A few days ago, Jim Leyland was named manager of Team USA for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The WBC has been held three times and the United States hasn't fared well in any of the tournaments: It's failed to reach any of the three finals and reached the semifinals only once, in 2009. The Dominican Republic beat Puerto Rico in the 2013 championship, while Japan won in 2006 and 2009.
The odd thing about the results is the WBC should be perfectly geared toward United States dominance. Since the tournament is held during spring training, there are pitch limits placed on starting pitchers, with the caps ranging from 65 pitches in the first round to 95 in the championship round. This format should play to a U.S. strength: relief pitching.
Instead, the U.S. results have been disappointing. In 2013, it went 2-1 in pool play but then lost to the Dominican and Puerto Rico in the second round. In 2009, it went just 4-4, finishing in fourth place. In 2006, it again lost out in the second round, eliminated when eight Mexican pitchers outdueled Roger Clemens in a 2-1 victory. Overall, the U.S. is just 10-10 in the WBC.
So Leyland doesn't have an easy task. Part of his job will simply be to motivate the players to care as much as the teams do from Latin America or Asia. Who should those players be? The biggest issue will be getting the best players to participate, especially in the rotation. The starting pitchers in 2013 were R.A. Dickey (coming off a Cy Young Award), Gio Gonzalez, Derek Holland and Ryan Vogelsong. The pitching actually wasn't bad, but a lineup featuring Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer and Adam Jones didn't produce much offense.
Anyway, here's what the 2017 roster could look like. We'll use the same roster construction as 2013, with three catchers, six infielders, four outfielders, four starting pitchers and 11 relievers, although one of the relievers in 2013 was Ross Detwiler, who had started for the Nationals in 2012.
Posey is the obvious starter, easily the best catcher in the majors right now. Plus, he can fill in at first base if needed and provides a worthy DH option. Lucroy should rebound from his injury-marred 2015 campaign, and if he's not traded this year, he can use the WBC to lobby teammates for a trade to their team. As for McCann, it would be fun to see him and Bryce Harper as teammates.
That's right, I'm putting Machado at shortstop. Listen to me, Jim Leyland! Hey, he started six games there last year for the Orioles and one so far this season. We know he can play the position after playing there in the minors. And it gets another big bat in the lineup. Bryant gets the nod over Nolan Arenado because of his ability to play the outfield or first base. Goldschmidt is the best first baseman in the league and gets the selection over Anthony Rizzo and Chris Davis, both attractive options because of their left-handed bats. Gordon gives us some speed and I like the energy he would bring to the lineup. Crawford is a Gold Glove winner who has added power to his game to become one of the game's best all-around shortstops.
Harper and Trout are no-brainers while McCutchen is the clear No. 3 guy right now with his year-to-year consistency. I'm going with Betts over Stanton, Lorenzo Cain or Jason Heyward because of his positional flexibility -- he can play right field or center and came up as a second baseman, so he can fill in for Gordon in a pinch. Plus, by this time next year, we might be talking about Betts as an MVP candidate. And, yes, I can't believe I just left Stanton off this team. I'm going to have trouble sleeping.
Obviously, you can make strong cases for nearly a dozen other guys, such as Max Scherzer, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Gerrit Cole and others. This foursome has two lefties and two righties. They all throw hard, strike out batters and are entertaining to watch. And, yes, I'm completely influenced by Syndergaard's hot start to 2016. The dude is throwing 99-mph fastballs, 93-mph sliders, curveballs to make you cry, and then just for fun, he'll mix in his changeup. I can't leave that off this team.
Bullpen: Dellin Betances (R), Andrew Miller (L), Zach Britton (L), Wade Davis (R), Mark Melancon (R), Craig Kimbrel (R), Tony Watson (L), Darren O'Day (R), Kevin Siegrist (L), Cody Allen (R), Trevor Rosenthal (R).
Umm, I think this bullpen will do the job. Good luck in picking your closer, Leyland.
It does lean a little right-handed, as Harper and Gordon are the only lefties. I don't think Leyland will complain.