Imagine, if you will, that you are twenty-two years old. If you actually are twenty-two, enjoy the relative ease of this assignment.
Now imagine that you’re twenty-two, and you’re a left-handed pitching prospect who’d been pitching for six years between Rookie, A, and A-Advanced leagues. You’ve done pretty well for yourself – throwing 471.1 innings in that time, going 22-26 with 4 saves, 534 K to just 221 BB, a 3.49 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Nice, clean, crisp pitching line, and your best year is also your most recent one.
Now imagine that you get called by your home country to pitch in the World Baseball Classic.
Wow, what an honor! What an exciting opportunity for someone who’s never played against anything beyond the Florida State League.
Now imagine that your first assignment, as a 22-year-old A-Advanced pitcher playing for your country, is to enter a game with a slim lead and two runners on base.
Your job? Pitch to Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, and David Ortiz without allowing any of those two runs to score. No pressure, right?
Alexander Smit didn’t shut down the Dominican Republic. In fact, he issued a walk, gave up a hit, and got just one out – on a sacrifice fly. Still, my hat’s off to the kid for coming in against overwhelming odds and going right after some world-class hitters.
I’ve been on the fence about the World Baseball Classic, but watching Smit – who pitches in the Cincinnati Reds organization – take the ball with confidence, and exit with his team’s lead still intact despite overwhelming odds… that moment right there may have pushed me over the edge.
That is what the WBC is all about.
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Alex Rodriguez may have to withdraw from the WBC due to a hip injury.
You never like to see such a high-profile player go down to injury, but my thoughts immediately turned in a different direction than most people’s.
If Alex Rodriguez misses the WBC, does this make Miguel Tejada the Dominican Republic’s starting third baseman?
Tejada withdrew from the Classic after hearing a rumor that he was going to be used primarily as a first baseman. Then, with manager Felipe Alou’s eventual assurance that he would play shortstop, third base, and DH, he changed his mind and joined the team.
With Rodriguez in the lineup at third, and Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, it wasn’t immediately clear how much playing time Tejada would get in the infield. Now, that’s all changed.
Barring whomever would replace A-Rod on the roster, the only other third baseman currently with the team is Willy Aybar. Given that option, it seems reasonable to assume that Tejada would become the starting third baseman.
And that, as far as I’m concerned, is a problem for the Houston Astros.
I’m generally pro-WBC. I don’t mind players taking the added injury risk to play for their countries. LaTroy Hawkins, Roy Oswalt, and Carlos Lee are all involved in the classic, and bully for them. These are three guys who performed for the Astros last year. They did exactly the job they were asked to do, and they did it well.
But Tejada’s short tenure with the Astros has been tumultuous, at best. First, he was caught lying about his age. Then, he suffered a mid-season slump that hurt the team in a bad way. Next, he was indicted for lying to federal investigators. Then came the WBC.
Simply put, I feel pretty strongly that Miguel should be in camp. He should be getting reps as a shortstop. He should be preparing himself to earn the money he’s getting paid – an albatross contract, signed under false pretenses regarding his age. That contract, and the five players we gave up to get Tejada from the Orioles, could be singled out as the single-largest reason the Astros were unable to make a move of any merit this offseason.
The news that he may get significant playing time at another position doesn’t sit well with me.
Of course, there is another option, given the Astros’ holes at third base. If Tejada shows himself to be a competent third baseman, perhaps Coop may consider moving him there permanently, and allowing either Tommy Manzella or Drew Sutton to play shortstop, assuming Chris Johnson is sent to AAA at the end of Spring Training.
Knowing Cooper, that seems unlikely, but it is a possibility. Tejada’s still a better-fielding shortstop than he gets credit for (he had a 4.01 RFg in 2008, six points above adjusted league average), but he is aging (three years more quickly than we’d realized.)
In other news, Roy Oswalt will be on The Late Show With David Letterman tomorrow (Thursday) night for the Top 10 list: “Reasons To Watch The World Baseball Classic.”