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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

All-Star Selection Preview

I don't envy Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon. At least, I don't envy the task in front of them in the coming week: selecting the final players for the All-Star rosters. There are, as ever, plenty of great candidates, but their hands will be tied by the necessity of representing every team and building a flexible roster. Here's how the fan's vote (for starting hitters) looks going into the final two days of voting:

American League

C - Joe Mauer, MIN
1B - Kevin Youkilis, BOS or Mark Texeira, NYY
2B - Ian Kinsler, TEX or Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3B - Evan Longoria, TB
SS - Derek Jeter, NYY
LF - Jason Bay, BOS
CF - Josh Hamilton, TEX, Torii Hunter, LAA, or Carl Crawford, TB
RF - Ichiro Suzuki, SEA

National League

C - Yadier Molina, STL or Brian McCann, ATL
1B - Albert Pujols, STL
2B - Chase Utley, PHI
3B - David Wright, NYM
SS - Hanley Ramirez, FLA
LF - Ryan Braun, MIL
CF - Carlos Beltran, NYM
RF - Raul Ibanez, PHI

In the A.L., the races at first base, second base, and for the final outfield spot are very close and could have a considerable impact on how the roster shapes up. Hamilton has been injured for most of the first half and Pedroia has had a somewhat sub-par season thusfar, so they're likely not to make the squad if they aren't voted in. If they are, that could be bad news for borderline guys like Aaron Hill, Robinson Cano, Adam Lind, and Nelson Cruz. The race between Texeira and Youkilis is also pretty serious since, although both are highly qualified, the loser will be part of a deep pool for backups at their position, including Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos Pena. In the N.L. it looks like the only significant race will be for catcher, with both candidates certain to make the squad regardless, as both Russell Martin and Geo Soto, normally All-Star contenders, have had bad first halves.

All in all, the fans have done a damn good job. Hamilton is the only truly atrocious selection. He has been utterly absent from the first half of play, but was buoyed no doubt by his memorable Home Run Derby performance in 2008. One might hope that fans would've given more acknowledgment to the work of Justin Upton, Brandon Phillips, and Aaron Hill, all of whom got only modest support, despite having excellent seasons, but Kinsler, Utley, and Beltran are certainly legitimate choices as well.

The starting pitcher is usually the last of the All-Star announcements, as it is influenced as much by schedule and relative health as by talent. In the A.L., Maddon could hardly be faulted for choosing Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, or Justin Verlander, each of whom is in the top six in the league in Wins and Strikeouts. They will almost certainly be joined on the staff by Kevin Millwood, Felix Hernandez, and Dallas Braden (who is the really the only guy from Oakland having a half-way decent season). For the final one or two spots, Maddon will likely face a tough decision. Edwin Jackson (6-4, 2.49), Jered Weaver (8-3, 2.65), Mark Buehrle (7-2, 3.26), and Nick Blackburn (6-4, 3.10) are all richly deserving. Meanwhile, C. C. Sabathia (7-4, 3.55), Josh Beckett (9-3, 3.67), and Cliff Lee (4-7, 3.39) are respected veterans pitching well enough that they may be voted in by their peers, in which case Maddon's hands may be tied.

On the senior circuit, one would think that the starting duties will fall to somebody from the group of Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, Chad Billingsley, and Matt Cain, all of whom are likely to be Cy Young contenders if they continue at their current paces. Santana and Lincecum are likely the fan favorites, having already amassed said hardware. Zack Duke is having a great season in Pittsburgh and seems destined to represent the Bucs...that is, if he isn't traded to a contender for seven plugged nickels, a pack of Bubbalicious, and a player to be named later. Yovani Gallardo (8-5, 2.75) also seems like a certain selection. The fact that Jason Marquis has double-digit wins for the Rockies will work in his favor, even though his peripheral numbers don't equal guys like Josh Johnson (7-1, 2.76) and Johnny Cueto (7-4, 2.86). Ted Lilly may also sneak in as the Cubs lone representative (How far have they fallen!?!), being the only reasonable choice besides Derrek Lee (who plays at a very deep position).

The N.L. bullpen will definitely feature K-Rod, Trevor Hoffman, Heath Bell, and Jonathan Broxton. Manuel could also opt for Ryan Franklin (18 SV, 0.93), Francisco Cordero (18, 1.97), or Huston Street (19, 2.91), or go with an additional starter.

In the A.L. Joe Nathan, Mo Rivera, and Papelbon are probably safe bets to be joined by some combination of Brian Fuentes (22, 3.62), Bobby Jenks (18, 3.21), and George Sherrill (17, 1.99).

Sherrill plays for a team, the Orioles, who have been better than most expected. He joins Nick Markakis and Adam Jones as excellent candidates for the All-Star roster, but since they are a last place team, it is likely only one will make it.

A similar situation may face the Houston Astros. Miguel Tejada is pretty apparently the second best shortstop in the N.L. this season (with Reyes injured and Rollins playing very poorly), but Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence all have very respectable numbers as well. Rather than choose from among them, Manuel may prefer to just leave all of them at home.

