By Chad Stewart
Should fans select MLB’s All-Star starters? Probably not, but it gets fans involved who may otherwise be disinterested. Should the All-Star Game decide home-field advantage in the World Series? Probably not. Then again, it is the only All-Star Game among America’s four major professional sports that is entertaining, and that probably has something to do with the fact that it’s the only one whose outcome has any meaning.
Despite any faults it may have, the MLB All-Star game is one of my favorite and most anticipated events each year. The thrill of seeing the world’s best players face off never wavers.
From rookie sensations like Corey Seager and Trevor Story to resurgent veterans like Robinson Cano and Evan Longoria, the 2016 season has seen a countless number of notable performances, making the selection of the 34-man rosters for each league especially difficult. Here goes…First, the American League.
Catcher // Salvador Perez (KC)
Perez has been among the best catchers in baseball since he came into the league, but his offensive numbers declined each year, posting on-base percentages below .300 each of the last two years. He is now in the midst of perhaps his best offensive season yet, and his defense is still unmatched.
First Base // Miguel Cabrera (DET)
Say what you want about his defense, but, at age 33, Cabrera remains one of the greatest hitters the sport has ever seen, and his 18 homers match his total from his injury-plagued 2015.
Second Base // Jose Altuve (HOU)
With an OBP higher than the likes of Bryce Harper and Paul Godschmidt and a slugging percentage higher than Carlos Gonzalez and Edwin Encarnacion, this 5-foot-6 second baseman is the leading MVP candidate in the AL. Oh, and his .357 batting average leads the league and his 21 stolen bases rank second.
Third Base // Manny Machado (BAL)
If Altuve is the favorite for MVP, Machado is the runner up. He ranks fifth in the league in on-base-plus-slugging percentage, just behind Altuve. He’s slugging .609, second in the league, and has 18 home runs. On top of all that, he puts on a show on defense.
Shortstop // Francisco Lindor (CLE)
Lindor was overshadowed by fellow young shortstop Carlos Correa last year, but his brilliance should not be understated. He arguably had a better 2015 than Correa, and he has carried nearly identical numbers into this year. He’s also a joy to watch defensively.
Outfield // Ian Desmond (TEX)
Who would have thought Desmond would even be in consideration for an All-Star spot after his miserable 2015? Desperate for an opportunity, Desmond signed a one-year deal with Texas in the offseason. The longtime Nationals shortstop seems to be revitalized in the outfield. He has been stellar defensively, and he’s having his most productive offensive season yet.
Outfield // Mike Trout (LAA)
The two-time All-Star Game MVP is still the league’s best player, and he might even be getting better. His .324 average is his best mark since 2013, and he has already surpassed his stolen base total from a year ago.
Outfield // Mark Trumbo (BAL)
After a couple of down years in Arizona and Seattle, Trumbo is having a renaissance in Baltimore. He sits atop the American League with 24 dingers.
Designated Hitter // David Ortiz (BOS)
In his final year, Ortiz is having his most productive year yet, outpacing the league in multiple offensive categories. We’ve never seen anything like this from a 40-year-old before.
Starting Pitcher // Danny Salazar (CLE)
There are a lot of options for this one, but I think Salazar is the most the logical choice. He owns a 2.36 earned-run average and is striking out more than 28% of the batters he faces, both tops in the AL. His electric fastball versus baseball’s best would be a sight to see.
Matt Wieters (BAL) // Catcher
The American League catching crop is decidedly weak, but Wieters is having a nice all-around season.
Eric Hosmer (KC) // First Base
An argument could be made for him to be the starter, as he is in the midst of his most productive season, and he is a 3-time Gold Glove Award winner.
Robinson Cano (SEA) // Second Base
Cano has returned to form this year, batting .306/.362/.546 with 19 homers.
Ian Kinsler (DET) // Second Base
Cano and Kinsler having MVP-caliber years? What year is it?
Josh Donaldson (TOR) // Third Base
The reigning AL MVP is having an even better season this year than last, raising both his OBP and SLG, and he continues to play his usual dazzling defense.
Evan Longoria (TB) // Third Base
Longoria seemed to be declining after back-to-back average seasons in 2014 and 2015, but he’s slugging .521 and already has 18 bombs this year.
Xander Bogaerts (BOS) // Shortstop
Slashing .336/.392/.481 with 11 stolen bases, Bogaerts has quickly emerged as one of the game’s top talents.
Eduardo Nunez (MIN) // Shortstop
He probably wouldn’t be here if the Twins didn’t need a representative, but he is actually having a surprisingly productive season. He also has the versatility to play multiple positions, making him even more valuable.
