Nothing will be good enough for the United States unless it wins the World Baseball Classic. That’s a tougher task when the very best Americans playing Major League Baseball are sitting out. Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard are just a few of the big names at the top in MLB who aren’t playing in the WBC.
It’s not a good thing for MLB that these stars aren’t playing, but it doesn’t have to be such a bad thing, either.
Team USA, as constructed, is good enough to win the WBC. It’s not the best team, but it’s still baseball we’re talking about and it’s still a stacked lineup, even if Drew Smyly isn’t on your list for preferred options as a Game 1 starter in the second round.
We’ve already determined that by and large, winning would be nice, but a win isn’t needed like it is for the Domincan Republic, Venezuela or Puerto Rico. That’s generally speaking, because the players donning the red, white and blue aren’t trying less or caring less in between the lines. When they’re out there, they’re trying to win just as badly.
While trying to win, the World Baseball Classic gives the United States a chance to show off its other stars. Even if they aren’t in the same tier as a Trout or Bryant, there are plenty capable of being players that teams and the league should build around.
Start on the mound with Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman. Neither are in the argument for America’s best pitcher, but they’re All-Star-caliber players who give Team USA a chance to win. More importantly, they’re booming with personality, which MLB should be trying to capitalize. Archer’s personality has shown in studio shows and on playoff coverage with ESPN. Stroman’s shows every time he takes the mound, which fits well in the WBC but is sometimes frowned upon by men yelling at clouds in MLB.
Nolan Arenado is one of the game’s top players — finishing 4th in FanRag’s 25 at 25 rankings — and homered in Team USA’s win over Canada. Even on an All-Star team, he’s good enough to be a team’s best player.
Paul Goldschmidt’s quiet personality means he’s quietly the best first baseman in baseball. He hits home runs and doubles, steals bases and wears a Gold Glove at first base.
Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey have won two World Series together thus far; Posey is an MVP and Crawford is an All-Star playing for a San Francisco Giants team that’s a perennial contender with three World Series in six years.
Christian Yelich is another player who made our 25 at 25, and his teammate, Giancarlo Stanton, has baseball’s richest contract and most powerful bat.
It’s not only Team USA that has players worthy of being propped up on a bigger stage. Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor continue to grow in the eyes of the common fan. That’s what this is all about, right? Those complaining about baseball’s marketing already know who all these players are and how good they are. It’s about getting the average fan to appreciate the talent in baseball, and this is a great era full of it.
With Trout, Harper, Bryant and Co. out of the way, those tuning into the WBC are getting an opportunity to see other stars in the game, some perhaps for the first time. That’s not a bad thing for Major League Baseball, so long as they take advantage and promote those players to the masses.
Whether or not they’re capable of doing that is a whole other discussion.
By Tommy Stokke