We did this All-Star exercise for the National League on Sunday night, so let's do the same thing for the American League: A month out from the All-Star Game, how does the roster potentially shape up?
In choosing the 34-man roster, I go with the fan balloting results for the position players and fill out the roster from there. In reality, the players vote for nine positional backups in the AL (including DH) and the first eight pitchers (five starters and three relievers) -- meaning the AL manager really has only eight spots to fill (and one of those is actually the final man vote on the Internet), from which he must fulfill the requirement of at least one All-Star per club. For the purpose of this review, I pretend the player vote doesn't exist. (All stats entering Monday's games.)
Should start: Mauer.
Mauer is the clear choice here based on his .332/.414/.498 batting line. Or is he? He's started only 37 of his 56 games at catcher. Trouble is, who else gets the nod? Santana has the next-best hitting numbers, but he has started 21 games at first base or DH. Matt Wieters has an OBP about .300. The other candidate is Jason Castro of the Astros, and I have a feeling we may need the backup spot for him. We'll get the backup catcher later.
Should start: Davis.
Davis' .333/.411/.684 line and league-leading 20 home runs should earn him the All-Star start even if he slows down between now and early July. Based on the WAR leaderboards, Fielder has plenty of competition for the backup job, but Fielder is a star and is once again putting up his usual strong numbers at the plate.
Should start: Pedroia.
I can see the argument for Cano as the starter; he has been the superior player the past couple of years. But it's not really that close right now with Pedroia posting a .383 wOBA and Cano at .357. Heading into Monday night, Baseball-Reference rates Pedroia as the most valuable position player in the AL, while FanGraphs as him as sixth-best.
Should start: Cabrera.
Automatic: Evan Longoria, Beltre, Machado.
Now we're going to run into some problems; there are too many great third basemen in the AL right now. Cabrera, Longoria and Machado rank 1-4-5 in FanGraphs WAR and 2-7-3 in Baseball-Reference WAR. Then there's Josh Donaldson, who ranks seventh on FanGraphs and fourth on B-R. Beltre hasn't quite matched those guys, but he's a top-20 player on both lists and is an established star on one of the best teams in the league. For now, Donaldson gets squeezed out.
Should start: Hardy.
Not a good year for AL shorstops with Andrus not hitting, Asdrubal Cabrera not playing up to his usual standards and Derek Jeter injured. Hardy and Peralta are clearly the top guys -- flip them if you want -- with Hardy potentially on his way to winning another Gold Glove while leading AL shortstops with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs. Peralta is better than usually given credit for on defense and he's hitting .339, although that is fueled by an unsustainable .418 average on balls in play.
Should start: Trout, Jones, ???.
Once you get past Trout and Jones it's difficult find an obvious third starter in an uninspiring group of AL outfielders. Hunter is hitting .300, but without much else to go with it. Heck, Jason Bay has matched him in WAR, so it's hard to argue Hunter's inclusion on the team at all. Hunter probably won't hang on to his top-three spot, but for now he's a starter. Backup candidates includes Brett Gardner and Coco Crisp, both in the top-five in WAR on both sites thanks to their all-around games and improved production at the plate; Bautista; Alex Gordon, a superb player and Gold Glove winner the past two years; Alex Rios, the one White Sox player who is hitting; Daniel Nava, who ranked fifth in the AL in on-base percentage and is tied for third among outfielders with 40 RBIs; and Mark Trumbo. I'd throw in Yoenis Cespedes in the mix as well, despite his inconsistent start.
I'm going to add as my reserves Gardner, Crisp and Gordon (in part because I know I'll need a Royals rep and he's the best candidate). Not exactly a trio that screams "All-Star Game," is it?
Should start: Ortiz.
Now to the most ridiculous aspect of the All-Star Game: The AL is forced to include two designated hitters on its roster, even though most teams don't even employ a full-time DH anymore. Reynolds has ended up playing mostly in the field (only 13 games at DH) and while he has 13 home runs and 41 RBIs, he hasn't done much after a hot April. Kendrys Morales has hit pretty well for Seattle but the last thing we need is another Mariner on this All-Star team. Berkman is a nice sentimental choice but not quite All-Star worthy.
