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The U.S. World Baseball Classic roster could be much better than it already is

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Team USA is one of the favorites to win the World Baseball Classic. And they’re fighting with one arm tied behind their back.

MLB: Spring Training-San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Angels
Pretty much.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 World Baseball Classic has already produced some exciting finishes and interesting storylines, and we’re only three days in. Pools C and D begin play today, with heavyweights like Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the United States playing their first games on Friday evening.

All eight teams in Pools C and D played exhibitions against MLB teams on Wednesday. As expected, the aforementioned title contenders featured some star-studded lineups. Team Venezuela whitewashed the Kansas City Royals 11-0 behind big games from Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, and Salvador Perez. The Dominican Republic, led by Manny Machado, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco, beat a shorthanded Pittsburgh Pirates club, 10-6. Puerto Rico lost its tune-up against the San Francisco Giants, but we have already profiled the plethora of talented players on that nation’s squad. For the most part, these countries have stocked their rosters with the best talent available in hopes of bringing home the WBC title.

Then there is the United States, who put out its own All-Star-laden lineup against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.

Before we begin this thought experiment, let’s point out that this is a very good lineup; anytime you have Andrew McCutchen batting eighth, you have some serious firepower at your disposal.

That said, this team could be better. The U.S. has a host of talent staying home from the WBC, highlighted by all-everything talents Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. Other superstars not participating include Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, and — oh hell, let’s just get to the lineup.

Using ZiPS projections for the 2017 season, I have created a new U.S. lineup consisting of players not on any current WBC roster. I took slight liberties with positions, but resisted temptation to get really creative, like moving Mookie Betts to second base.

Position Current U.S. roster WAR New U.S. roster WAR
Position Current U.S. roster WAR New U.S. roster WAR
Catcher Buster Posey 4.3 Brian McCann 2.2
First base Paul Goldschmidt 4.2 Anthony Rizzo 4.8
Second base Ian Kinsler 3.3 Brian Dozier 3.7
Shortstop Brandon Crawford 3.5 Corey Seager 4.3
Third base Nolan Arenado 4.7 Josh Donaldson 6.3
Left field Andrew McCutchen 4.0 Kris Bryant 5.8
Center field Adam Jones 2.1 Mike Trout 8.0
Right field Giancarlo Stanton 3.2 Mookie Betts 5.7
Designated hitter Daniel Murphy 2.5 Bryce Harper 4.4
Total 31.8 45.2

This is entirely unfair. Only Buster Posey has an advantage over his B-Squad counterpart, Brian McCann, and I had to leave several other players — Kevin Kiermaier! Kyle Seager! — on the cutting room floor. You could get a bit more creative at the catching position, such as plugging J.T. Realmuto into the lineup or emphasizing defense with pitch framing savant Tyler Flowers. Padres phenom Austin Hedges would also be an interesting choice from a defensive standpoint, but his still-improving offense pales in comparison to others.

The rest of the lineup came together fairly easily. Trout is projected for 1.7 more wins than any other player, and nearly every American on the hypothetical roster is at least half a win better than anyone else eligible for their spot. The only positional gymnastics involves were moving Kris Bryant to left field — a position he spent 60 games at in 2016 — and Bryce Harper to the DH spot. American-born Anthony Rizzo appeared for Team Italy in the 2013 WBC, but he decided to skip the event this year.

Let’s rub it in by looking at the pitchers.

Position Current U.S. roster WAR New U.S. roster WAR
Position Current U.S. roster WAR New U.S. roster WAR
SP Chris Archer 4.4 Clayton Kershaw 6.4
SP Danny Duffy 2.8 Chris Sale 5.6
SP Marcus Stroman 2.6 Noah Syndergaard 5.5
RP Andrew Miller 1.6 Ken Giles 1.3
RP Mychal Givens 1.3 Zach Britton 1.2
RP Brett Cecil 0.9 Wade Davis 1.1
Total 13.6 21.1

I limited this to just three starters and three relievers because I felt bad. Not included on the hypothetical roster are Max Scherzer, who intended to play for Team USA before a finger injury sidelined him, or any of the other 2016 Cy Young finalists. Other American pitchers not listed include: Madison Bumgarner, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta, and Jacob deGrom.

In short, the U.S. has an embarrassment of pitching riches at its disposal. Most of the country’s best arms are skipping the Classic, and manager Jim Leyland still ended up with a rotation of Chris Archer, Danny Duffy, and Marcus Stroman, with Drew Smyly and Michael Fulmer* waiting for the next round.

*Fulmer has since suffered an ankle injury and will probably not participate in the WBC.

Even with a “shorthanded” roster, the Americans should move on to the second round and push for their first WBC title. They have arguably the deepest roster in the field, and a bullpen capable of significantly shortening games once starters hit their pitch limits.

If they don’t bring home a WBC title, though, we see why. An abundance of American talent is taking the tournament off, prioritizing their preparation for the upcoming MLB season over the still-fledgling international event.


Rob Rogacki is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and the Managing Editor of Bless You Boys, SB Nation's Detroit Tigers community. You can follow him on Twitter at @BYBRob.