I've never been much of a fan of the All-Star Game "mattering" the way it does now, for all the obvious reasons -- an exhibition game in the middle of the year shouldn't have a meaningful impact on the World Series; the resolution never to allow the game to end in a tie again has led to some significant roster bloat; and the super-serious commercials with horror-movie camera angles and jarring jump cuts are more than a little bit annoying. But thankfully none of that "No, really, we're gritty and serious this time" spirit has infected the most enjoyable event of the short midseason break, the Home Run Derby.
The worst that's likely to come out of that is some really terrible announcing by Chris Berman, who apparently is allowed to call the event in perpetuity despite no longer being coherent for more than 10 to 15 words at a time, and perhaps putting up with people really bent out of shape about the booing of Robinson Cano.
The current format of the Derby involves two teams of four, each of which is handpicked by a team captain. Since this year's All-Star Game is at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, the National League captain will be David Wright. The American League captain will be the second baseman for that other New York team, the very same Robinson Cano who managed to pick a team for last year's Home Run Derby in Kansas City without including the Royals' only All-Star, slugger Billy Butler.
Since the captains are both New Yorkers by occupation, there's no danger that Cano will repeat his lapse in judgment, but nevertheless, we've seen fit to offer a few suggestions as to just who should be on these teams. And remember, though it's generally encouraged that the Home Run Derby participants be All-Stars themselves, it's not required; Ryan Howard was invited to participate in 2007 without making the team, for instance.
All things considered, the American League team should more or less choose itself. The first two picks are slam dunks, unless they don't want to participate for whatever reason, and with the power the third routinely puts on display, it's likely that Cano himself will be the team's weakest link on paper (though Cano did win the event in 2011).
Chris Davis -- The Baltimore Orioles first baseman needs no real introduction. He will enter the All-Star Break with no fewer than 33 home runs, on pace to threaten Roger Maris' once-hallowed mark of 61, which Davis has said he considers to be the "true" home run record, due to the taint of performance-enhancing drugs on Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. He made those comments in response to questions from the media this week about whether he himself is a PED user, which perhaps are to be expected when you're hitting more like a howitzer than a ballplayer. (Davis has not tested positive or ever been connected to any PED allegations over the course of his career.) Regardless, Davis has shown that he doesn't just hit moon shots out of the park; he can go yard even on balls he barely connects with, which would serve him well in the Home Run Derby.
Miguel Cabrera -- Cabrera will be the starting third baseman for the AL, and as last year's MVP and Triple Crown winner, he needs even less of an introduction than Davis. Cabrera is the best, most complete hitter in the league (and depending on your feelings about Cincinnati's Joey Votto, arguably the world) and is second in baseball in home runs this season behind Davis. Should he join the AL squad this year, it would be his third Derby -- he placed third as a Marlin in 2006 and fourth as a Tiger in 2010. Depending on how Cano feels about veteran Derby experience, however, he may want to tap Cabrera's teammate Prince Fielder instead -- Fielder's been in three of the last five Derbies, winning last year as a Tiger and in 2009 as a Brewer.
Jose Bautista -- This is an interesting choice, because as with Cabrera and Fielder, there's actually a pair of teammates from Toronto that Cano could choose for the final spot, with either one making sense. Both Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion made the All-Star Game this year -- Bautista as the final outfield starter and Encarnacion as the reserve designated hitter. Going purely by this year's HR total (as we have so far), Encarnacion would get the spot. However, Bautista has a longer track record of both sustained power-hitting success in actual ball games and of performing in the Home Run Derby; he participated in both of the last two and finished second to Fielder in last season's contest. He's also no slouch himself in terms of hitting dingers, with 20 on the season so far to Encarnacion's 23.
Dark Horses and Miscellany: David Ortiz won the contest in 2010 and is having another remarkable power-hitting season, starting at DH for the American League … If Cano wishes to add a representative from the AL West, Mark Trumbo, Nelson Cruz and Mike Trout could be interesting selections … Seattle's Raul Ibanez (21 HR) would be an interesting choice, as would Chicago's Adam Dunn (23 HR) … Cleveland's Mark Reynolds (15 HR) still has never participated in a Derby.
Like his counterpart in the American League, while David Wright is a formidable hitter, he is likely to be the least "prototypical" power hitter on his own squad, even though he came within one home run of beating Howard in the 2006 Derby. With most of the headline-grabbing home run hitters this season coming from the AL, the choices for the NL team could be a bit less expected but no less dangerous.
Bryce Harper -- In addition to being one of the most electrifying and youngest players in the league, and one of the starting outfielders for the NL, Bryce Harper already has confirmed to his local media that he's been asked to participate in this year's Home Run Derby but hasn't decided whether to accept the offer. Harper has just returned from a knee injury and could want the extra day to rest, though it's not as if the Derby itself is the most strenuous of activities for a ballplayer. He would continue the recent tradition of having at least one newcomer to the event on each side in the recent Derbies. If Harper doesn't fulfill that role for the NL this year, I'd expect either Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, Philadelphia's Domonic Brown or Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez will.
Carlos Gonzalez -- The hard-hitting Colorado Rockies outfielder will probably be starting in centerfield for the NL during the All-Star Game itself, but he's got the power of an elite corner bat -- 24 home runs already this year -- and experience in last year's Derby. He only hit four home runs in that contest, but that's the same number Bautista hit in 2011 before coming back in 2012 and making a strong run against Fielder, finishing with 20. Like Joey Bats, I don't think he'll finish with four home runs a second time around.
Carlos Beltran -- There are a whole lot of reasons to pick Carlos Beltran for this event -- he's one of the best hitters in the modern game and a recognizable veteran who did well in the Derby last year -- but most importantly, he, Wright and the New York Mets have a whole lot of history together. I expect Wright will take into account that some of the fans at Citi Field will enjoy getting to see Beltran hit home runs in Queens again, without having them count against the Mets. It helps, of course, that Beltran already has 19 home runs on the year, 13th-most in the entire league.
Dark Horses and Miscellany: There's going to be a lot of pressure on Wright to pick Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig for the Derby regardless of whether Puig wins the NL Final Vote or not … Dodgers 1B Adrian Gonzalez is another Derby veteran with power … Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton is healthy again and should be considered a candidate as well … Braves sluggers Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton have outside shots at consideration, though the most enjoyable Brave to see in the Derby probably would be C/OF Evan Gattis.