From 1933, the year of the first major league All-Star Game, through 1997, the roster sizes for each side in the Midsummer Classic never topped 28 men. Starting in 1998, when MLB’s latest round of expansion increased the number of teams to 30, the size of the All-Star squad began to balloon: To 30 that year, 32 in 2003, 33 in 2009 and 34 in 2010.
The result has been a game filled with more and more players who don’t deserve to be called All-Stars. Rosters for this year’s game, which will be held at Target Field in Minnesota, were announced Sunday (the Final Vote results will be revealed in a few days) and already we know some players – like the recently traded Jeff Samardzija and injured catcher Matt Wieters – will need to be replaced. By the time of the game on July 15, there will be nearly 75 players who are officially designated All-Stars this season, 10 percent of the total in the entire major leagues.
That’s a far cry from how All-Star games are handled in other sports. In the NBA, the 12-man regular season roster is identical to what is found at the All-Star Game, and the NFL’s 44-man Pro Bowl roster is actually smaller by nine men than what is found during the season. With that in mind, below is a look at the 25 most deserving players in the AL and NL, respectively, following a traditional roster set-up: Eight starting position players, one DH, one backup catcher, two backup infielders and two backup outfielders; six starting pitchers and five relievers. There is no rule about every team needing to have an All-Star, leaving two clubs shut out of the festivities (sorry Mets and Twins). There’s also no room for sentimentality, which means at least one legend will not be making the trip to Minnesota (sorry, Jeets).
C: Derek Norris, Athletics
He’s only played 61 games, but he has the best on-base (.402) and slugging percentages (.491) of any AL backstop.
1B: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Until his recent injury, Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion would be the pick here. Instead, it’s Cabrera, who would have been a reserve but moves into a starting spot. How good has Miggy been in his 12-year career? His .308 batting average, .367 OBP and .535 slugging percentage this season are all below his career norms.
2B: Jose Altuve, Astros
Ignore his paltry two home runs and the fact he plays for the majors’ worst team and focus on his AL-best .337 average and 38 stolen bases and his 122 hits, the most in baseball.
SS: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
Derek Jeter is the sentimental choice, but his numbers (.651 OPS, 1 HR) pale in comparison to the Pale Hose’s Ramirez (.728, 8).
3B: Josh Donaldson, A’s
What is WAR good for? Making sure Donaldson’s recent 0-for-32 skid doesn’t cost him a deserved spot on this AL roster.
LF: Michael Brantley, Indians
He’s batting .321 with an .896 OPS, is on pace for 100 RBI and has stolen 10 bases without being caught.
CF: Mike Trout, Angels
The best player in baseball will make his third All-Star appearance in his third full season. And with his AL-leading 1.005 OPS and 20 home runs, he should be headed for his first MVP award, too.
RF: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
He leads the AL in OBP to go with 17 home runs and 51 RBI.
DH: Victor Martinez, Tigers
His .991 OPS is the highest of his 12-year career and earns him an All-Star nod with his third different team.
C: Salvador Perez, Royals
Third-highest batting average among AL catchers + second-highest slugging percentage = second All-Star selection in as many seasons for Perez.
IF: Jose Abreu, White Sox
The Cuban Barry Bonds is looking as good as advertised. He's tied for the major league lead with 27 home runs and pacing the bigs with a .616 slugging percentage.
IF: Robinson Cano, Mariners
His power has vanished (thanks, Safeco) but his rate stats (.320/.381/.443) are All-Star worthy and just barely prevent hometown star Brian Dozier (.234/.342/.416) from earning a spot.
OF: Nelson Cruz, Orioles
A great start – MLB-best 27 homers and 71 RBI – makes his one-year, $8 million deal look like an even better bargain for the Orioles.
OF: Alex Gordon, Royals
His .263 average isn’t that impressive, but he boasts an outstanding glove that is mostly responsible for his 3.8 WAR and spot here.
SP: Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
A true no-brainer: Tanaka leads majors in wins (12) and is second in the AL in ERA (2.27) and WHIP (0.97).
SP: Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays
Mr. Consistency has already reached double-digit wins for the 14th straight season.
SP: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
King Felix leads the AL in ERA and WHIP to go with a 10-2 record.
SP: Yu Darvish, Rangers
This generation’s Dave Stieb, for all his near-no-hitters, leads all MLB starters with a very un-Stieb-like 11.0 K/9.
