The 2018 MLB All-Star Game will be held on July 17 at Nationals Park in Washington. The starting lineups will be announced on Sunday, but they definitely won’t include any Oakland A’s. The only green-and-gold player who has factored into the fan voting at all is Jed Lowrie, and he’s a distant fifth place at 2B. He trails Jose Altuve, who happens to be the leading vote-getter in all of MLB for all players at all positions in both leagues.
However, every team is guaranteed at least one representative, and the 48-39 A’s have accomplished enough to hope for more than just a token lone rep. There are many intriguing candidates, but I see three players whom I think deserve berths and have legitimate chances at receiving them.
Blake Treinen, RP
Treinen looks like the one absolute lock for the A’s. There is virtually no argument for leaving him out, and if Oakland only gets a lone rep then it will surely be this guy.
Over the last four years, the AL roster has averaged seven relievers per season. A few of them were injury replacements, but even removing them the AL still averages six relievers on the initial roster. The NL is the same, in the 5-6 range.
Is Treinen one of the five or six starriest AL relievers right now? His 0.84 ERA is the best among all AL relievers (min. 15 innings), and more than a half-run better than the next full-time closer (Aroldis Chapman). His 22 saves are fourth behind Edwin Diaz, Craig Kimbrel, and Chapman, just ahead of Keone Kela; everyone on that list has at least a 90% conversion rate, too. He throws 100 mph and strikes out a ton of batters. These are the kinds of things that will be taken into account for All-Star consideration, and he’s among the best at all of them.
Of course, there is always the confounding variable of the lone reps from bad teams. Space must be made for those token additions, and the easiest place to find a standout on a last-place squad is in the bullpen. For the Rangers, Kela’s perfect record of 21 saves could do the trick, but he was already on my list above anyway. If the Twins don’t send one of their Eddie position players then Fernando Rodney could get a look, and if Nick Castellanos misses in the outfield then the Tigers could end up with setup man Joe Jimenez (closer Shane Greene is on the DL).
On top of that, you never know when a random setup man will make it on the strength of a tiny ERA (like Ryan Cook in 2012). This is usually a lone rep situation, but not always. Candidates for that could include basically the entire Astros bullpen (led by Collin McHugh, at 0.90), and then Oakland’s own Lou Trivino. I don’t see that happening this year, though, since Houston will already have plenty of reps and Trivino obviously won’t get it over his superior teammate Treinen.
One way or other, even if some second-tier relievers are needed as token reps, it’s hard to see Treinen getting squeezed out of this picture. He’s been too great, and he’s firmly entrenched as one of the top four closers in the league right now. Even in the unfathomable scenario that he’s initially left out, he would surely show up later as a replacement for an injury or an ineligible Sunday starter.
Jed Lowrie, 2B
Lowrie had arguably a career-best season in 2017. Not only is he following it up at age 34, he’s actually building on it — we’re only halfway through the summer and he’s already nearly matched his production from yesteryear. He’s within a few tenths in terms of both bWAR (4.0 last year, 3.2 so far) and fWAR (3.5 last year, 3.1 so far), and his HR/RBI totals (still big factors for All-Stars) are almost identical (14/69 last year, 14/59 this year). By any measure he’s been an excellent player, and he’s putting up the kind of campaign that can earn downballot MVP votes.
By his own merits, Lowrie is clearly deserving. The question will be how much competition he faces for limited roster spots. On average, three second basemen make the squad, not counting any extra injury replacements. One of those spots goes to the starter (Altuve), so there’s only space for two more. Is Lowrie one of them?
Fortunately, 2B is a position in flux for the AL this year. The picture is missing Robinson Cano, who’s out for a PED suspension, as well as the injured Dustin Pedroia. Past selections Dee Gordon, Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, Jason Kipnis, Jonathan Schoop, and Eduardo Nunez are all having meh-to-terrible seasons. Behind Altuve and Lowrie, the best performers have been attached to lesser-known names — Gleyber Torres, Daniel Robertson, and Whit Merrifield.
I think Merrifield is in as the Royals’ lone rep. They have no deserving pitchers now that Kelvin Herrera is gone, and the only other option would be Mike Moustakas at 3B — but that position is far more impacted than 2B. On the other hand, the Rays have other options (like starting pitcher Blake Snell), so it’s tough for me to see the relatively unknown Robertson making it.
That brings us down to Torres, who’s putting up Lowrie-esque numbers as a superstar-rookie on a juggernaut Yankees team. That would have made for a tough decision, but he went on the DL on Thursday and he’ll miss the rest of the month. Presumably that puts him out of the running.
