(Here is the Mariners’ minor-league report).
When the American League All-Star team is announced tomorrow, the Mariners may well have just one name announced – and I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t Felix Hernandez.
Yes, Hisashi Iwakuma also has a shot to be selected. He is, after all, the league leader in ERA. But due to the selection system in place, American League manager Jim Leyland has very little discretion in filling out 34-person roster, and that could cost Iwakuma. So has a four-start stretch in which he’s gone 0-3 with a 5.54 ERA. But Iwakuma’s overall numbers – 7-4 with a 2.60 ERA and the lowest WHIP in the AL — bear strong consideration along with Hernandez’s 8-4, 2.6
The non-pitching starters, of course, are selected by the fan vote. No Mariner is getting a sniff there; not one Seattle player has been listed among the leaders in any of the periodic updates of voting totals. The White Sox are the only other team for which that is true.
Most of the rest of the All-Star team is chosen by player ballot. How it works, as delineated by MLB:
- There are 9 player-elected reserves, including a reserve DH, and 8 player-elected pitchers (5 starters and 3 relievers). That brings the total to 26.
- At this point, the A.L. manager has to make sure that every club is represented, and selects 7 players in consultation with MLB. The manager’s 7 picks usually include 5 pitchers (to get to the minimum of 13 pitchers) and 2 position players. That brings the total to 33.
- The 34th and final player is determined by a vote of the fans on MLB.com. Five position players and/or pitchers can be nominated for the final vote.
While Iwakuma’s stature around the league is growing, it is not equal to that of King Felix, who is universally admired and respected by his peers as one of the very elite pitchers in baseball. My educated hunch is that Felix will prevail in a player’s ballot, while Iwakuma may not.
At that point, Leyland still has to fulfill the requirement that every team is represented. Once that is taken care of, he can fill out the final spots on the roster as he sees fit, with input from the MLB office. That’s a possible way for Iwakuma to make the team, but there will be a lot of pitchers vying for very few spots. And even if he makes the squad, Iwakuma is currently lined up to start the Sunday before the All-Star game. By rules put in place last year, that would make him ineligible to pitch in the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. He could be selected, attend the game, participate in the festivities and get introduced, but he would have to be replaced on the active roster.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge mentioned reliever Oliver Perez as an All-Star candidate,. And his numbers are dazzling: a 1.44 ERA in 34 games, with 43 strikeouts in 31 innings. It would be a tremendous achievement for Perez, considering where his career was when the Mariners signed him to a minor-league contract last year after he had flamed out with the Mets. And what a spectacle it would be for him to make the All-Star Game at the Mets stadium, of all places, considering how fans essentially tried to run him out of town. The personal satisfaction would be immense for Perez. But it’s the longest of longshots, just because of the process mentioned above, and the fact that a setup reliever doesn’t have the same cache as a closer.
Tuck away this thought, however: The Mariners could have a player among the five on the “Final Vote” for the first time since it was instituted. This is a fan vote that determines the last spot on the team. If he doesn’t make the team initially, Iwakuma could be on the ballot (though his Sunday outing might eliminate that as well). So could Perez, or even Raul Ibanez, who has zoomed into consideration with a hitting surge that has seen him reaching historical heights for his age.
With the final vote, the winner often seems to be determined by which team’s marketing department can amass the most effective get-out-the-vote campaign. Voting begins immediately following the announcement of the AL and NL rosters tomorrow, and continues over a four-day period. Winners will be announced after the voting concludes next Thursday. In the world of All-Star voting, ballot-box stuffing is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. The Mariners do marketing very well, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re amassed and ready to go, just in case a Mariner is listed on the final-player ballot.