In March 2023, the stars will descend on Japan, Taiwan, and the United States to take part in the World Baseball Classic, the first WBC since 2017. Baseball fans are always clamoring to see their favorite players compete in national competitions, and the Olympics failed to slake any thirst for a star-infused international competition because the Olympic rosters featured zero current MLB players. So, the 2023 Classic should relieve some of the pent-up demand from baseball fans for a high-quality competition; we will finally get to see our favorite players on the world stage in what should be the world’s premier baseball competition.
Previous WBCs have been action-packed and competitive down to the wire; that’s what tends to happen when superstars collide:
Never Forget when Adam Jones robbed Manny Machado in the World Baseball Classic ? pic.twitter.com/DKDEque5kd
— Baseball (@mlbelites_) August 9, 2022
But they’ve always had something missing, and that’s widespread superstar participation. While I love Adam Jones and this catch forever, imagine how much better this moment could’ve been if someone better than Tyler Clippard had thrown that pitch to Machado and Mike Trout had robbed Machado in center field. It would have been a thousand times cooler, and the social media clips of a team of superstars against a team of other superstars would spread across the internet like wildfire. Even beyond the United States, other nations haven’t featured their best players in the Classic, so the competition doesn’t become the Clash of Titans it’s billed as (or what it should be). Each nation has always been very talented but has never had the best possible players available at every position, and has to “settle” for a set of players a tier or two below the upper echelon of MLB talent.
Let’s take a look at the 2017 United States roster as an example. In 2017, the United States’ outfield was: Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, and Christian Yelich (pre-Brewers breakout). That was easily the best outfield in the WBC, but still, nowhere close to the best possible outfield the United States could field (Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, etc.). And, the pitching staff was fine, but again, nowhere close to the best the United States could field:
It’s a decent group, but if the United States had recruited and fielded its best players, we would be looking at a pitching staff featuring Clayton Kershaw, Jacob DeGrom, and Justin Verlander, among others. The United States’ failure to recruit its best players didn’t lead to any less of a positive result in 2017, as the United States won the whole thing, but it did mean a significant missed opportunity for MLB and international baseball to draw in eyeballs on what is always an incredible event. If you put superstars on national TV, where people can see them, good things happen! And, the money starts to flow a little faster!
Thankfully, we won’t have to imagine a better roster in 2023:
Bryce Harper commits to playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic ??
He joins these other commitments:
• Mike Trout
• Paul Goldschmidt
• Trevor Story
• Nolan Arenado
• J.T. Realmuto pic.twitter.com/B6LrsN1Ne3
— B/R Walk-Off (@BRWalkoff) August 12, 2022
What an outfield for the United States. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and a lucky third (hopefully, Mookie Betts) will get to patrol the outfield against the world’s best players. But, the commitments from Trout and Harper signal a positive change in the attitude toward the World Baseball Classic. MLB’s superstars are starting to recognize the value of participating in the Classic, both from a fun point of view and from a monetary point of view. When everyone’s playing in the Classic, the baseball world is watching, from Japan to the Netherlands, and that means the opportunity for players to grow their brands internationally.
Returning to the 2023 outlook, no matter how much you liked 2017 Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, you have to admit that a United States roster featuring both Bryce Harper and healthy Mike Trout is leaps and bounds better than the outfield last time around. With those two in the mix, the United States has quite the elevator pitch to deliver to American-born superstars still unsure of their participation in the Classic. This time around, we should see a better caliber of player on the United States’ roster. And, other teams have taken notice of Harper and Trout’s commitments, and are calling in their own big guns:
??Team Dominican Republic Player Commitments for the 2023 World Baseball Classic??
— Shawn (@Shawn_Spradling) August 8, 2022
Talk about star-studded! Every other country has to be looking at this roster and thinking, “We’d better light the beacons. Signal for aid!”
All of these star commitments have gotten me thinking: “What’s the best possible roster for each team? If each national team had its pick of the litter, who would they select?” This article explores the best possible rosters for 10 national teams participating in the World Baseball Classic. These rosters include players currently injured, as I am assuming they will be healthy for March 2023, but they do not include players who have tested positive for PEDs because those players are ineligible for the Classic. And, since these rosters are “Dream Teams,” it means superstars will have to be benched or cut; in real life, when the players have committed to playing for their country in the Classic, they’re signing up for a starting role. So, even though I would rather have Will Smith over J.T. Realmuto catching for the United States, that’s not how it’s going to work in real life.
While there are 20 teams participating in this year’s edition, due to time constraints, I have only picked 10 rosters. Feel free to let me know where I’ve missed or which teams I should’ve done on Twitter (@MrAdster99) or in the PitcherList Discord.
The United States
Good luck beating this team:
Again, in this “Dream Team” scenario, both Paul Goldschmidt and J.T. Realmuto, who have already committed to playing for Team USA in real life, sit on the bench. Trevor Story didn’t even make the final team, although some might ultimately find him better than Semien (I don’t). The bench could be used to make another elite United States team that would probably not lose a game, but that’s besides the point. This roster has no holes from top to bottom. Even if the U.S. decided to go with a 3-man rotation, Gerrit Cole and Corbin Burnes out of the bullpen would be unbelievably good. And, when the team’s “worst” starting hitter is probably Marcus Semien, you’re going to score a lot of runs.
The Dominican Republic
This may be the only team that could compete with the United States in 2023.
The DR’s rotation and catching squad leave a little bit to be desired, but the DR and United States’ starting lineups are about equal. It sure helps when the DR is starting 5 or 6 MVP candidates and a handful of other All-Stars. If the United States and the Dominican Republic played in the 2023 WBC final with this roster, I have no doubt that it would garner the interest of just about every baseball fan on the planet.
Cuba might be able to stack up with the best teams in the tournament with a 99th-percentile type of game from one of their starters, but ultimately they lack the depth to compete with the United States or the DR.
Cuba has an excellent trio of starters in Nestor Cortes, Carlos Rodón, and Alek Manoah, and a true 1-2 punch out of the bullpen in Aroldis Chapman and Raisel Iglesias. Beyond that, Cuba’s pitching is full of question marks; Adrian Morejon and Vladimir Gutierrez are talented but haven’t consistently succeeded at the big league level to make me feel confident putting them in high-leverage situations.
Cuba’s starting lineup is good, but again, lacks the depth to compete with the big boys. A top-4 featuring Robert, Arozarena, Alvarez, Moncada, and Adolis García is excellent. However, Aledmys Díaz and José Iglesias leave a little to be desired with their bats. If Cuba could find a way to include each of Yuli Gurriel, José Abreu, and Yordan Alvarez, they would be better off, but due to their positional constraints, it looks like Cuba would have to push Adolis García to the bench and move Alvarez to the outfield, or push Gurriel to the bench.
If Shohei Ohtani doesn’t play for Japan in 2023, this will all have been for naught and the Classic should be canceled.
This lineup is a bit of a “wild card” in terms of quality. Japan could be one of the best 2 or 3 teams in this field, or they could settle for above-average, like Cuba. Put another way, their ceiling is sky-high, and their floor is good but not great.
Where former or current MLB players couldn’t fit, I put in the best available NPB players, many of them All-Stars or 2021 Olympic participants, or both, to take those spots. NPB has typically rated as a AAA or even AAAA equivalent of MLB, so players that succeed in NPB generally have a good chance of succeeding in MLB. However, since NPB simply isn’t as good as MLB competition, it’s tough to gauge how well NPB players will perform against MLB players in a high-quality international competition. Given Japan’s previous success in World Baseball Classics, I’m willing to bet they will be right there alongside the DR and the United States in the running for the championship.
Similar to Cuba, Venezuela might be able to stack up with the best teams in the tournament with a 99th-percentile type of game from one of their starters, but ultimately they lack the depth to compete with the United States or the DR.
This is a solid starting lineup, with Arráez, Acuña, Altuve, and Contreras at the top, but I’m not sure it keeps pace with the top tier of lineups. It depends on which versions of Avisaíl García (pre-2022) and Eugenio Suárez (also pre-2022) we get because the bottom half of the lineup could either be deep enough to make any pitcher’s start an absolute nightmare or shallow enough to give Venezuelan fans nightmares.
The pitching also leans heavily towards starters, but I felt Venezuela had a lot of strong starters that could ultimately be used for multi-inning appearances instead of a single inning or a couple of batters. There are still a few relief weapons on this squad, including Brusdar Graterol and José Quijada (join the JQ truthers club if you’re cool, like me), but ultimately the relief corps leaves a little to be desired.
All this team needs to do is get the lead to the bullpen, which might be tough beyond Berríos and Stroman. From there, the numerous high-end relievers on this roster will get the job done.
Outside of this relief corps, Puerto Rico’s big strength is its positional players, especially up the middle. Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Báez, and George Springer? What a group! They should be terrorizing opposing teams with both their bats and their defense. I’m not sure a ground ball is ever going to get past any of them. And, if you need defensive subs, how about another elite defender in Andrew Velazquez? And alas, this is the year we finally leave Yadier Molina off the dream team roster. I think Caratini and Vázquez simply have more to offer this squad than Yadi.
This squad requires a little explanation. WBC rules only require players to be eligible to become citizens for their country. Israel has a special citizenship path for Jews, called the “Law of Return.” The Law of Return allows anyone with a Jewish parent or grandparent or who is married to a Jew the right to return to Israel (known as “making aliyah“) and become citizens. So, virtually every Jewish baseball player, regardless of their country of residence, is eligible for the Israeli WBC team. Thus, players like Max Fried and Alex Bregman were moved from Team USA over to Team Israel. Bregman played for Team USA in the 2017 classic, but I found that I wouldn’t start Bregman over Trea Turner at short or Nolan Arenado at third in a “Dream Team” scenario, so I don’t feel bad about moving him over here.
