I think I’ve carved an interesting space for myself as Rotoworld’s resident “longwinded rant guy,” so here’s another one for you. I’ve been letting this one simmer for a few days. The WBC (that’s shorthand for the World Baseball Classic for those of you too lost in college hoops to notice) has been the talk of spring training and the question everyone’s asking is, why isn’t Mike Trout playing?
While most of the big names from other countries are participating, the United States is playing without Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw and Kris Bryant. Other no-shows include Mookie Betts, Madison Bumgarner and Chris Sale. That’s not to say America’s B squad isn’t on par with the Dominican Republic or any of the other All-Star teams fielded by other countries. Any team on the planet would be lucky to have stars like Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt while Andrew Miller’s influence as a hybrid reliever has literally changed baseball.
But when soft-throwing 32-year-old Luke Gregerson is tasked with pitching the ninth inning in an important game, it’s fair to wonder if the system is broken. Even America’s starting pitching, which has been excellent throughout the tournament, lacks a marketable star, unless you count Chris Archer, who gets his paychecks from the perpetually ignored Tampa Bay Rays.
The reason why Gregerson is closing games for the U.S. instead of say Mark Melancon or Zach Britton (it should be acknowledged that Gregerson DID pick up the save in Wednesday’s win over Venezuela), is fairly straightforward: players don’t want to get hurt. It’s a simple explanation but with news of Martin Prado pulling out of the tournament, you can see why it’s become a factor.
Prado came up limping after running out a grounder in Wednesday’s loss to the United States. Now he’s headed back to Marlins camp where team doctors will presumably evaluate him. Prado’s injury didn’t look overly serious—the early signs seem to be pointing toward a strained hamstring. If that’s all it is, the worst case would probably be a short stint on the disabled list to begin the season.
That’s nothing to lose sleep over but the Marlins still can’t be thrilled with this development. Neither is Houston. With Prado out and Rougned Odor proving to be a defensive liability at third base, Jose Altuve started at the hot corner Thursday in Venezuela’s loss to the Dominican Republic. The last thing the Astros need is their best player getting hurt while fielding a new position.
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What Prado experienced is nothing compared to the nightmare Kansas City lived through last weekend. On Saturday, Royals backup catcher and Team Italy representative Drew Butera barreled into his Royals teammate Salvador Perez (starting catcher for Venezuela) on a play at home plate. Perez seemed to be in agony in the moments that followed, though an MRI on his left knee cleared him of any serious injury. Even so, Perez will still need a week to recover from a hyperextended elbow. With Perez sidelined, Robinson Chirinos has been filling in behind the plate for Team Venezuela. Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez (groin pull), Dodgers reliever Sergio Romo (sore back) and Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo (strained hamstring) have also gotten hurt at the WBC. Or in Romo’s case, on the flight home from the WBC.
Just imagine if Trout had caved to the pressure and joined Team USA only to tear his Achilles or have something else terrible happen. Angels fans would have been livid. National pride is important but you can’t knock Trout for focusing on his job, which is playing center field for the Los Angeles Angels.
Sure Trout is the gold standard for American baseball and it would have been nice to see him represent the United States, but he’s also contractually obligated to a team that pays him over $19 million a year. It’s understandable why he wouldn’t want to jeopardize that. In essence, he’s doing the same thing LeBron James and James Harden did by sitting out the Olympics last summer. James was beat after carrying the Cavs to a title while Harden was running on fumes after playing all 82 games for the Rockets.
Of course, that logic cuts both ways. Injuries don’t just happen at the WBC. There’s a good chance many of the players who got hurt representing their countries would have done the same thing in spring training. Just look at the laundry list of players who have gone down this spring: Josh Donaldson, Ian Desmond, David Price, Tom Murphy, Trevor May. With players susceptible to tired arms and tight hamstrings coming off a long layoff, spring training can be a hot bed for the walking wounded.
But even for the players who manage to stay healthy, many are behind schedule when they return to camp. Take Yangervis Solarte, for instance. The Padres third baseman has played sparingly during the World Baseball Classic, mostly appearing as a pinch-runner (ironic considering he stole just one base last season) for Venezuela late in games. He’s only been up to bat three times all tournament.
We’re seeing the same scenario play out with Daniel Murphy on Team USA. The runner-up in last year’s NL batting race has only logged four at-bats in the WBC while backing up Ian Kinsler at second base and Paul Goldschmidt and Eric Hosmer at first. Solarte and Murphy will both have to dust off the cobwebs when they return to their respective camps for the final weeks of spring training.
