Every year when I pick my All-Star teams, I think to myself, “OK, which fans are going to scream at me the loudest?”
I don’t mean “scream” in the literal sense, and thank goodness for that, because if people actually could communicate through audio on Twitter or in our comments section, my ears would never stop ringing.
But someone is going to get upset, right? Someone is always upset these days, usually about things more important than a writer choosing an extra Astro instead of a Yankee for his American League All-Star team (yes, it happened, and you’re going to have to keep reading to find out which Yankee was shafted so egregiously!)
Seriously, my advice to fans whenever they howl about things like an All-Star snub is to think of themselves as Johnny Cueto on one of his beloved horses, a portrait of tranquility, riding peacefully into the Dominican sunset. Some players will get injured. Others will find some cockamamie excuse not to show, even though participation is mandatory. By the time the game actually takes place, the All-Star population will be larger than the population of Idaho, and all will be right with the world.
But back to making people scream.
Much as I hate to acknowledge the work of a competitor, particularly one who takes pride in ruining his readers’ breakfasts, the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernández came up with a good idea last week. Dylan wrote Clayton Kershaw should start the All-Star Game for the NL. I’ll go one step further, acting upon a suggestion from The Athletic’s own philosopher-king, Andy McCullough: Shohei Ohtani should start for the AL.
That’s right, a Dodger against an Angel in the first All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium since 1980. Not just any Dodger, but Kershaw, arguably the greatest pitcher in franchise history. Not just any Angel, but Ohtani, the most compelling figure in the game today.
I know: Neither Kershaw nor Ohtani is averaging one inning per team game, the requirement for pitchers to qualify for the league leaders (Ohtani is two innings short). But Kershaw has a 2.57 ERA in 56 innings, Ohtani a 2.44 ERA in 81. And not to sound like a shill for my other employer, Fox Sports, but Kershaw vs. Ohtani would be better TV than the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara vs. the Rays’ Shane McClanahan or any other matchup of more “deserving” starters. Though come to think of it, Kershaw vs. Justin Verlander would be pretty cool, too.
This is the All-Star Game, an exhibition, a television show, one of the leading promotional vehicles for the sport. Alcantara, McClanahan, Tony Gonsolin, they can all pitch, receive their just due on the broadcast. And then get back to the more serious business of trying to win Cy Young Awards.
As McCullough put it, “If Clayton doesn’t start, what are we even doing?” The same can be said of Ohtani, even though yes, he started the game last year. Many of us complain about how Major League Baseball routinely blows opportunities to inject sizzle into the sport. Well, the league now has a made-for-Hollywood production at its fingertips. Can we try not to blow it, please?
Those who don’t agree can either start screaming now, or hold off until they get even more offended with my glorious selections below. As always, I made my picks in accordance with the rules of the ASG, choosing for each league 20 position players and 12 pitchers, at least three of whom are relievers, while making sure all 30 clubs (gasp) are represented.
* – Denotes starters
Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays*; Jonah Heim, Rangers.
Notable omission: José Trevino, Yankees.
Ah, Yankee Snub No. 1. News flash: Heim has 12 homers and a .792 OPS, Trevino seven homers and a .722.
First base (2)
Ty France, Mariners*; Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays.
Notable omissions: José Abreu, White Sox, Ryan Mountcastle, Orioles; Anthony Rizzo, Yankees.
First base is a loaded position in both leagues. France, currently on the injured list with a left flexor strain, leads the AL group with an .867 OPS. A strong case can be made for Rizzo’s inclusion — he has more homers than Guerrero (22-19) and a higher OPS (.844-.839). But Vlad is Vlad, one of the bright young stars in the game.
Second base (2)
Luis Arraez, Twins*; Jose Altuve, Astros.
Notable omissions: Santiago Espinal, Blue Jays; Andrés Giménez, Guardians.
Arraez, the AL leader in batting average and on-base percentage, actually has played more first than second, but the way my roster sets up, he’s easier to fit into the latter spot. It’s a difficult call between him and Altuve for the starting role — Altuve’s OPS+ is nearly as high. I wanted Giménez on my team but just couldn’t find a spot for him at second or short. Espinal, a finalist in the fan voting, is an underrated player, but not in the class of Arraez and Altuve.
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox*; Carlos Correa, Twins.
