Does WBC need service-time limit to safeguard players?

Brett Lawrie at-bat for Canada in a WBC warm-up game
Could Brett Lawrie’s injury while playing for Canada lead to discussions about WBC format?

Who really cares about the World Baseball Classic? With the latest news of Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie due to miss the tournament after straining his ribs, does it make sense to continue with the WBC set as it is?

After all, WBC games have been less crowded than a local Little League game in the middle of Kansas. Already, less than 100 fans have been in attendance at games in Japan. This is Japan we’re talking about. A country that loves baseball. A country that has won the only two previous World Baseball Championships. What does it say when fans from the two-time reigning WBC champion country don’t show up for games? (They are watching on their televisions, though, but TVs don’t sell tickets).

Clubs from Japan’s major-league baseball entity, Nippon Professional Baseball, averaged an attendance of nearly 25,000 per game in 2011. While the dismal WBC attendance figures were during China-Brazil and China-Cuba games, one has to wonder what, if anything, can bring the crowds to the ballpark.

It would be an oversight not to mention the historical relevance of the Sino-Japanese relationship. Then again, does that really matter? After all, couldn’t Japanese fans have come out in droves to rally against their Chinese rivals?

Yet, injuries to players like Lawrie stigmatize the event itself. Lawrie is expected to miss a minimum of four weeks. That means he could miss opening day for the retooled Blue Jays.

Injuries to good players who are critical to their teams’ success in Major League Baseball are another component of dismay with the WBC.

What if Felix Hernandez decided he was going to pitch for Venezuela after all? What if his elbow bowed out from overwork? While no one can forecast injuries, the concern of Hernandez’s elbow is a legitimate one.

With just enough star players in the WBC to make it valid, the WBC hopes to catch the attention of enough fans to watch it on television or see the championship in San Francisco. However, the litter of MLB stars who are participating — Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela), Joey Votto (Canada), Ryan Braun and R.A. Dickey (USA) and others — is still not doing much to enhance the little excitement that is hovering around the WBC.

Something needs to change but what?

Since the WBC is an MLB-sanctioned event, MLB should implement a service-time limit for tournament participation. The WBC was created out of the angst of the Olympics dropping baseball from its summer itinerary every four years. Why not continue the tradition of having quasi-amateurs compete in the WBC?

It would alleviate the probability of critical MLB players getting injured. While many will say players can get hurt in spring training, the fact is many critical players, such as Brett Lawrie, have an increased probability of getting hurt in the WBC due to more strenuous play.

It would also provide an outlet for young prospects to display their skills (as in the case of Jameson Taillon in 2013). After all, the star-studded names in the tournament have yet to do anything to dismiss the notion the WBC is weak overall.

An MLB service-time limit would force stars to bypass further injury risks and allow for younger prospects to make a name for themselves in something other than instructional leagues or single-A advanced. While MLB clubs are barred from telling their players not to participate, it is a foregone conclusion that they hint to their players in other ways not to participate.

Since nobody seems to care if Jimmy Rollins or Carlos Gonzalez is playing in the WBC, why not force an MLB service-time limit? It can’t hurt, can it? After all, franchise owners who invest millions of dollars in their star players don’t want them to play in it either.

A service-time limit would prevent older veterans, who are invested in heavily, from risking the investment owners have committed to.

Let’s be honest, too. Casual Johnny-up-the-block doesn’t care about the WBC. He hardly cares about his favorite MLB team unless it is winning. The WBC is more geared to diehard fans. The baseball geeks who live and die the sport. Who better than to watch for these geeks than up-and-comer’s like Miguel Sano and Casey Kelly?

If the WBC was an event for the casual sports fan, it would be more highly touted than it is. Unfortunately, it is not. Casual fans do want to see Gio Gonzalez and Yadier Molina in the WBC. They want to see Gonzalez in a Nationals uniform and Molina in a Cardinals one. Therefore, it is time for MLB to come to its wits and realize the WBC is not an international version of the World Series. Rather, it is an event where only diehard baseball fans congregate.


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