Paul Zeise: Pirates fans shouldn't be happy with the World Baseball Classic
March 16, 2017 12:34 PM
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
Starling Marte hitting for Dominican Republic.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Starling Marte is expected to return to the Dominican Republic lineup Thursday after missing three of the first four games of the World Baseball Classic with an ankle injury.
But have no fear — Pirates trainer Todd Tomczyk told reporters Wednesday that everybody is banged up at this time of year and that Marte was “in a good enough place to compete.” And don’t worry — in Marte’s absence, Gregory Polanco has filled in admirably in center field. That’s the same Polanco who was moved from right field to left field by the Pirates this offseason.
To review: Marte, the Pirates’ best outfielder, is nursing an ankle injury, is admittedly less than 100 percent but is still going to play a meaningless game. Polanco, one of the Pirates’ most important players, is learning a new position but has spent the bulk of the past few weeks playing a different position.
I’m sorry, but that is beyond ridiculous.
This is the fourth World Baseball Classic. Let’s also hope it’s the last one, or at least the last one taking place during spring training.
This is Major League baseball’s baby and is supposed to help grow interest for the game of baseball on a global stage. So far, the tournament has provided exciting games, and many major league stars have played a large role in that. That’s wonderful, but I’m thinking Pirates season ticket holders want to see the team’s best players healthy and ready to go on opening day.
Marte has been a little bit fragile in his career, playing more than 135 games only one time in four years. If he is nursing a bad ankle and is not 100 percent, why is he still playing in this meaningless event? If he is going to play at less than 100 percent, why isn’t he doing it in a Pirates uniform? Given Marte’s history of injuries, it’s fair to ask whether if this will be a lingering injury into the season.
If you think I’m being overly dramatic, ask Dodgers fans if they appreciated the World Baseball Classic in 2013, when they started the season with Hanley Ramirez on the DL. Ramirez needed thumb surgery as a result of jamming his thumb fielding a ball in the WBC title game that year. The Yankees also were without Mark Teixeira early in that season due to a wrist injury he aggravated in the WBC. David Wright had strained muscles in his ribs that year yet played through it. He admitted, however, he would have been held out of Grapefruit League games with that injury. But hey, Major League Baseball’s brand grew, so that makes it all worth it.
I’m of the belief that none of these players should be missing spring training to play in the World Baseball Classic. That’s especially true when it comes to any player that is injured, is coming off an injury or is learning a new position. It’s not the Olympics and it’s not really meaningful in any way. I don’t want to hear about how these guys are playing for national pride and representing their countries. This event’s “tradition” dates all the way back to 2006. It’s a meaningless exhibition, 100 percent driven by marketing, and nothing more.
Beyond Marte’s injury, opening day is less than three weeks away, and the Pirates’ outfield has yet to play together for any meaningful time. Polanco is going to have to move to the other side of the outfield and learn it all again. If ever there was a player who needed maximum reps and time in a new position, it’s Polanco. Instead, he has spent the last two weeks playing center field.
MLB should at least have the sense to move this event to late November and stop having it during spring training, when players are supposed to be getting ready for the season. Of course, the players’ association might object because it would mean players who play in it would have a shorter offseason by a month. As it is now, players can play in the WBC and not have to take time out of their schedules to do it. It would be interesting to see how excited these players would be to represent their countries if they had to do it on their own time.
Marte and Polanco — and Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen — should be with the Pirates getting ready for the season. The fact that they aren’t is a mistake on the part of MLB and a mistake Pirates fans should not be happy about.
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