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National League stacked with worthy first basemen

Morneau, LaRoche, Goldschmidt and Votto among those making it a tough ballot

National League stacked with worthy first basemen

Balloting continues for Major League Baseball's 85th All-Star Game on July 15 at Target Field in Minnesota, and fans can cast their votes using the 2014 All-Star Game Ballot Sponsored by Experian. Deciding who should get voted into the starting lineup can be challenging. Today, Richard Justice and Phil Rogers discuss National League first basemen.

Rogers: Doesn't it seem like every team in the NL has a good first baseman? No wonder Pirates fans have such angst about their lack of an All-Star candidate there. Looking at the stats today, I see eight batting title qualifiers who have an OPS of at least .820. That list doesn't count Ryan Howard, who has hit seven home runs.

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Looks to me like there's going to be a lot of splitting hairs between now and when Mike Matheny has to decide who goes to Target Field for the All-Star Game and who stays home. I've been watching Anthony Rizzo a lot this year, and if he keeps playing like he has, I think he would be a deserving All-Star. He's hitting for average again after dropping to .233 last season and he's got a shot at 30-plus home runs. Hitting conditions have been miserable in Chicago, yet Rizzo has been driving the ball anyway. He's also a very good fielder. It's too bad Adam LaRoche went on the disabled list. He's been one thing going right for the Nationals. And, yes, I know about Paul Goldschmidt. He was one of the guys most fantasy experts say take in the top five picks of your draft, and he is fulfilling those big expectations. Who is impressing you?

Justice: You're right that it's a ridiculously strong position. Ranking the players by OPS, seven of the top 20 are first basemen, led by LaRoche (seventh) and Justin Morneau (ninth). So I guess it's not just picking one, but it's Matheny figuring out how many first basemen he can take. And then as we've discussed before, how do we line up star power vs. 2014 production? Bottom line is we could pick almost any guy and make a case for him. I'd probably vote LaRoche. He's first among first basemen in OBP, batting average and OPS. I think we both agree that first base ought to be a power position, but LaRoche has been amazingly productive. My heart tells me to go with Joey Votto, because I'm sick of the people who say he ought to expand the strike zone with men on base. In other words, he ought to help the pitcher get him out. Votto, too, is having another terrific year, one of the great players of our generation. As you mention, Morneau has been fabulous, and after the tough times with injuries he has had, it's great to see him rolling again. On the other hand, we could argue for Freddie Freeman, Goldschmidt, Rizzo or even Adrian Gonzalez. Take your pick, Matheny.

Rogers: I couldn't agree more about Votto. You only get 27 outs in a game, and selfish players take up more than their share of them. Votto has never been one of those guys, and the people who think he should swing away are missing the big picture. I covered the Reds' painful NL Division Series against the Giants in 2012, which I think started a lot of the talk about Votto needing to hit for more power. He was playing on one leg with his bad knee, and he had one excellent plate appearance after another.

How much should we hold LaRoche's DL time against him? The Nationals think his quad injury will be fine by May 25, when he's eligible to be activated. I'd say how LaRoche hits when he gets back will tell if he's in the picture for Matheny.

No matter how the voters and Matheny unravel this one, somebody's going to be deservedly upset about being left off the All-Star team. It's so impressive how Goldschmidt and Freeman are getting the job done in lineups that aren't really clicking. When I look at the combination of individual play and the impact on the team, though, I'd lean toward Morneau. How great would it be for him to be in the All-Star Game at Target Field?

Justice: Morneau has to be part of the team regardless. He's obviously helped by Coors Field, hitting .347 there compared to .300 on the road. But Morneau has been productive everywhere. Also, the idea of him going back to Target Field and allowing those fans to give him an ovation that thanks him for those 11 seasons, not just for the way he played, but how he conducted himself. Right up until Morneau was traded last summer, I was hoping the Twins would re-sign him to keep Joe Mauer and Morneau together.

Freeman is another guy in the mix. He seems to fly under the radar, and while he's not having a monster year, he's going to end up with his usual number. I guess, in short, there aren't any wrong answers at this position.

Rogers: Agreed. So who is your pick at this point? We could probably go back and forth all day. I'm going to say Morneau. Now it's on you. Who do you like best? Goldschmidt with his power and all-around game? Votto with his relentless approach at the plate and graceful fielding? I think you're right that there's no wrong answer, but that doesn't mean you're off the hook for giving me an answer.

Justice: I'd hope Matheny can keep three guys. Obviously, Morneau for a number of reasons, all of them legitimate. After him, I'd go with Goldschmidt, Votto and LaRoche. I know, I know. Can't keep four. Every team must be represented. If one guy must be dropped from that list, it would be ... LaRoche? Just based on WAR, which is a good measure on this stuff, Goldschmidt and Votto are slam dunks, and because it's an easy column, Morneau should be on the squad. Bet Matheny isn't planning on keeping even three. Glad he's making the call, not us.

Richard Justice and Phil Rogers are columnists for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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