25-man All-Star Game roster: American League
EDITOR’S NOTE: The first major league All-Star Game took place 80 years ago and featured just 18 players on both the National and American League rosters. While the game’s popularity immediately exploded, the size of the rosters grew much more modestly, first to 20 men per side in 1934, 21 in 1936, 23 in 1937 and finally 25 in 1939. That number remained in place (except when there were two All-Star Games per year from 1959-62 and certain players could be replaced for the second game) through 1968. In 1969, as MLB expanded to 12 teams in each league, All-Star rosters grew to 28 and stayed that way through 1997. For almost six decades, even as the number of major league teams went from 16 to 28, the size of All-Star rosters grew by just three, from 25 to 28. But in 1998, when MLB increased to its current number of 30 teams, All-Star rosters expanded to 30, went to 32 in 2003, 33 in 2009 and finally 34 in 2010.
The result has been the annual presence of non-stars who are chosen to fill out these bloated rosters. The most recent example is Bryan LaHair, who made last year’s game representing the Cubs but is now playing in Japan.
As it stands, nearly 70 men will be introduced next week as All-Stars at Citi Field before the Midsummer Classic — and that’s before considering any late injury replacements that could swell the number to almost 10 percent of all major leaguers — but many don’t truly fit that description. With that in mind, SI.com baseball writers Jay Jaffe (the NL) and Cliff Corcoran (the AL) constructed a 25-man roster for each league. There is no rule about having one player from every team but the rosters must be built the same: eight starting position players and one DH, one backup catcher, two backup infielders and two backup outfielders; six starting pitchers and five relievers.
My roster is less concerned with rewarding players for their first-half or career accomplishments and far more interested in fielding the best possible team right now. Here’s how that might look:
1B: Chris Davis, Orioles
His gaudy first half numbers — .316/.392/.703, 33 HRs, 85 RBI s — speak for themselves.
2B: Jason Kipnis, Indians
His overall numbers are almost identical to Robinson Cano’s except that he is also 20 for 25 in steal attempts and has hit .380/.477/.620 since June 1.
SS: Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
Reyes missed more than two months with an ankle injury, but after going 0-for-6 in his first two games back he has hit .311/.326/.533 with three home runs. He has hit safely in 18 of his 22 games this season, is at .326/.371/.494 on the season, and has the track record to support his selection.
3B: Josh Donaldson, A’s
Don’ worry, Miguel Cabrera is on this team, but I’m not going to play him at third base when I can get Donaldson’s bat and glove into my lineup.
C: Joe Mauer, Twins
An easy choice. Mauer is hands-down the best catcher in the league.
RF: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
The best rightfielder in the league, and his 20 home runs and .877 OPS don’t hurt.
CF: Mike Trout, Angels
Trout is the best outfielder in the American League in any of the three pastures and I want him playing his natural position in center where his legs and glove can help most.
LF: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Leftfield in the AL is slim pickings, so give me Ellsbury, an outstanding fielder who has played left in the past. He’s hitting .301, getting on base at a .364 clip and has been unstoppable on the bases this year, leading the majors with 36 steals while being caught just three times for a 92 percent success rate.
DH: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
The major league’s best hitter belongs on this team, and he belongs at DH.
IF: Robinson Cano, Yankees
Cano’s just too good to leave off this team entirely.
IF: Manny Machado, Orioles
Machado’s bat has cooled off of late, but he still leads the majors with 39 doubles and is arguable the best fielder in baseball and one who can play both third base and shortstop. He’s also a righthanded bat, which makes him a nice complement to the left-handed Cano.
OF: Nelson Cruz, Rangers
If I’m in a late-game situation in which a home run could alter the outcome and my opponent has a lefty to face Ellsbury, I want some big right-handed power to counter with. That’s Cruz.
OF: Daniel Nava, Red Sox
I have two centerfielders in my starting lineup, so I don’t need one on the bench. Nava is a switch-hitting on-base machine with some pop who can play in either corner or at first-base.
