Let's acknowledge an undeniable truth: Team USA -- and the World Baseball Classic itself -- would be better if Michael Trout and Clayton Kershaw were involved.But if you watched Wednesday on MLB Network as all 16 national teams were unveiled, was there a 28-man roster you liked better than Team
Let's acknowledge an undeniable truth: Team USA -- and the World Baseball Classic itself -- would be better if Michael Trout and Clayton Kershaw were involved.
But if you watched Wednesday on MLB Network as all 16 national teams were unveiled, was there a 28-man roster you liked better than Team USA's?
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
I suspect the answer is no.
Yes, the Dominican Republic is the favorite until proven otherwise. The Dominicans are the reigning champions. They went 8-0 in the last WBC. Their position players include Adrian Beltre, Manny Machado, Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Santana, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Welington Castillo.
A powerhouse, right?
Well, so is this team: Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, Nolan Arenado, Brandon Crawford, Daniel Murphy, Ian Kinsler, Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Hosmer, Matt Carpenter, Christian Yelich, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Alex Bregman and A.J. Ellis.
That's Team USA.
Position by position, the comparison is close. The U.S. is probably deeper. Certainly, it would be difficult to argue the American roster is inferior. And that is the point: Team USA has every reason to believe it should win the tournament. The roster announced Wednesday is very likely the greatest American baseball team ever assembled for international play.
A critic could point out the absence of several star American pitchers. That is fair: American-born pitchers accounted for the top five spots in National League and American League Cy Young Award voting in 2016; none of those 10 will pitch for the U.S. in this year's Classic.
But let's consider the Dominicans' title-winning rotation from 2013: Edinson Volquez, who had a 4.35 ERA over three starts in the tournament, will start again in the '17 Classic. But the other starters on the '13 team -- Sam Deduno and Wandy Rodriguez -- didn't appear in the Major Leagues last year. Johnny Cueto, the most decorated Dominican pitcher of the current decade, was not on the '13 roster. He is this year.
Can Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, Danny Duffy and Tanner Roark pitch as well in 2017 as Deduno, Rodriguez and Volquez four years ago? Absolutely. And reinforcements from the designated pitching pool -- Michael Fulmer, Sonny Gray, J.A. Happ and Drew Smyly -- could join the U.S. rotation in subsequent rounds.
Ideally, the Classic draws all of the world's best players. Because of concerns over pitchers' health, we see most of the world's best players. That is a competitive reality of March baseball -- and one that American baseball fans never should use as an excuse for their team's 10-10 record over the first three Classics.
Cueto and Felix Hernandez (Venezuela) didn't pitch in 2013. Team Japan is without Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Kenta Maeda this year. If anything, the absences should help the U.S. from a competitive standpoint: American-born players account for a majority of Major Leaguers; Team USA's second and third tiers should be stronger than those of other countries.
Talent never has been the issue for past American teams, and it isn't a problem now. Now let's see if this Team USA can succeed in areas in which previous editions failed: urgency and preparedness.
During pool play in 2013, the Americans were outscored by a combined 8-0 over the first three innings of games against Mexico, Italy and Canada. Rarely in Classic play have U.S. teams been described as aggressive. The American baseball culture's default setting -- "You know, it's a marathon" -- is difficult to reboot for a tournament that overwhelms the senses. Team USA manager Jim Leyland, one of the great motivators in recent baseball history, will try to change that.
So from now until the Classic concludes at Dodger Stadium on March 22, we ought to speak about the Americans who are on the team, rather than those who are not -- because this Team USA should win the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com.