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

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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 Ankiel, Justin 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.

Angel Hernandez made a great call on a tough play

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Fans, and even some writers, tend to jump on umpires when they make bad calls, but rarely if ever point out when they make good calls on tough plays. Angel Hernandez is one of those umpires who gets a lot of flack — and I may suggest even deservedly so — but in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, he made a great call on a very tough play during Thursday afternoon’s game between the Phillies and Marlins.

With a runner on first base and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Phillies leading 2-1, first baseman Brock Stassi laced an Edison Volquez pitch down the first base line. Michael Saunders, who was on first base, came around third base and attempted to score. The relay throw from second baseman Dee Gordon beat Saunders, but Saunders slid expertly to the back of home plate, avoiding the tag from catcher J.T. Realmuto just long enough to slip his hand in and touch the plate. Hernandez ruled Stassi safe with no hesitation because he was in a great position to get a look at the play. In real time, it was a bang-bang play. The Marlins didn’t challenge the call.

The MLB.com video doesn’t have the best angle, but still shows what a close call it was in real time. This .gif from Meghan Montemurro of The News Journal provides the best angle:

Hernandez also made this nonchalant grab when catcher Andrew Knapp tossed it attempting to catch a foul pop-up:

Yoenis Cespedes leaves game with pulled hamstring

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The Mets and Braves are playing today and it’s not a great day for the Mets in the injury department.

First they scratched Noah Syndergaard with a “tired arm.” Now they’ve lost Yoenis Cespedes, who pulled up limping at second base following a double in the bottom of the fourth:

The team has announced that he has pulled his left hamstring.

Cespedes, of course, missed three games over the weekend due to hamstring issues. That was merely tightness, however, and following an off day and a rainout, Cespedes played last night without incident. But it now looks as though he’s going to miss some serious time.