The 2014 All-Star Game Preview

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The salad is finished. Bring on the steak.

We have spent 48 hours looking at the Future, watching a sideshow and gazing at baseball’s navel. Now that that is over the All-Star Game itself is at hand. And, no matter what you think of it, the fact that it is the only baseball game around makes it worth your time.

The starting pitchers and starting lineups are set. Here’s the order A.L. starter Felix Hernandez will face to start things off:

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

CF Andrew McCutchen
RF Yasiel Puig
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Paul Goldschmidt
DH Giancarlo Stanton
3B Aramis Ramirez
2B Chase Utley
Jonathan Lucroy
LF Carlos Gomez

And the hometown nine, technically speaking anyway, which will do battle with N.L. starter Adam Wainwright:

AMERICAN LEAGUE:
SS Derek Jeter
LF Mike Trout
2B Robinson Cano
1B Miguel Cabrera
RF Jose Bautista
DH Nelson Cruz
CF Adam Jones
3B Josh Donaldson
Salvador Perez

The National League seems to have the stronger set of starters on paper. It’s certainly no walkover, but the outfield defense is unusually strong here, and that could make a big difference.

Of course, the starters may have the lease amount of impact on this game. Given how All-Star managers have taken to trying to get every player on the roster into the game at some point, bench players and relievers are going to play a large part in how this All-Star Game goes.

But make no mistake: no matter what happens on the field, the star of tonight’s show is going to be Derek Jeter. He’ll lead off to a huge amount of applause and he’ll be paid multiple tributes both at the ballpark and on the Fox broadcast. If he does anything notable — say, hit a homer in his final All-Star Game like Cal Ripken did several years ago, Katie bar the door.

Yes, it’s an exhibition, but it’s one with a great pedigree. And one, as the name promises, that is loaded with stars. It’s easy to get cynical about a lot in this world, but if you’re cynical about the All-Star Game, well, I feel kinda bad for you.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.