Last year, the prevailing All-Star Game story line was no-shows — the long list of marquee players who didn't participate for various reasons. The story line this year should be the emergence of the next generation of superstars.
Last year, the prevailing All-Star story line was no-shows — the long list of marquee players who didn’t participate for various reasons. It was all encapsulated by the sighting of Derek Jeter, who had asked out of the game ostensibly to rest his right calf, strolling in South Beach with Minka Kelly.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but commissioner Bud Selig responded by working out new rules in the CBA that restrict what constitutes an excused absence. And pitching on Sunday before the game no longer automatically qualifies as one, so more big-name pitchers should be on hand at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium on July 10. More big-name players should be there, period, because they’re not getting out on just a whim this time.
That doesn’t mean the game won’t be missing some big-name talent. Matt Kemp, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki, all of them All-Star staples, are all out with injury, and so are some other standouts.
But I’m hoping that the story line this year will be the emergence of the next generation of superstars. Two years ago, I suggested that Stephen Strasburg, then a rookie, be named to the All-Star team as a way to invigorate the game, which has been plagued by flagging interest and ratings.
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Many people scoffed, because he hadn’t been up from the minors for very long (though he had pitched sensationally in his short time). But I still think it would have been prudent. The All-Star Game needs to feature the players that fans want to see. That’s why I don’t mind when a past-his-prime superstar gets voted in. Give the people what they want. And as far as I’m concerned, that same sentiment applies to a before-his-prime superstar.
Which brings us back to Strasburg, whose inclusion this year, after a dominant first half, won’t induce any second-guessing. But the guy I really want to see is Strasburg’s teammate, Bryce Harper, who may not have quite the numbers — though they’re still quite good — but has the “it” factor that baseball so desperately needs.
I want to see Harper, 19, showcased with Angels sensation Mike Trout, 20, as the future of MLB. Because I think they’re going to be owning this game very, very soon.
Here are my 34-man squads for each league (which are mandated to include at least 13 pitchers). As always, don’t forget that every major-league team must be represented. And the Cubs, too.
• Who’s leading: Prince Fielder, Tigers
• Who should start: Paul Konerko, White Sox
• Reserve: Fielder
I can’t believe I can’t find a spot on my team for Albert Pujols, but for the first time in his career, his numbers fall just short. At least they do right now. By the end of the season, I fully expect Pujols to come close to his usual sparkling portfolio. Konerko has been an underappreciated star for years, but he deserve this recognition.
• Who’s leading: Robinson Cano, Yankees
• Who should start: Cano
• Reserve: Jason Kipnis, Indians
Cano is a no-brainer, and I have a feeling AL manager Ron Washington will find a spot on his team for Ian Kinsler. Kipnis, taken in the second round of the 2009 draft, has so far outperformed first-rounder Dustin Ackley, and is emerging as one of the rising young players in the game.
• Who’s leading: Derek Jeter, Yankees
• Who should start: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
• Reserves: Elvis Andrus, Rangers; Alcides Escobar, Royals
It pains me to leave Jeter off my team and I need not worry, because Jeter will be voted in as the starter. But in looking realistically at the shortstop position, offensively and defensively, he’s not in the top three. Especially when you factor in the Royals need a player in their home ballpark. Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas are also candidates, but I went with Escobar.
• Who’s leading: Adrian Beltre, Rangers
• Who should start: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
• Reserve: Beltre
There’s a case to be made for Kyle Seager, but in the end, Felix Hernandez makes a little more sense, and I don’t see the Mariners getting more than one selection.
• Who’s leading: Mike Napoli, Rangers
• Who should start: Joe Mauer, Twins
• Reserves: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox; Matt Wieters, Orioles
Mauer is no longer a full-time catcher, his body no longer able to handle the rigors. But for one night, there’s no one better to put behind the plate. He’s still a force with a bat in his hands.
• Who’s leading: David Ortiz, Red Sox
• Who should start: Ortiz
• Reserve: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Ortiz is a marvel, on the way to one of his better seasons at age 36. I remember a few years back when many people thought he was washed up, but the memory is getting dimmer.
