The next World Baseball Classic is next year, and so I got to thinking: what would be the “ideal” WBC team for Team USA? Not the most likely (that will happen when I begin doing projections), but rather what the best possible team would be if I was able to wave a magic wand and ensure that every player we’d want would be playing regardless of any injuries, off-season concerns, or spring training routine.
In other words, think of this as a sort-of rough draft or best-case-scenario. It will likely provide a bit of a skeleton for more-serious projections, but it’s unlikely to come to pass as it exists right now.
That said, even with this being a pie-in-the-sky exercise, there are two rules I have in place while making this:
- Teams are made up of 28 players, of which 13 of them must be pitchers and two of them catchers.
- The pitch count rules make relievers extremely important.
Go below the jump for more:
Manager: Mike Scioscia
Scioscia was the skipper of the 2020/21 Olympic team, and given the habit Team USA has had of using retired-but-respected managers in previous WBCs (such as Jim Leyland in 2017), it feels like he’ll be the pick for 2023.
Realmuto and Will Smith are the obvious picks for the top two American catchers, but it’s likely given history that Team USA will also have a third catcher. While it’d be fun to say Orioles uberprospect Adley Rutschman or the Rangers’ Jonah Heim (who had a hot April), I’ll instead go with Oakland’s Sean Murphy, a largely defense-based player who won the 2021 AL Gold Glove.
Freddie Freeman in the past has played for Canada (his parents are from there), so he’s out. Anthony Rizzo has generally played for Italy (although admittedly that was likely partly because he wasn’t going to be selected for Team USA). Goldschmidt was a member of the 2017 team, so I’ll put him in as a carryover. Ty France is one of the most unsung players in the league and has had an incredibly good start and if he keeps it up he should end up on the team as well. Apologies to Eric Hosmer (who will probably overtake Goldschmidt if the hot start to his 2022 season keeps up), C.J. Cron (who also has a good shot of threatening this list if his hot start continues), Matt Olson, Pete Alonso, etc.
Second Basemen (1): Tommy Edman
Manny Machado usually plays for the Dominican in these events. Bregman was the youngest member of the 2017 Team USA, where he generally found himself backing up Arenado. He hasn’t had the best start to the season but neither have a lot of 3B. Apologies to Austin Riley, Matt Chapman, Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, and possibly young guns like Ke’Bryan Hayes or Bobby Witt Jr., among others.
A tough one. Surely, an argument can be made for Bo Bichette, Corey Seager, Tim Anderson or Brandon Crawford, but for now I’ll go with Turner (who will likely fall off if his season continues as it has) and (J.P.) Crawford.
Utility (1): Jeff McNeil
A career .302 (as of the morning of May 3, 2022) hitter with an all-star appearance under his belt, McNeil’s ability to play second, outfield, and third would allow him to fill a utility spot that could become very important in the WBC.
There is basically no chance that these would be the actual outfielders for Team USA next year. Between Buxton and Harper’s injury concerns, Aaron Judge’s contract status being in the air, and the fact that Mike Trout hasn’t played in the WBC before, it’s entirely possible none them are! If that’s the case, Team USA will still be able to call on potential players like Nick Castellanos, a resurgent Joc Pederson (who may play for Israel), breakout Angel Taylor Ward, Andrew Benintendi, George Springer, Cleveland rookie Steven Kwan, and various others. A good problem to have.
Pitching perhaps more than any other bit of the WBC is going to be vulnerable to pullouts due to injury concerns or simply the sheer routine that pitchers have. But based on last season and the first month of this season, it’s hard to argue against any of the above pitchers, and if they pull out Team USA can still check in on players like Corbin Burnes, Max Scherzer (who mainly isn’t listed above due to the fact his season started slightly late due to injury), Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Twins rookie Joe Ryan (who was a member of last year’s Olympic team), Kevin Gausman, Tylor Megill, and a bunch of others.
Like the starters, this is a group that could take plenty of pull-outs and still put out an all-world group of guys.
So there’s my early projection of what the “ideal” 2023 World Baseball Classic team would be for Team USA. What do you think?