Tuesday, July 9, 2019

2019 All-Star Draft with Will Leitch

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 52
July 9, 2019

A year ago, I dragooned the great Will Leitch into drafting teams from the initial pool of 62 All-Stars. It was a lot of fun, aping what the NBA and NHL have tried in attempts to pump up interest in their All-Star Games.

We’re back at it again this year, with one extra round in the absence of the “Final Vote.” The rules are simple: We’re drafting teams as if we’re playing one game, from the first 64 All-Stars announced by Sunday, June 30. (Sorry, Felipe Vazquez stans. He would have gone pretty high in the draft.) The draft was conducted over email from July 1-5.

For more from Leitch, check out MLB.comNew York magazineSI TV, and his wonderful weekly newsletter.

Given the option to pick first or at the 2-3 turn, Will chose the second option.


Joe Sheehan: Yay, I get to build around Mike Trout.

Will Leitch: You may remember last year, I went heavy on pitching. I no longer think this is the correct strategy. Even the best pitchers are giving up homers; you can throw a perfect pitch, and the way these guys are swinging and the way the balls are hopping, it can still go out. My goal for pitching will be to avoid the obvious dangers, but I don't think I can just shut you down any more. Besides, what's the fun of that? Heck, maybe we should just having batting-practice pitchers throw the All-Star Game anyway. We can play it in London.

If you're not going to over-complicate this, neither am I: I'll take Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. Even though putting Bellinger on my team means I have to hire a bouncer to patrol the stands, apparently.

Speaking of All-Stars, We're going to see my wife's family in Buffalo, including a Buffalo Bisons game tomorrow night. Bo Bichette and...John Axford! Still hanging around, good for him.

Joe: I got out to a Brooklyn Cyclones game last month. It was fun to be at a game where I had neither a professional nor personal expectation of knowing any of the players. Need to do that more. Of course, the Mets affiliate got run off the field. Plus ça change...

Hmm…I’d anticipated building a 1500-run offense, and you have damaged that terribly. So I’ll zig while you zag and take Max Scherzer, who your teammate Jamal Collier pointed out may have had one of the best pitching months ever, and Josh Hader, the most unhittable pitcher in the world right now.

Will: I go to way more minor-league games than I should -- Joe, it turns out I am addicted to this sport -- and so I've ended up on the mailing list of a ton of teams. So I'm pretty sure I've gotten some sort of alert about where Tim Tebow is playing and where I can buy tickets to seem him at least twice every day for a month. Just wait until the Mets finally decide to get a piece of that action themselves come September.

I like that I threw you off by going the opposite of last year's strategy. I'm gonna stay with that and make sure i have a center fielder: Mookie Betts it is. (You took the only real center fielder on either roster. It was Betts or maybe Gallo, who pretends sometimes.) Then I'll take Javier Baez, because this is an All-Star game and I want perhaps the most purely enjoyable player to watch on my side. Also, this reminds me, I think whatever team's players annoy John Smoltz more should be awarded an extra run.

Joe: I don’t get to enough games, which I think would be different if I lived somewhere else. I just don’t like the local parks very much. More excursions to Coney and Staten Isles might be the solution, but both are geographical challenges given where I live.

You broke the seal on the benches by taking Mookie over the remaining AL starters. I’ll follow your lead with Anthony Rendon, who is probably the current most underrated player in baseball. Also, the Nationals are just winners. This second pick has been harder; I’ll take one of three Dodgers starters on the NL roster in Walker Buehler.

Will: It is one of my proudest achievements that my seven-year-old now keeps score at games (using the same CS Peterson scorebook model I used as a kid). He actually told me the other day that he hasn't seen Mike Trout yet, and that makes him sad. I told him not to feel bad: Most of America is the same way.

I want more players to root for on my team, which is going to get tougher when Aroldis Chapman becomes a value pick. So I"ll take Alex Bregman and...well, maybe it's those three homers he just hit, but I've got Josh Bell fever right now. Remember that anonymous scout guy who hammered him in SI at the beginning of this year? I basically just assume it has been the same anonymous scout all these years, just an angry sad old dumbass who only signs players who look like Dustin Pedroia.

Joe: [checks current freelance schedule, whistles pass the SI criticism]

So is it harder to find players to root for now, or have we just raised the standards so high by caring about things we maybe didn’t care so much about in 1998 or 2008? Every time I write or talk about Addison Russell, I feel almost like I have to apologize for looking at him as a baseball player. There has to be a middle ground between that Reds broadcast the other day, which was appalling, and still being able to talk about baseball players in a baseball context. Or does there?