Mookie Betts (BOS) // Outfield
He’s hitting .296/.335/.523, and he’s not even the best hitting outfielder on his team.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. (BOS) // Outfield
He put together a 29-game hit streak earlier this year, and, while the streak ended, he hasn’t stopped hitting. He is the best hitting outfielder on his team.
Victor Martinez (DET) // Designated Hitter
He’s 37, and he still rakes.
Steven Wright (BOS) // Right-handed Starter
He has a 2.42 ERA, and he throws a knuckleball!The best part is the thought of Perez or Wieters trying to catch a knuckleball.
Aaron Sanchez (TOR) // Right-handed Starter
The 24-year-old is thriving in his first full season in the rotation. He’s sixth in the AL in ERA, and his fastball has the fourth-highest average velocity.
Trevor Bauer (CLE) // Right-handed Starter
He struggled to gain his footing in his first few years of his career, but he has seemingly figured it out this year.
Chris Sale (CWS) // Left-handed Starter
His strikeouts are down, and he has had a few rough starts lately, but he’s still one of the best.
Cole Hamels (TEX) // Left-handed Starter
Hamels has been consistently great throughout his career, and this year is no different.
Wade Davis (KC) // Right-handed Reliever
Since he was moved to the bullpen in 2014, Davis owns a 1.01 ERA. That is not a typo. He’s the best reliever in the game.
Kelvin Herrera (KC) // Right-handed Starter
A major piece of the vaunted Kansas City bullpen, Herrera should not be overlooked just because he’s on the same team as Wade Davis.
Will Harris (HOU) // Right-handed Reliever
He only (!) strikes out a batter per inning, but he had an ERA under two last year and it’s under one this year. He was a waiver claim prior to the 2015 season, by the way.
Craig Kimbrel (BOS) // Right-handed Reliever
Among active players, he has the best chance to break Mariano Rivera’s all-time saves record, and he has punched out nearly 40% of batters he’s faced this year.
Ryan Madson (OAK) // Right-handed Reliever
Somebody has to represent the A’s.
Dellin Betances (NYY) // Right-handed Reliever
One of the most prolific strikeout pitchers in the league hasn’t skipped a beat this year.
Zach Britton (BAL) // Left-handed Reliever
Britton is one of the more underrated relievers in the game. To go with his 0.80 ERA, he owns a minuscule 0.77 WHIP and is holding batters to a meager .155 batting average.
Andrew Miller (NYY) // Left-handed Reliever
Half of the batters Miller faces are set down on strikes. Half!
Now, the National League.
Catcher // Buster Posey (SF)
Posey is the undisputed best catcher in baseball. He is one of the league’s top hitters at a position not known for its offensive prowess, and he does it year in and year out.
First Base // Anthony Rizzo (CHC)
Over the last few years, Rizzo has thrust himself into the conversation for best hitting first baseman in the NL, and he keeps getting better. His current OBP and SLG are both career highs, and he has just four more strikeouts than walks.
Second Base // Daniel Murphy (WAS)
When Murphy morphed into Ted Williams last October, most figured it was just a fluke. As it turns out, it was no fluke. Not only is Murphy’s .347 average tops in the NL, his October power surge also continued, already matching his career-high 14 home runs, which he set last year.
Third Base // Nolan Arenado (COL)
The third base position is loaded with talent, but Arenado stands out among the rest as the most complete player at the position. His offensive production is tremendous, but his defense might be even better. Since he entered the league in 2013, he has saved more runs than any third baseman, and it’s not close; Machado ranks second and has saved 20 fewer runs. Oh, and he’s no “Coors Field Product.” Of his league-leading 64 dingers since the start of 2015, half have come at home and half on the road.
Shortstop // Corey Seager (LAD)
When Seager debuted late last year, his raw talent was immediately obvious. He got off to a slow start this year, but he quickly turned it around. He leads NL shortstops in Wins Above Replacement, his 17 homers rank third and his .540 SLG second. Seager should be the obvious choice for starting shortstop in the NL.
Outfield // Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)
After joining the team at the Trade Deadline a year ago, Cespedes carried the Mets into the postseason, and he hasn’t slowed down. His OBP and SLG are higher than they’ve ever been, and he has the third-most homers among all NL outfielders with 20. He is a star in its truest sense and thrives with spotlight on him.
Outfield // Starling Marte (PIT)
Watch him play defense, and it quickly becomes clear that Marte is a center fielder playing left field. He doesn’t walk much, but his 24 stolen bases lead NL outfielders, and his .321 average places him second.
