In most years, the All-Star Game is a chance for Oakland Athletics fans to take a few days off of baseball. The A's are usually limited to one token representative, whether because of a lack of deserving candidates or a lack of national exposure, and that lone rep is usually a pitcher who is stashed in the back of the bullpen. Grant Balfour got to pitch a meaningful inning last year, and Ryan Cook got a full mop-up inning the year before. But in 2010-11, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey combined to face three total batters, and in 2009 no Athletic appeared in the game at all (Bailey went unused in the pen). In 2008, Justin Ducshsherer tossed one forgettable frame. You have to go all the way back to 2007 to see an Athletic do anything more than throw a few pitches in middle relief; in that year, Dan Haren was selected to start the game for the AL and tossed two mediocre innings.
There are three things to note from this recent history. One is that the A's don't get a lot of representation in the All-Star game. They've sent multiple reps only twice in the last nine years, and even the 100-win teams of 2001 and 2002 combined for only three total selections (two of which were Jason Giambi). Furthermore, they only got their second rep last year (Balfour) as an injury replacement, and he was likely chosen largely because Colon wasn't going to pitch. Second, those reps that they do get are strictly pitchers -- the last Oakland position player to make the team was catcher Ramon Hernandez in 2003, and the last to start was Giambi in 2000. And third, those players picked don't get a whole lot of action in the game itself.
Well, pay attention this year, Athletics Nation, because all three of those things are going to change in 2014. The A's are a virtual lock to send more than one player, even before considering injury replacements. And, with Josh Donaldson leading the balloting at third base with nearly twice as many votes as the runner-up, they will break the other two trends by landing a position player in the starting lineup.
We know that Donaldson will be at Target Field in Minnesota, and we know that he'll be starting. That alone is fun for Oakland fans, who also got to see Stephen Curry start this year in the NBA's showcase; no Warrior had started the game since Latrell Sprewell in 1995, though David Lee was a reserve in 2013 when Curry received a Donaldson-like snub. Who else might join the Bringer Of Rain in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? (Note: It's expected to be the Land of Nearly 20,000 Lakes when Donaldson is done there.)
Let's go position-by-position to see which A's have a shot. We'll start by ruling some people out.
Eric Sogard, Nick Punto, and Alberto Callaspo. Nope, nope, and nope. Not in a world with Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Jose Altuve, and local breakout star Brian Dozier. And 23 other second basemen in between them. Next.
Jed Lowrie? Unlikely, mostly because he's only hitting .229 right now. Derek Jeter will waste a spot as the ceremonial starter, and Alexei Ramirez seems likely to grab a spot since he leads all qualified AL shortstops in both homers (seven) and average (.312) while posting positive fielding metrics. I doubt there will be a third shortstop on the team, as there wasn't in 2013; last year's starter, J.J. Hardy, has somehow not hit a home run this year after knocking 25 last season and 158 in his career, and big names like Jose Reyes and Elvis Andrus aren't doing anything to set themselves apart statistically. Next.
Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Jose Abreu. Edwin Encarnacion is on the ballot as a DH, and he'll make it one way or the other, but he may be listed at first base when all is said and done. And maybe Chris Davis based on reputation, because 53 homers and an AL East address give you some benefit of the doubt the following year. Next.
Yoenis Cespedes is the only one with a chance here, and his recent arm-based theatrics combined with last year's Home Run Derby victory have given him a solid reputation on the national stage as a two-way star. Jose Bautista and Mike Trout deservedly have starting spots wrapped up, and Melky Cabrera is holding off Adam Jones in the fight for third; I expect all four to make the team, especially if Melky is voted in and doesn't have to test his fellow players to see how willing they are to honor a recent PED user. There were three reserve AL outfielders in each of the last two years, so that means there are two spots left.
