TORONTO – Canada takes on the United States, the Dominican Republic and Colombia in the first round of next spring’s World Baseball Classic, and as long as he feels good physically Russell Martin plans on wearing the Maple Leaf once again.
The Toronto Blue Jays catcher skipped the 2013 tournament because he had just joined the Pittsburgh Pirates and didn’t want to simultaneously learn two different pitching staffs. He wanted to play shortstop but that didn’t happen. There will be no such issues next year, when all things being equal, he’ll look to help Canada advance to the event’s second round for the first time.
“Really, it’s a decision I’m going to make at that time, but I’m looking forward to it, it’s fun competition,” says Martin. “Now that I’ve been on the Blue Jays for a couple of years I know my pitchers so I don’t have that feel like I need to catch them more to get to know them. Which is kind of a different situation than last time it was up. So it will be fun, hopefully everybody that’s healthy and available is going to show up and be ready to play, because I think we’re going to have a great team.”
The Canadians were eliminated from the 2013 event by a 9-4 loss to the United States in the round-robin finale. They went two and out in 2009 at home in Toronto, and got bounced by Mexico during the inaugural World Baseball Classic.
They'll play in Pool C at Marlins Park in Miami next year.
Baseball Canada has a strong talent base to pick its team from but the best players aren’t always available. Take Justin Morneau, for instance, who has played in all three editions of the World Baseball Classic so far, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to suit up next spring.
“It will depend on how the rest of the year goes, how the winter goes and all the rest of that stuff, if I’m healthy and in a place where I’m able to take advantage of that opportunity,” he says in a recent interview. “If you’re going into camp competing for a job or with a new team or whatever it is, and you’re losing an opportunity by going somewhere else, that’s when it becomes difficult. But if you’re going into spring training counted on to be on that 25-man roster and you have an opportunity to represent your country, I can’t see why I wouldn’t want to do that.”
Things are always more complicated with pitchers and the Seattle Mariners are sure to be cautious with James Paxton just as the Pirates will be careful with Jameson Taillon, who pitched for the national team in the 2013 Classic. Canada’s chances of advancing look much better if both are made available.
Another intriguing possibility is Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, whose mother is Canadian and has said in the past he wants to play for the national team. With Joey Votto and Morneau, if available, already at first base, perhaps Freeman could move across the diamond to third, or maybe even the outfield, should the Braves approve.
Oakland Athletics reliever John Axford could anchor the bullpen again, and he’s eager to play in his second Classic.
“The experience was amazing,” he says in a recent interview. “It was my first time being able to play for Team Canada in 10 years, so to be able to put that uniform back on, play with those guys, represent your country, fight – physically – and in many aspects of the game out there it was great, a lot of fun. We obviously want things to turn out different, had a hard-fought battle with the U.S. in that last game, but that’s something I’d like to do, I really enjoyed it.”
Here are some possibilities for the Canadian roster:
Catcher: Russell Martin; George Kottaras; Kellin Deglan
First base: Joey Votto; Justin Morneau
Second base: Brett Lawrie
Shortstop: Sean Jamieson
Third base: Freddie Freeman; Jamie Romak
Outfield: Michael Saunders; Dalton Pompey; Freddie Freeman; Jamie Romak; Tyler O’Neill
Starting Pitchers: James Paxton; Jameson Taillon; Scott Diamond; Chris Leroux; Dustin Molleken; Andrew Albers; Scott Richmond
Relief Pitchers: John Axford; Jim Henderson; Adam Loewen; Scott Mathieson; Phillippe Aumont