Until 2009, there was a formal event called the World Cup of Baseball–it was scheduled in September and thus Major League Baseball players could not participate. Today, we have the World Baseball Classic, a vastly superior tournament to the WCB, but one which still lacks more than a few of the best baseball players in the world.
As I write this, I am watching the FIFA World Cup (before somebody tries to “well actually it’s the MEN’S World Cup” me, it isn’t; maybe it should be, but it isn’t). Now, soccer isn’t my favorite sport–it is a sport I like though admittedly not a sport I follow as closely as baseball. But man oh man is this the best sporting event in the world.
No other sporting event comes close to this caliber of talent. Thirty-two teams make it, and while some are clearly better than others, each had to traverse an arduous road to make it to Russia for the final tournament. The United States famously did not qualify, but neither did perennial powers such as the Netherlands, Italy, nor Chile. There are plenty of great teams, and all of these teams are filled with the best players in the world. Great players declining an invite for reasons other than health are virtually unprecedented. Superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are givens to participate. Mike Trout has never participated in the World Baseball Classic.
For this post, I’m envisioning a World Cup of Baseball with soccer World Cup-level interest and prestige. If this can be replicated in real life, I don’t know how (I imagine “throw a bunch of money at players” would be a good start), but St. Louis Bullpen is nothing if not a place for dreamers.
Let’s say the tournament follows a similar structure to the soccer World Cup (a 32 team tournament for a sport as relatively unpopular globally as baseball may seem like a stretch, but things don’t really change if you imagine the field at 16), with three group games and three or four knockout games. Let’s presume a 25-man roster (the WBC uses a larger roster, but this is largely because the season is starting soon) with a three-man rotation. Let’s also, most importantly, assume players do not want to decline invitations. This is a major, major honor, on par with or even surpassing winning the World Series.
Here are the five most likely St. Louis Cardinals to crack his nation’s roster.
- Yadier Molina–Puerto Rico: A caveat that may not be necessary but which I feel like should be clarified–Puerto Rico is part of the United States. This is, like, objective fact. Because it’s kinda far away from the mainland and because it predominantly speaks Spanish, a lot of Americans tend to marginalize Puerto Rico, and that sucks, but Puerto Rico tends to participate independent of the United States on international stages, in the same way England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have soccer teams rather than operating under a “22 Englishmen plus Gareth Bale” United Kingdom team. It’s whatever. But assuming a Puerto Rico team exists, Yadier Molina is a no-brainer. He would be the starter, as the next-best Puerto Rican catcher is Angels backstop Martin Maldonado. Team Puerto Rico wouldn’t be a front-line favorite for the tournament by any means, as they don’t have a great deal of pitching or outfield depth, but the foursome of Molina, Cubs second baseman Javier Baez, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, and Astros shortstop (third baseman on this team) Carlos Correa would be a fun group.
- Tyler O’Neill–Canada: Canada wouldn’t have a great team, but Joey Votto plus twenty-four guys drafted at random from the OHL could crack this tournament field. Obviously O’Neill isn’t Votto, but the current Memphis Redbirds outfielder would probably start in a corner for Canada–despite spending most of 2018 in AAA, O’Neill ranks third among Canadian position players in WAR (trailing Votto and Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin). O’Neill made the WBC roster in 2017, when he was a Seattle Mariners minor leaguer, and nothing that has happened in the last year and a half would warrant losing one’s faith in O’Neill as a member of this team.
- Carlos Martinez–Dominican Republic: Carlos Martinez has been, to put it generously, shaky since returning from the Disabled List, but any questions one might have about the Cardinals ace aren’t enough to keep him off this team, one with which he participated in 2017. By ZiPS rest-of-season projections, only Dominican pitcher is projected to be more valuable going forward in 2018 (more on who later). Even if the team were extremely bearish on Martinez as one of their three starting pitchers, it’s hard to imagine they would pass on at least giving him a shot coming out of the bullpen.
