In Mark Reynolds’ 11th season in the majors, he is having the best year of his career. In his service as a part-time player and well-used pinch hitter in St. Louis in 2015, he learned to reduce the effort in his swing and control it better. Reynolds has cut down his strikeout rate dramatically and increased his batting average, and he is on pace to drive in about 130 runs.
His production is more than worthy of All-Star selection, but there’s a problem. Reynolds plays the same position as Paul Goldschmidt. And Joey Votto. And Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rizzo, Cody Bellinger, Eric Thames and Justin Bour. The field of first basemen in the NL is so strong that, inevitably, Reynolds’ All-Star chances will probably be hurt by the collection of talent.
Reynolds will also be squeezed by the work of some teammates. Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon, an early MVP candidate, ranked second among NL outfielders in the most recent voting results; it appears he will get a starting spot. Third baseman Nolan Arenado is regarded as the National League’s best defender at his position, and his offensive numbers are similar to those of Reynolds; it’s very possible Arenado will be on the All-Star team. Rockies closer Greg Holland has been among the best relievers, so he may be on the team. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu is hitting close to .300. If the Rockies have two or three or four other All-Stars, that may have a bearing on whether Reynolds is considered.
Plus, there are rules that steer roster selections, and the number of All-Stars this year has been reduced from 34 to 32. Reynolds seems likely to be a candidate who will be snubbed, as do some of the following players.
• Zack Cozart, Joey Votto or Adam Duvall of the Reds: Cozart is leading the voting among NL shortstops (by a slim margin), which makes sense because he has the best numbers at his position so far -- an OBP of close to .400 and nine homers. If Cozart doesn’t win the balloting, however, he may be at risk of being lost to the selection process. Votto is having one of his best seasons, with 19 homers and a slugging percentage over .600, and Duvall has 48 homers in 2016 and '17. Additionally, reliever Raisel Iglesias has been overpowering, with a 1.69 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 32 innings. But it’s likely that at least one of these Reds players will be left behind.
• Chris Devenski, Astros: He has been one of the best relievers in the AL, a difference-maker who is playing basically the same role in the regular season that Andrew Miller played on the Indians in the playoffs, often stepping in for more than just one inning. Thirteen of Devenski's 25 appearances have been for more than three outs, and he’s had seven appearances of two or more innings. He has two saves and four wins.
But his All-Star candidacy is nontraditional -- relievers who pitch in the middle innings are rarely picked -- and he is surrounded by Astros who probably will be picked, perhaps reducing his chances. Jose Altuve is running away with the voting at second base, George Springer is running third in the voting among American League outfielders, and Carlos Correa has a slight edge at shortstop. Brian McCann is second among catchers. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. aren’t merely worthy of consideration; they both might get some Cy Young votes at the end of the year. Is there room for Devenski?
• Josh Harrison, Pirates: Altuve leads all second basemen in FanGraphs WAR at 2.9, and Harrison is tied for second. In a year in which Starling Marte was suspended for a PED violation and Jung Ho Kang can’t get a visa out of South Korea because of repeated DUIs, Harrison leads all of the Pirates’ position players in WAR, and it’s not close.
But the Pirates probably won't have more than one or two All-Star representatives. Ivan Nova is a solid candidate, as is reliever Felipe Rivero in the midst of a spectacular season. Harrison may face an All-Star roster crunch.
• Travis Shaw and Jake Lamb at third base: Either Kris Bryant or Arenado will be voted into the starting role, and the Dodgers’ Justin Turner will have to get some consideration as well. Shaw is hitting .303 and is on pace for 70 extra-base hits and 110 RBIs, but the volume of excellence at his position and the performance of some teammates -- like Eric Thames or reliever Corey Knebel --
could work against him. Lamb is on pace to hit close to 40 homers and drive in 140 runs, but Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has a chance for electon or selection, and starters Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke and reliever Archie Bradley figure to be NL candidates.
• Avisail Garcia or Tommy Kahnle, White Sox: Garcia is having a breakthrough season, competing with Aaron Judge for the AL lead in batting average, and is on pace to drive in 116 runs. But the White Sox are lagging behind in the standings and may wind up being one of the teams afforded one selection -- which would stink for Garcia, or for Kahnle, who has had a great season as a setup man. Kahnle has faced 99 batters this season and struck out 46, with just six walks and a 1.35 ERA.
Around the league
There is a universal desire for pitching among contenders before the July 31 trade deadline; every team could use an additional reliever or starting pitcher, depending on the asking price. But general managers say that the market for position players is much more specialized, because while you might have a very worthy asset to market, so much depends on the particular needs of other clubs -- and as of this weekend, it appears that the demand for high-end position players isn’t going to be great.
