Picking the All-Stars, all 68 of ’em, is one of my favorite exercises of the year. Not only does it give me an appreciation for the difficulty of the process, but it also provides me with a blueprint for trashing the selections when they are announced.
No, seriously, I come in peace.
Seeing as how 84 players became All-Stars last season — roughly 11 percent of the entire major league population — no one should worry about any player, team or fan base getting too offended by the time the final selections are made.
The new labor agreement states that players are required to play in the game unless injured or excused. But in the Year of the Injury, we’ve already lost two likely All-Stars, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp and Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. And heaven knows what other calamities await between now and July 10, when the game will take place in Kansas City (FOX, 7:30 p.m. ET).
To make my selection process as realistic as possible, I follow the rule that every team must be represented — and, yes, identifying a worthy San Diego Padre is more difficult than finding a teenage girl who despises Justin Bieber.
Anyway, here goes. I denoted my starters by asterisks (no, not those kinds of asterisks). Direct all complaints to the usual place on Twitter — @Ken_Rosenthal.
LHP Chris Capuano, Dodgers
*RHP Matt Cain, Giants
LHP Aroldis Chapman, Reds
RHP Tyler Clippard, Nationals
RHP Johnny Cueto, Reds
RHP R.A. Dickey, Mets
RHP Zack Greinke, Brewers
LHP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
RHP Craig Kimbrel, Braves
RHP James McDonald, Pirates
LHP Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
RHP Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
RHP Ryan Vogelsong, Giants
Notable omissions: Ron Belisario, Dodgers; Gio Gonzalez, Nationals; Jason Grilli, Pirates; Cole Hamels, Phillies; Joel Hanrahan, Pirates; Lance Lynn, Cardinals; Craig Stammen, Nationals
I would go Cain, Dickey, Strasburg to open the game, giving the AL a knuckleball sandwich between the brilliant Cain and electric Strasburg.
The choices would have been even more difficult if the league’s ERA leaders, Braves right-hander Brandon Beachy and Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster, had not been injured.
I omitted Gonzalez because of his 4.34 ERA in June and Hamels because he ranks 18th in the NL in ERA. Lynn was a particularly difficult snub; he was a lock until struggling in his past two starts.
Clippard, by the way, is 12 for 12 in save opportunities since May 10 with a 0.47 ERA.
*1B Joey Votto, Reds
1B Adam LaRoche, Nationals
*2B Jose Altuve, Astros
2B Brandon Phillips, Reds
*SS Rafael Furcal, Cardinals
SS Starlin Castro, Cubs
*3B David Wright, Mets
3B Chase Headley, Padres
Notable omissions: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks; Ian Desmond, Nationals; David Freese, Cardinals; Aramis Ramirez, Brewers
First base is the shocker; I struggled to find a backup to Votto with the Angels’ Albert Pujols and Tigers’ Prince Fielder in the AL and the Phillies’ Ryan Howard and Cardinals’ Lance Berkman on the disabled list.
Goldschmidt has a higher OPS than LaRoche, but isn’t quite an everyday player; Lyle Overbay spells him against certain right-handers. Hill’s home-road splits, meanwhile, show him to be something of a Chase Field creation.
The worst omission is Lowrie, who has the highest OPS of any shortstop in the NL. He’s suffering because Castro is the only deserving Cub — and because, yes, I wanted to create a spot for an extra outfielder so Bryce Harper could make the team.
How can I sleep at night?
Well, one representative from the Astros is enough. Harper is a far more compelling player than Lowrie and can do more things to help his team win a game.
*Carlos Beltran, Cardinals (DH)
Michael Bourn, Braves
*Ryan Braun, Brewers
*Melky Cabrera, Giants
Andre Ethier, Dodgers
Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
Bryce Harper, Nationals
Jason Kubel, Diamondbacks
*Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Notable omissions: Martin Prado, Braves; Jason Heyward, Braves
A healthy Kemp would have forced another omission. I know Harper has slumped of late and has a lower OPS than Dexter Fowler, Matt Holliday and Jay Bruce, among others. No matter — the ASG at some level remains a showcase. Harper can change a game with one swing, one throw, one daring base-running play.
*Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Buster Posey, Giants
Notable omission: A.J. Ellis, Dodgers
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Ruiz is my only Phillie. Ellis is fourth in the NL in OBP and actually has a higher OPS than Posey, but I just can’t go there.
LHP Scott Downs, Angels
RHP Jason Hammel, Orioles
LHP Matt Harrison, Rangers
RHP Felix Hernandez, Mariners
RHP Jim Johnson, Orioles
RHP Jake Peavy, White Sox
RHP Chris Perez, Indians
LHP David Price, Rays
RHP Fernando Rodney, Rays
LHP Chris Sale, White Sox
RHP Jered Weaver, Angels
LHP C.J. Wilson, Angels
*RHP Justin Verlander, Tigers
Notable omissions: Scott Atchison, Red Sox; Jonathan Broxton, Royals; Yu Darvish, Rangers; Robbie Ross, Rangers; Pedro Strop, Orioles
Three worthy candidates — Sabathia, Athletics right-hander Brandon McCarthy and Blue Jays righty Brandon Morrow — are on the disabled list.
Yes, Darvish has 10 wins, but ranks just 17th in the AL in ERA with the second-highest walk rate in the league.
*1B Paul Konerko, White Sox
1B Prince Fielder, Tigers
*2B Robinson Cano, Yankees
2B Ian Kinsler, Rangers
*SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
SS Elvis Andrus, Rangers
SS Derek Jeter, Yankees
*3B Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3B Adrian Beltre, Rangers
3B Mike Moustakas, Royals
Notable omissions: Albert Pujols, Angels; Jason Kipnis, Indians; Alcides Escobar, Royals; Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays; Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
I don’t feel too badly about Pujols, who didn’t push his on-base percentage above .300 until June 8. Kipnis vs. Kinsler is extremely close offensively, and Kipnis rates an edge in some defensive metrics, but I’ll give the nod to Kinsler, the second baseman for the two-time defending AL champions.
Jeter isn’t as good a hitter as Asdrubal Cabrera or as good a defender as Andrus or Escobar. His OPS since May 1 is .640. Still, it’s difficult to imagine the game without him.
I supposed the same could be said of A-Rod, but I frankly feel worse about the omission of Lawrie — who, like Kipnis, is part of the game’s next wave of young stars.
*Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Mark Trumbo, Angels
*Mike Trout, Angels
*David Ortiz, Red Sox (DH)
*Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Austin Jackson, Tigers
Adam Jones, Orioles
Josh Reddick, Athletics
Notable omissions: Adam Dunn, White Sox; Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays; Curtis Granderson, Yankees; Josh Willingham, Twins
Yes, I’m starting Trout, even though he did not makes his season debut until April 28. I’m starting him, leading off and encouraging him to terrorize NL pitchers with his speed.
Willingham, who ranks seventh in the league in OPS, is more than worthy, but I’m not going with more than one Twin – particularly when it could mean leaving off Jackson, who is enjoying a breakout season for the Tigers.
*Joe Mauer, Twins
A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox
Notable omissions: Mike Napoli, Rangers; Matt Wieters, Orioles
Napoli is not exactly undeserving, not after his monster season and fantastic postseason in 2011. But his likely victory in the fan balloting will bump a more deserving catcher, and maybe two.
Mauer again leads the AL in on-base percentage. Pierzynski is on his way to a career-best offensive season at 35. Saltalamacchia doesn’t hit lefties, Wieters doesn’t hit righties, but both are worthy.
Oh, and by the way, if Salty makes it, we could see three players from the Rangers’ trade of Mark Teixeira in the ASG; Harrison and Andrus would be the others. The Rangers traded Salty to the Red Sox in 2010. A fourth player the Rangers acquired in the deal, right-hander Neftali Feliz, was an All-Star in 2010.
Teixeira, meanwhile, has made only two All-Star teams, and just one since signing his eight-year, $180 million free-agent contract with the Yankees after the 2008 season.
He likely won’t be one of 68 this time, either. The list is more difficult to crack than it seems.