There's still a few days left in fan voting for the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game (July 12 in San Diego), and for the most part, the fans have done a very good job. You can make a minor quibble here or there, but the 17 current leaders in the fan voting (nine American League starters, eight National League) are nearly all deserving candidates. Good job, fans. (Voting continues until 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 30.)
Of course, when the starters are set, that's when the hard work begins. After that, players then get to make their choices on their own ballot, and then American League manager Ned Yost and National League manager Terry Collins must fill out the rest of their rosters around that. Who will the players and managers choose? Who should they choose? There's no time like the present to take a look ahead to predict which names we'll see announced on Tuesday, July 5th at 7:00 p.m. ET on the Esurance All-Star Selection Show.
We will, of course, stick to the same rules the respective managers are bound by, and that means every team must be represented in San Diego. Their rosters will have 33 players, before the fans add one more in the Final Vote, so we'll stick with that. Finally, realize that fans seem equally split between whether this game should represent "baseball's best players," or simply "the players having the best start to 2016," so let's accept that there's no pleasing everyone.
That's half the fun, though, isn't it? Let's dig into the rosters we might see on the field in Petco Park.
Current fan choice:Salvador Perez, Royals
Likely backup(s):Matt Wieters, Orioles; Stephen Vogt , A's
Don't forget about: No one. It's a rough year at this position.
Perez was perhaps the easiest selection in either league, as he's having by far his best season (.293/.327/.521 through Sunday) while the rest of the AL's backstops struggle at a near-historic level. Still, even the famously durable Perez won't catch all nine innings of an All-Star Game, and Wieters, who has bounced back nicely from several injury-plagued years (and already has his most home runs since 2013) seems a clear choice.
It's the third catcher that's problematic. Vogt isn't having a particularly great season, but it's not like Jason Castro, Brian McCann, or Chris Iannetta are making strong cases either. Vogt made the All-Star team also managed by Yost a year ago, and this would allow the AL to get an Oakland representative, which is important since the two A's with the best cases are blocked by either a very deep position (Danny Valencia, third base) or lots of time missed due to injury (Rich Hill, pitcher). We'll assume Vogt, without a great deal of conviction.
Current fan choice:Eric Hosmer, Royals
Likely backup(s):Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Don't forget about:Chris Davis, Orioles
Hosmer is having a great season and would have made the team as a reserve even if he wasn't leading the fan voting, and Cabrera is having a typically elite year of his own, so there's little argument against either player. Davis has a strong case, but if everyone with a good case made the All-Star team, we'd have 75-man rosters. There's simply not room for everyone, and Davis in particular may get nudged out by a fellow slugger on his own team who can also play first base, though we'll get to him in the outfield.
Current fan choice: Jose Altuve, Astros
Likely backup(s):Robinson Cano, Mariners
Don't forget about:Ian Kinsler, Tigers; Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Like first base, the top two players are clear, regardless of which one starts. Altuve has put himself squarely in the MVP discussion, and Cano has more than lived up to the idea that he'd be a big rebound candidate in 2016. Expect Yost or the players to do their best to try and find a way to squeeze Kinsler onto the roster, since the Tigers second baseman is having an outstanding year. There's just not room for him on this hypothetical roster, though, not with the requirement that each team have a representative.
Gif: Altuve homers in slow motion
Current fan choice:Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
Likely backup(s):Francisco Lindor, Indians; Eduardo Nunez, Twins
Don't forget about:Carlos Correa, Astros
Bogaerts, hitting .344/.395/.497 with 10 steals and solid defense, has blossomed into the star the Red Sox hoped he'd be when they refused to discuss him in potential trades, and the fans chose wisely here. Lindor, hitting .311/.369/.473 with double-digits in both steals and home runs, has almost exactly replicated his 2015 debut, though he's surprisingly not in the top five in fan voting.
This is where things get complicated. Even the most ardent Twins fan wouldn't argue that Nunez is a better player than Correa, and despite Nunez' career-best start, he's not even having a better season than Correa. (Though Nunez does have a higher batting average, when you include on-base skills and power, Correa comes out ahead.) But the last-place Twins have baseball's most losses for a reason, and Joe Mauer's fade and Miguel Sano's injury makes it difficult to make their cases. Expect to see Nunez here.
