Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE
Did you know that the 3rd World Baseball Classic will take place in March of 2013? Yeah, me neither. Let's figure out which A's players are likely to take part in this totally exciting and meaningful tournament!
Welcome back to the AN Mailbag! If you have any burning, intriguing, or thought-provoking questions, please send them in! Our address is athleticsnationmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com, and we can only keep doing this if everyone keeps sending in their suggestions.
Our third Mailbag question comes to us from Steve Miller (no, not that one):
"Does anyone know how many or which of the A's players are going to be playing in the WBC for their respective countries? My hope is that the number is relatively low - I think that playing has negatively impacted the MLB seasons of a number of players in past years."
Let me start by being perfectly frank. I don't like the World Baseball Classic. I love the idea of it, just like I love the idea of having baseball in the Olympics. However, for the event to happen and have any level of legitimacy, it must eventually include MLB players. Those players are going to have to play the games at some point, either by spending their bodies on competitive baseball during the offseason (as the WBC requires), or by leaving their teams for a few weeks mid-season (as NHL players do for the Olympics). In the end, I value the MLB season above any other version of competitive baseball, and I don't want to jeopardize its quality by having the biggest stars logging unnecessary innings and at-bats in another tournament.
As Steve suggests, there is a perception that players who participate in the WBC are putting their MLB seasons at risk, whether by increasing the chance of injury (by playing more meaningful games and shortening their Spring Training warm-up time), or by increasing the chance of late-season fatigue (by beginning their competitive seasons a month earlier). I can't speak to the veracity of these assumptions, and I can't find any major studies on the after-effects of players who participated in the previous two WBC's, but I don't think that it's unreasonable to hope to see other teams' players fighting for the...Golden Baseball, or whatever stupid prize you get for winning this thing. Ask Dice-K; he probably knows.
Alright, now that I have made my feelings about the WBC perfectly clear, let's get on to answering Steve's actual question! If, like me, you don't want Oakland's players anywhere near the WBC, then I have good news for you - they probably won't be! And it won't just be because the A's have crappy players (because that isn't the case). Here are a couple of reasons why they should dodge the bullet:
1. Oakland has a surprisingly un-diverse roster. Between the A's 40-man roster and their 6 remaining free agents, the only countries represented are: USA, Canada, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Australia, and Mexico. The non-USA countries account for only 9 total players. The fewer countries your roster represents, the lower the chance that your players will be selected.
2. Oakland has a lot of young players. This is hopefully not news to you. While their young players are talented and have found early success, they are still mostly unproven in the long-term. You might see an uber-youngster like Trout or Harper, or a Latin youngster like (insert anyone you have ever heard of from Venezuela or Puerto Rico), but you're not likely to see guys like Tommy Milone or Chris Carter grabbing spots on the USA roster.
3. Oakland's star veterans tend to be injury-prone. Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy probably wouldn't have been in the conversation for USA's rotation anyway, but their injury histories immediately end any chance of consideration.
Let's take a look through the relevant nations to see which Oakland players may get invited. (And in the meantime, see if you can guess who our Canadian player is before I get there!) This write-up on the Baseball Continuum proved to be a useful resource for this exercise, as a way to gather my thoughts and brainstorm the obvious candidates from each country. One other note: I'm not considering if any players might join a team based on their heritage, like Chris Denorfia or Lenny DiNardo playing for Italy. I'm only going by countries of birth, because that is all the information that I have to work with.
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat. We have one Cuban player on our roster: Yoenis Cespedes. He played in the 2009 WBC, where he hit like a champ but made a critical fielding error against Japan. Then, he defected from his home country and moved to California. My understanding is that Cuba doesn't take too kindly to citizens who defect, so I don't think that the powers-that-be will be extending an invitation to La Potencia.
That's too bad for Yoenis, but it's great news for A's fans. Cespedes plays baseball like the entire field is a giant Slip N Slide; I'm pretty sure he would dive into home plate on a home run if it was socially acceptable. Every moment that he is on a baseball field, he has at least a 30% chance of injuring himself. For goodness sake, he hurt his hand during batting practice and missed a full month. I barely even want this guy playing in meaningless Spring Training games, much less a tournament with national pride on the line.