The lineup isn’t particularly deep, with only a couple of talented hitters at the top. A trio of Pederson, Bregman, and Tellez would pack a nice punch, but after that, Team Israel gets very shallow and would have to rely on former MLB guys and current backups, like Garrett “Hebrew Hammer” Stubbs and Kevin Pillar. And, outside of Max Fried, the pitching staff looks a little rough around the edges. There’s MLB experience in that bullpen, but the real surprise weapon has to be pitcher Jacob Steinmetz, who was taken in the 3rd round of the 2021 MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Steinmetz stands 6’6″, is just 19 years old, and throws a fastball, slider, and changeup. Oh, and he’s also believed to be the first Orthodox Jew taken in the MLB Draft. Too good not to put as the last man on the roster here.
Korea would be my pick for the sleeper team of the tournament. The team is loaded with solid MLB players and KBO All-Stars and could beat pretty everyone in their group. Korea is in an intriguing pool (Pool B) with Japan, China, Australia, and a Qualifying Team, and should be able to beat up on China/Australia/Qualifying Team and will certainly challenge Japan for Best in Group.
Korea’s infield, minus Eui-ji Yang, a KBO All-Star and 2-time KBO MVP, are all MLB players. The rest of the lineup features former MLB players in Hyun-soo Kim and Shin-soo Choo and the best of KBO in Jung-hoo Lee and Sung-bum Na. Lee played in Tokyo 2020 with Team Korea, while Sung-bum Na is a 6-time KBO All-Star and still hits prolifically in KBO. All of this is to say, the starting lineup won’t have a ton of holes for opposing pitchers to exploit.
Admittedly, yours truly is not an expert on KBO players or other Korean baseball superstars. This is my best approximation of Korea’s dream lineup, using statistics from 2022 KBO and active MLB players. However, this team has some international experience and a core of talented MLB players that should work well together and may punch above their weight in the Classic.
Mexico gets a pretty significant bump from adding two young pitchers, Julio Urías and José Urquidy. Urías is the unquestioned ace of the squad, with Urquidy serving as a nice number 2 starter. After that, the starting pitching gets a little questionable, but at least Mexico has a solid bullpen that can protect leads.
The entire infield is full of MLB players or former MLB players, with Adrián González being the only inactive player in that infield. González could cede playing time to Jonathan Aranda, the Rays prospect, who has slashed .324/.398/.529 at Triple-A Durham in 2022. Ultimately, though, while Mexico will be able to start a lineup entirely of MLB players, none of the MLB players have been standouts at the big league level — except Adrián González, who hasn’t played in the majors since 2018. Unless this lineup can turn up big on the international stage, Mexico shouldn’t be expected to challenge for the Classic championship.
Talk about a team with pitching! My goodness, this roster has a lot of MLB-quality pitching on it, from Soroka down to Matt Brash, and maybe Zach Pop on a good day. This group of starters — we’re probably looking at Soroka, Taillon, and Pivetta as the starters, with Quantrill and Paxton coming out of the ‘pen — will be able to keep the games low-scoring and serve as a nice bridge to a strong bullpen. With a trio of Jordan Romano, Matt Brash, and Rowan Wick, Canada will be able to keep opposing offenses at bay and give their own offense every chance to score runs.
The offense will need all the help it can get because while this team has a handful of recognizable MLB names, there aren’t a lot of high-quality hitters to throw at opposing pitching. Sure, Freddie Freeman can do some damage, but the rest of this lineup doesn’t hit consistently enough in big league action for opposing pitchers to really be quaking in their boots. It would take a resurgence from Joey Votto and hot streaks from Tyler O’Neill or Abraham Toro for this team to really compete within their group. However, Canada has been given a gift of a group, as they will be competing with the United States, Colombia, Mexico, and a Qualifying Team for two spots in the next round. Aside from what is likely a loss against the United States, Canada has a solid chance of making it out of their group with the second spot.
With these rosters, the United States should be the unquestioned favorite for the championship. They’re flush with All-Star and even MVP-caliber talent and have the starting pitching/relief corps to hold opposing rosters to zero every single day. And on the other side of the ball, imagine how terrifying it would be to face a lineup starting 9 All-Stars and 3 MVPs. There’s no respite for pitchers against that group, no holes in the lineup to rack up easy outs against.
With these rosters, I would imagine the final standings shaking up to be something like:
- United States
- Dominican Republic
- Puerto Rico
I am thrilled that teams are attracting some of their best players for 2023 because it means an even more watchable World Baseball Classic. It’s a win-win for everyone, especially for Mike Trout, who gets to play in another meaningful playoff game, for once. Even if we don’t get the best possible rosters for this Classic, with all the superstars participating for each of their home countries, we’ve already got enough stars signed up for the event that it’ll be an absolutely incredible watch. I hope fans are all planning on tuning in during mid-to-late March!
(Photos by Icon Sportswire) Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on twitter)