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.

Derek Jeter doesn’t have the money to buy the Marlins

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Derek Jeter met with Major League Baseball yesterday and told them that he does not yet have the money to purchase the Miami Marlins, reports the Associated Press.

Jeter bid $1.3 billion for the Marlins, as did the group led by Tagg Romney and Tom Glavine. Bidding is one thing, however. Cash on the barrelhead is another. Jeter has been trying to wrangle together an investment group since Jeb Bush pulled out of his bid, but still hasn’t pulled it off. There are reportedly other groups still in the hunt.

If only there was someone else with baseball and Miami ties he could call.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Phillies 5, Cardinals 1: Aaron Nola allowed one run on four hits in seven and a third while striking out eight and Freddy Galvis and Tommy Joseph homered. The Phillies snap a five-game losing streak.

White Sox 9, Twins 0: Twins starter Nik Turley got lit up for five runs in only two-thirds of an inning of work, allowing two-run homers to Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier in the first inning. After that it was all just paperwork and Jose Quintana tossing shutout ball into the seventh. Quintana has had some of the worst run support in baseball over the course of his career. Getting nine runs to play with had to feel weird. In other news, this game featured a 4 hours, 50 minute rain delay to begin proceedings. That’s patently ridiculous. If the delay to start the game is almost twice as long as the game is, you probably should’ve just postponed the dang thing.

Rangers 11, Blue Jays 4: Texas built a 7-0 lead after four behind homers from Mike Napoli, Carlos Gomez and Robinson Chirinos. Gomez added another dinger later and had give RBI on the day. On the year Gomez is hitting .267/.346/.515 and is on a 20-homer pace. Not too bad for a guy who missed a month due to a bad hammie. And not bad for a guy a lot of people were writing off after a couple of bad years in Houston.

Brewers 4, Pirates 2: Travis Shaw knocked a home run and two doubles, driving in three runs and starter Chase Anderson allowed two runs and two hits in six innings for the Brewers. Closer Corey Knebel set a record for the most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season’s start — 38 — while picking up his 12th save. He has 68Ks in 37.2 innings of work.

Diamondbacks 10, Rockies 3: Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers and starter Zack Godley allowed three runs in seven innings of work. The Dbacks take two of three from Colorado, routing them with a combined score of 26-8 in the past two games.

Astros 12, Athletics 9: Josh ReddickJake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez all homered as the Astros complete the four-game sweep. They’ve beaten the A’s ten straight times in Oakland and have taken 15 of 16 overall. They own the A’s so thoroughly that they’ve started to get invited to planning meetings with the city over possible locations for the new A’s ballpark.

Indians 6, Orioles 3Austin Jackson had three hits and three RBI and Erik Gonzalez homered as the Indianas take 3 of 4 from the reeling Orioles. Cleveland just went 7-1 on a road trip and now hold a two and a half game lead over the Twins in the division. Feels kinda like order has been restored in the AL Central.

Cubs 11, Marlins 1: Russell hit two doubles, a homer, drove in two and had four hits overall.  Kris Bryant had a three-run homer, Willson Contreras hit a two-run shot and Ian Happ had four hits and drove in a pair. The Cubs have won 4 of 5. Maybe order is on the way to being restored in the NL Central as well.

Angels 10, Yankees 5: Aaron Judge went deep for his 25th homer of the year but that was the only good thing for the Bombers, who blew an early 5-1 lead. The Angels rallied for four runs in the seventh thanks in part to a couple of Yankees errors and a wild pitch. That wild pitch came from Dellin Betances, who allowed his first earned run in 22 games. In the eighth, Yankees reliever Domingo German threw a wild pitch and bounced a pickoff toss to first that allowed a run to score. Ug-ly.

Braves 12, Giants 11: Atlanta rode an 8-run fifth inning to victory. It was bookended by falling behind early and allowing some late runs late, so things were nonetheless close. They had not scored that many runs in an inning since the 2011 season. Their nine hits that inning tied a mark last set in 2004. Matt Adams, Lane Adams, Nick Markakis and Brandon Phillips all homered for Atlanta, who took three of four. The Giants’ road trip ends on a 1-7 mark. I guess you could say that they left their game in San Francisco.

Mariners 9, Tigers 6: Robinson Cano hit a grand slam and a two-run homer to lead the M’s to their fifth straight victory. Rookie Andrew Moore got the callup to replace the struggling Yovani Gallardo in the rotation and debuted with seven solid innings. The Mariners moved above .500 for the first time this year.

Dodgers 6, Mets 3: The sweep. Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and Kiké Hernandez all homered for the Dodgers. No word if the home run trots were fast enough. The Dodgers hit 15 homers in the four-game series, so the Mets had a lot of time to gauge the matter. L.A. also drew nine walks in the game.The Dodgers have won seven consecutive games and 13 of their last 14.