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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Sunday, July 07, 2002
My Cup Runneth Over
Jim needs something to do at 3 AM.
A recently concluded Futbol tournament known as the World Cup, brought the best players from 32 nations around the globe in order to compete for the World Championship.
Baseball has its own World Cup and it is played in November. Here was the starting lineup the USA fielded in the Gold Medal game of the 2001 cup. They lost 5-3 to Cuba:
Carl Crawford - LF, Mark Budzinski - CF, Orlando Hudson - 2B, Joe Borchard - CF, Marty Malloy - DH, Ken Huckaby - C, Matt Erickson - SS, Chris Snopek - 3B, Ben Broussard - 1B. Starting Pitcher - Jason Phillips.
Needless to say this isn’t a USA "b-team" or even a "z-team." It hardly seems coincidental that the tournament was not heavily publicized, and that the best baseball players in the world were not participating for any of the teams.
But what if they did? What if something could be worked out where every fourth November the best and the brightest of Baseball gathered to duke it out in grand fashion for the World Championship?
For whatever reason, this scenario brought great interest to me as I watched the best players from various countries try and win the 2002 Copa Mundial de Futbol.
So I figured I’d use my considerable journalistic clout, and hijack this space for a simple listing of the top teams and players of such a tournament. I present the 2002 Copa Mundial de Beisbol.
United States of America
Starting lineup: Mike Piazza - C, Jeff Bagwell - 1B, Jeff Kent - 2B, Eric Chavez
-3B, Alex Rodriguez - SS, Barry Bonds - LF, Ken Griffey Jr. - CF, Chipper Jones
- RF, Jason Giambi - DH.
Obviously the prohibitive favorites, the problem for the States would be to organize a batting order. Another issue to consider is whether Jeter and Garciaparra might be better choices for 2B and 3B than Kent and Chavez. The team would likely do a lot of platooning in order to get everybody on the club significant playing time in the tournament, and considering the overall depth of quality, it would probably help the club on the field.
Starting lineup: Tony Eusebio - C, David Ortiz - 1B, Alfonso Soriano - 2B,
Albert Pujols -3B, Miguel Tejada - SS, Sammy Sosa - LF, Carlos Beltran - CF,
Vladimir Guerrero - RF (ed. note - was originally Pedro not
Vlad), Manny Ramirez - DH.
An extremely strong ballclub, in order to maximize the quality of the team, the Dominicans might consider platooning Soriano and Luis Castillo. They are astonishingly weak at catcher with Tony Eusebio being notionally the best I could come up with (contrast this with Puerto Rico). Let me know if I’ve missed anybody. The pitching would be very strong though heavily right-handed.
Starting lineup: Atsuya Furuta - C, Michihiro Ogasawara - 1B, Tadahito Iguchi
- 2B, Norihiro Nakamura -3B, Kazuo Matsui - SS, Hideki Matsui - LF, Tsuyoshi
Shinjo - CF, Ichiro Suzuki - RF, Nobuhiko Matsunaka - DH.
By far the fastest and maybe the best defensive team involved, they lack the
power of the other big guns, but are not completely without it as Hideki "Godzilla"
Matsui and Michihiro Ogasawara are both big, strong power-hitters. The fame
of Tsuyoshi Shinjo could hurt the club because I believe Tomoaki Kanemoto or
Yoshitomo Tani might be better players. The team leans heavily toward left-handed
hitters making them match-up well with the Dominican pitching. The best Japanese
player might be shortstop, Kazuo Matsui. Matsui is rumored to be heading stateside
in 2003 and he’s a lightning fast .300 hitting switch-hitter with very good
glove-work and 15-20 homer power. In other words he’s a faster Derek Jeter with
a better glove. The pitching is not as strong as the USA or the Dominicans,
but Uehara and the hard-throwing Matsuzaka compliment the stateside Japanese
pitchers well. Okajima is a tough left-handed reliever.
Starting lineup: Ivan Rodriguez - C, Carlos Delgado - 1B, Roberto Alomar -
2B, Jose Vidro -3B, Rey Sanchez - SS, Jose Cruz Jr. - LF, Bernie Williams -
CF, Juan Gonzalez - RF, Edgar Martinez - DH.
