Dellin Betances isn’t the only Yankee who could play in the 2017 WBC

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

In a few weeks baseball players all around the league will leave their teams in Spring Training to participate in the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic. Pool play begins March 6th in South Korea, and the tournament will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full 2017 WBC schedule.

The 16 countries do not have to finalize their WBC rosters until January, though we already know Dellin Betances will pitch for the Dominican Republic. He committed to them recently. Betances was on Team USA’s preliminary roster but instead choose to honor his family by pitching for the Dominican Republic squad. So far he’s the only Yankees player to commit to the WBC.

The Yankees are not as star-laden as they once were — a few years ago a case could have been made their entire starting infield belonged in the WBC — so they don’t figure to send a ton of players to the WBC next spring. Chances are Betances won’t be the only Yankee to participatein the event, however. In fact, farmhand Dante Bichette Jr. already played for Brazil in the qualifying round in September. Who knew? (Brazil did not advance.)

So, as we wait for the commitments to trickle in and the final rosters to be announced, lets look at the Yankees who could wind up joining Betances and participating in the WBC. Keep in mind the WBC is not limited to big league players — some countries can’t field an entire roster of MLB players, hence Bichette playing for Brazil — and the rosters are 28 players deep, not 25, so there are extra spots.

Canada: Evan Rutckyj

Rutckyj, who recently re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent, was the team’s 16th round pick back in 2010. The Braves took a look at him this past spring as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but Rutckyj failed to make the Opening Day roster and instead returned to the Yankees. He struck out 14 in 11.2 innings around a relatively minor elbow procedure during the 2016 regular season.

Only eleven pitchers born in Canada have appeared in the big leagues over the last three years — only seven did so in 2016 — and five of those eleven threw fewer than 20 innings. Three of the other six are now retired (Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis, Phillippe Aumont). Rutckyj, who grew up across the river from Detroit in Windsor, has had some Double-A success as a reliever and could make a Canada roster that has been heavy on minor league pitchers in previous WBCs.

Colombia: Tito Polo, Carlos Vidal

Colombia clinched their first ever WBC berth by winning their qualifying round back in March. They won a pool that included France, Spain, and Panama. Both Polo and Vidal were on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round and chances are they will be on the actual WBC roster as well. Only six Colombian-born players appeared in MLB in 2016, one of whom was Donovan Solano and none of whom were an outfielder like Polo and Vidal.

Vidal, 20, has spent most of his career with the various short season league teams in New York’s farm system. He went 2-for-8 with a double and played in all three qualifying games in March. Polo, 22, came over from the Pirates in the Ivan Nova trade. He was Colombia’s extra outfielder in the qualifying round. He appeared in two games as a a pinch-runner and defensive replacement and did not get an at-bat. Both Vidal and Polo figure to play in the WBC in March.

Dominican Republic: Gary Sanchez (Starlin Castro?)

WBC teammates? (Rich Schultz/Getty)
WBC teammates? (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Over the last three seasons, the leader in bWAR among Dominican-born catchers is Welington Castillo. Sanchez is second. For all the great baseball players to come out of the Dominican Republic, the island hasn’t produced much catching talent in recent years. Their catching tandem in the 2013 WBC was Francisco Pena, Tony’s son, and Carlos Santana, who is no longer a catcher.

The Dominican Republic’s current catching pool includes Sanchez, Castillo, Pena, Pedro Severino of the Nationals, and Alberto Rosario of the Cardinals. I have to think they want Sanchez and Castillo there. Then again, Tony might want Francisco on the roster, and I’m sure the Yankees would rather Sanchez spend his first Spring Training as the No. 1 catcher learning the pitching staff.

The Yankees can’t stop Gary from going to the WBC if he’s invited though. They might need Pena to pull some strings, which would be kind of a dick move. I’m sure Sanchez would love to play. Bottom line: Sanchez is arguably the best Dominican catcher in baseball right now and inarguably one of the two best. In what is intended to be a best vs. best tournament, Gary belongs on the Dominican Republic roster.

(For what it’s worth, Victor Baez reports Pena promised Sanchez he would be considered for the WBC team, but acknowledged things may change before the final roster is submitted.)