Having said that, I’ll now take some guys who make people smile. First, Francisco Lindor, whose numbers will be down because of the time lost to ankle and calf injuries, but who is still a top-ten player in all of MLB. Second, Ronald Acuña Jr., who is headed for a six-win season for a division champ and it’s almost like he’s been forgotten already. There’s so much young talent out there right now.

Will: [checks contract with SI.tv for "The Will Leitch Show”]

[blames the scout, not the writer]

[still gets a little nervous]

This is an extremely complicated question that probably can't be answered: I think everyone has to make his or her own choice on this. (I wrote about this last year when the Cubs traded for Daniel Murphy.) I'm pretty sure it's impossible to be a truly ethical sports fan, just like it's impossible to be a truly ethical anything. You just do your best and try to make the world a little better rather than a little worse. I'm glad I don't have to decide whether or not to cheer for Aroldis Chapman on my team. It doesn't mean that every Yankees fan who does is necessarily wrong.

Anyway! The world these days, right?

I should probably get a pitcher. I have taken the exact opposite strategy of last year. I'm gonna get me some Veteran Grit: Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw. I just want to be able someday to say I was in the same dugout as they were, even if it's manager of this hypothetical team. I'm pretty sure they'd kick me out pretty quick for making everyone listen to Wilco in the clubhouse all the time.

Joe: I almost took Kershaw last time through. He’s my favorite active player, and it’s been fascinating watching him make the All-Star team as 65% of himself. I remember Greg Maddux’s post-1995 transition from “all-time peak” to “very good pitcher.” This feels similar, but with a lot of health issues tacked on. Do you have a favorite active player? I presume Albert Pujols isn’t still that guy.

With two really good starters gone, I’ll pass on the category and take Freddie Freeman, another underrated star, and Joey Gallo. On teams with a lot of guys who can make your jaw drop, Gallo is my pick to lead SportsCenter (kids, ask your parents) Tuesday night.

Will: My favorite player of all time is Darrell Porter, for reasons that don't have much to do with aesthetics, that's for sure.

I have to say: My favorite active player is probably...Javier Baez? It's sort of embarrassing to say that about a Cub, but if I had never seen a baseball game in my life, and I sat down to watch one involving the Cubs, I'm pretty sure I'd walk away thinking that guy was the best baseball player who ever lived. Though I can see Fernando Tatis Jr. taking over that spot. Others I truly love watching, now that you mention it: Tommy Pham (I even have a Pham Rays jersey), Carlos Martinez, Joey Votto, and Trout of course.

I need a DH, so I'll take the best one in J.D. Martinez. And then I"ll grab Kris Bryant, who still seems somehow underrated?

Joe: Since coming off the DL, Tatis Jr. has totally dominated my timeline. I love that the decision to put him on the Opening Day roster has turned out so well for both him and the Padres. We could use more examples like that, and the Mets with Pete Alonso, to encourage more teams to operate similarly.

One thing about this draft is I’ve definitely leaned towards players I like watching, rather than necessarily the best ones. With that in mind, I’ll take Alonso as my DH. The most impressive moment I’ve seen at a ballpark this year was his homer off James Paxton back in June at Yankee Stadium. Just a rocket. And then give me Gerrit Cole, because all those AL pitchers sitting there is beginning to feel weird.

Will: Well, I was at the Pujols series in St. Louis, so that laps anything else I've seen in person this year. As we're seeing with this year's team -- and I know you don't agree on this; you've always been a "Cardinals fans don't know how good they've got it" guy, which I understand but you're still wrong -- there has been such an erosion in what has been generally understood to be Cardinals baseball over the last three or four years that much of the outpouring of affection for Pujols was about nostalgia for what the organization was when he was there than it was about him. I honestly have never seen the fan base angrier and more defeated in my lifetime...and I remember the Bob Horner and Scott Cooper years!

Time to get some more pitchers, and look, Joe: It's a run on Mets! I"ll take Jacob deGrom and then Will Smith, who isn't Hader but will serve just as well for my purposes.

Joe: I am right. When the Cardinals have their next sub-.500 season, their next year in which September is completely meaningless, let me know. I understand a certain level of frustration, truly, but since 2000 the Cards have finished below .500 once. Even the Joe Torre Cards mostly hung out above .500. In your lifetime, who’s had it better? The Yankees, the Red Sox, maybe the Giants if you weight championships heavily.

I understand you’re speaking to something ineffable, but if Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez combine for 500 innings the last 2.5 years, I don’t think we’re having this conversation. The Cards were a 90-win team whose best pitching talents got hurt, and the locals talk about them like they’re the Midwest Marlins.