Alex Gordon is a good bet to take one spot, and he deserves to. He made the team last year and is plugging along with his fourth straight fantastic season; he currently ranks fourth among all AL position players with 3.4 bWAR, behind only Donaldson, Trout and Bautista. George Springer could have a shot as a rookie sensation, and Michael Brantley might be tapped as Cleveland's lone rep if starting pitcher Corey Kluber's quiet greatness is ignored and AL manager John Farrell doesn't overreact to Lonnie Chisenhall's sudden surge at the plate.
If I had to guess right now, I'd say that the outfield would be Bautista, Trout, Melky, Jones, Gordon and Brantley. If Jones can pass Melky, then I don't think the latter makes it unless he wins a fan vote, in which case he would likely be a seventh outfielder since the rest of the roster would already be set. (Note that a Toronto player won the fan vote last year, so this isn't out of the question). If Kluber makes it, Brantley might be snubbed. And of course, someone could always get hurt and require a replacement. If Cespedes makes the ballot for the final fan vote, then he has a very good chance of winning that last spot.
Verdict: I'll give Yoenis about a 50/50 chance of making the team at this moment.
Matt Wieters is the current leader in the voting, but the Orioles backstop hasn't played since May 10 due to elbow problems and is now scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews. It's all but guaranteed that Wieters won't be playing in the All-Star Game this year, which means that the position is wide open for a starter and two backups.
After Wieters, the race for runner-up in the voting is a virtual dead heat between Brian McCann and Derek Norris. There are differences between the two. McCann is the long-time star who has made seven of the last eight (NL) All-Star teams and who now plays for the Yankees, all of which are usually things that get you into the Midsummer Classic without a second thought. He's also playing like total garbage. His OBP is below .300 and his OPS+ is only 77; according to bWAR, he's been roughly replacement level. Norris, on the other hand, is the up-and-comer who the world is still learning about. The beard helps make him memorable, and the 150 OPS+ combined with his handling of the top pitching staff in the Majors and his presence in most of the highlight-reel throws from Oakland's outfielders make a very compelling case that the Lumberjack should actually start the game. It's really not a stretch to suggest that Norris is currently the best catcher in the AL, by a pretty wide margin. The question comes down to current play vs. star reputation, and that debate tends to land on whichever side doesn't favor the A's.
One way or the other, I'll bet Norris and McCann are locks; I expect McCann would be voted in by the other players if need be. I can also see a situation whereby Masahiro Tanaka is chosen to start and McCann is picked as his battery-mate. That leaves one more spot for Chris Ianetta and the incumbent Salvador Perez to fight over (I would pick John Jaso over both of them, but I doubt we'll see two catchers from the same team). Farrell could throw a wrench into all of this by picking his own player, A.J. Pierzynski, which would be so Red Sox but would be a total farce. On the other hand, in my perfect world he chooses Pierzynski over McCann just to troll Yankee fans. That is how the world should be, except for the part about good things happening to Pierzynski.
Verdict: Norris is a virtual lock, with a real chance to start.
Nelson Cruz is leading the voting, and he'll win. David Ortiz is a 110 percent lock to make it as a reserve, especially with his own manager picking the team. I expect that the third selection will be either Encarnacion (if he doesn't make it at first base) or Victor Martinez (since his ability to catch adds versatility to the roster, which is apparently a thing now in the All-Star Game).
So, where does Brandon Moss fit in? He's currently fifth in bWAR among all AL position players, right behind Gordon and ahead of every other 1B/DH in question. He's on the best team in the league. He can play a couple of different positions, if Farrell cares about that. Here, though, is your fun stat of the day: Since 2012, Moss leads all MLB hitters (min 1,000 plate appearances) in isolated slugging with a .282 mark. On a per-at-bat basis, he is literally the premier power hitter in all of baseball, not just this year but over the last three seasons combined. (Next on the list: Davis, Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton, and Miguel Cabrera, in that order and all separated by only six points.)
And yet, I just have a feeling like Moss won't make it. I may be a bit too far on the conservative side here given how much national press the A's are (uncharacteristically) getting this year, and maybe this is the season in which every halfway good player from Oakland gets a nod because of the team's reputation. But until I see that happen one time in the 21st century, I will assume that it's not in the cards.
