Those who don't believe that Johan Santana's injury is WBC-related are not paying attention. The news yesterday about the Dan Warthen/Johan Santana differences over his arm problems have everything to do with the World Baseball Classic.
To date there has yet to be an injury of any significance in the classic. Hopefully, this year's squads get through the games without incident. Why is Major League Baseball putting their top commodities at risk for little more than an exhibition? Furthermore, pitching, always at a premium, is put at the highest risk. Often players are asked to balance country versus common sense. Jerry Manuel asked Team Mexico to limit Oliver Perez's innings this spring. If they have a chance to win, don't you think Perez might feel pressure to go above and beyond? The bottom line is this idea needs to be tweaked before a team's major investment is impacted.
Why not put the WBC at the end of the season? This is exactly what the league used to do with their series in Japan. Select a warm location and play the games in November after the World Series. Have a two week training camp, and play the games the final two weeks of November. If it can be made feasible, why not have a title game during Thanksgiving weekend? It might give it a bump in ratings in the USA.
Obviously the argument against this is that pro football, basketball and hockey are at the forefront of the sports landscape. The WBC is more important for countries like Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Each turn out in droves for winter ball and they will do the same for the WBC. Only in the USA would this potentially be a problem. Baseball is king for a majority of WBC participants. Any attempt to market this to the US is a losing proposition. In the end, this is about expanding the game outside of US borders, not increasing its popularity inside.
I understand the need for MLB to market the game with the WBC. There is nothing wrong with the idea, just the execution and timing. Shame on Johan Santana for putting himself at risk just for an exhibition. It's a bigger shame that MLB puts Johan in a situation where he has to put his career in jeopardy for nationalism. I have nothing against the WBC, but it needs to fit into the baseball season, not the other way around.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that most of the best Latin players don't actually play winter ball; it's mostly players who don't have a lot to lose. Does Johan Santana pitch for Venezuela in December? Does Pedro Martinez pitch for the Dominican team? And forget about the U.S. stars, most of whom spend half the season looking forward to hunting and fishing in November. Sure, you could play a World Baseball Classic after the World Series, except you'd have to rename it the World Baseball Humdrum because most of the world's best pitchers wouldn't be anywhere near the thing.
It's not yet clear whether the Classic in its current form is workable in the long run. But it might be workable, and if so, it's because the pitchers would be pitching in March anyway. Instead of getting their innings in spring-training games, they're getting them in World Baseball Classic games. Maybe that's not OK. But it's probably more OK than piling on a bunch of innings in November.