Another World Baseball Classic, another disappointment for Team USA and its fans. Don't we all expect more success from the guys representing the country that invented the sport?
When Jimmy Rollins popped out for the final, dying breath of the Americans' run through the tournament this year, it became even more apparent that teams like Puerto Rico and the eventual champion Dominican Republic have surpassed the United States in terms of putting a competitive, motivated group out on the diamond.
Yes, many non-MLB players have the benefit of playing year-round and not stumbling into the WBC fresh off their first spring training slump. But the overall talent of a given MLB player should, in theory, make up for the difference.
So what is missing? Surely, a Puerto Rican middle infield of Mike Aviles and Irving Falu is trumped by Rollins and Brandon Phillips. And a starting rotation led by Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey of Team USA well over-matches Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez for the Dominicans.
For some reason, the Americans seem to start slow in this tournament and sneak into the second round, before succumbing to less talented, but more practiced and prideful teams. Needless to say, if the United States won this tournament, interest would spike and the dream of it being more akin to the World Cup might finally be realized.
In order to get there, Team USA needs to field a squad of young, prideful, talented players who will dedicate themselves to working out earlier in the winter and be on par with the other countries, come tournament time.
Here is my desired 28-man roster for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, based on age, future stardom, and hopeful availability and willingness to play.
Stephen Strasburg, RHP (Washington Nationals)
Madison Bumgarner, LHP (San Francisco Giants)
Kris Medlen, RHP (Atlanta Braves)
Will Smith, LHP (Kansas City Royals)
Derek Holland, LHP (Texas Rangers)
Some of these selections will be based on that player publicly announcing or tweeting his desire to play for Team USA in the next go-round. None of these players, to my knowledge, fall under that category.
But when forecasting four years down the road, I believe the 28-year-old Strasburg will be the most dominant pitcher in baseball. Unlike this year, when Justin Verlander spurned the Americans, I expect the Nationals' ace to lace up and take the ball in game one for the Americans.
Following him will be a trio of lefties, most notably the Giants' Bumgarner, who will be 27 when the WBC rolls around next. He could be that year's version of Gio Gonzalez, another lefty who had the best pitching performance of the tournament for Team USA in 2013.
I do think Holland will be the only returning starting pitcher of the group and will be used in a Ross Detwiler-esque long relief role in 2017 as a 30-year-old. Any amount of experience will benefit the rotation in more difficult matchups.
Smith and Medlen (27 and 31 years old in 2017, respectively), will be very good Major League starters who can round out an awfully tough starting four for the United States. Medlen withdrew from the WBC this year at the last minute because of the birth of his first child. Smith has been a notable pitching prospect since being drafted in 2008.
Sean Burnett, LHP (Los Angeles Angels)
J.P. Howell, LHP (Los Angeles Dodgers)
James Russell, LHP (Chicago Cubs)
Jim Johnson, RHP (Baltimore Orioles)
Addison Reed, RHP (Chicago White Sox)
David Hernandez, RHP (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Carter Capps, RHP (Seattle Mariners)
Trevor Rosenthal, RHP (St. Louis Cardinals)
David Peterson, RHP (Atlanta Braves)
This is the most difficult group to predict, because a lights-out reliever in 2013 could be a complete mess in four years. And many of the relievers on the roster for this tournament were on the wrong side of 30 and likely won't be participating in another WBC.
Don't ask me why Craig Kimbrel isn't on this list—I just have a feeling that he won't be back. In his place, Team USA will have the option of Johnson (will be 33 years old), Reed (28), or Hernandez (32) to close out games. I think all three will be solid, full-time closers at that point.
The only guy with WBC experience would be Hernandez, and he did a great job in some big spots for the Americans in this year's tournament. Joining the aforementioned three as right-handed pitchers out of the bullpen would be future Mariners closer Capps, and flame-throwing Cardinals prospect Rosenthal, both of whom would be 26 years old in that tournament.
From the left side, the United States squad would have the Angels' Sean Burnett, who has proven himself to be a reliable lefty specialist in the big leagues. He would be the elder statesman of the group at age 34, and joined by fellow southpaws J.P. Howell (will be 33) and James Russell (will be 31).
Lastly, I feel a strange need to name-drop, so I've included my childhood friend and current Single-A closer for the Braves, David Peterson among the nine relievers selected. At the rate he's going, he will be a reliever in the show by 2017, and a very good one at that. Chances of him unseating Kimbrel are slim, but I know the guy would love to play for his country if given the opportunity.
Take the bullpen as less of a prediction in this context, and more of a suggestion to whomever ends up managing Team USA in 2017. As I mentioned above, it would be nearly impossible to determine who will be worthy four years from now. But if all stay healthy, this 'pen has the makings of a dominant unit.
Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins)
Mike Zunino (Seattle Mariners)
Travis d'Arnaud (New York Mets)
I can't imagine that Mauer won't be selected again in 2017. A fairer question will be if he's still a full-time catcher, or if he (a 33-year-old by the next WBC), will have shifted to a first baseman and DH by then. That answer remains to be seen, but the most consistent hitter from the 2013 American squad will definitely be asked to participate again in four years.