As for Castro, he has an awful lot of competition on the Dominican Republic middle infield. Robinson Cano is the presumed starter at second with someone like Jose Reyes or Jean Segura at short. Jonathan Villar, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, Jhonny Peralta, and some others are WBC candidates too. Castro’s a possibility for the tournament but probably isn’t part of the club’s Plan A infield.

Japan: Masahiro Tanaka

Interestingly enough, not a single MLB player was on Japan’s roster for the 2013 WBC. Not even Ichiro Suzuki. They filled their entire roster with NPB players. Japan has had big leaguers on their roster in previous WBCs, including Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka, just not in the last one. Will they invite big leaguers this time? I honestly have no idea. We’re going to have to wait and find out.

If Japan does want current MLB players, Tanaka figures to be near the top of their list. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and on the very short list of the best Japanese-born pitchers on the planet. The Yankees can’t stop Tanaka from playing in the 2017 WBC. Brian Cashman confirmed it during his end-of-season press conference. Needless to say, the thought of Tanaka suffering an injury during the WBC is enough to make you squeamish. The Yankees have already been through that once before, with Mark Teixeira and his wrist in the 2013 WBC.

For what it’s worth, Tanaka has participated in the WBC twice before. He was on Japan’s roster in both 2009 and 2013, throwing 9.1 total innings across one start and seven relief appearances. Maybe that was enough for Tanaka? Maybe he’s had his fill of the WBC — Japan won the 2009, so he has a championship — and would rather focus on the Yankees in Spring Training and putting himself in the best position to use his opt-out the team in the best position to win? Gosh, I hope so.

Mexico: Luis Cessa, Gio Gallegos

Fifteen pitchers born in Mexico have appeared in the big leagues over the last three seasons, and 13 of those 15 did so in 2016. The two exceptions are ex-Yankees: Manny Banuelos and Al Aceves. Banuelos is coming off another injury and Aceves spent the 2016 season in the Mexican League. Mexico figures to try to build their WBC rotation from a group that includes Marco Estrada, Julio Urias, Jorge De La Rosa, Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, and Miguel Gonzalez.

Cessa and Gallegos — fun fact: the Yankees signed Gallegos away from a Mexican League team as part of a package deal with Banuelos and Aceves in 2007 — could be candidates for Mexico’s bullpen. Especially Cessa since he has MLB experience. Gallegos might not get much consideration given the fact he has yet to pitch in the show. Roberto Osuna, Joakim Soria, and Oliver Perez are likely to be Mexico’s late-inning relievers, but they’re going to need other pitchers for middle relief, especially early in the tournament when starters have limited pitch counts.

Keep in mind both Cessa and Gallegos figure to come to Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Cessa will be among those competing for a rotation spot, which is kind of a big deal. Gallegos, who the Yankees added to the 40-man roster earlier this month to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, is trying to reach the show for the first time. As much as I’m sure both guys would love to represent their country in the WBC, they would be better off hanging around Spring Training and focusing on winning a roster spot with the Yankees at this point of their careers.

Netherlands: Didi Gregorius

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Dutch team has had to rely heavily on players from Honkbal Hoofdklasse, the highest level of pro ball in the Netherlands, to fill their WBC roster in the past. The same figures to be true this year. Only six Dutch players have played in MLB the last two years: Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar, and Kenley Jansen. So, if nothing else, the Netherlands doesn’t have to worry about their infield or closer. They’ll need Honkballers in the outfield and rotation.

It’s entirely possible the Netherlands will look to take all five of those infielders to the WBC because, well, they’re the best players the country has to offer. Profar has played first base and Bogaerts has played third, so the starting infield could very well be those two on the corners with the other three guys splitting time up the middle and at DH. Gregorius was not on the 2013 WBC roster, and with his Yankees roster spot secure, he could jump at the opportunity to play for the Netherlands.

Team USA: Tyler Clippard (Brett Gardner? Jacoby Ellsbury?)

Even with Betances committing to the Dominican Republic, Team USA’s potential bullpen is insane. Zach Britton closing with Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel setting up, Wade Davis as the fireman, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson as the middle relievers … goodness. What are the odds of that happening though? Extremely small. Some of those guys are going to pass on the tournament. Happens every WBC.