I moved Vidro to third instead of using Mike Lowell or Jose Valentin because I felt he fit the lineup better and was probably a better hitter. I also placed Rey Sanchez ahead of Valentin at SS because the Puerto Rican pitching is fairly weak and they could use the glove. After Vazquez and Pineiro, their pitching becomes very suspect with guys like Ricky Bones and Javier Martinez becoming viable options. The lineup however is top-notch and one of the best catchers in the world in Jorge Posada would wind up backing up IRod and filling in at 1B and DH.
Starting lineup: Ramon Hernandez - C, Roberto Petagine - 1B, Edgardo Alfonzo
- 2B, Carlos Guillen - 3B, Omar Vizquel - SS, Magglio Ordonez - LF, Richard
Hidalgo - CF, Bobby Abreu - RF, Roger Cedeno - DH.
Another strong team, theoretically any of Japan, Puerto Rico or Venezuela could
be ranked in any order. This just happens to be my opinion. The Venezuelans
won’t make the mistake the Astros, Padres, Mets and Reds made and give Roberto
Petagine the starting first base job over fellow Japanese League All-Star Alex
Cabrera. Hidalgo and Abreu can be switched between center and right if the team
so chooses. The pitching is also a touch thin but better than Puerto Rico’s,
especially in the bullpen. They don’t have quite the same top to bottom lineup
as Puerto Rico though as Hernandez, Guillen and Cedeno are all fairly weak hitters
for those positions. Venezuela would be the youngest of the powerhouse teams
which means very good thing for the future success of the national team. In
four years this team might be able to overtake the Dominicans for the number
Starting lineup: Jamie Pogue - C, Justin Morneau - 1B, Stubby Clapp - 2B, Corey
Koskie - 3B, Danny Klassen - SS, Matt Stairs - LF, Larry Walker - CF, Aaron
Guiel - RF, Nigel Wilson - DH.
How about them Canadians, eh? The warriors of the Great White North represent what is probably the start of the second echelon teams. These teams would generally feature players from the American Professional leagues but would rely somewhat on AAA lifers, non-prospects and low-level major leaguers, to make up its roster. Walker would be a welcome addition to any lineup in the Cup, but his abilities may be stretched in CF. Former prospect Nigel Wilson comes over from Japan to aid Walker, Matt Stairs and Corey Koskie in the power department. Eric Gagne would almost have to return to the rotation for the Canadians to have a chance at being competitive as Jeff Zimmerman can handle the closing duties and the Canadians have a stronger bullpen than rotation. Chris Reitsma from Minneapolis has dual-citizenship, but considering he’d be about 71st on the USA list of pitchers, he would almost certainly play here as he has in the past. This team’s just good enough to cause the top teams to take them seriously, and with a few breaks might be able to get in the thick of things.
Remaining Top 10 (Top Player)
7. Korea Republic (Byung-Hyun Kim)
The strength of all of these teams (sans Australia) is fairly hard to gauge since none of them contribute players regularly to the American or Japanese professional ranks (where the level of play is fairly easy to gauge). Cuba has benefited greatly in international play from sending its best non-refugee players to the Olympics and World Cup play. With the fact that now that other countries send pros of modest quality, Cuban dominance has been diminished considerably, it’s reasonable to assume that with everyone else’s best against Cuba’s best, Cuba’s standing would fall greatly. In fact a team called "Free Cuba" consisting of Cubans severed from their country of birth might very well be a stronger club. Still, they could deserve to be rated a few slots higher. Korea and Mexico also do not contribute players heavily to the American pros and the players that they have contributed have held their own but only a couple have achieved stardom. John Stephens may seem a peculiar choice over bigger names like Chris Snelling (who should be their best in four years) and Luke Prokopec, but its just a matter of time before the Orioles forget about what the radar gun says when Stephens pitches and concentrate on what the scoreboard says when he does. Stephens is currently 11-4 with a 2.80 ERA and a league leading 110 strikeouts to only 18 walks for Rochester of the International League.
Pending on a varied list of factors, Taiwan, Panama or the Netherlands could crack this top 10 as well.
A parting thought: Does anyone suppose it would be remotely possible for the MLBPA to do an end-run around MLB ownership and arrange such a tournament in another country if a strike happened? Probably not, but it would be a decent threat.
Any thoughts, criticisms, comments or suggestions on this exercise are welcome.
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