Throughout spring training the CBS Sports MLB experts will bring you a weekly Batting Around roundtable breaking down pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. Last week we discussed whether the Padres will be able to keep Juan Soto. This week we’re going to tackle the World Baseball Classic.
When is the best time of year to play the World Baseball Classic?
R.J. Anderson: I think we have to ask ourselves what do we mean by “best”? Do we mean best for quality of play, or for participation? If it’s the latter — and these conversations usually revolve around the latter, since it drives the former — I think this might be the optimal time. If you hold it in season, or after the season, MLB players are going to opt out because they want to rest up for the playoffs, or they’ve had some time off during the playoffs and don’t want to ramp up again during the early portion of the offseason. Besides, speaking as a viewer, I quite like having some fun, meaningful baseball during the dull days of spring training.
Matt Snyder: The only time it makes sense is right where it is played. No one is going to want to play after the World Series because that’s the offseason and players from non-playoff teams will have already been off for a month. Trying to cram the event into the middle of the season means players not taking part in the event just have two weeks off without meaningful at-bats, so that’s out too. In spring training, the players play anyway and while they are ramping up for the season as opposed to playing in actual, meaningful games, they are still playing hard. Anyone who thinks there’s somehow less injury risk in spring games than the WBC doesn’t understand the game. The players are absolutely playing hard in the spring training games. There’s zero evidence that there’s extra injury risk. Gavin Lux suffered a serious knee injury in spring training just like Edwin Díaz did in the WBC. Jose Altuve broke his thumb after being hit by a pitch in the WBC, but Justin Turner and Austin Nola have both been hit in the face in spring training. There’s risk everywhere. To interrupt the regular season or tack the event on at the end of the grind that is the regular season and playoffs would be throwing a bad solution at a problem that just isn’t there.
Mike Axisa: I think it’s spring training. You can’t do it in November because the players will be out of gas after the long season. Halting the season for 10 or so days in June or July would only lead to more injury absences and more players sitting out as they inch closer to free agency or a midseason trade. There is no perfect time to do it and March is the best of several not-great options. There are rules in place to protect pitchers and the WBC doesn’t disrupt any games that count. This was the fifth WBC and it went well all five times. Moving the WBC now would fall into the “solution in search of a problem” category for me. This works.
Dayn Perry: The only way I think you can plausibly move it off the current calendar is by doing it in-season, and that would involve altering the regular season schedule. Maybe in WBC years, the regular-season schedule reverts to the old 154-game slate. Getting free of local-broadcasting contracts and streaming games centrally, which seems like an increasing likelihood, would make this more realistic. Then you hit pause after the All-Star Game and play the WBC, maybe even going back to a 16-team field so that pool play can be shorter. Then once it’s done, you begin the second half of the season. The shortened regular season schedule means that WBC participants aren’t working more than they would during a non-WBC year. As well, expanded roster sizes would allow starting pitchers to work less, and increasing the players’ share of WBC revenues – and distributing those revenues among WBC participants – might make it more likely that players take part. There’s no great answer to this dilemma.