Team USA could possibly be well-represented by Oakland in 2017, but I really only see 3 possibilities this time around. Before I get to them, let me disqualify a couple of guys. Jarrod Parker is (hopefully) a future ace, but he's still young, not fully proven, and clearly behind guys like Verlander, Price, Gio, Hamels, Lee, Cain, etc. Anderson and McCarthy have too many injury issues, and Eric Sogard is probably a year or two away from being the best infielder in America (yeah, right).
The most likely candidate to join Team USA is probably Ryan Cook. He made the AL All-Star team (albeit, only because the A's needed a representative), and he put up a fantastic rookie season. Since relievers are such an inconsistent bunch, it's probably easier for a younger player to crack that part of the roster. For the same reason, Sean Doolittle could be a candidate, but Cook seems like the safer bet based on the fact that his professional pitching experience is measured in years rather than months.
The only other Athletic who might have a shot is Josh Reddick. He is a complete player who had a breakout season, he's not locked into a massive contract, he doesn't have an injury history, and he seems like the kind of guy who would play 365 days a year if the opportunity arose. However, the USA outfield is already awfully crowded with young superstars: Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Bryce Harper, Matt Kemp...sure, not all of those guys will be interested, but there just doesn't seem to be enough room for Reddick - and that's before you start considering other comparable stars like Adam Jones, Alex Gordon, Curtis Granderson, Jason Heyward...you get the point.
If I was a betting man, I'd say that Cook will be the only Oakland player on Team USA.
The A's have 4 Dominican players on their 40-man roster, and they're all pitchers. The complete list: Bartolo Colon, Pedro Figueroa, Jordan Norberto, and Michael Ynoa (Sandy Rosario was DFA'd yesterday). The Dominican roster is pretty deep with relievers: Fernando Rodney, Santiago Casilla (who is good now, I guess), Joaquin Benoit (balls), Kelvin Herrera, Al Albuquerque, Octavio Dotel, Carlos Marmol, Alexi Ogando, Rafael Soriano, Jose Valverde...the point is, Figueroa and Ynoa aren't going to make the cut. Norberto could be in the mix, but he missed an awful lot of time last year with a shoulder issue and seems like an unattractive choice for that reason.
That leaves us with Bartolo Colon. I don't know if his PED suspension will have any bearing on this decision, but participation could help him rehabilitate his image. The D.R. has Jonny Cueto, Ivan Nova, and Wandy Rodriguez, but after that it's a mess of injury (Neftali Feliz, Felipe Paulino, Michael Pineda) and ineffectiveness (Ubaldo Jimenez, Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana). There remains an outside chance of Colon making the team, but it seems unlikely. I would expect to see Ogando move to the rotation before Colon gets invited.
One consequence of collecting Australian players is that they are probably all good enough to make their country's WBC roster. Case in point: Luke Hughes was on Australia's roster in both 2006 and 2009, and he is absolutely terrible at everything.
Oakland has two remaining Aussies: Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley. Balfour would seem like a lock based strictly on talent, but Tampa Bay made him sit out in 2009 and it sounds like he may have lost interest in the entire thing. Considering that he's about to turn 35, he set a career high in innings last year, and he's probably playing for the last multi-year contract of his career, I'd actually be surprised to see Balfour participate.
Blackley, however, is another story. He pitched for Australia in the 2009 WBC, and only missed 2006 because of an injury. I expect that he will probably be in the starting rotation, mostly because I cannot for the life of me name another Australian starting pitcher.
George Kottaras. It's George Kottaras. He's our Canadian, and I can't imagine why he wouldn't be on the team. Each roster must have at least two catchers, and Russell Martin is the only other obvious candidate. Brett Lawrie was listed as a catcher for Canada in 2009, but he's since moved from the position. Kottaras is a perfectly fine player and I expect him to participate. (According to the last paragraph of this source, Kottaras is already a lock for the roster...which might free up Martin to play shortstop? Huh?)
Oakland has one Mexican player on the 40-man roster: minor-league pitcher Arnold Leon. Mexico isn't exactly stacked, but they're at least good enough to populate their roster mostly with Major League pitchers. Leon seems unlikely to represent his country in 2013.
So, there you have it, Steve. My prediction is that Ryan Cook, Travis Blackley, and George Kottaras will suit up for the World Baseball Classic, with a tiny, outside chance that Bartolo Colon might slip onto the Dominican roster. All things considered, I think that this is good news for Oakland. There is little to be gained from having your players participate in the WBC, but there is an awful lot to lose.