Picking a Major League Baseball All-Star roster is no easy task, even though it's been expanded to 34 players in recent years.
Give 10 baseball fans, general managers or managers the chance to select the ideal All-Star roster, and you're bound to receive 10 different rosters.
When the official rosters are revealed on July 6, there's little doubt fans will criticize several of the selections. Invariably, some deserving players will be left off the roster, while other borderline All-Stars will surprisingly make the cut.
This week's exercise will be to assemble one person's "ideal" American League All-Star roster (it'll be the National League's turn next week). This does not take into account the likely winners of the fan vote, it's simply an attempt to pick the most deserving pitchers, positional starters and reserves.
Things never seem to work out perfectly. This year, for instance, third base is a loaded position in the AL. The outfield, surprisingly, has few slam-dunk All- Star selections. Still, the nature of the game would dictate that you can't pick, say, five third basemen and four outfielders on the roster. So some deserving players will lose out in a numbers game.
Here we go:
C: JOE MAUER, MINNESOTA (.330, 8 HR, 25 RBI): We'll probably never see another 28-home run season from him like we did in 2009, but Mauer has had a modest spike in power this season in addition to his usual outstanding batting average.
1B: CHRIS DAVIS, BALTIMORE (.331, 27 HR, 70 RBI): It looked like last year was the breakout season for Davis, but it's clear now that his 33 homers and 85 RBI were just a small taste of what he's capable of doing.
2B: ROBINSON CANO, NEW YORK (.276, 16 HR, 45 RBI): Just about every other high- priced superstar on the Yankees' roster has missed significant time because of injury. Cano just keeps on ticking. His average is down, but he still carries his team's offense
SS: JHONNY PERALTA, DETROIT (.324, 7 HR, 34 RBI): It's tough to argue with Peralta's solid first-half numbers. He is unlikely to put up his fifth 20-plus home run season, but he's still posting outstanding slugging numbers because he's hit so many doubles.
3B: EVAN LONGORIA, TAMPA BAY (.301, 17 HR, 47 RBI): This is the deepest position in the league this year. It's possible to argue on behalf of any one of five guys to start this game at third base. Either way, Longoria deserves to be in the game.
OF: MIKE TROUT, LOS ANGELES (.306, 12 HR, 46 RBI): There's been no sophomore slump from Trout, who has simply solidified his standing as one of the sport's finest all-around players.
OF: ADAM JONES, BALTIMORE (.300, 15 HR, 55 RBI): A quality hitter who has gotten a little better each season, Jones is entering his prime. He should get his first 100-RBI campaign.
OF: NELSON CRUZ, TEXAS (.271, 19 HR, 55 RBI): The batting average for an All- Star starter would be higher ideally, but Cruz's run production and slugging get him in the starting lineup in what is a shockingly weak year for outfielders in the AL.
DH: MIGUEL CABRERA, DETROIT (.370, 20 HR, 75 RBI): Here's one way to get an extra third baseman on the AL roster - make him the starting designated hitter. Cabrera's the best offensive player in the game, and therefore the centerpiece of the AL lineup. Longoria gets the starting nod at third only because of his superior defense.
C: CARLOS SANTANA, CLEVELAND (.276, 10 HR, 32 RBI): There are some close calls for the reserve catcher positions, but Santana gets a nod for his extra-base punch. Salvador Perez of Kansas City has a better average, but Santana has clear edges in on-base and slugging percentages.
C: JASON CASTRO, HOUSTON (.275, 10 HR, 25 RBI): It's debatable whether Castro really deserves a spot on this squad, but he might. His production has been impressive. Mostly, he gets this spot because the Astros need to have a representative, and he's as good a choice as any.
1B: PRINCE FIELDER, DETROIT (.277, 12 HR, 58 RBI): Although his stats are dwarfed by the Orioles' Davis, Fielder is quietly putting together another All- Star season.
1B: EDWIN ENCARNACION, TORONTO (.271, 21 HR, 63 RBI): The Blue Jays have several All-Star-worthy hitters, including first basemen/designated hitter types Encarnacion and Adam Lind. There's probably room for only one of the two on this roster. Encarnacion is on pace for 45 homers and 136 RBI, so it's practically impossible to avoid picking him.
2B: HOWIE KENDRICK, LOS ANGELES (.323, 8 HR, 36 RBI): The Angels have been a huge disappointment in the first half of the season, but Kendrick clearly hasn't been part of the reason.
