Voting has closed for July 15's MLB All-Star Game, and we'll learn the identity of the rosters during a presentation show at 7 p.m. Eastern on Sunday night. That's all well and good, and always leads to a lot of of fun and controversy, but MLB has been telling us that this is a game that matters for more than a few years. It determines home-field advantage for the World Series now, despite the fact that it's just a trumped-up exhibition match.
The question I put to you is: what if it weren't? What if All-Star Game rosters were put together not by fans engaging in brand-synergizing ballot box stuffing but were instead constructed with an eye toward winning a game, or even a playoff-length series, against the other league's All-Star team?
Well, Derek Jeter wouldn't be starting at shortstop, for one thing, regardless of whether or not he were planning on retiring. He wouldn't even make the squad. The rosters below were built using the ballot divisions of traditional All-Star voting -- outfielders are selected without specific regard to their position, for instance, the NL will not have a set DH, and every team will have a representative -- but were built as if they were legal 25-man active rosters instead of the 34-man rosters made to accommodate the substitutional eccentricities of the actual All-Star Game. After all, at least in theory, these games do actually count.
Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
Perez is the best healthy hitting catcher in the American League and a more experienced backstop than the clear second choice, Yan Gomes, who makes the team as Perez's backup. Seattle's Mike Zunino would be the injury replacement were either man to bow out, and then the AL would get somewhat desperate, because Matt Wieters is injured, Brian McCann has been terrible, and Jason Castro, on the team last year, has been worse. The other 2013 All-Star catcher, Joe Mauer, is no longer a catcher, and is on the disabled list anyway.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
A position of strength for both leagues. Cabrera gets the start over Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion due to actually being a nearly neutral defender at first, while Encarnacion is best kept in a DH role. Brandon Moss is the injury replacement.
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Altuve was one of the hottest players in June at one of baseball's lightest-hitting positions, though the fact that this team is observing the roster requirement of one representative from every league club has something to do with his selection over injury replacement Ian Kinsler.
Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Ramirez is neither the best hitting nor best defending shortstop in the AL, but he is top three in both categories. He gets the start over Kansas City's Alcides Escobar because he has a bit more pop in his bat while still being a good defender at his position.
Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
Donaldson is an MVP candidate in his own right and the best third baseman in the AL. He starts over Kyle Seager of the Mariners because he has a more proven bat and better defense at the hot corner; Seager is his injury replacement.
LF -- Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
CF -- Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
RF -- Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Brantley has had an amazing start to the 2014 season at the plate; he is clearly the best left fielder in 2014 so far at the dish. It's tempting to name Alex Gordon of the Royals to the team in his place, but the AL can sacrifice some defense in left for the offense Brantley provides. Gordon is his injury replacement.
In center, Trout is the best player in baseball and would be the starter in either league at whatever position he played. Baltimore's Adam Jones makes the team as the fourth outfielder.
It has not been a particularly good season for right fielders in the AL except for Jose Bautista, making him another easy choice. It helps that he's also the best hitter among all outfielders except for Trout. Houston's George Springer is his injury replacement.
Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
Martinez' comeback from a brutal first half of 2012 has been remarkable, and he's the easy choice here, even despite how well Baltimore's Nelson Cruz has been hitting. If Martinez' recent rib injuries pop back up, Cruz would be the injury replacement.
Yan Gomes, C, Cleveland Indians
Alcides Escobar, SS, Kansas City Royals
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Toronto Blue Jays
Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles
Jones makes the team over Gordon because he can play anywhere in the outfield if needed; similarly, Escobar will enter the game at shortstop and shift Ramirez over to second base in any situation that calls for defensive replacements.
Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees
Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers
Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox
Phil Hughes, SP, Minnesota Twins
Hernandez is the starter for the All-Star Game. Tanaka, Darvish and Sale's seasons all speak for themselves; the top four names here are all candidates for the Cy Young Award. Mark Buehrle and Jon Lester are their injury replacements. Phil Hughes makes the team because it requires a representative from the Twins.
