Skip to content

Fernando Martinez and the Astros show why the World Baseball Classic still has so far to go

Jan 18, 2013, 6:43 AM EDT

Fernando Martinez Getty Getty Images

Fernando Martinez stands as one of several players in the mix to make the Houston Astros’ outfield. But he has more up against him in that quest than just competition from Rick AnkielJustin Maxwell, J.D. Martinez and Brandon Barnes. He has up against him his participation in the World Baseball Classic, where he will play for Spain.

His general manager, Jeff Luhnow, admitted as much. From Brian McTaggart’s story at Astros.com:

“The big challenge is … a guy like Fernando Martinez, who’s trying to make our club, [being] gone for an extended period of time. I think that potentially hurts him, even if he does well in the Classic,” Luhnow said. “It hurts him because he’s not there with our coaches, being seen firsthand. It makes it a little bit more difficult. The fact he’s playing for Spain means he’s not going to be gone the whole month. Nothing against Spain, but they’re not likely to make it past the first round.”

I understand that we’re supposed to be all-in on the World Baseball Classic and that players who don’t take it seriously have the wrong attitude and are otherwise “idle heroes,”** but I’m sorry: if a general manager for a baseball team is saying that participating in it is going to have negative implications for you, you should not be playing in the WBC. If I’m Martinez’s agent I have him call the Spanish manager, say “smell you later,” and make sure my client’s butt is in Osceola County Stadium from the first day of Spring Training until the team breaks camp so as to give him the best chance to win a job.

As for what this says about the Classic itself, yes, I acknowledge that Martinez is a borderline major leaguer at best, and I acknowledge that Morosi’s point yesterday was that the big stars should be participating, not the Fernando Martinez’s of the world. But this little example is still telling with respect to the WBC’s true place in the baseball hierarchy and still explains why many big stars, quite understandably, choose not to participate.

For one thing, for Spain anyway, Fernando Martinez is a big star. He’s the best they can do in their outfield. And if the WBC is to become what Morosi and everyone who rah-rahs it wants it to be, every team has to put its best possible lineup out there. Watching all the American, Japanese, Korean, Cuban and Dominican superstars trounce the relatively empty rosters of other teams — which is what will happen if Jeff Luhnow’s sentiments are shared by GMs of other players like Martinez — will not turn this into the World Cup Part Deux, which is the ultimate aim Morosi and those who think like him about the WBC want it to be. It will keep it as a curious exhibition, best ignored until the late rounds at the most.

But more broadly, this little episode reveals that the teams and executives don’t value the WBC anywhere close to how they value the MLB season, even if they’re strongly encouraged to say they do by Major League Baseball and strongly wished to by WBC backers like Morosi. That has direct consequences for guys like Martinez, but you can’t tell me that superstars aren’t impacted by this too. They want to win in the MLB season and they want to be on the same page as their manager, their coaches and, yes, their front office.  No, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper won’t lose their jobs if they don’t play for Team USA, but it’s bleedin’ obvious that they have greater priorities and, if forced to be truthful, Jerry Dipoto and Mike Rizzo would prefer them to be in camp all spring rather than playing in the WBC.

It is not a lack of patriotism or a poor attitude that keeps all the superstars from playing in the WBC. It is the disconnect — the tremendous, tremendous gulf between the importance of the MLB season and the importance of the WBC — that keeps all the superstars from participating. And, contrary to what Morosi and other say, this gulf cannot be crossed merely by putting a nation’s colors on the uniform and simply asserting that it matters for flag and country.

**An earlier version of this post characterized Jon Paul Morosi’s criticism of players who do not participate in the WBC as one based on the players’ lack of patriotism. My reason for saying so was that it was my view, based on the entirety of his column, that he was, in fact, questioning players’ patriotism even if he did not intend to.  

In the past few hours Morosi and I have had an offline discussion in which he explained what he was getting at with yesterday’s column. Rather than lack of patriotism, he explained, he was criticizing the attitude of players who have an “insufficient perspective and awareness” of their obligations and the importance of the WBC.  While Morosi and I still likely disagree about all of this, I appreciate that questioning the patriotism of others is a serious charge and that, whatever my takeaway from Morosi’s column was, it was not his intention to do such a thing.

