Forget Yasiel Puig and just make the All-Star Game a game


Upwards of 80 major leaguers will again call themselves All-Stars this year. 34-man rosters mean than a ridiculous 68 players will be eligible for the game. Another eight, 10, 12 or maybe more will be ruled out for the game because of injuries or because they were starting pitchers that pitched the Sunday before the game. In 2011, there were actually 84 All-Stars.

And that’s ridiculous. Unless we’re going 15 innings, it takes no more than 42 players to play a major league baseball game (two 25-man rosters, minus the eight starting pitchers going unused on any given day).

The draw of the All-Star Game is to see the best players face off against one another. Ideally, that’d happen for nine innings. Instead, it happens for four or five before the backups start taking over.

That’s what I’d like to see change. First, the All-Star Game needs to be pushed back to Wednesday, a simple move that brings any Sunday starters back into the contest. The Home Run Derby can be Tuesday instead. And, ideally, this would give the Futures Game its own day on Monday, instead of being played on Sunday while the major league action is still going on. The Futures Game, showcasing many of baseball’s very best prospects, is typically far more entertaining than the Derby, but it’s seen by only a handful while airing opposite major league games.

Second, just slash the rosters all to hell. I’d go 13 hitters and nine pitchers. Or we can do 25 if we have to, in case we do go beyond 10 innings. But let’s only invite the best of the best. Let’s have Miguel Cabrera facing Craig Kimbrel in the ninth. Last year, Elvis Andrus, Billy Butler and Matt Wieters made the final three outs of the game, facing three different National League pitchers. How incredibly lame is that?

Also, please spare me the argument that including the hot-shot young prospect makes the game more interesting. No one is tuning into the All-Star Game just so that Yasiel Puig can get a single at-bat 2 1/2 hours into the contest. It’s not 1985 anymore. Anyone curious about Puig can get their fill of highlights on demand.

I say we pencil in three starting pitchers for the first six innings and three relievers from there, with another three guys serving as mid-inning replacements if needed. Free up the managers to keep the position players in for nine innings and only make changes when warranted. Stop the silly “everyone has to play” ideal. It lessens the game. With 22-man rosters, it’ll be more of an honor just to be invited, whether the player is going to get that one seventh-inning at-bat or not.

Of course, this change also necessitates the ditching of the “every team gets a rep” rule. And to that I’d say good riddance.

I don’t believe any of this is going to happen. But it seems to me that the league (and FOX) seems more interested in getting people to tune into the All-Star Game for a spell rather than actually watch it from beginning to end. There’s a more compelling game to be had here if the league would trim the fat.

2018 Preview: Texas Rangers

Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Texas Rangers had been, more or less, the class of the AL West for several years, but that came to an end last year. Injuries, a bad bullpen and underachievement doomed them early and before all the leaves were on the trees the Astros had all but locked up the division. There were some bright spots — Adrian Beltre notched his 3,000th hit and Joey Gallo emerged as the 40-homer threat many have long thought he might be — but otherwise it was a bad year for the Rangers.

Will it be another bad year? Hard to say no, though there is a lot more upside with this club than with a lot of other sub-80 win teams from 2017. For that upside to pay off, however, the Rangers are going to have to win a lot of bets.

The outfield is a good place to begin looking for that upside. Nomar Mazara has not yet put it together over the course of a whole season, but he has shown some promise and could be poised for a breakout. Delino DeShields may not be what many thought he might be a few years back, but he’s got wheels and can get on base. Left field is being kept warm for top prospect Willie Calhoun who came over in the Yu Darvish trade and is having his service time manipulated, but he’ll be up soon. He’s expected to rake. Whether he can hold the position or, rather, will have to take at-bats away from Shin-Soo Choo at DH is an open question.

The infield needs a couple of fairly attainable things to happen for the lineup to really be a plus. First, it needs Adrian Beltre to be healthy and to show that he has at least some gas left in the tank. I have learned over the past 20 years to not bet against Adrian Beltre, ever, so Father Time will have to prove me wrong. It also needs Rougned Odor to snap back into shape after a lost-in-the-woods 2017. I hate the phrase “he’s better than that,” but he really is better than that. Elvis Andrus is Elvis Andrus and that’s fine. If Gallo can cut down on the K’s even a little bit and mix in a couple of more base hits to go with all of that power he could be an MVP candidate. In order of likelihood, I put it (1) Beltre being Beltre; (b) Odor bouncing back; and (c) Gallo cutting down on strikeouts, but if just two of those things happen the Rangers lineup will be in good shape.

There are a lot of question marks with the starting pitching and a couple of lottery tickets. Yu Darvish is long gone, but Cole Hamels remains at the top of the rotation. The problem is that Hamels had his worst full season in several years last year and it may be that all of the miles on his odometer are catching up with him. The biggest offseason pickup for Texas was Mike Minor, who had a monster comeback season with the Royals after multiple years lost due to arm injuries. That monster year came out of the bullpen, though, so it remains to be seen if he can move back to the rotation and remain both impressive and durable. He’s one of the lottery tickets, although one with much better odds than, say, the Powerball. He’s like a scratch-off with some risk but a decent shot at some winnings.

A longer shot is Matt “Mega Millions” Moore. The one time top prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays is still somehow just 28, but he’s coming off a lousy year in San Francisco, in which he led the NL in both losses and earned runs while plying his trade in a pitcher’s park. I guess you can be a silver-lining guy and say he’s durable again or you could do that thing where people look at a one-time phenom and imagine that he has at least one full-promise year in him, but it’s not super likely either. Martin Perez and Doug Fister round things out. You basically know what you’re getting out of those two at this point: competence, but not necessarily any shot at greatness. Bartolo Colon is knocking around and he’ll likely get some starts at some point. He always gets starts.

The bullpen was a mess last year. It’s not clear that it’ll be better this year, but it’ll certainly be more interesting, as Jon Daniels went out and signed Tim Lincecum and gave him a big league deal from which to launch his comeback. He may challenge for the closer role, though Alex Claudio has it for now. Matt Bush will look to recapture 2016 form as a setup guy. Jake Diekman should be back to full strength after a mostly lost 2017 due to colon surgery. Not a great group, truth be told, even if they will be fun to watch at times.

Overall, I think the Rangers are better than bad but the pitching is a big problem and they need too many things to go their way to count on being good. If everyone stays healthy and more than half of the guys who struggled last year return to form or fulfill potential, hey, it’s a pretty interesting group of players. A group which, while not good enough to challenge Houston, could be in the mix with the Angels and the Mariners to be a Wild Card representative.

If most of those bets don’t pay off, though, it’s gonna be a long year. I’m a risk averse gambler, so I’m going to hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I predict that the upside will remain out of reach.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL West