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U.S. should have world-class WBC pitching staff

13 pitchers eligible received Cy Young points so manager Torre has plenty of talent available

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

3:43 PM CST, November 17, 2012

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Thirteen pitchers eligible to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic received points in Cy Young voting.

That, sports fans, should largely be the pitching staff for the team Joe Torre will manage.

Imagine a starting rotation of R.A. Dickey, David Price, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and Jered Weaver.

Matt Cain, Chris Sale, Kyle Lohse, Matt Harrison and Cole Hamels could work the middle innings, with Craig Kimbrel and Jim Johnson as co-closers.

Somehow I think that pitching staff could do what Team USA has failed to do in the two previous WBCs — win.

But will these guys be willing to participate? If they want to, will they receive the blessing of their organizations?

Tentative rosters — the big pool — for teams in the March event will be announced at the winter meetings in December. It's going to be interesting to see who plays and who chooses to stay in Arizona and Florida to prepare for the season.

Yu Darvish already has said he won't play for Team Japan. That decision was greeted with cheers from Rangers fans, who did not want him to excuse himself for a couple of weeks to help his countrymen defend the title they won in 2009. They prefer him to go through the tedium of spring training in beautiful Surprise, Ariz.

Darvish, of course, had no problem showcasing himself in the WBC in the past. Like Aroldis Chapman and recent Dodgers international posting Hyun-Jin Ryu, he used the event to measure himself against advanced players and increase his visibility. It must be discouraging to see him remove himself from consideration now that he's a big leaguer.

"This is going to be the biggest World Baseball Classic we've had,'' Commissioner Bud Selig said at the just-completed owners meetings. "You know I feel the greatest growth in this sport is international. As I said to the clubs this morning, if we do our work properly, you won't recognize this sport in five years. … The World Baseball Classic is our forum to do that. The clubs have been wonderfully cooperative. I'm excited. I think next March you're going to see a huge classic.''

Clubs and North American fans worry that players, especially pitchers, will be injured going full speed at the mid-point of spring training. Major League Baseball has studied the history and the data poke holes in those concerns.

The two years with the fewest players on the Opening Day disabled list from 2001 to 2010 were '06 (66) and '09 (73). Those were the two WBC years.

What about wear and tear over the course of a season? According to the MLB research, there are no numbers to support claims that the WBC leads to injuries, even for pitchers.

In 2006, 16.1 percent of pitchers on Opening Day rosters (or the DL) participated in the WBC. Those guys accounted for 15.4 percent of the days pitchers spent on the disabled list that season. In '09, 10.5 percent of big league pitchers played in the WBC, and they accounted for an identical percentage of days pitchers spent on the DL.

The injury fear looks like a red herring.

One final thought: If the US wants to compete at its highest level, it should put more starting pitchers and fewer relievers on its rosters. Torre should piggy-back starters in games before going to the bullpen.

A guy like Price starts and goes three innings, a reliever works the fourth while Verlander completes his warmup and then Verlander works his three innings before turning it over to the bullpen. There's enough work for six, maybe even seven, starters if the roster isn't overloaded with one-inning relievers who have been promised work.

Sneak attack: Naperville Central product Kyle Kaminska, who had been spinning his tires in the Marlins' system, has seen his career take off since he was included in the July 31 trade that sent first baseman Gaby Sanchez to the Pirates. He was one of the best pitchers in the Arizona Fall League, going 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA and an 0.93 WHIP in 28 innings.

The 24-year-old right-hander lived in the strike zone, walking only four. He joins lefty Justin Wilson and right-hander Kyle McPherson in a group of pitchers hoping for a shot in the Pirates rotation before the top guys, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, become established.

"We've liked Kyle for a couple of years as a projectable pitcher based on his body, arm, and pitch package," Pirates GM Neal Huntington told Baseball Prospectus. "As we looked for a fit in our trade with Miami this summer, we felt like he offered us some upside to go along with Gaby to balance out the deal."

Kaminska will find out this week if the Pirates add him to their 40-man roster or leave him available for the Rule 5 draft, where he might appeal to a pitching-thin team like the Cubs.

Going down: The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Eig had an interesting column last week in which he wrote how his bill for Cubs season tickets had dropped from $13,315.16 to $13,314.56 after the club's announced decrease in prices. That's 60 cents, although the caveat is that he somehow gets eight more tickets, which led to Eig concluding that the per ticket price actually had dropped by about $2, from $60 to $58.

When Eig met with Colin Faulkner, vice president of ticket sales and service, he was told the team has 115,000 on its waiting list, so he shouldn't drop his tickets just because of a 101-loss season.

"This is not the time to get out,'' Eig quotes Faulkner as saying. "This is the time to double down."

Eig did not order more tickets to be any more in on the ground floor than he already is, but he did renew. The guess here is it was a string of non-renewals that got the White Sox to take a hard look at their ticket pricing. They announced major cuts, with 54 percent of the tickets dropping an average of 26 percent. Outfield reserved seats — in which it's a home run if you catch the ball — dropped 30 percent.

"If you take the so-called good seats, the premier seats, they were the fourth cheapest in all of baseball," White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said last week at the owners meeting near O'Hare. "But then when you got into the lesser-quality seats, they were among the highest in baseball. So what we did was rebalance it. We raised the prices significantly on the inside seats and we've cut the prices substantially on the outside seats just to get where they ought to be."

Don't be surprised if White Sox attendance goes up in 2013 while that of the Cubs continues to decrease.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln … Johnny Damon didn't exactly bring glory to Thailand in the WBC qualifier in Chinese Taipei. He went 3-for-7 in two games representing his mother's heritage, playing first base in one game and designated hitter in the other. Thailand was the first team out, losing 8-2 to the Philippines and 12-2 to New Zealand.

"The experience was amazing. I am glad I get to come represent my mother's country," Damon said. "Hopefully Thailand has a chance to get back (to the WBC). My role is to help out as much as possible."

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