Yankees Gary Sanchez: The World Baseball Classic Dilemma

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees, like many teams, become engaged in an intense internal struggle each year when one of their players announces that he will play in the World Baseball Classic tournament. The conflict is described as intense because, on the one hand, the WBC exists as a vehicle to promote baseball on the world stage (encourage him to play), at the same time that the potential for injury increases exponentially with more baseball activity (encourage him not to play). One of their star players has yet to commit to playing in this year’s WBC. Ther Yankees front office is holding their breath awaiting his decision.

Yankees phenom Gary Sanchez has yet to announce his intentions as to whether or not he will join his Dominican Republic Patriots and teammates in this year’s World Baseball Classic tournament. Tony Pena, the manager of the team, has already included Sanchez on his roster. His addition to the team would undoubtedly increase interest in the tournament and shine a light on one of the Yankees budding stars. All good.

But at the same time, there is the elephant in the room question – what if he suffers a significant injury while playing – causing him to lose time when the major league season begins. Not so good.

To date, the Yankees are batting .500 with star players who have already made their decision. Didi Gregorius will be joining his fellow Dutch teammates in representing the Netherlands in the WBC, beginning on March 6. However, Masahiro Tanaka announced last week that he would skip the tournament and not be playing for his homeland, Japan.

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In the case of Tanaka in particular, the Yankees front office could be heard breathing a sigh of relief from across the East River in New Jersey when they heard about this development. And that is because the likelihood of injuries to pitchers is far greater than with position players.

Consider, for instance, the following excerpt from a study by Michael Echan which appeared in SB Nation:

"“After looking through the statistics of those who appeared in both WBC tournaments, it is my belief that pitchers who participate in the WBC, especially starters, are far more likely to see a regression in their performance, get hurt or both than pitchers who do not play in the WBC. I reason that the most likely cause is the tournament’s timing disrupts the normal routine of pitchers and their arms are not yet ready to handle the stress and intensity then. With data collected from various sources, I will demonstrate the stark differences between WBC pitchers and their counterparts who did not participate in the tournament, using spreadsheet data and graphs included in this analysis.”"

Yankees Gary Sanchez Is Now At Bat

Like most teams, the Yankees refrain from commenting either way publicly as to a player’s wishes to play or not play. Ultimately, in the case of Gary Sanchez, the decision will be up to him. Sanchez may or may not seek advice from his agent, teammates, or perhaps the Yankees themselves. As a catcher, one would think that the risk of injury would rank near the top of the list as likely for position players. But in the end, risk taking is a part of everyday life, isn’t it?

Of note, it was interesting to learn that the WBC has insurance covering the salaries of MLB players who subsequently miss at least 30 days of the regular season. New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, missed significant time in 2013 with a partially torn tendon in his right wrist incurred while taking batting practice for the U.S team. But when weighed against a player like Teixeira’s value to the team, money is a small consolation for the loss.

In writing about the WBC once, Buster Olney nailed it when he suggested that:

"“There is incredible irony in the narrative that players and teams should put aside their self-interest and participate in the WBC for the sake of growing the game.”"

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Gary Sanchez is struggling with that irony right now. His participation would certainly help grow the game. But at what possible cost to his career and his Yankees teammates. In some ways, this is all just another factor in the pressure-cooker building up around this young man. Here’s hoping Gary Sanchez can handle it.