The 2013 WBC nearly gave fans of Team USA—a dream team of sorts—a nightmare instead.
Team USA certainly had fans chomping down their fingernails before rallying with seven runs in the final two innings in their game against Canada on Sunday afternoon.
Facing elimination and a 3-2 deficit after seven innings, Team USA's offense finally came to life, the big blow coming when center fielder Adam Jones delivered a two-run double to give the USA a 4-3 lead. In the ninth, first baseman Eric Hosmer delivered the knockout blow with a bases-clearing double to put the game away.
The late offense was certainly the key for the Americans. However, the position they put themselves in early on in the tournament couldn't help but make one wonder—what could Team USA have been like if the sport's greatest stars actually competed?
In 1992, the U.S. put together the original Dream Team, a star-studded basketball team made up of the NBA's biggest stars at the time. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley were just some of the names on that team. Together, they crushed their opponents by an average of over 40 points per game on their way to a gold medal.
Think for a second what a dream team could look like when assembling the best baseball players for Team USA.
Here is a look at how that team might look.
Note: The USA dream team will be a 25-man roster rather than the 28-man roster currently in place for the WBC.
Just after arriving at camp for the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. in early February, starting pitcher Justin Verlander declined the invitation to play for Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Verlander didn't want to add more to his plate after throwing over 260 innings between the regular season and postseason last year.
Via John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press:
“I don’t want to have to feel rushed to catch up to where I need to be,” Verlander said. “I want to be able to do it the right way.”
Verlander was alluding to the timing of the WBC and the fact that he would have to start preparing earlier than normal during the offseason. Considering his workload last year, his decision was understandable.
Still, imagine if Verlander had been the starting pitcher in Game 1. That's a pretty good way to give your opponent a scare.
Just before the start of the 2013 WBC, Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw talked about his disappointment in not being able to represent his country.
According to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles:
"That's a huge honor to get to do that. I would have loved to," Kershaw said. "I think I owed it to the team to show I was healthy in spring training, even though I had two starts at 100 percent last year. I wanted to come in and show I'm 100 percent great and I know they didn't feel great about me going.
"Hopefully, in four years I'll get the honor to do it again, but I'll definitely have regrets watching it."
Kershaw was of course referring to the hip issues that cropped up last year that caused the Dodgers much anguish. Kershaw was diagnosed with a right hip impingement and was cleared to return to duty, looking sharp in his final two starts of the season.
Having both of the 2011 Cy Young Award winners at the top of the Team USA rotation, with Justin Verlander and Kershaw, would have indeed been frightening.
If going with a dream team for a starting rotation, why not just continue with Cy Young Award winners?
R.A. Dickey is of course a member of the current Team USA team already. However, having him pitch the third game of Round 1 after other teams in the pool faced two straight fireballers would have been a nice touch.
If Dickey's knuckleball proved to be ineffective, as it did in Game 1 of the first round against Mexico, the United States could have come right back with another Cy Young Award-winning pitcher.
As mentioned in the previous slide, if R.A. Dickey faltered in Game 3 of the first round—using our theoretical dream team, of course—Team USA manager Joe Torre could have turned to another Cy Young pitcher in David Price.
Price, however, indicated back in December he would not be available for the WBC, commenting at the time that he didn't believe he would be allowed to participate by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Price, piggybacking on Dickey, would have been absolutely ideal for Team USA, giving them a knockout duo for Game 3 in Round 1.
With the pitch limits instituted for the WBC, the need for extra starting pitchers was almost a necessity.
We saw a perfect example of that with Team USA in Game 2 against Italy on Saturday. Starter Ryan Vogelsong pitched four effective innings, followed by reliever Jeremy Affeldt. Then, manager Joe Torre turned to starting pitcher Ross Detwiler. Detwiler delivered four flawless innings to preserve the victory for the Americans and help save the bullpen in the process.
That's why starting pitcher Jered Weaver would be a perfect candidate as a backup to either Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw in either of the first two games. In our dream-team scenario, of course.
Weaver also cited the timing of the tournament as the reason for him not considering to be a part of the team.
