Negotiations are nearing completion for the 2006 “Super World Cup”, to be held in the U.S., with some games in Japan and Korea. With MLB and the MLBPA as hosts, this 16-country tournament should be the strongest international field ever assembled since it should have all MLB and minor league players available. Over the next few weeks, I will be looking at the teams we might potentially see in the 2006 World Cup. We covered Venezuela and Canada in Part One, and today we’ll look at the favored U.S. team and a relative minnow, the Netherlands.
Incidentally, thanks to all those who sent me corrections and suggestions on Part 1. At the end of the series, I will post revised lineups based on your comments. And yes, as many of you pointed out, I just plumb forgot about Alex Cabrera of the Seibu Lions, who will make a fine first baseman for the Venezuelan team.
As befits my contrarian nature, we’ll start today with the Dutchmen. I’d like to offer profuse thanks, up front, to Dutch THT reader Marco van Elst with his help in assembling this projected team. The Netherlands are the host, incidentally, of the 2005 IBAF World Cup (the big world championship tournament for amateur baseball), and so they should be peaking at just about the right time for this tournament.
Manager: While it would be great to get Bert Blyleven out of the broadcast booth and into the dugout, I would bet that a Dutch team would be skippered by their National Team coach, Robert Eenhorn. Davey Johnson had taken over at Athens for Eenhorn, after Eenhorn’s 6-year-old son tragically died of cancer. But I would expect Eenhorn to be fully back in charge soon. (One of his assistants is the legendary Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens).
Easily the best team in Europe, the Dutch are a bit under-strength for a tournament of this magnitude. The team relies heavily on players from the Netherlands Antilles, particularly Aruba and Curacao, making them an amalgam of Europe and the Caribbean. They will likely be reliant on some young players, and, to steady the tiller, will likely have three prominent major leaguers and a number of veterans who play in the Dutch League. Sir Sidney Ponson will be asked to win whatever game the Dutch need to win most.
SP Sidney Ponson, Orioles
SP Calvin Maduro, Mr. Cocker HCAW (Netherlands)
SP Diegomar Markwell, DOOR Neptunus (Netherlands)
SP Alexander Smit, Twins (A)
RP Rick van den Hurk, Marlins (A)
RP Ferenc Jongejan, Cubs (A)
On the bubble
RP Robert van Doornspeek, DOOR Neptunus (Netherlands); RP Kenny Berkenbosch, Marlins (A); RP Eelco Jansen, DOOR Neptunus (Netherlands); SP Patrick Beljaards, Kinheim (Netherlands); RP Patrick de Lange, Mr. Cocker HCAW (Netherlands); SP Jair Jurrjens, Tigers (Rookie).
A mix of very young and very old players, the Dutch starting lineup is bolstered here by the terrific centerfielder from Curacao, Andruw Jones. Many of the other players here have MLB experience of one kind or another. The player to watch out for in the future is 1B Gregory Halman, who recently signed a six-year free agent deal with the Mariners and is playing in their Instructional League in Arizona. Halman recently came close to winning a Triple Crown in the Dutch League at the age of 17; he’s the real deal.
C Chairon Isenia, Devil Rays (AA)
1B Randall Simon, Devil Rays
2B Ivanon Coffie, Astros (AA)
3B Yurrendel de Caster, Pirates (AA)
SS Ralph Milliard, Mr. Cocker HCAW (Netherlands)
LF Wladimir Balentien, Mariners (A)
CF Andruw Jones, Braves
RF Gene Kingsale, Padres (AA)
DH Sharnol Adriana, Cordoba (Mexico)
In The Mix
OF Lorvin Louisa, Nationals (A); OF Archi Jansen, Braves (A); C Sidney de Jong, Mr. Cocker HCAW (Netherlands); OF Rikkert Faneyte, Amsterdam Pirates (Netherlands); OF Dirk van’t Klooster, DOOR Neptunus (Netherlands); 1B Gregory Halman, Mariners (Rookie); 3B Vince Rooi, Nationals (A); OF Rogearvin Bernadina, Nationals (A).
While the Netherlands are the best team in Europe, they wouldn’t be ranked very high in North America or even in Asia. Still, there is talent here and they played some good games at the Olympics in Greece, with a number of these projected players. Depending on the size of the preliminary groups, they might win a couple of games.
Projected Ranking: 12th
Likely Goal: Avoid blowouts, possible quarterfinal
Manager: Well, this is an interesting question. The U.S. have the pick of most of the world’s managerial talent, but the ideal candidate will have a successful track record, not be in an MLB job (since the tournament will take place during spring training) and will be someone used to handling veteran egos and a good manager of a pitching staff. Unless he is hired sometime between now and the spring of 2006, I can’t think of a better choice than Cito Gaston.
