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Morosi is disappointed in U.S. stars for dissing the WBC. Here’s why he’s wrong.

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The U.S. team for the World Baseball Classic was announced this morning and, no, not all of the big U.S. stars are on the roster. Not present are Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Justin Verlander,Clayton Kershaw, David Price and many, many more.

Some may view this as a matter of professionals putting their professional obligations first. Jon Paul Morosi, however, finds it to be evidence of a bad attitude on the part of the big stars:

We should want to reassert our supremacy in the sport, particularly when considering our all-time WBC record suggests precisely such a statement is needed. Instead, it seems several American stars see the WBC as a matter of convenience rather than an obligation to country and sport. They don’t want to play entering their walk year. They don’t want to play if they just changed teams, signed a big contract or went to the postseason. They will do it, only if the timing is exactly right.

For just about every other participating nation, the opposite is true …

Morosi slams the non-participating players like Trout for making “lame excuses” and being “idle heroes.”**

All of which is pretty weak sauce to me.  Morosi says that worries about injury risk some non-participants have aren’t reasonable, but his argument that playing in the WBC somehow better prepares players for the season aren’t very convincing themselves (note: perhaps the reason more non-WBC players were on the disabled list the April after the last WBC was because they were also less than 100% at WBC time). And at no point does he acknowledge how important a normal routine is to baseball players. These guys are the ultimate creatures of habit, and to think that radically messing with their habits is no big deal is to fail to understand what makes ballplayers tick.

But his larger point is that there is some unique obligation on the part of the U.S. to go full-bore into the WBC:

The US remains the structural center of the baseball universe, producing more than 70 percent of current major-league players and serving as the base for 29 of its 30 teams. The game is richer, greater and more diverse than it’s ever been. Those are manifestly positive developments. Yet, because of how the history of our nation is intertwined with the history of the sport, the US bears a unique responsibility to grow the WBC as the sport’s premier international tournament.

A large part of that obligation is showing up. And it would be nice to win once in a while, too.

Actually, I see those facts as reasons why U.S. players don’t have to show up for the WBC. Unlike some other countries, the U.S. has nothing to prove in baseball. No one will argue that Major League Baseball isn’t the pinnacle of the sport, and that it is here, in the MLB, where a player’s mettle is truly tested.  And yes, it is true that the game is more diverse than it has ever been. Indeed, MLB has become a wonderful melting pot of nationalities and its diversity is ever-increasing.  Which makes country-against-country tournaments like the WBC seem like some sort of anachronism, really. A nationalist contest that is really beside the point in this increasingly international sport.

The WBC is kinda cool. Not gonna doubt that.  But to suggest that it is somehow more important than the MLB regular season, and that players who prioritize that regular season over the WBC are making poor choices, is frankly laughable.

 

**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.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.