One of the biggest questions of the winter was whether or not Eduardo Rodriguez would be on Venezuela’s World Baseball Classic team. After his great finish to the year, he went to winter ball and tweaked the knee injury that plagued him at the start of last season. Fortunately, it wasn’t too serious of an injury and it was assumed he’d be able to start spring training with no setbacks. Of course, even though it wasn’t serious many were still apprehensive about the lefty pitching in this year’s WBC. Well, the rosters for every team were announced on Wednesday night, and Rodriguez is on Venezuela’s. It’s not the end of the world.
While I’m going to spend the rest of this post defending that decision, I will start by acknowledging that this is not an ideal scenario. If I were put in charge of making this decision, he probably wouldn’t be out there playing for his country. Back before the new year, Ben made the argument for Rodriguez skipping out on the WBC, and his points still stand. After tweaking his knee, it’d probably be a little better for him to skip the event altogether. Unfortunately, he decided to go in the other direction, but it’ll be okay.
The most important part of all of this is that he is part of Venezuela’s Designated Pitcher Pool. This means that he will not be participating in every round. Each team can have up to ten DPP pitchers, and they can only carry two during each round. At the beginning of a new round, they have the option of replacing one of their active DPP pitchers with an inactive one. Once a pitcher is removed, he can’t be put back on later. In Team USA’s case, they will be using Tanner Roark and Danny Duffy in the first round, and Sonny Gray will be one of their second-round pitchers. It’s unclear how Venezuela is going to utilize their pitchers, but Eduardo Rodriguez may only be pitching in one round of action. This should make everyone feel much, much better.
This plays into the biggest concern with Rodriguez, which is protecting him from injury. The obvious answer to that concern is that injuries can happen anywhere, and that he was hurt in spring training last year. He can get hurt in the Grapefruit League just as easily as the WBC. We all know that’s not entirely true, though. He’ll be exerting himself in a different way in WBC competition, and won’t have the same training staff looking after him. It’s still not enough to really keep him out.
Rodriguez being in the DPP is once again the most important part of this. At this point, it’s unclear how Venezuela is planning to utilize their pitchers. Hopefully, Rodriguez will be slated to pitch later in the tournament, giving him more of a chance to work with Boston’s training staff and getting a little work under his belt before leaving camp. Plus, the later he’s slated to pitch the better chance of Venezuela being eliminated before he can even participate, though they’ll likely make it pretty far.
The worst response to this news, though, has been the people saying that Rodriguez should be focused on making Boston’s rotation and on winning for the Red Sox in general. Being concerned about injury is one thing. It’s understandable. This criticism is dumb, though. To start, you can care about two things at once. National pride in baseball is a big part of Latin American culture. The Caribbean Series is a huge event every year. It’s understandable that Rodriguez wants to be a part of this. Would you say that Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez are taking their focus off winning for the Red Sox?
As for the argument that he should be focused on winning a rotation spot, he can do that in the WBC. The competition in that tournament is going to be a lot better and will be trying much harder than what he’d see in the Grapefruit League. If he pitches well there, one would have to imagine that’d say more than him doing well against lineups of Quad-A players. Plus, again, he’ll only be away from the team for a couple of weeks.
Finally, there is the matter of personal desires. As much as the Red Sox might not want Rodriguez to play, he’s still an adult human who can make his own decisions. As I said above, this is a bigger deal to other cultures. Boston probably could’ve put more pressure on him to not participate -- by giving him an ultimatum, for example — but would that really be worth it? First, it’s just shitty to treat people like that. On the business side of things, it’s not good to potentially piss off your best young pitcher. Additionally, you don’t really want to be known as the team who would do that as you look ahead to future negotiations. If the injury he suffered this winter was more serious, they’d have had a little more leeway, but they couldn’t do much more than they did in this situation.
It would be more calming if Rodriguez weren’t participating in the WBC, but that’s not the way things worked out. His desire to represent his country won out and he’ll be away from the Red Sox for a little bit. Don’t be too upset, though. The most important part of all this is that he’s in the Designated Pitcher Pool, so he won’t be gone for too long. And if something does happen, well, sorry for jinxing it.
UPDATE: Rodriguez won’t pitch until at least the second round, and will be evaluated beforehand.