MLB’s All-Star ballot needs to recognize utility man role

MLB's All-Star ballot needs to recognize utility man role

Tommy Edman is on the All-Star ballot at shortstop, which is strange considering the St. Louis infielder has played twice as many games at second base. 

Add that the Braves’ Dansby Swanson and the Dodgers’ Trea Turner have excelled as full-time shortstops and it will make it difficult for Edman to be a National League starter. But he should be a starter. Just not at any position at which fans can currently vote. 

Call it the Swiss Army knife or the Zobrist or the Multi-Position Weapon, but the ballot should reflect what teams value in 2022. And organizations value the Super Utility Man — or what I will term the SUM because the sum of the parts at which that one player performs resonates in value. 

Edman, who had started 42 games at second and 22 at short and even played one game in center heading into Monday, leads the majors in Wins Above Replacement because his offense is above average and his defense and baserunning are elite. He should be the National League SUM. 

Luis Arraez is on the ballot as a first baseman, where he had started 27 games. But he also had 13 starts at second and four at third. Arraez led the majors in hitting (.361) by 17 points and in on-base percentage (.443) by 20 before Monday. The Twins hitter supreme should be a “starter” too, though not at first. Or second. Or third. He should be the American League SUM starter. 

The first batch of fan voting results will be made public Tuesday. There will be no SUM. But in the future, this is how it should be done: 

Tommy Edman #19 of the St. Louis Cardinals is unable to field a ground ball
Cardinals’ Super Utility Man Tommy Edman deserves a spot in the All-Star game — just not at a traditional position.
Getty Images

All the players would still be put at a position on the ballot — the Cardinals requested Edman at short so that rookie Nolan Gorman (16 starts at second) could be voted upon at second. But then there also would be a SUM category at which those fitting players would be listed, even if it meant they appeared on the ballot twice. 

This would just be recognizing where the game has trended. Designated hitters, for example, began to be listed on the ballot in 1997 and only in years in which the All-Star Game was played in an AL park. Now, with new rules, NL designated hitters are listed this year. So when the game evolved, so did the ballot — and it should again. 

If a player such as Edman, for example, wins at shortstop, then the second-place SUM finisher would get that spot. That player would gain all the benefits of being a starter — such as if he had a contract bonus for being a starter. Though, of course, he would not take the field as a starter without a set position. But at an All-Star Game in which players are constantly shuffled, having someone to insert and move around takes on added value. 

What could the ballot look like this season? 

In the AL, you would have players such as Arraez, Yandy Diaz, Santiago Espinal, Andres Gimenez and DJ LeMahieu. The NL would be particularly jammed with Edman, Cronenworth, Brendan Donovan, Brandon Drury, Luis Guillorme, Jeff McNeil and Daulton Varsho. You would want players who don’t just, say, play left or right, but have real versatility. No one fits that better, arguably, than Arizona’s Varsho, who has a chance to join Hall of Famer Craig Biggio from 1990 as the only players to exceed 200 innings at catcher and center field since the end of World War II. 

Among the reasons the New York teams have the best records in their respective leagues is that they have a capital-letter SUM. Last week, Buck Showalter said “there should be a category in the All-Star Game” for this multi-positional type, when he was championing Guillorme. And Guillorme has been terrific at three different positions while handling the bat well. 

But McNeil fits the role even better. He was removed from Monday’s matinee with a tight right hamstring, but before he did he started his 35th game at second. He also has started 26 in the corner outfield and defended well at both while being one of the best overall and clutch hitters in the sport. McNeil allows Showalter to rest an outfielder without losing offense, especially because Guillorme normally slips in at second in those situations. 

DJ LeMahieu #26 of the New York Yankees looks to catch a bounced ball
DJ LeMahieu offers the Yankees the ability to play multiple positions to keep his glove and bat in the lineup.
Getty Images

“You can’t win without them,” Showalter said of the multi-positional player. “Try it sometime. You can’t win without someone who can do it.” 

LeMahieu was originally signed by the Yankees after the 2018 season to be a regular player who did not reside at one spot. His value doing it though might be greatest this season when he started 27 games at third, 16 at second and seven at first before Monday. He is a strong defender at all of the positions. He allows Aaron Boone to get regular rests for others or fill in during an without ever sacrificing on either side of the ball. And there is great maneuverability within a game. 

On Sunday, for example, LeMahieu started at first base against Toronto lefty Yusei Kikuchhi. Josh Donaldson started at third and homered. Anthony Rizzo pinch hit a homer in the game and went to first, with LeMahieu moving across the diamond to third. Switch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez, who has played five positions, also has helped Boone with maneuverability. 

“It is incredibly valuable,” Boone said. “In today’s game with smaller benches you have to have your Swiss Army knives.” 

That is reason enough to make sure that the players who excel in this role are recognized at the All-Star Game. For in 2022, it is harder than ever to win without SUM-thing special.