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What the U.S. Olympic Baseball Team Could Look Like in 2020

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The World Baseball Classic (WBC) will return next year but there is even bigger news when it comes to international competition on the diamond. Just prior to the start of the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that baseball and softball would be a part of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The last time either sport was part of the Olympics was 2008 in Beijing.

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Even though baseball is returning, it doesn’t mean you should expect to see the United States (or any country for that matter), field an All-Star team in Tokyo, however. Historically, MLB players on active rosters have not been eligible to play in the Olympics, although then-commissioner Bud Selig said in 2008 that some provisions could be made for the best in the game to participate should baseball get reinstated by the IOC. While it is unlikely that will be the case for 2020 – for a laundry list of reasons — it’s still fun to think about. So with that in mind, here is a potential U.S. team made up of current major league players. As you will see, this is a team that would likely make a serious run at bringing home the gold medal.

(Note: Age listed in parentheses is as of July 24, 2020, the opening day of Summer Olympics in Tokyo)

— Written by Jake Rose, an avid baseball fan who also is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (32)
Kershaw is a no-brainer. The southpaw will be 32 when the 2020 Summer Olympics roll around, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean he’s over the hill. Kershaw is already this generation’s best hurler and if my memory serves me correctly, recent Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Greg Maddux maintained their dominance on the mound in their early 30s.

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Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants (30)
If Kershaw is the best of the generation, Bumgarner is easily No. 2. Rarely do we see a starting rotation of back-to-back lefties, but when its Kersh and MadBum, it’s more than okay. Bumgarner already has three World Series titles and a Series MVP to his name, why not a gold medal, too? And if Bumgarner isn’t available to pitch, he could certainly pinch-hit or DH, right?

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets (27)
By 2020, Thor could be the second coming of Nolan Ryan, a hard-throwing right-hander overpowering hitters with a lights-out fastball/slider combo. Syndergaard currently leads MLB in both average fastball and slider velocity, giving him the fastest 1-2 punch in baseball.

Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins (27)
Fernandez was born in Cuba, but spent his high school years in Tampa, Fla., before being drafted by the Marlins in 2011. Although tensions are cooling between the US and its island neighbor, it’s unlikely defected Cuban players will play for their original home country in any international tournaments. Fernandez is already a two-time All-Star and the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, and currently sits second in strikeouts this season behind Max Scherzer.

Chris Sale, LHP, Chicago White Sox (31)
This final spot was a toss-up between Sale, Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, and the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks. Sale’s strikeout numbers are better over a longer period of time, and he has truly proven he can dominate a lineup in any given start. Cole is a young stud, but is still figuring out how to attack lineups, while Hendricks has turned in the best pitching performance this season that no one seems to notice outside of Wrigleyville.

Also considered (alphabetical order):
Jake Arrieta, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Michael Fulmer, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
Daniel Norris, LHP, Detroit Tigers
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Catcher

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (33)
By 2020 Posey’s name will assuredly be in the conversation for best all-around catcher in baseball history. Posey is a career .308 hitter, three-time World Series champion, Rookie of the Year, and MVP — the perfect fit for Team USA behind the plate in Tokyo.

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Also considered:
Jonathon Lucroy, Texas Rangers

First Base

Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (30)
At just 27 years old, Rizzo is the heart and soul of the best team in baseball — and has been for the last several years. Rizzo is not only the owner of one of the sweeter swings in the game, but he also has the glove to go with the bat. Rizzo is currently on pace to have his best year to date (.298 average, .956 OPS, 25 HR, 37 doubles, 87 RBIs) and is in the mix for NL MVP with teammate Kris Bryant. Even on the other side of 30 (he’ll turn 31 the day before the end of the Tokyo Summer Olympics), Rizzo should still be in the sweet spot of his prime to help Team USA win a medal.

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Also considered (alphabetical order):
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Wil Myers, San Diego Padres

Second Base

Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs (26)
If baseball were in the Rio games, the battle for second would be between Daniel Murphy, Jason Kipnis or Dustin Pedroia — all of them veterans who have been named All-Stars. But with a gold medal on the line, the battle for the future middle infield of Team USA is up from grabs between two of the best young shortstops in the game — Russell and Corey Seager. While Seager has the offensive pop that Russell is still harnessing, their defensive metrics are rather similar, with a current edge going to Seager. Russell’s defensive prowess has often been compared to that of Gold Glove recipient Andrelton Simmons. While that is lofty praise for a player in just his second season, metrics like “defensive runs saved” back up the notion that Russell is one of the best gloves in the game right now. And since Russell already has big league experience at second, I have no problem putting him above others at the position.

