10 toughest All-Star ballot decisions

Voters posed with several points of debate in selecting AL, NL starters

May 9th, 2016

If only the entire 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Ballot were as easy as the decision at designated hitter, where only the most hard-hearted of Yankees fans can be excused from celebrating David Ortiz's fascinating farewell tour by giving him a click.

Alas, it's not that easy everywhere. And as we inch closer to the 87th MLB All-Star Game presented by MasterCard on July 12 at Petco Park, these are the 10 most difficult decisions for a discerning voter at this stage of the season.

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1. American League shortstop: Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor or Xander Bogaerts?

Something tells me we're going to be comparing and contrasting these guys long after the All-Star issue is decided. But for now, take your pick at this position.

Correa is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year Award winner who had 27 homers in his first 500 big league at-bats and has elevated his on-base abilities this year. Lindor is the most dazzling defender of the three by a wide margin, and his bat has been abnormally consistent for a player still shy of the one-year anniversary of his debut.

The AL Rookie of the Year Award race between Correa and Lindor was so enthralling last year that it was easy to forget Bogaerts, who turned 23 last October, isn't much older than either guy. But he's developed into a more consistent offensive contributor, a difference-maker on the basepaths and a more-than-adequate defender despite questions early in his career about whether he'd stick at short.

2. Mike Trout and who else in the AL outfield?

The only real certainty in the AL outfield is that Trout deserves to start a fourth straight season, hands down.

Beyond that, it's an eclectic mix with no slam dunks. Jose Bautista has started four of the past five years, but he came into the week batting .211. Adam Jones has started three straight years, but he's off to a rough start and is far outpaced in production by new teammate Mark Trumbo (.976 OPS, eight homers). Lorenzo Cain and J.D. Martinez both had great 2015 campaigns, but they have had slower starts to '16.

Maybe a couple of juniors -- Steven Souza Jr. or Jackie Bradley Jr. -- catch your eye. Or maybe you give a nod to great glovework and vote for Kevin Pillar or Kevin Kiermaier or Adam Eaton.

After Trout, there are no easy answers here.

3. Who do you leave out of the NL outfield?

The AL is short on stars off to hot starts but long on up-and-coming options. The National League has a lot of both.

Yoenis Cespedes (1.052 OPS, 11 homers, 31 RBIs), Bryce Harper (1.054 OPS, 10 homers, 27 RBIs), Ryan Braun (1.035 OPS, seven homers, 24 RBIs), Dexter Fowler (1.038 OPS, 12 doubles, 24 runs), Giancarlo Stanton (.940 OPS, 10 homers, 24 RBIs). Those guys all jump off the page, and that's before you start to consider the cases of guys like Stephen Piscotty, Starling Marte, Christian Yelich and Michael Conforto, who have all been excellent. Or consider a superlative star off to a slower start, such as two-time starter Andrew McCutchen.

Sorry, but you can't vote for all of these guys … well, technically, you can, but we're trying to be decisive here.

Harper seems like a shoo-in after his NL MVP Award run, but not much here is clear.

4. Should we be swept up in the Trevor Story?

You never want to get too caught up in April storylines. It's a bad look in the wider frame. Bryan LaHair was a 2012 All-Star and hasn't been back in the big leagues since that season.

So when it comes to the Story support, it's easy to be a little leery. No human could maintain the seven-homer-a-week pace he established for himself in that first blessed week in the big leagues.

But do know that even if Story's homer pace has unsurprisingly cooled, he still has a .795 OPS going back to the middle of April. That's higher than the full-season OPS any other qualified shortstop on the ballot took into this week.

5. AL second base: Robinson Cano or Jose Altuve?

There are other second basemen off to great starts, such as Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Logan Forsythe. But these two are in their own tier at the moment. Altuve was the AL starter last summer in Cincinnati, ending a five-year run in that spot for -- you guessed it -- Cano. Now, they're both among the most productive players at any position in the early going this season.

Cano has played like a man possessed after the struggles and injury issues that plagued his first two years in Seattle. He entered the week with a dozen long balls, or just two shy of his 2014 total with the M's. But the crazy thing is how much power little Altuve has produced, too. With nine homers, he was six shy of his career-high of 15 last year, and he's also nearly halfway to his career-high walk total of 40 in 2012.

6. Should Manny Machado unseat the reigning AL MVP Award winner?

Josh Donaldson is not just the reigning AL MVP but the reigning starter at the hot corner for the AL, two years running.

Machado, though, is giving him a real run for his money -- or, rather, All-Star swag bag -- so far in 2016.

Machado entered the week with the highest OPS (1.094) of any qualified third baseman. He has 12 home runs, but is far ahead of him in doubles (15 to eight), as well as batting average (.350 to .268). Donaldson had drawn twice as many walks (21 to 10), but Machado still had the superior on-base percentage (.403 to .380). There are other guys statistically deserving of consideration -- such as a mid-breakout Nick Castellanos, who had the highest batting average in the AL (.380) --  but we've been touting Machado as a guy who could find himself on the short list of greatest young players in the game for a while, and it's happening right before our eyes in '16.

7. Can Paul Goldschmidt fend off Anthony Rizzo?

He's known as America's First Baseman, and Goldschmidt has spent the past two All-Star Games in the role as the NL's first baseman. But to butcher a line from Robert Frost, nothing Goldy can stay. At least, not if Rizzo (.270/.413/.631, 10 homers) keeps hitting like he has early on.

Rizzo finished fourth in the NL MVP Award voting last year, so his start is not exactly a surprise (unlike, perhaps, the consistency of Chris Carter or the rise in walk rate from Brandon Belt). Of course, Goldschmidt has an even longer track record, so he could make this an increasingly difficult decision as the first half progresses.

8. Posey, Yadi or back another backstop?

They don't come more accomplished behind the dish than Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, and both guys have solid enough stats at the start of the season to justify a vote that takes in the totality of their track record.

But Jonathan Lucroy, the 2014 NL starter, has launched a strong bounceback bid (.324/.389/.500 slash line) for the Brew Crew. And Welington Castillo has been an early supplier of pure power with seven homers and a .576 SLG. So this decision could ultimately come down to track record vs. the hotter hands. Heck, just choosing between Posey and Yadi is probably difficult enough.

9. Should Miguel Cabrera reclaim his starting spot?

Miggy's first DL trip began shortly before last year's Midsummer Classic after he was voted into the starting lineup for the fourth time in five years. Albert Pujols replaced him that time, but this time the key question is whether Eric Hosmer has earned the nod over the future Hall of Famer.

Royals fans back their own on the ballot, and Hosmer has a legitimate case -- a .336/.389/.560 slash line to go with his postseason credentials. Cabrera is off to a solid start (.292/.366/.450) but not an overwhelming one, so this could be a fascinating ballot battle moving forward.

10. Should you take the extra time to give some write-in love?

If you're a voter with a conscience, then, yeah, probably.

Jhonny Peralta occupies the shortstop spot for the Cardinals, but his replacement, Aledmys Diaz, has a .396/.431/.688 slash line, making him a justifiable selection over Story.

And what about Nomar Mazara? Were he on the ballot, he'd be a worthy pick in that AL outfield, having racked up a .301/.353/.447 slash line in his first 103 at-bats since his early April callup.

As a matter of due diligence, I timed myself writing in both of those names on the ballot, and it only took an average of 3.36 seconds per guy. The hardest part is spelling Aledmys, but the auto fill-in feature helps.

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Following the announcement of the 2016 All-Stars, be sure to return to MLB.com and cast your 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote for the final player on each league's All-Star roster. On Tuesday, July 12, watch the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2016 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote.

The 87th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.