Padres manager Andy Green has been especially vocal on this subject. “He’s going to have to come back, get himself back into baseball shape,” Green said of Solarte. “He’s going to play with his country until the end and I hope it goes well for him, but he’s not getting a lot of opportunity.”
So maybe it’s not perfect. The tiebreakers are confusing (Adrian Gonzalez doesn’t like them one bit), the pitch counts I could do without and maybe March isn’t the best time to have it. But for anyone who isn’t sold on the WBC, try watching it. We’re two weeks in and the Classic has been nothing but awesome, an action-packed thrill ride that everyone can enjoy. We’ve seen comebacks, upsets, sold-out stadiums in Japan and Miami (USA vs. the Dominican Republic brought in the largest crowd in the history of Marlins Park), late-inning drama, extra-innings. I’m not sure how many players passed on representing Team USA, but I’m sure the ones who did were jealous as all heck that they weren’t there when Eric Hosmer bopped a go-ahead two-run homer to beat Venezuela on Wednesday night.
The WBC has been a blast but let’s not forget that Opening Day is just around the corner. Ryan Braun just wishes it were here sooner. “My favorite Spring Training at-bat is a first pitch lineout to center,” said Braun on Thursday. “Or even better, a first-pitch, line-drive double play. Because we’re all in the business of saving time. We don’t get paid by the hour.”
That’s the spirit!
AL Quick Hits: Carlos Carrasco (elbow) played catch on Thursday and is targeting March 24 for his return to Cactus League play. Carrasco was scratched from his last start after experiencing swelling in his right elbow … Ernesto Frieri agreed to a minor league contract with the Yankees on Thursday. Frieri wasn’t in the league last season but fired two scoreless innings for Colombia at the World Baseball Classic … Athletics manager Bob Melvin plans to experiment by using Chad Pinder in the outfield this spring. Pinder split time between second base and shortstop as a rookie last season … Agent Scott Boras isn’t happy that his client Aaron Sanchez will be receiving the major league minimum salary ($535,000) after leading the AL in ERA last season. "[The Blue Jays] offered him a very small raise above the minimum, which is not commensurate to his performance peers," he said. "It’s the harshest treatment in baseball that any club could provide for a player." Sanchez will be arbitration eligible next offseason.
NL Quick Hits: Authorities have determined that Jose Fernandez was operating the boat that crashed and killed him and two others last September. The investigation also concluded that Fernandez was driving at an extremely high rate of speed and was under the influence of both alcohol and cocaine at the time of the crash … Corey Seager increased his activity on Thursday, taking 25-30 swings at half speed and also doing some running and throwing. Back and oblique injuries have sidelined the reigning NL Rookie of the Year for the past two weeks … Andre Ethier (hip) will play in one of the Dodgers’ split-squad games on Friday. It will be his first Cactus League action since March 6 … Scott Kazmir (hip) felt good after throwing 71 pitches in a simulated game on Thursday but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was concerned about his lack of velocity. Kazmir’s fastball sat between 82-84 mph, well below the 91.4 mph he averaged in 2016 … Wil Myers left Thursday’s Cactus League game against the Royals because of neck spasms. Padres manager Andy Green said Myers is “completely fine” and doesn’t expect him to miss much time … Alex Dickerson will miss the next 3-4 weeks with a disc intrusion in his back. Jabari Blash and Travis Jankowski are expected to form a left field platoon for the Padres in his absence … Mets manager Terry Collins admitted it’s unlikely David Wright will participate in any more Grapefruit League games this spring. He’s still recovering from a shoulder impingement and won’t be ready for Opening Day … Max Scherzer is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut Wednesday against St. Louis. Scherzer, who is still recovering from a stress fracture in his right ring finger, used his normal fastball grip during a minor league game on Thursday … Matt Carpenter will return to Grapefruit League action Friday against the Mets. Carpenter has been out the past two weeks with lower back soreness. The injury forced him to pull out of the World Baseball Classic … Dansby Swanson took batting practice on Thursday and should be back in the Braves’ lineup Saturday against Detroit. Back tightness has sidelined him for the past two weeks … Ian Desmond underwent surgery to repair a broken left hand on Wednesday and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Mark Reynolds is expected to handle first base for the Rockies during his absence … The Phillies came two outs away from a no-hitter in Thursday’s Cactus League game against Baltimore. Chris Dickerson broke it up with a single to right off Michael Mariot. The game later ended in a 2-2 tie.