Outfield // Bryce Harper (WAS)
Despite his prolonged slump, this one’s a no-brainer. He leads NL outfielders in OBP and remains the best player in the NL.
Starting Pitcher // José Fernandez (MIA)
With Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list, this suddenly becomes a tough decision. Arrieta, Syndergaard, and Bumgarner are all worthy candidates, but Fernandez would be my choice. The fiery right-hander has fanned more than 13 batters per nine innings, the top mark in the league, and, one thing’s for sure, he would own the moment.
Wilson Ramos (WAS) // Catcher
Ramos has been a below average hitter for most of his career, and he was one of the worst hitters in the league last year. This year has been a completely different story. He’s hitting .340 and slugging .563 with 13 home runs.
Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) // First Base
A master of consistency, Goldschmidt is one of the game’s best hitters, and he’s having another superb season. He leads the league in OBP and continues to play fantastic defense.
Wil Meyers (SD) // First Base
Why did Tampa Bay trade him, again? He has 19 home runs and is slugging .529 with a .350 OBP.
Ben Zobrist (CHC) // Second Base
Like Nunez for the AL, Zobrist’s versatility is key. He’s having a pretty good season, too.
Kris Bryant (CHC) // Third Base
Suffice it to say that he’s lived up to the hype. He has 25 homers and a .371 OBP to go with them.
Matt Carpenter (STL) // Third Base
He just keeps hitting. He owns the highest OPS in the NL.
Jake Lamb (ARI) // Third Base
Perhaps the best kept secret in baseball, Lamb is slugging over .600 (!), tops in the NL.
Brandon Crawford (SF) // Shortstop
His offense is only slightly above average, but his premier defense makes him an All-Star.
Adam Duvall (CIN) // Outfield
The lone Reds representative. He’s on pace to hit over 40 home runs, and post an OBP below .300. That’s never been done before.
Ryan Braun (MIL) // Outfield
Yes, he’s still good and leads NL outfielders in average.
Marcell Ozuna (MIA) // Outfield
After a solid season in 2014, Ozuna struggled mightily last year and was even sent down to the minors. He has rebounded in a big way this year, posting the 2nd-highest WAR among NL outfielders.
Christian Yelich (MIA) // Outfield
Yelich can flat out hit. He’s hitting .317 with an .871 OPS.
Jake Arrieta (CHC) // Right-handed Starter
He has scuffled a bit lately, but he’s still the same guy who won the Cy Young Award a year ago.
Noah Syndergaard (NYM) // Right-handed Starter
He throws 100 mph! …And he’s fourth in the NL in ERA and fifth in strike outs.
Johnny Cueto (SF) // Right-handed Starter
Cueto puts on a show and certainly enjoys the moment. He’s a pretty good pitcher, too.
Jerad Eickhoff (PHI) // Right-handed Starter
A player from the Phillies has to go to the All-Star Game, and Eickhoff is worthy.
Max Scherzer (WAS) // Right-handed Starter
He continues to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the NL, and his 155 punch outs lead the league.
Stephen Strasburg (WAS) // Right-handed Starter
He returned from the disabled list on Sunday and threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings.
Madison Bumgarner (SF) // Left-handed Starter
The fiercest competitor the sport has is second in the league in ERA.
Jon Lester (CHC) // Left-handed Starter
At age 32, Lester is having his best season yet.
Seung Oh (STL) // Right-handed Reliever
To say “The Final Boss,” as he was nicknamed while pitching in Korea, has been dominant in his first MLB season would be doing him a disservice. He has a 1.71 ERA and has fanned 34.1% of the batters he’s faced. And he’s got a great nickname.
Kenley Jansen (LAD) // Right-handed Reliever
The best closer in the NL is still the best.
Arodys Vizcaino (ATL) // Right-handed Reliever
He’s only here because the Braves need an All-Star, but he does have a 2.31 ERA and possesses an upper-90s fastball.
Mark Melancon (PIT) // Right-handed Reliever
He doesn’t do anything flashy, whiffing just 21% of batters, but he gets the job done.
Fernando Rodney (MIA) // Right-handed Reliever
He has allowed one earned run this year. One.
Earlier, I mentioned Trevor Story as a rookie sensation, but I didn’t even peg him as an All-Star. That just speaks to the sheer volume of talent in the MLB today.
Michael Saunders, Carlos Gonzalez, Gregory Polanco, and many others are having All-Star caliber seasons, and I couldn’t find a spot for any of them.
What does that tell me?
Baseball is in a great place.