Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Only World Baseball Classic Preview You'll Need - Part II

Danville, Kentucky -- Welcome to Part II of my power rankings of all 16 World Baseball Classic teams. You can read part one here. I'll cut to the chase, folks. These are the bottom eight teams. Some are worse than others. All are worse than America. Without further ado, here they are:

9. Korea

Korea has an exciting team, folks -- and not just because these players were born and raised in the shadow of a nuclear-armed madman. Although doubts remain as to whether North Korea has ICBM technology capable of striking the mainland United States, there can be no doubt that the Korean national team is stacked with power. Korea has one of my favorite players in the whole world, folks: Dae-ho Lee, native of Busan, South Korea and former Seattle Mariner. Dae-ho showed some real pop last year with the Mariners, hitting 14 bombs with 49 runs driven in.

But the real reason to love Mr. Lee is his demeanor. He's always smiling; as a Mariner, he was truly a ray of sunshine in an otherwise perpetually overcast and grungy city. He's a jolly, rotund fellow, evoking a simpler era of baseball when sluggers like Babe Ruth crushed hot dogs in between innings in the dugout. I dare you to look at this man and not feel a warm, tingly sensation deep in your heart.

More importantly, he made his homeland proud, becoming an ambassador of the game and hero to Koreans everywhere. Thanks to Dae-ho, we have some of the greatest home run calls of all time.

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Dae-ho represents everything that is great about the game of baseball. It breaks my heart that he has left the MLB and announced his intention to return to Korea's league. But I have to respect the man for loving his country. The fact that the Korean team also has Seung-hwan Oh -- aka the "final boss" -- is just a cherry on top. This Korean team could go places.

 10. Colombia

Don't sleep on Colombia, folks. Not that Colombia's amphetamine snorting population does much sleeping anyway thanks to abundant supply of narcotics. Colombia lacks the position player talent of the teams ranked higher than them here, but they can pitch. Although they often fly under the national radar, Colombians Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran are two of the most quietly brilliant pitchers in the MLB. I'll also be playing close attention to Colombia's Dilson Herrera, one of the prospects my Reds acquired in the foolish Jay Bruce trade.

But the real guy to watch on this squad is Yohan Pino, or as I like to call him, "Pino Noir," because his slider has more depth than the bitter notes of a fine red wine. Mr. Pino was an unsung hero in the Royals 2015 World Series championship. Yes, I know he got put on waivers mid-season. But before that he had an impressive 3.26 ERA and several excellent high-leverage appearances. Like Bernie Sanders after the DNC conspired against him, Pino spent 2016 watching all the action from the sidelines. But he recently signed a minor league deal with the Twins. I think he could go places. During the World Baseball Classic, we'll find out if he can. Because of their strong pitching -- led by Quintana, Teheran, and Pino -- this Colombia team has sneaky upside.

11. Japan

I'm not very high on Japan's team, but I'm obliged to mention that Japan's own Nori Aoki, Kansas City Royal turned San Francisco Giant turned Seattle Mariner turned Houston Astro, is a hell of a player. He's a world class talent. I love his swing. He won't hit for much power. But he can slap the ball all across the field and boasts a career .286 batting average in the MLB. It's a joy to watch him play. In an era where the nerds have decided that strikeouts don't matter and that batting average is irrelevant, Nori shows how valuable it is to have a guy that can put the ball in play. 

That being said, I'm down on Japan. The rest of the team outside of Aoki isn't particularly interesting. And as a country, Japan is adrift. Several weeks ago, Japanese Prime Minister Abe looked out of his element with a real leader like Trump.

The World Baseball Classic is about the talent on the field, but it's also about the intangibles, like the national mood of each respective country. With Japan's precious TPP trade deal recently killed by Trump, momentum is definitely against Japan. It's not happening for Japan this year.

12. Netherlands

On the surface, the Netherlands has quite a bit of talent. Although most of the team has names like "Stuifbergen," "van den Hurk," "Heijstek," or "Thijssen," the discerning baseball fan might notice a few big names. Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons and Kenley Jansen all apparently play for the Netherlands. But I'm not buying it. To illustrate why, let me point you to a map.

Yes, that's the Netherlands right next to Merkel's Germany and right across the European-body-of-water-I-learned-in-high-school-but-can't-remember from the lawless crime-hole Sweden. European social democracy has been a failure. The Netherlands national baseball team will be too. Next.

13. Canada

Canada is a team so pathetic they couldn't even persuade Joey Votto to take some time away from meaningless spring training games to stand around with a bat on his shoulder and try to draw walks on behalf of his country. Don't get me wrong. Canada has some interesting players. Like Braves slugger Freddie Freeman. Or 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau. There's also the intriguingly named Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey. But this is Canada, folks. A country that's perpetually second fiddle to the U.S.A. Not happening.

14. China

To be honest, I know absolutely nothing about China's team. I think the Chinese Communist Party has more or less suppressed all information about their national team, which is par for the course with this authoritarian nightmare of a country that stifles freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas. I'll still put them ahead of Mexico and Australia because of China's sheer ruthlessness. 

15. Mexico

Mexico has some real gems on their team. Like Joakim Soria, the Royals' designated 8th inning guy and one of the best free agent signings Dayton Moore has ever made. There's also Sergio Romo, the scary-as-hell looking guy who recorded the final outs of the 2012 World Series for the Giants and for some reason got signed by the Dodgers. Did I mention that team Mexico has a lot Dodgers? Also on Mexico's team is the left-handed wunderkind Julio Urias and hitting guru Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But it's just not Mexico's year. Not with The Wall on the way, along with punitive tariffs aimed at bringing back manufacturing jobs that Mexico stole via NAFTA. Next.

16. Australia

Australia occupies the last place spot in my power rankings. Look, I love Outback Steakhouse as much as the next guy. In fact, I've praised Outback's excellent Australian cuisine in glowing terms not once, but twice. This team has some pieces I like. Peter Moylan, the bespectacled ex-Royal with a slider juicier than Outback's QUEENSLAND CHICKEN & SHRIMP PASTA™, plays on this team. He had a 2-0 record and a 3.43 ERA last year with the Royals.

There is some fight in this team. Literally. Aussie Warwick Saupold of the Detroit Tigers organization got in a brawl last summer. We can assume this fight started when another bar-goer made an insensitive joke about Steve Irwin. 
But outside of Moylan and Saupold, things are looking bleak for Australia in my opinion. Countries that get on Donald Trump's bad side won't be long for this world, folks. The folks down under may serve Bloomin' Onions with the best of them, but they're bad allies and even worse at baseball outside of a few exemplars like Moylan. They're dead last, barring a miraculous effort to make amends with President Trump from Prime Minister Turnbull or a major splash like an official sponsorship from Outback.


There you have it folks. All 16 teams. Or rather, America and 15 losers. Enjoy the WBC, folks.