Thursday, March 16, 2023

Please Move the WBC to the Fall

Feel free to care or not care about the World Baseball Classic. Just move the damn thing to after the baseball season, please.

I remember writing about the World Baseball Classic during my original blogging run. The first tournament was played in 2006, when the Mets looked like a real competitor for a title for the first time in half a decade. The idea of players ramping it up to play a tournament in March seemed absolutely insane to me then, and my attitude hasn't changed over the years since.

The counterargument is that players get hurt in spring training games, also. And of course they do. It happens just about every spring. Competing athletically, even in exhibition games, involves some inherent risk. But the risk is ramped up once you put the stress of competing for their countries onto athletes and ask them to ramp up so quickly to do this at a time of year when that stress is a complete break from normal routines. The WBC simply has to be moved to a different time of year, preferably at the end of the season when a team who has invested heavily in an athlete has the least chance of seeing an injury cost them the services of that athlete during games that count.

This was the first time a WBC occurred in a year when the Mets looked to be a top competitor since the inaugural 2006 event. Yeah, I know the 2017 event took place the spring after the Mets had qualified for the Wildcard Game, but I was somewhat skeptical of their chances that year, even before their vaunted pitchers and key offensive players started dropping like flies.

What is most frustrating here is that Steve Cohen made a very large investment to keep closer Edwin Díaz because his value to the club was irreplaceable. Now the Mets will face an entire season without their closer anyway. And I'm running across several pieces, like this one from Tom Verducci on and this from Brittany Ghiroli in The Athletic, lecturing me the WBC is not to blame for what happened to Edwin. Yeah, whatever.

I don't love the WBC. I barely watch any of the games, occasionally flipping one on for a few minutes and finding it no more exciting than any exhibition game. I love baseball, but I come at it from having a deep, longstanding rooting interest in what happens to the New York Mets. This was not ideal for many years, but now that Tweedledee and his son Tweedledum have been forced to sell to someone with spare cash and a vision for the franchise, I want to see my club compete for a title. No matter how you frame it, a player lost for the season in an exhibition tournament is unacceptable. So, spare me the lectures on me not loving baseball enough because I don't love the WBC and come up with a solution we all can live with.

I know some fans love this thing, particularly fans with Latin American roots who care what happens when their home country competes. I understand that players love playing for their home country. I don't begrudge any of them what they love. Just please, move the damn thing to November, when I don't have to worry about losing a Mets player for an entire season, as happened with Edwin Díaz. The people who love watching the tournament and the players who love playing in it can get what they want. Seems like a win-win situation. If this thing had taken place in November and Díaz got hurt, at least Mets fans could be hopeful of hearing the sound of trumpets again in July or August.

As it is, I don't expect to see Díaz back at all this season. And suddenly, what I thought looked like a really strong bullpen comes into question. David Robertson seems most likely to take over the closer role. Adam OttavinoBrooks Raley, and Drew Smith are all experienced in late-game situations, allowing Buck Showalter to mix and match. We can hope this is finally the year that Smith can avoid injuries that always seem to crop up. If so, he would be a great deal of hope. Tommy Hunter has done solid work for the Mets in the past, but has also struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons.

Injuries to Bryce Montes de Oca and Sam Coonrod took away a couple of guys who were enjoying really good springs, albeit temporarily. Unlike Díaz, we know they'll pitch this season. John Curtiss has looked good in his return from Tommy John. He was an intelligent investment by the Mets, with the stuff and experience to give them another option later in games. Stephen Nogosek has struggled a bit, but is out of options and should at least get a crack at making the bullpen based on what he was able to provide for the Mets last season. Grant Hartwig will start the season in the minors, but is likely to pitch innings for the Mets in 2023 and looks promising.

There are some interesting arms here, but the bullpen obviously looked better coming into the year with Díaz closing, Robertson as the primary setup man, and everyone else slotting behind. Reportedly, the Mets still have some interest in Zack Britton. Britton hasn't been good since 2020 as he's struggled with injuries. However, if healthy, the club could use another late-game option. It really depends on whether they believe there is a reasonable chance that Britton has something left.

As you know, there is no crying in baseball. Whether you love, hate, or are completely indifferent to the World Baseball Classic, it is what it is with our closer. No one is going to feel sorry for the Mets. Rather, I'm sure our division opponents are happy with the idea of not having to face Edwin Díaz at the end of games this season. But the point of all the Steve Cohen spending that constructed such a deep roster was that the Mets were built to overcome setbacks.

I have another piece that I was working on that should go up in a day or two. Please check back. Be well and take care. Let's go Mets! (And get well, Edwin. I miss you already.)

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