MLB All-Star Game 2016 and its implications

With the Major League Baseball season about halfway to completion, the best players at each position get to showcase their prowess at the 2016 MLB All-Star Game.

This year’s midsummer classic will take place at Petco Park in San Diego, California, on July 12, a day after the home run derby. MLB fans voted online until the weekend of Independence Day for who they thought was the best position player at each position for each league.

On Tuesday, July 5, the starting lineups for the 87th All-Star game, chosen by the fans, and the pitchers and reserves, chosen by the managers and fellow players, were announced.

The Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs dominated the all-star rosters as the starting lineups will contain four members of the Red Sox and five members of the Cubs. Additionally, Red Sox starting pitcher Steven Wright and closer Craig Kimbrel were also selected for the American League roster, while Cubs starting pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester made the cut for the National League.

Manager Ned Yost of the American League has not yet made a decision about who he will use as the starter for the exhibition, but purely based off statistics, it is reasonable to speculate that it will be White Sox ace Chris Sale, who holds a 14-2 record with a 2.93 ERA through his first 17 starts of the season. His main competition, knuckleballer Steven Wright, possessed the lowest ERA in the American League for a large chunk of the first half of the season. He was recently overtaken in that category by Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians.

It remains to be seen who starts the all-star game for the AL, but it is possible that Wright’s possession of the knuckleball could play a role in how he is used in the game. Starting catcher Salvador Perez has remarked that he has little experience in catching the knuckleball, but it should be a fun experience. A change of mitt mid-game might be all that’s in store for Perez, but it is eventually up to Yost to decide how he mixes up his all-star pitchers.

On the NL side, manager Terry Collins, who has several aces at his disposal, said that he will not reveal who he will use as the starting pitcher for the all-star game. Understandably, the decision for Collins is tough. With Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers currently on the disabled list, Jake Arrieta (Cubs), Madison Bumgarner (Giants), Noah Syndergaard (Mets), and Johnny Cueto (Giants) are all contenders.

If defending NL Cy Young winner Arrieta gets the start, the National League will see their entire infield except the catcher be representatives of the Cubs, while only C Buster Posey (Giants), OF Yoenis Cespedes (Mets), and OF Bryce Harper (Nationals) make it to the starting lineup of the National League All-Stars without being from the Cubs.

The Cubs have become the only team in MLB history other than the 1963 Cardinals to start all four infielders in the All-Star Game. On Tuesday, we will find out which league will claim home field advantage for the 2016 World Series.

Fans have one last chance to vote in a player to Petco Park this all-star week by phone or online in what MLB calls the “#FinalVote.”

Competing for that spot in the American League are Tigers 2B Ian Kinsler, Rays 3B Evan Longoria, Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia, Blue Jays OF Michael Saunders, and Astros OF George Springer.

The National League sees the final vote between Giants 1B Brandon Belt, Brewers OF Ryan Braun, Diamondbacks 3B Jake Lamb, Pirates OF Starling Marte, and Rockies SS Trevor Story.

Fans have until Friday, July 8, to vote their choice in.

With this year’s rosters being dominated by Red Sox and Cubs, there was one man who silently had a big night — President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Of the seventeen position players announced as starters for the all-star game, nine were acquired by Epstein during his time with the Cubs or the Red Sox.

After becoming the youngest general manager in the history of MLB with the Red Sox, Epstein signed SS Xander Bogaerts and DH David Ortiz as free agents and drafted OF Jackie Bradley Jr., now-OF Mookie Betts, and 1B Anthony Rizzo.

After joining the Cubs organization, he reunited with Rizzo via a trade, drafted 3B/LF Kris Bryant, signed utility man Ben Zobrist and OF Dexter Fowler, and traded for SS Addison Russell. He is also responsible for 2016 all-stars Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and AL final-vote candidate Dustin Pedroia.

Meanwhile, the surge of the Cubs has raised many eyebrows about the All Star Game and Major League Baseball’s true intention. A quick look at the 2016 All Star rosters reminds many of the 2015 American League roster, which consisted of seven Kansas City Royals. With the all-star starting lineups in the hands of fan voting, MLB seems to be sending a message about the all-star game — that it is for the fans.

Yet, the result of the all-star game, an exhibition game in which players on the same side have usually not worked together, directly decides which league gets home field advantage in the World Series, the ultimate in baseball.

The all-star game selection has not always been fan-based, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen particular fanbases take control of the ballots. Until 1946, the managers had complete control over lineups and pitching. From 1947, fans got to pound the ballots. In 1957, the fanbase of the Cincinnati Reds conquered the voting when the National League starting lineup consisted of Cardinals legend Stan Musial and seven Reds. This incident forced then-commissioner of baseball Ford Frick to make some replacements and put players, coaches, and managers in control of voting for their all-star starters. This ended when, in 1970, fans regained control of position player selection and that is how it stands today.