2B: DUSTIN PEDROIA, BOSTON (.311, 4 HR, 41 RBI): His home run total is down, but his on-base percentage and run production are up. Pedroia's just a terrific all-around player.
SS: J.J. HARDY, BALTIMORE (.267, 15 HR, 44 RBI): Close call between Hardy and Oakland's Jed Lowrie, but we'll go with Hardy because he's been more productive. That Gold Glove defense doesn't hurt, either.
3B: MANNY MACHADO, BALTIMORE (.317, 5 HR, 38 RBI): The lack of homers could keep Machado off the roster, but that batting average and a league-leading 34 doubles sure look nice.
3B: JOSH DONALDSON, OAKLAND (.305, 10 HR, 46 RBI): Without much of a track record before this season, Donaldson is another third baseman in the hunt for the All-Star starting gig. In this scenario, we're leaving quality candidate Adrian Beltre (.298, 14 HR, 39 RBI) off the squad.
OF: COCO CRISP, OAKLAND (.279, 9 HR, 28 RBI): It's not a fantastic year for AL outfielders, so the reserves here don't necessarily have eye-popping stats. Still, Crisp has a chance to be a 20-20 guy.
OF: JOSE BAUTISTA, TORONTO (.246, 16 HR, 43 RBI): He has a lower batting average, but Bautista has been a better run producer than most of the other outfielders he'd be competing with for this spot.
DH: DAVID ORTIZ, BOSTON (.316, 16 HR, 65 RBI): It would possibly be more valuable to pick someone who could play outfield defense for this spot, but it's too difficult to deny a clutch hitter like Ortiz when he's putting up these kinds of numbers.
CLAY BUCHHOLZ, BOSTON (9-0, 1.71 ERA): Provided he's healthy enough to pitch, Buchholz is a no-brainer selection. He's out with a strained shoulder, though, so he'll probably skip the game. Considering there's a chance he'll be back by early July, we'll give him this spot.
CHRIS SALE, CHICAGO (5-6, 2.69 ERA): The win-loss record isn't too good, but that's not Sale's fault. He'd be the lone White Sox representative here, but that ERA and the fact he's allowing less than one base runner per inning make him deserving.
MAX SCHERZER, DETROIT (11-0, 3.05 ERA): The statistics speak for themselves. This is a slam-dunk selection and he might even get the starting nod.
MARIANO RIVERA, NEW YORK (0-1, 1.61 ERA, 26 SAVES): He'd be a fine sentimental selection in what will be his final season. Sentiments aside, Rivera is easily deserving of his final All-Star berth.
GRANT BALFOUR, OAKLAND (1-1, 2.03 ERA, 18 SAVES): Since pitchers are going to mostly work one-inning stints in this game, who better to do that than closers? Balfour has been one of the best this season. Guys like Addison Reed, Glen Perkins, Greg Holland and Casey Janssen also will receive consideration here.
BARTOLO COLON, OAKLAND (10-2, 2.93 ERA): He's been around forever and been a quality pitcher, but this would only be Colon's third All-Star Game selection and his first since 2005. The 40-year-old former Cy Young winner deserves to be there.
HISASHI IWAKUMA, SEATTLE (7-3, 2.26 ERA): He's actually outpitched his more celebrated teammate, Felix Hernandez, but not by much. It would be a travesty if both aren't on the All-Star team.
FELIX HERNANDEZ, SEATTLE (8-4, 2.71 ERA): The former Cy Young Award winner is consistently good, and this is shaping up to be one of his better seasons.
JOE NATHAN, TEXAS (1-0, 1.67 ERA, 25 SAVES): Like Rivera, another old-timer who just keeps delivering.
YU DARVISH, TEXAS (7-3, 2.84 ERA): Clearly one of the best pitchers in the league, with an amazing strikeout rate (12.2 per nine innings) and just 67 hits allowed in 101 1/3 innings.
JUSTIN MASTERSON, CLEVELAND (9-5, 3.48 ERA): It gets a little nit picky here. Essentially, Masterson would be getting this spot over the likes of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Tillman. Verlander would get it on reputation, but we'll reward the Indians right-hander for his breakout season.
ERVIN SANTANA, KANSAS CITY (5-5, 2.64 ERA): James Shields was the Royals' offseason acquisition who received the most attention, and he's pitched well despite a poor 2-6 record. Santana has been a little better, although, like his teammate, he could use more run support, too.
HIROKI KURODA, NEW YORK (7-5, 2.78 ERA): A model of consistency for New York, Kuroda has been the most impressive starter on a staff that also features CC Sabathia, which is no small feat.