Congratulations, Jim Leyland.You've been named Team USA manager for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, one last assignment in a Cooperstown-caliber career. Now comes the hard part: picking the team.• Excited Leyland named USA skipper for ClassicMore to the point, which All-Stars won't make the world's most exclusive 28-man roster?With that
Congratulations, Jim Leyland.
You've been named Team USA manager for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, one last assignment in a Cooperstown-caliber career. Now comes the hard part: picking the team.
• Excited Leyland named USA skipper for Classic
More to the point, which All-Stars won't make the world's most exclusive 28-man roster?
With that in mind, here's an outline of the American dream team -- with the caveat that not all of these stars will be available next spring.
For simplicity's sake, we'll use the same structure Joe Torre did with Team USA in 2013: 13 position players, 5 starting pitchers and 10 relievers.
Buster Posey, C/1B
Brian McCann, C
Jonathan Lucroy, C
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Dee Gordon, 2B
Brandon Crawford, SS
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Mookie Betts, UTL
Kris Bryant, UTL
Mike Trout, OF
Andrew McCutchen, OF
Bryce Harper, OF
Giancarlo Stanton, OF
Catchers: Torre carried three, and we can expect Leyland to do the same. Posey is a perfect fit for Joe Mauer's 2013 role as the catcher who also plays first base. McCann provides power, a left-handed bat and WBC experience from 2009. Defense should matter more than offense for the third catcher, making A.J. Ellis a possibility -- especially if a particular Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw is on the team. Lucroy and James McCann deserve consideration, too.
First basemen: America's First Baseman -- Goldschmidt -- could be … well … America's first baseman. Eric Hosmer, who started for the U.S. in 2013 after an injury to Mark Teixeira, is a more complete player now than he was then. Anthony Rizzo may be the best option of all, but he'd have to switch his affiliation from Italy to the U.S. after starring for the Italians in 2013.
Second basemen: Gordon's speed is perfectly suited for international play, making him the front-runner for an everyday role. But Joe Panik is a perfect two-hole hitter, and Leyland is a longtime admirer of Dustin Pedroia, a WBC veteran.
Shortstops: This should come down to Crawford or Troy Tulowitzki, and the ultimate decision could hinge on the team's left-right balance elsewhere in the lineup. Both are above-average defenders. Leyland saw Crawford's superb play in the field from the opposing dugout during the 2012 World Series.
Third basemen: It's hard to choose anyone other than reigning American League MVP Award winner Donaldson, but Nolan Arenado might be one of the top five all-around players in the world right now. Arenado is eligible to play for Puerto Rico, too. Manny Machado is a deserving candidate, too, although he could decide to represent the Dominican Republic. Bryant obviously belongs in the discussion, as well, but he might be better suited for a different role on the team. (See below.)
Utility players: Versatility is paramount, and at least one bench player must be able to play shortstop. Betts, one of the best athletes in the sport, played the position a little in the Minor Leagues and should be able to check that box. Bryant offers coverage in the corner infield and outfield spots. Longtime shortstop Ian Desmond is another good fit, thanks to his newfound ability to play left field. Nick Ahmed and Josh Harrison deserve consideration, too, depending on how highly Leyland values infield defense.
Outfielders: Here's where it gets interesting. How about Trout in left, McCutchen in center and Harper in right, with Stanton at designated hitter? Even if all of them are unavailable, the next foursome sounds just as good: Adam Jones, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Heyward and J.D. Martinez. Let's put it this way: In 2017, Team USA could have one of the best outfields ever assembled on a baseball field.
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Clayton Kershaw, LHP
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Max Scherzer, RHP
Zack Greinke, RHP
Wade Davis, RHP
Mark Melancon, RHP
Craig Kimbrel, RHP
Dellin Betances, RHP
Cody Allen, RHP
Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
Darren O'Day, RHP
Andrew Miller, LHP
Zach Britton, LHP
Tony Watson, LHP
Starters: Fortunately -- or unfortunately -- some of these decisions will be out of Leyland's hands, because of inevitable health concerns or MLB team wishes. But Team USA has a far better pool of arms from which to choose this time than in 2013.
Just go down the list beyond the starting five above: David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Noah Syndergaard, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman …
Team USA could pluck the Fab Four from the Mets' spring base in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and have one of the best rotations in the tournament.
Relievers: So who's getting the ball in the ninth inning? Davis, Melancon, Kimbrel, Britton or Miller?
Any number of relievers not listed above -- Joe Smith, Luke Gregerson, Ken Giles, David Robertson, Steve Cishek, Jake McGee and Kevin Siegrist -- could put themselves on the roster with a strong, healthy 2016 season.
Regardless of the final roster composition, Leyland will enjoy the sort of lockdown bullpen he would've loved to have in his later years as manager of the Detroit Tigers.
Jon Paul Morosi is a national columnist for MLB.com.