So let's go with Edwin Encarnacion, who has 17 home runs and 51 RBIs. Though he has mostly played first base, he is listed on the ballot as a DH. Plus, we need a Blue Jays rep.
Starter: Felix Hernandez.
Yes, Buchholz is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA, so why Felix as the starter? Let us list the reasons: Better strikeout rate, better walk rate, 13 more innings pitched, longer track record of dominance, succeeding even though Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez are playing regularly on "defense" in the outfield.
As for the other starters, Verlander's ERA is a little high at 3.71, but his peripherals are still excellent and he's still Justin Verlander. Iwakuma is 6-1 with a 1.81 ERA, has the lowest OBP allowed of any major league starter and has the best ERA among AL starters since he joined the Seattle rotation in July; in other words, he's legit. Scherzer is 8-0 with 100 Ks and just 20 walks in 83.1 innings; he should be making his first All-Star trip and deservedly so.
Automatics: Mariano Rivera.
OK, the rules say the players will vote in three relievers. I see Rivera as the only automatic; I'll add Joe Nathan and Grant Balfour, both with ERAs of less than 2.00 and just one blown save (by Nathan) between them. White Sox setup man Jesse Crain has been terrific with just two runs allowed in 29 innings, but I its hard to find room for a middle reliever with so many good starting pitchers these days.
* * * *
OK, we're at 29 players, so we have five spots to fill. We need a backup catcher plus reps from the Astros and Indians. For the Astros, I'm adding Castro over Jose Altuve; that squeezes out Santana, so I'll add starter Justin Masterson to represent the Indians. We're still two pitches short of our minimum allotment of 13 and the first guy to add is Anibal Sanchez, although he did miss his last start with a stiff shoulder. He's 6-5 but is fourth in the AL with a 2.65 ERA and has 98 strikeouts in 78 innings. Derek Holland has been terrific and so has James Shields despite his 2-6 record, and Bartolo Colon would be a fun choice. Matt Moore pitched himself out of a spot with his recent poor efforts, so I'll guy with an old standby: CC Sabathia.
That leaves one spot left. Josh Donaldson, I just found room for you.
So here's how the 34-man AL roster looks in early June -- or, at least, my AL roster (* starters, via fan balloting):
C Joe Mauer, Twins*
C Jason Castro, Astros
1B Chris Davis, Orioles*
1B Prince Fielder, Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, Yankees*
2B Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
3B Miguel Cabrera, Tigers*
3B Evan Longoria, Rays
3B Manny Machado, Orioles
3B Adrian Beltre, Rangers
3B Josh Donaldson, A's
SS J.J. Hardy, Orioles*
SS Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
OF Mike Trout, Angels*
OF Adam Jones, Orioles*
OF Torii Hunter, Tigers*
OF Brett Gardner, Yankees
OF Coco Crisp, A's
OF Alex Gordon, Royals
DH David Ortiz, Red Sox*
DH Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
SP Felix Hernandez, Mariners*
SP Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
SP Yu Darvish, Rangers
SP Justin Verlander, Tigers
SP Max Scherzer, Tigers
SP Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
SP Chris Sale, White Sox
SP Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
SP Justin Masterson, Indians
SP CC Sabathia, Yankees
RP Mariano Rivera, Yankees
RP Joe Nathan, Rangers
RP Grant Balfour, A's
Now, there's no way five third basemen make it (although the AL did have five shortstops in 2002 with Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and Omar Vizquel), so you'll probably see a seventh outfielder or a third catcher (especially since Castro won't finish in the top two in the player voting). If I had to guess, that will probably be Wieters or maybe Santana, who tore it up in April and the player vote usually seems predicated on who had the best April. So if Castro makes it as a third catcher, that bumps one of the third basemen.
And who knows what they'll do in the outfield; Crisp and Gardner aren't going to win the fan vote and are unlikely to finish high enough in the player vote, so the reserves outfielders could be, say, Bautista, Cespedes and Rios.