With the World Baseball Classic just a couple of months away, I decided that now is the perfect time to start discussing the roster for the good ole’ U-S-of-A. Team USA is already procuring quite a bit of star power as they build their team for the 3rd edition of the World Baseball Classic. Joe Torre was named manager of the team last month and he has already assembled a who’s who of former Major League talent to join him on the bench to coach up America’s finest. Among the bigger names are Willie Randolph, Larry Bowa, Dale Murphy, and of course Greg Maddux, who will take the mantle of pitching coach for Team USA. The team has also announced that two players have agreed to join the club and they are the Twins’ Joe Mauer and the Mets’ David Wright. Both players are among the top 10 hitters on the planet when it comes to getting on base and both players have experience in the once every four years international tournament. As for the rest of the roster, Torre and his staff will have the next month or two to sort through all the talent these United States have to offer. This is the 28-man roster they should take into the tournament in March:
Catcher – Buster Posey and Joe Mauer
As I wrote above, Mauer has already signed on to play for the Red, White, and Blue, so his invite to the team is a no-brainer. The inclusion of reigning NL MVP Buster Posey is as well. Posey was the top offensive backstop in the Majors a year ago and his defense is quickly catching up to his offense so he should get the start. Mauer would make an excellent DH or pinch hit option due to his all-world ability to get on base. Posey, a right-hander, and Mauer, a lefty, also offer a nice platoon option should Torre choose to go that route.
1st Base – Prince Fielder and Paul Goldschmidt
Fielder and Goldschmidt get the nods at first thanks to their superb 2012 efforts. Fielder’s .313/.412/.528 line from 2012 is perfect for the middle of any lineup. He also destroyed right-handed pitching, putting up an OPS north of 1.000 with 24 homers and 62 RBI last year. Goldschmidt’s inclusion on this roster may come as a surprise to some but it’s more than deserved. The powerful righty has mashed big league pitching since making his debut during the Diamondbacks’ 2011 division title run, hitting 28 homers in just over 700 at bats. He also fares much, much better against lefties, which would give him some value next to Prince.
2nd Base – Jason Kipnis and Ben Zobrist
Dustin Pedroia manned 2nd base for Team USA in 2009 and although he’d be a popular pick to reprise his roll, I don’t think he will. Injuries have wrecked the past 2 seasons for Pedroia and I think he should stay home this time around to gear up for the Major League season. Instead Team USA should pick Jason Kipnis for the starting spot at 2nd base. Kipnis struggled a bit down the stretch in 2012, but his combination of power, speed, and defense just can’t be matched. Zobrist’s natural position is 2nd base, which is why I have him listed here, but his real value to this roster is position versatility. Zobrist is an above average defender at shortstop, 2nd base, and in the outfield, and he can play a passable 3rd base as well. And don’t forget about his offense either. The Zorilla has walked at least 90 times in 3 of the last 4 seasons, a remarkable number for a middle infielder, and he’s hit 20 homers 3 different times in his career.
3rd Base – David Wright and Evan Longoria
This position is the biggest no-brainer of the bunch. Both of these players were on the 2009 roster and both deserve to be on the 2013 team as well.
Shortstop – Ian Desmond
After easing around 3rd base we run into our most troubling position for Team USA: shortstop. Davey Johnson had it a lot easier back in 2009 when he could run out Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins, both of whom were still in their primes. This time around Jeter is dealing with rehabbing from a gruesome ankle injury in the 2012 playoffs and Rollins is in a steady decline. Troy Tulowitzki is also lurking, but Colorado probably won’t want him playing in the tournament after missing most of the 2012 season. So that leaves us with Washington’s Ian Desmond, who’s coming off of a breakout season. Desmond hit 25 homers a year ago and drove in 75 while playing some sharp defense in the middle of the diamond for the Nats. He’s still quite a free swinger and has a tendency to strike out a little more than most people like, but there really isn’t a better option this time around. So Desmond it is with Ben Zobrist filling in as a spot starter/backup.
Outfield – Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton
So many excellent options, so few roster spots. Here’s just a list of some of the players who didn’t make the cut who would probably be starting on 95% of the other teams in the world: Matt Holliday, Alex Gordon, Curtis Granderson, Austin Jackson, Michael Bourne, Adam Jones, Justin Upton, and Jason Heyward to name just a few. The US has an embargo on outfielders right now. It’s just a fact. We have them all. You can nitpick on which individuals you want, but you can’t find a better group to choose from anywhere else on the planet.
This is where things start to get interesting. Since most Major League pitchers aren’t quite ready to really extend their arms at the start of March, many will decide to skip this event, which leads to a bullpen heavy staff. There is also a very good chance that many of the top American arms will stay away from the WBC entirely. Do you think the Nats are going to let Stephen Strasburg fire fastballs in the name of freedom after they shut him down on the way to title a year ago? Do you think the Yankees want CC Sabathia throwing sliders to Koreans or Brazilians after having offseason surgery to clean up his elbow? No and no. MLB teams are often overly protective of their assets and in this case it’s doubly so. No franchise want to see their season go up in smoke because one of their pitchers blew out his elbow striking out the heart of the Cuban order.
But this doesn’t mean Team USA won’t have some good options still by the time March comes around. The big leagues are chalked full of quality pitchers right now, and plenty of them are Americans.
Starters – Justin Verlander, David Price, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver
At least 3 of these starters won’t be on Team USA for some of the reasons listed above. Verlander has thrown over 500 innings over the last 2 seasons and probably won’t wear the Stars and Stripes. Price and Kershaw are both still in their mid-20s and each pitcher has a Cy on his mantle. The Rays and Dodgers probably won’t let them join in on the fun. Weaver and Lee could each make sense though. They both are veterans, didn’t pitch in the postseason a year ago, and would give Team USA a pair of legitimate aces. There are plenty of other options as well, but more than likely the final roster will include a starter or two who makes you scratch your head.
Relievers – Craig Kimbrel, David Robertson, Jim Johnson, Darren Oliver, Sean Marshall, Sergio Romo, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonathan Paplebon
I tried to go with a nice mix of lefties and righties in order to play the matchups. Kimbrel would be my 9th inning guy, otherwise I’d pull a Tony La Russa and use this unbelievable amount of variety to play the platoon splits.