Unfortunately for Canadian baseball fans, all of the excitement surrounding this years World Baseball Classic (WBC) will not measure into success.
Even though first round games for Pool C will be held at the Rogers centre in Toronto for the first time ever, Canada will most likely not be able to field a team that will match the hype of such an event.
Canadas pitching rotation was expected to display the nations strength heading into the competition, but is now a cause of serious concern after three key pitchers recently pulled out. All expectations have since plummeted down to the bottom of the scale.
Jeff Francis, who helped lead the Colorado Rockies into a 2007 World Series appearance, has declared himself unavailable due to nagging shoulder problems. Chicago Cubs pitchers Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden have also pulled out because of pressures from their club. The Cubs are reportedly concerned that both pitchers would risk injury while playing for Team Canada and are also reluctant to have two of their pitchers missing a portion of spring training while participating in the baseball classic.
Despite the bleak outlook for Team Canada, if youre a Toronto Blue Jays fan, you can look upon this baseball classic with excitement.
There are six members from the Blue Jays participating in the WBC for their respective countries, providing these players with an advantage going into the Major League season. BJ Ryan and Vernon Wells are starting for the USA, while Alex Rios and Marco Scutaro are off to Puerto Rico and Venezuela respectively. Rod Barajas rounds off the list as he travels south of the border to Mexico.
Setting aside the risk of injury, you can look at the WBC as prespring training. The tournament basically serves as an extra month of conditioning for players to work themselves into game shape and work out all the kinks before the major league season starts. This specifically provides an advantage for the hitters, who have historically been known to have slower starts to the season in comparison to their pitching counterparts.
The Statistics prove it all; lets look at a couple of Blue Jays players and their performances after participating in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells went on to hit .303 with 32 homers and 106 RBIs that season. Not only did that earn him a spot in the All Star game, but it also convinced the Blue Jays to sign him to a seven-year, $126 million contract extension. Now Wells did not exactly live up to that contract during the 2007 and 2008 MLB seasons, but it should be pointed out that the World Baseball Classic was not held during those two years.
Right fielder Alex Rios also had success after the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Subsequently, he went on to hit .330 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs heading into the All- Star break, earning him a spot in the All Star game as well. Since then, he too has signed a high-profile contract with the Jays.
Despite the low expectations for the Blue Jays heading into this years MLB season, you can at least expect an improvement in the teams offensive abilities, this, despite an almost identical lineup to last years dismal hitting team. For this, you may well be thanking the World Baseball Classic.