Derek Jeter will go to his sixth straight All-Star Game as a member of the starting lineup, and his twelfth All-Star Game lifetime. Whether he deserves to be there is, of course, a matter of opinion. If your opinion is that the All-Star Game is the place for the current season’s best and brightest, the absolute best players in baseball this season to step up, then Jeter has no business being in the starting lineup this year.
Even if he is on the threshold of a career milestone—his struggles since last season to one side, there isn’t anyone in or near baseball who suggests he won’t reach it—it’s just a little difficult to accept that a man earned an All-Star berth at all, never mind in the starting lineup, because (at this writing) he’s six hits from becoming the only man to become a 3,000 hit man with every last one of those hits coming in a Yankee uniform.
Until he went on the disabled list with a strained right calf, Jeter was seen as a pronounced liability to his team. You can only imagine how that must have weighed upon a scandal-free man who had performed so long, so well, in baseball’s most festering pressure cooker. At this writing, with Jeter in Trenton on rehab assignment, the Yankees have gone 14-4 without him, and stories have abounded that the Yankee clubhouse was a lot “looser” in Jeter’s absence, without the weight of his decline to trouble it. Wasn’t that once the unthinkable?
With one or two moments of exception otherwise, the talk was whether Jeter was finished at long enough last, and how would the Yankees–who’d spent last offseason in difficult if not contentious contract negotiations with their franchise face—go about shepherding Jeter off the field, even slowly, considering the two and a half years remaining on the contract, not to mention young Eduardo Nunez’s performance stepping into the injury breach, and assuming the Yankees actually had the real stomach for it.
Now Jeter’s an All-Star starter?
By any measurement you care to deploy, there are American League shortstops this season worthier of the starting berth. Perhaps the prime among those men is Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians. Oh, it’s been said, but who’s paying to see Asdrubal Cabrera? Oh. We get it. The All-Star Game is about fame, not performance. But we can’t explain Jose Bautista, playing in fame-challenged Toronto, finishing as the leading vote-getter across the board. Or that Cabrera’s team surprised almost everyone around the game by jumping into and ahead of the American League Central race early enough that a) they generated some of the best copy, on the road as well as at home, that they’d generated since letting Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia go; and, b) a mild swoon hasn’t pushed them out of it quite yet.
The Indians may not be able to keep pace down the stretch, but the All-Star Game isn’t played down the stretch. I can see no earthly reason why a man whose bat (at this writing) is good for an .846 OPS, who’s produced 102 runs, and who bears a .661 offencive winning percentage, should not have been selected over a man whose bat (at this writing) is good for a .649 OPS, who’s produced 59 runs, and who bears a .425 offencive winning percentage.
Which brings us to whether your opinion is that the All-Star Game, as often enough it does become, is something of a lifetime achievement award. Jeter isn’t the first player who’s going to the starting lineup as a legacy candidate. Reality check: Jeter got the votes because of what he’s been, not who he is now. So what if he’s been a shadow of his formerly formidable self? his voters seemed to be saying. He’s Derek Freaking Jeter! He’s been the Yankees all these years! He’s going to get that three freaking thousandth freaking hit! Maybe within a week or so. By Gawd that makes him . . .
A Hall of Famer in waiting.
Not a valid 2011 All-Star starter.
It’s a shame, because this year the fans got the All-Star voting right for the most part. Most. There’s no excuse for not voting Andrew McCutcheon (Pittsburgh Pirates) into the National League’s starting lineup, but there would have been outrage if—as it looked until a few days ago—Russell Martin (the Yankees) had outpointed Alex Avila (Detroit Tigers) for the American League’s start behind the plate . There’s no excuse to elect Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers) to the American League’s starting outfield ahead of Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston Red Sox), but picture the outrage, even among people who despise anything New York, if Troy Tulowitski (Colorado Rockies) had hung in to keep the shortstop lead he lost over the final voting weekend to Jose Reyes (New York Mets).
On the other hand, managers Bruce Bochy (world champion San Francisco Giants) and Ron Washington (defending AL champion Texas Rangers) have some splainin’ to do, too. Allowing that they had little enough room to work with, Bochy should be made to explain why he chose among his reserves Carlos Beltran (Mets), who’s having a fine comeback season, over McCutcheon, whose having double the season Beltran’s having. Unless, of course, you dismiss his 4.6 Wins Above Replacement through this writing, which just so happens to be third among all position players Show-wide.
And Washington should be made to explain why Ben Zobrist (second base, Tampa Bay Rays), who’s having a measurably better season, wasn’t picked among his reserves but Howie Kendrick (second base, Los Angeles Angels), who’s having a solid season otherwise, was.
Still, the worst of it is McCutcheon. He isn’t even on the final-man vote ballot. At least Zobrist is.