After an eight year absence, baseball and softball have returned to the Olympics. In the 2020 Tokyo Games, baseball will be played for the first time since Beijing in 2008. The United States, despite being a dominant force in Major League Baseball, has had some struggles on the international stage. The US has one gold medal in Olympic baseball, which came in 2000, but fell short of the podium in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.
Much to the discontent of baseball fans across the country, the Olympic Games will take place in the middle of August, leaving us to wonder if players will trade a few weeks of MLB games for a shot at glory on the international stage.
When the Games rolled around in 2008, the majority of players were selected from minor league rosters. Stephen Strasburg was the only collegiate player chosen for the team. No player from a 25-man MLB roster played for the US. The team consisted of an interesting mix of players. Jake Arrieta, Dexter Fowler, and RA Dickey each played for the US. Also making the 2008 team were Terry Tiffee (five career MLB home runs), Mike Hessman (career .188 hitter), and John Gall (Cleveland’s 50th round draft pick in 1999). Perhaps that’s why the team only mustered a third place finish.
It is still unclear if MLB teams are open to losing players for about two weeks nearing the end of the season. It could have obvious negative side effects. It is feasible that the MLB could figure something out to encourage players to participate in the Games. The 2008 tournament lasted ten days, shorter than a typical stint on the disabled list. Maybe scheduling could be adjusted like the NHL’s to allow Olympic participation.
If MLB players do indeed attend the 2020 Olympics, here’s what the roster might look like.
Catcher: Buster Posey
1st Base: Josh Bell
2nd Base: Jason Kipnis
3rd Base: Kris Bryant
Shortstop: Corey Seager
Outfield: David Dahl, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper
Bench: Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, Trea Turner, Andrew Benintendi, Carson Kelly, Dan Vogelbach
Some of the roster selections would be no-brainers. Trout, Harper, and Seager would fall nothing short of a lock. Bryant, Kipnis, and Posey are also easy choices.
Players like Bell, Dahl, Kelly, and Swanson are going to reach their potential over the next couple of seasons. If their success carries over to the big leagues, they could be perfect choices for the Olympic team.
Bell is in contention for the Pirates’ starting 1st base job and Dahl could be the Rockies’ Opening Day left fielder. Vogelbach is fighting Danny Valencia for the Mariners’ 1st base slot, as well. These prospects could have meaningful at-bats as soon as this year.
Bregman, Turner, and Benintendi have already begun to prove themselves at the big league level and could turn into star players over the next two or three seasons.
It’s difficult to judge what the state of the MLB will be in three years. Players will change teams, injuries will pop up, and new faces will take the league by storm. The league still has ground to cover when it comes to figuring out the whole Olympic situation. Let’s just hope that we are lucky enough to see MLB players participate in the 2020 Games.