Verdict: Moss is the biggest snub from the AL roster.
We already covered this. Donaldson is in. But for the sake of completeness, let's look at who will play behind him. Evan Longoria is second in voting and has the name power, and he might be needed as the lone rep of a struggling Tampa Bay team. Adrian Beltre is back and hitting as well as ever. And don't discount the Yankee effect as it may apply to Yangervis Solarte, though I highly doubt he'll make it unless he sneaks in on the final fan vote.
Verdict: Donaldson is starting.
This is usually Oakland's wheelhouse, since it's the best way to squeeze in an Athletic as an afterthought without actually having to look at any of their players, but the relief corps might get shut out this year. Sean Doolittle doesn't have the flashy sub-2.00 ERA or the gaudy save total that usually lead to selection, and I don't know how much the rest of the world cares about a 44.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
I figure the rest of the bullpen is made up of some names from the top of the saves leaderboard who also have low ERA's. That means some combination of Greg Holland, Fernando Rodney, Glen Perkins, David Robertson, Joakim Soria, Koji Uehara, and Casey Janssen. My locks are Perkins (Minnesota lone rep?), Uehara (manager's pick), and Janssen (snubbed last year while two of his bullpen-mates made it). Dellin Betances, Wade Davis, Jake McGee (Tampa Bay lone rep?), and either Zach Britton or Darren O'Day are also long shots as set-up men with gaudy numbers.
Verdict: Doolittle only makes it if Farrell is loading up his roster with Athletics.
Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez are the candidates. Chavez has dropped off a bit lately and is probably not in the running. There were 10 starters on the AL roster in each of the last two years (including injuries and ineligible guys who pitched the previous Sunday), so we'll set that as the limit.
Felix, Darvish, Scherzer, Tanaka, Buehrle. That's five. C.J. Wilson always has a good chance, and he's been his normal
stupid excellent self this year. Then there are the superstars having relatively unremarkable seasons (by their lofty standards) who are threats to make it on name power alone: Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, James Shields, and David Price, who might be needed as the Rays' lone rep if Longoria is squeezed out. Chris Sale has made only eight starts, but they've been fantastic and there's an outside chance his reputation could put him over the top.
Then, there are the team quota rules. If Jose Altuve is snubbed at second base, then Dallas Keuchel would be a lock as the Astros' lone rep (though he could make it either way). On the other hand, if Altuve does make it then it will likely be at the expense of Brian Dozier of the Twins; with Joe Mauer out of the catching conversation, Minnesota might need to send a pitcher as a lone rep. I think it will be Perkins, but it could also be the resurgent Phil Hughes, who has been quietly fantastic. Both could make it if Farrell decides to throw a bone to the host team.
Gray and Kazmir are probably in a tier with the likes of Garrett Richards and Kluber, as guys you have generally heard of who are having breakout seasons that demand attention. The pitching staff is virtually impossible to predict since everybody has their own idea of what makes a good pitcher as well as their preferred blend between long-term reputation and current-year success. Plus, there is always the wild card of how homerish the manager will be in picking his own players (like John Lackey, who is borderline but shouldn't make the cut over anyone else in this paragraph).
Verdict: Crapshoot. Gray and Kazmir both have very real chances, and Kazmir will be picked before Gray, but their best bets are probably as injury/ineligibilty replacements.
So, there you have it. The A's are looking at the following All-Star selections:
Lock: Josh Donaldson
Virtual lock: Derek Norris
Real chance: Yoenis Cespedes, Scott Kazmir
Outside chance: Brandon Moss, Sonny Gray
Unlikely but not impossible: Sean Doolittle
My knee-jerk June 12 prediction: Donaldson and Norris start, Cespedes and Kazmir make it as injury replacements.
Which Athletics do you think will make it to the 2014 Midsummer Classic? Share in the comments!
The most recent voting update, from June 8. Note that Donaldson has the biggest lead over the runner-up of any position in the AL, unless you count the drop from Bautista to the fourth outfielder (which you shouldn't):