Around the Horn

All-Star Should-bes

Going back to my teenage years, I've indulged in an annual exercise to select the All-Star teams in advance of the official announcements of who makes the cut. It was a fun intellectual game I played and it was always enjoyable to see how I was "smarter" than the ASG managers and the Commissioner's Office.

It isn't the same as it used to be. For one thing, with age comes other things demanding one's attention and such frivolities slide way down the priority list. But for another, and more germane to this article, the All-Star Game is a hollow shell of what it used to be. Mostly because no one—not the players, not the managers, not the fans, not anyone—apparently cares at all who wins or loses anymore. Also because there is so little distinction between the two leagues now—a phenomenon that started in the ’90s with the dissolution of the separate league offices, then no more separate umpire crews, then Interleague Play, then more Interleague Play, then the metastisization of the Designated Hitter cancer—that starting next year there won't be any real difference at all, there will only be divisional weighting to the schedule to separate them.

(Commissioner Manfred and company have even made the game more visually boring by implementing ASG uniforms, doing away with the classic practice of each player wearing their regular team uniform, in a crass attempt at a merchandising cash-grab. The 2021 uniforms were gawd-awful, but fans still bought replicas of them, so we're doing it again. Although this time, it appears, there will be a bit of a compromise, with the ASG threads at least featuring the team being represented in their usual script/typestyle across the chest.)

The selection process is a whole lot more complicated now, too. In the old days, fans voted on the starters and whoever was the All-Star team manager—the manager of the team that won the prior year's pennant—picked everyone else, with the mandate that at least one player from each team must be included. That led to what I came to call The Cito Gaston Problem, when the manager would pick several players from his own team that were less deserving than others in the league; thus, changes were made to take selection power away from the manager. Now most reserve players and pitchers are elected by player ballot, with just a few slots left over for the Commissioner's Office to fill to make sure all teams are represented and that there are strict numbers of pitchers vs. position players (the first of these rules I like, fans of all teams should have someone to root for; the latter is stupid, just like the new rule for season play mandating 13 pitchers is stupid).

Thus, for my little exercise, if I stick to the rules, there's a lot less chance of there being discrepancies, which makes the game less fun. I've only got those few choices after the fans and player votes are done to work with. It's become a (greater) waste of time.

So this year I'm doing it before we know the result of player balloting. Otherwise still keeping to the rules, even the stupid one mandating 12 and only 12 pitchers. Roster size is a bloated 32 plus a new special one—Manfred has initiated a new policy of a roster spot on each side for a "legacy player," someone near retirement that used to be a star player but is now just hanging on to squeeze another year or two out of a long career.

First, the fans have spoken and here are the starters, for better or worse:

 AMERICAN LEAGUE    NATIONAL LEAGUE
 Pos Player Team   Pos Player Team
C Alejandro Kirk Toronto   C Willson Contreras Chicago
1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Toronto   1B Paul Goldschmidt St. Louis
2B José Altuve Houston   2B Jazz Chisholm Jr. Miami
3B Rafael Devers Boston   3B Manny Machado San Diego
SS Tim Anderson Chicago   SS Trea Turner Los Angeles
OF Aaron Judge New York   OF Ronald Acuña Jr. Atlanta
OF Mike Trout Los Angeles   OF Mookie Betts Los Angeles
OF Giancarlo Stanton New York   OF Joc Pederson San Francisco
DH Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles   DH Bryce Harper* Philadelphia

Aside from my anti-Yankee and -Astro biases, these are all acceptable choices; my only quibble would be AL 1B, where I'd naturally have preferred Ty France.

Now, my choices for the rest of the squads:

 AMERICAN LEAGUE    NATIONAL LEAGUE
 Pos Player Team   Pos Player Team
C Sean Murphy Oakland   C Will Smith Los Angeles
1B Ty France Seattle   1B Pete Alonso New York
1B/2B Luis Arraez Minnesota   1B Freddie Freeman Los Angeles
1B José Abreu Chicago   1B C.J. Cron Colorado
2B Andres Gimenez Cleveland   2B Jeff McNeil New York
3B/2B José Ramírez Cleveland   3B Nolan Arenado St. Louis
SS Xander Bogaerts Boston   3B Austin Riley Atlanta
OF Julio Rodríguez Seattle   3B Josh Rojas Arizona
OF Andrew Benintendi Kansas City   SS Dansby Swanson Atlanta
OF Trey Mancini Baltimore   OF Starling Marte New York
DH Yordan Alvarez Houston    OF Juan Soto Washington
P Justin Verlander Houston   OF Brian Reynolds* Pittsburgh
P Logan Gilbert Seattle   P Sandy Alcantara Miami
P Shane McClanahan Tampa Bay   P Joe Musgrove San Diego
P Alek Manoah Toronto    P Max Fried Atlanta 
P Martín Pérez Texas   P Miles Mikolas St. Louis
P Nestor Cortes New York   P Carlos Rodon San Francisco
P Dylan Cease Chicago   P Tony Gonsolin Los Angeles
P Framber Valdez Houston   P Luis Castillo Cincinnati
P Emmanuel Clase Cleveland   P Corbin Burnes Milwaukee
P Gregory Soto Detroit   P Zach Wheeler Philadelphia
P Clay Holmes New York   P David Bednar Pittsburgh 
P Jorge López Baltimore   P Edwin Díaz New York
        P Josh Hader Milwaukee

AL: The numbers game snubs Kevin Gausman, J.D. Martínez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Yandy Díaz, all of whom are more deserving than Sean Murphy, but we've got to have a second catcher and, man, is catching thin. Besides, we need someone from Oakland. I'd really like to leave off Valdez, Alvarez, and Cortes, but they do have the numbers. Can't leave them off just because I hate their teams. The Commissioner's legacy player is Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, which is fine. I don't know if the legacy pick counts for team representation, but I choose to assume not and included another Tiger.

NL: Lots of possible substitutes here: Josh Bell and Ian Happ on the batting side; Logan Webb, Aaron Nola, Julio Urias, David Robertson, and Ryan Helsey, among others, on the pitching side of things. It was hard getting a Diamondback in the mix, but since Harper is injured it creates a spot for Rojas, which allows Wheeler in since we didn't need to use a pitcher slot for a D-Back. We just do a little creative accounting and pretend Rojas and Wheeler were in all along and declare, say, Reynolds is the injury replacement. Meanwhile, the official legacy choice of Albert Pujols is fine, it's either him or his St. Louis teammate Yadi Molina, so stick with Albert.

AL team representation: Yankees 4, Astros 4, Blue Jays 3, Mariners 3, White Sox 3, Guardians 3, Red Sox 2, Angels 2, Orioles 2, Tigers 1 (+Cabrera), Rangers 1, Rays 1, Twins 1, Royals 1, Athletics 1. 

NL team representation: Dodgers 5, Braves 4, Mets 4, Cardinals 3 (+Pujols), Giants 2, Pirates 2, Brewers 2, Padres 2, Marlins 2, Phillies 2 (sort of), Cubs 1, Reds 1, Nationals 1, Rockies 1, Diamondbacks 1.

How will it compare to the real deal? We'll find out tomorrow and days following, as players bow out or go on the injured list and get replaced.

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