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Also considered (alphabetical order):
Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
Trea Truner, Washington Nationals

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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Shortstop

Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (26)
Baseball is currently loaded with young, dynamic talent at the shortstop position. With the possibility of Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor choosing to play for his home nation of Puerto Rico, and Boston’s Xander Bogaerts playing for the Netherlands, the future of USA’s shortstop position rests in the glove of Seager. Seager not only can play Gold Glove-caliber defense, but he can get the job done at the plate too. Corey, younger brother of Seattle’s Kyle Seager, is already a lock to win NL Rookie of the Year and is now in the conversation for NL MVP as he’s batting .322 with 22 home runs and 61 RBIs. Pretty impressive for a 22-year-old kid in his first big-league season.

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Also considered (alphabetical order):
Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Third Base

Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (29)
Baltimore’s Manny Machado has already committed to playing for the Dominican Republic for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, so let’s assume he would do so for the 2020 Summer Olympics too. This leaves the door wide open for perhaps the most complete infielder in baseball today, Colorado’s Arenado. The Cubs’ Kris Bryant certainly has an argument to man the hot corner as well, but he also can play anywhere in the outfield, making him Team USA’s super-utility player.

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Arenado is the complete package. He’s won the last three NL Gold Gloves for his handy work at third, and is on pace to lead the NL in home runs and RBIs for the second consecutive season.

Also considered (alphabetical order):
Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners

Outfielders

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (28)
This one is just obvious. Trout is the best, most complete player in the game, and that shouldn't change by 2020. Trout currently leads MLB in WAR (7.2, per FanGraphs) and if not for the fact his Angels have one of the worst records, he would be a good bet to win his second AL MVP award in three seasons. The five-time All-Star would be a lock to man center for Team USA.

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Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs (28)
While Bryant can also play third base extremely well, he’s just as good in the outfield as he currently leads all qualified left fielders in WAR (FanGraphs), by 3.0 (that’s a lot). In just his second season, Bryant has already surpassed his rookie year marks in runs scored and home runs with a month and a half of games left to play. Bryant projects to be one the best in the game (even at multiple positions) for a long, long time.

With Bryant’s ability to play all over the diamond, that opens up a spot for another super-utility player, say Boston’s Mookie Betts.

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (27)
Even though Harper is the reigning NL MVP he would still be one of the youngest members of Team USA in 2020. While injuries and lineup protection have hampered Harper in 2016, there is no reason to think he wouldn’t still be mashing in four years. Harper’s defense in right field has improved over the seasons, but he is still just above average with his glove, so moving him in and out of the DH spot could be just as productive as a regular lineup spot.

Also considered (alphabetical order):
Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox
Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs
George Springer, Houston Astros
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins

Designated Hitter

Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays (34)
The reigning AL MVP would be the elder statesmen of Team USA and a perfect fit to be the squad’s DH. Donaldson is a fantastic third baseman, but by 2020 there is a small chance that he could have made the move from third to first, or DH all together. Donaldson’s low strikeout rate (16.9 percent) and ability to put the ball in play with lots of pop, makes him the ideal DH for Tokyo 2020.

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Also considered (alphabetical order):
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

Relievers

This group is made up of guys you know, like All-Stars Andrew Miller, Craig Kimbrel and Wade Davis mixed in with young hurlers you’ll learn more about in the next few seasons like Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Barraclough. By the time 2020 comes knocking, the Yankees’ Dellin Betances could be the best closer in the game. Currently, Betances leads all relievers in strikeout percentage (45.2 percent), followed by Miller (44.5 percent), his former Yankee teammate who is now in Cleveland.

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Cody Allen, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Kyle Barraclough, RHP, Miami Marlins
Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees
Zach Britton, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
Wade Davis, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Carl Edwards Jr., RHP, Chicago Cubs
Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Andrew Miller, LHP, Cleveland Indians
Addison Reed, RHP, New York Mets

Manager

Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
There may not be a better manger in recent baseball memory more suited to lead a team of Olympians than Maddon. His laid-back style is as popular with the players as his clubhouse dance parties and petting zoos, but no matter what his guys always put forth their best effort and play together. Maddon also is known for his ability to exploit matchups and put his players in the best position to succeed, perfect for a team packed with athleticism and versatility. The opportunity for playing for such a unique manager Maddon could be a great selling point to convince players to join Team USA as well.

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Also considered (alphabetical order):
Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants
Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
Joe Girardi, New York Yankees