First, I voted for Mike Trout. Slam dunk, right? Then, it was Jose Altuve. Another easy one. Wait, what?Actually, it wasn't easy at all.• Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for #ASGWorthy playersAnother American League second baseman, Robinson Cano, is off to a monster start in Seattle. He has three more
First, I voted for Mike Trout. Slam dunk, right? Then, it was Jose Altuve. Another easy one. Wait, what?
Actually, it wasn't easy at all.
• Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for #ASGWorthy players
Another American League second baseman, Robinson Cano, is off to a monster start in Seattle. He has three more home runs than Altuve (12) and is leading the Major Leagues with 33 RBIs.
Cano is doing this for a first-place team, and in every corner of the Mariners' clubhouse, they talk about his leadership and influence. He defines what an All-Star should be -- both in the way he's playing this season and in his 12-year body of work -- and he absolutely, positively has to be in uniform on July 12 in San Diego.
Since I can only vote for one starter, Altuve still gets my vote. His batting average is 20 points higher than Cano's and his OPS sits at an otherworldly 1.045. But these are two great players, two players who are helping define this era of Major League Baseball.
This debate -- Cano vs. Altuve -- speaks loudly about the difficulty I had in filling out an AL All-Star ballot in 2016. For instance, there's third base:
• Adrian Beltre, future Hall of Famer
• Josh Donaldson, reigning AL MVP Award winner
• Manny Machado, Baltimore superstar
Gulp. Here's the other thing about All-Star ballots. There are no right answers. For some of us, an All-Star selection is a reward for players having the best half-seasons.
Others factor in star power. That is, Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Cal Ripken belonged in the All-Star Game even in seasons when their statistics might have argued otherwise.
They'd come to mean that much to the game. They belonged. So it's with a cluttered mind and a tip of the hat to the tidal wave of talent that has entered the game in recent years, that I mark my first 2016 AL ballot. This is the squad that will try to give the AL home-field advantage in the World Series for the fourth straight season.
Catcher: Salvador Perez, Royals
Others have better offensive numbers, particularly Stephen Vogt and Brian McCann. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has had a tremendous first half in Detroit. Meanwhile, Perez's .234 batting average won't blow anyone away. But Perez is an easy choice for the totality of his game. His defense is the gold standard among Major League catchers. Perez is so good that his pitchers trust him in ways that allow them to get into a tempo and to pitch with confidence. His leadership is off the charts.
First base: Eric Hosmer, Royals
Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis and Joe Mauer are also in the conversation, but Hosmer leads AL first basemen in hits (tied) and batting average. He's two ahead of Cabrera with six home runs. Cabrera suffers by the high standard he has set for himself. He's a 10-time All-Star and a two-time AL MVP Award winner. If anyone gets a nod for his body of work, it would be Cabrera -- even with a .298 batting average that's six points below his career average.
Second base: Altuve, Astros
He just keeps getting better and better, even after leading the AL in hits the past two seasons and winning a batting title in 2014. Altuve is among the AL leaders in doubles, homers and OPS and slugging. There may not be a tougher out in baseball or a more consummate pro.
Third base: Machado, Orioles
Machado has been as good as any player on the planet, regardless of position. His defense at third is the best in the game by a wide margin, and his .365 batting average and 1.147 OPS are MVP-type numbers. Beltre is having his usual solid, reliable season and continues to punch his ticket to Cooperstown.
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
Oakland's Marcus Semien has an eye-opening eight home runs, and two youngsters, Houston's Carlos Correa and Cleveland's Francisco Lindor, have been good. But Bogaerts has been the whole package, hitting .318 and playing great defense for a Red Sox team off to a nice start.
Outfield: Trout, Angels
Take a good look at this guy. You won't see many better baseball players in your lifetime. Trout is so amazingly good, we take his greatness for granted -- this after finishing in the top two in four straight AL MVP Award races. He's near the top among AL outfielders in Wins Above Replacement, and with a .314 batting average, .961 OPS and seven home runs, his name is, as usual, dotted all around the leaderboard.
Outfield: Adam Eaton, White Sox
He has been arguably the AL MVP Award winner at this point for the upstart White Sox. Eaton has 13 defensive runs saved thus far, and no one else in baseball has more than nine. The South Siders deserve a starter, and he's a fine representative.
Outfield: Mark Trumbo, Orioles
The O's weren't quite sure where they'd play him when he was acquired from the Mariners. They only knew they wanted Trumbo's bat in their lineup. In that way, he has been everything they could have hoped for -- .320 batting average, nine home runs, 24 RBIs. His defense in right isn't always great, but he more than makes up for it with his bat.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox
Let's begin with a tip of the hat to Victor Martinez. At 37, he's having one of his best years -- 10 doubles, five home runs and a .960 OPS. There have been plenty of other years when Martinez would be an easy choice. But Ortiz has turned his final season -- if he sticks to an earlier announcement -- into a one of his best seasons. He's hitting .321 and has had his OPS above 1.000 for most of the year. Ortiz's nine home runs raised his career total to 512, and part of this All-Star break will be devoted to giving Big Papi a suitable goodbye.
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- on their computers, tablets and smartphones -- exclusively online using the 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot until Thursday, June 30, at 11:59 p.m. ET. Vote up to five times in any 24-hour period for a maximum of 35 times.
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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.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.