They haven’t even begun competition yet, and Team USA already has a hole to fill in its World Baseball Classic lineup. Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira strained his wrist taking swings in the batting cage this morning and was a late scratch for the team’s exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox later in the day.
According to MLB officials, initial X-rays came back negative. Teixeira has already left for New York, where he will have his wrist further evaluated by the Yankees’ team physician. He is only expected to miss 7-10 days, but will need to be replaced on Team USA”s 28-man roster.
Team USA Manager Joe Torre is expected to announce the replacement on Wednesday, and with the first game against Mexico scheduled for Friday, Seeds All Day thought we would help with the decision.
We’ve come up with a list of three ideal candidates from which Torre can choose. Here are some of the things that helped narrow the list down to three.
First, we limited our search to players who bat from the left side of the plate. Teixeira was a valuable asset to the offense because his ability to switch hit added balance to a lineup currently dominated by right-handed hitters. Catcher Joe Mauer is the only pure left-handed batting position player on Team USA’s current roster. Outfielder Shane Victorino and infielders Ben Zobrist and Jimmy Rollins are switch hitters, but none batted better than .265 in 2012 when hitting left handed.
Second, we did not consider any players who are in their first season with a new ball club. Those players entered camp with no expectation of participating in the World Baseball Classic, and it would be unfair to ask them to shift their focus away from acclimating themselves to their new team and teammates at this point with the first WBC game only a couple of days away and Opening Day coming in a matter of weeks. The same goes for players who are working their way back from significant injuries suffered in 2012.
Third, we are looking for a guy that not only produces on the field, but brings certain intangibles necessary to succeed in a tournament like the World Baseball Classic. Effort is going to be key for Team USA. While no one would argue that any of the participants do not love baseball and are not honored to represent their country, the fact remains that each has a bigger commitment to their respective major league franchise. Teams have invested millions of dollars in these players. Team USA needs a player capable of ignoring those outside elements and giving maximum effort on the field during WBC play. Mark Teixeira was one of those players known for playing hard day in and day out. His replacement must do the same.
So without further ado, our top three candidates to replace Teixeira at first base for Team USA.
3. Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves
The Braves first baseman is not yet a household name, but with his power numbers he has the chance of becoming one very soon. He hit 21 and 23 home runs in 2011 and 2012, respectively (his first two full major league seasons) and gets on base more than a third of the time. His participation in the playoffs last year, where the Braves took on the St. Louis Cardinals in the first ever one-game wildcard round, gave him invaluable experience in a winner-take-all format that can be carried over to the format of the World Baseball Classic tournament.
2. Adam LaRoche – Washington Nationals
LaRoche was one of the quietest success stories from a season ago. The long time journeyman smacked 33 home runs with 100 RBIs and was a key cog in a Nationals lineup that helped notch baseball’s best record in 2012. He earned his first Silver Slugger Award, his first Gold Glove Award and a contract extension giving him a stable home in Washington. The 9-year veteran has bounced around enough during his big league career that he would have no problem quickly adjusting to a new set teammates and coaches with Team USA.
1. Prince Fielder – Detroit Tigers
Fielder is the obvious choice. Team USA desperately needs a left handed hitter, and there is not a more feared left hander in baseball today than the Tigers first baseman. He batted a career-best .313 in 2012, hit 30 home runs, drove in 108 runs and boasted an OPS of a whopping .940. And it looks like Fielder is already tuned up for the regular season – he has 2 home runs in just 17 at bats thus far in Spring Training. Fielder would immediately become Team USA’s most potent offensive threat, likely sliding into the cleanup spot hitting between right-handed hitters Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton. Fielder has always been a positive clubhouse presence, and he is the least likely candidate to suffer durability issues from his participation in the World Baseball Classic. In the past four season, Fielder has missed a combined one game. That’s right, just one, single, solitary game.
Fortunate for Team USA, its offensive depth is probably its biggest strength in this year’s WBC. But there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. It’s going to be important that the United States maximize its offensive output, especially when most consider their starting pitching to be the biggest wildcard of the tournament. We patiently await Wednesday’s announcement with fingers crossed that one of the three guys above are ready to trade in their batting practice jerseys for the red, white and blue.