There is one other wrinkle. While there are usually two backup second basemen on the roster, the more accurate statement is there are three backup middle infielders. In 2015 and ‘17 that meant just one reserve shortstop, but in ‘16 there were two SS and one 2B on the bench. With SS looking relatively stacked, it wouldn’t shock me to see that 2016 breakdown repeat itself, in which case we’d be back to a competition between Lowrie and Merrifield. It would be an absolute travesty for Lowrie to get snubbed for a significantly inferior lone rep, but them’s the rules and that kind of thing happens now and then. In such a situation, you’d have to imagine Lowrie would eventually make it as an injury replacement.
Add it all up, and Lowrie looks like a great bet but not a lock. He needs a couple things to go his way, and hopefully he’ll get extra credit as a long-time respected veteran looking for his first career All-Star berth.
Status: Likely, but not a lock
Matt Olson, 1B
Olson is not quite one of the three best players on the A’s this year, but he could benefit from the fact that first base is an absolute wasteland in the AL. Even with the starting spot being wasted on the absurdly undeserving Jose Abreu, there’s still very little competition.
Who else is there? Mitch Moreland is having a good year at the plate and has a Gold Glove on his resume, and on top of that he’s on the MLB-best Red Sox. Yuli Gurriel is close in the voting, but all he has going for him is a .300 average and an Astros uniform. Joey Gallo leads the pack with 21 homers, but you don’t get to the All-Star game with a .192 average. Last year’s pick was Yonder Alonso but he’s only been alright this time around, and in 2016 it was Miguel Cabrera but he’s out long-term with an injury. Eric Hosmer is in the NL now.
By no means is Olson a lock, and maybe I’m being optimistic just considering him at all. But he put his name on the national map last year with his dinger surge, and his 18 this summer trail only Gallo. He also leads the group in RBI, for what that’s worth. The A’s aren’t as popular as Boston and Houston, but they aren’t a laughingstock anymore either. However, his other big strength (elite defense) probably won’t earn him any points in this All-Star conversation, and his .236 average could hurt him compared with Moreland (.288) and Gurriel.
The deciding factor here could be health. There haven’t been two reserve 1B spots since 2014, which means that after Abreu only one more is likely to make it barring injury replacements. I don’t think Gurriel is a serious candidate outside of the fan voting, so I see it as Moreland vs. Olson for that spot. As an A’s fan the smart bet is the Boston player will always win that popularity contest, but on the other hand Moreland sat out Wednesday with back spasms. If he hits the DL then the door could be wide open for Olson.
Status: So you’re telling me there’s a chance!
The A’s have a few more top names, but I don’t think they’ll make it. Here’s a quick rundown.
Khris Davis, DH
We love him, and his 20 dingers are impressive. But J.D. Martinez is the starter, and the backup role is a tossup between Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton. They’ve all out-homered Khrush, they’re all better hitters than he is by a wide margin, and they’re all a thousand percent more famous nationally. Maybe if this was a lone rep situation there would be a tiny chance, but it’s not so there isn’t (and if a lone rep does squeeze in then it could be Shin-Soo Choo for Texas). All respect to Khrush, but this isn’t happening.
Matt Chapman, 3B
We know him as our best player, but that requires paying attention to defense. All-Star rosters are generally all about offensive stats. Andrelton Simmons and Kevin Kiermaier have never been All-Stars, not even once, and if Simmons makes it this year then it’ll conveniently have happened right when he started hitting too (batting .315, and first time meaningfully above league-average at the plate).
Fortunately, Chapman is hitting as well, so he’s got more than just his glove. Will it be enough, though? Jose Ramirez is deservedly the starter, and after him Alex Bregman is a smart bet for the bench. There is probably one more reserve spot, with big name Kyle Seager lurking and Yankees rookie Miguel Andujar making noise.
This might also be affected by lone reps. If Merrifield doesn’t make it at 2B, does Mike Moustakas steal a spot here? Eddie Rosario should make the outfield for the Twins, but if he doesn’t then does Eduardo Escobar get a look here? How about Adrian Beltre or Isiah Kiner-Falefa for the Rangers? I don’t think any of those picks are likely, but they can’t be ignored either — nor can Rafael Devers of Boston.
Chapman might have a better chance than I’m giving him credit for, but I think he’s less likely than Olson simply because of the relative competition. I’d be surprised to see him make it over the more established Seager, who is also a Gold Glover with power, even though in real life we would all pick Chap without a second thought. His best hope is if someone gets hurt and needs a replacement, since I see him as around 4th-to-6th in line for three spots.
Lou Trivino, RP
His 1.49 ERA automatically merits mention in the world of baseball-card stats, but I don’t see any chance. The A’s have plenty of better options and even a better reliever, and if a setup man makes it then it’s gotta be from Houston.
And there we have it! There are six A’s at least worth talking about, and three with legitimately good shots. I think a minimum of two will make it, which would mark our first time with multiple selections since 2015 (Sonny and Vogt). Good luck to all the A’s All-Star candidates, and we’ll find out who made it sometime next week!