TORONTO – Despite being one of the busiest relievers and arguably the most dominant southpaw out of the bullpen in the American League this season, Brett Cecil is so certain he won’t be named to the all-star team he’s already planning a trip home to Maryland over the break.
Should he indeed be left off when rosters for the July 16 Midsummer Classic at Citi Field in New York are announced Saturday, the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander isn’t likely to be the only set-up man snubbed.
Other late-inning relievers like Drew Smyly of the Detroit Tigers, Jesse Crain of the Chicago White Sox (currently on the DL), Tanner Scheppers of the Texas Rangers and Steve Delabar of the Blue Jays are also in the midst of outstanding seasons, but given the lack of widespread recognition for their roles and roster limitations, they can probably prepare for a break, too.
“We always kind of joke, you only get interviewed when you blow it,” says Casey Janssen, for years a Blue Jays setup man until ascending into the closer’s role last year. “It’s kind of like an offensive lineman, until you do something bad you’re unnoticed. From our standpoint, in the grand scheme of baseball, guys that pitch in the middle aren’t as recognized as guys who pitch earlier or later.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who will skipper the AL team later this month, understands that sentiment and that’s why in 2007, while also in charge of the Junior Circuit all-stars, he put set-up men Hideki Okajima and Pat Neshek on final-man fan vote along with Roy Halladay, Kelvim Escobar and Jeremy Bonderman.
Helped by the Japan vote, Okajima won.
“I like to recognize different spots that I think slip by because people think of starters and closers, but the set-up guy has been a very integral part of baseball in the last several years,” said Leyland.
“If I think there’s someone that’s deserving, I try to give them all consideration, if I can. But I don’t get to pick much. I’m sensitive to your point because I put those guys on in 2007 for the final fan vote, just for that reason. I think it was good on my part to do that, I’m bragging a little bit, but I think it was the smart thing to do because it’s the right thing to do.”
Still, the wiggle room Leyland and National League counterpart Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants have is limited.
Fans elect the starters for both squads – nine in the AL including a designated hitter, eight in the NL – plus the 34th and final man for the teams. The other 24 players in the AL and 25 in NL are chosen through a combination of the players’ ballot (a reserve for each position and eight pitchers) and managers’ input.
“One thing all players have to remember is it’s their vote. It’s not my vote, it’s their vote,” said Leyland. “There are going to be some people not on the all-star team who deserve to be on it. You might as well make up your mind on that. That’s just the way it is.
“I won’t be pleasing everybody, but I will have been as fair as I can be.”
Cecil’s only hope for a trip to New York is in Leyland’s hands since he wasn’t listed among the Blue Jays relievers on the players’ ballot. Other players would have to write him in for a selection that way.
“I think it’s very hard for someone to make it that’s not a closer or not a starting pitcher,” says Cecil, 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA in 43 innings over 37 games. “That’s what would make it so special if I do make it, but it’s not something I’m banking on.
“If it happens it’s a great honour, really, really awesome, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m not going to have a hard time enjoying my four days off.”
While Cecil is in tough to earn an all-star spot, the Blue Jays are likely to be represented by Jose Bautista, who sat third among AL outfielders when the final update on fan voting was released Sunday. Barring a sudden surge for Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays' right-fielder should be a starter.
The other leading candidate is Edwin Encarnacion, who was listed as a designated hitter on the players’ ballot. He may very well earn his spot that way since David Ortiz is likely to win the fan vote at DH, opening up a spot for whoever either wins or finishes second to the Boston Red Sox slugger in the players’ vote.
“I’m not thinking of that, if people vote for me and I make it, it’s good,” said Encarnacion. “If not, there’s nothing I can do, I have to keep doing my work on the field and keep focused on my team.
“It (would mean) a lot because you’re working for people to recognize what you do. I would like to be on the all-star team, I’d like to be in the playoffs – all that stuff. I’m working for that in the off-season.”
So are many others, and as always debate will rage over who was chosen and who was snubbed.
The looming back and forth and the politics of filling out a roster is why Leyland says, “this will be a fun thing for me in a couple of days, for the next couple of days it will be miserable.”
As for the snub-bound set-up men, all they can do is keep toiling in their relative anonymity, away from the recognition they so richly deserve.