Baseball Canada is scrambling to replace Russell Martin on its World Baseball Classic roster a week before opening its training camp after the all-star catcher abruptly pulled out because he doesn’t want to handle duties behind the plate.
Two possible replacements are George Kottaras, who already said no once because he is fighting for the backup job with the Kansas City Royals, and John Suomi, a veteran minor-leaguer in the Philadelphia Phillies system.
Martin has been taking ground balls at shortstop and hoped to play up the middle for the national team, but neither the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he signed a $17-million, two-year contract, or Canadian officials were comfortable with the idea.
Chris Robinson is the only other backstop on the Canadian roster, which was built with the expectation that Martin would start at catcher. But since being named to the national team last month, Martin has become increasingly insistent on the idea of playing short, revealing Sunday he bailed on the event.
“He’s not prepared to put himself through playoff baseball in March as a catcher,” was how Baseball Canada’s director of national teams Greg Hamilton described Martin’s explanation.
Speaking to MLB.com at Pirates camp in Bradenton, Fla., Martin said both the Pirates and Canadian squad “were uneasy” about him playing shortstop and added, “I simply didn’t want to catch.”
“It’s just too much grind. The catcher’s out there the whole game, and it just takes your body so long to recover from catching 20 innings or so. … I feel sorry for (Team Canada), but sometimes you just have to look out for what’s best for you. You have to make a personal choice. But I’m really sorry for how all this went down.”
Canadian players report for camp March 3 in Goodyear, Arizona, and open the Classic March 8 against Italy.