Could Juan Pierre be headed to his first All-Star Game? (Credit)
The polls have opened for the biggest election of 2013: the All-Star Game. Major League Baseball takes a break from the rigors of the long season every summer to put on an exhibition battle royale between the best of the best in the American League and the National League. At least, that’s the plan.
As the saying goes, we never leave middle school, and the All-Star Game is no different – it’s a popularity contest. However, there is a new wrinkle: unlike the old days when Joe Torre would simply fill out his roster with Yankees, every team is required to have a representative at the Midsummer Classic. For fans of small market teams, this has been a boon. For breakout stars at a position filled with veterans, this has been a way to beat out someone who has been an ASG mainstay.
It’s not always fair, but usually after fan voting, player voting, and “manager’s choice” roster elections, each team has sent someone worth watching. But what if no obvious candidate emerges? The Miami Marlins may be about to add one more black mark to their franchise.
All-Star voting is a tricky thing. Do you vote for the best player, or for the guy getting off to a strong start? Is it right to vote for someone who isn’t that good on your favorite team instead of the guy who is actually deserving? What about the veteran who has been good for a long time but never an All-Star and is likely at the end of his career?
Again, the players and managers have to ask themselves these questions once the fans have voted. Usually there are no embarrassments because every team has someone who fits one of these categories. Looking at the five worst teams in baseball right now (Cubs, Angels, Blue Jays, Astros, and Marlins) four of them have a player no one could disagree should be the representative, even if that team ended up as the last unrepresented franchise.
But the Marlins might be a different story.
Giancarlo Stanton is the obvious star in Miami. The 23-year-old right fielder was an All-Star last year, is coming off consecutive 30-plus homer seasons, and has been rumored in trades involving several top prospects just to get the Marlins to part with him. If anyone is the “face of the franchise” in Florida, it’s him. While the slugger got off to a slow start this season, he hit his first three home runs in his last three games.
The problem is, those games were in April and Stanton has been on the disabled list with a hamstring injury since April 30. At the moment, there is no timetable for his return, but it won’t be a short DL stint. So, the question must be asked: if Stanton is unavailable, who represents the Miami Marlins at Citi Field in July?
With several fire sales under their belt, the Marlins aren’t exactly known for veteran leadership, homegrown or signed through free agency. That said, the Marlins have a few veterans on their team this year. One who might be deserving of the All-Star opportunity: Juan Pierre.
Pierre is in his second tour of duty with the Fish, having been a member of the 2003 World Series club, and has spent time with the Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox, and Phillies since being traded to Chicago after the 2005 season. The speedy outfielder has never been selected for an All-Star team but has 603 stolen bases in his career and in six consecutive seasons, starting in 2003, played every game. Yes, 810 straight games.
At 35 years old and on a team that was desperate to find enough players who could at least resemble Major League quality, this could be Pierre’s last chance to represent his league on the national stage. He’s not the player he was in his prime, but he’s not that far off either: he’s still a runner.
The Hot Start
When a team is as bad as the Marlins, it can be difficult to find a bright spot. Aside from the injured Stanton, just one regular has an OPS north of .700: Justin Ruggiano. While six home runs through his first 31 games may look nice, his overall .229/.316/.432 line does not scream "All-Star" or fast start, but “good enough” to keep a job in the majors on a team like the Marlins.
On the pitcher side, things are a little better. Kevin Slowey has come out of nowhere to lead the rotation with a 1.81 ERA through seven starts with a 36:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44.2 innings. The former Twins pitcher did not pitch in the big leagues last year, spending the season with the AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Slowey is known for his strong K:BB ratio and his tendency to give up the long ball. He’s never posted an ERA less than 3.99 in the Majors, but with his first National League experience and home starts in a pitcher's park, he may be in for a better season than would be expected, just due for some regression. And as the All-Star Game approaches, his hot start may be well into the past.
Closers often get more than their fair share of attention and the All-Star Game is no exception. A gaudy save total can convince many managers to select a closer for their bullpen – especially now that “It Counts” – and that would be well and good if the Marlins had many saves. Or, more to the point, many wins to be saved in the first place.
Closer Steve Cishek has saved five games in nearly a month and a half of play while allowing seven runs in his 14 innings on the mound. Currently sporting a 4.50 ERA, Cishek is unlikely to find himself the topic of much discussion when Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy assembles his team.
One thing is clear: the Marlins need Giancarlo Stanton. They need him in the lineup, they need him for the All-Star team, they need him for ratings, and they need him to keep the fan base interested until the team is good again. Or, more likely, until he can be traded for prospects. It’s still early, but right now the Marlins don’t have an obvious “star” of any sort to fill in for their superstar. But Juan Pierre may get his day in the spotlight.
By: Mike Carlucci