WBC means unequal disruptions
Some teams are sending a few; others will be missing more than a dozen.
PHOENIX -- The World Baseball Classic means different things to different people. For commissioner Bud Selig, it's an opportunity to spread the gospel of baseball to international markets and extend the game's reach in a big way. For Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and other stars, it's a chance to represent their countries with pride on an international stage.
For Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke, the WBC means planning his Cactus League schedule despite significant gaps created by the absence of his No. 1 and 2 starters, his closer, his two main catchers and his best hitter and resident MVP candidate. In short, at least for the Brewers, it's one big fire drill.
Major League Baseball promotes the WBC as a collaborative effort that could increase the game's global audience, revenue and talent pool. But when it comes to supplying the raw material -- warm bodies -- some teams are pitching in a lot more than others.
WBC participation by team
|San Francisco 10|
|Kansas City 8|
|LA Dodgers 8|
|New York Yankees 7|
|Tampa Bay 7|
|San Diego 6|
|Chicago Cubs 5|
|Chicago White Sox 5|
|St. Louis 5|
|Los Angeles Angels 3|
|New York Mets 2|
When MLB released the final rosters for the WBC this week, the Milwaukee organization was well-represented, to put it mildly. The list of WBC-bound Brewers includes outfielder Ryan Braun and catcher Jonathan Lucroy of Team USA; pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada of Team Mexico; relievers John Axford and Jim Henderson, infielder Taylor Green and outfielder Rene Tosoni of Canada; third baseman Mike Walker of Australia; catcher Martin Maldonado and pitcher Hiram Burgos of Puerto Rico; shortstop Hainley Statia of the Netherlands; and shortstop Jeff Bianchi of Italy.
That's 13 Brewers who could vanish from the team's spring training camp for anywhere from a week to more than two weeks, depending on how far their teams advance. At one point it appeared the Brewers might be sending 15 players to the WBC. But center fielder Carlos Gomez decided to pass on playing for the Dominican squad, and pitcher Nick Bucci withdrew from Team Canada because of a minor shoulder injury.
Roenicke is doing his best to be diplomatic, lest he appear close-minded or unpatriotic. But he admits it's going to be challenging this spring with so many players coming and going.
"We're fine with the players playing, and we get why they want to play," Roenicke said. "But it just so happens that our team is hit with a lot of guys and it's going to be difficult."
The Brewers aren't the only organization doing its fair share for international competition. The Minnesota Twins also are sending 13 players, including franchise mainstays Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. And the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies are contributing 10 participants each, although shortstop Jimmy Rollins is the only Phillies player of major significance.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels are sending three, while David Wright and minor league catcher Francisco Pena are the only New York Mets representatives. The Oakland Athletics don't have a participant.
The WBC begins in early March with round-robin play in Japan, Taiwan, Puerto Rico and Phoenix. Second-round games will be held in Tokyo and Miami from March 8 to 16, and the semifinals and championship game will take place at AT&T Park in San Francisco from March 17 to 19.
As executives are quick to point out, teams don't dictate which players they send to the Classic. The requests come their way, and they either oblige or quietly discourage players from attending.
"It's almost the luck of the draw," said Giants GM Brian Sabean. "How many players do you have on your 25- or 40-man roster who are from certain countries? We happen to represent a lot of different countries on our team."
Nevertheless, the seeming inequity of the WBC rosters leads to an obvious question: Is it unfair that some teams should have to deal with the disruption of so many players leaving camp to take part in the Classic, while other rosters are barely touched?
Managers and executives are naturally fearful that players who go to the WBC might be injured on somebody else's watch. That's of particular concern with pitchers, who might be tempted to ratchet up the velocity a notch before they're ready and be prime candidates for spring training injuries.
As a rule, teams weigh their long-term and immediate concerns and try to accommodate individual players' wishes. But it can be a delicate balance.
"It's distracting for your team, but you have to sort of bite the bullet for the game," said Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer. "As a player, do you want to play a split-squad game in Peoria or play in a big stadium for your home country? That's kind of a no-brainer. So as a team, you have to accept that and realize it's for the good of the game. But I still wouldn't want to have 13 or 14 guys going."
Baseball has some limits in place for WBC participation -- at least at the high end. Teams can draw the line at 10 players from the 40-man roster and 14 players overall from the organization. If a club is OK with sending more than 14 participants, it's free to do so.
Conversely, each organization is not required to have a WBC participant. It all comes down to how the national federations select their rosters and which players accept the invitations.
Even Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin, whose team is getting clobbered by WBC defections, understands the need to be altruistic. After MLB hands out prize money to participating players, the funds left over from the WBC are reinvested into global baseball federations for the purpose of baseball development. If baseball wants to promote the growth of the game in South Africa, Italy, the Netherlands and other burgeoning markets, the WBC is a major component in that effort.
Melvin, a native of Canada, also understands the feeling that some players experience when they get the call to the WBC. That's particularly true of nonstars who may never get a chance to perform on a bigger stage.
"Growing up in Canada, the goal was to try to play Major League Baseball," Melvin said. "With the WBC, you feel like you're representing your team in an Olympic environment. Our guys are all excited. We have a kid named Shawn Zarraga who had an injury and can't go for the Netherlands, and he was heartbroken. His dream was to play in the Classic. Why wouldn't you want to get a chance to play against some of the top players in the game?"
Veteran players decide to pass on the WBC for a variety of reasons. Nick Swisher declined an invitation to play for Team Italy because he wanted a full spring to acclimate to his new environs in Cleveland's camp. Andy Pettitte was poised to play for Team USA until the Yankees gave him some strong hints that he might want to re-prioritize. And Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto is on the Team Canada roster, but is no lock to play because the Reds are still monitoring the health of his rehabilitated knee.
San Diego outfielder Chris Denorfia, a Connecticut native, said he gets a thrill out of playing for Team Italy because of his family heritage. Denorfia also thinks the perception of the WBC as "a disruption" is a bit overrated.
"For the most part, it's no different than a normal spring training day, except the game means something," Denorfia said. "From the time we get there in the morning, we get our treatment. We run through our drills. We take batting practice. It's the same day as this. You just put on a different uniform."
Sometimes the talent void in camp can mean opportunity. The Giants are sending relievers Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Jose Mijares to the WBC, and Sabean said those departures could give Chad Gaudin, Scott Proctor, Dan Runzler and other pitchers in competition for the 12th spot on the staff a chance to pitch in more high-leverage situations and make an impression.
Melvin and Reds GM Walt Jocketty are close friends, so their teams' respective WBC involvement has come up in conversation once or twice. Cincinnati has seven players listed on the final WBC rosters. But unless Votto plays, second baseman Brandon Phillips and reliever Alfredo Simon are the Reds' only Classic participants on the 25-man roster.
"I talked to Doug and I was complaining about my two guys, and he said, 'Give me a break,'" Jocketty said. "He told me, 'I don't want to hear it.'"
Would Jocketty support some kind of change to ensure that big league clubs take a relatively equal hit? He laughed.
"In future years," he said. "Not this year."
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