A few days ago the Associated Press broke the news that Yankees’ ace Masahiro Tanaka has opted not to play for Japan in the World Baseball Classic.
And Yankees fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. Part of those “various things” are exactly why fans would be concerned about Tanaka pitching in the event. The obvious elephant in the room is the health of his elbow. As has been the concern of many fans since Tanaka’s rookie year, he’s pitched with a partially-torn UCL and much to the ire of the fans, opted to rehab the injury instead of going for Tommy John surgery, despite doctors recommending rehab.
Regardless of him not having a problem with the elbow since, it’s still in the back of everyone’s mind. Basically there’s no need to add the strain of competitive baseball to his arm in March when he could be in spring training carefully building his arm strength. Plus I’m sure Tanaka doesn’t want to risk an injury that could’ve been avoided in a potential walk year for him, assuming he chooses to opt-out of his contract at the end of the year.
Not all of his Yankees’ teammates decided to skip the tournament. Back in November, Dellin Betances confirmed he would pitch for the Dominican Republic and just yesterday it was announced that Didi Gregorius would play for the Netherlands. That leaves Gary Sanchez as the last major Yankee whose WBC status is unknown. Though Tony Pena indicated to Sanchez in November that he would be on the Dominican roster. But while he’d probably cherish the opportunity to represent his country in a tournament, it would be in the best interest of Sanchez and the team if he respectfully declined the opportunity.
The most obvious reason for Sanchez to skip the tournament is health. While he doesn’t have any lingering injury concerns, fans are surely still scarred from Mark Teixeira’s attempt to play for Team USA in 2013 and the birth of the baby wrist that derailed his career until a resurgent 2015 season. There’s no need to risk Sanchez’s health in a competition that wouldn’t benefit the Yankees. After trading Brian McCann to the Astros, the Yankees put all their eggs in the Sanchez basket and while he was a serviceable backup, almost everyone would like to avoid Austin Romine, starting catcher...save for maybe the Romine household.
If health risk wasn’t enough to sway him from competition, Sanchez now has more on his plate than he’s previously had to shoulder. 2017 will be the first time Sanchez is coming into the season as the starting catcher of the New York Yankees. Because he’s so young and since this is the first time he’s going to be “the guy,” it seems important that he have a full spring training with the team.
Sure he spent most of spring training with the big league club last year, but it was different then. At that time, McCann was still the starter, and Sanchez spent the whole time competing with Romine and technically Carlos Corporan as well. Sanchez had to not only learn the pitching staff, but had the pressure on himself to outperform the competition. Last year Sanchez had one hit all spring before he was ultimately cut and Romine ended up winning the backup job.
Obviously Sanchez did eventually make his way to the Bronx and took over the starting job from McCann. From August until the end of the season, Sanchez took Baseball by storm, becoming the fastest player to reach 19 home runs and tying the record for 20 home runs. In addition to his phenomenal offense, Sanchez instantly wowed with his ability to instantly handle the pitching staff, call a baseball game, and his defense.
As FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan notes, Sanchez has ranked in the upper fifth of catchers in terms of receiving the ball in every stop he’s been through during his professional career, and was a trend that carried to the majors. He may not be “an elite receiver, but at the very least, he’s average.” Basically he can carry himself and not embarrass himself behind the plate. Sullivan also notes a way for Sanchez to improve himself.
And while he can get handcuffed, he still keeps himself fairly steady, and this can improve with better familiarity with the pitching staff.
That right there is the other main reason Sanchez should skip the WBC. It’s his first go as the team’s starting catcher. Even though he’s familiar with the staff for the most part, it would help to spend a full spring learning the ins and outs of all the pitchers on the staff. The more time he spends with the pitchers, the more familiar he becomes. It will help him defensively to learn the pitchers so he can become a better receiver.
Pitchers also tend to creatures of their routines. Anything out of the ordinary could potentially affect that day’s game. So Sanchez can learn their routines and know what works for the individual pitchers and what works against them. The more he works with them, the more he learns how pitchers like to attack certain hitters. He’ll be able to recognize when a pitcher just doesn’t have his curveball that day, so he’ll know to avoid it.
Sanchez won’t be able to learn any of this if he’s away from the team during spring training. Sure he’ll have some time to work with the pitching staff during spring and once the regular season starts, but the regular season seems like an unwise time to work on getting familiar with the staff. The only pitcher he’d become familiar with is Betances.
Tell us what you think! Should Sanchez go represent his country in the World Baseball Classic or should he skip the tournament and spend more time with the team?
Gary Sanchez initially told DR he would play for them in the WBC. This past week he changed his mind, will stay with #Yankees all spring.— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) February 7, 2017
There you go—Sanchez will not play in the World Baseball Classic.