If Derek Jeter isn’t the first hole people punch on this year’s All-Star ballot, they’re either in denial or they are Red Sox fans. But, obvious as the AL choice is, there is no clear-cut shortstop in the NL this season. Sad, but true.
Troy Tulowitzki stands out as the ranking stud, and will garner plenty of attention. By virtue of his defensive prowess, it’s difficult to begrudge anyone voting for him. In terms of my ballot, though, let me take this opportunity to explain one of the unwritten rules I employ while casting my annual All-Star votes: Only one player per team, per ballot. That’s just the way I roll. And, in light of the season Carlos Gonzalez is having, he’s more deserving of representing Colorado.
So, the NL nod comes down to the timeless paradox of youth vs. experience. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a coin flip. For the sake of promoting one clear choice, though, I’m going to swing it 60-40 and sign off on Rafael Furcal.
Don’t get me wrong, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro would be a fine choice. He’s coming off a 200-hit season, his first as an All-Star, and is currently on pace for another while hitting at a .313 clip. And, while the 22-year-old is a bit of a hack – he’s currently sporting a career-low .323 OBP – his 12 steals make him a decent top-of-the-order option for the NL.
However, there are several factors that tip the scales in favor of Furcal. It isn’t his experience, per se, though veteran prowess never hurts in a must-win game. And, let’s face it, Commissioner Bud Selig’s gift to the baseball world is the must-win dynamic of the modern All-Star game. But, at the end of the day, Furcal’s merits speak for themselves.
First, he’s leading all NL shortstops with a .339 average and 31 runs scored. Granted, he has the advantage of hitting in front of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and David Freese, all of whom rank in the league’s top 10 in RBIs. Keep in mind, though, Furcal is heartily outhitting each of these household names. Interesting side note: catcher Yadier Molina is currently the Cards’ second leading hitter with a .297 average.
Just as important, Furcal represents the reigning World Champion Cardinals. It seems unthinkable a reigning World Champ could whiff on All-Star starters the following year. But, with perennial All-Star juggernaut Albert Pujols abandoning St. Louis for free agency, it could very well happen. For a time, it seemed Cards center fielder Jon Jay was a brilliant sleeper pick, until the .343 hitter landed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
Of course, the ceremonial slant of both Furcal and Braves third baseman Chipper Jones potentially starting an All-Star Game in Jones’ final season pretty much writes itself. The two started along side one another in Atlanta for the better part of four seasons, while Furcal was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 2000, just a year after Jones won the only MVP award of his career.