March 20, 2009

It's a shame that the World Baseball Classic is not getting the exposure in the U.S. it deserves. I think most media outlets are missing the boat, spending as much time on spring training coverage as they do on the WBC. The competition is compelling. Take Tuesday for example, when the United States staged a 3-run ninth-inning rally to beat Puerto Rico in an elimination game. David Wright had the winning hit, a 2-run single off Fernando Cabrera.

Derek Jeter and Kevin Youkilis were among those embracing Wright after the walk-off hit. Where else can you see Yankees and Red Sox stars hugging a Met?

Not everyone is a fan of the WBC, however. Major league managers don't like having their best players separate from the rest of the team for spring training. They also worry about the risk of injury from players pressing before they are in "game-shape." This last concern is something that fantasy owners have to ponder.

There were a rash of rib/abdominal/oblique injuries on the U.S. team. Let's examine those players as well as anyone whose fortunes were affected by the WBC. If their long-term prospects are intact or improved, they are for better.

Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers: The young slugger strained a muscle in his rib cage and was unavailable for the thriller against Puerto Rico, forcing manager Davey Johnson to play with a short bench. The injury is not considered too serious, since Braun remains on the American team and may return to WBC action in the semifinal round. You have to wonder if Milwaukee management would have preferred a Puerto Rican victory, which would have sent Braun back to Brewers' camp.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox: Pedroia strained an abdominal muscle, dropped out of the WBC and is back in Red Sox camp. Pedroia is not ready to play, but is participating in light workouts. Expect him in the lineup opening day and don't let the injury affect your draft board unless he reinjuries himself.

Pedro Martinez, SP, Free Agent: The future Hall of Famer was one of the bright spots for the disappointing Dominican team. He pitched six scoreless innings in the WBC, which puts him back on the radar screen as a fifth starter for somebody. The Dodgers are interested, though they want Martinez at a discount, with an incentive-laden contract. In the WBC, Martinez faced few major leaguers, so that should be factored in. Last season, against big-league hitters, Pedro had a 5.61 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP. Nevertheless, Martinez' stock clearly is up and he is hitting 90 on the gun, so expect him to land. Just don't expect the 37-year old to stay off the disabled list.

Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves: The 37-year old slugger has missed an average of 38 games per season going back to 2004. Strained ribs knocked him out of the WBC after a poor 0-for-10 performance in international competition. This is a worrisome sign for anyone thinking of drafting Jones as their third baseman. The injury occurred despite Jones working hard in the off-season to rehab a shoulder injury and to get into top shape. Injuries and Jones simply go together.

Matt Lindstrom, RP, Marlins: Lindstrom is out of the WBC and shut down with a strained rotator cuff. Any problem with a pitcher's rotator cuff is a red flag. Lindstrom was penciled in as the Florida closer and Leo Nunez will take over until Lindstrom is ready to return. Move Nunez up on your draft board and Lindstrom down, way down. Lindstrom may not be ready for the start of the season. Lindstrom, with only five career saves under is belt, could lose the job if Nunez pitches well as the closer.

Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: Cano played for the Dominican Republic team despite a sore right shoulder. When he reported to Yankees camp, he fessed up and got an MRI. He has bursitis and is not ready to play the field, though he can DH in Grapefruit League action. The 26-year old Cano is coming off a bad season and is a high-risk/high-reward selection at second base. He needs to be more like the 2007 Cano, a guy with .300 / 15 HR / 90 RBI / 90 runs potential. The Yankees are not thrilled with Cano for keeping the shoulder situation to himself and possibly aggravating it in the WBC. In the regular season, DH will not be an option for Cano since the Yankees are stocked at that position.

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