With all the injury news surrounding the Yankees, it’s easy to forget that a fairly exciting event that involved baseball actually being played just wrapped up with the Dominican Republic’s successful big to win the World Baseball Classic. Despite being led by a solid team, including Captain America David Wright, RA Dickey, Eric Hosmer and Ryan Braun, Team USA had a relatively disappointing loss in the earlier rounds. However, Yankees fans can take heart with the news that Robinson Cano and the Dominican Republic successfully won the tournament for the first time, aided by a strong showing from the second baseman. While the WBC isn’t on the level of the Olympics in terms of the competitive nature of international competition, the games were all good fun to watch. That said, there are a couple of questions that get raised, some involving the Yankees, regarding the WBC. So, since we have to wait just a few more weeks for the MLB season to kick off, let’s take a look:
Does Robinson Cano play harder for the Dominican Republic than for the Yankees?
This is a pretty incendiary question. For those of you who listen to sports talk radio, ESPN host Colin Cowherd mentioned on the Wednesday (March 20) version of his morning show that, in his opinion, Robinson Cano played harder for the Dominican Republic, Cano’s home country, than for the New York Yankees. Even Yankees fans can admit that Cano doesn’t always put forth 100% effort when running out every ball- a noticeable difference compared to his teammate, Derek Jeter, who legs it out to first on even the most obvious ground-outs.
Perhaps it’s unfair to so harshly judge Cano, given that not running out an obvious out is fairly common among most players. Further, part of what makes Jeter so special is that that sort of behavior is quite out-of-the-ordinary, and he does it every single at-bat. An added unfair element to Cano is that his talent level makes his effort seem non-existent at times. He can turn even the most ridiculous defensive play so smoothly that it looks like he doesn’t care or didn’t try, when in reality, the play is quite difficult.
Further, his swing is one of the most pure in baseball- not to mention the extra hitting and cage drills he partakes in with his dad in the off-season and hitting coach Kevin Long are well-documented. Could he leg it out a little bit more when hitting into those ground-outs, probably, but asking the guy to feign effort is a bit ridiculous. I find it hard to knock the guy when his production, talent and overall representation of the Yankees on and off the field has been so exemplary. By saying that Cano plays harder for the WBC, which is essentially a bragging rights competition, at best (and a weak one, at that, considering it’s infancy and the fact that it pales in comparison to the highly-publicized, competitive nature of the Olympic games), than the Yankees implies that bragging rights mean more than a championship. For some players, money means more than a championship, and that’s fine. (Luckily for Cano, he will get both.) But I find it really difficult to fathom that one of the best overall players in the game would value the WBC over a potential championship, regardless of his affection for his native country.
Are you disappointed that Team USA didn’t win the WBC?
Another tough one. Would it be nice for Team USA to have won the WBC, of course. Did I lose a whole lot of sleep over them being eliminated and not advancing to the Final? Not particularly. I think that in many ways, the loss, and the WBC in general, is a real testament to the diversity of the game of baseball. Think about all the great players or highly-touted prospects (hello, Jurickson Profar) on your favorite team. Did they play for Team USA if the participated in the WBC? Odds are, probably not. It isn’t like men’s Olympic basketball, where the absolute and very best players that play in the NBA generally are wearing red, white and blue for Team USA. For the WBC, most of the best players are scattered among the competing teams. If the this competition was constructed like the men’s Olympic basketball team, yes, I would have been just as disappointing that Team USA in the WBC didn’t win as I was when Team USA basketball lost in 2004 at the Athens Games. However, that isn’t the construct of the tournament. I would have liked to see the US win it all, but I’m okay with it, especially having gotten the chance to see Cano bring it home for his native country.
Does the WBC even matter?
I think that the WBC does matter, even if it is my opinion that it is a weak replacement for baseball’s participation in the Olympic games. It was interesting to see guys who have maybe wallowed away in some other team’s farm system, never made it above AA, and I have never heard of, pitching against Robinson Cano and David Wright. By the same token, it’s also an awesome way to watch some of the higher-end prospects like Profar, and see the future of MLB. In a sports world where it can be argued that soccer is the international king, the WBC is a great way to grow the game. It may never reach the heights that the Olympics or World Cup will have- there’s a mercy rule!- but it is a relatively new challenge, and it something that allows us to truly appreciate the diversity of the game in a sport which ironically is capped off by a “World Series” that is only represented by teams in the United States. (Also, let’s be honest- there’s six weeks of spring training, it makes the winter seem that much shorter by giving us real baseball sooner than otherwise.)
Would you rather your team’s player not play in the WBC?
I think this is a two-part answer, and it really depends on where you’re sitting. If you’re a player or a fan, I imagine you would want your team’s player to go to the WBC, if only to see them get into game action. It’s a fair thought process to wonder if maybe Mark Teixeira would have been jump-started from his usual spring woes by having an extra two weeks of baseball under his belt. That said, if I am a manager or a GM, there is no way on this green earth that I would want my player playing in the WBC.
Baseball season is long, between spring training and a deep post-season run. A player should get the maximum time to get the appropriate rest and recover from the daily grind of the season, let alone injury. Having players be ready for full-game action- particularly in the expensive, coveted commodity of good pitching- almost a full month earlier than a normal spring training schedule is asking for trouble. Players might not be ready if they do not start training early enough to offset the earlier baseball start; similarly, the body might not be recovered enough from the previous season, setting up a perfect way to get hurt.
I am not suggesting that Teixeira would have absolutely remained healthy if he had stayed with the Yankees and hadn’t thrown on a Team USA jersey, but I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that his odds of injury were significantly increased by his participation in full baseball activity earlier than otherwise necessary. It wouldn’t be a huge leap to suggest that the participation did, in fact, result in the wrist injury that might (might) have him lost to the Yankees- the team that pays him and his is employed by- for the full season, or at least a significant amount of time. Think of it this way: you get injured doing something on your free time that prohibits you from doing your job. How would your bosses feel?
Similarly, particularly with pitching, the length of the season cannot be stressed enough. Baseball doesn’t have the intensity of football, but it is a long grind. A player who must go full-tilt in the WBC may fade earlier down the stretch, proving to be ineffective, and could cost his team a chance at a playoff berth (more important than ever with the extra Wild Card) or a chance at a deep post-season run. He could quite simply be too tired from engaging in full baseball activity for nine full months. And if I am a GM like Brian Cashman, whose season and success is predicated on winning a championship, I do not want my player getting involved in any extra curricular baseball activities, no matter how good it would be for the game as a whole, if it meant costing me a fully ready and able player (or as able as a player can be in October) in a playoff game.
So, readers, what say you? Did you watch any of the games in the World Baseball Classic? Do you like the idea, do you hate it? Does it matter? Do you want your favorite player to participate Tell us your thoughts below, and take heart- baseball season, for your team and your favorite player, all together again is a participate two weeks away!