It's that time of year again, Athletics Nation. It's the time when the rest of the baseball world reminds us of how little anybody outside of California cares about the A's. It's the time when popularity and name power trump actual on-field accomplishments. It's the time when you can miss the entire season and still rank 5th in fan voting at your position. It's All-Star time. Well, in a couple of weeks.
Fan voting ends this Friday, June 28. Normally, I would have taken that opportunity to link you to the voting page on MLB's website, but let's be real. No Oakland player is going to get voted in. Don't waste your time. The closest contender is Jed Lowrie at shortstop, and he is behind by over 1.3 million votes. That doesn't sound so bad until you consider that he only has 1.2 million votes. He would need to more than double his vote total to make it. It ain't happening.
Rosters will be announced on July 6, so that gives us two weeks to debate this topic. Community member "nativetexanasfan" got the conversation started last week with a FanPost, so let's take a deeper look.
In the past, the AL All-Star roster has basically been the New Boston Red Yanks. Last year, the Rangers took Boston's place in the spotlight by sending eight players to the game. The Red Sox sent only David Ortiz, and the shock of Boston being limited to one token rep caused the baseball universe to spin off of its axis to such a wild extent that the Giants ended up winning the World Series on the shoulders of Barry Zito and Marco Scutaro. In other words, shit got weird.
This year, it's going to be the Oriole & Tiger Show, which sounds like the name of a kid's program on PBS. The two teams are battling it out at 1st base (Davis/Fielder), shortstop (Hardy/Peralta), and 3rd base (Cabrera/Machado), while Baltimore holds two outfleld spots (Jones/Markakis) and an outside chance at catcher (Wieters is 2nd behind Mauer). Looks like the good citizens of Maryland have figured out how to use the internet!
The A's are mostly an afterthought in All-Star roster construction. Need a token Athletic? Shoot, just grab whichever pitcher has the best ERA. Last year, Josh Reddick's huge first half was ignored in favor of Ryan Cook's silly BABIP-driven numbers. The last time that Oakland sent a position player was 2003, when Ramon Hernandez took a wrong turn at Albuquerque on his way home, ended up at U.S. Cellular Field, and they just decided to let him play. The A's sent two reps in 2010, but before that it hadn't happened since 2004.
So, who are the candidates to represent Oakland in 2013? Let's take a look.
Just stop. It isn't happening. As nativetexanasfan (hereafter referred to as "Native") noted, the Rainmaker ranks 7th in WAR (both fWAR and bWAR) among all AL position players. The problem is that three other third basemen rank ahead of him in the top six - Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, and Manny Machado. Last year's starter, Adrian Beltre, is also a borderline-superstar on a good, popular, big-market team, having a solid year and searching for his third straight Gold Glove. Donaldson is fifth in line at a position which will get three representatives, and he's the least-known name of the five. It's just not happening. Move along.
Lowrie honestly has a chance. Not a great chance, but a realistic one. There are usually three shortstops on the roster. Hardy will get voted in to start, and Jim Leyland will (deservedly) pick Jhonny Peralta for one of the backup spots despite having one of the stupidest first names in history. That leaves Lowrie and Elvis Andrus, and Andrus currently sports a .575 OPS. He's also an elite defender, though, as well as a two-time All-Star and a well-known player on a nine-figure contract on a big-market team. It's possible that Andrus could get the nod.
It's also possible that Leyland could look at the strong group of AL 2nd basemen and decide to drop one of the shortstop spots in favor of a "utility infielder," as was done in 2010 for Ty Wigginton and Omar Infante. With Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano as virtual locks, and Jose Altuve the most likely Astro to make the team, guys like Howie Kednrick, Ian Kinsler, Jason Kipnis, Ben Zobrist, and even Infante himself could be in the running. It's really not that difficult to see Lowrie getting snubbed, which would be especially ironic since he would be perfect for the utility infield position.
Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp
Cespy and Coco rank 10th and 11th in fan voting right now. Cespedes is hitting .224, though, so he's out. Yes, it's that simple when it comes to All-Star selections.
The current top-three vote-getters are Adam Jones, Mike Trout, and Nick Markakis. Jones and Trout will start. If there is a baseball god, Markakis will get passed by Jose Bautista (currently a close 4th), because he has absolutely no business anywhere near the 2013 All-Star Game. I'll put this gently: Josh Reddick currently ranks above Markakis in bWAR in just over half the playing time (and they're tied in fWAR).
With Jones, Trout, and Bautista as locks, that leaves three or four outfield spots. Nelson Cruz has a shot, as do Mark Trumbo, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Nate McLouth (seriously), Alex Rios (if the Sox need a rep), and Alex Gordon (if the Royals need a rep). I could probably make an individual case for Coco to beat out any of those guys, just as I could make the opposite case against Coco. The point is that the outfield is always a crowded picture, and it's tough to crack the roster if you're just another face in the crowd from a small-market team. If Markakis steals a spot, then it'll be even tougher.
