The rules are pretty simple for picking our All-Star Team in each league. 32 players with one from every team, those are parameters set down by Major League Baseball that we follow with at least two players from each lineup position. The game is in a National League stadium this year so there's no DH, that takes care of 16 spots. Each team will have a minimum of 11 pitchers so that leaves five free spots where players can come from any position. Unlike the official ballot, however, we're picking a starting outfielder for each spot based on where they actually play. That means no centerfielders playing right or vice versa. There's also no spot for a guy who plays DH as a starter at another position. With backups, though, the rules are a little looser to assure the best players make the team. (Check out the National League squad here)
1B - Kevin Youkilis, Boston
Remember that David Ortiz can't start at first by our rules and note that Mark Teixeira is out with an injury if you think that Youk doesn't have a rightful claim to this spot. It's hard to project what Teixeira might have produced if he were healthy but the Greek God of Walks has a pretty good case either way. He's got the highest VORP, the most runs created and the same OPS as Justin Morneau, another worthy contender. Morneau's got more power but with Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew flops as additions in Boston Youkilis has been keeping the offense flowing in Boston.
2B - Brian Roberts, Baltimore
With an on-base percentage north of .400 and 25 stolen bases, Roberts causes all kinds of problems for opposing pitchers. That's a rare thing in Baltimore these days and if there was more oomph behind him he'd be among the league leaders in runs scored.
SS - Derek Jeter, Yankees
This is a two-man race between Jeter and Carlos Guillen. Perhaps there was some lingering disgust at the Yankees performance coloring our vision when we originally looked at this and thought Guillen was the choice. A deeper look, though, revealed that Jeter's creating more runs at bat, saving more of them in the field and, other than power, just a little bit better than Guillen across the board.
3B - Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
The easiest call of the starting lineup. Rodriguez has carried his team on his back while they floundered on the mound and now at the plate and done it all the while with a target painted on his back by the New York tabloids. The Yankees were going to get away with just letting him walk at the end of the season. Not anymore.
LF - Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay
It's a tough rule we made about picking outfielders by position but one we have to stick with in the face of wanting to start both Vladimir Guerrero and Magglio Ordonez. Crawford gets the nod over Manny Ramirez because he's driven in more runs while displaying less power and because his speed is a weapon that Manny doesn't posess.
CF - Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
He's handled the move from rightfield with aplomb and has regained his batting stroke after a couple of distressing years. That's enough to keep him ahead of worthy competitors like Grady Sizemore, Torii Hunter and Curtis Granderson as well as enough to make him even richer when he hits the open market this fall.
RF - Magglio Ordonez, Detroit
When the Tigers signed an injured Ordonez to a lavish five-year deal before the 2005 season baseball watchers snickered at their profligate spending. They snicker no more. If it wasn't for A-Rod, Ordonez would be the story of the first half at the plate and if he continues his torrid hitting he could find himself the proud owner of a MVP award when all is said and done.
C - Victor Martinez, Cleveland
A difficult call over Jorge Posada would have been much more difficult a month ago but Posada's been heading back to Earth while Martinez has been rising. He's headed for his best season yet at the plate and any defensive issues he might have are mitigated by the fact that he's up against a catcher who teams steal from like a blind shopkeeper.
SP - Dan Haren, Oakland
Billy Beane gets a lot of credit (and a big extension) for the job he's done keeping Oakland competitive without big salaries. Haren is the latest example of that. The A's keep losing top-flight pitchers, either to free agency or in trades like the one that brought Haren west for Mark Mulder. He doesn't have the most wins or strikeouts in the AL but is setting the pace in every metric that measures effectiveness and is the best hope the A's have to overcome their offense and return to the playoffs.
We'll stay on the mound because there's some easy choices to rattle off at that spot. C.C. Sabathia has cut his walk rate to nothing while losing none of his strikeout ability and has 11 wins to show for his efforts. That ties him with Josh Beckett who has thrown quality starts 11 of 14 times while steering clear, for the most part, of the injuries that have bedeviled him in the past. He doesn't have the gaudy win totals of Sabathia or Beckett but Johan Santana hasn't been any worse than past years. A bit less consistent, perhaps, and certainly a bit unlucky but he's still at the top of the heap. John Lackey doesn't have Santana's track record but he's been a solid starter for several years and deserves his first trip to the Midsummer Classic. As good as Lackey's been, his teammate Kelvim Escobar might even be a bit better thus far and, thus, will also be honored with a spot on our team. The final spot is a battle between Erik Bedard, Joe Blanton and Justin Verlander. Tie goes to the guy who threw the no-hitter.
Behind that formidable starting staff will be a bullpen led by J.J. Putz of the Mariners. He doesn't blow saves, he just blows away batters and his steady hand has helped the Mariners to an outstanding record and a spot in the playoff chase. Unlike Putz, Jonathan Papelbon has a couple of bad appearances on his ledger but just a couple and he's continued to be the dominating closer we were met last season. The White Sox season has gone into the crapper but it hasn't been Bobby Jenks's fault. The chunky closer has saved 20 of their 32 wins and always rebounds from a rocky outing. The final closer on the staff is Francisco Rodriguez. With 49 strikeouts in 33 innings he's lived up to his nickname of K-Rod while racking up a league-best 22 saves.
Last year's MVP Justin Morneau has kept on hitting this season and gets the backup spot over Carlos Pena because of their wildly divergent past performance. At second base a need to take a player from each team trumps Placido Polanco's worthy candidacy. We don't have any great choices from the mess down in Texas but the best of them is Ian Kinsler so he gets the nod to back up at second base. As mentioned above Carlos Guillen just missed out on the starting job at short so he and his 969 OPS will come off the bench for the Junior Circuit. That pesky one from every team rule rears its ugly head again at the hot corner as we make an exception for time missed with injury and welcome Troy Glaus onto the squad with a hearty handshake. The backup backstop is, like Guillen, an easy choice because of the close battle for the starting job. Jorge Posada's having one of his best seasons offensively and will join Jeter and A-Rod on the All-Star team.
Another near-miss among the starting nine was Vladimir Guerrero and there's no way you can have an All-Star game without the best player from the Angels. Grady Sizemore made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated this year and he'll follow that honor with another one. It's too tough to choose between Curtis Granderson and Torii Hunter for the final backup outfielder so we'll take both of them and call it a day.
That leaves us with four spots to fill and three problems that need rectifying. There's no DH because the game is in a National League park but the AL does have two splendid ones in David Ortiz and Gary Sheffield. It makes for an unwieldy bench for Jim Leyland but he'll be assured of having a killer pinch-hitter in that pitcher's spot from both sides of the plate. We're also shy a Royal, the only team that's without a representative at this point. There are three possibilities; John Buck, Mark Teahen and Gil Meche are all turning in good seasons for Kansas City. We've got enough outfielders and two fine catchers so we'll take Meche as a reward for ignoring everyone, us included, who pilloried his massive contract. The final spot should go to the best player not yet on the team and as much as we expect Leyland to recognize his second baseman Placido Polanco we can't ignore the excellent effort put forth by Orlando Cabrera thus far this season.