by Joe Giglio
On Thursday night, the USA and Dominican Republic square off in a highly anticipated World Baseball Classic game in Miami. Although attendance and viewership aren’t breaking records, the event is resonating with true baseball fans. If Bud Selig has his way, it may become an even bigger spectacle within time.
Recently, Selig spoke to J.J. Cooper of Baseball America about a “true” World Series in the years that follow his tenure as commissioner.
“What is the final goal long after I’m gone? The thought of having a real world Series and the interest in the world I can’t even imagine,” Selig said. “Yes it has economic potential that is huge, but from a sociological standpoint that is greater.”
Unfortunately, the importance and impact of the Classic won’t dawn on the average fan until the best players are represented on each roster -- something that may never actually happen.
Owner and front offices are already leery about sending impact players to the WBC due to injury concerns and athletes giving more than their body should be allowing in mid-March. Factor in young players' reluctance to leave camp when there’s a job to be won for April -- think Jurickson Profar and Melky Mesa -- and you have good, not great rosters.
Off the heels of USA vs. D.R., here are how the starting lineups and bullpens could have looked for the contest in Miami -- if the best players were all in attendance.
1. Mike Trout, CF: Baseball's best player heading into 2013.
2. Josh Hamilton, RF: Raw power to hit the ball out of any venue, including spacious Marlins Park.
3. Ryan Braun, LF*: Biogenesis concerns aside, he’s the quintessential No. 3 hitter in the country.
4. Prince Fielder, DH: Power, discipline, and a whole bunch of enthusiasm.
5. David Wright, 3B*: Aptly named “Captain America” by Matt Vasgersian of MLB Network.
6. Paul Konerko, 1B: Staving off regression, one big season at a time.
7. Troy Tulowitzki, SS: Injuries have made some forget about how good he truly is. Not just a Coors product.
8. Buster Posey, C: Rookie of the Year, MVP, and two World Series Championships in three years is the best start to a career since Derek Jeter.
9. Ben Zobrist, 2B*: Versatility is a blessing and a curse. Much more than a super-sub, Zobrist has posted a .369 OBP in four years of regular playing time.
SP: Justin Verlander: Imagine what he could do if he knew he only had 85 pitches to work with.
Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel*, David Robertson, Jake McGee, Jonathan Papelbon, David Hernandez*, Joe Nathan: Every member of this group struck out more than a batter per inning last season. With starters pitch counts limited in each round, this group could make the game look like the MLB All-Star Game.
Manager: Joe Maddon: No disrespect to Joe Torre, but Maddon is the best manager now. His personality and relationship with all players would perfectly suit the stage.
1. Jose Reyes, SS*: It was almost as if John Smoltz was describing Reyes when he said Marlins Park is “made for triples hitters.”
2. Melky Cabrera, LF: Suspension and exit from San Francisco aside, few hit it harder than Cabrera.
3. Robinson Cano, 2B*: Playing for a $200 mil deal -- starting now.
4. Albert Pujols, 1B: Declining, but still one of the best in the world.
5. Jose Bautista, RF: A fully healthy wrist is the only thing standing in the way of Bautista and a MVP award.
6. Adrian Beltre, 3B: Power is tremendous. Defense and leadership are even better.
7. Carlos Santana, C*: 45 home runs and 188 walks over the last two years. Underrated bat.
8. Edwin Encarnacion, DH*: An eighth place hitter coming off of a .941 OPS would make any pitching staff sweat.
9. Carlos Gomez, CF: Emerging power, tremendous defense, and speed to turn the lineup over with Reyes following.
SP: Francisco Liriano: Despite coming off of a 5.34 ERA season and walking the ballpark, Liriano is the ultimate Wild Card for D.R. The combined career numbers of the projected USA Dream Team vs. Liriano: .197, 25 K’s in 61 at-bats. With those bats backing him, he doesn’t have to be perfect.
Bullpen: Fernando Rodney*, Rafael Soriano, Antonio Bastardo, Octavio Dotel*, Pedro Strop*, Joaquin Benoit: Bastardo and Strop are young and can be wild at times -- but would be backed by four outstanding veterans. If 2012 was any indication, getting the ball to Rodney would be the end of the USA’s night.
*Currently on actual WBC roster
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WFAN in New York, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.