Yasiel Puig should be an All-Star this year.
Please do not mistake this for some grand troll job. On the contrary, it is a rational plea to Major League Baseball to bring legitimate incentive to watch the game instead of manufactured nonsense. Nobody tunes in to the All-Star game to see what league will get home-field advantage in the World Series. People want to see the best players – and, even more, the most intriguing ones.
Puig is not one of the best players in baseball. He has been in the major leagues all of two weeks. During those two weeks nobody has been better, of course, but still: It's two weeks, and an 0-for-20 skid would do some serious damage to his gaudy numbers.
What it wouldn't do is quell the excitement over a player who has moved Vin Scully to sing paeans. Puig is different than Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, his phenom predecessors who demanded large audiences. The hype for each bubbled long before his debut. Puig's was fast-tracked from a crazy $42 million contract to spring training legend to guy who inspires epic grindcore thrashing.
This is the sort of person baseball should beg to play July 16 at Citi Field. The Midsummer Classic is Midsummer Flaccid. It's not just that TV ratings sunk to an all-time low last year. It's the massive rosters, the starters barely playing half the game, the pitchers not allowed to pitch, the effects of interleague play – all have conspired to take what once was a diamond on the baseball calendar and turn it to zircon.
Around this time last year, I argued vehemently on behalf of Trout and Harper's inclusion despite neither debuting until April 28. Ultimately, both did make it, and the game was better for having them there. I pushed for Strasburg two seasons before. He didn't make it. But hey: Nobody ever will forget that fifth inning featuring Hong-Chih Kuo and Heath Bell. What a moment!
The aim of every All-Star game should be to court dynamic moments. We remember Bo Jackson leading off the 1989 game because he hit a 450-foot home run to dead center, the sort of thing Puig and few others can do. The sooner baseball treats this as what it is – an exhibition game – and emphasizes including the players people want to see, the likelier the league is to see any sort of renaissance or resurgence in interest.
In the meantime, instead of finding …
1. Yasiel Puig on the National League ballot for outfielder, the following luminaries are included:
• Mike Baxter: He is currently at Triple-A.
• Adam Eaton: He has not played a single game this season.
• Kirk Nieuwenhuis: He was 2 for 30 with 15 strikeouts before hitting a game-winning home run off Carlos Marmol, which should count with his Triple-A stats.
What to glean from that? First, the All-Star ballots are determined before the season and cast in stone despite a majority of votes coming online and there being an easy solution: Sub in the best players today. Oh, and also, the Mets outfield might be worse than originally thought.
When Puig gets snubbed, it will be a sad moment for baseball. He'll shrug it off while …
2. Evan Longoria sits around with legitimate beef. Of all the players with a decent chance of getting snubbed, Longoria is the best of them.
This has nothing to do with his production. After whacking another home run Saturday, Longoria entered Sunday hitting .308/.363/.556 with 14 homers. He absolutely deserves inclusion among the AL's best.
Here's the three-headed problem: the DH, history and the major-league equivalent of the participation trophy.
All-Star rosters are picked three ways. Fans pick the starters, except for the pitcher. Players pick one backup at each position, plus five starters and three relievers. The managers fill out the remaining slots. For NL manager Bruce Bochy, that means he selects nine players. The starting designated hitter and backup DH take up two of those positions for AL manager Jim Leyland, which leaves him just seven players – five of which must be pitchers.
Projected AL All-Star voting
Josh Donaldson (UT)
Leyland could use his two choices on a third catcher and a utilityman. The best utility choice in the AL happens to be Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson, who played one game at shortstop this year, came up as a catcher and is a perfect emergency guy and, yes, happens to play the same position as Evan Longoria.
Leyland could still choose Longoria. Problem is, he needs to select a player from Houston because every team must be represented, and so …
3. Jose Altuve may well be the guy even if Bud Norris or Jason Castro is more deserving. The rationale: Leyland could want a third-string second baseman. The likely backup DH, Mark Reynolds, also can play first or third. Third baseman Manny Machado, projected to be chosen by the players over Longoria and Adrian Beltre – Longoria could sneak in here if players don't want to give the young Machado his due quite yet – came up as a shortstop. Miguel Cabrera or Carlos Santana can play first.
If Leyland went with Castro, the catcher, he could try to weasel Longoria onto the team, though MLB might protest in that he has no utility guy. He also could choose Royals catcher Salvador Perez and replace Kansas City starter James Shields with Norris.
Either way, beyond Longoria and Beltre the players getting truly snubbed are not in the AL. Starting with …
Miller, with his 2.21 ERA, better than 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio? Locke and a 2.19 ERA? Lee's gaudy innings total and minuscule walk total? Minor's breakout? Ryu's sterling debut?
It's possible one could sneak on the players' ballot ahead of Patrick Corbin or Jordan Zimmermann. (Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey and Adam Wainwright are player-vote locks.) Absent of that, it leaves Bochy with five pitching slots. At least two will go to closers, maybe three if Bochy chooses Jonathan Papelbon alongside Sergio Romo, Edward Mujica, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Jason Grilli.
