At times, it seems that ever since Ben Sheets and Team USA won the gold at the 2000 Olympics, USA Baseball has been beset by bad luck when it comes to the Olympics.
There was 2003, when one loss was enough to keep the U.S. out of the 2004 Games in Athens. After seeing the birthplace of baseball left out, a new last-chance tournament was added to keep such things from happening again, but it wasn’t part of the qualifying tournament schedule until this year’s games. Of course, by then the U.S. didn’t need it, as the Americans won the 2006 qualifying tournament in Cuba.
Then, as USA Baseball got a nice boost from its increased ties to Major League Baseball, the IOC announced that it would drop baseball from the Olympics.
And now, as the roster for the U.S.’s 2008 Olympic team was being announced, it’s clear that USA Baseball has been dealt another bit of bad luck: the timing for this year’s Olympics does not match well with the ebb and flow of minor league talent. The past two years have seen an incredible amount of young talent break into the big leagues, leaving the minors a little bare. Where there once were an abundance of nearly big league ready prospects, this year’s crop of talent is noticeably thinner.
Two years ago, a potential U.S. Olympic team could have fielded Evan Longoria and Alex Gordon at third, Troy Tulowitzki and Stephen Drew at shortstop, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler at second, James Loney at first, Ryan Braun and Billy Butler at DH, and an embarrasment of outfield options, including Justin Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Quentin, Jay Bruce, Cameron Maybin, Chris Young, Delmon Young and Adam Jones.
Now there is no way that USA Baseball would have gotten approval for everyone from that list, but with the depth of talent, it would have been much easier to put together a prospect-laden team to win an Olympic gold. This year’s team will include several future big league stars, like Colby Rasmus and Dexter Fowler, and is the best that could have been assembled at this time, though top talents such as David Price and Matt Wieters were made not available. Even had those two been included, though, it’s not the team that could have been put together in past years.