Is The World Baseball Classic To Blame?

The World Baseball Classic seemed like a good idea at the time. The goals of the tournament have been modest: to ostensibly bring together the best players the world over in an effort to a) promote baseball around the globe, and b) establish national pride in the sport and its players, in some ways replacing the Olympics, which no longer award medals for baseball. The salient difference between the Olympics and the WBC is that while the former emphasized the contributions of amateur athletes, the success and publicity of the latter would fall primarily on the shoulders of professionals, many of which would come from the well-paid ranks of Major League Baseball.

For the 2009 WBC, the Mets sent fifteen players in all, nine of which were locks for the Opening Day roster. Johan Santana would have made the tally an even ten if the Mets hadn't insisted he pass on the tournament after offseason knee surgery. There has been plenty of debate over whether the WBC is actually good for MLB; it's hard to argue that it isn't good for baseball as a global entity, but there's plenty to be said for withholding a team's precious commodities from highly-competitive play before their bodies may be ready to do so. An argument can be made that the level of exertion in Spring Training games isn't all that different from that of the WBC. Stamina is certainly a concern, though, as regulars often play partial games early in the spring while typically playing a full nine innings in World Baseball Classic action.

The Mets sent more players than any other big league team to the WBC this year and, whether by causality or mere coincidence, their regular season made haste towards the toilet before too long. I'd like to think the two have nothing to do with one another, but take a quick look at the nine big leaguers the Mets lent to the World Baseball Classic:

Jose Reyes
Oliver Perez
Pedro Feliciano
Alex Cora
Carlos Delgado
Carlos Beltran
J.J Putz
David Wright
Francisco Rodriguez

Only three of the nine -- Wright, Feliciano and Rodriguez -- have had what could be reasonably described as healthy seasons. Reyes has been out since May 20. Delgado has been gone since May 10. Putz since June 4. Beltran had been out of action since June 21 before returning last night. Cora, for better or worse, missed the second half of May and, after returning for two months, has been out since August 12. Perez made just one start in May and hasn't pitched since August 23.

Feliciano has been fine, so there's that.

Though comparatively healthy (notwithstanding Rodriguez's early season back spasms), Wright and Rodriguez have arguably had the worst seasons of their respective careers. Wright has done a fine job getting on base, but his power has been nonexistent. Not an awful season by any stretch, but given his career arc and the fact that he's nearing his prime years we can only blame Citi Field so much for his lack of pop. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is likely to post the lowest strikeout rate, highest walk rate, lowest WAR, highest tRA, and lowest LOB% of any of his seven full years as a pro, and this after moving to what should be the weaker offensive league.

I'm not sure the WBC is much to blame for the Mets' misfortune this year; we could still be looking at an historically awful convergence of luck, perhaps mixed with a dash of poor medical advice (though the medical/training staff make logical scapegoats, I think it's unfair to paint all of the Mets' injury problems with their brush despite their inept handling of Ryan Church's concussion last year, among other incidents). I do think it's fair to suggest that the WBC may have played a role in this lost season, though; whether we can ever know for sure is another question altogether.

We won't have to deal with the World Baseball Classic for another four years, and while I won't suggest the Mets sit it out entirely, I would advise them to hedge their bets a little next time by perhaps placing a cap on the number of players they make available to the world rosters. The Mets have given fans little to cheer for in 2009, and if the WBC had anything to do with it that'd be a shame for all involved. Personally, I had only tepid interest in the World Baseball Classic when it aired, and would usually be happier watching a meaningless Mets Spring Training game than a meaningless WBC matchup between the USA and Venezuela. Maybe I'm just crying over a little spilt milk, but would it be too much to ask for a do-over and see if things would have turned out differently?

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