It should matter. Just not quite in the same way as MLB has decided it’s going to matter. There seems to be fairly universal agreement that having the All-Star game decide home field advantage for the World Series isn’t a good set up, but the desire to bolster the All-Star game however possible is a good one. Baseball’s hardcore, committed fans aren’t going anywhere. It’s the casual fan the game needs to pull further in through their three day midseason spectacle.
This ethos is what should drive All-Star selections. Omar Infante has become the poster child for All-Star picks getting in on the strength of a good first half, but to say players like that are undeserving is a little harsh. Players filling out the back of the bloated rosters aren’t exactly a difference maker, it’s the starters and immediate back-ups that naturally garner the most attention. With the idea of combining both pedigree and recent performance (with the emphasis on the former) here are the NL players I believe should be involved in Kansas City this year.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Yadier Molina & Buster Posey
Miguel Montero has a case, but Ruiz and Molina are fairly comfortably the class of the league’s backstops and Posey is playing well enough and is a big enough star that he should be involved.
First Base: Joey Votto
This selection could probably have been made in Spring Training. The departures of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the AL leaves Votto as far and away the best first baseman on the senior circuit. He’s that good that making him the only first basemen on the NL roster might actually be an appropriate move. His .349/.474/.636 line sets him nicely for an MVP run this summer.
Second Base: Brandon Phillips & Jose Altuve
You could flip a coin between Dan Uggla and Phillips but my sense is that the Reds player has more star power and more value to add to the game. Altuve’s performance and chance to turn into a star in his own right means he belongs here. His .309/.351/.453 is an excellent line for a young second baseman and, for better or worse, his diminutive stature will always make him an interesting player.
Third Base: David Wright & Hanley Ramirez
Both Wright and Ramirez have the sort of star power the All-Star game needs to keep front and centre of the festivities, even if only one of them is hitting like a surefire All-Star. Wright has been as good a player as anyone in the Majors this year and is showing the sort of form that many thought might have deserted him.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins & Starlin Castro
Going into today’s game, Rollins holds a 740 OPS. One month ago he had a 558 OPS. One month ago Rollins might not be making this team but he’s been on fire this last month and has the past performance and reputation to make it to Kansas City. Some Cubs fans might be more interested in what Castro can’t do but it’s still a joy to watch him smack the cover off the ball.
Left Field: Ryan Braun & Carlos Gonzalez
I should probably point out here that I’m a proponent of separating the outfield positions for the purposes of All-Star voting, just as I am for Gold Gloves. Braun has followed up his MVP year in 2011 with an equally impressive .311/.392/.596 line this year. He’s a huge star and has to be here. Gonzalez might be boosted by Coors Field but there can be no doubt about his qualifications to be an All-Star.
Centre Field: Andrew McCutchen
Others have a case to be on the roster, mainly the likes of Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino, but as long as McCutchen is the starter I’ll have no complaints.
Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton & Bryce Harper
Right field is a strong position for the NL this year, Carlos Beltran, Jason Heyward and Andre Ethier are all also having excellent years, but the league’s priority should be to get these two young phenoms into the game. The help make up the future of the sport and need to be used as centrepieces for the midseason festivities.
Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke & R.A. Dickey
Strasburg gives you the chance of a ‘Pedro in 99′ type moment and should be the NL’s starter. Cain has been excellent all year and his perfect game gives him a further selling point, if one was even needed. Greinke has been almost quietly excellent and Dickey is, well, who knows what Dickey is? Whatever the future holds for the 37 year old knuckleballer he’s a great story and has produced a historic run of starts in the first half.
Relief Pitcher: Jonathan Papelbon, Aroldis Chapman & Craig Kimbrel
Papelbon is there as much for his name recognition as for his efforts this year, something I really have no problem in the majority of cases. The two fireballers have to be involved if MLB has any desire at all to produce the best quality spectacle that it can.