While enjoying some rare down time away from The Sports Network earlier this week, I figured I would fill out my All-Star ballot.
I consider it almost a civic duty to vote for the All-Star Game. I've probably done it every year since I was seven, and I see no reason to stop now just because I became a baseball writer.
The last couple of years, though, I have mentioned how much I like the fact that I am able to do it online. I always thought it was such a waste of time to punch out holes in those silly ballots you get at the ballpark. Honestly, who is the guy forced to count those things? However, I am apparently in the minority on that one - people tell me that is an aspect that they actually like. You know those types, the purists, who still think the wild card was a bad idea and that there is no place for instant replay in baseball.
These are topics for another day, because in this case I have come to agree with the purists, and now oppose online voting. I know that certain teams are stuffing the ballot box, and I bet some actually employ interns whose sole job is to vote for their team's players. I get it that it is a game for the fans, but that is taking it a step too far. Is anyone in St. Louis going to be that happy to hear Yadier Molina's name introduced?
Anyway, I usually vote twice. Once purely on merit and one based on guys I like personally because they're either on the team I root for or are doing particularly well on my fantasy squad. My team stinks though, so none of the FWP (abbreviation necessary) will be getting my vote this year.
Anyway, the first ballot I filled out, and the only one that matters for this purpose - we will call it the merit ballot - went something like this:
1B - MIGUEL CABRERA, DETROIT TIGERS - This was close, because Minnesota's Justin Morneau is having a terrific season as well, and his play at first is vastly superior to Cabrera's. I just can't overlook Cabrera's offensive numbers (.337, 20 HR, 68 RBI), and I love the fact that he has come back so strong following the way he ended last year.
2B - ROBINSON CANO, NY YANKEES - Up until Josh Hamilton's amazing month of June, Cano was the best player in the American League for the first two months of the season, and currently leads the majors with a .355 average. With Mark Teixeira struggling and Alex Rodriguez's power numbers down, it has been Cano who has carried baseball's best team. As good as he has been offensively (15 HR, 56 runs, 53 RBI), though, he has been even better defensively. Often overlooked on a roster full of stars, Cano has shined the brightest of them all this season.
3B - MICHAEL YOUNG, TEXAS RANGERS - Another tough choice here. Tampa's Evan Longoria will start the game, but he, like the rest of the Rays, has been so bad over the last couple of weeks that Young deserves to get the start. Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero will get the headlines, but Young (.316, 55 runs, 11 HR, 51 RBI) shows up to play every day and is quietly one of the best all-around players in the game. This year is no exception, and he is a big reason the Rangers are in first place in the AL West.
SS - DEREK JETER, NY YANKEES - It is funny to think of Jeter as the old guy, but that is exactly what he is these days following his 36th birthday. Jeter will undoubtedly make his 11th All-Star Game appearance, but unlike some of those years, he actually deserves it this time around. Admittedly, shortstop is a down position this year in the American League, but Jeter is still the class of not only the position, but the league.
OF - JOSH HAMILTON, TEXAS RANGERS - It is amazing what a healthy Hamilton can do. Following an injury-plagued 2009, Hamilton has been the player he was in the first half of the 2008 season. Quite simply, he is the most feared hitter in the American League at the moment and that is not even a question. Hamilton was out of his mind in June (.454, 9 HR, 31 RBI) and is currently riding a career-best 23-game hitting streak for the AL West-leading Rangers.
OF - CARL CRAWFORD, TAMPA BAY - If this is, in fact, Crawford's last season in Tampa, he is certainly going out on a high note. A free agent at season's end, Crawford has hit .310 with seven home runs and 38 RBI for the now-struggling Rays. Plus he plays at a Gold Glove level in the outfield and is near the top of the league with 28 stolen bases.
OF - ALEX RIOS, CHICAGO WHITE SOX - You might as well hand out the American League Comeback Player of the Year to Rios. While you are at it, give Executive of the Year honors to Chicago general manager Kenny Williams for taking a chance on Rios last summer. Flat-out waived by Toronto after two unproductive seasons, the White Sox claimed him and his huge contract, and it has paid off. Rios is hitting .307 with 13 home runs, 42 RBI, 49 runs scored and 21 stolen bases for the underachieving White Sox.
C - JOE MAUER, MINNESOTA TWINS - The American League's reigning Most Valuable Player is not having the season he had a year ago, especially in the power department, but he is still at the top of the class among catchers in the Junior Circuit.
