Yasiel Puig a hot All-Star topic, but there are closer calls all over the diamond

  • Article by: MIKE FITZPATRICK , AP Sports Writer
  • Updated: July 5, 2013 - 3:40 PM

NEW YORK — Lost in all the commotion about Yasiel Puig are the trickiest predicaments when it comes to the All-Star game.

Look at that logjam at third base in the American League!

The National League is overloaded with pitchers.

And who in the name of old Jack Murphy Stadium is going to represent the San Diego Padres?

So while the polarizing debate over whether Puig should be selected Saturday is certainly a juicy one, when all is said and done he'll either have a backup role in the NL outfield or he won't. The most difficult decisions involve other positions.

Buster Posey or Yadier Molina behind the plate for the NL? Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia at second base in the AL?

At the hot corner, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is having another monster season. OK, he's the starter for the junior circuit.

But then there's an overabundance of deserving backups: Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, Oakland's Josh Donaldson, Texas' Adrian Beltre and Baltimore's Manny Machado.

"I'm not going to take five third basemen to the All-Star game," said Detroit's Jim Leyland, who will manage the American League team July 16 at Citi Field in New York.

So somebody gets left out. Let's just say it's Longoria. Then who makes it from the Rays?

Every club must have an All-Star, and rosters are limited to 34 spots — with at least 13 going to pitchers.

So maybe it's left-hander Matt Moore from Tampa Bay. Pretty good choice. But then a more worthy arm from some other squad gets snubbed.

And on and on.

That's the maddening part of putting together the puzzle — and the beauty of it all, too. Sizzling baseball arguments in the heat of summer.

"This hardest part is leaving guys off. That's by far the hardest thing. It goes with the territory when you pick a team. There is more written about the snubs than the guys that make it," said San Francisco's Bruce Bochy, the NL manager.

"The toughest positions to pick are on the pitching side. That's a tough position because there are a lot of guys who've had a really good half, both starters and relievers. Maybe outfield is tough, too."

Several big names were on their way to this All-Star game before injuries derailed them: Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Clay Buchholz.

Bryce Harper could fall into that category, though he wasn't far behind in fan balloting for a starting outfield spot.

For the first time in eight years, Derek Jeter won't be an All-Star. He's been sidelined all season following ankle surgery. Yankees teammate Alex Rodriguez (hip) is out, too, but Mariano Rivera figures to make one last appearance.

Other stars are likely to be absent due to disappointing seasons: David Price, Albert Pujols and Matt Kemp, to name a few. But that makes room for impressive newcomers like Chris Davis, Domonic Brown and Paul Goldschmidt.

As for Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers' rookie sensation, the uproar over whether he should be included after only one spectacular month in the majors is nothing new.

The same thing happened with Stephen Strasburg three years ago and then Harper last season — although the Washington Nationals' outfielder had at least had two months under his belt after getting called up in late April.

Harper got in, Strasburg was left out. And both times, the sun came up the next day.

Strasburg pitched his way onto the 2012 team, and that's how it should happen. Puig is extremely exciting to watch and has all the makings of a perennial All-Star, but let him earn his trip with a legitimate body of work.

Otherwise, he's taking someone else's place.

For what it's worth, here's a prediction: Puig winds up on the Internet ballot for the final NL roster spot and gets voted in by fans.

And you know what? That'd be just fine.

So without regard to fan or player balloting — or Leyland's self-imposed limit on third basemen — here are our selections for the 84th All-Star game at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets since 2009. Rosters will be announced Saturday evening.

The league that wins gets home-field advantage in the World Series again, which has helped the NL secure three straight championships.

___

Starting with the AL:

First Base — Davis is putting up incredible power numbers during a breakout season for Baltimore. His backup is another heavy hitter, Prince Fielder of the Tigers.

Second Base — Cano, in the final year of his contract with the Yankees, gets the nod over Red Sox rival Pedroia. Also in the mix is Jason Kipnis, quietly having a tremendous season for Cleveland.

Shortstop — Detroit's Jhonny Peralta edges J.J. Hardy of the Orioles. An underrated Jed Lowrie warrants a look in Oakland but gets left off in the end.

Third Base — Cabrera gets the start for Detroit, and all four boppers mentioned above make it as reserves: Longoria, Donaldson, Beltre and Machado, who turns 21 on Saturday. They've all been too good to leave anyone out.

Catcher — Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins earns his fourth start, with Cleveland's Carlos Santana behind him.

Outfield — Mike Trout of the Angels starts in center field, with Toronto's Jose Bautista in right and Texas' Nelson Cruz in left. On the bench are Baltimore's Adam Jones and Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury.

Designated Hitter — Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is still a fearsome presence in the middle of the lineup. Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays would be a nice right-handed complement.

Starting Pitchers — Max Scherzer's 13-0 record makes him an easy choice to start. Joining him on the staff are Tigers teammate Justin Verlander, Seattle right-handers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, Texas ace Yu Darvish, Oakland veteran Bartolo Colon, Chicago lefty Chris Sale, Kansas City newcomer Ervin Santana, Cleveland's Justin Masterson and Houston representative Bud Norris.

Relievers — A save in his final All-Star game would be a nice farewell for Rivera, who plans to retire after the season. Rangers closer Joe Nathan and Oakland's Grant Balfour round out the bullpen.

___

And in the NL:

First Base — Goldschmidt, a blossoming star in Arizona, gets the surprise start in a tight race with Cincinnati's Joey Votto. Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles' Adrian Gonzalez and St. Louis' Allen Craig get the call as well at another power-packed position. Craig can also play the outfield.

Second Base — Cardinals leadoff man Matt Carpenter has emerged as the unexpected starter. Brandon Phillips of the Reds, a Gold Glove defender and reliable RBI guy, is the backup.

Shortstop — Milwaukee youngster Jean Segura beats out Washington's Ian Desmond.

Third Base — Hometown star and fan favorite David Wright of the Mets is the clear choice. Only fitting. Backing him up is Pittsburgh bopper Pedro Alvarez, who went to high school in New York City. Nice story.

Catcher — Can't get much closer than the race between Posey, the NL MVP from San Francisco, and Molina, the defensive standout from St. Louis who leads the league in hitting. Fan balloting has reflected that, too. The nod here goes to Molina, but you really can't go wrong either way.

Outfield — The starters are Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez in left, Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen in center and ex-Met Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals in right. Reserves include Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez, Colorado's Michael Cuddyer, Cincinnati teammates Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo, and Brown from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Starting Pitchers — Much has been made in New York about whether Mets ace Matt Harvey should start the All-Star game on his home mound. He's certainly worthy of the honor, but the pick here is Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Either way, that's a pretty nasty left-right combination in the early innings. Also making the cut from a deep pool of deserving candidates are St. Louis' Adam Wainwright, Washington's Jordan Zimmermann, Chicago's Jeff Samardzija, 20-year-old Miami rookie Jose Fernandez and San Diego veteran Jason Marquis, who gets rewarded with a trip back home. Besides Kershaw, the left-handers are Philadelphia's Cliff Lee, Arizona's Patrick Corbin and Pittsburgh's Jeff Locke.

Relievers — In his initial season as a closer, 36-year-old Jason Grilli of the Pirates has been practically untouchable, earning him his first All-Star selection with the game just minutes from home. Another nice story. The bullpen also features a pair of fireballers in Braves right-hander Craig Kimbrel and Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman. Somehow, there's no room for St. Louis savior Edward Mujica, which is a shame.

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