Current fan choice:Manny Machado, Orioles
Likely backup(s):Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays; Evan Longoria, Rays
Don't forget about: Valencia, A's; Kyle Seager, Mariners; Nick Castellanos, Tigers
Though Machado has been playing shortstop for the Orioles, he's still a third baseman on the ballot, and as a great player having his best season for a first-place team, he's an easy choice. Donaldson is duplicating the year that won him the MVP award in 2015, so there's no dispute about the top two here.
After that, though, we have the opposite issue we did at catcher, because the hot corner in the AL is stacked. Valencia, Seager, and Castellanos are all having great seasons, and you could easily throw Jose Ramirez and Yunel Escobar into that discussion, too. (To say nothing of the injured Mike Moustakas.) The expectation here is Longoria, because he's having a bounceback .269/.326/.524 season that almost exactly matches his career averages, and because it might be even harder to get the other deserving Ray, Alex Colome, into a deep pool of relievers.
Current fan choice:Mike Trout, Angels; Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Jackie Bradley Jr. , Red Sox
Likely backup(s):Ian Desmond, Rangers; Mark Trumbo, Orioles
Don't forget about:Michael Saunders, Blue Jays; George Springer, Astros; Carlos Beltran, Yankees; Adam Eaton, White Sox; J.D. Martinez, Tigers; Kole Calhoun, Angels
Trout is still the best player in baseball, and he's having yet another great (.313/.411/.552) season. Let's assume he'll play left field in this configuration, next to two young Boston stars having very good seasons. After that, Desmond is an easy choice, as his transition to both Texas and center field has gone stunningly well -- he's hitting .322/.373/.525 -- and Trumbo leads all of baseball in home runs, having such a good year that he beats out teammate Davis in our expected roster.
After that, there's just no more room, though it does make for a fascinating thought of what the Final Vote may look like. (Though Martinez' broken elbow does take him out of consideration.) Saunders, finally healthy, is off to such a massive start (.296/.372/.572) that he's actually been one of the two best hitters on a team that has Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Russell Martin. Don't be surprised, though, if Yost makes this even more complicated by leaving off Trumbo in favor of his own outfielder, Lorenzo Cain, who is having a decent year that doesn't quite measure up to his previous two great ones.
Gif: Bradley Jr. makes a running catch
Current fan choice:David Ortiz, Red Sox
Likely backup(s):Nelson Cruz, Mariners
Don't forget about:Victor Martinez, Tigers; Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Ortiz is the overwhelming fan choice here, and for good reason: He's having his best-ever year in what's expected to be his final season before retirement. All three of the other names listed here have strong cases, yet there's very little chance more than one makes it as the backup, meaning that very impressive seasons by Martinez and Encarnacion are likely to go unrewarded.
Projected choices: Chris Sale, White Sox; Steven Wright, Red Sox; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Danny Salazar, Orioles; Cole Hamels, Rangers; Marco Estrada, Blue Jays; Andrew Miller, Yankees; Dellin Betances, Yankees; Aroldis Chapman, Yankees; Wade Davis, Royals; Kelvin Herrera, Royals; Zach Britton, Orioles; Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox
Don't forget about:Jose Quintana, White Sox; Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays; CC Sabathia, Yankees; Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees; Corey Kluber, Indians; Colome, Rays; Will Harris, Astros; Brad Brach, Orioles; Roberto Osuna, Blue Jays
The fans don't get to choose pitchers, so this one is all on the players and Yost, but it's a very weird year for starting pitching in the American League. Expected stars like Dallas Keuchel, David Price, Sonny Gray, Yu Darvish, David Price, Felix Hernandez, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Carrasco, and Garrett Richards have been injured, struggling, or both, but on the other hand, there's an overwhelming amount of elite one-inning relievers. That leaves Sale as the obvious choice to start, and plenty of questions after.
For example, Wright leads the AL with a 2.18 ERA, but can any of the three AL catchers handle a knuckleball? Probably not, but Wright deserves a spot, and watching Wieters (for example) try would be highly entertaining. Tillman's 10-1 record shouldn't fool anyone, but he has made a legitimate step forward, so his spot is secure. The same goes for Hamels, who has somehow managed a career-best ERA despite career-worst walk and home run totals.