The Team USA bullpen in 2013 included Kimbrel and, uh, Luke Gregerson? Tim Collins? Mitchell Boggs? Vinnie Pestano? Yup. Yup yup yup. Team USA’s leader in relief innings in 2013 was Ross Detwiler. So yeah. The odds of a super-bullpen are so very small. Clippard could be among the club’s Plan B or C relievers. Team USA is going to miss out on a ton of the top guys, no doubt, so who’s next in line? Clippard could be one of them.

Along those same lines, I suppose Gardner and/or Ellsbury could receive outfield consideration if enough top guys drop out. We already know Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are passing on the tournament. Team USA would need to receive a lot of “nos” before considering Ellsbury and Gardner for their outfield — they ranked 12th and 20th in bWAR among American-born outfielders in 2016 — but hey, you never know.

* * *

The Yankees are said to have interest in bringing Carlos Beltran back, and I have to think he will suit up for Puerto Rico in the WBC next spring. The next generation of Puerto Rican stars has arrived (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez) but Beltran is still insanely popular in Puerto Rico, and he usually gives the people what they want. Aroldis Chapman, on the other hand, won’t pitch for Cuba regardless of whether he returns to the Yankees. No expatriates on the national team.

Thankful that no Yanks pitchers headed to WBC

As Mike mentioned in the open thread, game action is starting a bit early this year. That’s because of the World Baseball Classic, an event which MLB officials attempt to hype, and about which the American public, from what I can gather, doesn’t care for the most part.

I understand MLB’s desire to see this tournament succeed. They think it can get people around the world hyped about baseball the same way they’re hyped about soccer and specifically the World Cup. While the WBC will never be the World Cup, it could be a successful tournament if it were run properly. Unfortunately, there are a few too many snags at this point for it to be feasible.

Most notable is the detriment it causes to MLB teams. Yes, the opening of the season might be delayed by a few days, but that won’t give the WBC players the time in camp they’re used to. Players don’t show up in mid-February just because. They show up to be around the team and to get in shape for the new season. The WBC represents practice for these players, but it’s not practice with their respective teams. Exactly how important that is I don’t know, but it has to be of some significance. This goes especially for catchers, who are tasked with learning an entire pitching staff in a month and a half.

Pitchers, though, seem to suffer the most harm from WBC participation. Just look back to 2006 and you can see what I’m talking about. A number of pitchers who participated in the WBC either befell injury or had horrible years. This is why I’m thankful that the Yankees aren’t sending any of their arms to the international tournament. They’re keeping them in camp where they can monitor their workload and ensure that they perform at peak ability for the 2009 team. That is, after all, what they’re paid for, and the entire reason why they were selected to the WBC in the first place.

Look at the starters for Team USA in 2006: Roger Clemens, Jake Peavy, Dontrelle Willis. Roger pulled his half-year thing with Houston that year, so we’ll set him aside. Dontrelle Willis had a superb 2005, and if not for Chris Carpenter would have won the NL Cy Young award. Yet in 2006 he faltered a bit. Yes, he pitched 223.1 innings and threw to a 3.87 ERA. That doesn’t sound bad on the surface, but his walks shot up from 55 in 236 innings in 2005 to 83 in 2006. That brought his WHIP up to the 1.4 range, making his ERA seem out of line with his actual output (true, true, his FIP was 4.31). This set the stage for his bed-crapping in 2007, and his injury-riddled 2008.

Jake Peavy has had exactly one bad year since 2003, and you’ll never believe what year it was. Yep, 2006. In the years 2004 through 2008 he had an ERA over 2.88 just once. His walks, hits allowed, and home runs allowed were far out of line with his career totals. Thankfully for him and the Padres, he rebounded with a Cy Young performance in 2007.

Not satisfied with a two-player sample? Bartolo Colon pitched 222.2 innings in 2005, (undeservingly) winning the Cy Young. After pitching for the Dominican Republic in 2006 managed just 56.1 innings in the majors, succumbing to injuries. He hasn’t crossed the 100-inning barrier since. Jae Seo threw 90.1 innings of 2.59 ERA ball for the Mets in 2005, but after participating in the WBC he managed a 4.56 ERA in 2006 split between the Dodgers and Rays. Joel Pineiro, while crappy in 2005, was even crappier in 2006.

