The World Baseball Classic gets underway for USA baseball on Friday when the Americans host Colombia to begin group play. But what should we expect?
Several top American-born players won’t be in uniform for the host nation. Thus, showing a lack of enthusiasm for playing in the extra games provided by the WBC. Even though it means representing their nation.
While countries like 2013 WBC champion Dominican Republic have a roster filled with top MLB talent—including players such as José Bautista, Adrián Beltré, Robinson Canó, Nelson Cruz, Bartolo Colón, José Reyes and Hanley Ramírez—the American roster is missing some rather big names.
Two-time MVP Mike Trout, widely regarded as one of the best players in the world, isn’t suiting up. Neither is Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the 2015 National League MVP.
Oh yeah—2016 NL MVP and World Series champion third baseman, Kris Bryant, along with the rest of the star-studded Chicago Cubs roster, won’t be playing for Team USA as well. Don’t count on Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, either. He’s sticking with the Red Sox during spring training down in Florida.
Also joining the group of non-WBC American players are pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Justin Verlander and Noah Syndergaard. Healthy pitchers like Cole Hamels, Jon Lester and Zack Greinke won’t be playing either.
Instead, USA baseball is relying on players like Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Jones and Christian Yelich to bring home the WBC championship. No disrespect to them, but Christian Yelich is no Trout or Harper. Both in terms of play on the field and star power to help out in television ratings.
On the mound, USA baseball will feature pitchers Chris Archer, Danny Duffy, Marcus Stroman and Tanner Roark. The four have combined for just one All-Star game appearance between them. None of them, while talented enough to play in the majors, are Clayton Kershaw—a three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Or Madison Bumgarner, who finished the 2014 World Series with an improbable 0.43 ERA over 21 innings.
So the question is: Why aren’t American-born players jumping at the chance to represent their country at the WBC? The main reason might be behind the timing.
Taking place in March, players who are on MLB rosters are pulled away from their clubs. If their country makes it to the championship, set for March 22 in San Diego, players will have less than two weeks to re-join their club before the start of the regular season.
Injuries are another reason for the lack of some American players opting not to compete. Nationals’ pitcher Max Scherzer, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, backed out due to a throbbing finger injury. Yet coming off the three-month long offseason, the majority of players are healthy.
In reality, the lack of American-born players competing is because of the lack of tradition that comes with the tournament. A tournament that only dates back to 2006. USA baseball’s best finish came in 2009 (4th). And in total, USA baseball has played 20 times in WBC events. They are only 10-10 over that span.
That’s not much to hang their hats on.
American-born players didn’t grow up watching their country compete for WBC championships because it didn’t’ exist, a stark contrast to hockey players growing up watching Team USA win Olympic gold medals. There’s not a “Do you believe in Miracles?” moment for USA baseball in the WBC because it doesn’t exist.
Instead, they grew up watching the Atlanta Braves on the TBS Superstation. They grew up watching the New York Yankees win championships with guys like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. They grew up watching Curt Schilling pitch with a bloody sock in the 2004 World Series for the Boston Red Sox, helping end an 86-year World Series championship drought. Or they watched every year as the Chicago Cubs continued to fail at winning a championship, dreaming they could be the player to lead the Cubs to World Series glory. Something the franchise finally achieved last season.
It seems like American-born players don’t necessarily care about the WBC, because to them, maybe in the end it doesn’t really matter. After the March 22 championship game at Petco Park, the focus will once again turn to the grueling Major League Baseball season ahead.
It just seems like American-born players would rather focus on that. They would rather prepare in order to put their mark on America’s pastime, Major League Baseball, rather than on the relatively new World Baseball Classic.