Latest Posts
  1. Ichiro Suzuki passes Babe Ruth on the all-time hits list

    May 22, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT

    Ichiro Suzuki Ichiro Suzuki

    Ichiro Suzuki may be close to the end of a brilliant career, but he’s not done moving up baseball’s all-time leaderboards.

  2. Video: Bryce Harper ties for MLB lead in homers, Nelson Cruz quickly unties (again)

    May 22, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT

    Bryce Harper Bryce Harper

    Nelson Cruz kept pace with Bryce Harper, taking back the MLB lead in home runs shortly after losing it.

  3. Billy Beane: “I’m not trading [Stephen] Vogt. Period.”

    May 22, 2015, 9:35 PM EDT

    Stephen Vogt Stephen Vogt

    Stephen Vogt has been baseball’s best-hitting catcher and GM Billy Beane plans to hold onto him.

  4. Video: Athletics closer Sean Doolittle gets some media training

    May 22, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT

    Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle

    Athletes aren’t born with an ability to speak with the media. We got a look into a media coaching session between Athletics closer Sean Doolittle and girlfriend Eireann Dolan.

  5. Dodgers acquire Eric Surkamp from the White Sox

    May 22, 2015, 7:51 PM EDT

    Eric Surkamp Eric Surkamp

    The Dodgers added some pitching depth on Friday, acquiring pitcher Eric Surkamp from the White Sox.

  6. White Sox push back Carlos Rodon’s next start

    May 22, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    Carlos Rodon Carlos Rodon

    The White Sox are managing Carlos Rodon’s workload so they pushed the lefty’s start back from Monday.

  7. Coco Crisp likely headed to the disabled list, but will avoid surgery

    May 22, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT

    Coco Crisp Coco Crisp

    Coco Crisp will go back on the disabled list, but has chosen against having career-ending surgery.

  8. Mets to utilize a six-man rotation after Dillon Gee returns Saturday

    May 22, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    Dillon Gee Dillon Gee

    The Mets appear to be heading towards using a six-man rotation after Dillon Gee returns on Saturday.

  9. A Rays affiliate planned, and then cancelled, “A-Rod Juice Box” night

    May 22, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT

    Alex Rodriguez Getty Images

    The Yankees firmly believe that the only people allowed to disparage Alex Rodriguez are the Yankees.

  10. Red Sox call up Rusney Castillo, demote Jackie Bradley Jr.

    May 22, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Rusney Castillo AP AP

    Castillo is starting tonight in right field.

  11. Casey Janssen is healthy, ready to make his Nationals debut

    May 22, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

    Casey Janssen Getty Images

    Janssen was signed for $5 million to replace Tyler Clippard as the Nationals’ primary setup man.

  12. Barry Bonds would like to see you smile

    May 22, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    Bonds

    When I see you smile, Barry, I can face the world. You know I can do anything. When I see you smile, I see a ray of light.

  13. Will Smith suspended for eight games for the foreign substance on his arm

    May 22, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    will smith substance arm

    But Major League Baseball’s silliness about these kinds of infractions, however, will continue on unabated.

  14. Quote of the Day: Freddie Freeman inadvertently illustrates the silliness of the foreign substance rules

    May 22, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT

    Will Smith Getty Images

    Paraphrased: “Smith should be way less obvious about the fact that he’s trying to keep us safe!”

  15. Blue Jays shut down rookie Devon Travis with shoulder injury

    May 22, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT

    devon travis getty Getty Images

    Travis has been a huge bright spot for Toronto this season.

  16. Baseball needs beer girls. And a few other things.

    May 22, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Tokyo Dome

    At least that’s what Molly Knight reports from Japan, and I’m inclined to agree.

  17. A’s reliever Edward Mujica breaks thumb on line drive

    May 22, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    Edward Mujica A's Getty Images

    Mujica actually managed to pick up the ball and make a throw to first base for the out.

  18. And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

    May 22, 2015, 7:19 AM EDT

    Bumgarner Kershaw Getty Images

    The Giants own the Dodgers at AT&T Park. And the Madison Bumgarner owned Clayton Kershaw. At least yesterday.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Garcia (3478)
  2. J. Reyes (3201)
  3. Y. Puig (3188)
  4. R. Castillo (3181)
  5. H. Ryu (3137)