"The guys they want out there are the guys that throw 220-plus innings," Weaver said. "Those guys want the down time in the offseason to recuperate. As great as it would to wear the red white and blue – I did in '02 (in the Pan Am Games), there is no better feeling - but it's a tough thing to have to be ready for.
"Your first priority is to be here for your organization. It's not to say you don't want to be there for your country, but there are some other things to be prepared for that."
Timing is everything. If the WBC was actually scheduled for another time, Weaver is absolutely my No. 5 starter.
The roster for Team USA includes three catchers, two of whom hit over .300 last season.
But adding the 2012 National League MVP Award winner would have been the obvious choice.
Buster Posey considered participating at one time, but decided back in January to skip the WBC and concentrate on spring training with the Giants.
With Posey's two championships in three seasons along with his MVP Award, he would have been the clear choice behind the plate. Having that kind of winning mentality would have been terrific for Team USA as well.
Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder never committed to playing in the WBC, and he wasn't going to accept an invitation as an injury replacement.
Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer ended up taking over for Mark Teixeira, who injured his wrist in batting practice prior to Game 1 of the first round.
But in a dream-team scenario, I'll take Fielder at first any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Dustin Pedroia was set to represent Team USA for the 2009 WBC before he strained his oblique prior to the start of the tournament.
The Boston Red Sox let it be known they were not keen on Pedroia playing this time around, either.
With Pedroia still recovering from finger injuries, the Red Sox let Team USA know that they would have concerns with Pedroia being selected for the team.
Pedroia's style of play—gutsy, compassionate, all-out on every play—is perfect for international competition.
David Wright is the current starting third baseman for Team USA in the 2013 WBC.
He would have been the right choice in a dream-team scenario as well.
Wright absolutely loves competing for the red, white and blue. It was Wright's two-run single in the bottom of the ninth inning in the second round of the 2009 WBC against Puerto Rico that sent Team USA to the semifinals.
And it was Wright's grand-slam home run on Saturday against Italy that propelled the Americans to their first win in this WBC, enabling them to play Canada for the right to move on to the second round.
Yes, Wright is the right choice for the dream team as well.
Jimmy Rollins represented Team USA so well in the 2009 WBC that he was invited back this year as well. It made perfect sense.
But the dream team shortstop would be Ian Desmond.
Desmond sparkled last season despite missing 30 games, hitting .292 with 25 home runs and 73 RBI, winning the Silver Slugger Award in the process.
With a stacked dream-team lineup, Desmond could have been a terrific choice hitting toward the bottom of the order for manager Joe Torre.
Team USA already has their dream team left fielder currently playing in Ryan Braun.
With back-to-back top-two finishes in National League MVP Award balloting, Braun has absolutely become one of the elite and most feared sluggers in the majors.
Braun could be playing in future WBC tournaments as well. He hit .381 in the 2009 WBC and is currently hitting .308 through the first round.
Without question Mike Trout is the choice in center field for a theoretical dream Team USA.
Trout made the decision not to participate in the WBC back in January, stating his desire to participate in a full and normal spring training for the Los Angeles Angels.
Considering that Ian Desmond replaces Jimmy Rollins on the dream team for the Americans, Trout would have been the perfect leadoff batter hitting in front of Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Buster Posey and David Wright.
Josh Hamilton has yet to participate in the World Baseball Classic. He would be my choice to play right field on a USA dream team.
The 2010 American League batting champ and MVP Award winner is working on settling in with his new team, the Los Angeles Angels.
However, Hamilton would be an outstanding option as an added slugger facing off against world competition.
The USA dream team has thus far been stocked with a little bit of everything—power, speed and on-base capabilities. For the role of designated hitter, Giancarlo Stanton tips the scales with the added power.
Stanton hasn't done much in the current WBC with his 0-for-7 performance. Manager Joe Torre elected to sit Stanton for Team USA's final Round 1 game against Canada.
Still, Stanton's power can be a big neutralizer. With the current format of the WBC, just one prodigious blast can change the course of a game and the chances for the USA.
Team USA closer Craig Kimbrel has thus far only been used once, pitching a perfect ninth inning on Sunday against Canada, striking out two in the process.
Kimbrel is the logical choice for a USA dream team. As a matter of fact, Kimbrel is the logical choice for just about any dream team under any format.
In his four seasons with the Atlanta Braves, reliever Eric O'Flaherty has been outstanding, becoming one of the best left-handed relievers in all of baseball.
O'Flaherty was lights out in 2011, posting a 0.98 ERA in 78 appearances. He followed up with another stellar effort last season as well with a 1.73 ERA in 64 appearances.
O'Flaherty has worked in concert with closer Craig Kimbrel with the Atlanta Braves. The two would be a natural fit for a USA dream team as well.
St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte led the National League with 42 saves last season, establishing himself as a premier ninth-inning man.
Considering the type of format that currently exists with the WBC, runs are at a premium in the first round. It's incumbent upon teams to make sure they have a favorable run differential if they're tied with another team in their pool at the end of the first round.
Having multiple closers is simply a sound strategy, setting up each late inning with a different closer for the best possible run-prevention blueprint. Having Motte on a USA dream team simply gives them another shutdown option in order to preserve that run differential.
With a 1.98 ERA in the last five seasons, no one has been more effective in relief than Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mike Adams.
With run prevention at a premium, Adams is a logical choice for a USA dream team bullpen.
Adams has been recovering from surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome, but has been effective thus far for the Phillies in spring training. Adams has allowed just two hits with two strikeouts in three appearances thus far.
Sounds like he could have been useful for a theoretical dream team.
It would probably be a sin not to include last year's most successful closer, in terms of saves, on the USA dream team.
Jim Johnson had a magical season for the Baltimore Orioles with 51 saves and a 2.49 ERA.
For a tournament that requires shutdown performances because of the wealth of talent on other international squads, Johnson would be a solid selection based on his performance last season.
Can a team ever have enough good relief? Not on a theoretical dream team.
The USA dream team already has a star-studded bullpen without adding closer Jonathan Papelbon to the mix.
Adding Papelbon and his bulldog mentality would be a great idea. Papelbon now has seven consecutive seasons with at least 30 saves, without question one of the most reliable and successful closers in baseball over that span of time.
San Diego Padres relief pitcher Luke Gregerson was a great choice to represent Team USA in the 2013 WBC.
He'd be a great choice for the USA dream team as well.
Gregerson has been outstanding over the past two years with the Padres, posting a 2.39 ERA last year in 77 appearances. He has seen action in just one game thus far for Team USA, posting one perfect inning.
In filling out the bullpen for a USA dream team, I would want to add a pitcher who can simply overpower batters.
Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher David Hernandez definitely qualifies for that role.
Hernandez posted a terrific 12.9 K/9 rate in 72 appearances last year for the Diamondbacks, posting a 2.50 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.
Hernandez saw action in just one game in the first round for Team USA, giving up a run on three hits in 0.2 of an inning.
That doesn't take away from the fact that Hernandez is deserving of a spot.
Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is another of the rising stars in Major League Baseball, still at just 26 years of age.
Fresh off a season in which he placed third in National League MVP Award balloting, McCutchen declined an invitation to compete for Team USA in the 2013 WBC.
Without question, McCutchen's involvement on Team USA would have been a boost to the ballclub. He'd be a boost on a USA dream team as well.
It seems pretty clear that Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer is finally free of the injuries that curtailed his career in 2010 and 2011.
Mauer returned last season to post the most games he's ever played in one season (147). He also hit .319 with a league-leading .416 on-base percentage.
Without question Mauer is the guy I'd want as my primary pinch hitter for a USA dream team. With his ability to get on base, Mauer can help start or continue a late-inning rally.
He's certainly proving his worth right now for Team USA with a .417 average through their first three games.
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is still a stud at 38 years of age. Studs belong on dream teams.
Jeter led the majors with 216 hits last season, a full 13 years after he led both leagues in hits the first time he achieved the feat.
Jeter hit .450 in the inaugural WBC in 2006 and .276 in the 2009 WBC. Jeter has shown time and time again that the grand stage is a natural fit for him. As such, he's still a natural choice now.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.