Clearly, there were players who weren’t adversely affected by the tournament. Kelvim Escobar, coming off an injury in 2005, pitched 189.1 stellar innings after a WBC appearance in 2006. Erik Bedard lowered his ERA by a quarter point and pitched 50 more innings after a WBC stint. Yet, despite these improvements, the trend tends to be that if you pitch in the WBC, you’ll see diminished returns during that season.

I’m glad, then, that the Yankees’ pitchers are staying in camp and working like a normal Spring Training. Like the Hall of Fame, I don’t get much enjoyment out of the WBC. It seems like a marketing ploy by MLB. Get the best players in the world together every three years and drum up worldwide interest in the sport. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the end they will achieve. It looks like the timing of the tournament might have a generally detrimental effect on pitchers, which doesn’t bode well for the games that actually count. Clearly, we’ll need a larger sample to make any definitive conclusions, but considering the results from 2006, I couldn’t be happier that the Yankees’ pitchers will go through the spring supervised by team personnel.

Derek Jeter in the house

Sorry I couldn’t get closer. Had I known Jeter was here I would have sat up front.

Oh, and it might look like Jeter is looking at the camera, but I was actually standing next to her:

She’s approximately 18,456 times hotter in person.

Update: Davey Johnson called Jeter up to speak for a minute. Says the Captain: “I did not think I’d be speaking today.”

Open Thread: Putting together the USA WBC team

Back after a three year hiatus, the World Baseball Classic returns next spring to what seems like less fanfare than the 2006 installment. Implemented essentially to replace Olympic baseball (which was voted off the island by the IOC), the ’09 WBC will start in four countries in early March, and wrap up with a one-game, winner-take-all Championship Game two weeks later at Dodger Stadium.

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon and then-Yankee Al Leiter suited up for the USA in the inauguaral WBC, while Bernie Williams played for Puerto Rico. You may recall the Yanks forbid Jorge Posada from joining Bernie with Puerto Rico, while Mariano Rivera chose not to play for Panama. King George let it be known that he didn’t like his players taking an unnecessary risk, but when the dust settled the only player to suffer a serious injury was Luis Ayala, who blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery.

Jeter & A-Rod have already expressed their desire to participate in the ’09 WBC, but otherwise the news is mum on the rosters, save for a few pissed off Venezuelans. So that’s where we come in. Who would you like to see suit up for the USA? Teams will work with a 30-man roster, but you don’t have to go that deep (unless, of course, you want to), perhaps just a 9 man starting lineup and some semblence of a pitching staff.

Play Bob Watson for a few minutes and stick your USA WBC team in the comments. Play nice.

Team USA takes home the Bronze

The USA Olympic Baseball squad took home the Bronze medal late last night after an 8-4 win over Japan. Starter Brett Anderson allowed only 4 hits and struck out 6 in 7 innings, but gave up all 4 runs thanks to a pair of homers. Taylor Teagarden drove in the go-ahead runs with a 2-run double in the 5th, and Jason Donald padded the lead with a 2-run homer the next at-bat. Yu Darvish came on in relief for the Japanese squad, but by then it was too little, too late.

You can see every team’s cumulative stats here; Angels’ farmhand Matt Brown is an easy pick for team MVP. Korea beat Cuba for the Gold in dramatic fashion, with Yuliesky Gourriel (the best player in the tourney) grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth down by one run.

Team USA falls to Cuba in Olympic semifinals

The USA Olympic baseball lost 10-2 to Cuba this morning in the semifinal round, meaning Team USA will take on Japan in the bronze-medal game later tonight. SDSU phenom Stephen Strasburg started, but didn’t make it out of the 5th, while relievers Jeff Stevens and Blaine Neal combined to cough up 6 runs in the 8th, putting the game out of reach.

Either Brett Anderson or Jake Arrieta will take the mound for the red, white & blue tonight, while Japan will throw some kid named Yu Darvish. Cuba will take on Korea in the gold medal game tomorrow evening.

Team USA clinches spot in medal round

The USA Olympic baseball team clinched a berth in the medal round thanks to this morning’s 4-2 win over Chinese Taipei, which pushed their record to 4-2.┬áKorea (6-0), Cuba (5-1) and Japan (4-2) also clinched spots in the medal round. Each team still has one game remaining in the preliminaries before starting the Semifinals on Friday. Stephen Strasburg lines for tomorrow’s start against Japan, meaning Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson will be on the mound for the semifinals and finals (if they make it), respectively.