Notable omissions: Tim Anderson, White Sox, Jeremy Peña, Astros.
Correa vs. Peña, the rookie who replaced him with the Astros, is close. Correa, by OPS+ has been better offensively, but Peña is better defensively, according to the advanced metrics. I’m going with the bigger star, just to hear the warm welcome Correa will receive at Dodger Stadium. Anderson isn’t quite as deserving, and Wednesday’s stirring victory aside, the White Sox have been so putrid, they merit only one berth.
Third base (2)
José Ramírez, Guardians*; Rafael Devers, Red Sox.
Notable omission: Eugenio Suarez, Mariners.
Guardians fans advocating for Ramírez to be the league MVP over Aaron Judge also should take a look at Ramírez vs. Devers. That’s right, Ramírez might not even be the most valuable third baseman in the league! Not much separates these two, and either would be a fine choice to start.
Aaron Judge, Yankees*; Byron Buxton, Twins*; Mike Trout, Angels*; Andrew Benintendi, Royals; Julio Rodríguez, Mariners; Kyle Tucker, Astros.
Notable omissions: George Springer, Blue Jays; Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees.
Trout would be in left field, a position he played in the 2013 and 2014 All-Star Games. I chose Tucker over Stanton for the last spot — Yankee Snub No. 2! — in part because he is the better defender. They are nearly identical in OPS+.
Designated hitter (4)
Yordan Alvarez, Astros*; Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; J.D. Martinez, Red Sox; Shohei Ohtani, Angels.
Notable omissions: I picked four of these slugging behemoths. You were expecting Jed Lowrie, too?
The commissioner’s office might award Cabrera the “legend” spot to ensure the AL gets an extra player to match the NL’s likely addition of Albert Pujols. Cabrera, though, is actually the Tigers’ most deserving All-Star. Naming him to the team as a “legend” would force the inclusion of another Tiger on the 32-man AL roster. And uh, I’m not sure anyone wants to see that.
Pitchers (12, plus Ohtani)
Shohei Ohtani, Angels*; Paul Blackburn, Athletics; Dylan Cease, White Sox; Emmanuel Clase, Guardians; Gerrit Cole, Yankees; Nestor Cortes, Yankees; Clay Holmes, Yankees; Alek Manoah, Blue Jays; Jorge López, Orioles; Shane McClanahan, Rays; Martin Pérez, Rangers; Justin Verlander, Astros; Framber Valdez, Astros.
Notable omissions: Jason Adam, Rays; Brock Burke, Rangers; Kevin Gausman, Blue Jays; Logan Gilbert, Mariners; Frankie Montas, Athletics; John Schreiber, Red Sox; Ryne Stanek, Astros.
Blackburn replaces Montas as my choice from the Athletics; no way the A’s will want Montas to pitch in the game when he is dealing with right shoulder inflammation that will force him to miss his next start, potentially damaging his trade value. I badly wanted to find a spot for Gilbert, and actually could have added a few more relievers to the omissions. Stanek, Schreiber, Burke and Adam all have ERAs below 1.40.
Willson Contreras, Cubs*; Will Smith, Dodgers.
Notable omission: Travis d’Arnaud, Braves.
Contreras is the obvious choice to start, enabling us all to debate which uniform he will wear next (Guardians? Rays? Padres? Heaven forbid the Cubs!) Smith vs. d’Arnaud is essentially a coin flip. I’m going with Smith, the bigger on-base threat.
First base (4)
Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals*; Pete Alonso, Mets; C.J. Cron, Rockies; Freddie Freeman, Dodgers.
Notable omissions: Garrett Cooper, Marlins; Rhys Hoskins, Phillies.
That’s right, I’m taking four, and Cooper has nearly as high an OPS+ as Freeman, with Hoskins not far behind. Cron, fifth in the NL in OPS, makes it as the Rockies’ lone selection.
Second base (2)
Jazz Chisholm, Marlins*; Brandon Drury, Reds.
Notable omissions: Ketel Marte, Diamondbacks; Jeff McNeil, Mets.
The finalists are Chisholm and Ozzie Albies, but Chisholm currently is out with a right lower back strain, and Albies is down until at least mid-August with a fractured left foot. Drury is my only Red. If Chisholm is unable to play, I would name McNeil to the team and make him the starter.
Dansby Swanson, Braves*; Trea Turner, Dodgers.