Take Cozart. In theory, the Reds should move him before he becomes a free agent, and in theory, a good player having a good season should fetch a solid return.
But among AL contenders, the Astros don’t need a shortstop, nor do the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Blue Jays or Orioles.
Among some of the NL contenders, the Dodgers have Corey Seager, the Nationals have Trea Turner and the Cubs have Addison Russell and Javier Baez. A major injury would change everything, but for now, the Reds probably won’t have a lot of bidders for Cozart.
The same may turn out to be true for Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates, or for the Royals with Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer. The Dodgers, Astros and Yankees don’t need much in the way of position-player help, the Red Sox have a particular hole to fill at third base, and the Nationals might use the best of their trade assets to bolster their bullpen.
The St. Louis Cardinals appear to be one of the few teams to have a real need for a lineup thumper, like a J.D. Martinez of the Tigers, but the Cardinals' willingness to trade for a position-player rental may be somewhat mitigated by the increasingly hardened wild-card situation in the NL. The Rockies, Diamondbacks and Dodgers have enormous leads for the second wild-card spot over teams from the NL East and the NL Central. Any deal that the Mets or Cardinals (or other NL Central teams) pull off would be made in spite of their already greatly reduced odds for a playoff berth.
Before play on Saturday, the Cardinals’ playoff chances were assessed at 25.3 percent, against the Cubs’ 83.3 percent, with the Brewers (10.4), Pirates (4.2), Mets (11.6) and Marlins (7.1) far behind. These numbers could impact the level of investment that would-be contenders make in midseason trades.
The Philadelphia Phillies have worked from the same rebuilding blueprint that the Cubs and Astros did, sacrificing seasons in order to have access to top-of-the-draft talent. The Phillies may have created more questions than answers this year, given the struggles of Maikel Franco (hitting .225, with a negative WAR) and prospect J.P. Crawford (.194 in 64 games in Triple-A) and others.
In arguing against tanking, some baseball officials have noted that the increased volume of teams taking this route could mitigate the possible benefits -- because inevitably there is some correction, and the Phillies run the risk of embracing losing without getting the payoff.
Madison Bumgarner is progressing rapidly in his rehab from his motorbike accident and could be back in the San Francisco rotation by the first series after the All-Star break, but it may be too late for his presence to impact anything: The Giants started play Saturday with playoff chances assessed at 0.7 percent.
As the Home Run Derby field is weighed, an interesting candidate might be the Reds’ Votto, who doesn’t hit long balls in the same style as Giancarlo Stanton or Judge. But Votto is so precise with contact that he could string together a bunch of drives the way Lance Berkman did filling the Crawford Boxes in Houston before he ultimately lost to Miguel Tejada.
Andrew Miller surrendered home runs for the first time this season on Tuesday and Wednesday, and told reporters that he needs to do a better job, but that midseason blip may have been more about workload than anything; in one week, Miller threw 102 pitches. He didn’t pitch Thursday or Friday.
A rival evaluator regarding the Twins: “They can hit. I don’t think that’s a mirage. And Jose Berrios has turned a corner in his development.”
The most significant question for Minnesota is how much it should consider spending on pitching in trying to win this year.
Baseball Tonight Podcast
On the podcast this week:
Friday: Scooter Gennett has some great backstories about his four-homer game, and about tapping into the hitting genius of Joey Votto; Karl Ravech and Justin Havens talk about the perfect Home Run Derby field and what the Mets should do with shortstop prospect Amed Rosario; Jesse Rogers discusses the struggles of Addison Russell and what’s next for the Cubs in the trade market.
Thursday: Jose Altuve details his friendship with Miguel Cabrera, and how Carlos Correa and George Springer have improved; Jessica Mendoza breaks down the work of Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger and the defensive shifting of the Astros; and Bob Nightengale has the latest in MLB trade talks.
Wednesday: Oakland’s Sonny Gray talks about his velocity, his slider, dealing with trade rumors and a legendary story from one of his high school plays; Tim Kurkjian evaluates Anthony Rizzo hitting in the leadoff spot; Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post discusses the Nationals’ bullpen hole; Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle talks about the Astros’ rotation concerns.
Tuesday: Boog Sciambi and Darren Rovell get into the marketability of Aaron Judge; Sarah Langs plays "The Numbers Game"; Keith Law talks about a twist in the first round of the MLB draft.
Monday: Conversations with Dustin Pedroia and Jackie Bradley Jr.; Keith Law about the slowest game ever played and Aaron Judge; Todd Radom’s uniform and logo quiz, and the 16th best MLB logo of all time.
And today will be better than yesterday.