All-Star voting ends in 10 days, and there will be another Omar Infante(notes) Moment, a managerial boner in which an undeserving overachiever affixes in front of his name a title as watered-down as a happy-hour well drink. Being an All-Star ain't what it used to be, not with 34 slots to fill and participation trophies to hand out.
Still, it's not difficult to see why All-Star rosters trended toward expansion, aside from the 2002 tie, of course: There happens to be a number of excellent players in the major leagues, plenty more than 68, and the prospect of snubs can send anybody into a tizzy, from a fan to a mild-mannered baseball columnist.
Projected All-Star rosters
Yes, the pick of Infante and omission of Joey Votto(notes) last year did prompt a bit of a conniption. OK, fine. It was an out-and-out blow-up. Even if Infante was having – and finished with – a solid season, he was still a utilityman without anywhere close to enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Remarkably dumb then, remarkably dumb now. (Just for reference: Infante is at .257/.300/.315 this year.)
While injuries can right some wrongs of the first round of voting – Votto eventually did make it onto last year's team – positional overload prevents much change beyond that. Which leaves baseball staring at the prospect of a Midsummer Classic without …
1. Felix Hernandez or Dan Haren(notes). Now, all of this is based on a projection of All-Star rosters displayed in the sidebar to the right. The mock rosters include a number of variables: one player from each team; a positionally balanced roster; and the leanings of the managers, San Francisco's Bruce Bochy and Texas' Ron Washington, who are likelier to pick their own players and ones from their divisions.
Players, managers and coaches pick the first five All-Star starting pitchers, and Josh Beckett, CC Sabathia, James Shields, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver seem the likeliest choices. Hernandez's name recognition and Haren's hot start could secure them a spot, but we'd like to give those who play the game some benefit of the doubt, stupid as that may be.
The manager must fill out the roster from there. Alexi Ogando is Washington's best starter (he could choose C.J. Wilson(notes), too), Scott Baker (Minnesota) and Gio Gonzalez (Oakland) fill out team requirements, and Seattle rookie Michael Pineda has a better strikeout rate, walk rate and ERA than his Cy Young-winning teammate, Hernandez.
One or both of them could sneak onto the roster via MLB's latest law, which forbids pitchers that started Sunday from playing Tuesday night. Or through the Final Vote, which puts the team's last spot into Web voters' hands. Or even because of injuries, which is likely the only way …
2. Mark Teixeira(notes) finds himself in Phoenix the second week in July. Teixeira leads the major leagues in home runs with 21 alongside Jose Bautista and New York Yankees teammate Curtis Granderson, and yet only an inspired final push by fans can send Teixeira to his third All-Star game.
Adrian Gonzalez leads voting right now and deserves a spot. So does Miguel Cabrera, whose .450 on-base percentage ranks second in the AL behind Bautista and is nearly 50 points ahead of third place. Paul Konerko has 30 points on Teixeira's OBP, 60 points on his slugging percentage and no other shoo-in teammates, as Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Granderson are for Teixeira.
Because first base is the refugee camp for great bats that bomb out at other positions, even some of the position's finest find themselves slighted come July. Though it's bad in the American League …
3. Todd Helton(notes), Brett Wallace(notes) and Gaby Sanchez(notes) can vouch: It might be even worse in the National League. Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and leading vote-getter Albert Pujols might be the three best hitters in the NL, all due respect to Matt Kemp, and even some of the biggest numbers in the league can't compete with them.
Sanchez ranks ninth in OPS. Fielder is second, Votto fourth and Pujols is ascending rapidly, up to 20th even after his six-week-long slump to start the season. Wallace's OBP is sixth. Votto is first, Fielder third. Even the venerable Helton, whose numbers are almost identical to Sanchez's, can't benefit from a legacy vote to honor a resurgent old-timer.
("Hey," says MLB. "Good excuse to expand to 35!")
Of course, the best first-base snub isn't even on the ballot as a first baseman, because at the beginning of the season …
4. Michael Morse(notes) was supposed to be an outfielder for the Washington Nationals. He fell into a miserable slump, lost his job to Laynce Nix(notes) and prepared to mire on the bench until May 22, when Adam LaRoche's(notes) shoulder injury forced him from the lineup. This week, he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, though Morse might've Wally Pipp'd him even if LaRoche had come back.
Since taking LaRoche's first-base job, Morse has a major league-leading 11 home runs and 32 RBIs to go alongside a .355 batting average and .420 on-base percentage. Morse fueled Washington's recent eight-game winning streak and, at 29, is doing his best to emulate Jayson Werth(notes), his teammate whose late-career surge landed him a $126 million deal in D.C.
Morse needs more than a hot month for the comparison to stick and prove him a true late bloomer. He still strikes out too much. He still doesn't walk enough. The bat speaks with great fury, though, and Morse might be the thunder the NL misses most if not for …
5. Jay Bruce(notes) and the case of the way-too-deep outfield. It's not just him getting the short shrift. Shane Victorino(notes), Andrew McCutchen(notes), Carlos Beltran(notes) – all of them could end up back at home despite All-Star-caliber credentials.
Bruce's absence would trigger the most head-scratching. The explanation: Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, worthwhile candidates all, lead the voting. Kemp is a no-brainer. Hunter Pence is Houston's best bet (though if Bochy ached to get Bruce in, he could pick Wandy Rodriguez(notes) over … well, we'll get to that). And Justin Upton leads Bruce in the triple-slash categories while Bruce owns advantages in home runs, RBIs and runs. Give the advantage, in this instance, to the kid playing in his home ballpark.
With Votto, Brandon Phillips and Francisco Cordero likely selections, Bruce must wait another year and hope his excellent 2011 parlays into better support by 2012. He's not the only left-handed hitter poised to be forgotten, after all, because …
a. Works in Canada
b. Played like the unfortunate amalgamation of hot garbage and rancid milk last year
c. Is a first baseman
d. All of the above
Since his return from the disabled list June 4, Lind has been baseball's hottest hitter, making even Morse look like Mario Mendoza. Heading into Sunday, Lind's .408 batting average, .939 slugging percentage, eight home runs and 17 RBIs led the AL over the last two weeks. As Bautista fell into his deepest power drought of the season, Lind surged to his apex and brought his numbers toward the top of the league's.
Unfortunately, answer "c" is the biggest culprit in his staying north for the break. Lind won't get a sniff due to his position, an excuse that …
7. Alexei Ramirez(notes) never could use. Aside from third base in the NL, shortstop in the AL might be the game's paltriest position. And yet despite being among the best fielders in the league – a title he's losing quickly to Alcides Escobar(notes), but still – and resolving to actually take a walk this season, Ramirez is likely to find himself on the outside again should a .324-slugging defensive liability soon return from the disabled list.
The fans are voting Derek Jeter to his sixth straight game and his 12th overall, and that is their prerogative. No matter how counterintuitive it runs to a game that actually has consequences and thus should feature only the best players, allowing fans to vote is an All-Star game tradition that ensures appearances by players fans want to see. And those whose teams feature bigger fan bases, like Jeter, though MLB doesn't bother acknowledging that.
Anyway, Asdrubal Cabrera's offensive excellence gives him the backup shortstop job, and Jhonny Peralta's bat and ability to play third base make him a smart choice for another slot, and, well, there just isn't any room left for Ramirez. There wasn't any for his teammate Carlos Quentin(notes), either, not when Sabathia's inclusion took an extra spot from a pitcher, which meant Kansas City's Aaron Crow(notes) was out, forcing Alex Gordon to represent the outfield and resigning Chicago to a one-player team.
A similar set of dominos could fall and force Bochy to leave …
8. Sergio Romo(notes) and his insane strikeout rate at home, along with a team's worth of worthy relievers: Tyler Clippard(notes), Craig Kimbrel(notes), John Axford(notes), Carlos Marmol(notes), J.J. Putz(notes), Ryan Madson(notes), Francisco Rodriguez and Heath Bell(notes).
Bell's reputation may well make him among the top three relief-pitching vote-getters by players, managers and coaches, which renders moot his beef. Clippard and Kimbrel find themselves in opposite situations – Clippard statistically better than the closer in front of him, Drew Storen, and Kimbrel putting up worse numbers than his setup man, Jonny Venters – but share a look from the outside. Axford and Madson have multiple guaranteed teammates already. Putz, K-Rod and Marmol may sneak on, though each has enough flaws to justify their exclusion.
The big knock against Romo: He has pitched just 21 2/3 innings, with Bochy using him as a right-handed specialist. In that time, he has struck out 34, walked four and limited hitters to a sub-.200 average. There is the possibility Bochy chooses him over Venters or Mike Adams, which would make for an even more egregious snub, though he's already going to do dirty one of his guys when …
9. Ryan Vogelsong(notes) doesn't make the team. And it's only because of innings, the same problem that will cause Johnny Cueto(notes) and Josh Collmenter(notes) and Dillon Gee(notes) and Jeff Karstens(notes) to cry foul.
Pitching in the NL is so good, so strong, it's damn near impossible to pick any of them even if they do deserve it. Go ahead, kick one of these guys off: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Anibal Sanchez, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum or Ian Kennedy.
Can't touch the Phillies. Braves, either. Sanchez is Florida's lone representative. Kershaw leads NL starters in strikeout rate and ranks behind Hamels, Hanson and Halladay in opponent's OPS. Lincecum is sure to join as a players' pick. And though Kennedy is the most fungible, would Bochy really replace the pitcher who trails only Halladay, Hamels and Lee in innings pitched, at a 2.98 ERA no less, with a guy who spent nearly the first month at Triple-A?
Actually, he might. Vogelsong's 1.92 ERA is the best in the NL among active pitchers with at least 60 innings. Part of it is luck, no doubt, and other pieces skill, though the path toward the numbers applies not to All-Star voting. It's all about perception, and that's what could keep …
10. Felix Hernandez off this list by the time the game rolls around. He remains a force – nobody has thrown more than his 113 1/3 innings, and his 108 strikeouts rank second in the league, and he still induces nearly a 50 percent groundball rate – but the ERA, that great arbiter among the masses, says he's the 23rd-best starter in the league this year.
If the players and managers and coaches are savvier and see his strikeout rate is actually up, and his fielding-independent-pitching numbers are among the league's best (along with Haren's), and his stuff is every bit as electric as it used to be, well, perhaps he will go to Phoenix, throw an inning or two and represent his Cy Young like he very well should. Or maybe Pineda will go and find himself crowned Felix 2.0.
Whatever happens, we must remember this is the All-Star game, and it's not a matter of if but when: The Omar Infante Moment is coming. Get ready to wring those hands.
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