My daughter is nine years old and has never seen the Yankees win the World Series. That’s tragedy, my friend. That’s pain.

In that vein, let’s snap up Gary Sanchez, as I accidentally build Team Exit Velocity while also addressing the embarrassing number of AL players remaining. I guess I’ll take Ryan Pressly, too. These teams are…uninspiring?

Will: Well, honestly, I think that sub-.500, no-September season is going to be this season. So I'll let you know pretty soon! It is also worth noting that this standard has been set by the team itself. They have come into the last three seasons saying "we're a World Series level team" and then played nothing like it...but consistently have refused to acknowledge it. The idea that the fans are being unreasonable isn't supported by the team moving the goalposts constantly, which led to the worst moment of Mike Shildt's tenure last week, which he was basically like, "Sure, we're under .500 and 10 games under over the last two months...but what about our baserunning, right?"

I am not saying that Cardinals fans haven't had it good. I am saying they do not have it good right now, and frankly haven't for a while. Does that make them spoiled? Probably. But you find me a fan base out there that's totally OK with missing the postseason four years in a row, let alone one that sells out the stadium every night. Fans have a right to be frustrated when they are not getting what they pay for.

I always forget to get catchers. They're like when I do this with the kickers in fantasy football. I'll grab Willson Contreras so you don’t get the two best ones, and then Zack Greinke, who I fully expect to still be doing this when he is 50.

Joe: I think contending every year is pretty good. I can drop this, however. (That Shildt monologue was a doozy, though. Yeesh.)

In many seasons the catchers are an afterthought. The starters this year are great, however.

There are 22 AL players left and 15 NL players. I think that’s a pretty good summary of where the two leagues are right now. I’ll take Kirby Yates, a concept that would have sounded insane 18 months ago, and DJ LeMahieu. What a story he has been.

Will: Last bit on the Cardinals: One of my good friends here in Athens is a diehard Orioles fan. Obviously it is not a good time to be an Orioles fan. They're truly horrible! But they are already, simply by who they have in charge and that they are trying something new, better off than they were last year. They will be better off the year after that, and then after that. The Cardinals have been worse off every year since 2013. They've still been good in that time. They've just been a little worse every year, and may well be worse next year. No fanbase would be able to handle consistent degradation every year for six years. That the current Cardinals brass fails to recognize this is the most searing indictment against them.

(Listen to me and Bernie Miklasz talk about this every week on the Seeing Red podcast...IF YOU DARE!)

I have been avoiding getting a second baseman because I refuse to admit that Mike Moustakas is one and that Ketel Marte doing this makes me admit that I honestly have no idea how baseball works anymore. But i'll embrace the mystery by picking Marte and then taking Nolan Arenado because, whoa, no one has taken Nolan Arenado yet.

Joe: I would listen to you and Bernie talk about your favorite childhood toys. Polos versus button-downs. Ranking hamburgers by the eye test. Anything.

Arenado is the steal of the draft so far. You have Bregman, Arenado, and Bryant, which, I gotta tell ya, seems like a recipe for problems in the clubhouse. Those two picks also clean out the NL starters, while there are five AL starters remaining.

(Aside: I just read your Knicks thing. I mean, isn’t that what real fan frustration, and true ownership incompetence, looks like?)

All right, we’re to the part of the draft where you start to think about the players you don’t want to get stuck with, and pick accordingly. With that in mind, I’ll snag Jorge Polanco, who has been the best player on the team that’s the best story in baseball, and is the best shortstop left. Then give me Hyun-Jin Ryu, because it’s a little silly he’s still there and I need another lefty.

Will: It is true: The Cardinals are not the Knicks. No argument there!

We have gone on long enough that I can’t pretend Aroldis Chapman wouldn't come in handy. I'll just make sure he doesn't close, so the last highlight of my team's victory over you isn't him throwing the last strike. (I know many Cubs fans who were concerned about this very thing. No reason to be embarrassed of Mike Montgomery.) I am tempted to take Matt Chapman just so we can have a College Football Playoff of incredible third basemen, but I'll go with Luis Castillo, who's the perfect example of why the Reds pitching is so much better, which must be so, so frustrating for Reds fans.

Joe: Can you imagine telling Reds fans in March that they’d have the best pitching in the division and still be in last place? Crazy. I like watching Castillo, one of the guys whose innings are a priority for me.

I’ll take another one of those in Mike Soroka. I just hope his shoulder holds up. You do know your boys are going to be Braves fans in a few years, right?


This NL/AL thing has gotten a little out of hand, and there are some very good players left from the junior circuit. I’ll take George Springer.

