Let’s a give a big round of applause to the idiots at the IOC, shall we? The need to draw more attention and revenue to the Olympics led these buffoons to killing the Games’ integrity by removing the amateur status requirements to participate so they could draw in more professional and marketable athletes. While that may have been fine and dandy for the basketball world, as the NBA season ends in June and the summer Olympics don’t start up until late July, it was an epic fail for baseball as players were asked to leave their MLB teams in the middle of the season to go and compete. MLB complied and allowed players to play, but there were no marquee names headed for the games and in the 2004, the United States didn’t even field a team.
So what does the IOC do? Rather than accept the fact that baseball, an Olympic sport since 1904, would be without its money-generators like Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson and Barry Bonds and once again, showcase only lesser-known up-and-coming youth, they voted the sport out in 2005, citing “…a need to have a sport with a following, [a] need to have the best players and [a] need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency).” That, in turn, opened the door of greed which the higher ups of MLB happily walked through and birthed this debacle of a tournament which is based on the almighty dollar yet hiding behind the shroud of international pride. It takes place right in the middle of spring training and is slowly but surely ruining the player pool for us fantasy owners.
When it was announced that Gio Gonzalez would replace Kris Medlen on Team USA for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, I immediately crossed him off my list of potential protects in my keeper leagues. And now, my suggestion to you, as you’re preparing for your upcoming fantasy drafts, is to head on over to the WBC web site and take a look through the finalized rosters. Then go grab your biggest red marker and start crossing off names on your cheat sheets, paying special attention to the pitchers and any position player with even the most remote injury history. You’re probably not going to want to use them this season as the potential for injury or, at the least, a second half drop-off increases.
The whole point of spring training is to give the athletes the opportunity to gradually work themselves into regular season form. Pitchers are tweaking mechanics, honing their delivery and developing new pitches while the hitters are easing their way into the rigors of daily field play and working out any hitches in their swing. We give them roughly a month and a half to do so. But with the WBC kicking off in early March, the players are expected to be in early to mid-season form and to play with an intensity usually found when chasing a pennant down the stretch in September. Pitchers arms are being heavily taxed far too soon and with limited time for proper conditioning, position players increase their chances for injury.
Take a look at what happened to several MLB players after participating in the 2009 WBC tournament. Roy Oswalt missed a handful of starts as his back issues flared up from an obvious increased workload. His 4.12 ERA that year was the highest of his career to that point. Ted Lilly missed roughly seven starts with an array of arm issues. Edinson Volquez got shut down mid-season and headed for Tommy John surgery. Jose Reyes tore a calf muscle in May that year. Jake Peavy strained an ankle tendon. Shane Victorino pulled a disappearing act in the second half. Chipper Jones strained his oblique during the tournament and put up the first under-20 home run season of his career. Francisco Rodriguez saw a decrease in strikeouts, an increase in walks, posted the worst ERA of his career (5.14) and had an unusually low ground ball rate. The list actually goes on further, but you get the point. This is what you want for your fantasy team?
Now obviously injuries are a steady part of the long, grueling baseball season, and there are also players who thrived during the MLB season following their WBC appearance. But you’re looking at almost one out of every four guys on an MLB roster who had some sort of issue following their participation in the tournament and for me, that’s just too many. The risk of injury is already great enough. Why do we have to increase it for what really amounts to a series of meaningless games?
I’m not saying that you have to scrap the WBC altogether. But leave anyone on an MLB roster out of it. It is the MLB teams who are paying the salaries of these players and if you want to take it a step further, it is the fans who are helping pay as well with ticket sales, merchandising, concessions and everything else that now costs and arm and a leg to see a professional baseball game. I don’t spend money on season tickets and a jersey so that I can watch my favorite player, who coincidentally sits on all of my fantasy teams, get hurt in a take-out slide by some overzealous Australian and miss the entire regular season. I don’t want it in real life and I certainly don’t want it in fantasy.