Tuesday July 6th, 2010

So you think it's special being named an All-Star? It's not what you used to think.

Because of rosters that have expanded (again), a new rule that calls for replacements for pitchers that start Sunday and assorted injuries, the number of players named as All-Stars already has climbed to 75 -- with another week still remaining for more replacements to be necessary.

So let's say the final number comes in at 77 All-Stars. Now consider that last season there were 259 players who qualified for the batting or ERA titles or saved 30 games -- a loose definition of a "regular" player. That means that about 30 percent of all regular players wind up being All-Stars. And we still don't have Joey Votto, Jered Weaver or Colby Rasmus among the merry band of 77.

But we do have Omar Infante, who apparently is so valuable the NL wants him around because they might put him in the game not just once, but twice!

(And I refuse to include setup relievers here. It is a specialty job for guys who can't start or finish games -- important, but too far down the spectrum of pitching importance to take roster spots from those who do well with the heavy lifting. Utility players, setup guys . . . stop the "specialized" madness before the best pinch hitters and nachos vendors are getting All-Star gigs.)

Well, if you're tired of the roster nonsense, you've come to the right place. You have entered a no-nonsense zone. Here are true All-Star teams: one guy at each position (and yes, the three outfield spots are unique positions, not a generic "outfield," and the NL now always needs a DH in the game), regardless of whether he's popular, is a default choice to make sure somebody goes from his team, or plays for one of the game's managers.

I included the ages here because all but two of my 20 picks are between 23 and 31 -- further evidence of the game's emphasis of young players. And of these 20 picks as the best at their positions, five of them have not even been picked for the game in Anaheim.

So if you act now, you'll get 20 All-Stars, and if you call in the next 15 minutes, we'll make you an All-Star, too -- with a place on the foul line for introductions right next to the great Omar Infante.

C: Joe Mauer, 27, Minnesota. The power of Mauer hasn't taken to outdoor baseball in Minnesota. His home slugging has suffered upon on the move from the Metrodome (.641 last year, 16 homers) to Target Field (.388, 0 home runs). But at .303 with more walks than strikeouts and solid defense, he's still the class of the league's catching corps.

1B: Miguel Cabrera, 27, Detroit. One day older than Mauer, the big guy has 71 RBI in 81 games and has put himself in the discussion with Albert Pujols as the best hitter in the game.

2B: Robinson Cano, 27, New York. The last second baseman to hit .340 and drive in 100 runs? You have to go back to his namesake: Jackie Robinson, in 1949.

SS: Derek Jeter, 36, New York. What does it say that Jeter remains the pick of the league's shortstops despite career-lows in average (.281) and OBP (.347)? It says Jeter is still a productive player and the shortstop position in the AL has hit a severe downturn (MLB-worst .675 OPS).

3B: Adrian Beltre, 31, Boston. He turned down a multi-year offer from Oakland to take a one-year deal from Boston to reestablish his value. Good move. Beltre suddenly is a .340 hitter.

LF: Josh Hamilton, 29, Texas. Streaky hitter was on fire in June (.484). The test is to stay healthy for six months -- and just maybe a seventh.

CF: Alex Rios, 29, Chicago. He made a key adjustment with his hands in his setup at the plate, and became a comeback player of the year candidate.

RF: Brennan Boesch, 25, Detroit. Aggressive hitter is impressive against righties and lefties.

DH: Vladimir Guerrero, 35, Texas. One year younger than Jermaine Dye, he has been one of the best low-risk, high-reward signings of the winter.

P: David Price, 24, Tampa Bay. Power arm has turned the corner and become a true four-pitch pitcher; just beware the innings workload barrier in the second half.

C: Miguel Olivo, 31, Colorado. Thirteen free agent catchers changed teams. The Rockies hit the jackpot with this one.

1B: Albert Pujols, 30, St. Louis. Could retire tomorrow and be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Highest career average for active players: 1. Ichiro: .3326. 2. Pujols: .3321. Talk about your batting races.

2B: Martin Prado, 26, Atlanta. The guy who jumpstarted the Braves is hitting .360 as Bobby Cox's answer to the club's early problems at the top of the lineup.

SS: Hanley Ramirez, 26, Florida. A down year, especially against lefthanders, but still rates the call over a rejuvenated Rafael Furcal.

3B: David Wright, 27, New York. Don't look now, but Citi Field's favorite son is approaching his career-high slugging percentage.

LF: Josh Willingham, 31, Washington. Tied with Pujols for the best OBP in the league at the Fourth of July -- with big-time damage.

CF: Colby Rasmus, 23, St. Louis: The kid is becoming a star, and making the 2005 draft, already the best ever, even better (Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Pelfrey, Andrew McCutchen, Clay Buchholz, etc.)

RF: Andre Ethier, 28, Los Angeles. Still neutralized a bit by lefthanded pitching, but by the upward arc of his career, he'll figure it out.

DH: Joey Votto, 26, Cincinnati. Home bandbox helps, but not as much as you think. This guy can flat rake anywhere.

P: Ubaldo Jimenez, 26, Colorado. He had to cool off, right? But his past three starts (17 runs in 17 2/3 innings) look ominous for a guy who throws 109 pitchers per start.

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