Notable omissions: Tommy Edman, Cardinals.
Turner, the more dynamic offensive player, likely will command a bigger contract than Swanson in free agency, but he hasn’t necessarily been the better performer this season. Offensively, they’re close, and Swanson is the superior defender. Edman is comparable to both in Wins Above Replacement, but after producing an .881 OPS in April, he is at .666 since.
Third base (3)
Manny Machado, Padres*; Nolan Arenado, Cardinals; Austin Riley, Braves.
Notable omissions: None.
Machado is only 3-for-19 after missing 10 days with a sprained left ankle, but he still warrants the start based on the way he has carried the Padres during the absence of Fernando Tatis Jr. Arenado has been nearly as good, and while Riley is a touch below, he still ranks in the top 10 in the NL in OPS.
Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves*; Mookie Betts, Dodgers*; Juan Soto, Nationals*; Joc Pederson, Giants; Bryan Reynolds, Pirates.
Notable omissions: Ian Happ, Cubs; Brandon Nimmo, Mets; David Peralta, Diamondbacks. Jack Suwinski, Pirates.
Soto hasn’t been his usual otherworldly self, but seeing him in the same outfield as Acuña and Betts would be a blast. Happ is performing the best of the omissions and on merit probably should make the team over Reynolds, a fellow trade candidate. But Reynolds is my Pirate, in part because I could not squeeze closer David Bednar onto my pitching staff.
Designated hitter (2)
Kyle Schwarber, Phillies*; Josh Bell, Nationals.
Notable omission: William Contreras, Braves.
Contreras and the injured Bryce Harper are the finalists, making it possible Willson and William will become the first pair of brothers to start an All-Star Game since Roberto Alomar and Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1992. William is a fans’ finalist, but he has only 152 plate appearances, nearly 200 fewer than Schwarber and Bell, both of whom are hitting at elite levels. Naming two Nationals to my team ought to be cause to get my baseball writers’ card revoked, but Soto is Soto and Bell is too good to snub.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers*; Sandy Alcantara, Marlins; Corbin Burnes, Brewers; Edwin Díaz, Mets; Max Fried, Braves; Tony Gonsolin, Dodgers; Josh Hader, Brewers; Joe Mantiply, Diamondbacks; Miles Mikolas, Cardinals; Joe Musgrove, Padres; Carlos Rodón, Giants; Zack Wheeler. Phillies.
Notable omissions: Tyler Anderson, Dodgers; Daniel Bard, Rockies; David Bednar, Pirates; Luis Castillo, Reds; Zac Gallen, Diamondbacks; Ryan Helsley, Cardinals; Kenley Jansen, Braves; Pablo Lopez, Marlins; Aaron Nola, Phillies; David Robertson, Cubs; Taylor Rogers, Padres; Julio Urías, Dodgers; Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; Logan Webb, Giants; Kyle Wright, Braves.
I’ll be the first to admit: Some of these omissions are downright unfair. Urías is sixth in the NL in ERA, and has thrown 31 2/3 more innings than Kershaw, but I’ve already got six Dodgers on my team, the most of any club (the Astros are next with five selections, while the Yankees and Braves have four).
Among the relievers, I ideally would want Jansen returning to Dodger Stadium, but he currently is out with an irregular heartbeat. Williams, with his signature “Airbender” changeup, has pitched 20 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings since May 10. It certainly can be argued he is better than Mantiply, my lone choice from the Diamondbacks.
Mantiply twice has allowed multiple runs since June 25, but prior to that he had a 0.34 ERA in 26 2/3 innings. For the season, he has struck out 34 and walked only one. Besides, I’m a sucker for rags-to-riches story. Mantiply, waived by the Tigers, twice taken off the roster by the Yankees, then joined the Diamondbacks on a minor-league contract in Jan. 2020. I wanted Schreiber on my AL squad for similar reasons. The Red Sox claimed Schreiber on waivers from the Tigers in Feb. 2021.
All right, scream away. Just remember: If I snubbed your favorite player, it means nothing. And if he gets snubbed in the actual selection process, he still might find his way to the game eventually. Outrage over All-Star picks often diminishes quickly. Cash those bonuses, boys! Participation trophies for all!
(Top photo of Clayton Kershaw and Shohei Ohtani: Kyodo via AP Images)