Will: I have told my two sons on several occasions exactly what my father told me when I was a kid: It's OK if they don't want to be Cardinals fans; they just have to work hard enough to make enough money to find somewhere else to live.

I'm gonna cut you off at the pass and get me a late-inning base stealer, since this is just one game. It always baffles me that some teams don't groom a stray minor leaguer or two for just this purpose. A dude who can steal like Billy Hamilton but do nothing else -- I guess I'm just describing Billy Hamilton -- has outsized importance in one game; ask Dave Roberts. (The player, obviously, not the manager.) So hi, Whit Merrifield!

Also, Charlie Morton. Charlie Morton is going to do for late 20s pitchers with no stuff what Jose Bautista did for slap-hitting utility infielders.

Joe: The Royals have kept Terrance Gore around since the Clinton Administration for just that purpose. I don’t love the roster expansion next year -- I would rather have seen them stay at 25 and cap pitchers at 11, probably with an inactives list -- but I am hopeful that it could bring back pinch-runners/pinch-hitters a little bit. Even if you do, though, you have the no-singles problem operating against stealing bases. I’ll stop there lest I wander into another “we need more baseball in the baseball game” rant.

I’ll also reiterate that we’re picking from the All-Stars as announced on June 30, not accounting for injury replacements. Jake Odorizzi went on the IL as we were doing this.

I didn’t realize how little speed was left. Hmmm. I guess I’ll take, oh, one of the three or four best players in the AL in Matt Chapman, and then the league ERA leader in Mike Minor. Chapman is the AL’s Arenado with even less fame.

Will: I might need a late-inning guy to get on base for me, so Carlos Santana will work. (Do you think he even remembers being in Philadelphia at this point?) Also, Brad Hand, because we're single-handedly saving the LOOGY from its impending extinction over here.

My lord, there are still so many players left. This is like the Democratic debates combined with the 2016 Republican debates combined with British actors in the Harry Potter films.

Joe: All-Star rosters are too big. We don’t need 24 pitchers for one game. Once being an All-Star became a contract incentive, it became nearly impossible to make the rosters smaller. I don’t judge it, but I’d love to see 64 guys named, and then maybe 14 of those not active for the game. The Made Cut, Didn’t Finish for baseball.

I’m really selling these next picks hard, huh?

Give me Jeff McNeil, who has such an unusual game for 2019. I’ve compared him to Frank Catalanotto, but he may even have less power. Michael Brantley is probably the best player left, so I’ll throw him in as well.

Will: At this point ... I think I"m OK with them playing two separate All-Star Games at the same time. That'd be fun, actually: It'd be like March Madness, or maybe when they play the two final games in a World Cup pool at the same time. Or start one a little bit earlier so they overlap but not entirely, also like March Madness. I went to a Buffalo Bisons game -- Bo Bichette! -- last night that was a doubleheader with both games  seven innings long. It was so fun! Just two little amuse-bouche games that didn't matter and were therefore more purely enjoyable to experience. There are certainly enough players for it.

The Cardinals scored five runs in the ninth last night, so I'm now convinced they're going to go off on a run and win the division by ten games. (Being a baseball fan is very stupid.) So I'll take Paul DeJong -- who despite a recent downturn has added plate discipline this year, and he's an underrated defender -- and Lucas Giolito. If I were a young baseball fan with no affiliation, the Padres would be my NL team and the White Sox (or maybe the Rays) would be my AL one. (Who am I kidding? It'd be the Yankees.)

Joe: You’re starting to describe something eerily similar to the NHL All-Star “Game,’’ which is almost intentionally inscrutable. All I really want is more Trout, Mookie, Cody, Max, and less of the mandatory selections.

We’re not entirely down to the mandatory selections, but it’s close. I’ll take Yasmani Grandal, to have a lefty option off the bench, and…man, just five pitchers left and four of them were forced picks. I’ll take the only one who wasn’t, Jake Odorizzi, even though he’ll miss the game.

Will: It's probably time for my duo of Rockies: Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. I think they're getting in the wild-card game again. (Against Washington, if you're asking.)

Joe: I don’t need to be sold. I have always had them in the wild-card game (against the, uh, Cards). At the risk of alienating you, as I know what you think of sports betting, I was texting a friend a week or two ago that I thought their then-odds of 8-1 to win the division seemed light. The seeming decade of disappointment they’ve provided serves to mask just how ridiculously good their core is.

I’ll make it three straight Rockies with David Dahl, and grab Dan Vogelbach in a “maybe he’ll run into one” play.

