OK, I'm in. In these days of social distancing, Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman spent Thursday afternoon recruiting players for the 2021 World Baseball Classic via social media. Stroman was one of the stars of the U.S. team that won it all in 2017, starting the championship game against Puerto Rico and pitching six scoreless, one-hit innings in the 8-0 victory.
So let's have some fun and pick a U.S. dream team of 28 players (the roster size for the WBC). My rules:
1. Stroman has to be on the team because this whole thing was his idea.
2. Christian Yelich and Eric Hosmer have to be on the team because they were two of the leaders of the 2017 team and Stroman asked them to help in recruiting.
3. No Astros. Hey, chemistry is an important thing in a tournament like this. Can't take the risk of some bad blood if, say, Alex Bregman has to dress next to Cody Bellinger.
That's it. My team:
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto, Mitch Garver
In an era where the talent is a little thin overall behind the plate, Realmuto has established himself as the best all-around catcher in the game the past two seasons, with two Silver Sluggers and his first Gold Glove in 2019. I've written about Garver a couple of times this offseason and how I'm buying into his breakout 2019 when he mashed 31 home runs in just 311 at-bats, as a swing change produced legitimate pull power.
First base: Pete Alonso, Hosmer
No Freddie Freeman? In 2017, Freeman elected to play for Canada in honor of his late mother, who died when he was 10 years old. Both of his parents were born in Canada, so Freeman owns dual citizenship, but to make our decision easier let's assume he plays for Canada again in 2021. We'll go with Alonso as the starter in front of Hosmer. He represents everything good about the game right now: He enjoys the game, he has embraced his role as a face of the Mets, and the sport and he just gets it. The other day, he and Mets manager Luis Rojas called an 82-year-old woman, a longtime Mets fan who had been diagnosed with cancer and given only a few weeks to live. Oh, and he hit 53 home runs in 2019.
Second base: Max Muncy
Muncy will probably play mostly first base for the Dodgers in 2020, but I'm taking him as the second baseman over DJ LeMahieu and Kolten Wong. LeMahieu certainly had an outstanding 2019, but I'm not completely convinced he can do that again. Muncy, meanwhile, has mashed 35 home runs in back-to-back seasons with a .381 OBP, and his defensive metrics are actually solid at second base.
Shortstop: Marcus Semien, Trevor Story
Shortstop has obviously become a loaded position in recent years, and even with Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Carlos Correa anchoring the Puerto Rican team, we still have Trea Turner, Tim Anderson, Corey Seager and Paul DeJong to choose from. Still, Semien and Story are the easy choices and we can always move one of them over to second base to give Muncy a breather or if the opponent starts a left-handed pitcher.
Third base: Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arenado
Rendon will be the starter in the championship game -- yes, I'm expecting this team to reach the championship -- given his clutch performance in last year's postseason: He's exactly the kind of slow-heartbeat hitter you want in the lineup.
Outfielders: Yelich, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Bellinger, Aaron Judge, Tommy Edman
We'll go Yelich in left, Trout in center and Betts in right as our starting trio, and the only outfield that can top that would be Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Heck, maybe we'll move Bellinger to first base and let Alonso serve as the DH. It's fun managing an All-Star team! Tommy Edman? Yes, we need our last guy to be somebody just happy to be there, and Edman can play both infield and outfield if needed and with his speed he's also our pinch-running specialist.
RF Mookie Betts
LF Christian Yelich
CF Mike Trout
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Cody Bellinger
DH Pete Alonso
2B Max Muncy
SS Marcus Semien
C J.T. Realmuto
Starting pitchers: Stroman, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jack Flaherty, Walker Buehler, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Blake Snell, Patrick Corbin
Good luck scoring runs against this staff. Cole, deGrom, Scherzer and Strasburg will be the primary four starters, with the others working in relief. Snell and Corbin make the team to give us a couple of lefties in the bullpen -- remember that Corbin tossed three scoreless innings in relief in Game 7 of the World Series for the Nationals. Who starts the championship game? I'm not giving that away just yet.
Relief pitchers: Josh Hader, Kirby Yates
My initial plan was to go with all starting pitchers because why not, but Hader gives us a third lefty in the bullpen that we might need and Yates has been the best closer in baseball over the past two seasons, so they are both worthy additions.
MLB Rank: The top 100 players for 2020
You know, this little exercise has me thinking: What would be the ultimate one-season dream team? For example, the 1998 U.S. lineup could look like this:
SS Alex Rodriguez (or Derek Jeter)
LF Barry Bonds
C Mike Piazza
DH Mark McGwire
CF Ken Griffey Jr.
1B Jeff Bagwell
RF Albert Belle
3B Chipper Jones
2B Craig Biggio
Holy cow. All in their prime. The rotation would feature Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, John Smoltz, David Cone, Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine. Trevor Hoffman is the closer. Can our 2021 squad beat that group?