During the past 47 years under this ruling, “ballot box stuffing” has recurred a disturbing number of times, the most recent one being the 2015 Royals, whose fans sent eight as starters to the Cincinnati for the 86th midsummer classic. After accusations arose of bogus voting procedures, MLB cancelled 65 million votes, citing voting fraud. As a result, the Royals remained with four starters in the game, although OF Alex Gordon had to be replaced due to injury.

This alone brings up debate. If the Royals fans had not worked their players, deserving or not, into the all-star game, would the fraud votes have even come into light? The 2015 Royals was a case where some of their members were so blatantly non-deserving that MLB had to take a look at it, the best example being 2B Omar Infante, who was barely batting over the Mendoza line at the all-star break, or SS Alcides Escobar, who was inferior to Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts in every offensive and defensive category at the break.

As former Cy Young winner, now Boston Red Sox player, David Price said in a tweet during the all-star break in 2015, “An all-star game is not a popularity contest – it's for home field advantage (for whatever reason) for the World Series! Best players play.” Here, Price sums up all the contradictions that the current system. First, there’s no obvious stream of logic that explains why an exhibition game decides home field advantage at the highest stage of baseball. Second, we are leaving it to the fans (likely to entertain them, somehow) to decide who gets to play in this game, even if the best player at a position doesn’t get to play the all-star game.

The results of the 2016 all-star voting doesn’t help this case, with SS Addison Russell and 2B Ben Zobrist both arguably not deserving of making the cut. In Russell’s case, rookies SS Trevor Story (Rockies) and SS Corey Seager (Dodgers) have put up better numbers through the first half of the season than Russell, who owns a mediocre slash line of .242/.338/.416 and has unremarkable defense with 9 errors committed at short. Oh, and let’s just forget the fact that Kris Bryant has played virtually never at third base this year, yet he is the starting third baseman in the all star game, not Arenado — the all-star game needs Bryant’s offense, right?

With so many issues with the system concerning the deep implications of the all-star game and its result, it would be no easy task to make changes to the midsummer classic. With so many changes being made quickly to the game of baseball and many fans, players, and coaching personnel disagreeing on how baseball should be played, commissioner Rob Manfred is clearly open to change. With the revamped (timed) home run derby, the new safety rules for fans and players, and the acceptance of instant replay and its adjusted circumstances under Manfred’s predecessor Bud Selig, the MLB seems like it is in the thick of reformation; and while Manfred is willing to be part of it, he has also implied that he is a fan of observation.

During the 2015 Royals controversy, he stated that he is “willing to see how fan voting turns out before worrying.” However, shortly after his seemingly passive remarks, he stated: "What I would say is I hope over time that what people come to think about the commissioner's office is when we have a situation such as this -- this is one example -- that we are responsive and open to change if in fact it appears we get a result that is not consistent with the goals of the system that is currently in place."

Royals and AL All-Stars manager Ned Yost backed his team and the rules of MLB by saying “there’s nothing wrong” with all the votes coming in and that if people want to fight the rules, they can just play along and vote more. Clearly there is a difference of opinions between players and managers – well, at least the Royals manager.

No doubt multiple commissioners of baseball, not just Manfred, have received concrete proposals on how to optimally go about the all-star game, quoting other leagues such as the NBA, NFL, and their own imagination, all of which seem irrelevant —baseball is its own sport. Nevertheless, here’s one that seems to make sense — do away with having the fans decide who starts the all-star game, because there are way too many fans who are not going to vote for the player with the most caliber, but rather for their favorite person.

Instead, have the statistics speak for themselves — the players and managers understand them and are not corrupt, so let them do the decision-making. Meanwhile, if certain players don’t get the nod at first and have to go into a final vote round, you can have the fans make the final call. As usual, let the pitchers be decided by the players and managers. The claim and hope is that fans will watch and attend the all-star game as they please whether or not they vote on who gets there.

Next, cut the cord between the all star game and the World Series. It serves no purpose, especially because fairytale stories of the first half don’t always last until the postseason. It’s a long season and a home run derby-winning Todd Frazier may blow his fuse midway through the second half. The players don’t play the all-star game for the World Series home field advantage and the fans don’t watch the amazing baseball between the best in the sport because they are hoping the National League team (whoever that is) gets one extra game at home.

Change needs to be made, and this is just one idea of many that Major League Baseball has to deal with. Loopholes in the league are regulation, especially when it comes to America’s favorite pastime. But if you’re going to make it entertaining, you might as well have it be fair and give the players equal opportunities to showcase their talents and careers. Either way, the All-Star game in San Diego should be a fun one watch, whether you are rooting for the American League or the National League, if you have any bias whatsoever.