The voting for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game is entering the home stretch, and the results are going well for the Oakland Athletics for the first time since I've been old enough to notice (and I'll turn 30 this winter). There is a real possibility that the A's could have three position players starting in the game, with a guarantee (health permitting) that they'll have at least one.
The big news comes from behind the plate, where Derek Norris has passed Brian McCann for second place in the balloting and is making a serious push for consideration. (Norris leads McCann by around 142,000 votes.) Baltimore's Matt Wieters still leads the voting, but he's definitely not playing after undergoing Tommy John surgery. There is not a rule that says the No. 2 vote-getter automatically takes the place of an injured starter, but when the statistically best-hitting catcher in the league on the best team in the Majors is also the runner-up in the election, it would be very interesting to hear the rationale for picking anyone else (especially McCann, who has as much business in this year's All-Star Game as Jim Johnson, and especiallyspecially because McCann is a Yankee and the Red Sox manager is picking the team). If you were in Vegas looking for a bet that was a sure thing without literally being a sure thing, I would put money on Norris starting the game. (Note: Don't put money on this or anything sports-related ever because you will go broke.)
Just as a reminder, here are the stat lines for Norris, McCann and Kansas City's Salvador Perez:
Norris: .302/.405/.509, 158 OPS+, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 2.2 bWAR
McCann: .222/.285/.360, 78 OPS+, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 0.2 bWAR
Perez: .283/.333/.441, 113 OPS+, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 2.7 bWAR, 2013 Gold Glove (deserved)
One of those three doesn't belong. If Norris somehow doesn't make it as the starter, then he will have to fight for a backup role against Perez (who can match or beat him statistically) and whatever other catchers are possible lone reps for their respective teams. I'll feel a lot better about his chances if he secures that starting nod. Norris is making his presence known, and it's impossible not to notice him -- unless you're an opposing hitter, in which case you apparently won't know he's there until your wild, irresponsible backswing nails him in the noggin.
The last Oakland backstop to make the team was also Oakland's last position player rep overall: Ramon Hernandez, in 2003. Before that, it was Terry Steinbach in 1993 (and '88 and '89). Here's Steiny hitting a homer off of Doc Gooden in '88, just for fun (and to pump you up for this week's interleague series against the Mets):
Next up is outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who is making a push for the third starting spot. Jose Bautista and Mike Trout are in another stratosphere in the balloting as the only AL players at any position to exceed three million votes, and they are locks to start. The third spot is currently held by Melky Cabrera, who is a fascinating case. He's a legitimately good player, but not nearly good enough to be in this conversation. However, Toronto has shown that it has serious voting power in the recent past, between set-up reliever Steve Delabar (who you've still never heard of) winning the Final Fan Vote last year and Jose Bautista doing well in the Face of MLB contest last spring. Furthermore, the last time Melky was in the Midsummer Classic (in 2012) he was named the MVP of the game. On the other hand, it's surprising to me to see a recent, high-profile PED user do so well in a fan vote. It would appear that fans truly do not care about PED's except for in the comments sections of internet baseball columns. Hall of Fame voters, please take note.
Sunday's update showed Cespedes with 1,511,838 votes, just 162,394 short of Melky's total. That might sound like a lot, but it really isn't -- it's by far the closest margin of any AL race and comparable to the tight difference between Norris and McCann. Even if Cespedes doesn't make it, you have to think that between his voting push, his 2013 Home Run Derby victory, his solid numbers, his recent national highlight reel plays, and the 5-for-15 (.945 OPS) he just dropped on the Boston team managed by the man who will be picking the reserves, he has a better-than-likely chance of making the squad one way or another.
Baltimore's Adam Jones is right behind Cespedes, just over 200,000 votes back. Here are stat lines for Melky, Cespedes and Jones:
Melky: .303/.347/.476, 125 OPS+, 11 HR, 38 RBI, wretched defense, 1.1 bWAR
Cespedes: .265/.318/.504, 129 OPS+, 14 HR, 50 RBI, 9 OF assists (leads MLB), 2.6 bWAR
Jones: .293/.316/.479, 119 OPS+, 13 HR, 45 RBI, neutral defense, 2.3 bWAR
You don't need me to tell you what I think. The competition is much closer here than behind the plate, but Cespedes still has the clear statistical advantage in both offense and defense and he has the aforementioned "intangibles" on his side as well. If I were MLB, I'd have an active interest in having the exciting Cuban sensation (AL version of Puig) start the game rather than the known PED cheat who also lied to cover up his crimes. Let's see if southeast Asia chimes in with any last-minute votes if things come down to the wire.
The last Oakland outfielder to make the team was Ben Grieve in 1998. Before that, it was Ruben Sierra in '94. Here is an artist's conception of each of those players trying to catch a fly ball:
Oh man, before them it was Jose Canseco in 1992. Should have waited on that defense joke.
Whatever happens with Norris and Cespedes, the A's have one starter locked into the game: third baseman Josh Donaldson. The Bringer of Rain has snapped out of the terrifying slump that threatened to ruin his amazing first half, and he's back to looking like one of the best players in baseball. He also has a lead of over a million votes over runner-up Adrian Beltre, who once spurned the A's as a free agent so that he could sign with the Texas Rangers. Oh, cruel fate, Adrian. If you'd chosen Oakland, you'd be in first place right now and you'd probably be starting the All-Star Game because Donaldson-the-third-baseman never would have happened. Lesson for the next life, I suppose. I'm happy with the way things turned out.
No need to show the competition. Donaldson's stat line, after an extended slump:
Donaldson: .252/.335/.480, 129 OPS+, 18 HR, 56 RBI, ***4.7 bWAR***, Gold Glove pending
The last Oakland third baseman to make the team was Carney Lansford in 1988. I was three years old at the time. Before that, it was Wayne Gross in 1977. Here's a video of Donnie hitting a walk-off homer against the Tigers in late May, just in case this is your first day on AN and you don't know who he is:
So there we have it. If things go poorly, as they usually do when it comes to Oakland and national popularity contests, the A's will have only one position player starting in the All-Star Game. If things go well, they could send three starters. The last time that happened was 1990, when Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco got the nod from fans and Bob Welch started on the mound.
Let's go Oakland!
Keep on voting for the green and gold! Here is the online ballot. Voting ends at 9:00 p.m. PT on Thu., July 3. Try not to think about the fact that the rise in online voting, and the subsequent fall in paper use, threatens Norris' secondary career as a lumberjack.