From the Windup: Putting Together America's Perfect World Baseball Classic Roster
From the Windup is FanHouse's extended look at a particular portion of America's pastime.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I get pretty aggravated when America doesn't win things we should. For example, I don't even watch the NBA, yet I was one of the biggest Team USA fans for the Olympic men's basketball team in August. America should win the gold in basketball. We invented the game and house the best players. I also believe America should win the World Baseball Classic for the same reasons. (Plus, I'm an ugly American and think we should win everything anyway.)
With this in mind, I'm putting together the perfect team for manager Davey Johnson, in hopes that he takes note.
In my view, there are some things that doomed USA's last WBC team, specifically in the Dontrelle Willis disasters. If you are playing what essentially amount to a bunch of one-game series, you cannot possibly survive with shoddy defense, pitching that gives out free passes, or constantly falling behind in the count. Also, too much reliance on power can hurt you in these games. You need guys who can get on base and "keep the line moving."
That being said, I do love power hitting and pitching as much as the next guy, so we're not gonna go overboard and put a bunch of Rey Ordonez wannabes on the team either. We just need balance and flexibility. I'm a huge Adam Dunn fan, but there will be times the ball needs to be put in play. I'm also a large Jim Thome fan, but he can't do anything but hit. Finally, you know I love Kerry Wood, but we cannot count on him to enter a game and not load the bases with walks.
WBC rules mandate that each country compile a 30-man roster, including at least 13 pitchers and three catchers. Anyone born outside America was not considered for "our" squad. I have also attempted to eliminate all players who might play for other countries, like Alex Rodriguez (already playing for Dominican Republic) and Adrian Gonzalez (played for Mexico last time), even though they were born in America.
One final note -- before we dive into the positional discussions -- I would love Greg Maddux on this team, but I don't think it's realistic that he'd do it immediately after retiring. I wouldn't even ask him to do so. He deserves a break at this point.
I ended up poring over every major league roster and listing everyone who I thought had a shot at the team. So here we go -- position-by-position -- players I considered, along with a verdict. I've denoted who I would start in a championship situation with an asterisk (*).
This one was pretty simple. Joe Mauer and Brian McCann are easily the top two on the board, with most of the other good current major league catchers coming from outside America. After those two, America-wise, we had a bunch of younger guys who have yet to seriously make their mark like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Chris Ianetta, or older guys well past their prime like Jason Varitek. Oh, and then there's the consummate pest, A.J. Pierzynski. White Sox fans are always telling me if he was on my team I'd love him, and he always finds ways to piss off the opposition. I think I like the idea of A.J. playing mind games with other countries as he fights for America. Actually, check that, I love it. Book him.
Selections: Mauer*, McCann and Pierzynski
Sorry, Kevin Youkilis, you are just a bit overshadowed here by four sluggers, despite the on-base and defensive prowess. First things first, Mark Teixeira is easily our starter. He's bar none the best defensive first baseman in the majors, his OBP was .410 last year, and he has ample power to hold down the middle of a lineup. Behind him, we have Lance Berkman, Ryan Howard, and Prince Fielder. Howard and Fielder obviously have more raw power. Fielder, however, is an atrocious defender and a lesser hitter than Howard. Howard has improved his defense, as he's just about average at this point. Berkman, on the other hand, is a superb first baseman. Berkman is a much better overall hitter, but Howard completely and utterly dwarfs him in the power department. It's not even close. Of course, Berkman is a switch hitter, and Howard is terrible against left-handers -- not to mention Howard's poor start last season.
Selections: Teixeira* and Berkman
Unfortunately, Chase Utley will not be healthy enough to play. This is a big blow to the US, because he's easily the best offensive and defensive two-bagger in baseball. Fortunately, we have the second best on Team USA as well, in AL MVP Dustin Pedroia. After Pedroia, there's a cluster of four who stand out to me. Brian Roberts is a good on-base guy, but he's become a bit overrated in light of all the trade talk this past two years. Brandon Phillips is a very solid defender who can mash, although he's coming off a drastic decline season. Dan Uggla is a pure power hitter who faltered defensively in the All-Star game. I can't shake either the one-dimensional play or the failure on the big stage. We're left with Ian Kinsler. The young up-and-comer who was on pace for a spectacular season before falling injured. He's a little sub-par defensively, but I like his speed and offensive skills enough to overcome it.
Selections: Pedroia*, Kinsler
Derek Jeter has already been named team captain. I'm fine with this pick, because after one certain former MVP, the position thins out quickly. Jimmy Rollins is obviously on the team, no questions asked. I also had listed J.J. Hardy, Stephen Drew, and Troy Tulowitzki. Hardy presents the strongest case -- due to power and defense -- at this point, but I'll go with Jeter's consistency and pedigree.
Selections: Rollins*, Jeter
With Chipper Jones still a bit banged up and getting older, this was the easiest position on here. Garrett Atkins and Alex Gordon aren't even in the same world as the two on this team.