All five of the Cleveland starters have some argument, but Salazar has been the most effective and has the lowest ERA, so we'll assume he makes it. Then you get to the bullpen, and while it may seem like overkill to have all three dominant Yankee relievers on the team, how could any manager pass that up? Along with Royals Davis and Herrera, each on Yost's All-Star team last year, and Kimbrel and Britton, and you wonder how the NL plans to score at all.
Chicago's underrated Quintana would seem to be the biggest snub, but supporters of Colome, Harris, Osuna, and others would have excellent cases as well. There's just too many good pitchers here.
Current fan choice:Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Likely backup(s):Buster Posey, Giants; Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
Don't forget about:Wilson Ramos, Nationals
Molina (.261/.332/.341) isn't having one of his stronger seasons, but of course it's his defense that's his calling card, and so it's understandable why he's leading the balloting -- though by only the slimmest of margins over Posey, who is the nearly indisputable best all-around catcher in baseball. The third catcher here is actually an interesting discussion, because Lucroy has rebounded from injury to have a great year (.299/.358/.496), and Ramos has put up a monster season (.342/.385/.563) that's the best of any catcher in the game. We'll assume Lucroy here, in part because he satisfies the requirement for a Milwaukee representative.
Current fan choice: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Likely backup(s):Paul Goldschmidt, D-Backs; Wil Myers, Padres
Don't forget about:Brandon Belt; Giants; Freddie Freeman, Braves; Justin Bour, Marlins
Rizzo has become an all-around superstar and is a completely fine choice by the fans. Since the start of 2014, Goldschmidt has been Rizzo's equal in nearly every way, so he's the obvious backup as well as being Arizona's lone representative.
On merit, Belt deserves a spot, because he's been an above-average player for years and has really upped his game with a .306/.408/.533 line that's the best of any NL first baseman, but he's not likely to get one. Myers has had a breakout season of his own, and it's easy to see the players or Collins choosing the hometown star for San Diego fans. Either way, he'll be there as the Padres' All-Star Week ambassador.
Current fan choice: Ben Zobrist, Cubs
Likely backup(s):Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Don't forget about:Derek Dietrich, Marlins; DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
There's a very good argument to be made that Murphy, still on a scorching .349/.391/.577 pace, deserves the starting nod over Zobrist, who is having a very good .298/.410/.460 year of his own. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because both are head-and-shoulders above the competition here, and both would end up on the team either way. Dietrich and LeMahieu have cases, though not so much so that it'd be a travesty if and when they're left off.
Gif: Ben Zobrist's low five
Current fan choice: Addison Russell, Cubs
Likely backup(s):Trevor Story, Rockies; Corey Seager, Dodgers
Don't forget about:Aledmys Diaz, Cardinals; Jonathan Villar, Brewers; Zack Cozart, Reds; Brandon Crawford, Giants
This position is probably the only one where the fans have left the manager in an unenviable position, because while Russell has paired solid defense with an adequate batting line (.241/.333/.386), the huge influx of young talent into this position raises the bar, and Russell's vote means someone somewhat more deserving must be left out.
That won't be Seager, who leads all shortstops with a .298/.356/.528 line. It won't be Story, who leads all shortstops with 19 homers to go with a .271/.339/.559 line. It might be Diaz, who got off to such a scorching start that his overall line remains impressive (.312/.371/.514) despite the fact that he's hit only .269/.341/.429 since May 1. All three backup options are deserving, to say nothing on Villar, Crawford, and Cozart.
Current fan choice: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Likely backup(s):Nolan Arenado, Rockies; Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Don't forget about:Jake Lamb, D-Backs
That's right, yet another Cub, though with Bryant hitting .265/.357/.520 after cutting his strikeout rate, one can hardly argue with the fans here. Arenado provides elite defense to go with his 21 homers, and it's not just about Coors Field; since the start of 2015, he's hit a National League-best 63 home runs, and they've been split almost equally at home (32) and on the road (31). Carpenter, meanwhile, is having the best season (.300/.419/.585) of any third baseman and probably should be the starter; he also offers Collins the versatility of being able to play second.
