Could this be the year Team USA finally brings home the World Baseball Classic title?
As shown by its defeats in the Classic's previous three installments, the rest of the world has caught up to the U.S. in terms of baseball talent. But with a roster packed with more household names than ever before, the 2017 Classic appears to represent the Americans' best chance yet to bring home the gold.
Max Scherzer was on the provisional roster, but on Monday, the Nationals announced that the right-handed ace will not be on the team because of a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger.
However, big names can be found anywhere and everywhere on this depth chart. Looking for a Cy Young Award-winning, bona-fide ace? David Price (reportedly on Team USA's preliminary roster) fits the bill. At the plate, manager Jim Leyland will have the enviable decision over where to bat Arenado, Goldschmidt, Murphy and Posey in the heart of the order -- though it's hard to imagine there's a wrong way for him to line them up.
How they fared in the past
It's hard to believe that Team USA has never played in a Classic final, especially considering the championship round was held on American soil in each of the first three tournaments. The U.S. has never finished higher than fourth, when it lost to Japan in the 2009 semifinals. The Americans fell in the second round of the inaugural 2006 tournament, and experienced the same result in the most recent '13 installment.
What they should do well
The four headline sluggers mentioned above represent only some of how much this lineup can mash. Elsewhere, Leyland will have the ability to mix and match right-handed bats like Kinsler, Jones and McCutchen with left-handed hitters Crawford, Hosmer and Yelich. There just doesn't appear to be an easy out.
The squad is just as deep on defense. Kinsler, who won a American League Gold Glove Award and tied Dustin Pedroia for the most defensive runs saved of any second baseman last season, is the least acclaimed defender of an infield that would include Arenado, Crawford, Goldschmidt and Hosmer on any given night. An outfield including Jones, McCutchen and Yelich is also solid, but it would become elite if Red Sox stars Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- currently on the preliminary roster -- suit up in red, white and blue. And don't forget about Lucroy and Posey behind the plate.
Where they could struggle
With all the star power, it's hard to poke holes in Team USA's roster -- especially when more stars could still be added. Right now, the Americans boast right-handed starters in Archer and Stroman, but they could use a lefty ace to help balance the rotation. Price would go a long way toward achieving that balance, if he is indeed confirmed for Team USA's first-round roster. Furthermore, if teams are able to reset their pitching staffs for subsequent rounds of the tournament -- a rumored new rule change for the '17 Classic -- it's possible the U.S. could have some All-World lefty aces in the hole like Madison Bumgarner or Clayton Kershaw waiting in the wings.
While picking up Miller was a huge boost for the bullpen, the back end of the staff -- which also currently includes Givens and Gregorson -- remains Team USA's biggest unknown. That need could be addressed by the time the final roster is announced.
How far they could go
At this point Team USA should be considered a co-favorite with the Dominican Republic -- the defending champions -- to take home the gold. There will be no shortage of other challengers; Japan has won the tournament twice, Puerto Rico will boast some of the brightest young infielders in baseball and Venezuela will be led by veteran stars like Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Perhaps no team, however, will be able to match Team USA's wealth of talent on paper in all three phases of the game: Pitching, hitting and defense.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.