A little more than three months ago, Andrew Miller threw his final pitches of the 2016 season, giving up a pair of runs in the Cleveland Indians' loss to the Chicago Cubs in an epic Game 7 of the World Series and completing one of the greatest postseasons by any relief pitcher in history. It was also one of the most grueling, with Miller throwing 191/3 innings, including seven appearances of six or more outs.
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Of all the springs for Miller to ramp up his training earlier than usual, depart the Indians' spring training camp in late February and start throwing meaningful pitches in early March — roughly a month ahead of his normal schedule — this would seem to be the worst.
But this is a World Baseball Classic year, and so players and teams across MLB will be altering schedules, saying goodbye to teammates and joining their WBC squads for a tournament that could last as long as 21/2 weeks. And as in every WBC spring, managers and general managers will (mostly) grit their teeth, declare themselves on board with the concept and pray their players return healthy at the end.
"You try to come up with the best plan to help them prepare to play," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti told reporters.
Other officials have been less charitable: "Look, it's a great event, and we stand by MLB," Braves president of baseball operations John Hart told reporters. "But in a vaccuum would I want to put anybody at risk, whether it's in the WBC or whatever it is? No, I want them to pitch for the Braves and to be at as little injury risk as possible."
While the WBC is governed by strict rules limiting pitchers' innings and appearances, that is of little consolation to a team such as the Braves, which will send three-fifths of its projected starting rotation Julio Teheran, Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia to the WBC.
And then there are the Detroit Tigers, who will see no fewer than 15 players depart for the WBC, the most of any team, followed by the New York Mets with 13. The Washington Nationals have nine players heading to the WBC, but the only prominent names are pitcher Tanner Roark and second baseman Daniel Murphy.
The Baltimore Orioles are another team with a delicate situation to navigate. They signed a new catcher this winter, in Welington Castillo, whom they would love to keep at their camp in Sarasota all spring to learn about his new pitching staff, and vice versa — particularly when the Orioles also have new pitching (Roger McDowell) and bullpen (Alan Mills) coaches. Instead, Castillo will leave to join the Dominican Republic team that is one of the favorites to go deep into the tournament that spans from March 6-22.
At some point, the industry may begin to question whether the WBC is worth all the effort and risk. While it is popular in some countries, it is more of a curiosity than a must-see event in the U.S. — especially when American stars such as Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and David Price choose to sit it out.
"I want to be ready for the Red Sox," Price told reporters about his decision to decline Team USA's invitation. "For me, I'm devoted to this team."
It is an understandable stance, and one that undoubtedly went a long way with Price's employers, teammates and fans in Boston. But as long as that is the prevailing sentiment, and as long as the WBC's arrival is greeted with trepidation by the clubs and with yawns by the fans, it may be time to do away with it for good.
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