- Jose Martinez–Venezuela: Martinez, unlike the three players listed above him, has never represented his home nation internationally, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t here. His stock has sky-rocketed since the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and depending on one factor, he could be a very valuable part of the roster–whether or not the World Cup uses a designated hitter. Now, I’m not here for DH arguments (if you want those, I’ve covered that), but I would guess this tournmanet would use the designated hitter, as around the world, more leagues use the DH than don’t. Martinez, a notoriously poor fielder but a truly special hitter, could thrive in the DH position, but even if the league did not use the designated hitter, he could find himself as a valuable pinch-hitter/super-sub at first base and corner outfield spots (think 2011 Allen Craig). More on the Venezuelan roster below.
- Marcell Ozuna–Dominican Republic: Ozuna didn’t play in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, but by the aforementioned rest-of-season ZiPS projections, Ozuna is the top projected Dominican outfielder for the remainder of 2018 (though admittedly it’s not by such a significant amount that I am considering the Wins Above Replacement figure as gospel). Ozuna has played all three outfield positions and would, if I were in charge of the team, make the Dominican Republic roster, and probably be a starter.
As far as the American team goes, I didn’t pick any Cardinals. The absolutely absurd depth of American pitching meant that no Cardinals pitchers came especially close. Matt Carpenter’s positional versatility/general excellence puts him in the conversation, but he’s not quite there. Jedd Gyorko is an outside candidate due to versatility, and Paul DeJong would fill quite the void as a player who has shown the capacity to play both second base and shortstop. But as it stands, Team United States is Cardinals-free.
Anyway, y’all want the rosters of the big three teams–United States, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela–none of whom would require veering outside of Major League Baseball? Here are the rosters, based mostly on ZiPS ROS projections and a little bit of discretion (as well as eliminating injured players, I say knowing I probably accidentally left a long-term injured player on here). This tournament seems fun. I want it to happen.
Team United States
- Mike Trout–CF
- Freddie Freeman–1B*
- Nolan Arenado–3B
- Giancarlo Stanton–LF
- Bryce Harper–DH
- Mookie Betts–RF
- Buster Posey–C
- Brian Dozier–2B
- Trea Turner–SS
Bench: J.T. Realmuto, Kris Bryant, Chris Taylor, Aaron Judge
Starting Rotation: Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale
Bullpen: Trevor Bauer, Jacob De Grom, Ken Giles, Mychal Givens, Chad Green, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Miller, Aaron Nola, Justin Verlander
*Freddie Freeman, a USA native, played for Canada in the 2017 WBC. Joey Votto didn’t. Votto would start so I’m working under the assumption that Freeman, who trails only Votto in projected WAR for first basemen, would opt to play for Team USA. If you assume he would be ruled ineligible, substitute Paul Goldschmidt.
Team Dominican Republic
- Jose Ramirez–3B
- Carlos Santana–1B
- Nelson Cruz–DH
- Manny Machado–SS*
- Marcell Ozuna–LF
- Gary Sanchez–C
- Robinson Cano–2B**
- Starling Marte–RF
- Manuel Margot–CF
Bench: Welington Castillo, Adrian Beltre, Jean Segura, Juan Soto
Starting Rotation: Luis Severino, Carlos Martinez, Luis Castillo
Bullpen: Dellin Betances*, Jeurys Familia, Domingo German, Reynaldo Lopez, Juan Nicasio, Ivan Nova, Luis Perdomo, Randy Rosario, Jose Urena
*Machado and Betances are both American-born players who have represented the Dominican Republic on the international stage. Machado would have cracked Team USA, but not as a starter.
**Cano is currently serving a PED suspension, but this World Cup of Baseball, unlike the World Baseball Classic, would presumably not be a MLB-run event.
- Jose Altuve–2B
- Jose Martinez–DH
- David Peralta–LF
- Eugenio Suarez–3B
- Jesus Aguilar–1B
- Willson Contreras–C
- Odubel Herrera–RF
- Eduardo Escobar–SS
- Ender Inciarte–CF
Bench: Wilson Ramos, Carlos Sanchez, Cesar Hernandez, Gleyber Torres
Starting Rotation: Carlos Carrasco, Eduardo Rodriguez, German Marquez
Bullpen: Jhoulys Chacin, Wilmer Font, Feliz Hernandez, Martin Perez, Edubray Ramos, Hector Rondon, Anibal Sanchez, Antonio Senzatela, Felipe Vasquez
I would greatly enjoy this tournament. The United States would probably win it because oh my goodness that pitching, but it would be a lot of fun regardless.