As the Jays’ offseason marches on, the 2017 roster continues to take shape. With trades and signings not taking up as much sports bandwidth as playing games does, a certain subsection of baseball fans (like this one) may find themselves getting distracted by professional hockey. If only to avoid thinking about the latest Mitch Moreland rumors. In the process of pining for meaningful baseball games, we can look ahead to March 2017, when baseball’s marquee international tournament will be played – the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
People have differing feelings on international tournaments, and the WBC is no different. For many though, the prospect of a best-on-best world tournament is a sexy idea. Even if injury risk or lost revenues make the idea more pipe dream than reality, hypothetically constructing rosters can be a fun thought experiment.
With this in mind, given both the strength and diversity of the 2016 Blue Jays’ roster, this past season’s team could be very well represented at the 2017 WBC. Here’s a prospective look at the potential Blue Jays representatives in the tournament.
Confirmed: Marcus Stroman
Lock: Josh Donaldson
Maybe: Troy Tulowitzki
The United States’ roster is without a doubt the most difficult to crack. Americans still make up almost 75% of all Major League players. Despite a very strong crop of third basemen (Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Matt Carpenter), there would be no reason to leave Donaldson, a perennial MVP candidate, off Team USA.
The shortstop position has experienced a renaissance in recent years. While Troy Tulowitzki stood alone atop the position for years, younger players like Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Corey Seager have supplanted him. Aside from Seager, none are American born. While there are other strong candidates (Addison Russell, Trevor Story, Brandon Crawford), Tulo is likely in the mix for the team, even if he isn’t the slam-dunk he once was.
Assuming (hypothetically) most of the league’s prominent players participate, the competition for roster spots on Team USA will likely preclude any others from cracking the roster. This said, if participation wanes, as it has in years past, players like Devon Travis and J.A. Happ could get consideration as well.
Marcus Stroman has already confirmed that he’ll be playing for Team USA in the WBC, which suggests that some of the top pitchers aren’t going to be suiting up.
Lock: Russell Martin, Michael Saunders, Dalton Pompey
Maybe: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Canada, who has fewer than 15 players on active MLB rosters, will be relying heavily on its contingent of Blue Jay players if they are to contend for the 2017 WBC. Aside from superstars Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman (whose parents are Canadian), Michael Saunders, Russell Martin and Dalton Pompey are several of the more accomplished position players the Canadian team can field.
Michael Saunders 2016 second half swoon doesn’t change the fact he is the third most dangerous Canadian hitter, behind Votto and Freeman. While Dalton Pompey has yet to establish himself at the Major League level, his speed and defensive abilities are already Major League caliber. He should slot in as the starting centre fielder.
One potential hiccup in Canada’s WBC plans – Russell Martin, who did not participate in 2013, expressed an interest in playing shortstop for the team. While Canada admittedly lacks middle infield options, fielding a team with Martin behind the plate is likely Canada’s strongest defensive configuration. Known for both his framing abilities and working with pitchers, Martin’s game-calling ability would add value to a Canadian staff that is thin behind James Paxton, and John Axford (now that Jameson Taillon has said he will not participate). The WBC takes place in early March and Martin may be understandably concerned over catching consecutive 9-inning games that early in the season.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may be known to many Jays fans as the Dominican son of potential Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr., but he was actually born in Montreal while his father was playing for the Expos. That makes him eligible to suit up in the Red and White. If he decides he wants to suit up for Canada, the brass would have to seriously consider it. Sure, he wasn’t technically on the 2016 roster, but how can we not talk about him?
Team Dominican Republic
Lock: Edwin Encarnacion
Maybe: Jose Bautista, Francisco Liriano
Encarnacion, a member of the 2013 Dominican team that won the title, should be a lock for the team in 2017. Encarnacion will be counted on to play a major role in the Dominican lineup. Bautista, who elected not to play in 2013, would also strengthen the Dominican lineup. However, one thing to consider when thinking about Bautista and how he fits in with the rest of the Dominican roster – many of its star players are over 34-years-old – Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols.
While Liriano has not been stellar this season, he could get consideration for the Dominican pitching staff. The team is strong up front – with Danny Salazar, Carlos Martinez and Johnny Cueto, but a lack the depth (or left-handed starters) means that Liriano can still make the team.
Lock: Marco Estrada, Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez
Aside from Canada, no country would rely as heavily on Blue Jay contributors as Team Mexico. The Mexican pitching staff would benefit greatly from a rotation led by Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez. The latter was born in the United States (and could be a fit there too), but qualifies to play for Mexico. Osuna, would provide a formidable option at the back of the bullpen.
The Mexican team is not particularly strong offensively, and will rely on their pitching if they want to win games in the tournament. None of the three Blue Jays pitched with the Mexican team in their March qualifier, despite Team Mexico asking the Blue Jays permission to do so. If these three are left of the Mexican WBC roster, it won’t be because there were better players available.
Lock: Kevin Pillar, Scott Feldman
In defeating Great Britain this fall, Team Israel qualified for their first ever WBC and will make their tournament debut this March. Kevin Pillar and Scott Feldman are two of several Jewish players currently active in the Major Leagues, and would be a shoe-ins for the team should they decide to play.
It is unclear if and how management will shake up the roster come 2017, but the team would greatly benefit from adding it’s collection of Major League talent. “Current” Blue Jays’ swingman Scott Feldman is the most accomplished active pitcher (Jason Marquis pitched for Israel in the qualifier) that Team Israel could send to the mound. Feldman’s status as staff ace speaks to Israel’s lack of pitching depth. Offensively, Pillar could combine with Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Alex Bregman, Joc Pederson, and Danny Valencia to form a very respectable lineup that would be tasked with keeping Team Israel afloat in the tournament. It’s also important to note that all these players are eligible to play for Team USA as well.
While the WBC continues to grow, its potential remains immense. An American pitching rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Chris Sale facing off against a Venezuelan lineup of Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Gonzalez? Sign me up. Should the tournament continue to raise its profile, the Blue Jays could factor very heavily into the rosters of next year’s WBC contenders. If not, its still fun to dream on an international tournament with all of baseball’s best.
Lead Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports