AL All-Star first-guessing

It's backwards.

Virtually every one of the 17,624,321 All-Star diatribes we have heard over the years – not to mention those about to bust from the gates next week – whine about which players were "deserving," who "should be on there," who "was robbed." All very visceral stuff, but hardly any of it is based in the reality of how the voting process actually works.

Talking Head 1: What, 18 homers and 43 RBI isn't an All-Star? C'mon!

Talking Head 2: And you think that guy's got a beef? How about …

Not to douse this fun with the cold water of fact, but because there a finite number of spots, putting someone on the team means taking someone off. And that ain't easy. You'd almost always have to completely start over from the beginning, taking into account the fan voting, the league voting and then the team's picks by the manager, who also must consider various real-life concerns like team balance, contender representation, and most nettlesome, the requirement that every team send at least one player to the game.

Talking Head 1: Huh?

Talking Head 2: We have to go to break …

Make these yahoos pick the teams from scratch, and they'll start to realize how complicated and difficult it truly is, and how some seemingly deserving players simply must stay home. Just because somebody wasn't picked doesn't mean he wasn't considered strongly – he just didn't make the cut.

With this in mind, we hereby present not the usual second-guessing of All-Star rosters, but first-guessing – picking what should happen in advance of Sunday's live announcement of the teams (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). In this column and the corresponding one for the National League, we will go through the same process as the real-life one:

1) Fan voting: We'll acknowledge the reality that fans pick nine AL position players and eight NL position players, sometimes reasonably and sometimes not, and give each of them a grade. (The leaders in the fan voting are pretty set except for a few positions that might change in late balloting that ended Thursday night.)

2) Player voting: Right now across the majors, players, managers and coaches are casting votes for one backup at each of those eight or nine spots from the pool of players not picked by the fans. They also choose eight pitchers per league.

3) Manager picks: Following that round, NL manager Tony La Russa will pick four more pitchers and three more position players; AL manager Terry Francona gets four pitchers and just one position player, because he had two DHs chosen already. It's here the managers must ensure that each team in their league has at least one representative, among other considerations that will become apparent.

4) Fan pick: Each manager will then pick five position players who missed the cut. From Sunday through Wednesday, fans can vote for their favorite in online balloting conducted on MLB.com.

This takes a while, folks. But it's a great exercise that should help fans appreciate why it turns out the way it does:


FANS' PICK: Mark Teixeira (Rangers), who's hitting .291-22-64 and leads the AL in homers. Grade: A. Particularly given how many early voting fans had put Tino Martinez in the lead; we should all so readily admit our mistakes.

RESERVE: Paul Konerko (White Sox). His .246-19-53 line is extraordinarily similar to the Mariners' Richie Sexson – and both stay strong outside their home park, a Teixeira demerit – but Konerko gets the nod for his role on the team with the league's best record.


FANS' PICK: Brian Roberts (Orioles). Grade: A. Alfonso Soriano (Rangers) is close behind, but it's hard to see Roberts losing ground after his walk-off homer Tuesday against the Yankees. He's leading the league with a .365 average and has a 1.054 OPS and 16 steals. Serious MVP candidate if Baltimore stays strong.

RESERVE: Soriano, in a close decision over Tampa Bay's Jorge Cantu. Soriano has displayed slightly more speed and power – and before you yell that Soriano plays in a hitting-happy ballpark, Cantu is batting far better at home than on the road, too. Cantu, despite some great defensive plays, also has played just as much third as second (with vastly more production at the hot corner, oddly). Something tells me we'll be hearing more from Cantu later in this process.


FANS' PICK: Miguel Tejada (Orioles), who's at .322-19-60 as Roberts' co-MVP. Grade: A. It's about time Tejada started, given that the guy didn't finish in the top three last year despite 75 first-half RBI.

RESERVE: Michael Young (Rangers). He's hitting .325-11-40 with 56 runs and no difference in his home-road splits. He makes it by a hair over Derek Jeter (.304-10-35 with 59 runs), a fine player who has already gotten his All-Star fill. If Red Sox manager Terry Francona could choose all his reserves, as in the past, would he go for Jeter the way Joe Torre did so often? Hmm.


FANS' PICK: Alex Rodriguez (Yankees), who not only is quietly threatening to win the Triple Crown at .329-20-66 but has little credible competition at third. Grade: A.

RESERVE: This one's tough. Melvin Mora (.300-14-46) has had yet another fine season for Baltimore. Brandon Inge (.295-7-35 with seven triples for Detroit) and Shea Hillenbrand (.303-8-37 for Toronto) have produced for improving clubs. And even A's Gold Glover Eric Chavez (.272-11-44) has caught fire, with similar stats for Texas' Hank Blalock (.286-15-48). Who should win in a widespread, anonymous vote? Mora, who deserved to play last year but was out with an injured hamstring.


