Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Joe Torre and the Team USA roster

Team USA manager Joe Torre, flanked by bench coach
Larry Bowa and pitching coach Greg Maddux.
It has been said that there are two things every American male believes he can do better than anybody else: Drive a car and manage a baseball team.

In that sense, it's easy to find fault with Joe Torre, the manager of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, who has a roster loaded with stars and an Internet loaded with pointed criticism.

The American squad played its fourth game of the tournament Tuesday night, thumping Puerto Rico 7-1.  As I followed the game, I thought about the difference in how this year's roster was constructed as opposed to 2009 and 2006 — and how less is more in this case.

Torre this year has used one shortstop (Jimmy Rollins), one second baseman (Brandon Phillips), one third baseman (David Wright). He has locked in the top five slots in the batting order: Rollins-Phillips-Ryan Braun-Joe Mauer-Wright. Adam Jones has been the full-time center fielder and Eric Hosmer the first baseman.

In short, Torre has a regular lineup — and an actual, honest-to-goodness bench.

Previous editions haven't. The 2009 roster had Chipper Jones (replaced in the second round by Evan Longoria) and Wright at third, and manager Davy Johnson tried to make playing time for both. It had Rollins and Derek Jeter at short, and those two stars were rotating in and out of the lineup.

The 2006 roster had, in anything, even more star power going on. Jones and Alex Rodriguez; Jeter and Michael Young and Chase Utley up the middle — and every lineup was different.

They had to be different. No matter who the manager is, he had to recruit these stars to be on the team, and he had to keep them happy — and they didn't abandon their day jobs to sit on the bench.

Torre may not have a roster filled with the absolute best talent the United States has to offer, but he has has a roster he can be consistent with. Willie Bloomquist is nobody's idea of a star, but he knows what being a utility man is all about. Team USA would theoretically be better if Mike Trout were on the roster instead of Shane Victorino, but who sits in that case? Braun? Trout? Jones? 

Torre's doing enough shuffling with Giancarlo Stanton and Ben Zobrist and the other two catchers, Jonathan Lucroy and J.P. Arencibia; he doesn't need another superstar to find at-bats for.

I'm sure Victorino, Bloomquist and Arencibia would like more playing time, but I also think they knew going in what their roles would be.

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