We are nearing the end of the first half of the Major League Baseball season, which means it’s almost time for one of my favorite sports traditions, the All-Star Game.
Long before Bud Selig soiled all over the Midsummer Classic by putting something really valuable at stake in the form of home-field advantage in the World Series, this game was still a competitive and entertaining affair that featured the best players in the world at the ultimate kids’ game very much enjoying themselves and acting like kids while also showing flashes of the brilliance that made them worthy of the selection to the National and American League squads.
The All-Star Game is the epitome of summer, baseball’s equivalent of a parade with color, spectacle and some pretty awful live music performances (apologies in advance to the Gwen Stefani stans). The NBA might do the party scene a little better for its midseason get-together of the best of the best, but that doesn’t in any way diminish the fun atmosphere that comes with the Home Run Derby, the red carpet parade and all the other great events that make up All-Star Week.
San Diego will be a fine host for the 2016 rendition, and the week will by no means be a failure without a memorable moment, but the best parts of the All-Star Game tend to happen in the actual game, and the best way to ensure that is to make sure the best players are starting the game. The deserving players will ultimately fill out the 34-man roster, but a starting spot in the game means a little extra, and since fans decied this honor, I’d thought I’d give my two cents on what I think the starting lineups should look like.
There isn’t an exact science to this, it’s a combination of stats, career accolades and personal desire to watch great players face other great players. With that in mind, here’s who should be starting at Petco Park if the fans get it right:
Catcher – Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals Phew, this position stinks. It wouldn’t be close if Perez were having a down year. Throw in that last year’s World Series MVP is the best defensive catcher in the game and is having a career year at the plate that would be the best hitting year for an AL catcher since Joe Mauer’s MVP season in 2010, and it’s a blowout.
First Base – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers The Royals’ Eric Hosmer is leading the voting on the heels of a breakout year that is molding him into the superstar so many predicted he would be, so he’d be a fine choice. But this is about who I want to see, and there are few things as gripping as watching the best hitter of his generation go to work against the best pitchers in the game. Cabrera’s quietly having another exceptional year in a Hall-of-Fame career full of them. Hard not to want him out there.
Second Base – Jose Altuve, Houston Astros This is a really tough call, as Robinson Cano has been equally impressive and remains a HOF-caliber player. But Altuve is a 5’5″ man that has added mammoth power to his all-around game. He’s good enough to be the no. 3 hitter in any lineup, and someone so small but also so athletically gifted is a joy to watch. Plus viewership will go way up with girlfriends across the country spend the rest of the game crooning over just how gosh darned cute he is with his wittle helmet and his chubby wittle cheeks.
Shortstop – Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians Another prototypical lead off hitter who hits third in the order for a good offensive team because he’s good enough to do so. Since Lindor and Carlos Santana essentially swapped places in the lineup, Cleveland is the hottest team in baseball. He generates more power than you would expect while still consistently putting up .300/.400/.850 slash lines. Add in he’s already a Gold Glove-level defender for his position, and he’s a slightly better call than the Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts. Then again, this whole discussion would be a moot point if…
Third Base – Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles …this guy was considered a shortstop on the ballot. Still listed at the hot corner because the ballot doesn’t change positions after it’s released (something that should be changed), Machado is an easy All-Star starter selection for the next decade. Effortless defensive ability has meshed with newfound power to result in a five-tool infielder we haven’t seen in orange and black since Brooks Robinson. If Machado was listed at short, I’d give this spot pretty easily to the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson, but them’s the breaks.
Left Field – Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Not a hard call, he’s the presumptive MVP of the league when he’s on his game, it’s just a sad reminder that the best player in the game is on a bad team. Not cool.
Center Field – Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox Betts or Jackie Bradley Jr would be fine choices to represent the best offense in baseball, but Betts has a little more power and just seems to have more fitting name. What sounds more New England than a guy named Mookie?
Right Field – George Springer, Astros No one is making a better late push to claim his 2016 performance has earned him this spot. Since moving to the leadoff spot, Springer has ignited the Astros back into the stratosphere of baseball’s best offenses. Power, hitting for average, speed and outstanding range defensively are not only All-Star skills but make for highly entertaining baseball. The Houston top of the order is must-watch TV.
Designated Hitter – David Ortiz, Red Sox This was his spot to lose the moment he announced this would be his final season, but then Big Papi went and decided to have one of his best seasons ever. He’ll easily make a pit stop in San Diego while chasing the Triple Crown. MVP and another World Series ring.
Pitcher – Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox This is the first of a few choices on this list the managers will make, but they’re still worth discussing. The Red Sox’ Steven Wright and his befuddling knuckleball make a strong case, but the big lefty from the South Side has double-digit wins, more strikeouts and another sub-3 ERA to make his case a little stronger.
Catcher – Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants I’ll always cape for Yadier Molina, unless he’s hitting less than .260. The Nationals’ Wilson Ramos might be the most deserving based on his 2016 numbers, and the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy remains a force, but Posey is still as good as gets. And the championship bling doesn’t hurt a resume either.
First Base – Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo probably won’t give this spot up in the fan voting, and that’s fine, but Goldschmidt’s been much better the past 2 months for a team that desperately needs him to be a star every game, while Rizzo plays amongst the reincarnation of the ’27 Yankees and won’t be completely missed for a day or two.
Second Base – Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals Ben Zobrist is another Cub that would make a fine choice here, but Murphy gets the nod for making the $100-million dollar contract Washington gave Murphy to coax him away from the Mets look genius.
Shortstop – Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers Addison Russell looks like he’ll win the fan vote, snubbing someone worthy of a spot on the roster and making me semi-outraged. But it’s probably worse the best rookie in baseball won’t get a chance to start the game as recognition of his brilliance. He’s become the Dodgers’ best hitter right away after having to live up to the pressure of being a high-profile prospect. Russell shouldn’t even be in the discussion, while Seager and the Rockies’ Trevor Story are easy choices.
Third Base – Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs This could have easily been either the Rockies’ Nolan Arrenado, who might be the best player at the position since George Brett, or the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter, the coach’s prototype for all things baseball player. The only reason Bryant edges out this totally even vote for me is that it would feel really weird not having any Cubs in the starting lineup given how dominant they have been. It looks like they’ll end up with quite a few in the actual game, but Bryant is the lead singer in this rock band tour, so Sparkle Jesus takes the slim cake (shoutout @Adam_Jacobi)
Left Field – Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates Andrew McCutchen is no longer the premier Pirate outfielder. Polanco and Starling Marte have been the real driving force for the Buccos’ offense thus far, so one of them should get a starting nod over Cubs fans incessant voting for Dexter Fowler (?!?!?).
Center Field – Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets He’s become one of the best power hitters in the game who also hits for average, but that’s not the real reason he’s here. The reason is what he can’t do, which is play defense. The AL is going to try and tag every ball to center right at Cespedes, and he will misplay them all, and the ensuing adventures will be glorious.
Right Field – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals One of the few guys on this list along with Cespedes that can bring the theater and majesty of the Home Run Derby to every at-bat. Like Trout, Harper is the first choice for MVP whenever he’s on. Just please don’t walk him.
Designated Hitter – Anthony Rizzo, Cubs He’ll get paid a lot of money by an AL team in the future to do this anyways, so might as well get a head start.
Pitcher – Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers Up until Jake Arrieta’s recent stumbles, this was a very close race. In the end, the best pitcher of his generation continuing to perform like it is an easy choice for the big stage of the All-Star Game. It also makes a little bit of strategic sense, since Kershaw knows Petco Park better than any other pitcher besides Madison Bumgarner.