Danny Duffy, SP, Kansas City Royals
Dellin Betances, RP, New York Yankees
Wade Davis, RP, Kansas City Royals
Jake McGee, RP, Tampa Bay Rays
Sean Doolittle, RP, Oakland Athletics
Greg Holland, RP, Kansas City Royals
Koji Uehara, CL, Boston Red Sox
Though Duffy is a starter, on this roster he will be used out of the pen as a lefty specialist. Davis, McGee and Betances throw middle relief, while Holland and Doolittle are setup men for Uehara. Both the Yankees' David Robertson and Seattle's Fernando Rodney were under consideration to make the team as well. Uehara will serve as the closer, but if not him, it could easily have been Doolittle. A key trait they share which Rodney and Robertson do not is a pronounced aversion to walking batters.
|2B||Jose Altuve||CF||Carlos Gomez|
|CF||Mike Trout||LF||Yasiel Puig|
|1B||Miguel Cabrera||SS||Troy Tulowitzki|
|RF||Jose Bautista||RF||Giancarlo Stanton|
|DH||Victor Martinez||1B||Paul Goldschmidt|
|3B||Josh Donaldson||DH||Anthony Rizzo|
|LF||Michael Brantley||2B||Chase Utley|
|C||Salvador Perez||3B||Todd Frazier|
|SS||Alexei Ramirez||C||Jonathan Lucroy|
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
A less difficult choice than in the AL, though were either Lucroy or Yadier Molina in the other league they would be starting over Perez. Lucroy is having an MVP candidate season at the plate and is very good behind it, if not as outstandingly so as Molina.
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt, the team's lone Diamondback representative, makes the club on merit despite how poorly Arizona's season is going. Chicago's Anthony Rizzo makes the team's bench, so the Braves' Freddie Freeman is Goldschmidt's injury replacement.
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Utley is in the same boat as Goldschmidt: he is the only Phillie on the roster, but he is not on the roster because it needs a Phillie. Daniel Murphy is hitting a bit better (and is Utley's injury replacement), but Utley is still the best defensive 2B in the National League.
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
The only way Tulowitzki wouldn't be here is if Mike Trout was a National League shortstop, and even then it'd be very, very close. His injury replacement is Jhonny Peralta of the Cardinals.
Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
Real All-Star voting has just about every good-to-great third baseman except Frazier still in the hunt for this position, but while David Wright will make the team to represent the Mets, Frazier has been the best 3B in the National League this year and accordingly will be the starter.
LF -- Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
CF -- Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
RF -- Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Thanks to the fact that all the outfielders are selected together on the All-Star Ballot -- and this process is observing those ballot restrictions -- Yasiel Puig will play left, which is the only way to fit him into a packed NL outfield. His injury replacement is Bryce Harper of the Nationals, now that he's healthy again.
The choice between Carlos Gomez and Andrew McCutchen for the starting center field job is a tough one, with the runner-up guaranteed a spot on the National League bench. In the end, while McCutchen can field his position and more than makes up for any defensive shortcomings with his bat, Gomez is a plus defender in addition to being a monster at the plate, and that gets him the nod.
Stanton is the only player in the league that could move Puig out of right field and into left; not only is his bat superlative, but he has an all-around defensive package that Puig can't match, regardless of how good the Dodger sensation's arm is. His injury replacement is Puig moving over from left; were both to bow out, Jason Heyward would play in right opposite Bryce Harper.
Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Dee Gordon, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
David Wright, 3B, New York Mets
Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Though technically a bench player for the NL, Rizzo plays in any situation requiring a DH. Dee Gordon is on the roster because he can play both middle infield positions, at least in theory, and Molina due to his experience and excellence both this year and in past seasons. McCutchen is all the outfield bench the team needs.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals
Jake Arrieta, SP, Chicago Cubs
Kershaw gets the start. Cueto and Wainwright's presence is self-explanatory, given that they're the best two starters in the league who have been healthy all season. Strasburg makes the list both with raw talent and to represent the Nationals. Arrieta makes the list because he's been one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball in 2014 despite only recently returning from the DL.
Jean Machi, RP, San Francisco Giants
Pat Neshek, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Tony Watson, RP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Tyler Clippard, RP, Washington Nationals
Joaquin Benoit, RP, San Diego Padres
Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, CL, Atlanta Braves
Machi makes the team as the representative from the Giants, but also because he's allowed only five earned runs this year. Neshek is having an exceptional season so far getting out hitters on both sides of the plate. Those two, Watson and Clippard throw middle relief, while Benoit and Chapman are the setup men.The choice between Kimbrel and Chapman is a difficult one, but in the end Kimbrel's got slightly better command over the course of his career and keeps the ball in the yard slightly more often.
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So in the end, who wins? In a single game, I'm picking whoever's got Clayton Kershaw toeing the rubber, but in a best-of-five series, I think the American League team assembled here has the slightly better pitching and defense to persevere.