Votebook: Judging what's important at third base
Established stars, current performers among top candidates
The quandary at third base seems to boil down to what kind of voter you are.
Do you give significant weight to status and prestige when deciding who should start in the All-Star Game? Or do you believe the ones who make up the starting lineups at Arizona's Chase Field on July 12 should be the first half's best players?
At this point -- and, yes, there's still a ways to go -- it seems third base could make you choose a side.
There are the established All-Stars, such as Evan Longoria of the Rays, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, David Wright of the Mets, Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals -- all of whom have either struggled, been hurt or both.
And then there are the overlooked, the old and the obscure, like Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, Maicer Izturis of the Angels, Chipper Jones of the Braves and Placido Polanco of the Phillies -- all of whom are off to solid starts.
The 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint is available online until 11:59 p.m. ET on June 30, with the American League and National League rosters being unveiled July 3 during the 2011 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show on TBS.
In both leagues, the doors at the hot corner seems wide open because arguably the best ones have been MIA.
In the AL, Longoria is batting just .234 with two homers in his first 18 games after missing a good chunk of the start with a strained oblique. In the NL, Zimmerman is on the shelf, having only played eight games because of an abdominal tear, and Wright was placed on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back on Tuesday after batting .226 to start the year.
Meanwhile, Youkilis (.259 batting average and seven homers through Thursday) and A-Rod (.261 and eight homers) have been rather unspectacular so far.
Maybe that provides an opportunity for someone like Beltre, who made his first All-Star team as a reserve last year and is leading Major League third basemen in homers (10) and RBIs (37) for a Rangers team that's in the hunt even though two-thirds of its outfield is on the disabled list.
Or Izturis, who's listed on the ballot as a third baseman even though he has spent most of the year in the middle infield. Regardless, he's hitting .313 with a .369 on-base percentage through 36 games.
Polanco has been arguably the best in the NL. The 35-year-old slap hitter easily leads Major League third basemen in batting average at .331 and has found himself hitting third for a first-place Phillies team that has been in need of offense.
What about Chipper?
The 39-year-old, a six-time All-Star who hasn't been selected since 2008, has followed up a sizzling spring with a solid start, batting .278 with 27 RBIs and an NL-leading 14 doubles.
Most important right now, though: His right knee, which the Braves recently learned has a small meniscus tear, has been holding up.
"It's one of those things that will feel good one day and the next day it's not," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "As long as he can go and be comfortable, we'll keep putting him out there."
There have also been nice starts by the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez (.287) and a trio of third basemen who are currently on the DL but are expected back before the celebrated midway point -- the Cardinals' David Freese (.356 in 25 games), the Giants' Pablo Sandoval (.313 in 24) and the Dodgers' Casey Blake (.321 in 14).
Don't forget about some of the up-and-comers who have struggled, like Brent Morel of the White Sox, Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates and Casey McGehee of the Brewers.
And don't forget about what A-Rod and Youkilis have done.
Both have established track records, both have struggled and both are showing signs of getting on track.
"Youk," a two-time All-Star who moved to the hot corner full-time after the Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez last offseason, is hitting .316 in May after finishing April with a .218 batting average and 26 strikeouts.
Rodriguez, a 13-time All-Star, previously cited problems with his lower half not being in sync with his upper half, which may have caused a .192 batting average from April 15 to May 12. But he has been better recently, batting .267 with two homers in his past seven games.
"[Hitting coach Kevin Long] and I have been working over the last week or so to really focus on my bottom half," A-Rod said after his two-homer game against the Rays on Tuesday. "I'm just having some synergy with the whole body."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.