FANS' PICK: Jason Varitek (Red Sox). Grade: A (five straight A's for the fans). A line of .310-13-33, strong D and veteran leadership for the hot defending champs make Varitek the only choice possible.

RESERVE: Another toughie. Bengie Molina (Angels) has been banged up for most of the year, Jorge Posada (Yankees) has batted .275-10-37 and Joe Mauer (Twins) has hit .292 with good defense. But with no bias toward Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers), he gets the spot for hitting .295 with 21 doubles, playing virtually every game and throwing out 19 of 38 runners trying to steal, his best performance in years.

FANS' PICKS: Manny Ramirez (Red Sox), Vladimir Guerrero (Angels), Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners). Grade: B. Ramirez (leading the league with 68 RBI) and Guerrero (.351-14-44 despite missing three weeks) are locks. It's impossible to argue Suzuki (.294 with 18 steals) over many other more deserving candidates, but this is the fans' game, the fans vote the starters, and unless the Red Sox' Johnny Damon catches him from behind, they want to see Ichiro. Get over it.

RESERVES: Besides, Ichiro's best competition will become reserves anyway. Damon (.339 with 57 runs) and New York's Gary Sheffield (.300-13-55) are easy picks, Sheffield's "heck no, I won't go" trade whining notwithstanding (hey Gary, if you wanted a no-trade clause, you could have accepted less salary). The last spot is more difficult, and despite the success of Trot Nixon, Kevin Mench, Hideki Matsui, Grady Sizemore and David Dellucci, it could be seen as a choice between the Angels' Garret Anderson (.308-10-59) and the Twins' Torii Hunter (.268-14-48). We're going with Hunter for his speed (18 steals in 23 tries) and spectacular glove in center, which any Yankee fan can see is desperately valuable. Sorry, Scott Podsednik fans – 38 steals don't cut it when you hit .288 with zero power.


FANS' PICK: David Ortiz (Red Sox). Batting .304-19-66 and among the league leaders in the power stats. Grade: A.

RESERVE: Travis Hafner (Indians) is the easy choice. He went absolutely crazy in June and is hitting .296-13-49 with a .943 OPS for the surging Indians.

This weekend's player-manager-coach vote handles the first eight here, and we'll list the best choices in alphabetical chart form (to cut down on my hate mail). Note that we're considering only starters and closers here, as esoteric middle relievers will probably fall to the next round anyway:

It was tough leaving Chris Young (8-4, 3.33 ERA for the Rangers) off this first round of picks, but the Twins' Johan Santana has a longer track record and has been dominant except for his ERA, suggesting some bad luck. When it came down to Young or fellow Ranger Kenny Rogers, we gave Rogers the nod because posting a 2.46 ERA in Texas, even with unimpressive other numbers and some favorable luck, is simply getting the job done.

OK, so we've got the AL's starting nine, backup nine and frontline staff. Time for Francona to select four more pitchers and one more position player.

If we were in Francona's chair, although we're itching to pick Matt Clement (9-1, 3.33), we first must consider which teams are not represented among the 26 players selected already. That means the Devil Rays, Royals and A's (wow, there's company Billy Beane never wanted to keep).

The one position player limit makes this brutal. Outfielder Emil Brown (.297-8-37) has had a nice season for Kansas City, and Cantu would provide insurance at third and second base. Given that the Devil Rays have no viable pitching candidates, we're going to take Royals left-hander Andrew Sisco, a Rule 5 pick with some control issues but a 2.75 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning and a .206 opponents' batting average. Could be good for lefty-lefty matchups late in the game, and it gets Cantu on there (sorry, Emil). And as for the third-catcher issue, we'll stick Mora behind there late in the game if we have to.

That leaves three pitchers, one of which must be an A. Oakland's rep will be reliever Justin Duchscherer (1.31 ERA with excellent secondary numbers). Not to mention five consecutive consonants in his last name, which might be a major-league record. So we can have two more pitchers. Among Twins middle man Jesse Crain (0.99 ERA and a puny .453 OPS allowed), Young and the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez (14 of 16 saves, 2.57 ERA, his usual dominant self), we're going with Rodriguez for three reasons: the blistering Angels have only two representatives so far, he has the longest track record and, most of all, he's the best candidate to help win the game. And after that we're going with Clement over Young and Crain, because he's both a solid candidate and Francona's definitely picking him, period.

Francona's job then is to pick five position players from which the fans will choose. We say that five-man ballot should be:

Gee, I wonder who will win that vote? Jeter in a landslide. But this is the fans' game, and it's a perfectly reasonable choice.

See you in Detroit.

Alan Schwarz is the senior writer at Baseball America and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," is published by St. Martin's Press and can be ordered on Alan's Web site.