Ever since baseball's removal from the Olympic program, the World Baseball Classic has been filling the void when it comes to establishing international baseball supremacy. Although the product is better than that of the Olympics, it is still pretty watered down in terms of who actually chooses to participate. The tournament is still relatively young and will hopefully continue to carry more weight with Major League players but it is obvious that it is still lacking, especially if you take a look at the preliminary rosters. Since I have the time on my hands, I have taken the liberty of ranking the top-five teams based upon their rosters and how the good ole' US 0f A fairs relative to the competition. '
Not surprisingly, this team is pretty stacked from top-to-bottom, boasting what is arguably the best infield outside of the US with very good power at three of the four spots, and anchored by Triple Crown-winner Miguel Cabrera. I'm assuming that they will move Asdrubal Cabrera over to Second because his bat is too good to keep out of the lineup and the same can be said for Elvis Andrus' glove, couple that with the Kung Fu Panda nailing down one of the corner spots and you have a bona fide All-Star team. The outfield is not quite as potent as the Stars and Stripes' but still very respectable, highlighted by Rockies' slugger Carlos Gonzalez. His corner outfield sidekicks, Martin Prado and Gerrardo Parra are very solid as well.
However, what sets this team apart is their pitching, with King Felix serving as the team's ace and th rest of the rotation filled out with Anibal Sanchez and Carlos "Big Z" Zambrano. Being able to hand the ball to Hernandez and Sanchez in a double elimination tournament is very big advantage, especially when the back-end of the bullpen is a little shaky. Venezuela is counting on Francisco Rodriguez to get back to "K-Rod" form and for Giants' set-up man Jose Mijares to excel in that same role.
The strongest unit on this team is most definitely the outfield as it is arguably the best in the entire tournament with three big-time, young sluggers in Ryan Braun, Adam Jones, and the "artist formerly known as Mike Stanton." The three All-Stars will likely anchor the middle of the lineup and are complemented by a more veteran-laden infield that consists of a representative from each New York team at the corners in David Wright and our own Mark Teixeira.
The worlds' greatest superpower is slightly older up the middle but equally as solid with Jimmy Rollins at Short Stop and the Reds' Brandon Phillips at Second. There is power from top-to-bottom in this lineup, even at the Catcher spot, where they are three-deep with a couple of up-and-comers in J.P. Arencibia and Jonathan Lucroy backing up Minnesota's native son, Joe Mauer. The only real question when it comes to team USA is who these catchers will be sharing a battery with and if you ask me, the pitching staff as it is currently assembled is rather lackluster. There is no real sex appeal here but a couple of nice story lines with the reigning N.L. Cy Young award-winner, R.A. Dickey serving as the team's "de facto" ace and behind him is another impressive comeback story in Ryan Vogelsong. The two elder statesmen will be sharing the rotation with a couple of young guns in Derek Holland and Kris Medlen who was having a Cy Young-caliber season in his own right before succumbing to injury. Let's be honest, this is far from the best the United States has to offer but it should get the job done as the back-end is bolstered by a pair of closers in Chris Perez and Heath Bell.
3) The Dominican Republic
Taking a look at rosters from across the majors one would think that the Dominican Republic would easily field the best team but apparently they could not drum up enough support from some of their more talented constituents. One constant among the top-three is very scary infields and the DR has the potential to be the best of them all as the first name that jumps off the page to Yankees fans is that of beloved second baseman, Robinson Cano. However, they will have to do some maneuvering because it looks like they have a plethora Third Basemen and Shortstops so obviously one of them will be playing first and my guess is that Edwin Encarnacion earns that distinction. The left side of the infield will likely consist of Adrian Beltre at third and Jose Reyes at shortstop, which will give them the best bench in the tournament, with Erick Aybar, Hanley Ramirez, and Carlos Santana.
Their outfield is really nothing to write home about, highlighted by thumper Nelson Cruz and a couple of question marks in convicted PED user Melky Cabrera and former Mets farmhand, Carlos Gomez. The pitching is even more suspect because although they stockpiled a bevy of capable relievers, there aren't any real upper-echelon starters unless you think Alexi Ogando and Wandy Rodriguez fit the bill, but I tend to disagree on that front.
There is a significant drop-off once you get past the top three teams in the tournament as Mexico is a team that has yet to really fill out their roster but has a couple of nice pieces that will at least make them competitive. Right now they are very much incomplete with only one outfielder, Karim Garcia on the roster but there is some talent in other places. Not a lot, but some. The stand-outs are Dodgers first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez who highlights a pretty rag-tag infield that consists of Nationals' Second Baseman, Danny Espinosa and Alfredo Amezaga who has been toiling in the minors for a couple of years now.
There are also a couple of decent pieces on the pitching staff , highlighted by Yovani Gallardo and the Orioles' Miguel Gonzalez. Another name that should ring a bell for Yankees fans is Alfredo Aceves who, after being shuffled between the rotation and bullpen as a member of the Yankees has settled into a similar routine a couple miles to the north with the Red Sox. Obviously this is not a team that is of the same caliber as the top-three but will be one the USA should be wary of them as they are in their group.
5) Oh, Canada
Our neighbors to the north also find themselves in the same pool as the USA and Mexico and are as presently constructed, the weakest of the three. The only true stand-outs are Justin Morneau, who has not been the same player since suffering a concussion halfway through the 2010 season, Blue Jays third baseman, Brett Lawrie, and former Yankees catcher Russell Martin. Aside from those three there are a bunch of has-beens and never-was players with a couple of well known relievers thrown in. The two I am referring to are "The Ax Man" John Axford and Jesse Crain, but their services may be rendered moot as I am not sure they have anyone that has the ability to get to the eighth and ninth innings. With that said, the game is not played on paper, but if it was Canada would be losing.