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Three lessons from the 2016 All Stars

Sure, the All Star Game is just an exhibition, but it can still teach us a lot about roster construction.

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Last night, Major League Baseball announced the All Star rosters. Well, they sort of did. They announced the starters and the first round of players who will get to call themselves All Stars in 2016. That’s not everybody, however.

A total of 68 players got named last night. In addition to the winners of the Final Vote contest, there will be a bunch of injury replacements named as well over the next week. Last year, for instance, 76 players were officially All Stars. The year before that it was 81, and there were 78 in 2013. The upshot is that the selection process is far from over, and there’s an excellent chance your favorite snub will make the cut by the time the dust settles.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from the players already selected. Here are the most important lessons, from a team-building standpoint, of this year’s All Stars:

Theo Epstein is really smart.

My colleague Chris Cotillo tweeted this out last night:

In addition to that, his Cubs also traded for Jake Arrieta and signed Jon Lester as a free agent. The upshot is that there may not be an executive in Major League Baseball more effective than Epstein, whose Cubs also have the best record in baseball.

You don’t generally acquire All Stars on the free agent market.

Of all the players selected last night, only 13 joined their clubs via free agency. Those 13 are Johnny Cueto, Lester, Daniel Murphy, Dexter Fowler, Yoenis Cespedes, Ben Zobrist, Andrew Miller, Mark Trumbo, Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion and David Ortiz. Of those, Ortiz, Cespedes, Wieters, Encarnacion, and Fowler all re-signed with the clubs they left at the start of the offseason.

This makes sense for a number of reasons: first, the stars in Major League Baseball are skewing far younger than any time in the last century. This means that the majority of the players selected haven’t had a chance to test free agency yet. Also, teams have become far more aggressive in signing their stars to long term deals that buy out their free agent years, meaning that fewer true stars are even entering the market (next year’s free agent class is terrifyingly bare).

The lesson here is that good teams generally aren’t built through free agency, they’re augmented by it. Rather, clubs who want to acquire all-star caliber talent need to either draft and develop it themselves (like the Orioles did with Manny Machado and the Nats with Bryce Harper), identify dynamic talent in other organizations to acquire before they become established Major Leaguers (like the Mets did with Noah Syndergaard or the Cubs did with Addison Russell), or develop enough prospects to trade for an all-star like Cole Hamels or Craig Kimbrel. The surest, and most efficient way to build a roster of dynamic players is by starting from player development.

Overspending on relievers is still not necessary.

Teams like the Royals, Orioles, and the Astros have had great success by building impressive and deep bullpens. But look at the All Stars they sent to the American League this year. Will Harris was a waiver pickup for Houston, who has blossomed into a dominant arm. Brad Brach was acquired for a forgettable minor leaguer by the O’s. Wade Davis was essentially a throw-in in the James Shields trade for the Royals. Kelvin Herrera was an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic. And Zach Britton was a failed starter in the Baltimore system.

In addition, A.J. Ramos of the Marlins was a very late draft choice. Fernando Rodney was available for two million dollars this offseason, and Jeurys Familia and Alex Colome were also amateur free agents. Teams don’t need to spend big to acquire talented bullpen arms; they just need to explore every avenue available to them to lock down the end of games.