll ever find. There are a lot of people who have those qualities, but the management skills aren’t equal, and (he has) the personality to deal with all the many personalities that you find in the game. The day he becomes a general manager is the day my job will become a lot harder.”
Hahn, though, isn’t itching to leave the White Sox, and insists he would only leave for the right job. “The fact is, last offseason I gave Jerry and Kenny my word that I would only leave the Sox for a handful of specific opportunities that make the most sense for my family,” Hahn said. “So, barring something unforeseen, they’re stuck with me for a little while longer.”
NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Brewers, with an offer centering around Double-A outfielder Matt LaPorta, appear to have the best shot at trading for Indians left-hander C.C. Sabathia, though many in the game believe the Rays could wind up landing Sabathia. The Phillies are the dark horse in the Sabathia sweepstakes, though they also are interested in trading for Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard. … The Dodgers are looking for a shortstop in the wake of Rafael Furcal‘s back surgery. Their top targets are the Pirates’ Jack Wilson and the White Sox’s Juan Uribe. The Dodgers are also said to be willing to move center fielder Matt Kemp in the right deal. … The Rockies have told catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who has lost his starting job to Chris Ianetta, that they would be amenable to trading him. The Marlins have interest in Torrealba, as well as in Rockies outfielders Scott Podsednik and Willy Taveras. … The Padres are expected to trade left-hander Randy Wolf this month, and right-hander Greg Maddux and right fielder Brian Giles may also be moved if they agree to waive their no-trade rights. … The Nationals have been playing catcher Paul LoDuca at first base and in left field as a means to showcase him for a possible trade. … The Pirates seem more apt to hold on to left-handed reliever Damaso Marte now that closer Matt Capps is likely out until September 1 with shoulder problems. Marte figures to get the bulk of the save opportunities with Capps on the DL, and the Pirates feel that the two draft picks they’d receive as compensation for him signing with another club as a Type-A free agent in the offseason might be worth more than he would fetch in a trade. … The Diamondbacks are likely to take a long look at rookie second baseman Emilio Bonafacio in left field now that leadoff hitter Eric Byrnes is back on the DL. … The Phillies and right-hander Brett Myers are believed to have an agreement that he’ll make three starts for Triple-A Lehigh Valley and then be recalled. That would avoid his losing any major league service time for being in the minor leagues for more than 20 consecutive days. … The Cardinals have been using right-hander Matt Clement, still recovering from his 2006 shoulder surgery, as a reliever at Triple-A Memphis. They’re hoping he can bolster their thin major-league bullpen. The Cardinals are also trying to trade for relief help, and Rockies right-hander Matt Herges is one of the pitchers they’re targeting.
AL Rumors and Rumblings: In addition to gazing longlingly at Sabathia, the Rays are interested in Rockies closer Brian Fuentes, Cubs outfielder Matt Murton, and Pirates right fielder Xavier Nady. The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Phillies and Cardinals are also said to have some degree of interest in Fuentes. … The Yankees also have interest in Royals left-handed reliever Ron Mahay, after nearly signing him as a free agent in the offseason. … While right fielder Ichiro Suzuki has not asked the Mariners to trade him, he says he would not close the door on any potential deal, despite having a full no-trade clause in his contract. … The Blue Jays are willing to move left-hander A.J. Burnett, who can void the final two years of his five-year contract after this season, and would like a shortstop in return who can be a long-term answer for them at the position. … Current Blue Jays shortstop David Eckstein is drawing interest from the Orioles. … Yankees rookie outfielder Brett Gardner could begin taking playing time away from center fielder Melky Cabrera. … The Tigers sent right-handed reliever Zach Miner to Triple-A Toledo this past week, with the idea of converting him back to a starting pitcher to provide depth for their thin rotation.
Interesting facts as the 14th week of the regular season comes to a close::
- First baseman Chris Davis became the first Rangers player ever to hit a home run in each of his first two major league starts. He connected off the Phillies’ Jamie Moyer last Sunday, two days after going deep against Philadelphia’s Clay Condrey.
- When Paul Maholm batted eighth on Monday night against the Reds, he became the first Pirates starting pitcher to hit anywhere other than ninth in the batting order since Luis Arroyo hit in the seven-hole against the Dodgers on April 18, 1957.
- Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton became the first major league player to have 80 RBI by the end of June since Carlos Delgado had 89 for the 2003 Blue Jays.
- The Rays were 49-32 at the midway point of their schedule, making them the first team ever to lead the major leagues in wins halfway through the season, after having the worst record in the majors the year before. The 2001 Cubs were 48-33.
- The Rockies were 32-49 at the midpoint, the worst record by a team that had been in the World Series the previous year since the 1998 Marlins went 28-53.
- Right fielder J.D. Drew’s 12 home runs in June were the third-highest total in that month in Red Sox history, behind Jackie Jensen‘s 14 in 1958 and Ted Williams‘ 13 in 1950.
- The Royals six-game road winning streak (which ended Tuesday at Baltimore) was their longest since winning six in a row from May 7-15, 1999.
- Nationals rookie right-hander Colin Balester won his major league debut when he beat the Marlins Tuesday, the franchise’s first pitcher to do that since Dan Smith, pitching for the then-Expos, beat the Red Sox on June 8, 1999.
- Left fielder Pat Burrell is only the second player in Phillies history to hit 20 home runs in eight consecutive seasons, joining Mike Schmidt, who did so in 14 straight seasons from 1974-87.
- The Rays are the first team other than the Red Sox or Yankees to lead the AL East this late in the season since the Blue Jays were on top on July 6, 2000.
- The three-game series between the Red Sox and Yankees that concludes today at Yankee Stadium will mark the first time that those two teams have met after Memorial Day without either being atop the AL East since New York swept a three-game home series from September 15-16, 1997. Mariano Rivera beat Jim Corsi, Andy Pettitte beat John Wasdin, and Willie Banks beat Robinson Checo.
- When the Yankees were blanked 7-0 by the Red Sox and Jon Lester on Thursday, it marked the first time they had ever been shut out after scoring at least 18 runs in the previous game. They had just recovered from trouncing the Rangers 18-7 on Wednesday.
- Outfielder Jason Perry became the first Braves player since the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1966 to triple in his first major-league at bat, when he connected for a three-bagger off the Astros Brian Moehler on Friday.
Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez’s 34 saves are tied for the most in major league history before the All-Star break. John Smoltz also had 34 for the 2003 Braves.
- No. 1 Rays at No. 7 Yankees, Tuesday-Wednesday July 8-9
Probable pitching matchups: Scott Kazmir vs. Andy Pettitte, Edwin Jackson vs. Darrell Rasner
- No. 8 Cardinals at No. 6 Phillies, Tuesday-Thursday July 8-10
Probable pitching matchups: Joel Piniero vs. Cole Hamels, Mitchell Boggs vs. J.A. Happ, Braden Looper vs. Jamie Moyer
- No. 10 Orioles at No. 2 Red Sox, Friday-Sunday July 11-13
Probable pitching matchups: Brian Burres vs. Justin Masterson, Radhames Liz vs. Tim Wakefield, Daniel Cabrera vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka