It's that time of year again — All-Star voting is starting to heat up and will become a part of the daily conversation in the baseball world for the next month.
The first voting updates have started to trickle out from Major League Baseball with the Midsummer Classic exactly four weeks away.
Let's take a look at which Cubs might be headed back to Cleveland for the big game:
The sure things
It would be tough to mount an argument against having either one of these players in the All-Star Game.
Baez is one of the faces of the game and the type of player and personality that should be what the showcase is all about. It doesn't hurt that he was the MVP runner-up last year and is actually having an even better season in 2019.
El Mago is tied for the NL lead in WAR among shortstops and may well end up as the starter next month. Trevor Story is another lock to make the All-Star roster and other players have a solid case (Paul DeJong, jean Segura, Corey Seager, Manny Machado), but nobody has a stronger argument than Baez. Even if they did, his positional versatility should guarantee a spot on the roster somewhere in the infield.
Meanwhile, Contreras ranks third in the NL in WAR (behind J.T. Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal) and is right near the top of the rankings in just about every offensive category. He's cooled off at the plate lately, but he's still on pace for 33 homers and 89 RBI — which would be huge numbers from the catcher position.
He still ranks negatively on pitch-framing metrics, but Contreras has thrown out would-be basestealers 10 percent better than league average (38 percent to 28 percent).
Most All-Star teams carry at least three catchers, so there's room for Contreras, Grandal and Realmuto to all make it. Last year, Contreras was named the starter and he's already well ahead of his 2018 pace.
It certainly looks to be trending that way for Hendricks, who is fourth in the NL in WAR among starting pitchers. The Professor is 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA and 0.81 WHIP over his last eight starts and if he can keep that up, he'll enter the conversation to potentially start the game on the mound for the NL squad.
With Baez's continued ascension to superstardom and Bryant's return to elite status, Rizzo's excellence this year has often flown under the radar. But he's actually quietly having his best season yet — on pace to set new career highs in homers, RBI, runs scored and OPS.
Rizzo is currently fifth in WAR among NL first basemen and the only reason he would be shunned from the All-Star Game is the abundance of options at the position. Josh Bell and Freddie Freeman seem like locks and then Rizzo would have to beat out Max Muncy, Pete Alonso, Rhys Hoskins and Paul Goldschmidt for the last spot on the NL roster.
It might be tough to do, but there's no question Rizzo deserves to pack his bags for Cleveland.
Bryant has silenced any doubters with his play the last month-and-a-half and nobody's questioned the health of his shoulder since April. He ranks third behind Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon in WAR among NL third basemen, but all three guys should be heading to Ohio next month.
Mike Moustakas (20 homers, 43 RBI) and Eduardo Escobar (17 homers, 54 RBI) have strong cases as well, but Bryant can also play outfield and that might help lock up his spot on the roster.
The outside shots
Albert Almora Jr.
Schwarber has been really hot over the last week or so, but he would need to keep this stretch going for another couple weeks in order to make a real strong case for Cleveland.
Almora's defense is there, but his offensive numbers aren't. Heyward is having a resurgent season at the plate, but not quite enough to earn midseason honors.
The NL outfield is pretty loaded — with Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Ronald Acuna Jr. locks and a host of others (Joc Pederson, Ketel Marte, Michael Conforto, Bryce Harper, Marcell Ozuna, Starling Marte, David Peralta, David Dahl, Juan Soto) with solid resumes — so it would be tough for any Cubs outfielder to crack the roster.
Second base isn't all that deep in the NL, but Bote hasn't played enough to really earn a spot on the roster there.
Cishek and Kintzler have been solid all year out of the Cubs bullpen, but it's really difficult for any non-closer to make the All-Star team.
Lester, Hamels and Quintana have had their ups-and-downs throughout the year and have pretty good overall numbers, but they could strengthen their case with a hot stretch over the next month. They're all in the middle of the pack among NL starters in WAR (Hamels — 15th; Quintana — 20th; Lester — 24th), but it's a deep pool of arms to choose from for the All-Star roster and if any Cubs starter should go to Cleveland, it should be Hendricks.
Carl Edwards Jr.
For myriad reasons (lack of playing time, subpar performance, injury, suspension, etc.), these guys are not in consideration for the NL All-Star roster and probably can't change anything even if they got red-hot over the next four weeks.