Which players deserve to go to the MLB All-Star Game?
This year's All-Star team will in many ways be distinguished by who won't be playing by virtue of injuries or subpar performance.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
This year's All-Star team will in many ways be distinguished by who won't be playing — Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Joe Mauer, Josh Johnson, Chase Utley, Justin Morneau, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford, right off the top — by virtue of injuries or subpar performance.
The perennial Derek Jeter may still squeeze his way into the July 12 game in Phoenix, but only if he comes back from his calf injury in time to serve out his likely election as the American League's starting shortstop. If not, Jeter, too, will be missing for the first time since 2005, and just the second time since 1998; many will tell you his absence is overdue.
Speaking of perennial All-Stars, Ichiro is in danger of not being on the AL squad for the first time since he joined the Mariners in 2001. Ichiro stood seventh in the outfield voting last week; the ballot winners and full American and National League squads will be announced today (minus the "Final Vote" for the 34th roster spot). Ichiro would have to jump over four players, or else be named in the players vote or selected by AL officials.
My annual chore of picking the All-Star teams was tougher than ever this year, and I blame drug testing. Work with me: In poring over offensive statistics as I went position by position, it just reinforced how diminished the offensive performances are this season. Usually, the headache is cutting down the worthy candidates. This year, in many cases, it's finding enough worthy candidates.
But I persevered, and came up with my own version of the All-Stars. It looks like the fans aren't doing a half-bad job (unless, of course, I am, too). Of the 17 positions up for vote (the NL doesn't elect a designated hitter), I agreed with the leading vote-getter 10 times.
Here are my 34-man squads for each league. As always, don't forget that every major-league team must be represented — and the Astros, too.
• Who's leading: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox.
• Who should start: Gonzalez.
• Reserves: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; Paul Konerko, White Sox; Mark Teixeira, Yankees.
In a season of lagging offense, it's nice to know the AL first basemen still are bringing it. Gonzalez and Cabrera have terrorized pitchers all year, and it's very hard to choose between them, but it just seems to me Gonzalez has been the man. After Jose Bautista, the next three in the OPS (on-base plus slugging) rankings are first basemen — Cabrera, Gonzalez and Konerko. Apologies to Toronto's Adam Lind and — two words I never would have envisioned typing in March — Casey Kotchman.
• Who's leading: Robinson Cano, Yankees.
• Who should start: Cano.
• Reserves: Ben Zobrist, Rays.
Cano isn't having the borderline MVP season he did a year ago, but with 14 homers and a .503 slugging percentage, he leads the pack of AL second basemen. Howie Kendrick deserves a look, but he's played only 47 games at second base.
• Who's leading: Derek Jeter, Yankees.
• Who should start: Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
• Reserve: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians.
Jeter is on the disabled list, and was having a subpar season when he injured his calf in mid-June. But I won't be at all outraged if he starts at shortstop. As I've written before, I'm a firm believer in star power at the All-Star Game, and right now Jeter's just about the biggest name in the sport. I assumed Cabrera would get my nod, but then I looked more closely at the numbers, and Peralta has a higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. J.J. Hardy warranted strong consideration, but a monthlong stint on the disabled list knocked him off my team.
• Who's leading: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees.
• Who should start: Rodriguez.
• Reserve: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox;Adrian Beltre, Rangers.
This will be A-Rod's 14th All-Star team, and his 12th start, assuming he holds his lead over another ex-Mariners third baseman, Beltre. Rodriguez has made it every year except one (2009) since he left the Mariners in 2001. And this would be the second straight All-Star appearance by Beltre since leaving the Mariners. In other words, we should look for Chone Figgins to be on the squad in 2014.
• Who's leading: Russell Martin, Yankees.
• Who should start: Alex Avila, Tigers.
• Reserve: Matt Wieters, Orioles.
With Mauer, the no-brainer starter the past three seasons, sidelined much of the year, the All-Star catching job is wide open. And Avila has slammed that door down with far and away the best season of any AL catcher. Finding an AL backup is much more difficult, because no one else is having a stellar season. I finally went with Wieters over A.J. Pierzynski on the strength of his 43 percent success rate throwing out runners, the best in the league (Avila is next at 38 percent). Wieters is also the only AL catcher without a passed ball. Sorry, Miguel Olivo supporters, but he ranks 10th in OPS at .666, leads the league in passed balls (seven) and has thrown out 26 percent of runners.
