Phil Rogers: Leave MLB All-Star game to the real stars

Commissioner Bud Selig has vastly improved the All-Star Game since that embarrassing 2002 tie in Milwaukee.

A lot of people don't like using it to determine home-field advantage in the World Series, but it's a better alternative than merely rotating home fields on a yearly basis, which is how the Twins wound up hosting Game 7 in 1987 and '91. The game has become much more competitive.

Selig has expanded rosters for the 2010 game in Anaheim, Calif., and made managers' lives easier by requiring that starting pitchers who work on the previous Sunday be replaced on the active All-Star roster. But he didn't go far enough with the changes announced in April.

It's time to eliminate the rule requiring each of the 30 teams to send a player to the game.

Call the change the Robert Fick/Dmitri Young rule, for the players who represented the Tigers in '02 and '03, when they lost 105 and 119 games.

Voting by fans and players will select 50 of the 68 players who will be announced Sunday as All-Stars. Managers Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel then have discretion to round out the rosters, but easily half of those picks could end up being used on players from the teams overlooked in voting.

Don't be surprised if as many as 10 teams don't have a player voted on, including the $144 million Cubs.

Most teams that don't have a player voted onto the team do have someone who won't look too awkward when teams are introduced. Nationals closer Matt Capps entered the weekend with 22 saves. The Royals' Joakim Soria had 20 saves. A's sinkerballer Trevor Cahill was 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA. Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton had 14 homers and 42 RBIs.

But what are you going to do with the Astros? Roy Oswalt's 5-10, so he's out. Would you rather have center fielder Michael Bourn (25 steals) or closer Matt Lindstrom (19 saves, 2.97 ERA)?

And the Pirates? The guy having the best year is setup man Evan Meek, but setup men tend to be invisible. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen has a .301 batting average, 19 stolen bases and much talent, which probably will get him the call even though his stat line is unremarkable.

And the Diamondbacks? Dan Haren is 7-6, but his ERA is 4.56. The lineup is loaded with low-average, high-strikeout hitters who have double-figure home runs and 35-plus RBIs. You might as well put names in a hat and draw them out.

Oddly, the big-ticket Cubs are almost as difficult to decipher.

Carlos Silva is probably the most deserving, but he was 5-18 for the Mariners in 2008-09. Do you think Manuel wants to run him out against American League hitters?

Center fielder Marlon Byrd and setup man Sean Marshall are worth consideration, but there are so many more deserving outfielders and pitchers in the NL. Even Alfonso Soriano can't be ruled out. He leads the Cubs in home runs, RBIs and OPS (on-base plus slugging) and could be used as a designated hitter or pinch hitter.

But it's time to stop squeezing guys like these onto the roster. It's a game for the guys who are playing the best, so why not make that the primary consideration?

A keeper: Not much has gone right for the Indians, but it looks like they have handled catcher Carlos Santana just right.

Santana, acquired from the Dodgers in the 2008 Casey Blake trade, has been killing the ball since he was promoted from Triple A, showing why he has been advertised as a future batting champion. He was hitting .333 with four home runs and 14 RBIs through his first 17 games.

"And he's seeing all these pitchers for the first time," Indians broadcaster Rick Manning said. "Wait until he learns them."

Santana has an advanced strike-zone judgment for a rookie. He has almost twice as many walks (13) as strikeouts (7), boosting his on-base percentage to .456.

Taking no chances: Jeremy Jeffress, considered the Brewers' top pitching prospect before he began a run of three suspensions for marijuana use, has returned from a 100-game ban. He will be banned for life if he tests positive again.

But Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin has placed Jeffress on the 40-man roster, which will shield him from pot testing. The players' union, which generally doesn't allow MLB to test for "drugs of abuse," should protect him now.

Melvin claimed the move was made to reward Jeffress, not to protect him.

"He has been a model citizen with his counseling, rehab, everything," Melvin said. "We would have had to put him on (the 40-man) at the end of the year anyway, and we thought he deserved to be put on now."

Melvin says Jeffress has maintained his "electric arm." He has been moved to the bullpen, and the Brewers hope he can put himself into big-league consideration within a year.

The last word: "People say, 'Who's the best player?' (Albert) Pujols. I'll give you that. But offensively, Miguel (Cabrera) is now every bit as good as Pujols." — Chipper Jones after the Braves played the Tigers.

Phil Rogers covers baseball for the Chicago Tribune.

progers@tribune.com

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