Selections: David Wright** and Evan Longoria**
**I have no clue, it's a dead heat
Three selections here were absolute no-brainers. Carl Crawford is the best defensive player in baseball, relative to position. He can also run and has incredible gap power. Grady Sizemore is still, somehow, one of the most underrated players in the league. He's great at everything, and yet somehow he's not a national superstar. Ryan Braun is the epitome of a masher. I'll sacrifice the defense at this point. Hell, throw him in right. Next to Sizemore and Crawford, it really doesn't matter. Just get his bat in the lineup -- plus, he's not as bad at defense as you might think.
After that, it muddies a bit. I listed both Upton brothers, but it would seem a stretch to put either one on the roster presently. The rest of my list included: Torii Hunter, Corey Hart, Andre Ethier, Vernon Wells, Mike Cameron, Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, Jay Bruce, Milton Bradley, Curtis Granderson, Brad Hawpe, Matt Holliday, Nick Markakis, Matt Kemp, and Hunter Pence. Hamilton has already ruled himself out, so we'll go along with that. As much as I love Dunn, he doesn't seem to project well in this climate, where every at-bat is magnified and defense matters a ton. I'll still say that he was one of my last cuts, though.
I ended up deciding on a guy who actually has experience in right field and plays it well -- just in case Braun needs a hand -- in Nick Markakis. He's a very polished young player in this league, who is overshadowed by the rest of the AL East because he plays in Baltimore. I also went with Holliday. He's been there before, he has the name recognition, plays good defense, and can run. His splits away from Colorado scare me, but he's not sufficiently challenged as an all-around player enough by anyone in this group to boot him from the squad.
Selections: Sizemore*, Crawford*, Braun*, Holliday, Markakis
Honestly, I really wanted to find a spot for Michael Bourn. He would never be allowed to bat, and probably wouldn't be allowed to field. What a nice weapon it would be to pinch-run with him in a key spot, though. There is no one in the majors faster than him. Alas, there's just no room in a 30-man roster of Americans. We could not justify keeping the likes of Ryan Howard off this team if we included Bourn. We do, however, have room for a man who could pinch-run, hit the baseball, get on base, and play most of the positions in the field adequately. I am adding him.
Selection: Chone Figgins
I don't think I need to get into the merits of all the gentlemen I have selected here. I just want to say that I did put emphasis on control, while still wanting to get the best of the best. Ben Sheets made it due to his control. Obviously, I don't think his new team -- whoever that might be -- will allow him to play because of his injury history. I'm just saying that he's a stud, with great control, and America would be damn proud to showcase him and his talents. I ended up taking Josh Beckett over Jon Lester, and that was purely on gut feel. The opposite choice would be acceptable. Others who didn't make the cut but were very close: John Lackey, Matt Garza, Dan Haren, David Price, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, and Joba Chamberlain.
Selections: CC Sabathia*, Brandon Webb, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Beckett, Sheets
The one thing I would be worried about is the lack of traditional middle relievers. I strongly considered Scot Shields, for example, but he walks too many batters. Overall, the best pitchers with the best stuff are generally starters and closers anyway. Would you rather lose with your best, or lose trying to get cute and over-thinking things? Exactly. Just put the guys with the best stuff on the hill. I think that whole, "closers don't pitch well in non-save situations" theory is complete crap. They're pitchers.
Again, we emphasized control, and the fact that Matt Capps manages to post respectable numbers for the Pirates while only walking five freaking hitters all season last year really caught my eye. Obviously, he's only a setup man with this group, but that's how he beat out B.J. Ryan, Bobby Jenks, Kerry Wood, Joel Hanrahan, Brian Fuentes, J.J. Putz, and Brad Ziegler.
Selections: Brad Lidge, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan***, Capps
***-My actual closer
Hey, you don't win with style points. I can hear the complaints now about Berkman over Howard, Capps over Putz, Ryan, and Wood, and Figgins in general. That's okay.
I also realize only having two left-handed pitchers poses an issue to some people, but most of these righties are really tough on all hitters. I'm always of the mindset that when you are the best, people adapt to you, not vice versa. It's the philosophy Coach K took in China -- with which USA brought home the gold -- and that's what we should do here. Make Japan pinch-hit with a left-hander, who is inferior to the guy he is replacing, in the eighth inning just because of the "matchup advantage." Go ahead. We'll stick with Lidge or Papelbon. You tell me who has the inherent advantage.
I also like the idea in this circumstance to not have any kind of set everyday lineup and to throw a pitcher a maximum of three innings -- no more than two would be ideal. You can interchange guys at nearly all positions and never miss a beat -- my favorite example being the dynamic duo at third -- though you'd like to have the better defenders on the field in the last few innings if the game is close. You do have the flexibility of Figgins as a fall back in case something happens to alter your plan of attack.
It would be quite fun filling out this lineup card, wouldn't it? Go ahead and take a stab or submit your own team in the comments section. We're allowed to get patriotic here, after all, it is our pastime. Not Japan's or Canada's or Cuba's.