MLB.com Columnist

Jon Paul Morosi

Team USA set to boast stacked Classic roster

Team USA set to boast stacked Classic roster

With few exceptions, Team USA's World Baseball Classic roster is set. Once the full 28-man group is revealed on MLB Network on Feb. 8, the lineup debate will begin in earnest.

Paul Goldschmidt or Eric Hosmer at first? Ian Kinsler or Daniel Murphy at second? Nolan Arenado or Matt Carpenter at third?

For manager Jim Leyland, there are no wrong answers. And in a tournament that lasts less than two weeks, Leyland is unlikely to adopt strict platoons.

But in his conversations with American players over the past several weeks, Leyland has delivered a consistent message: If you've made the commitment to represent your country and take time away from your team's Spring Training, you're going to play.

In some instances, yes, the opponent will make decisions a little easier. If Team USA faces Colombian left-hander Jose Quintana and Dominican right-hander Johnny Cueto on consecutive days to begin the tournament in Miami, Leyland might well start Goldschmidt, Kinsler and Arenado in Game 1, before inserting his left-handed bats the next day.

Quintana held lefties to a .650 OPS -- with only three home runs -- over 181 plate appearances during the 2016 regular season. Of course, Murphy would be expected to fare better than an ordinary left-hander; his left-on-left OPS in 2016 was .924.

Murphy's two-run homer

Still, the U.S. lineup against Quintana could look something like this:

1. Adam Jones, CF
2. Kinsler, 2B
3. Arenado, 3B
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Buster Posey, C
6. Murphy, DH
7. Goldschmidt, 1B
8. Andrew McCutchen, LF
9. Brandon Crawford, SS

Leyland would have three potent lefty bats on the bench -- Hosmer, Carpenter and Christian Yelich -- if Colombia replaces Quintana with a right-hander after he reaches the first-round maximum of 65 pitches. But that begs the question: Do you really want to remove, say, Arenado for a pinch-hitter in any competitive circumstance?

It's not easy to manage perhaps the best American lineup ever assembled. Team USA's 2006 Classic squad with Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez was pretty good, too.

• Speaking of pitch limits, this is a good time to remind you that they increase to 80 per game in the second round and 95 in the semifinal and final. For now, Team USA continues to plan on a four-man rotation in group play: Chris Archer, Danny Duffy, Tanner Roark and Marcus Stroman. The U.S. would need to play four games in four days if a tiebreaker is needed to determine a bid for the second round in San Diego.

Oakland's Sonny Gray is expected to be added for the second round, should the U.S. advance, by way of the designated pitching pool; the new feature for the 2017 Classic includes a maximum of 10 players, from whom teams can replace up to two pitchers after each round.

Gray to pitch for Team USA

Dodgers superstar Clayton Kershaw remains a possibility for the semifinal or final -- at Dodger Stadium -- but Giants postseason legend Madison Bumgarner isn't expected to participate.

• Leyland and U.S. general manager Joe Torre have mulled over the 15th and final position player roster spot in recent weeks. Ideally, that player would give the team coverage at multiple defensive positions. Emergency catcher status always is a bonus, and so it's worth noting that Wil Myers caught for two seasons in the Minor Leagues. (The second round will be played at his home ballpark in San Diego.) Trea Turner or Brock Holt would be a nice fit, as well.

Myers' three-run jack

• Tournament rules aimed at protecting pitchers will make bullpen decisions even more nuanced than usual. In the Classic, pitchers are prohibited from appearing in games on three consecutive days. Furthermore, any pitcher who exceeds 30 pitches must rest the following day; those who throw more than 50 pitches require four days of rest.

Also of note, the "international tiebreaker" is in effect for the Classic -- but only from the 11th inning onward. What does that mean? Well, those innings would begin with runners on first and second with no one out. The idea is to preserve pitching arms and prevent teams who play several extra innings from having a disadvantage in future rounds. Think penalty kicks in soccer.

And for those of you who'd rather we return to the days before expanded instant replay ... the Classic is for you: In the first and second rounds, instant replay is restricted to boundary home run calls.

Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.