The World Baseball Classic has returned for its third go-round and this year it has the same problem as the two preceding tournaments, which is: Why mess with March? Just so Allan “Bud” Selig can promote his legacy as a global baseball marketing guru? With all due respect, Bud, my patriotic heartstrings are not going all atwitter over the WBC. This might be relevent to the Japanese (who have won both tournaments) and the Cubans (who want their politicized baseball prowess ratified any way they can get it), but the USA brand of baseball – by which I mean Major League Baseball – isn’t part of the WBC except in some shadowy form. The mediocre USA team is a fairly motley crew of well-intentioned players who hardly represent the best-of-the best. After all, MLB teams don’t warmly support the WBC because it conflicts with spring training. MLB teams don’t want their players going “HAM” when they should be focused on gearing up for the grueling 6-month marathon that is the MLB regular season.
The avoidance issue isn’t as relevant for the position players, who benefit by their plate appearances where they get more looks in the batter’s box. But what’s good for them is bad for pitchers and their pitch count. Many managers are reluctant to send their front-of-the-rotation starters because they need to preserve their arms for the stretch run. To rationalize meaningful competition at this time of year is ludicrous to MLB managers. Two perfect examples tell this tale: Stephen Strasburg and former Red Sox and current Indian Daisuke Matzusaka. Strasburg, like most young pitchers these days, is on a very strict regimen to preserve his arm. So much so that Strasburg was shut down last year at 180 innings when the Nationals were in first place and eventually finished with the best record in baseball. This is going to become the norm for prized prospects like Dylan Bundy, Trevor Bauer and Jameson Taillon. Matzusaka was all but shut down for the entire 2009 season after suffering shoulder fatigue while pitching for his native Japan, who won the WBC Gold. General Managers can’t risk these injuries or setbacks.
So expect the USA to perennially finish below their level of play because of MLB managers’ deference to making or missing the MLB postseason. There is no need for this spectacle and it really does put an unfair burden on everyone to have to break camp and go off and play in some forcibly globalized tournament that really does nothing to benefit baseball except in the margins.
The WBC needs to be eliminated so March returns to its rightful focus on Grapefruit and Cactus leagues so my workday passes more quickly and pleasantly.