The only Marlins worth any consideration are starters Jose Fernandez and Ricky Nolasco. Same with the Cubs and starters Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija and Scott Feldman. And there's no way Bochy isn't using the patented All-Star Manager Nepotism to choose Madison Bumgarner, his only good starter this season. The starter logjam isn't nearly as bad in the AL, though if …
5. Hisashi Iwakuma doesn't make the roster, he'll have just as legitimate a beef as Longoria.
There's a fairly decent chance Iwakuma does get snubbed (before injuries and starters who pitched Sunday being ineligible to go widen the roster to the point he ends up chosen). Considering players tend to vote big names, a five-pack of Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, Chris Sale and Clay Buchholz is a solid guess.
Should Max Scherzer or Anibal Sanchez sneak onto the player ballot, it might prevent Leyland from spending two of his five pitching spots on his starters. A third should go to Twins reliever Glen Perkins, and he could use Nos. 4 and 5 on Shields and Iwakuma, who gives up fewer baserunners than any starter, sports a 1.79 ERA and strikes out close to a batter an inning. If Leyland really wants to mix things up …
6. Jesse Crain could be one of those five pitchers. No setup man is having a better season than Crain, whose 0.60 ERA is buttressed by a great strikeout-to-walk ratio (39-to-9 in 30 innings) and a nice, fat goose egg in his home run column. Similar to Crain is Colorado's Rex Brothers, who has a 0.30 ERA. How he has managed it with 16 walks in 29 2/3 innings is tremendous luck or an advanced degree in escapology.
Other under-the-radar middle relievers deserve All-Star due ahead of some closers whose inflated save numbers get them chosen. Trevor Rosenthal has 47 strikeouts against six walks in 34 innings with a 1.59 ERA. Brett Cecil went from failed starter to lockdown lefty reliever with a 1.53 ERA. Overshadowed by Grilli, his setup man, Mark Melancon, has been near unhittable with nine strikeouts for every walk.
The prospect of more than one at Citi Field is tiny. This is the All-Star game, remember, and while middle relievers' numbers more than make them worthy, they remain the most fungible and frowned-upon of the vital players. People would much rather watch …
7. Miguel Cabrera, and nearly 3.3 million votes cast already have said as much. Cabrera is likely to run away with the highest total this season after Josh Hamilton usurped 11 million ballots last year. Hamilton's 2013 total thus far: 726,485, nearly 2 million behind Trout and trailing Nate McLouth, Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp. It's good to know baseball fans actually pay attention.
In particular, Baltimore Orioles fans are showing up in ridiculous numbers. Chris Davis deserves to start at first. One could construct an argument for J.J. Hardy and his .307 on-base percentage at shortstop based on the paucity at the position. But Nick Markakis in the outfield? Yikes.
The ability of one fan base to so skew the system is simultaneously horrifying and edifying. Baseball trusts the will of the people, for better or Markakis. Please spare us him and let …
8. Daniel Nava be one of the great stories of the game. Nava is 30. The Red Sox bought his rights for $1. They designated him for assignment, dumping him from their 40-man roster, in 2011. After signing Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino to join Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield, Nava entered spring not knowing if he had a job.
Now he's hitting .294/.389/.468 in more than 250 plate appearances. His on-base percentage leads all AL outfielders, though that isn't nearly as exciting as it sounds. Because outfielders in the AL are a pretty awful group.
Trout and Adam Jones are no-brainers, as should be Jose Bautista. Coco Crisp absolutely deserves a nod this year. Then it gets a little dicey. Do you choose Nava or Alex Rios, Matt Joyce or Ellsbury, Alex Gordon or Cespedes for those final two places? Each has his weakness. Nava could tug on Leyland's soft spot. And with no Longo, Joyce fits as the Rays' representative.
It's the sort of group that if …
Projected NL All-Star voting
Matt Carpenter (UT)
Sandoval or Zim
9. Ryan Braun were in the AL he would be a part of. Not the NL. With Harper, Justin Upton and Carlos Beltran each deserving a starting spot, dos Carlos (Gonzalez and Gomez) and NL home run leader Domonic Brown the same, and Hunter Pence likely to get a nepotism vote, it leaves Braun in limbo, just like Gerardo Parra, Andrew McCutchen, Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Cuddyer.
Because of Biogenesis and Braun's still-vehement denial that he did anything wrong, baseball isn't fretting over the chance that Braun will spend All-Star week in Milwaukee. Perhaps he and …
10. Yasiel Puig can rent a lake house together and have their own Home Run Derby. Seeing Puig in the real one for even one round would give the event the buzz it has lacked for ages. The derby might as well be the Slam Dunk Contest. Occasionally, it gives a moment to remember, but usually it's a big dud.
It does not have to be this way. It should not be this way. And perhaps MLB can compromise.
Want to give this to the people? Fine. Do it. Make the NL Final Vote – the fan-only election for the last spot on each roster – a choice among five outfielders: Braun, Parra, McCutchen, Choo and Yasiel Puig.
It would be a great test for the hypothesis that people want Puig. They want to buy Dodger Stadium clear out of his jerseys and shirts, and they want to see him pummel more home runs, and they want to see him throw like Bo. He threw a punch in a fight two days ago, and baseball didn't suspend him.
Why? Maybe like the rest of us the league has fallen prey to him and understands the Puig Principle: Thou shalt watch him whenever possible. Including the All-Star game.
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