An early guess at Team USA’s WBC lineup

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If Derek Jeter’s broken ankle didn’t take him out of the mix for the World Baseball Classic the moment it happened, today’s news that he needs surgery definitely makes the issue moot.

But as unfortunate as Jeter’s injury is for the Yankees, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for Team USA in next spring’s World Baseball Classic. With Joe Torre running the show, one imagines Jeter would have been the team’s starting shortstop, even though he hardly seems like the best option.

Team USA has also lost another likely starter to surgery in the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp. Again, that’s hardly a disaster, though Kemp was the National League’s best player in 2011 and for the first month of 2012. There’s still plenty of talent to go around.

I’m just going to look at the position candidates for now, with perhaps a separate blog dedicated to pitching possibilities later.

Catcher: Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Matt Wieters

It’ll obviously be a Posey-Mauer duo unless one of those two opts to step aside. Posey would probably do the bulk of the catching in the scenario, which is surely how the Twins would prefer it anyway.

First base: Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Adam LaRoche

Although Adrian Gonzalez was born in San Diego, he played for Mexico in the 2009 WBC. Team USA could use him here, but Fielder isn’t a bad alternative.

Second base: Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Ben Zobrist, Aaron Hill, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley

I’m listing Utley, though with his knee problems, I doubt he’ll opt in. Pedroia was set to be Team USA’s second baseman in 2009, but he was injured and replaced by Brian Roberts. I think he’s the best option here, but Phillips may well get the nod over him as a starter. The versatile Zobrist would be a perfect reserve.

Third base: Evan Longoria, David Wright, Chase Headley, Ryan Zimmerman, David Freese

Both Longoria and Wright were on the 2009 team, and it’d make sense to go with that duo again. Headley might have been the best of this bunch in 2012, but he still doesn’t have the track record of the top two.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Jimmy Rollins, Ian Desmond, J.J. Hardy

Given how much of the 2012 season Tulowitzki missed, one wonders if the Rockies might try to block him from playing in the WBC. Let’s hope not, because he’s pretty clearly Team USA’s best option at shortstop. If he’s unavailable, then Rollins is the logical starter.

Outfielders: Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Hamilton, Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Holliday, Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Alex Gordon, Torii Hunter, Jason Heyward

Kemp would have looked pretty good as a starting right fielder, had he been willing to switch positions, but his loss isn’t a particularly big one. Hamilton seems like a long shot to play, particularly if he signs with a new team this winter.

So, how about this for a lineup:

RF Mike Trout – R
2B Dustin Pedroia – R
CF Andrew McCutchen – R
LF Ryan Braun – R
1B Prince Fielder – L
C Buster Posey – R
DH Giancarlo Stanton – R
3B Evan Longoria – R
SS Troy Tulowitzki – R

With a bench of Mauer, Zobrist, Rollins, Wright and one of the left-handed-hitting outfielders.

Yes, the entire group is righty heavy, but that’s pretty much the way it has to be. Torre can always start Mauer at catcher or DH or play Rollins at short if he wants some lefties in there.  It should have the edge on the outstanding Dominican lineup, that could include such talents as Jose Bautista, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, David Ortiz, Jose Reyes and Adrian Beltre.

Kyle Schwarber is “probably, arguably” in The Best Shape of His Life

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Joe Maddon just held his annual media availability here at the Winter Meetings. During the scrum he said that Kyle Schwarber “looked great the other day” at a Cubs community event and that . . . wait for it . . . “he’s in, probably, arguably in the best shape of his life.” Maddon went on to say that, if Schwarber looks good in spring training, he might even be the Cubs leadoff hitter in 2018.

Schwarber is only 24, but the former catcher turned outfielder is going to spend most of his career as a DH, with another team obviously, unless he shows the Cubs that he can be a regular defender. The Cubs would love to see him in better shape whether they keep him or shop him, and if it’s the latter, they’ll want to show potential trade partners that he can play defense so as not to limit his market. It’s in everyone’s interests for him to be lean, mean and a bit more flexible once spring training starts.

To that end, according to a recent report, Schwarber “has been on a mission this offseason to transform his body.” And now Maddon is playing up the BSOHL angle. Whether that’s salesmanship or not, all eyes are going to be on Schwarber come February.