DH - VLADIMIR GUERRERO, TEXAS RANGERS - IF Rios does not get the Comeback Player of the Year Award, Guerrero will likely take home the honor. However, he may have to "settle" for the MVP. The best offseason acquisition in the bigs, Guerrero has been a terror in the middle of the Rangers' potent offense. Injuries have slowed the 35-year-old slugger of late, but he has still hit .339 and bashed 18 home runs to go along with 68 RBI this season.
SP - CLIFF LEE, SEATTLE - Yes, I know he missed the first month of the season, but honestly who has been better than Lee since he has been back? We all know he is on the trading block...again. So what better stage to showcase his talents than in the All-Star Game? Actually, his numbers probably earn him a spot anyway. He could have two more wins by July 13 which would give him nine against three losses, and his current 2.45 ERA is one-hundreth of a point off the league lead. Yes, he is the best pitcher in the American League.
1B - JOEY VOTTO, CINCINNATI REDS - Since Albert Pujols resides in the National League, first base in the All-Star Game is probably going to be occupied for the years to come. But, while Pujols is having another terrific season, Joey Votto has been better, plus it is his Cincinnati Reds that sit atop the National League Central at the moment, not El Hombre's Cardinals. First base in the NL is about as deep a position as there is in baseball. It would be a crime, though, if Votto (.313, 18 HR, 50 RBI) does not find his way onto this roster as the National League's designated hitter.
2B - MARTIN PRADO, ATLANTA BRAVES - Philadelphia's Chase Utley is going to win this thing outright, but he is on the disabled list at the moment and reports are starting to trickle in that he needs surgery on his thumb which will cost him six weeks and the All-Star Game. So, Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel will have to make a decision, and it is an easy one given the performance of Prado, perhaps the last guy you thought would be starting on July 13 at the start of the year. Prado has been terrific for the NL East-leading Braves, hitting a league-best .333 with 56 runs scored.
3B - DAVID WRIGHT, NY METS - Thankfully, it appears that Wright will overtake Philadelphia's Placido Polanco once the voting comes to a close. Actually, it is probably a moot point anyway since Polanco is on the DL at the moment and will likely not play. Wright deserves to be there regardless. His 14 home runs have already eclipsed his total from a year ago, and his league-leading 63 RBI at the moment are just nine shy of what he produced in 2009.
SS - HANLEY RAMIREZ, FLORIDA MARLINS - I don't like Hanley Ramirez as a person. I didn't like how he dogged that play against Arizona, and I didn't like his attitude after Fredi Gonzalez called him out after that. Ramirez has a lot of growing up to do, but you can't argue with his numbers. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki is having a great year, but even in a down year, Ramirez has him trumped.
OF - COREY HART, MILWAUKEE BREWERS - Playing in the outfield with Ryan Braun, you don't hear much about Hart, but he is in the top-two in the National League in both home runs and RBI. Atlanta's Jayson Heyward is going to miss the game because of a thumb injury, and Hart (18 HR, 60 RBI) should be the guy to take his place.
OF - RYAN BRAUN, MILWAUKEE BREWERS - The outfield crop is really weak this year in the National League, with a lot of players having down years. Braun still leads the pack in voting, but he has gotten worse each month. I wanted to pick Matt Holliday here, because at the end of the day he is just a better all-around player, but his numbers have been so pedestrian this season I just couldn't do it.
OF - CARLOS GONZALEZ, COLORADO ROCKIES - Gonzalez has about as good a chance at starting for the National League this year as I do, as he wasn't even listed in the most recent balloting update. Gonzalez will probably even be left off the All-Star roster because of the ridiculous "every team needs to be represented" rule, and the outfield is a natural place to hide someone from Pittsburgh or Arizona. Too bad, because Gonzalez is having a terrific season (.299, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 47 runs).
C - MIGUEL OLIVO, COLORADO ROCKIES - Another player who wasn't on the most recent update, Olivo has been the NL's best hitting catcher this season, batting .308 with 11 homers and 38 RBI. Not to mention that he has been behind the plate for the best pitcher in the game at the moment, Ubaldo Jimenez. That has to count for something right? Speaking of which...
SP - UBALDO JIMENEZ, COLORADO ROCKIES - This is about as easy a choice as Charlie Manuel is going to make over the course of the three days in Anaheim. Jimenez has clearly been the best pitcher in baseball this season. He has already thrown a no-hitter, has won his last eight decisions and is 14-1 with an unbelievable 1.83 ERA. Not a hard decision at all.