Several could be 'designated' an All-Star
Five good choices stand out as DH candidates for the AL in Midsummer Classic
More often than not, it seems that All-Star voting decisions are a matter of priorities, as much as performance. When fans click that button or punch that hole, they're making a statement as to what they value and what they want to see in the Midsummer Classic.
The decision at designated hitter on the American League ballot this year exemplifies this balance perfectly. Do you side with the sentimental favorites, the veterans beloved by fans? In short, the stars? Or do you want the guys putting up the best numbers, even if their names aren't quite as big?
In each category, there are multiple candidates. Rather than one or even two clear favorites, at least five players have a claim to some level of consideration when fans sit down to fill out their ballots.
From the "beloved older dudes" category, Lance Berkman, David Ortiz and Travis Hafner are all putting up very nice numbers. The gentlemen on the near side of 30, Mark Trumbo and Mark Reynolds, are outperforming their elders and have also played a little bit more.
It really is a question of priorities, with several right answers.
Of the bunch, Ortiz is the biggest star, an outsized personality and a bona fide folk hero in Boston. And with the numbers he's put up since returning from the disabled list, he'd be a shoo-in if he'd played more than 17 games. "Big Papi" had a 27-game hitting streak, dating back to last season, come to an end on Wednesday night, and was hitting .381 with four home runs and a ridiculous 17 RBIs in 63 at-bats.
He's also practically the definition of a star. Ortiz, 37, is one of the game's most recognizable faces, and an eight-time All-Star selection. If your emphasis is on the word "star" in All-Star Game, Ortiz is likely your man.
That is, unless you prefer another longtime prolific producer and familiar face. Berkman, also 37, is enjoying yet another comeback, this time with the Rangers. He's a six-time All-Star who has started at three positions, though never at DH. The "Big Puma" isn't putting up huge power numbers, but he's hitting .297, getting on base at a .434 clip and, of course, livening up the clubhouse as he always has.
There's also the question of how much longer Berkman will stick around. He may not be on a level with someone like Chipper Jones or Cal Ripken Jr., but he's had an awfully fine career, and if this is his last year, it would be appropriate for him to get one more trip to the All-Star Game.
Hafner? Well, he almost certainly counts as the biggest surprise of the bunch, and his value to a beat-up Yankees team can scarcely be overstated. Long a favorite in Cleveland, his first year in New York has been tremendous. He has a .284/.408/.568 line, has launched six home runs and driven in 18 runs. The knock on Hafner is that he's been a platoon player, scarcely facing left-handed pitching and struggling when he does.
He's got more at-bats than Ortiz, but the Sox slugger is catching up because he's playing just about every day, now that he's back in shape. Hafner is probably the longest shot of this bunch, but there are many Yankees fans out there and he is having a fine year.
Still, if you're the kind of voter who looks at the current year's performance, you're going to skip the venerable vets and move to a couple of younger options. Trumbo has followed up his breakout 2012 with an excellent start to '13. Hitting in a very difficult ballpark, he posted a .291/.358/.552 line entering Thursday night's game, with nine homers and 23 RBIs.
He's a raw-power freak, the kind of guy that it's fun not only to see in the All-Star Game, but in the Home Run Derby. And it's the second straight year he's put up big numbers, which argues that he's more than just somebody having a hot month.
Yet even Trumbo is trumped this year by Reynolds, the engine driving the new-look Indians. After hitting .213 over the past three seasons, Reynolds is complementing his usual power production with some singles. He's hitting what would be a career-best .291, leads the AL with 11 home runs, and he leads this group with 29 RBIs.
On a team that urgently needed an influx of offense, Reynolds has helped provide it, propelling Cleveland into contention in a newly competitive AL Central. He's never been an All-Star, but if you go based on this year only, it's hard to argue he shouldn't be one for the first time in '13.
But still, we go back to the initial point. Not everyone is going to vote based strictly on a few weeks of performance. There's a case for Trumbo, having nearly as good a year, but more established. There's a case for Ortiz to take his expected place in the lineup, for Berkman to get one more chance, and for Hafner to be recognized for the first time.
It's all up to you, the voter, to decide.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.