Players began voting their peers into the All-Star game 10 years ago, an idea borne of managerial nepotism run amok. Baseball tries to salvage its Midsummer Classic with new ideas like a balding man does his hairline. Spray it, toupee it, Propecia it, comb it over – do what you will, but it's still a shell of its former self.
Once the All-Star game started taking itself too seriously – or rather once Bud Selig tried to force us to take it seriously by tying its results to home-field advantage in the World Series – so much of its allure began to rot. The rosters expanded. Players began skipping the game just because. The rosters expanded more. Teams complained about their pitchers throwing one measly inning, so new rules prohibited ones who started the Sunday before the game from pitching. The rosters expanded like they'd been dosed with growth hormone.
All of which is to say: Anything that can bring delight back to the All-Star game is welcome and encouraged. And it brings us to Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, rookie wunderkinds, comrades-in-arms, both still unable to legally purchase a drink, for all the clown bros who might be wondering.
Fans want to see both in the All-Star game. This is almost unanimous, save for those who think Harper is an arrogant punk. Either way, they are good for baseball, and they can find their way onto the team four ways.
1. The All-Star ballot: Both started the year in the minor leagues. Neither is on the ballot. Write-in campaigns never work. Next.
2. The player vote: And this is where it could get interesting. Player ballots go out June 25 and are due back by the end of the week. Trout and Harper's names will be on the player ballots. Because of his reputation, Harper will not get voted in this year by the players. Period. Trout, on the other hand, at least has a chance, particularly with a crop of American League outfielders that leaves something to be desired.
Still, since players began voting in 2003, they have chosen exactly one rookie to the team: Dan Uggla, a 26-year-old, in 2006. Fans voted in Geovany Soto, Kosuke Fukudome and Jason Heyward, and Dontrelle Willis and Craig Kimbrel were injury replacements (down the list of the player vote). History spits on Trout and Harper's chances here.
3. Manager's choice: Even less of a chance. Because of MLB's absurd rule that necessitates each team to have 13 – 13! – pitchers and for the AL to have a backup DH, manager Ron Washington gets all of two position-player choices. With one of those likely to go to whoever between Miguel Cabrera and Mark Trumbo isn't chosen by the players – see our projected rosters below for the full breakdown – that leaves Washington one spot. And it's unlikely he'd use that on another outfielder when it would leave him with only one backup at each middle-infield position.
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In the NL, Tony La Russa isn't quite as hamstrung, with four position-player spots. Then again, he's Tony La Russa, and he's likelier to abandon a dog than he is to choose a rookie of his own volition.
4. Final Vote: Here's where MLB can get it right. The NL has a plethora of outfielders likely to be snubbed. The AL has enough to fill a five-man ballot. Place Trout on the AL's Final Vote ledger and Harper on the NL's and leave it up to the fans. This is their game, after all.
If either is snubbed, the talk surrounding the game is going to be as much about who isn't there as who is. The All-Star game should celebrate the sport in the most grand way possible, and even in the midst of a 1-for-17 skid …
1. Mike Trout represents just that: The confluence of talent and a willing tableau. When he arrived April 28, the Angels were 6-14. They're 29-17 since, and Trout's 2.9 Wins Above Replacement rank fifth in the AL. Even if you don't think WAR is the best measure of value because defensive metrics still lag behind, Trout's counting stats measure up with the league's elite as well.
Of the 44 games in which he has played, he has multiple hits in 19. He ranks second in the AL in stolen bases despite playing in two-thirds of his team's games. His teammates credit him with salvaging their season, which, cliché though it may be, speaks to the respect his game engenders. This game needs Trout, as it does …
2. Bryce Harper, though for different reasons. Harper brings the star quality that Trout does not quite yet possess – the name recognition that Fox can pimp, that fans can relish, that casual ones tuning in can follow. This is not to say Harper's talent doesn't merit it. His numbers might not stand out like Trout's. They are still phenomenal, even more so considering he's a 19-year-old, and no 19-year-old since Mel Ott has hit like him. That was in 1928, by the way.
Look, Harper will have his moments. He went 0 for 7 Saturday. It was ugly.
Well, Omar Infante went 0 for 7 that day, too. He was an All-Star two years ago.
And Matt Wieters slummed with an 0 for 7 earlier this season. He was an All-Star last year.
Giancarlo Stanton rocked the 0 for 7 this year as well. He should be an All-Star come July.
And Harper's five strikeouts? Well, Chris Davis went 0 for 8 with five Ks this year, and he's certainly got a case for an All-Star berth.
The best part is, Harper bounced back Sunday with a single and double. Saturday existed no more. He wore his platinum sombrero and trashed it with equanimity. Harper is one of baseball's most compelling characters because he's not the sort the sport produces. Going against type made …
3. Josh Hamilton the most popular player around, something evident in his major league-best 3.8 million votes – more than a million ahead of Matt Kemp. Hamilton's story – recovering drug addict who struggles with sobriety and remains the most natural talent in the game – continues to resonate, even as his stranglehold on other leaderboards wanes.
Adam Dunn passed Hamilton in home runs this week as the Rangers outfielder continued to struggle with adjusting to pitchers refusing to feed him inside pitches. He spent Friday in the hospital with a stomach bug and should return sometime this week, energized and prepared to continue his assault on the All-Star ballot and …
4. Joey Votto for the claim of best hitter in baseball. Votto is unlikely to cede it anytime soon. His numbers continue to float in historic territory. After a 3-for-4 showing Sunday, Votto is hitting .366/.489/.652. Four hitters have finished seasons with triple-slash figures that high: Babe Ruth (six times), Ted Williams (twice), Rogers Hornsby (twice) and Barry Bonds (once). The last player, non-Bonds division, to finish with an OBP of .489 or better: Mickey Mantle in 1957.
