CLEVELAND, Ohio – For a great idea to work, it has to work for everybody involved.
Take a peanut butter sandwich. Now sprinkle a handful of M&Ms in the middle of it. Peanut butter and chocolate – it works for everybody.
Now here’s a great idea that doesn’t work – the World Baseball Classic. Correction, it works fine for every country but the biggest baseball-playing nation in the world – the United States.
The premise is great; the timing is terrible. And if you asked every MLB owner, general manager and manager to reveal what they think about it in their heart of hears they’d say the same thing.
It’s easy to see why MLB is the driving force behind the WBC. They want to take the sport to the far corners of the earth. One day they want to be able to send a scout into the Himalayas to find a 15-year-old Sherpa who developed pinpoint control by hitting a Yeti in the eye with a snowball from 100 yards away.
There’s nothing wrong with extending the talent pool. Why not have away games in Mexico, London, Korea and Japan? Some day the World Series might be a real World Series, but can’t that all happen without the WBC disrupting spring training every four years, while putting MLB’s handsomely paid players at risk for injuries?
The WBC returns in the spring of 2017. It runs from March 6 through March 22 with games being played in Korea, Japan, Mexico, Miami, San Diego and Los Angeles. Preliminary rosters are being formed right now. They will be released in January.
While countries such as Korea, Japan and the Dominican Republic revel in the WBC, it always seems to be a necessary nuisance for MLB. It ruins the rhythm of spring training, empties locker rooms in February and March when team building should be going on. But most importantly, there it exposes players to injury.
In 2013 Vinnie Pestano, an important reliever for the Indians, injured his elbow while pitching for the U.S. and has never been the same. Former Tribe closer Chris Perez was scheduled to pitch for the U.S the same year, but pulled out because of an elbow injury. In the spring of 2009, Grady Sizemore committed to playing in the WBC, but pulled a groin muscle and withdrew.
Players can get hurt at any time of the season. A strained hamstring in March, a drone attack in October. Stuff happens, but most MLB teams would rather it happen on their watch. Believe me you wouldn’t want to be monitoring a GM’s blood pressure when he sends one of his best players hallway around the world to play a ballgame in March, while he’s trying to put his team together for the regular season.
This year the Indians could have Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller playing on Team USA. They could have Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez and Danny Salazar playing for the Dominican Republic. Gold Glove shortstop Francisco Lindor, the emerging face of the franchise, is expected to play for Puerto Rico. Carlos Carrasco would almost certainly be invited to play for Venezuela. Yan Gomes, in 2013, helped Brazil qualify for the WBC, but did not play in it.
The Indians do have some control over players coming off injuries, which means they could ask Salazar, Carrasco, Gomes and Michael Brantley not to play. Carrasco, for one, said at the end of the World Series he would not pitch in the WBC. But teams are pretty much powerless to stop healthy players from playing for their countries if they so desire.
Common sense has to enter the equation somewhere. Kluber and Miller reached career highs in innings pitched this past season and postseason. But if they want to pitch for the U.S., all Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona can do is smile, wave the American flag and pray something doesn’t go pop in the wrong elbow.