|Thursday, July 3
Updated: July 4, 7:43 PM ET
Willis, Jones sit on NL All-Star fence
By Phil Rogers
Special to ESPN.com
Andruw Jones is one of the most talented players in the majors. He's having another excellent season, with plenty of statistical reinforcement behind his effort. Preston Wilson has already driven in 70 runs.
Yet both are in serious danger of winding up on the cutting room floor when Dusty Baker makes the final call on the National League roster for the upcoming All-Star team.
Along with rookie lefty Dontrelle Willis and recently disabled 11-game winner Shawn Chacon, to name just a couple, Jones and Wilson might not fit on the final 32-man roster, which will be unveiled on Sunday.
Like Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia, Baker must react to the results of the new, three-tiered selection process, which gives players a direct say in the naming of 16 NL All-Stars. He'll be in a huge bind if the players do a poor job.
It will already be impossible for him to take the best team possible as he must find a semi-qualified representative of four teams (Cincinnati, the Mets, Pittsburgh and San Diego) that do not have anybody with commanding presence.
Baker also must make adjustments because it appears the fan vote will send Sammy Sosa to U.S. Cellular Field despite his least productive first half since 1992.
The vote totals released Tuesday also showed Atlanta's Marcus Giles ahead of Jeff Kent at second base. That could provide a complication as Giles does not have as compelling of an All-Star case as Kent or Montreal's Jose Vidro.
The selection riddle would grow even wilder if Jeff Bagwell or Rafael Furcal -- heaven forbid both -- were to rally from smallish deficits to secure starting berths. Both are having decent seasons, but neither qualifies among the top three at his position.
Assuming the fan vote remains the same and that there are no unseen complications from the players' vote -- which there easily could be -- the outfield will be the biggest dilemma for Baker. Some believe the Cubs' Corey Patterson is an attractive candidate, but it's impossible to see how he can squeeze in.
With that as the starting outfield, the best reserve choices are Albert Pujols (.379-23-72), Luis Gonzalez (.318-17-60), Jones (.286-20-57), Wilson (.301-18-73) and the surging Geoff Jenkins (.283-19-61).
Jones is not only a productive hitter, but also a perennial Gold Glover. Like Wilson, he should be on the team. But they figure to be the first guys bumped for a combination of reasons.
Pujols, who will almost certainly be Baker's choice as the starting designated hitter, is an automatic pick. Jenkins stays on because he's the lone Brewer and Gonzalez likewise as the only Diamondback.
All four teams who will need to have players forced onto the roster have candidates in the outfield: Chicago native Cliff Floyd (Mets), Brian Giles and Kenny Lofton (Pittsburgh), Rondell White (San Diego) and Austin Kearns (Cincinnati).
Giles, who lost time to injury this season, looks like the best choice among that group. The guess here is that 22-year-old right-hander Jake Peavy will represent the Padres with closer Armando Benitez going from the Mets and catcher Jason LaRue representing the Reds.
If Peavy and Benitez are forced onto the pitching staff, a couple deserving pitchers will stay home. One of those could be Florida's Willis, the ex-Cubs farmhand who has begun his career by going 8-1 with a 2.13 ERA over his first 71 2/3 big-league innings.
He'd be a fun guy to watch, but don't count on him surviving the cut. This is abstract art that could get even stranger before the picture is completed.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.