Evan Longoria, Stephen Strasburg lead All-Star snubs

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No matter how bloated the All-Star rosters get, it’s never hard to find imperfections. This year, two of the AL’s top 10 performers to date have been left off for no good reason. For some reason, manager Jim Leyland’s squad took three catchers and four second basemen, but just two from third base, which has been the league’s deepest position. That’s where our biggest snubs are found.

American League

Evan Longoria (3B Rays): Despite some recent foot troubles, Longoria has played in 84 games this year and posted the AL’s sixth-best OPS at .908. While they wouldn’t admit it, the Rays are probably happy that Longoria wasn’t chosen, since he’ll now have four days to rest his foot during the break. On merit, though, he was a clear choice. Even if the AL was only going to take two third basemen, he could have been picked over Baltimore’s Manny Machado.

Josh Donaldson (3B Athletics): Donaldson is right behind Longoria in seventh place in the AL in OPS, and he’s been the biggest bat on a surprisingly strong Oakland offense. Leyland should have simply taken all four third basemen — Miguel Cabrera, Longoria, Machado and Donaldson — and subtracted Salvador Perez and Ben Zobrist from the squad. Zobrist, while a valuable player, has an OPS nearly 200 points worse than Donaldson’s this season (.724 to .903).

Grant Balfour (RHP Athletics): How exciting of MLB to set it up so that the AL portion of the final vote is between a bunch of setup men (Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers and Koji Uehara). Balfour and his 40 consecutive saves (22 this year) couldn’t even crack that list. The A’s are a first-place team, yet they have just one All-Star in Bartolo Colon. Balfour, with his 1.82 ERA, was just as worthy as any other reliever in the league.

Howie Kendrick (2B Angels): It’s pretty stunning that the AL took four second basemen and still couldn’t find room for this guy. Kendrick is batting .317/.360/.473 with 10 homers so far. Maybe he didn’t deserve a spot over Jason Kipnis or Dustin Pedroia, but he should have been picked before Zobrist.

Coco Crisp (OF Athletics): For some reason, Leyland didn’t take a center fielder among his three outfield backups (Nelson Cruz, Alex Gordon and Torii Hunter). Maybe that means Mike Trout will play the whole game, starting in left and moving to center once Adam Jones departs. More likely it means that Hunter will finish the game in his old position. Better if the AL had just bumped him and taken Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner as a backup center fielder instead.

Derek Holland (LHP Rangers): By Fangraphs WAR, Holland has been the AL’s best pitcher so far. The modest 6-4 record overshadows how good Holland has been with his 107/29 K/BB ratio and just seven homers allowed in 112 innings. He’s also been at his best recently, shutting out the Yankees and striking out 10 Mariners in his last two starts.

National League

Ian Desmond (SS Nationals): Desmond is one of the candidates to go via the final vote, and though he’ll almost certainly lose that spot to Yasiel Puig, he’ll make the squad if starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki misses the game with his broken rib. Desmond has come on strong and is hitting .281/.324/.506 to date.

Stephen Strasburg (RHP Nationals): Maybe all that Matt Harvey hype has left Strasburg overlooked. Of course, Strasburg did serve a brief DL stint earlier this year, but he’s still made 16 starts, the same number as All-Star pick Jose Fernandez and one or two fewer than the rest of the field, and he ranks third in the NL in ERA at 2.24. That puts him ever so slightly ahead of both Harvey (2.27) and Adam Wainwright (2.36). All that said, it seems doubtful that the Nationals wanted him pitching in the All-Star Game anyway.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (LHP Dodgers): Bochy had no choice but to put Clayton Kershaw on the team, but he didn’t take any other Dodgers. That included bypassing Ryu, who just beat his Giants squad last night. Ryu is 7-3 with a 2.82 ERA in 17 starts this season. Madison Bumgarner, who was selected by Bochy, is 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA in 17 starts.

Mark Melancon (RHP Pirates): While the AL squad was all about taking the best relievers, regardless of roles, Bochy limited his relief picks to closers: Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Jason Grilli. Melancon, with a 0.87 ERA and a 44/4 K/BB ratio in 41 1/3 innings as a setup guy, has been better than any of them this season. The Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal and Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen also would have been better picks than the fringe starters if the goal is to win the game.

Yasiel Puig (OF Dodgers): I’ll mention Puig here, even though I’m OK with him not being chosen. It’s hard to argue that he’s a snub when he’s played just 30 major league games. Still, if the fans want to see him, then by all means, put him on the team. That’s what will happen after he was included on the Final Vote ballot today. No one stands any chance of beating him out.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.