With Matt Kemp on the DL and no other worthy first-base candidate in the NL, Votto should be the NL leader when it's all said and done. Kemp's return remains cloudy enough that it's unclear whether he'll be ready for the game, the same sort of issue that may prevent …
5. Brandon Beachy from being selected to the team. Now, in mocking up the teams, I tried to think like a ballplayer. They appreciate what they know, value names and often reward past performance. Maybe his peers will vote Beachy in. I doubt it.
Which leaves it to La Russa, and even though Beachy's 2.00 ERA leads baseball, he's out for at least 15 days after his right elbow flared up. An MRI is scheduled for this week. He told reporters he didn't hear a pop. Hopefully that's good. The arm, unfortunately, can break in a million different ways.
Injuries could affect other candidacies. While Jered Weaver is expected back soon, will the players remember his no-hitter and other dominance enough to give him one of their five starting spots? Has Carlos Ruiz done enough to hold off Yadier Molina, whose numbers are similar and whose defense is a grade better? Or might both lose ground to 10 Degrees favorite …
6. A.J. Ellis, who, along with Austin Jackson, is pegged as this year's worst snub.
A year ago, I devoted an entire column to potential snubs just to show how the bastardization and watering down of the All-Star game has made it such that anybody having a halfway decent season – and those like Infante, who has a far better case this year than he did in 2010 – merits recognition.
So in honor of those for whom snubbery is likely, here is the next-best thing: a 10 Degrees honorarium, set to the strains of "Call Me Maybe":
Billy Butler, Jay Bruce, Michael Bourn, Chris Capuano, Santiago Casilla, Tyler Clippard, Michael Cuddyer, Johnny Cueto, Chris Davis, Edwin Encarnacion, Dexter Fowler, Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke, Jason Grilli, Jason Hammel, Jim Johnson, Jason Kipnis, Adam LaRoche, Colby Lewis, Brandon McCarthy, James McDonald, Jake Peavy, Josh Reddick, CC Sabathia and Ryan Vogelsong.
There are others. In popularity contests, losers abound. And it's up to …
7. Tony La Russa to make some of the most difficult decisions. La Russa is doing this from the pulpit of retirement, where he can rely on MLB to help and make his selections without having to hurt the feelings of his players. That said, it wouldn't be a shock to see him gift Lance Lynn a selection even though some other starters may be more deserving.
[Related: Dodgers won't rush Ted Lilly or Matt Kemp]
The two toughest choices for La Russa are with Arizona and San Diego. If the NL players choose Brian LaHair as the backup to Votto – it's looking less likely as the weeks go on – he could spend one of his position slots on Goldschmidt. Otherwise, it has to be Wade Miley, whose 2.39 ERA is among the NL's best, even if his stuff isn't likely to sustain it.
Perhaps Chase Headley fits for San Diego, though Martin Prado would take care of the utility position, and taking both Headley and Prado would mean going with two catchers or leaving Stanton or Andre Ethier off. Neither seems likely. That leaves Huston Street, who spent a month on the DL and has thrown all of 14 2/3 innings but can pitch late innings. Hey, when one player from each team is mandated, sometimes the selections get ugly. The problems for …
8. Ron Washington aren't quite as deep. Both of the teams with question marks are more an issue of all the choices being decent. Does he pluck Reddick, Brandon McCarthy or rookie Ryan Cook from Oakland? Maybe Butler, maybe Mike Moustakas or maybe Jonathan Broxton from Kansas City, the host team? When in doubt, go reliever. Washington likes hard throwers, and Cook and Broxton fit.
A bigger question is how Washington will fill out the rest of his pitching staff. Felix Hernandez, even with a down year and an ERA above 3.50, should get Seattle's slot on reputation. And for the final two, Washington could pick any of the snubs above … or engage in a little favoritism.
Washington should pick Yu Darvish. Fans want to see him. Simple as that. And with a 6-0 record, 1.30 ERA and peripheral numbers that are strong enough, Washington can make the case Robbie Ross, his rookie left-handed setup man, deserves a slot. There's that thing about managers picking rookies, sure … as long as they're not the manager's rookie.
More important is what he does with the last position spot after choosing Cabrera/Trumbo, and the possibility …
9. Elvis Andrus could be his guy. This is one where I didn't know how the players would vote. They could choose Andrus. They could select Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera. I guessed Cabrera because his defense makes more highlight reels (even if it isn't as consistent as Andrus') and his power changes games.
If that happens, then comes the question of whether Andrus deserves to be in the game, and whether Washington may have skipped over …
10. Mike Trout because he plays for the Angels, the team chasing Texas in the standings. It would earn Washington a few head-nods in his own clubhouse, certainly, and Washington is nothing if not a players' manager. Still, the game's greater good is at stake here, and if Washington won't pull the trigger, it's incumbent on MLB to do everything it can to get Trout and Harper to Kansas City.
As long as baseball is fine with bloated rosters, it should avoid this issue annually with a pair of designated slots from each league: Rising Star and Career Achievement. Every year, there is at least one rookie in each league who could experience the All-Star game and a veteran nearing the end of his career who could be celebrated for his accomplishments. If this is an exhibition game – and, despite Selig's protestations otherwise, MLB is allowing the players to use Twitter midgame – then treat it accordingly and give people a reason to watch.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, rising stars. Omar Vizquel and Chipper Jones, career achievement. Not that tough.
Instead, baseball makes its fans wonder whether two of the players they truly want to see will be there for the game the league truly wants people to watch. Give us a reason. Give us a chance.
Give us Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.
AL ALL-STAR PREDICTIONS
Mark Trumbo (UT)
Martin Prado (UT)
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