The U.S. doesn’t have a large number of “no-brainers” because of the hugely competitive nature of the pitching staff, with dozens if not hundreds of candidates for a spot in 2006. I am only listing the very best candidates here, but the competition is extremely tough and many of those listed here will not make it. There aren’t any no-brainer relievers, because the one guy who would ordinarily qualify, John Smoltz, may end up slipping just enough due to age to miss the team. The “solid selections” here aren’t guys likely to make it, so much as guys who might go if the team were selected today.
SP Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks
SP Curt Schilling, Red Sox
SP Mark Prior, Cubs
SP Roger Clemens, Astros
SP Jason Schmidt, Giants
SP Tim Hudson, A’s
SP Ben Sheets, Brewers
RP Brad Lidge, Astros
RP John Smoltz, Braves
RP B.J. Ryan, Orioles
RP Trevor Hoffman, Padres
RP Keith Foulke, Red Sox
On the bubble
SP Jake Peavy, Padres; SP Kerry Wood, Cubs; SP Roy Oswalt, Padres; SP Brad Radke, Twins; SP Carl Pavano, Marlins; SP Josh Beckett, Marlins; SP Mike Mussina, Yankees; SP Kevin Brown, Yankees; SP Roy Halladay, Blue Jays; RP Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals; RP Joe Nathan, Twins; RP Latroy Hawkins, Cubs.
Led by Johnson, Clemens, and Schilling, this is an old pitching staff. And therein lies the team’s potential downfall – 40-year-old pitchers suddenly looking their age against the slugger-heavy lineups of Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Would the offense be enough to rescue the pitching staff in such a case? It’s certainly possible, as Team U.S.A. has the strongest offense in the tournament.
C Joe Mauer, Twins
1B Todd Helton, Rockies
2B Marcus Giles, Braves
3B Scott Rolen, Cardinals
SS Derek Jeter, Yankees (oh, come on, you know it has to be Jetes, no matter what!)
LF Barry Bonds, Giants
CF Jim Edmonds, Cardinals
RF Lance Berkman, Astros
DH Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
In The Mix
I’m going to split up the “In The Mix” players by position, because again, the U.S. has incredible depth, and any one of a hundred or more players could step forward and claim a spot on this team.
C Jason Varitek, Red Sox; Paul Lo Duca, Marlins; Jason Kendall, Pirates; Johnny Estrada, Braves; Jason LaRue, Reds;
1B Jim Thome, Phillies; Mark Teixeira, Rangers; Phil Nevin, Padres; Sean Casey, Reds; Jason Giambi, Yankees; Richie Sexson, Diamondbacks.
2B Mark Loretta, Padres; Bret Boone, Mariners; Ray Durham, Giants; Jeff Kent, Astros; Orlando Hudson, Blue Jays; Mark Bellhorn, Red Sox.
3B Hank Blalock, Rangers; Eric Chavez, A’s; Chipper Jones, Braves; David Wright, Mets.
SS Nomar Garciaparra, Cubs; Mike Young, Rangers; Khalil Greene, Padres; Bobby Crosby, A’s; Jimmy Rollins, Phillies; B.J. Upton, Devil Rays.
LF Adam Dunn, Reds; Garret Anderson, Angels; Carl Crawford, Devil Rays; Manny Ramirez, Red Sox (now a U.S. citizen who may play for the Dominican Republic)
CF Johnny Damon, Red Sox; Vernon Wells, Blue Jays; Juan Pierre, Marlins; Torii Hunter, Twins; Mike Cameron, Mets.
RF Gary Sheffield, Yankees; J.D. Drew, Braves; Brian Giles, Padres.
DH Travis Hafner, Indians.
One Barry Bonds covers up a multitude of sins. Bonds probably still won’t be seeing anything to hit, ruining the excitement for the fans, but with Edmonds and Berkman coming up behind him, and A-Rod and Helton probably ahead of him, walking Bonds will present some extremely uncomfortable moments for the opposition. He says he wants to play two more years, and I doubt that anything would stand in his way of taking “Team U.S.A.” by the horns and leading it to the first World Cup title. He may not be captaining the side; one can bet that the universal hagiography of Derek Jeter will grow even shriller as Jeter’s skills begin to subside.
It’s possible that Jeter may slip far enough, in fact, that he’s overtaken as the shortstop either by one of the promising youngsters or by his archrival Nomar, or even A-Rod should things turn around in New York. It’s likely that A-Rod will be asked to DH though, or possibly even move to second base. Another possible replacement for Giles (the weak link in this lineup) is Mike Young.
The U.S. has too many heavy guns and too many possibles to choose the hot hands from, that they are the favorites. It will not be easy; the Japanese pitchers are not easy to beat, Venezuela might have a better frontline staff for a single game than the U.S., and the Dominican Republic are a very close second. But ultimately, by being able to haul hitters like Blalock, Thome, Sheffield and Drew off their bench, the U.S. is the team best-suited to pull out the games come crunch time. No matter who is leading them.
Projected Ranking: 1st
Likely Goal: To win