My man crush on Zunino is already bubbling over, but if he gets called up and contributes to a sneaky-good Mariners team this year, it might go into full-blown panic mode. All that aside, Zunino has a very bright future in the big leagues, and should be the M's starting backstop sooner rather than later. At age 25, presumably with a couple good seasons under his belt by then, Zunino would be a great pick for Team USA.
All apologies to Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia (this year's third-stringer), but there is a reason the Mets were willing to trade R.A. Dickey to Toronto. That reason is named d'Arnaud, and he projects to be the Mets' starting catcher for a long time. He should, by that age 28 season, be an improvement over Arencibia and Jonathan Lucroy.
1B Allen Craig (St. Louis Cardinals)
1B Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)
2B Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians)
2B Ben Zobrist (Tampa Bay Rays)
3B David Wright (New York Mets)
SS Ian Desmond (Washington Nationals)
I really love Eric Hosmer, but I think the two guys I've chosen as first basemen will be better than he is, come 2017. Craig, who will be 32 years old at the time, would be a great No. 5 or 6 hitter. He can hit for average, but also has great gap power.
Freeman's reputation precedes itself—the big lefty has raw power, and has a knack for coming through in the clutch. He would be 27 at the time of the next WBC and should be entering his prime. Freeman and Craig could platoon against righties and lefties, respectively, in this tournament.
Second base was, surprisingly, a position that took little time to populate. I knew Zobrist would be on my roster again, but I hope he's more respected around baseball four years from now. It will likely be his last chance, but at age 35, he wouldn't be too far over the hill to make an impact.
That being said, Kipnis might snag the starting spot from Zobrist if he continues to produce like he did in 2012. He'll be 29 during the next WBC, and he should still have the wheels to snag 30 bases and the power to drop 20 homers. Kipnis was one of the most active tweeters during the WBC, so I know he was watching those games.
At the hot corner, there is nobody who can even offer the remote possibility of replacing Wright, after what he did for Team USA over the last two tournaments. If he refuses the invite, that's one thing, but I highly doubt he would. Give me one of the best American players in WBC history back at third base, for his age 34 season.
Lastly, shortstop was a bit of a no-brainer for me too. Not only has Desmond been steadily improving in every facet of the game over his three-and-a-half year career, but his age 31 season will be right in the peak of his career, in which 30 home runs and 30 steals are definitely attainable.
LF Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers)
CF Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals)
CF Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Boston Red Sox)
RF Giancarlo Stanton (Miami Marlins)
RF Josh Reddick (Oakland A's)
The corner outfielders from the 2013 team return in my projection, because they will still likely be two of the best hitters in baseball at that time. Braun and Stanton (33 and 27 in 2017, respectively) should still be in their peak performance years and will want to redeem themselves from this year's failure to advance.
My main additions are the center fielders, Harper and Bradley Jr. We all know that the Nationals' phenom expressed interest in playing for Team USA when he is 24 in 2017, while watching from home this spring. And if he continues to develop at his current pace, there's no doubt he'll get an invite. Nobody plays harder in the game today, and that's a spark the United States could really use.
Bradley Jr. is intriguing, because he has shown this spring that he has all the tools to be a dynamite top-of-the-order hitter in the near future for Boston. I'm throwing caution to the wind and putting it down, officially. Bradley Jr. will be a bright, 26-year-old star by the time the next WBC rolls around, and he will have a spot on the roster as a pinch-runner and backup outfielder.
My final addition to the roster is for depth, defense and a shock off the bench. The guy that fits the role perfectly for me is Reddick, who won a Gold Glove with the A's last year. He will be 30 years old and peaking at the perfect time to provide some pop for Team USA. Reddick topped 30 homers in 2012, so he clearly has power. But his greatest asset may be the ability to bring a loose personality to the clubhouse to help keep the pressure level down.
My projected final roster for Team USA's 2017 World Baseball Classic team:
1. Bryce Harper, CF
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
4. Joe Mauer, DH
5. Ryan Braun, LF
6. Freddie Freeman, 1B
7. David Wright, 3B
8. Ian Desmond, SS
9. Mike Zunino, C
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP
2. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
3. Kris Medlen, RHP
4. Will Smith, LHP
5. Derek Holland, LHP
SU - Addison Reed, RHP
CL - Jim Johnson, RHP
Breakdown by team:
Arizona Diamondbacks - 1
Atlanta Braves - 3
Baltimore Orioles - 1
Boston Red Sox - 1
Chicago White Sox - 1
Chicago Cubs - 1
Cleveland Indians - 1
Kansas City Royals - 1
Los Angeles Angels - 1
Los Angeles Dodgers - 1
Miami Marlins - 1
Milwaukee Brewers - 1
Minnesota Twins - 1
New York Mets - 2
Oakland A's - 1
San Francisco Giants - 1
Seattle Mariners - 2
St. Louis Cardinals - 2
Tampa Bay Rays - 1
Texas Rangers - 1
Washington Nationals - 3