All of which means that barring the unlikely scenario of taking four third basemen, Arizona's Lamb is likely on the outside looking in, and that's too bad. With a .285/.364/.570 line to go with 15 homers, the 25-year-old D-Back has made a huge step forward and would be an easy choice under other circumstances.
Current fan choice:Dexter Fowler, Cubs; Bryce Harper, Nationals; Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
Likely backup(s):Odubel Herrera, Phillies; Starling Marte, Pirates; Jay Bruce, Reds
Don't forget about:Marcell Ozuna, Marlins; Christian Yelich, Marlins; Gregory Polanco, Pirates; Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; Ryan Braun, Brewers; Adam Duvall, Reds; Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals
There's little to gripe about with the fan choices here, either. Harper, despite his lengthy slump, is still Bryce Harper. Cespedes, somewhat improbably, is equalling what he did with the Mets after being acquired last summer, and Fowler's .290/.398/.483 line means he's not just another Cub, assuming his minor leg injury doesn't linger.
But here is where things get extremely complicated, even with usual locks like Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Hunter Pence, and A.J. Pollock taking themselves out of contention with injuries or poor performance. Even without McCutchen, the Pirates have two extremely deserving candidates in Marte and Polanco. Even without Stanton, the Marlins have two extremely deserving candidates in Ozuna and Yelich. The Rockies could argue for Blackmon and Gonzalez. Even the last-place Reds can argue for two outfielders in the resurgent Bruce and the surprising Duvall, who has a National League-leading home runs, despite a .288 on-base percentage.
Between the high number of performers and the fact that we've yet to add a Red or Phillie, it's inevitable that Collins (and the players) will leave off someone deserving. It says here that Herrera and Bruce make the team based on their good seasons and need for representation, and that the all-around brilliance of Marte (.327/.367/.489, 20 steals) can't be ignored. This is the most difficult area to flesh out, however.
Gif: Yoenis Cespedes home run
Projected choices:Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Jake Arrieta, Cubs; Jon Lester; Cubs; Noah Syndergaard, Mets; Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Johnny Cueto, Giants; Stephen Strasburg, Nationals; Jose Fernandez, Marlins; Julio Teheran, Braves; Kenley Jansen, Dodgers; Jeurys Familia, Mets; Hector Rondon, Cubs; Fernando Rodney, Padres
Don't forget about: Aaron Nola, Phillies; Jacob deGrom , Mets; Zack Greinke, D-Backs; Drew Pomeranz, Padres; Max Scherzer, Nationals; Shawn Kelley, Nationals; Arodys Vizcaino, Braves; Seung Hwan Oh, Cardinals; A.J. Ramos, Marlins; Brad Ziegler, D-Backs
… right up until you get here, that is. The National League has the opposite issue from the American League, in that they have an overwhelming amount of elite starting pitchers, to the point that you could build two incredible rotations just out of guys who aren't making this team.
Kershaw, the best pitcher alive, is an obvious start, and we hardly need to provide reasons why Arrieta, Bumgarner, and Syndergaard are included here. The Giants have won 14 of Cueto's 16 starts as he's put up a 2.42 ERA; Lester has allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 15 starts. Meanwhile, Strasburg's Nationals have won 14 of his 15 starts as he's having the breakout season we've all waited for, despite the back/rib issue that forced him to the disabled list this weekend, and all Fernandez has done is lead all starting pitchers in strikeout percentage, by a lot.
Collins still needs to select a Brave, and while Vizcaino has an argument, let's say that Teheran's streak of 24 consecutive scoreless innings against Collins' Mets tips the scales. Moving onto relievers, it's easy to see Collins selecting his own closer in Familia, who is having a good year and has yet to allow a home run, and Jansen, already historically dominant, has somehow been even better. Rondon is the closer on baseball's best team, and has more than lived up to that status with a 34/3 K/BB in 25.2 innings, while hometown pick Rodney has allowed a single earned run in 28.2 innings.
That does, of course, mean that very deserving names like Oh, Ramos, Scherzer, Pomeranz, and Scherzer get left off. But that happens every year, and that's not a bad thing: Major League Baseball is simply overflowing with talent. It's a much better problem to have to not have enough spots for great players, rather than the opposite.