Fixing Team USA….

With Team USA losing in last nights semi-final game in the WBC to Japan 9-4, it marked the 2nd time in 2 WBCtournaments they failed to even make the finals. So what is wrong with USA baseball? Why can’t they win a game that they invented? It’s time to take a look at the 4 things that can be done to fix Team USA for the next WBC.

1. No All-Star Team. If you watched other countries play throughout the tournament, you probably noticed there was very little substituting going on amongst position players. When it came to Team USA, players were treated like they were playing in an All-Star game. Constant substitutions, pinch hitters everywhere and players starting one game and sitting the bench the next. When you have an All-Star roster, a manager has to try to appease everyone which is hard to do. This strategy of a roster full of All Stars has not worked in 2 tournaments.

Here is my fix and Steve Phillips brought this up last night during the telecast. Pick 9 All-Star starters, pick 1 star reserve catcher (Iannetta was perfect this year) and then pick 3 lesser known utility players. Since utility players don’t demand ab’s, this will allow the 9 stars to get their ab’s in throughout the tournament. The more ab’s your stars get, the more likely they will get better throughout the tournament. Pick 1 guy who can play all 3 OF positions, 1 guy who can play SS/2B and1 guy who can play 1B/3B. A guy like Craig Counsell would be a great example of someone who would fill this type of role.  

Starting Pitching. Now that there is a plan for the position players, it’s now time to fix the starting rotation. This has been Team USA’s biggest issue in the last 2 tournaments. Other countries have their best starting pitchers pitching in this tournament and if they are not pitching, it’s only because of injury (Johan Santana & Carlos Zambrano come to mind). In these tournaments, USA has started Dontrelle Willis, Ted Lilly and Jeremy Guthrie. No disrespect to those guys, but if they are USA’s best starting pitchers then we as a country are in serious trouble.

Sabathia needs to pitch for USA

Sabathia needs to pitch for USA

Not to beat a head horse but I did say if USA didn’t win the WBC it would be because of their starting pitching. Their 4 starters of Peavy, Oswalt, Guthrie and Lilly had a combined era of 10.09. That is just not going to cut it. I am not sure if there is an easy fix to this issue as you can’t force people to play. But there has to be a way for USA officials to be able to convince pitchers like Sabathia, Webb, Lincecum, Beckett, Halladay, Lackey and Lester to pitch. Without these types of pitchers, we will be hard pressed to win.

Spring Training. One of the reasons Team USA has not won in 2 tries is because they are not as game ready as the other countries. Countries like Japan, Cuba and Korea are in mid-season form, while USA is still working out the kinks in early March.

Here is my fix. Have a Spring Training camp just for Team USA players. Other countries can do this as well but for the USA this is vital. It doesn’t make sense to me that pitchers and catchers report to there MLB team on Feb 14th and then 2 weeks later join Team USA. Why not just join Team USA from the beginning. In a WBC year, announce the rosters a month earlier (in the middle of Feb is to late) and have all pitchers and catchers on the WBC roster report to the USA Spring Training Camp on Jan 14th, followed by position players a week later.

This would allow all players to get there work in, build chemistry with their new teammates and set their time table to the WBC schedule, not their team’s schedule. By the time the WBC starts, we will have almost 2 months of Spring Training under out belts. Roy Oswalt started his training earlier because he knew was going to pitch in the WBC. Now it is time to formalize that training with the rest of the team.

The Manager. Team USA has had a tendency to bring managers out of retirement to coach the team. Buck Martinez who last managed a team in 2002 was asked to be the manager in 2006 and Davey johnson who last managed the Dodgers back in 2000 was asked to manage the 2009 team. This has to stop.

As Jim Caple pointed out in his article today on ESPN.com, Davey Johnson had a rough night last night and overall had a very tough WBC. Davey Johnson seemed out of touch with his players, wanted to appease everyone andhandled his pitching staff about as poorly as you can. I understand he is “Derek Jeter” but there is no way on earth that if you are actually trying to win last night that Jeter starts at SS over Jimmy Rollins. That decision was a killer and it came back to haunt Johnson as a Jeter error in the 8th opened up the flood gates for Japan.

Here is my fix. Since you can’t hire a current Major League manager, hire the previous year’s Baseball America Minor League Manager of the Year to manage the team. If that manager is not American, then you ask the guy who came in 2nd.  Last year’s winner was Rocket Wheeler from the Atlanta Braves organization. Here is a list of past winners:

1989: Buck Showalter, Albany (Yankees)
1990: Kevin Kennedy, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
1991: Butch Hobson, Pawtucket (Red Sox)
1992: Grady Little, Greenville (Braves)
1993: Terry Francona, Birmingham (White Sox)
1994: Tim Ireland, El Paso (Brewers)
1995: Marc Bombard, Indianapolis (Reds)
1996: Carlos Tosca, Portland (Marlins)
1997: Gary Jones, Edmonton (Athletics)
1998: Terry Kennedy, Iowa (Cubs)
1999: John Mizerock, Wichita (Royals)
2000: Joel Skinner, Buffalo (Indians)
2001: Jackie Moore, Round Rock (Astros)
2002: John Russell, Edmonton (Twins)
2003: Dave Brundage, San Antonio (Mariners)
2004: Marty Brown, Buffalo (Indians)
2005: Ken Oberkfell, Norfolk (Mets)
2006: Todd Claus, Portland (Red Sox)
2007: Matt Walbeck, Erie (Tigers)
2008: Rocket Wheeler; Myrtle Beach (Braves)

As you can see, there some pretty impressive names on that list. Minor League managers are highly respected because of the work they do developing younger players so there would be no problem gaining the players respect. They are in touch with today’s game and player and due to one of my fixes, they wouldn’t have to worry about appeasing an All-Star laden roster. This would also give the manager and opportunity to showcase himself in front of the world. If he gets rave reviews from players, it might lead to a Major League job. If baseball wants to use the WBC to showcase baseball globally, why can’t baseball use the WBC to showcase some of the best managing talent nationally?

Those are my 4 fixes to help Team USA finally capture the WBC title. Will they listen? Who knows. But what I do know is that in the country where baseball was invented, we are letting other countries walk all over us in this tournament and it needs to stop.

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