Native mentioned that Leyland might like Coco as a base-stealing threat off the bench. That's a great point, because, in the last few years, All-Star managers have begun to construct their rosters with an eye toward game situations rather than simply picking the best players regardless of context (i.e., more 1-inning shutdown pitchers, utility infielders, etc.). However, Ellsbury, McLouth, and Gardner offer that same skill; Ellsbury has 32 steals already this year, and has only been caught three times.
Colon is a good bet for a few reasons, and a terrible bet for a few other reasons.
There will probably be seven or eight starting pitchers on the roster, and a lot will be determined by how homerific Leyland is about picking his own players. The current locks include:
Max Scherzer (11-0 record; might even start the game)
Clay Buckholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA)
Felix Hernandez (Felix)
Yu Darvish (MLB leader in strikeouts)
Buckholz is currently on the DL, but is already eligible to come off. Chris Sale should be Chicago's lone rep, but his 5-6 record could be a turn-off for the 94-year-old Leyland. Bud Norris could make it for the Astros if there's no room for the underwhelming Altuve in the infield (that's a WAR reference, not a height joke). Ervin Santana or James Shields might get the nod for the Royals if they need a rep. Hisashi Iwakuma still has the 2nd-best ERA in the league, despite the best efforts of Oakland's hitters. Justin Masterson has a shot, though Cleveland will not need a token rep as they will almost certainly send Carlos Santana.
And then there's Detroit's rotation. Will Leyland be able to resist sending Justin Verlander (having an off-year by his standards) or Anibal Sanchez (great ERA, but only 81 innings)? If he chooses them, then there won't be any room left for anything else but token reps from bad teams.
Oh yeah, and the case for Big Bart? A 10-2 record (again, these things matter for All-Star selections), a sub-3 ERA, and a lot of name power (former Cy Young winner and ace-level starter). The case against? PED's and playing for the A's. Sorry, but the nay's have it. Colon isn't going unless he throws a perfect game in his next couple of starts or a lot of AL pitchers get hurt.
Ah yes, here we are. Familiar territory for A's fans. Need a token Athletic? Shoot, just grab whichever pitcher has the best ERA. Let's see, it appears that player is...Grant Balfour. His name is Ball Four, and he's a pitcher? LOL THAT'S FUNNY! Let's pick that guy. 2.03 ERA, and look at the saves! O, look at the saves! This is too good to pass up, you guys. Easily the best player on the team, probably. Not sure, I didn't really check the rest of the roster. Is their mascot an elephant because of Colon? Otherwise I don't get it.
Last year, there were five relievers on the AL team; in 2011, there were seven. Apparently there is a new precedent that one of them must be a set-up man with a crazy-low ERA, because illogic dictates that you should pick the best reliever-who-isn't-good-enough-to-close rather than the 5th-best closer. This year, that spot will go to Chicago's Jesse Crain (0.52 ERA), which may take Sale out of the running as a starter.
Also, we judge closers by saves in these here parts, not anything fancy like save percentage or ERA. Just ask Chris Perez last year, or Brandon League or Jordan Walden in 2011. With that in mind, let's check the leaderboard and find our four AL closers.
Mariano Rivera is a lock, for every reason imaginable. He leads the league in saves (26-for-27), leads AL closers in ERA, he's a 1st-ballot Hall of Famer in his farewell season - shoot, I've even heard speculation that he could be considered to start the game as a gesture of respect. He's in. Joe Nathan is in (1.67, 25-for-26). Jim Johnson is in, due to the saves-trump-all-other-stats clause (tied with Rivera at 26 despite a 3.82 ERA).
There are three spots gone, which leaves Addison Reed (Chicago), Glen Perkins (Minnesota), Balfour, Casey Janssen (Toronto), Ernesto Frieri (slegnA), and Greg Holland (Kansas City) fighting for the last one. I have legitimately never heard of Holland, but he's Kansas City's closer and he has a sub-2 ERA, so he's got an outside chance if Gordon, Santana, and Shields don't make it for the Royals. Reed has a shot, but Crain will probably get his spot if he holds that ERA below 1.00. Perkins is kind of a nobody on an even-smaller-market team who already has a rep (Mauer), so he's out. Janssen and Frieri aren't big names and don't really have anything to differentiate them from Balfour, but the Mad Aussie does have one thing: his saves streak. He's the only relevant AL closer who hasn't blown a save yet, and that could carry some weight.
A closer with a low ERA, a solid amount of saves, and a neat "trick stat"? Sounds like the front-runner to me. Shocking!
There is no doubt in my mind that Balfour is Oakland's All-Star this year. I'm okay with that, because he's legitimately good and he's been a large part of the heart and soul of this team.
If Oakland somehow gets a second rep, it'll be Lowrie. Donaldson is obviously the best player on the team this year, but he's got a zero percent chance, and it's just easier to see Lowrie beating out the weak shortstop crowd than Coco slipping into the AL outfield. Colon's chances are so slim that it's hard to see him squeezing his way onto the team (that's a fat joke, not a WAR reference).
So, I'm going with Balfour as the lock, with a 40% chance that the A's also send a position player (Lowrie) for the first time in a decade. That is, unless Derek Jeter steals his spot. I hear he's leading the league in bone healing.