That Issue With The World Baseball Classic

What’s going on here? Again I refer to the words of the late, great New York sports columnist Dick Young and what is going on here is this World Baseball Classic, that Major League Baseball continues to endorse and leads to many questions.

The question I continue to address, as do many Major League Baseball GM’s, is about the timing and consequences of having their rosters dispersed during that important juncture known as spring training. Also, the questions of a GM allowing one or more of their elite players to play for an exhibition for the pride of their country.

They, as I do, question the risk and consequences of allowing one of their own to leave spring training camps and return injury free. It has happened in prior years since the inception of the WBC in 2013. The GM’s keep their fingers crossed.

Yet, when the WBC convenes again March 8, teams divided into four pools, with games played at Chase Field Field (Arizona), Loan DepotPark (Miami), Intercontinental Baseball Stadium (Taiwan) and Tokyo Dome (Tokyo) there are questions.

And questions up until the semifinals and championship game in Miami. Is this the proper time for the WBC to be played, realizing the world wide significance and repercussions of an injury. Managers and coaches are in the process of composing their best 26-man roster for Opening Day, though their best players are on leave for an exhibition. Spring training has always been the time to being to form  chemistry for players, the manager and coaches.

But there has always been this dilemma since the initial year of the WBC. The players have a say in the matter and the revenue divided with MLB is significant, though I have stated every four years, not in March, but after the conclusion of the World Series, is a proper time for the WBC.

I am not opposed to the WBC, a vehicle to expose and promote Major League Baseball, expanded this year to 20 teams from 16, played four previous times. I anticipate seeing Angels’ teammates Mike Trout (USA) and Shohei Ohtani (Japan) on opposing rosters and possibly on different sides of the dugout for the WBC championship.

But, I am opposed to seeing a majority of the NY Mets infield, as with 29 other MLB teams, packing their bags and leaving spring training camps to compete for a trophy and playing for national pride. And Mets manager Buck Showalter, with the richest roster in baseball, can’t be content.

His team chemistry will take a hiatus with Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Francisco Lindor, Eduardo Escobar, and pitcher Edwin Diaz on the USA, Puerto Rico, and Venezuelan rosters which comprises a major portion of the Mets infield, McNeil in particular, the reigning NL batting champion. Showalter and Mets management will use that opportunity to evaluate others for potential roster spots.

Again there is the tradition of spring training, a time for managers and coaches to take closer looks at players who otherwise would not break camp and crack a roster spot for opening day, while getting the 26-man roster ready to go. 

So here we are, a week before pitchers and catchers check in. A few days later it’s the position players. Ten days later, the exodus of players leaving camps for their WBC commitments and again weeks later acclimating to their normal surroundings. The players say this is not an issue.

Baseball personnel are keeping their fingers crossed. Monday, Carlos Correa opted to remain in camp with the Twins and not to play for team Puerto Rico. It was a mutual decision as Correa cited family reasons with his wife expecting a baby during the tournament.

And there is Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who is keeping pitcher Luis Severino out of the tournament. Severino was planning to pitch for the Dominican Republic, but his GM would not take chances with the history of injuries to his right-hander the past few years.

Though Cashman, as is the situation with a majority of baseball executives, have discussed alternative plans to play the tournament before spring training or that post World Series concept. The players, though, are not unified on an alternative.

“”We support our players going but when a player like Luis Severino, who has an injury history the last few years, that’s not in our best interests given losing him over the last few years,” Cashman said.

He added that Severino pitching competitive championship baseball and throwing innings in the WBC in March is different from preparing on a mound in Tampa. He’s right, because Severino is preparing for a long season and more at stake with the Yankees quest for their first World Series championship since 2009.

That was a decision I had to make,” Cashman said. “I respect he wanted to play, but I gotta protect the Yankees first. He’s too important to us. His injury history the last few years. It’s better to get him out of the gate nice and slow.”

And much better to protect with his manager (Aaron Boone), pitching coach and Yankees medical personnel. Also, Severino is a core of the Yankees pitching rotation with a $15 million dollar option for the 2024 season.

So, let me reiterate a moment here. I am all for the WBC, but Cashman is protecting an investment and that recurring issue is when should this tournament be played? I don’t have a definite alternative, neither do a majority of baseball executives or the players.

But they have to find an alternative because the WBC is about revenue. And four years from now, same thing all over again. They are keeping their fingers crossed.

Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and co-host Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening live 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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