SP: Chris Sale, White Sox
A DL stint cost him three starts, but he’s still 8-1 with a 2.16 ERA and 0.87 WHIP.
SP: Dallas Keuchel, Astros
This half-million dollar arm leads the AL with three complete games and ranks ninth in ERA.
RP: Koji Uehara, Red Sox
He has converted 18 of his 19 save chances, and his 1.30 ERA is 20 percent worse than last year’s 1.09. Slacker.
RP: Joakim Soria, Rangers
Soria’s selection this year will give him one more All-Star nod than Tommy John surgery in his career.
RP: Greg Holland, Royals
He’s second in the AL with 22 saves one year after posting a franchise-record 47 in 2013, and he has a stellar 1.93 ERA,
RP: Dellin Betances, Yankees
The Brooklyn native is doing his best Mariano Rivera impression in the Bronx with a 1.61 ERA and 13.9 K/9.
RP: Jake McGee, Rays
More than just a LOOGY, McGee has been better against righties (.365 OPS) than lefties (.541).
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C: Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
His .329 average and .913 OPS renders moot the need for attack ads against Yadier Molina.
1B: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
He leads the majors with 32 doubles while going deep 16 times and putting up a .952 OPS that matches his NL-best figure from a year ago.
2B: Chase Utley, Phillies
Utley hasn’t played in the Midsummer Classic since 2010, but his .288 average and .345 OBP are enough to get the nod in a middling middle infield, just in front of the Mets’ Daniel Murphy.
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
He leads the league in all three rate stats. Enough said.
3B: Todd Frazier, Reds
This former Little League hero gets tapped for his first All-Star Game thanks to 17 home runs.
LF: Justin Upton, Braves
He had 12 HRs last April alone but cooled off so much he missed the team. This year, he has 15 homers and will make it.
CF: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
The reigning NL MVP has been even better this year (.971 OPS) than he was last year (.911).
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
His electrifying power has helped him lead the NL in home runs (21), RBI (62) and total bases (189).
DH: Justin Morneau, Rockies
The Ex-Twins star will return to Target Field because he’s second in the league in RBI and sixth in slugging percentage.
C: Devin Mesoraco, Reds
The native of Punxatawney, Pa., made like Groundhog Day with a five-game home run streak in late June, but it’s his .317 average and 1.013 OPS most responsible for his selection here.
IF: Freddie Freeman, Braves
His .886 OPS and 13 home runs give him the nod over the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo (.871, 17).
IF: Starlin Castro, Cubs
He already has more home runs and RBI than he did in 2013, the only non-All-Star season of his last four years.
OF: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
He should have made it last year. His .307/.393/.516 line ensures he makes it this year.
OF: Carlos Gomez, Brewers
This elite all-around talent won’t have to worry about anyone telling him how to play the game anymore.
SP: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
He has three top-three Cy Young finishes yet only two ASG appearances. This evens the score.
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
His June 18 no-hitter is only part of his latest brilliant season: 10-2, 1.85 ERA.
SP: Johnny Cueto, Reds
He leads the majors in WHIP and has a 1.99 ERA one year after making three trips to the DL.
SP: Henderson Alvarez, Marlins
Jose who? Alvarez ended last season with a no-hitter and has an MLB-best three shutouts this season.
SP: Madison Bumgarner, Giants
The perennially underrated lefty is fifth in wins and WHIP and fourth in K/9 for the rejuvenated Giants.
SP: Julio Teheran, Braves
He’s following his strong rookie season with a year that ranks among the top-10 in wins, WHIP, innings pitched and strikeouts.
RP: Huston Street, Padres
Street, who is 23-for-24 on saves and boats a 1.13 ERA, has been the only smooth part of the Padres’ lost season.
RP: Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Kimbrel leads the majors with 27 saves and is already the franchise’s all-time saves leader. Bobby Cox wishes he had him a decade ago.
RP: Rafael Soriano, Nationals
A career-best 1.03 ERA makes him the only selection from a Nationals team that looks like it will be in a dogfight with the Braves for the NL East crown.
RP: Pat Neshek, Cardinals
A 0.77 ERA and 0.57 WHIP earn the journeyman, who is on his fourth team in five years, his first All-Star Game selection.
RP: Tony Watson, Pirates
His undefeated record (5-0) and microscopic ERA (0.89) earn an All-Star nod.