- Phil Rogers
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Bud Selig has issued this comment about the possibility of Barry Bonds playing the leading role in the upcoming All-Star Game in San Francisco: "No comment.''
Well, actually we're just guessing here, but that's been the commissioner's response on every query regarding Bonds' future since Victor Conte and Greg Anderson became better known than most middle relievers.
Given the convergence of events on the field and in prosecutorial circles, you can imagine how excited Selig must be about having old No. 25 in the middle of things at the All-Star Game.
Next to the Hall of Fame induction weekend, it's the one time of the baseball calendar when smiles are essentially guaranteed. But with Bonds as the focus for the interview session, Home Run Derby and the game, there's, well, the possibility of turning smiles upside-down.
At a glance, Bonds would seem to be a shell of his old self. He's hitting .294 with 15 home runs and 35 RBIs, hardly All-Star-caliber numbers. But if you look more closely, you find that the guy who has put himself into the center of the steroid funnel cloud -- and left his trainer, Anderson, sitting in prison to avoid testifying about his pharmaceutical regimen -- might still be the best hitter in the National League.
Bonds, 42, has the highest OPS among National League qualifiers (1.081), far better than those of guys like Prince Fielder and Carlos Lee, whose run-production totals suggest they're at the top of the charts. Because of his frequent time off and the woeful cast that surrounds him, it's easy to misjudge the impact Bonds can still have.
Bonds has been walked 38 of the 73 times he has batted with runners in scoring position. His 36 at-bats in those situations was 67 fewer than Colorado's Matt Holliday, the league leader, and 57 fewer than Chase Utley. Even part-timers like Florida's Joe Borchard and the Cubs' Cliff Floyd and Felix Pie had more at-bats with men in scoring position than Bonds.
Once we marveled at how much respect Bonds was receiving, but these days the phenomenon seems to make it just a little bit easier to dismiss him. In a conversation about deserving All-Stars, that's not fair.
Based strictly on performance, here's a look at the deserving All-Star starters and some guys who should go to San Francisco but might wind up with a midseason vacation:
P: Dan Haren, Athletics/Brad Penny, Dodgers
These guys are going to be selected as All-Stars on the players' ballot and probably will lead their respective leagues in voting. Haren's presence will be especially painful for National League manager Tony La Russa, whose team sent him to Oakland in the deal for injured Mark Mulder back in December 2004. This is a good year for pitchers, especially in the American League. The wealth of semiautomatic choices (Johan Santana, Justin Verlander, John Lackey, C.C. Sabathia and Josh Beckett), along with the possibility that Erik Bedard could be the lone Oriole and James Shields the lone Devil Ray, will make it very difficult to shoehorn Daisuke Matsuzaka onto the team, no matter how badly MLB and its sponsors want him. The NL selections won't be as tough, but there's no way the Giants will get their $126 million man, Barry Zito, on the squad. It would be great to see Greg Maddux sneak in on the player vote.
C: Victor Martinez, Indians/Russell Martin, Dodgers
No, Martinez is not the second coming of Jim Sundberg behind the plate, but he drives in runs like a first baseman and somehow has allowed 15 fewer stolen bases than Jorge Posada. Martinez has thrown out 27.5 percent of runners this year, better than Ivan Rodriguez, who seems likely to win the fan vote but is no better than the league's fifth-best catcher. Seattle's Kenji Johjima is more deserving than Rodriguez, Jason Varitek and Posada but easily could slip between the cracks. The Mets' campaign to get Paul Lo Duca elected is little more than a farce; even guys like Bengie Molina, Johnny Estrada and Brian McCann have far better cases.
1B: Justin Morneau, Twins/Prince Fielder, Brewers
With no designated hitter on the ballot, David Ortiz is going to take an All-Star selection away from one of three deserving first basemen, possibly a Boston teammate. Morneau seems a likely choice on the players' ballot, which would mean tough sledding for Kevin Youkilis or Casey Kotchman. Fielder and Albert Pujols are the likely fans and players' picks in the NL. San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez should get serious consideration, given the pitcher-bias of his home park.
2B: B.J. Upton, Devil Rays/Chase Utley, Phillies
No spot is weaker this year than second base in the AL, and the picture is complicated by Upton's uncertain status. He has been sidelined by a strained quadriceps but should be back before the July 10 game. The popular vote is coming down to a precinct-by-precinct battle between Placido Polanco and Robinson Cano. Polanco would be a decent choice, but Cano doesn't belong. Toronto's Aaron Hill and Oakland's Mark Ellis could be squeezed out if Cano goes. Arizona's Orlando Hudson has a right to gripe if he doesn't get picked.
SS: Carlos Guillen, Tigers/J.J. Hardy, Brewers
Derek Jeter is the fans' choice, but we're guessing Guillen will be shown some love by his fellow players. Orlando Cabrera probably has been the best all-around shortstop in the AL but, along with Jhonny Peralta, appears to be on the bubble. The Brewers aren't leading the NL Central without Hardy, who -- along with the Mets' Jose Reyes -- seems a safe pick. Atlanta's Edgar Renteria and the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins could be squeezed out.
3B: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees/Miguel Cabrera, Marlins
The players' vote will determine whether Troy Glaus or Mike Lowell is the backup in the American League, and we'll assure you there will be some howling from Beantown if Lowell gets left off the team. David Wright's election by the fans probably will mean there will be only spot available for Cabrera and the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez.
OF: Magglio Ordonez, Tigers/Barry Bonds, Giants
OF: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels/Matt Holliday, Rockies
OF: Torii Hunter, Twins/Ken Griffey Jr., Reds
Ordonez and Guerrero are likely to be fan picks, with the final starter's spot a duel between Ichiro Suzuki and Manny Ramirez. All four of these guys deserve spots on the team, as does Hunter (how could the players not pick him?).
There's a long list of candidates, but the guy who would have the biggest beef if he's left off is Detroit center fielder Curtis Granderson, who is having an unbelievable season: 45 extra-base hits, including 14 triples. His OPS is actually higher than Ramirez's. AL manager Jim Leyland will do his best to get him on the team, but could find his hands tied by rules that force him to use his discretionary picks on players from teams without elected players.
Carlos Beltran isn't having an All-Star season but is leading fan voting. Alfonso Soriano is jockeying with Bonds for one of the other starting spots, and he also doesn't belong. Colorado's Brad Hawpe and Cincinnati's Adam Dunn could lose the spots they've earned with their play over the past three months.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available at bookstores, through Amazon.com or by direct order from Triumph Books (800-222-4657).
A position-by-position breakdown of the players who deserve to be All-Star starters and the guys who are likely to get snubbed.