• Who's leading: David Ortiz, Red Sox.
• Who should start: Ortiz.
• Reserve: Victor Martinez, Tigers.
Big Papi has had an outstanding bounce-back year. His .571 slugging percentage is his highest since 2007. Martinez gets the nod over Michael Young, and would give the AL some catching insurance.
• Who's leading: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; Curtis Granderson, Yankees; Josh Hamilton, Rangers
• Who should start: Bautista; Granderson; Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox.
• Reserves: Alex Gordon, Royals; Matt Joyce, Rays; Carlos Quentin, White Sox.
Bautista is the biggest no-brainer on this year's team, with Granderson close behind. It gets a little tricky after that, but Ellsbury has been a huge spark for the No. 2 offense in the major leagues.
• Who should be selected: Justin Verlander, Jose Valverde, Tigers; Jered Weaver, Angels; CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Yankees; Scott Baker, Twins; James Shields, Rays; Gio Gonzalez, A's; Chris Perez, Indians; Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Brandon League, Mariners.
I don't want to be a Mariners honk, but I couldn't see any way to leave off Pineda, the most exciting rookie of the season; or League, who except for one bad week has been flawless and shares the AL saves lead with Rivera. It came down to whether I put Hernandez on the team. Hernandez — who didn't make the All-Star team in his Cy Young 2010 season — ranks third in the AL in strikeouts and does well in the sabermetric stats. It's hard to argue he's not one of the best 13 pitchers in the league.
• Who's leading: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
• Who should start: Prince Fielder, Brewers
• Reserves: Joey Votto, Reds; Mike Morse, Nationals; Ryan Howard, Phillies.
It won't seem right to have an NL team without Pujols, but Fielder is putting up a Pujolsesque season: .302/.421/.596. Morse is yet another ex-Mariner having an All-Star-caliber season.
• Who's leading: Rickie Weeks, Brewers.
• Who should start: Weeks.
• Reserves: Brandon Phillips, Reds; Danny Espinosa, Nationals.
Weeks has always seemed to be on the verge of stardom, but injuries have often derailed him. This year, he has put together an outstanding half-year and deserves the nod over the flashy Phillips and rookie Espinosa.
• Who's leading: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies.
• Who should start: Jose Reyes, Mets.
• Reserve: Tulowitzki.
Reyes is having an insane year, hitting .352 with 30 steals and a mind-boggling 15 triples. Tulowitzki has tailed off after a torrid start but still is clearly the second-best shortstop in the league.
• Who's leading: Placido Polanco, Phillies.
• Who should start: Aramis Ramirez, Cubs.
• Reserve: Chipper Jones, Braves.
Where have you gone, Mike Schmidt? Or even Matt Williams? Third base is an exceedingly weak position in the NL this year. Ramirez gets the reluctant nod for having the highest slugging percentage and being tied for the most homers of any third baseman. Considering the lackluster competition, I don't mind throwing one last All-Star bone to Jones at age 39.
• Who's leading: Brian McCann, Braves.
• Who should start: McCann.
• Reserves: Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks; Yadier Molina, Cardinals.
McCann is an easy choice, as usual. He has become an offensive force from behind the plate. A moment of silence, please, for Buster Posey's knee. Until it was destroyed, he would have been here for sure.
• Who's leading: Ryan Braun, Brewers; Lance Berkman, Cardinals; Matt Holliday, Cardinals.
• Who should start: Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Berkman; Braun.
• Reserves: Holliday; Andrew McCutcheon, Pirates; Justin Upton, Diamondbacks; Hunter Pence, Astros.
I went back and forth among Berkman, Braun and Holliday, but I'll just let Holliday start at designated hitter.
• Who should be selected: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Phillies; Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrel, Braves; Anibel Sanchez, Marlins; Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Giants; Heath Bell, Padres; Huston Street, Rockies; Joel Hanrahan, Pirates.
It was tempting to put the entire Phillies staff on the roster, but I decided to draw the line at The Big Three. Lincecum has a couple of teammates who can make strong All-Star cases, namely Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong (a great rags-to-riches story). But again it comes down to star power; Lincecum is a guy who's exciting to watch, and I want him on my team. So, I'd suspect, does NL manager Bruce Bochy.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.