Tired of watching meaningless spring training baseball games? Me too. Good thing the 2013 World Baseball Classic begins this weekend. The first WBC was held in 2006 and was played every three years until 2009, when it switched to every four years. It was created in response to baseball being voted out of the Olympics in 2005.
The WBC is a great event because it spreads the game of baseball to other parts of the world, gives the fans a chance to see great players who do not play in the MLB already and also gives the players the opportunity to represent their home countries. For example, the baseball world was largely unaware of players like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes until they were lighting up the WBC. Now they are all playing and succeeding in the MLB.
However, the WBC does have one big flaw. When baseball was an Olympic sport, only amateur players could participate. The WBC, on the other hand, has no restrictions on who can play. Here lies the predicament: If you were an owner of a MLB franchise, would you want one of your star players playing and possibly getting hurt in the WBC? You are paying this player a lot of money to win games and fill the seats at your stadium, not to play in an international tournament that has no bearing on the MLB season. Take the Milwaukee Brewers for example. They are sending 13 of their players to various teams in the WBC including their big league catcher Jonathan Lucroy, ace starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and former MVP outfielder Ryan Braun. If those players come back worn out or injured, then their season and their financial investments would be in serious jeopardy.
In the last two WBC tournaments, the extra games have had the most negative effects on the pitchers. At this time in Spring Training, the pitchers are beginning their throwing routines and side bullpen sessions in preparation for the upcoming season. The WBC, however, requires the pitchers to go out and pitch in real games with maximum effort when they would normally be easing into the heavy workload. This can cause strain and fatigue on a pitcher’s arm, which is exactly what all of the MLB teams who are signing the players’ paychecks do not want.
Looking at the groups, Pool A consists of Cuba, Japan, Brazil and China. Brazil and China are not big baseball countries so Cuba and Japan are pretty safe. Japan has won both of the previous two tournaments and Cuba always has a few star players who will eventually play in the MLB. Pool B is made up by Australia, Chinese Taipei, Korea and the Netherlands. Look for Korea to easily advance followed by a struggle for the second spot.
Pool C is considered the power pool with the likes of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela. The Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico all feature multiple major league stars like Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, Hanley Ramirez, Yadier Molina, Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and many others.
Then there is Pool D with Canada, Italy, Mexico and the United States. The U.S. should easily win this pool followed by either Mexico or Canada. Groups A and B will begin pool play on March 2 followed by groups C and D starting on March 7.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the second round, which will be held at the Marlins’ stadium in Miami and at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. The top four teams will then advance to the championship round hosted at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Hopefully the U.S. can bring the title home and back to the birthplace of baseball. But before you ask why the U.S. roster does not include every great American player like Justin Verlander, Mike Trout or Buster Posey, you must ask yourself: Would you rather see the U.S. win the WBC or see your favorite team open the season with a healthy roster?