This is the All-Star Game. This is not the Game for Guys Who Used to be Really Good but Actually Aren't Anymore.
This is an annual debate, and it is part of the charm of the Midsummer Classic. How much weight should be given to the current level of performance versus the career body of work in selecting All-Stars? Should we essentially save some places for players whose stardom was once unquestioned, but whose current performance has dwindled?
Should we, in other words, round up the usual suspects? I hope not.
On the other side of this question today, we find my esteemed colleague, Richard Justice, arguing on behalf of the existing stardom approach. Justice is a highly skilled journalist and his position is adeptly argued and convincingly presented. Unfortunately, in this case, I believe it might also be fundamentally flawed.
Players who have been stars, but whose numbers are in decline, have historically been over-represented at the All-Star Game. Why? Name recognition. It is this factor that keeps career politicians in office, and sells big-name brand detergents.
I firmly believe that the baseball public, as a group, is more knowledgeable than, for instance, the general public that forms the American electorate. The rise of sabermetrics has increased the body of baseball knowledge and has made for a more nuanced grasp of the game. You can make a convincing argument that in recent years, the All-Star voting has been a closer reflection of reality than it was in the past.
If, on the other hand, people want to see the relatively old and familiar names populating the All-Star Game, regardless of current production, that's their choice, their option, their right. Nobody is going to burn their ballots, particularly because their ballots, in so many cases, are not made of flammable material.
We need to draw a distinction between tradition and sentiment. What makes the All-Star Game a singular sporting event is not collecting as many familiar names as we can in one place. What sets the All-Star Game apart is the collection of the game's best players, here and now. The emergence of young stars is part of the game's continuing evolution. It ought to be celebrated, and as soon as possible.
Here are some choices for the 2013 All-Star Game, new vs. conventional.
American League, first base: Chris Davis, Orioles, (.353, .441, .754) 19 home runs, 50 RBIs. Prince Fielder, Tigers, (.272, .395, .482) nine home runs, 42 RBIs. Or, even more to the point, Albert Pujols, Angels (.246, .318, .415), eight home runs, 31 RBIs.
Davis' hot start has not diminished into any sort of prolonged fade. If he keeps this up for another month, why shouldn't he be the AL starting first baseman?
National League, shortstop: Jean Segura, Brewers (.360, .397, .560) eight home runs, 14 stolen bases. Starlin Castro, Cubs, (.265, .296, .368) three home runs, three stolen bases.
Yes, I know, they're both 23, but Castro has already been on two All-Star teams. He's a fixture compared to Segura. Castro's 2013 numbers are strikingly similar to another frequent NL All-Star shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, which means that Rollins isn't close to Segura's level, either.
NL outfield: Carlos Gomez, Brewers (.330, .372, .600) 10 home runs, 25 RBIs. Carlos Beltran, Cardinals, (.293, .337, .519) 12 home runs, 32 RBIs.
Gomez, a genuine five-tool player, is in a position where his production is catching up to his immense potential. Gomez is one of the most exciting players in the game, and he is a terrific defensive center fielder. The All-Star Game would be less without him.
The All-Star pitchers are not chosen by the voting public, but the same principles are in place. Anybody want to keep Tampa Bay's Matt Moore (8-0, 2.21 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) off the AL squad in favor of a more familiar name? Or Washington's Jordan Zimmermann (8-3, 2.37 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) off the NL team? Or Arizona's Patrick Corbin (8-0, 1.71 ERA, 1.02 WHIP)? Or the Mets' Matt Harvey (5-0, 1.85 ERA, 0.82 WHIP)?
The All-Star Game should be just that. It should be a collection of the brightest stars of the contemporary game. The correct bows in the direction of tradition will always be taken. This year, for instance, Mariano Rivera, in his final season as the greatest closer in the game, will be given his due.
However, this is an event that should be about which players are playing at the highest level right now, not about which players have the biggest reputations.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.