Las Vegas is currently welcoming GMs, agents, players and hordes of reporters ready to begin this week’s Winter Meetings. Most of the attention will be devoted to free agents and possible trades, all looking ahead to how each team will shape up for the 2009 MLB season.
But before another marathon MLB campaign is launched, the World Baseball Classic (WBC) will dazzle and delight during March. Yesterday’s announcement that Alex Rodriguez will be representing the Dominican Republic in the tournament has only increased the excitement surrounding the event.
A-Rod’s decision makes an already fearsome Dominican Republic batting lineup look even more ridiculous. Back in 2006, his about-turn (first he was playing for the D.R., then for no one, then finally for the U.S.) initially meant that the Cubs’ Aramis Ramirez was handed the third base spot, only for him to withdraw as well. This left the hot corner open for Adrian Beltre, who promptly smashed four homers and drove in nine runs over six games (the highest totals in both categories for all third baseman in the tournament) while hitting .300/.391/.900.
Not bad for your third choice.
If you plug A-Rod into third base, with Ramirez, Beltre and the Phillies’ Pedro Felix next in line, you can start to build something special.
First base would ideally go to Albert Pujols. His recovery from elbow surgery could put his place in doubt (the Cardinals clearly won’t want him to participate unless he is back near 100%), but the Rays’ Carlos Pena isn’t too shoddy a substitute if the reigning NL MVP can’t make it. David Ortiz will of course be DH-ing once again.
Placido Polanco manned second base for the Dominican Republic back in 2006, although there is talk that he might sit the event out in ’09. Robinson Cano is the most likely player to take over. He had a miserable season in ’08 and perhaps joining up with his countrymen, taking a bit of a break from the media attention at the Yankees’ Spring Training camp, could be exactly what he needs to help him bounce back?
Miguel Tejada led the team from shortstop last time and he will be in the running to do so again. From a pure performance standpoint, either Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez should start instead and that’s certainly the way I would go.
The catching position is the relatively weak point on the roster with only MLB back-ups to choose from such as Ronny Paulino and Miguel Olivo.
The outfield could be a real upgrade over the roster from 2006. The position holders then (generally Moises Alou in left, Willy Taveras in centre, and either Juan Encarnacion or Willy Mo Pena in right) didn’t strike fear into the opposing pitchers in the way that the infield did. Vladimir Guerrero had to withdraw just before the tournament due to a family bereavement and Manny Ramirez eventually decided to stay with the Red Sox (how things change!).
With Alfonso Soriano now firmly in the outfield rather than butchering balls at second base, you’ve potentially got three lethal weapons to select if Guerrero and Ramirez join in this time around alongside a few other candidates like Jose Guillen and the Twins’ Carlos Gomez (who could either start in centre or be a great impact player coming off the bench). Much as I would love to see an outfield of Manny, Soriano and Bad Vlad, the pitching staff might not be so enamoured by the idea (‘you score ten, we’ll score fifteen’ sounds like a good plan to me). However, there has also got to be some doubt as to whether Ramirez, newly signed to a lucrative multi-year deal, would actually turn up.
So, here’s the lineup I would go with:
1. Jose Reyes (SS) – S
2. Robinson Cano (2B) – L
3. Albert Pujols (1B) – R
4. Alex Rodriguez (3B) – R
5. David Ortiz (DH) – L
6. Vladimir Guerrero (RF) – R
7. Alfonso Soriano (LF) – R
8. Carlos Gomez (CF) – R
9. Miguel Olivo (C) – R
This on the assumption that Manny doesn’t take part. I’ve put Gomez in at eight to put some speed in front of Olivo so that he can bunt him over or benefit from some Carlos-inspired havoc on the bases. It’s a little right-heavy, so I’ve moved Ortiz down to fifth rather than hit him between Pujols and A-Rod (perhaps Gomez should lead off with the switch-hitting Reyes at eight?). Options off the bench would include Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez and Jose Guillen.
I think we have ourselves a new ‘Murderers Row’.
As for the pitching staff, the probable pitch-limit may make manager Stan Javier shuffle things around, but he’s got some quality young arms to work with in Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Fausto Carmona, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Carlos Marmol. I’m not sure how close they’re going to need to keep the score, but they’ll be tough to hit against anyway.
No doubt there are other names I could have included. The potential roster really drives home how many great players the Dominican Republic produces. The other fifteen teams have a big fight on their hands if they are going to stop them from winning the title, after falling at the semi-final stage to Cuba in 2006. Mind you, several of them who can put together an All-Star calibre lineup as well.
One thing’s for sure: the 2009 WBC is going to be a fantastic event