Guess what, everyone? The All-Star Game is coming! For the next few weeks, baseball fans will engage in heated arguments about why just about every player on their team's roster is the best player ever and deserves to be selected over that other guy who only got picked because of his name power or his 25 saves or as the lone rep from his team or because his manager picked the reserves or because he's on the Yankees. Stupid Yankees. We get it, you have good players. Stop trying to impress that girl with your huge payroll.
Not every team can be from New York or Boston, but even the Pirates get an All-Star every year! Sure, all they could come up with in 2010 was this guy, but hey! All-Star! It's better than the NBA, where my Golden State Warriors' last All-Star was Latrell Sprewell in 1997, 9 months before he did this. Being a Warriors fan is seriously the worst.
Even in the lean years, the A's have gotten to send someone to the Midsummer Classic. To their credit, pretty much every player has deserved legitimate recognition beyond just being the requisite team representative. Last year, they sent Gio Gonzalez, who was having a fantastic season and is likely to join the 2012 NL squad out of Washington. This year, Oakland will probably be limited to a single player again, but it will again be a deserving one. Let's take a look through the roster and see who is most likely to represent the green and gold next month in Kansas City (no word yet on if Kauffman Stadium counts as the Royals' lone representative).
I'm going to break this investigation into three areas: Hitters, Starting Pitchers, and Relief Pitchers.
Pop quiz: Who was the last position player to represent the Athletics in the All-Star Game? I'll give you one point for the player, and one point for the year. Actually, scratch that; I'll give you ten points for the player, because you're never going to guess him if you don't already know the answer. Ten whole points. Think about what you could do with that kind of wealth. I'm going to put the answer at the bottom so as not to ruin the surprise, but for the purposes of this conversation, suffice it to say that it's been awhile since Oakland sent a hitter.
That may change this year, though. The Athletics have two high-profile position players who are each having excellent seasons: Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes has wowed the league with his elite power and surprisingly acceptable plate discipline, but he's also missed a lot of time. With only 9 homers and an .835 OPS, there is no way that he'll be chosen this year.
Reddick, on the other hand, has a very good case. His 17 homers rank 6th among AL outfielders, and his .843 OPS ranks 9th. He's stolen 8 bases without being caught, and only Jose Bautista has more outfield assists among AL right fielders. Reddick is the complete package, and he's having a heck of a year. It's tough to crack the AL outfield, though, so his candidacy is contingent on what the rest of the field looks like. How does Reddick stack up against the competition?
Last year, there were 7 outfielders on the AL roster. Interestingly, the fans are on the verge of voting in the same three starters: Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, and Jose Bautista. Sounds about right. Granderson has dropped off slightly from his absurd 2011, but there isn't anyone who is obviously better than he is. I voted for those three on my ballot (my real ballot, not the other two dozen where I just voted for Oakland at every position). That's three spots taken.
The four reserves last year were Michael Cuddyer, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Joyce, and Carlos Quentin. Cuddyer and Quentin are in the NL now, so they're out. Ellsbury has been hurt all season, and Joyce just went on the DL as well, so they're both out, too. Wow, that was easy. Good thing, too, because there are a lot of guys making great cases for those four open spots.
Before we even look at the rest of the league, let's get this first player out of the way: Josh Willingham is going to be one of the reserves. He's actually got the numbers, with a .920 OPS which ranks 4th among AL outfielders. He's hitting for power (15 homers) and getting on base (.384 OBP), and holy crap you better become a good Major Leaguer, Daniel Robertson. More importantly, Willingham plays on a terrible team without a whole lot of talent. Joe Mauer is the other obvious candidate, as he has the star status and actually leads AL catchers in OPS. But with Mike Napoli locking up the starting spot, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Wieters, and A.J. Pierzynski all flashing double-digit home run power, Mauer looks like a long-shot to me. No one on Minnesota's pitching staff is even close to deserving consideration, although Scott Diamond might be a guy to keep an eye on in the future (or, he might not be; what am I, a psychic?). Willingham gets one spot.