• Who’s leading: Josh Hamilton, Rangers; Curtis Granderson, Yankees; Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
• Who should start: Hamilton; Mike Trout, Angels; Adam Jones, Orioles
• Reserves: Austin Jackson, Tigers; Josh Willingham, Twins; Bautista; Mark Trumbo, Angels
It’s tough to leave out Curtis Granderson and his 22 homers, but that’s a perennial mainstay of selecting All-Star teams: Deserving players will be omitted. Adam Dunn was a particularly weird one, forcing you to weigh 24 homers, 58 RBI and a .515 slugging percentage against a .213 average and 125 strikeouts. I had no reservations against taking him, just no room.
• Who should be selected: Justin Verlander, Tigers; Jered Weaver, Angels; C.J. Wilson, Angels; Ernesto Frieri, Angels; Yu Darvish, Rangers; Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Chris Sale, White Sox; Jake Peavy, White Sox; David Price, Rays; Jim Johnson, Orioles; Ryan Cook, A’s; Chris Perez, Indians; Fernando Rodney, Rays
Hernandez wrapped up the Mariners’ berth by going 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 23 innings over his last three starts. A case could be made for Tom Wilhelmsen, whose numbers are comparable to Cook’s; and also for Charlie Furbush as a high-leverage bullpen arm. But I don’t think Washington will be able to squeeze him in, particularly when the Rangers skipper will be more inclined to find a spot for a couple of his own pitchers, Matt Harrison and Joe Nathan.
• Who’s leading: Joey Votto, Reds
• Who should start: Votto
• Reserve: Bryan LaHair, Cubs
When your stats start inspiring comparisons to Babe Ruth, as Votto’s have, you know you’re having a great year. And kudos to ex-Mariner LaHair, who persevered in the minor leagues before finally getting his shot this year. Obviously, he’s made the most of it.
• Who’s leading: Dan Uggla, Braves
• Who should start: Brandon Phillips, Reds
• Reserves: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks; Jose Altuve, Astros
Hill has the edge at the plate, but Phillips is such a spectacular defensive player that I give him the nod. Few players are more fun to watch than the diminutive Altuve, listed at 5 feet 5, 170 pounds.
• Who’s leading: Rafael Furcal, Cardinals.
• Who should start: Jed Lowrie, Astros
• Reserve: Starlin Castro, Cubs
Ozzie Smith, where have you gone? It’s a pretty weak field in NL shortstops this year, with Washington’s Ian Desmond just a tick behind Lowrie and Castro. Or maybe a tick ahead, depending on which measurements you’re looking at.
• Who’s leading: David Wright, Mets
• Who should start: Wright
• Reserves: David Freese, Cardinals; Chase Headley, Padres; Chipper Jones, Braves
Wright is a lock, but Headley might be the most guaranteed All-Star in the entire field. I dare you to find another Padre. There will no doubt be sentiment to put Jones on the team as a final salute. You know what? It wouldn’t bother me a bit.
• Who’s leading: Buster Posey, Giants
• Who should start: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
• Reserves: Posey; Yadier Molina, Cardinals
This is a very strong group of catchers. You could shuffle the deck and start any of the three, but Ruiz, leading the National League in hitting, leads the pack.
• Who’s leading: Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Carlos Beltran, Cardinals; Ryan Braun, Brewers
• Who should start: Beltran; Andrew McCutchen, Pirates; Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
• Reserves: Braun; Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; Melky Cabrera, Giants; Bryce Harper, Nationals
Kemp would be a lock, but it looks like his hamstring injury is going to limit his role to being captain of the Home Run Derby team. Braun, last year’s NL MVP, doesn’t appear to have been slowed at all by the controversy over his overturned suspension. I wish I could find spots for Andre Ethier and Matt Holliday.
• Who should be selected: R.A. Dickey, Mets; Stephen Strasburg, Nationals; Gio Gonzalez, Nationals; Tyler Clippard, Nationals; Johnny Cueto, Reds; Aroldis Chapman, Reds; Matt Cain, Giants; Zack Greinke, Brewers; Chris Capuano, Dodgers; Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Cole Hamels, Phillies; Craig Kimbrel, Braves; Jason Grilli, Pirates.
I don’t envy NL manager Tony La Russa, who may want to go back into retirement after agonizing over selecting this staff. The Giants alone offer not only Cain, but also Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. Lance Lynn from his former Cardinals staff, Tommy Hanson, Wade Miley and others make strong cases, but there’s not room for everyone.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org