By Matt Meyers
March 1, 2006
In a February conference call, Billy Wagner said he would throw inside to new teammate Carlos Delgado in the World Baseball Classic if he had to. He no longer has to worry about it.
Saying he is not physically ready to compete, Wagner has removed himself from Team USA for the Classic along with Indians lefthander C.C. Sabathia, who was slated to be one of the team’s four starters.
The biggest roster news came Wednesday afternoon, when Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero withdrew from the Classic. Guerrero, who was to start for the Dominican Republic in right field, pulled out after the deaths of three cousins involved in a car wreck in the Dominican. However, Guerrero can be added to the roster in the tournament’s second or third rounds if he changes his mind and the D.R. advances.
Wagner is the biggest loss for Team USA as it takes away from the team’s strength, a bullpen full of power arms. Wagner didn’t make the decision lightly.
“I put a lot of thought into it,” Wagner told the Journal News of White Plains, N.Y. “I want to be comfortable with my new teammates and surroundings. Every player wants to play for his country, but I have to be concerned with what is best for me . . . Right now, I’m not in shape to help the U.S. team.”
Similar to Wagner, Sabathia had made comments over the last few days about pulling out because he felt it was not the best decision for his big league club or for his career. Today, he said he decided ultimately to abstain from the Classic because he does not feel he will be ready to pitch competitively when the games begin.
The duo will be replaced by Nationals righthander Gary Majewski and Yankees lefthander Al Leiter, who represent a significant downgrade while forcing Team USA to toggle their planned pitching rotation.
“We’re certainly excited to be able to add these two quality arms to our pitching staff,” Team USA manager Buck Martinez said.
Prior to Sabathia’s removal, he was set to piggyback with Dontrelle Willis in the United States’ second game against Canada. The plan was to have Jake Peavy and Roger Clemens start Games One and Three with their relief core picking up the slack.
With the addition of Majewski and Leiter, Team USA will have to change its strategy, which was to divide their relievers into two groups of five to get the first and last game of pool play from the starter through the ninth inning. The pitching staff is now made up of three starters and 12 relievers, and will likely mean the United States will have to do a lot more mixing and matching.
Regardless of the scenario, the Americans should still have no problem getting out of their pool with Canada, Mexico and South Africa, though the loss of the two power lefties certainly weakens their chances in the medal round. However, with recent dropouts from Venezuela (Melvin Mora) and the Dominican Republic (Manny Ramirez), the United States remains the favorite.