The rest of the competition, in order of how deserving I think they are: Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Austin Jackson, Mike Trout. Jones should be a lock, as he's having a career year with a .903 OPS, 19 homers, and 10 steals already. So should Trumbo, as he's got the 2nd best OPS among all AL outfielders. I'd put both of those guys above Reddick.
That leaves one spot for Jackson, Trout, and Reddick. Although Trout is a ridiculous talent and might already be one of the best players in the Majors, rookies don't usually get that much love in All-Star Games. He seems like a prime Final Vote candidate. Jackson is having a career year as well, but the only statistic in which he's really superior to Reddick is batting average. Reddick has way more power and can match Jackson in plate discipline, speed, and defense. Since Jackson will already have at least two teammates on the squad (Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder are already locks, and Miguel Cabrera seems likely to be a reserve), Reddick could take this spot on a "lone representative" tie-breaker.
I'm going to make this section quick, because this post is already getting too long. The A's aren't sending a starting pitcher. Brandon McCarthy would have been their best bet, but he's on the DL and has already missed several starts. Tommy Milone has some solid numbers, but the AL is stacked with starters, and his 3.83 ERA and rookie status make it unlikely that he'll be considered at all. Jarrod Parker has the ERA, but again, he'd have to be putting up legendary numbers as a rookie to beat out some of the established veterans in the league. Oakland is not sending a starter this year.
While no one in the rotation is likely to make it, Ryan Cook should draw consideration out of the bullpen. Saves are the currency of All-Star relievers, and Cook can't yet compete in that category since he's only been the closer for a couple of weeks. It's not unprecedented for a middle reliever to be chosen, though; in 2005, Justin Duchscherer was selected as Oakland's lone rep in the midst of a lights-out season in middle relief. Aaron Crow got the nod last year as Kansas City's rep, and David Robertson was chosen to satisfy the Yankees' five-player minimum. When a team (like last year's Royals) doesn't have any actual stars, you can usually find one reliever small-sample-sizing himself into an unusually stellar ERA. While Cook has some impressive numbers (his 11 hits allowed in 33 innings are just mind-boggling), his meltdown against the Giants ruined his sub-1.00 ERA, and his high walk total might hurt his case as well. I was a lot more bullish on Cook's All-Star chances when his ERA was still 0.57, which was just last week; without that eye-popping ERA, or 20+ saves, he is kind of a long-shot.
Clearly, this debate boils down to Reddick vs. Cook. I guess I could have just opened the post with that statement, but what would have been the fun in that? You didn't come to the site to not read a bunch of words about baseball.
If I had to guess right now, I'd go with Reddick. Not only is it my preference to send an everyday player rather than a reliever, but I really think that Reddick is more deserving and is better positioned against the competition. Choosing Reddick really only snubs two other deserving guys (Jackson and Trout), both of whom come from teams who should already be sending several other players. Cook is almost certainly not one of the 15 best pitchers in the AL, though, and probably not even one of the 6 or 7 best relievers. Choosing him would snub a huge number of other deserving pitchers. That said, the bullpen is a great place to cram in a couple of lone reps from really awful teams (though the bad teams seem to already have a decent rep, like Felix Hernandez from Seattle, Willingham or Mauer from Minnesota, and probably Billy Butler from Kansas City as a DH). The only way that I see Cook making it is if Oakland turns out to be the bad team whose lone rep is stashed in the bullpen. Wouldn't be the first time.
So, there you have it. I'm picking Josh Reddick as Oakland's lone All-Star this year. Who's your pick? Vote in the poll!
*Trivia Answer: The last All-Star hitter out of Oakland was catcher Ramon Hernandez, in 2003. For the record, Eric Chavez has never been an All-Star, despite receiving MVP votes in four different seasons. Never judge a player by his All-Star experience.