Cormack on WBC: Canada’s roster unclear

November 30, 2012, 9:07 PM

Sometime during next week’s winter meetings you can expect to hear some roster announcements regarding next spring’s World Baseball Classic.

Possibly as early as Monday, but more likely later in the week, teams are expected to reveal some of the names expected to suit up for their respective nations in the third edition of the Mar. 2-19 event.

It is not known, however, if teams will be required to submit their final rosters to tournament organizers next week because some teams — including Team Canada, may need extra time to gain commitments from MLB free agents and/or players currently under contract, but who haven’t yet received permission from their teams to participate.

Take Russ Martin for example.

The 29-year-old catcher has participated for Team Canada on numerous occasions over the years, as an amateur and as a member of the 2006 and 2009 WBC squads.

On Thursday, the Montreal resident signed a two-year, $17 million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Might the Pirates object to their free-agent prize taking part in the WBC? It’s too early to tell, but this past weekend Martin told David Waldstein of the New York Times he is keen to suit up for Team Canada again, possibly at shortstop.

“It’s my most natural position,” Martin told Waldstein. “If it’s something that would help the team, I am willing to do it. I told Greg I want to do it, and he said he’s open to it.”

“Greg” would be Greg Hamilton, Team Canada’s director, national teams. Hamilton, who is responsible for piecing together Team Canada’s WBC roster, said Martin first raised the idea of playing shortstop with him during a phone conversation last week.

And while he’s not ready to rule it out entirely, Hamilton said he has a clear idea of where he’d prefer to see Martin play.

“He’s obviously the catcher we want… he’s our top catcher,” Hamilton told earlier this week. “We’re not trying to convince Russ Martin to go elsewhere on our ballclub, but Russ has an interest in exploring the possibility of maybe playing elsewhere down the road and we’ll keep an open mind as to whether that works or doesn’t work with where we are.”

Prior to signing with the Pirates, Martin told Waldstein he would like to improve his offence over the course of his next deal, and as a result, hopefully transition to other positions on the diamond.

Martin was a 17th round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2002, as a third baseman. He was soon converted to a catcher. Over his seven-year MLB career Martin has also seen limited time at third base (75.1 innings) and second base (two innings).

Martin has played one professional game at shortstop, back in 2002 when he was in rookie ball. He did, however, play the position in high school and college, and as an amateur with Baseball Canada.

“I’m familiar with his abilities to play in the middle infield, shortstop, second base, third base,” said Hamilton. “He’s a very good defensive player and it shows behind the plate.

“Could Russ Martin play second base someday at the highest levels or third base? It’s not for Greg Hamilton to say, I don’t make those decisions, but I think he’s already shown that he could because he’s already done it at the big league level, albeit a little abbreviated.”

If the WBC were held today, veteran Pete Orr would likely be Team Canada’s starting shortstop. Earlier this week, the 33-year-old signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

In addition to Martin, Team Canada does have another major-league option behind the plate in the form of 29-year-old George Kottaras.

The Scarborough, ON native batted .211/.351/.415/.766 with nine home runs in 171 at-bats between the Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland A’s in 2012.

A potentially even bigger dilemma for Team Canada would be if an MLB club decided to prevent a player from participating due to health concerns.

Earlier this week, Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said if he had to make a decision right now, he would not allow Jose Bautista to participate for the Dominican Republic as the slugger continues to work his way back from wrist surgery.

Anthopoulos added he will keep an open mind on it, but the Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds and whichever team eventually signs Ryan Dempster, would likewise have little to gain and potentially much to lose by allowing those players to take part in the WBC.

Dempster’s status in particular is of a source of great intrigue.

The 35-year-old, would be the unquestioned ace of the Canadian staff should he participate. He did not take part in the 2009 event shortly after signing a four-year $52 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.

A verdict on Dempster’s participation won’t be known until he signs, and there’s a good chance that may not happen until the New Year, leaving Hamilton in a potentially awkward situation depending on when he’s required to submit a roster to WBC organizers.

“For us it’s you work from your major league players backwards,” he explained. “We get the commitments from our major league guys and then once you get those commitments you piece the other elements of your roster together.

“You don’t want to be locking yourself into a roster that you’re ultimately going to have to switch. You don’t want to commit to a player and then tell him, ‘oh by the way, we’ve got somebody who’s come back and said they are going to play, you’re not going to be part of it.’ That’s not how we want to do business.’”

Beginning next week, we should begin to get some answers as to what Team Canada will look like next spring.


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