Above, you can see the roster for the Japan All-Star Series for Team MLB. As you can see, the term “All-Star” is sort of loose. Oh, yes, it’s a good team, and there are plenty of All-Stars on it. It’s definitely a team you’d be able to make the post-season with in a 162 game schedule. But on the other hand, the pitching staff isn’t exactly world-beating and the outfield is thin due to the pull-outs of Bryce Harper and Adam Jones, meaning a utility player like Ben Zobrist or Chris Carter will be playing a bit there. Another worry is that Evan Longoria might have to leave early because his fiancee is very pregnant, and, honestly, I’m surprised he’s going in the first place with something like that going on.
Anyway, here’s a bit of a run-down on the MLB roster… after the jump:
Two of these pitchers- Iwakuma and Guthrie- are going to be restricted to one start because of requests from their clubs. All pitchers will be on pitch-counts. Wada isn’t mentioned in that above article as a starter and thus presumably will be used for long-relief and other bullpen duties, which makes some sense since it’d allow him to appear in more games, which the Japanese fans will no doubt appreciate. Farrell said that one pitcher will make two starts in the actual five-game “Japan All-Star Series” (the first and last games of the 7-game tour will be complete exhibitions in the most true sense of the word), so presumably that means he’ll have a 4-man rotation. My guess:
Game 1, Nov. 11 (Exhibition vs. Yomiuri/Hanshin combined team at Koshien): Chris Capuano
Game 2, Nov. 12 (Japan All-Star Series Game 1 in Osaka): Matt Shoemaker
Game 3, Nov. 14 (Japan All-Star Series Game 2 in Tokyo): Hisashi Iwakuma
Game 4, Nov. 15 (Japan All-Star Series Game 3 in Tokyo): Jeremy Guthrie
Game 5, Nov. 16 (Japan All-Star Series Game 4 in Tokyo): Hector Santiago
Game 6, Nov. 18 (Japan All-Star Series Game 5 in Sapporo): Matt Shoemaker
Game 7, Nov. 20 (Exhibition vs. Japan in Okinawa): Franklin Morales
My thoughts in this are like this: Matt Shoemaker of the Angels is by far the best starting pitcher Jon Farrell will be able to use more than once, so he starts two games in the “real” All-Star Series. Iwakuma, Guthrie and Santiago round out the four best starting pitchers, so they also pitch in the All-Star Series proper. Capuano and Morales are a step below the rest of the starting pitchers, so they’d start the exhibition games and do some bullpen work in the All-Star Series.
Again, that’s just my feeling. It’s probably wrong.
Melancon is almost certainly the closer, Tommy Hunter presumably will be the main set-up guy, the rest of the bullpen will probably just be done by committee, as Farrell and his pitching coach, the Rangers’ Mike Maddux, try to get everybody a dose of the overseas experience. It’s probable that the starters who go in the exhibition games will work from the bullpen at times, as well.
Salvador Perez caught 1248.2 innings this season. Then he was behind the plate for the entire postseason. He also played in the All-Star Game. And yet, after all of that, he’s still up for some more games in Japan. I have to presume he’ll DH in a few games, if only to keep Jon Farrell from being assaulted by an angry Ned Yost. Perez’s backup, Erik Kratz, became good friends with the bench during the Royals’ postseason run, so I’m sure he’s looking forward to actually playing again. Drew Butera, a cult hero amongst fans of friendly catchers who can’t hit but who are pretty good behind the plate, rounds out the catching staff.
Definitely Team MLB’s strength. Four former All-Stars in Altuve, Cano, Longoria and Morneau, a speedy threat in Escobar, some pop from Santana, and a play-anywhere utility infielder in Eduardo Nunez. It’s likely that all three of the Infielder-Outfielders (more on them later) will see some time in the infield as well. The big question is how Jon Farrell will handle time between Altuve and Cano. Presumably split-games and DH stints will be done to allow the Japanese fans a chance to see them both.
Harper and Jones pulling out really hurt the depth of dedicated outfielders, and I’m somewhat surprised that MLB didn’t try to get one more guy from somewhere to take a spot. Still, Fowler is a key and underrated part of the rebuilding Astros, and Puig is… Puig.
Infielders/Outfielders: Chris Carter, Lucas Duda, Ben Zobrist
Chris Carter is a HR threat from the Astros- he hit 37 this year- but he’s more of a DH than a fielder. That said, when he does field, he does so either at 1B or LF. Lucas Duda’s outfield fielding is notorious amongst Mets fans on Twitter, but he’s got some pop and can play 1B too. Ben Zobrist is arguably the best utilityman of his generation, and will no doubt play several positions during the trip and will likely be the main third outfielder.
So, what sort of lineup might Jon Farrell use? Well, they will vary greatly day-by-day due to the nature of the games, but I think one possible lineup will look something like this:
1. Jose Altuve, 2B
2. Yasiel Puig, RF
3. Robinson Cano, DH
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. Justin Morneau, 1B
6. Salvador Perez, C
7. Ben Zobrist, LF
8. Dexter Fowler, CF
9. Alcides Escobar, SS
Again, that is just one possible line-up of many that would be just as good, if not even better. But that just gives you an idea… we won’t know for sure until the games actually come.