The All-Star game is nearly upon us as the fun exhibition weekend of activities gives us an opportunity to imagine a dream team of all of the best performers from the first half of the year playing together. It may no longer have any stakes, but it’s a much-needed celebration of the league’s top performers thus far. It also gives us a midway evaluation- who has been the pinnacle of the league? Who has the most players? Who is a big name that surprisingly didn’t make it because they’ve underperformed and needs to kick it up a notch following the break?
Filling out a ballot, which you can do until July 1st at mlb.com, is an entertaining way of constructing our dream team. But rather than build a dream all-star team in the traditional format on the ballot, we’re going to construct the best team of 2021 thus far by units.
We’ll select the best infield, outfield, DH, rotation, bullpen, and manager, along with the best vibes and the best ballpark for this hypothetical team to play in- the only rule is that you can’t use the same team twice.
This is the 2021 MLB All-Unit Team.
Infield: Houston Astros
1B: Yuli Gurriel
2B: Jose Altuve
3B: Alex Bregman
SS: Carlos Correa
C: Martin Maldonado
They may have been crucified by the media for the cheating scandal, but the Astros simply don’t have a hole in this group and have proven they’re all still top-tier players the past season and a half without the banging of the trash cans to tell them what pitch is coming. Yuli Gurriel might even be their MVP thus far, leading with a .325 batting average, 64 hits, 41 RBI’s, and .397 OBP despite being 36 years old. 4 of them are in the top 30 in the MLB in average, and the only one who isn’t, Maldonado, has the highest caught stealing percentage in the field as a catcher. Greinke doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts as a pitcher, but he’s had such a successful time in Houston largely because of this infield’s reliability in the field. They’re just a dominant group and could all be in the discussion for all-star spots.
Outfield: Cincinnati Reds
LF: Jesse Winker
CF: Tyler Naquin
RF: Nick Castellanos
This group can be summed up by the image of Castellanos standing and flexing over Cardinals pitcher, Jake Woodford, at home plate earlier in the year. They’re playing like they’re the biggest, most ferocious guys in the league, and deservedly so. Castellanos and Winker are the top two in the league in batting average at .359 and .350, Winker is tied for second in homers with 17 and Nick has 12, and both are in the top 5 in hits. Naquin has had a solid season as well- hitting .257 with 11 homers and has a .333 OBP. They may be benefitting from the most hitter-friendly park this year in Cincy, but the Reds outfield are one of the scariest position groups in the MLB from top to bottom.
DH: Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani
This feels a bit less fun putting a guy that literally does both pitch and hit at a position where he would be doing nothing but hitting, but when he isn’t pitching and he’s in the DH spot, there are very few players in the league that destroy baseballs like Sho-time. He goes from throwing the ball over 100 mph to hitting .255 with 16 homers and slugging .518. He’s unreal and is playing the game like no one has ever seen before.
Starting Rotation: San Diego Padres
When you have 6 solid starters and the guy with the worst ERA on the team is Blake Snell, the former Cy Young-winner traded to the team, you have the best rotation in baseball. They lead the league in lowest ERA, they have the most strikeouts, and are top 5 in earned runs allowed and opponents’ batting average. They also lead the league in no decisions, meaning the losses that they do have on the year have come down to the late inning offense and the bullpen. The Padres’ hitting hasn’t even taken off yet- they’re about average in the majority of offensive categories, yet the Padres are one of the best teams in baseball. They’ve made moves to get in a stable of arms by trading for Darvish, Snell, Musgrove, and Mike Clevinger last year, who will eventually return in 2022 after undergoing surgery, and the importance they placed on their depth is going to be critical to a postseason run.
Bullpen: Tampa Bay Rays
This is the cornerstone of what makes the Rays the Rays. They have the best record in the American League yet again. Their starters are in the bottom-10 in innings pitched, which is a tale as old as time for Tampa, yet they have the dominant staff that they do. They’re in the top 5 in all of these categories: saves, holds, games entered with a tie, games entered with high to medium leverage, and average outs recorded in relief. It might not be the most exciting brand of baseball they play in Tampa (Blake Snell isn’t a fan, that’s for sure), but it’s proven to be a winning formula, and the bullpen has carried a team to the top of the league with a payroll just around $8 million less than what Gerrit Cole alone will make this year.
Manager: San Francisco Giants’ Gabe Kapler
The entire Giants roster is essentially aged 30 and older players on deals that expire within two to three years. The expectation coming into the season in a division with the two favorites in the NL in their division, the Padres and the Dodgers, was for them to hope the veterans produce enough to raise their value at the deadline so they can begin a rebuild in free agency. They had a win total projection of 75 preseason.
They currently are tied for the best record in baseball.
We keep waiting for the old roster to flame out. We keep waiting for them to fall off and enter sell-mode. We keep waiting for them to be exposed as a team that merely got hot to start the year. We’re two and a half months into the season and they’re still winning!
Gabe Kapler is only in his second season as the Giants coach and he and his coaching staff has established a culture that has given the old vets access to the fountain of youth. Even last season, he had the Giants in position to fight for a wild card spot until the very end with another roster that wasn’t expected to win very many games. He’s done more with less through development, and if he stays a while when they’re actually spending money in free agency, the Giants could spring back to a perennial NL team like they were in the early 2010’s. They still only have a 60.2% chance to make the postseason according to Fangraphs, but they also have the third-easiest strength of schedule remaining. Kapler’s job has made him the manager of the year thus far.
Vibes- Boston Red Sox
One of the biggest surprises of the season after finishing dead last in the AL East last year, the Red Sox are back. They just swept the Yankees in the Bronx and have the 4th-best record in the MLB. Alex Cora is back in the saddle as manager, and they’re all just having fun in a year where there wasn’t the normal “championship or bust” expectations the Red Sox have been accustomed to in the previous decade- that means they’re all just a group of young guys having fun playing winning baseball. I mean, come on, they celebrate homers with a ride in a laundry cart in the dugout. They’re electric.
The Mookie trade won’t ever be lived down, but it’s in the past. They’ve moved forward with Alex Verdugo, the 25-year-old they got in return who is having a solid year batting .292 with 26 RBI’s. Bogaerts, Devers, and Martinez are three guys who will make the all-star team, Chris Sale is hopeful to return from injury this year, and they have three players on the current top 100 prospects list along with the upcoming number four pick in the MLB Draft.
When you’re winning with no pressure, have a rally laundry cart, laugh on the grave of your hated rival, and have nothing but a bright future ahead, the vibes in Boston are immaculate.
Ballpark- Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field
When you put together the Cubs home and away splits (they have a 21-10 record at home as opposed to a 13-17 record on the road) the brick and the ivy at the beautiful friendly confines, and how genuinely fun it looks to take in a game at one of the most historic venues in all of sports, Wrigley is the venue of the season.
(Oh, and just for fun: the hypothetical team name and location of this 2021 dream team if the MLB ever decides to expand would be the Portland Pandas. Portland is a sports-crazy city that deserves a baseball team that would have a fun pacific northwest rivalry with the Mariners and we need more teams going with pandas as a mascot; just imagine the tremendous black and white color scheme.)