Besides McCann and Yadier Molina, there isn't a single catcher in the National League with an OPS above 722 (Geo Soto). All-Star team usually feature three catchers, but Soto, Martin, and Bengie Molina clearly haven't played well enough to justify selection. The right choice would be to go with the Giants Pablo Sandoval, who came into the league as a catcher and has played three games there this season, while splitting most of his time between first and third. Sandoval should be on the team anyway, he's hitting .338 with a 958 OPS on the worst offense in baseball. This would be a way to open up an additional roster spot, but Manuel may fear offending the Giants, a Wild Card contender, by putting their best player behind the dish for a couple of innings, where he would have to deal with unfamiliar pitchers who throw nastiest stuff in baseball. It's a broken thumb waiting to happen.

Position flexibility should work to the advantage of Ben Zobrist. He's second in the A.L. in OPS and deserves his spot on the team, plus he can play both corner outfield spots and both middle infield positions, which might allow Maddon to make space for another bopper like Texeira or Miggy Cabrera. Somewhat similarly, Mark Reynolds ability to play both first and third (poorly) may allow him to capitalize on being, undeniably, the second-best third basemen in the N.L. thusfar this season. However, if his peers vote in Chipper Jones or Ryan Zimmerman, both very popular but not as productive this season, he may be on the outside looking in.

Here's how I see things shaping up:

With Certainty:


C Joe Mauer, MIN
C Victor Martinez, CLE
C Jason Varitek, BOS
1B Kevin Youkilis, BOS
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX
3B Evan Longoria, TB
SS Derek Jeter, NYY
OF Jason Bay, BOS
OF Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
OF Torii Hunter, LAA
OF Carl Crawford, TB
UT Ben Zobrist, TB
SP Roy Halladay, TOR
SP Zack Greinke, KC
SP Justin Verlander, DET
SP Felix Hernandez, SEA
RP Joe Nathan, MIN
RP Mariano Rivera, NYY
RP Jonathan Papelbon, BOS


C Brian McCann, ATL
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Albert Pujols, STL
1B Prince Fielder, MIL
2B Chase Utley, PHI
3B David Wright, NYM
SS Hanley Ramirez, FLA
OF Raul Ibanez, PHI
OF Ryan Braun, MIL
OF Brad Hawpe, COL
UT Pablo Sandoval, SF
SP Matt Cain, SF
SP Johan Santana, NYM
SP Tim Lincecum, SF
SP Dan Haren, ARZ
SP Chad Billingsley, LAD
RP Heath Bell, SDP
RP Francisco Rodriguez, NYM
RP Trevor Hoffman, MIL
RP Jonathan Broxton, LAD



1B Justin Morneau, MIN
2B Aaron Hill, TOR
SS Jason Bartlett, TB
OF Jermaine Dye, CWS
SP Kevin Millwood, TEX
SP Dallas Braden, OAK


1B Adrian Gonzalez, SDP
2B Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Miguel Tejada, HOU
OF Carlos Beltran, NYM
OF Adam Dunn, WAS
OF Justin Upton, ARZ
OF Matt Kemp, LAD
SP Zack Duke, PIT
SP Yovani Gallardo, MIL

On the Bubble:


1B Miguel Cabrera, DET
1B Mark Texeira, NYY
1B Carlos Pena, TB
2B Robinson Cano, NYY
3B Scott Rolen, TOR
3B Brandon Inge, DET
OF Curtis Granderson, DET
OF Nick Markakis, BAL
OF Adam Jones, BAL
OF Adam Lind, TOR
OF Nelson Cruz, TEX
SP Jered Weaver, LAA
SP Edwin Jackson, DET
SP C. C. Sabathia, NYY
SP Josh Beckett, BOS
SP Mark Buehrle, CWS
RP Bobby Jenks, CWS
RP George Sherrill, BAL
RP Brian Fuentes, LAA


1B Ryan Howard, PHI
1B Derrek Lee, CHC
2B Orlando Hudson, LAD
3B Mark Reynolds, ARZ
3B Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
SS Troy Tulowitzki, COL
SS Ryan Theriot, CHC
SP Josh Johnson, FLA
SP Johnny Cueto, CIN
SP Jason Marquis, COL
SP Ted Lilly, CHC
RP Ryan Franklin, STL
RP Francisco Cordero, CIN

On the Outside, Looking In, Longingly:


1B Russell Branyan, SEA
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3B Michael Young, TEX
OF Johnny Damon, NYY
OF Luke Scott, BAL
OF Jason Kubel, MIN
OF Shin-Soo Choo, CLE
OF Matt Holliday, OAK
OF Josh Hamilton, TEX
SP Nick Blackburn, MIN
SP Cliff Lee, CLE
SP Matt Garz, TB
SP Jarrod Washburn, SEA


1B Lance Berkman, HOU
2B Freddy Sanchez, PIT
3B Chipper Jones, ATL
OF Jayson Werth, PHI
OF Andre Ethier, LAD
OF Hunter Pence, HOU
OF Carlos Lee, HOU
SP Javier Vazquez, ATL
SP Jair Jurrjens, ATL
SP Adam Wainwright, STL
SP Wandy Rodriguez, HOU
RP Huston Street, COL

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