C: Carlos Santana, Indians
Santana has cooled off from his hot start, but he is an on-base machine with big-time power, can also back up first base, and is a switch-hitter, making him an ideal backup.
Starting Pitchers (top 5, equivalent to my rotation):
LHP: Chris Sale, White Sox
RHP: Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
RHP: Yu Darvish, Rangers
RHP: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
RHP – Max Scherzer, Tigers
These are my most recent top five Cy Young candidates, albeit in a different order. I’ve chosen them ahead of Bartolo Colon and Hiroki Kuroda, who have weaker resumes, most notably in their strikeout rates. Sale gets the start because, despite missing two starts in the first half — which is important in my Cy Young evaluations, but irrelevant to my efforts to win this game — he has been the best pitcher in the league, something which is masked by his offense-friendly ballpark and awful run support.
CL: Joe Nathan, Rangers
Grant Balfour hasn’t blown a save in 23 chances, but Nathan has blown just one in 30 and has no losses (Balfour has one) while putting up better numbers in a far tougher ballpark for pitchers.
RHP: Mariano Rivera, Yankees
It feels like blasphemy to have him in a set-up role, but it would be worse, even in this exercise, not to have him at all, and Nathan has simply been better this year.
RHP: Joaquin Benoit, Tigers
As explained in my look at the Final Vote yesterday, he has been incredibly effective this season.
LHP: Glen Perkins, Twins
The best (and only) left-handed closer in the league is a lefty I can use in more than a mere match-up role.
LHP: Brett Cecil, Blue Jays
Go figure that Cecil of all people makes this 25-man roster. It’s because he fills a very specific role, that of left-handed relief pitcher.
RHP: Bartolo Colon, A’s
I want the last man in my pen to be able to give me innings: efficient, effective, error-free innings. That means a minimum of walks and home runs, which can be deadly late in a close game. Colon fits the bill. Not only has he walked just 15 men in 120 1/3 innings on the season, but over his last 11 starts, all quality, he has allowed just three home runs in 79 frames and posted an 1.71 ERA.
So there you have it. This 25-man roster has five men not on the actual 34-man American League roster (Reyes, Donaldson, Ellsbury, Nava and Santana) as well a sixth who may not make it despite being, in my opinion, the most deserving Final Vote candidate (Benoit). Most of those are a result of the parameters of this exercise. I would only argue for Donaldson and Ellsbury to be included on the actual roster. The others all serve a specific role here or, in the case of Reyes, are chosen despite missing an excess of time in the first half due to track record and recent performance.
Not included here are three fan-elected AL starters: J.J. Hardy (his cold bat is bumped at shortstop by Reyes’s hot one), Adam Jones (simply not one of the three best outfielders in the league) and David Ortiz, (because I have Miguel Cabrera at designated hitter rather than third base).
The biggest surprise to me is how similar the two pitching staffs are. Set aside the injured Clay Buchholz and Jesse Crain and choose Benoit from among the Final Vote candidates and the only AL All-Star pitchers I omitted were Justin Verlander and Justin Masterson, both selections of Tigers and AL manager Jim Leyland that I don’t think deserve to be on the 34-man roster, either, while all 11 of my pitchers above are on the actual AL roster.
So perhaps approaching the All-Star rosters this way doesn’t solve all of the problems we have with the current 34-man set-up. I still have Brett Cecil and no Evan Longoria, though at least I have a better excuse for omitting Longoria amid a crowded third-base field with nine fewer roster spots than Leyland had and no inexplicable alternate Rays representative.
That said, looking at that roster above, it does imply a game that is more competitive and less of an exhibition. With a five-man bench, the men in my starting lineup will be expected to play nine innings unless injury or strategy forces them out of the game, and my bullpen strategy would be to get at least two innings out of each of the first four men in my “rotation,” saving my relievers for mid-inning jams, Scherzer for any non-save situation in the ninth inning or beyond, and Colon exclusively for extra-innings. That’s a game I’d much rather watch than the one we’ll actually see next Tuesday.
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