Odd man out inevitable in All-Star selection process
Math can be so cruel.
There are times when the numbers add up, even if you wish they didn't. This is one of those times for Major League Baseball.
The National League and American League All-Star teams will be announced on Sunday on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, at the end of a three-step process that includes fan voting, peer review and a final bit of tinkering by the teams' managers and MLB officials. Sixty-six of the 68 spots will be filled and finalists will be named for the Final Vote to complete the teams, and the only thing that's guaranteed is that there will be outrage somewhere at the results.
Even though roster sizes were expanded in 2009 and again in '10, there are more players who deserve to be All-Stars than those who can be All-Stars. Before you criticize, fill out your own 34-man teams and see who you're leaving off. Then factor in the potential quirks in the fan voting and the requirement that every team be represented and see who've you've got.
Like packing the car for a two-week family vacation, it's an annual ordeal necessary for the fun that lies ahead. This season is no different.
Consider, off the top, the plight of 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, who has been an All-Star five straight seasons and finished in the top four in the MVP voting each of the past two seasons. It's going to be really tough to fit both of these guys on the NL team, no matter how much Mike Matheny (a catcher himself) might want them in Minneapolis.
As great as Molina and Posey are, and as much as they've meant to the Cardinals and Giants this season, the reality is that the Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy has been the best catcher in the NL this season, if not all of MLB. He's always been highly respected as a receiver and team leader, and through Wednesday, he was hitting .331 with a .911 OPS and only one more strikeout than walk (36/35). He's been a key to the league's winningest team.
Then there's the Reds' Devin Mesoraco, who is hitting .314 with a 1.026 OPS and 15 homers in 172 at-bats. Those are Mike Piazza-type numbers and this is hardly the offensive era in which Piazza built his portfolio. He hasn't played as much as the other catchers, thanks to hamstring problems early in the season, but can you leave Mesoraco off?
Molina figures to be voted to the starting lineup by fans (unless Lucroy makes up a deficit of 464,299), and Lucroy is likely to be voted onto the team by players if he misses in the fan vote. That will leave Matheny to choose between Posey and Mesoraco. The Braves' Evan Gattis was another consideration before he went on the disabled list this week.
Here are other spots where the squeeze play is in effect:
• 1B/DH, AL: Historically, this has generally been a traffic jam of strong candidates, and that's especially true this year. The situation is complicated by the Orioles' Nelson Cruz being the likely starter at DH even though he's had more at-bats as an outfielder, which will force the players to pick between David Ortiz and the statistically deserving Victor Martinez.
It's hard to imagine that Red Sox manager John Farrell will leave Big Papi off his team, isn't it? So what will that mean for the sluggers who are going to finish behind Miguel Cabrera in the fan voting at first base?
Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion and the White Sox slugger Jose Abreu join Miggy in putting up numbers worthy of AL MVP consideration. You've got to think they're on the team, along with Cruz and either Ortiz or Martinez.
That means the odd man out in player voting between Ortiz and Martinez is swimming in a deep pool hoping for a sixth first-base/DH spot. Those joining him include Oakland's Brandon Moss and the Angels' Albert Pujols. There will be a lot of howls if Farrell forces Mike Napoli into the equation.
• 1B, NL: Fans will get it right if they elect Paul Goldschmidt as the starter, as it appears they will. There's nothing clear about this situation beyond that, however.
The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo is the WAR leader (2.4) on a list of six other candidates. It will be fascinating to see how players and Matheny decide between him and the others: Adam LaRoche, Matt Adams, Justin Morneau, Freddie Freeman and Joey Votto, all of whom have WARs between LaRoche's 2.3 and Freeman's 1.8.
Farrell could point to the DH rule being in play as a reason to take four first basemen, not three. But there are nine healthy outfielders with WARs of at least 2.5, and that doesn't include the Reds' Billy Hamilton, whose wheels and gloves could be game-changers for Matheny and the NL. It seems like he'd be better off adding someone like the Padres' Seth Smith, Marlins' Marcell Ozuna, Braves' Jason Heyward or Hamilton than going deeper into the list of first basemen meriting consideration.
• Starting pitching, both leagues: In the age of pitching, it is an agonizing process to sort out the excellence. Through Wednesday, there were 25 qualifiers with ERAs below 3.00, including 15 in the NL. Even factoring in the late roster expansion caused by Sunday starters who will be replaced on rosters -- there will be a lot of these, with Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Madison Bumgarner, Sonny Gray, Julio Teheran, Justin Verlander and Johnny Cueto among those tentatively scheduled to start on July 13 -- it's hard to imagine more than 10 starters are likely to be selected. Some deserving pitchers won't get their invitations to Target Field.
The clock is ticking toward selection, and also disappointment.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.