Building Team USA’s best potential 2023 World Baseball Classic lineup
Building Team USA’s best potential World Baseball Classic lineup originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Team USA’s roster construction for the 2023 World Baseball Classic is off to an impeccable start.
Three-time MVP Mike Trout has signed up to captain Team USA in next year’s World Baseball Classic as the Americans look to defend their title. The Angels outfielder wasn’t part of the 2017 championship team, but Team USA will be hoping he’s just one of several stars making their WBC debut in the fifth iteration of the tournament, which was postponed from 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now that the Americans can slot the world’s best baseball player into one of their outfield spots, how should they go about building the rest of their starting lineup?
Here’s the lineup that Team USA general manager Tony Reagins should be trying to assemble (stats through July 24 and via FanGraphs):
Catcher: Will Smith
2017 championship game starter: Jonathan Lucroy
Other top contenders for 2023: J.T. Realmuto, Sean Murphy
J.T. Realmuto had a run as the game’s best American catcher, but that title now belongs to Will Smith. Since the start of last season, the 27-year-old Dodgers catcher has posted better offensive numbers almost across the board than the three-time All-Star Phillies catcher. It wouldn’t be surprising if Team USA preferred the more experienced, defensive option in Realmuto, but Smith gets the edge here as the player on an upward trend.
First base: Paul Goldschmidt
2017 championship game starter: Eric Hosmer
Other top contenders for 2023: Pete Alonso, Matt Olson
Freddie Freeman representing Canada makes this decision much easier. After Eric Hosmer mostly played ahead of Paul Goldschmidt at first in the 2017 WBC, the starting job is clearly Goldy’s this time around. The seven-time All-Star is in the midst of a career year and is the current favorite to take home his first MVP award. Goldschmidt leads the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, wRC+ and fWAR.
Second base: Trea Turner
2017 championship game starter: Ian Kinsler
Other top contenders for 2023: Gavin Lux, Marcus Semien
While Trea Turner has spent the majority of his career at shortstop, sliding him over to second base allows Team USA to capitalize on the glut of high-end shortstop talent it has (more on that in a bit). Turner would be the top choice at both middle infield spots – that’s how good he is. Over the last three seasons, the two-time All-Star paces all middle infielders in fWAR and is second in wRC+, trailing only Fernando Tatis Jr.
Third base: Nolan Arenado
2017 championship game starter: Nolan Arenado
Other top contenders for 2023: Austin Riley, Kris Bryant
Nolan Arenado retains his starting spot from the 2017 tournament – the only American to do so. Just like his Cardinals teammate Goldschmidt, Arenado is having one of the best seasons of his outstanding career. The seven-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glover has the third-best fWAR in the majors, behind just Aaron Judge and Goldschmidt, and is tied for 11th in wRC+. Despite, Austin Riley’s impressive offensive surge, the all-around stud in Arenado deserves to keep his spot at the hot corner.
Shortstop: Dansby Swanson
2017 championship game starter: Brandon Crawford
Other top contenders for 2023: Corey Seager, Tim Anderson
Even with Turner out of the mix, the toughest choice of any position comes at shortstop. All three of Tim Anderson, Corey Seager and Dansby Swanson have a strong case to start. Anderson and Seager have more of a proven track record of success at the plate, with the former being a hit machine and the latter being one of the top slugging middle infielders. Ultimately, Swanson’s elite defense at a premium position is too hard to pass up, especially as the former No. 1 overall pick has broken through as a hitter. In addition to playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, Swanson is fourth among all shortstops in wRC+ this season behind Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa. That combination is why the first-time All-Star shortstop is tied for the sixth-best fWAR in the majors.
Outfield: Aaron Judge (LF), Mike Trout (CF), Mookie Betts (RF), Bryce Harper (DH)
2017 championship game starters: Christian Yelich (LF), Adam Jones (CF), Andrew McCutchen (RF), Giancarlo Stanton (DH)
Other top contenders for 2023: Byron Buxton, George Springer, Giancarlo Stanton
Thankfully a designated hitter exists in the WBC because there were essentially three outfield spots for four players in Trout, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper. Judge could become just the sixth player to ever record a 60-home run season, Harper was having yet another MVP-caliber season before suffering a broken thumb and Betts is one of baseball's best all-around players. Not really anything to debate here.
Pitcher: Jacob deGrom
2017 championship game starter: Marcus Stroman
Other top contenders for 2023: Justin Verlander, Corbin Burnes
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Jacob deGrom on a major league mound, so in case you need a reminder: Over his last 581 innings pitched (since the start of the 2018 season), deGrom has MLB's No. 1 ERA (1.94) and No. 2 WHIP (0.88) to go along with 774 strikeouts. Suffice to say, there’s no more dominant pitcher out there right now than the Mets' two-time Cy Young winner. The Americans have a bevy of starting pitching options to choose from, but deGrom should be Reagins’ first call.
To recap, here’s a look at the best potential lineup Team USA could roll out for its opening game at Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks, in March:
1. Mookie Betts, RF
2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
3. Mike Trout, CF
4. Bryce Harper, DH
5. Aaron Judge, LF
6. Nolan Arenado, 3B
7. Trea Turner, 2B
8. Will Smith, C
9. Dansby Swanson, SS
Pitcher: Jacob deGrom
That certainly has the looks of a team capable of pulling off a repeat.
The biggest question, though, is how many of these aforementioned stars actually want to join Team USA in its pursuit of a second straight WBC championship. The U.S. struggled to attract big names in 2017 as some players prioritized getting ready for the MLB season. The 29 American players who made an appearance for the 2017 championship team had a combined 43 All-Star appearances at the time. For context, just the 10 players listed above have 48 All-Star nods between them.
But maybe with someone like Trout joining the 2023 team first, other stars will follow his lead.