Will: While we've been doing this draft, the Cardinals have gained two games on the Brewers and are now a game-and-a-half out of first and the wild card. I'm going to insist that this draft go on through August.

I'll go with Austin Meadows (the Pirates honestly might have ruined the next three to four years of their franchise with that trade) and Marcus Stroman (so I can have at least one player who might get traded during the game).

Joe: Marcus Stroman’s FIP, by year, since 2016: 3.71, 3.90, 3.91, 3.82. He very much is what he is, year in and year out. I doubt there’s a starting pitcher in baseball with a range that small over even three years.

I’m happy to stretch this out as long as you care to. What should we draft next? Writers? States? Fruits and vegetables? (I think we’re horning in on Joe Posnanski’s shtick here.)

Will: We could really anger everyone and draft Democratic presidential candidates. Is John Means the Mike Gravel of this draft?

I'll take Mike Moustakas and...you know, I'm so giddy that Hunter Pence is doing this now that I’ll take him.

Joe: Our Elizabeth Warren versus Kamala Harris divergence alone might be worth doing. Although I am absolutely certain I can’t name even all 20 candidates who made the debates. I have some pretty strong opinions not so much about the candidates, but about a presidential race that starts 20-odd months before an election. I’ll leave it there.

J.T. Realmuto and Sandy Alcantara.

I think this locks in the last three picks, too.

Will: You know, I hear people say that a lot, and I don't entirely understand it. I mean, this is the most important decision we make as a democracy; we just saw what happens if we get it wrong. It should take a long time. We should put these candidates through the ringer. We should take a long time to look at everyone and decide.

I'm for Harris over everyone else right now, but that could change. A lot can happen. I'm honored to get to have these highly qualified, highly intelligent people -- and they really all are -- making the case to me and the rest of the country why they think the world will be better if they are President. I mean, those debates were great. Sober-minded, thoughtful people talking about issues that matter to me and my children and everyone I know and care about? Acknowledging serious problems and attempting to come up with actual solutions? Two hours of highly watched television about the most serious, precious issues of this incredible period in human history? YES, PLEASE! I am giddy to get another year of this.

I'll take John Means, because I want to have the Bryan LaHair of this year, and James McCann in case all my catchers fall in a well.

Joe: I finish with Tommy La Stella, who probably is more like the Bryan LaHair of this year.

I would agree with you if attention were an infinite resource, and if an electoral process and a governing process were independent of one another. Neither is true, so focus on, and the solving of, problems ends up taking a back seat to the never-ending election cycle. Unholy amounts of money are spent on our elections, money that makes TV-station owners in Ohio and Pennsylvania rich, but doesn’t really do anything for the citizenry.

A two-year presidential election cycle exacerbates all of these problems, and that’s before even addressing the content that emerges from the cycle. I disagree that the pool consists largely of “highly qualified, highly intelligent” people; there are some, yes, and then there are…others.

I think you’d be right in a better-functioning society. In ours, we need more people fighting the fires, rather than arguing for two years over who eventually gets to hold the hose.

Will, we have distributed 64 baseball players, some the Warrens and Harrises of baseball, some the Williamsons and de Blasios. There would normally be a bonus round here, but the “final vote” has mercifully been put to rest.

So let me just say how much I appreciate you taking the time to do this. You are my favorite active writer, and I am always in awe of both your dexterity with words and the range of topics to which you’re able to apply it. It helps, in this era in which our favorite artists can so often not turn out to be our favorite humans, that I can admire you as a person, a father, and a citizen as well. I’m looking forward to reading more of you, and hopefully soon, sitting in a ballpark together kvelling about Mike Shildt and Dexter Fowler.

Will: It was an honor, as always. As I've said before, I'm pretty sure I've read every word you've written for about 15 years, so almost all of my baseball opinions have been run through the Joe Sheehan laundry once or twice already anyway. I'm just trying to keep up. I'll see you at the Yankees/Cardinals World Series. One's gotta happen sometime in my lifetime.

Here’s my starting lineup:

CF Mookie Betts
LF Cody Bellinger
RF Christian Yelich
3B Alex Bregman
DH J.D. Martinez
SS Javier Baez
1B Josh Bell
C Willson Contreras
2B Ketel Marte (though I'm half a mind to put Kris Bryant there anyway)
P Justin Verlander

Joe: That top four is insane. I’ll go with:

RF Ronald Acuna Jr.
CF Mike Trout
1B Freddie Freeman
3B Anthony Rendon
LF Joey Gallo
DH Pete Alonso
SS Francisco Lindor
2B DJ Lemahieu
C Gary Sanchez
P Max Scherzer