The list of players who aren’t competing for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic is probably more star-studded than the roster of those who are.
Among the no-shows: Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, David Price, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver and Jim Johnson.
As I wrote this week, that’s not acceptable if Team USA and the WBC itself are to reach their full potential.
And yet, Team USA is plenty talented enough to win its first WBC title in the tournament’s third installment.
Manager Joe Torre didn’t pick an All-Star team. He did, however, choose the sort of role players who are important in international play. That’s particularly true in the bullpen, considering starting pitchers are limited to 65 pitchers per game in the first round, 80 in the second, and 95 in the semifinals and finals.
So, America, learn these names if you don’t know them already: J.P. Arencibia, Ben Zobrist, Willie Bloomquist, Tim Collins, Glen Perkins, Mitchell Boggs, Steve Cishek, Luke Gregerson, and Vinnie Pestano. All of them appeared the 27-player provisional roster announced Thursday morning. Torre and his staff (which includes pitching coach Greg Maddux) have until Feb. 20 to submit their final 28-man roster.
That leaves plenty of time for one of the absent stars to change his mind and join the team.
For now, Torre and Maddux have settled on 10 relief pitchers for a 14-man pitching staff, along with a rotation of R.A. Dickey, Ryan Vogelsong, Kris Medlen and Derek Holland.
Would a quartet of Verlander, Kershaw, Price and Strasburg have been sexier? Sure. But it’s hard to argue too much with the selections of Dickey (reigning National League Cy Young Award winner), Vogelsong (3-0 record and 1.09 ERA last postseason) and Medlen (best pitcher in baseball during 2012 second half).
Holland, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing season with Texas: 12-7 with a 4.67 ERA. But Team USA will need him to start, unless Verlander or Kershaw decides to join as the 28th man. As it stands now, Team USA will play four games in five days if they advance out of pool play (March 8, 9, 10, 12).
That means four starting pitchers, as long as Torre wants to keep his rotation on regular rest — which he undoubtedly does, given the perpetual (if unsubstantiated) fears of pitching injuries in the WBC.
Torre wisely picked three left-handed relievers, all of whom are capable of throwing more than one inning if needed: Jeremy Affeldt (postseason-tested with the Giants), Perkins (former starter in Minnesota) and Collins (21 appearances of more than three outs with the Royals last year). And Team USA has two All-Star closers from last season, Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel and Cleveland’s Chris Perez.
In the end, it’s difficult to say any nation in the 16-team tournament will have a better pitching staff than Team USA. No team the US will face in Phoenix-based pool play — Canada, Italy, or Mexico — has what one would consider a major-league-caliber ace. As for the later rounds, Venezuela has ace Felix Hernandez but lacks depth behind him. Yu Darvish has elected not to pitch for Japan, the two-time defending champion.
The US infield appears set, with first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Brandon Phillips, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman David Wright. Torre will carry three catchers — Joe Mauer, Arencibia and Jonathan Lucroy — because they probably won’t be ready to squat for nine innings on back-to-back days that early in the season.
Outfielders Ryan Braun, Adam Jones and Giancarlo Stanton should be fixtures in the everyday lineup, with Shane Victorino as the reserve. Braun and Stanton likely will rotate through the designated hitter spot, opening up outfield at-bats for Victorino or Zobrist, the super-utility dynamo.
This may be the most athletic Team USA to date, with three players who stole 30 or more bases last year (Victorino, Rollins and Braun) and four others with at least 14 (Jones, Phillips, Wright and Zobrist). That could make the difference in a tournament that has suited teams known for their ability to execute fundamentals; Japan, South Korea and Cuba are the only nations who can say they have reached the final game.
Maybe Team USA will be able to change that March 19 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park — without contributions from some of the country’s biggest stars.