Team USA is scheduled to play its third game of the 2023 World Baseball Classic on Monday night, taking on Canada in what is now a pivotal contest. Regardless of how the Americans perform against their northern neighbors, one talking point is sure to endure: what, precisely, can Team USA do in order to persuade the country's best pitchers to partake in the next WBC?
Let's be clear: this conversation predates Team USA's Sunday night loss against Mexico. We here at CBS Sports noted ahead of the American's first WBC game, a win against Great Britain, that "if [the pitching staff] appears underwhelming relative to what it could be, that's because it is. There's no Max Scherzer or Shane McClanahan or even Spencer Strider. There's no surefire ace type, in other words." The Americans have since received subpar performances from starters Adam Wainwright and Nick Martinez, fueling the discourse.
One of those aforementioned missing aces, Scherzer, addressed his absence and what the WBC could do to lure the best Americans arms on Monday. "I'm not ready to step into a quasi-playoff game right now. If I do that, I'm rolling the dice with my arm," he told reporters, including SNY.
Max Scherzer feels that the World Baseball Classic should be held during the season instead of during spring training:— SNY (@SNYtv) March 13, 2023
"I'm not ready to step into a quasi-playoff game right now. If I do that, I'm rolling the dice with my arm." pic.twitter.com/eOPAxEVYGL
Scherzer added that moving the WBC to the summer, after Major League Baseball's season has gotten underway and pitchers have had time to stretch out their arms, would make the tournament more appealing.
"If the WBC was during the season, I think you would get more pitcher participation, and, more importantly, I think it'd be more exciting for the fans because you'd actually have starters built up," he said. "You wouldn't have guys on pitch counts or whatever it is. You'd actually have real guys going at it. It'd be a real game."
You can understand Scherzer's explanation and his thinking, but it's unclear if moving the tournament would have the desired effect. After all, pitchers would likely pass on an in-season WBC for workload purposes, with an eye on using MLB's "shutdown" period to rest up for a postseason run.
Besides, other countries have fared better at recruiting their best arms. Japan, to cite one example, has a stacked rotation that includes two top MLB pitchers, in Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, as well as two of the best hurlers in Nippon Professional Baseball, in Roki Sasaki and Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
When it comes to the elite American pitchers and their lack of interest in the WBC, it might be more about incentives and priorities than the timing. Consider what current Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Noah Syndergaard told reporters in 2017, when he explained his lack of interest in pitching for Team USA by saying, "Ain't nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or the World Series playing in the WBC." Fair enough.
It's fine for American pitchers to prioritize their professional pursuits over international competition; they're adults who can make their own calls. The onus is on Team USA figuring out how to overcome that tripping point, just as American organizations have in basketball over the years. That it's becoming a talking point ahead of a potential early departure might even make it more likely that a few top arms throw their names into the hat when the next tournament rolls around, in 2026. Everyone loves a redemption story.
And hey, to be fair, the situation probably appears worse than it is: two talented lefties, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Nestor Cortes of the New York Yankees, were forced to withdraw from the roster during the spring. Maybe this conversation would still be ongoing if Kershaw and Cortes had taken the ball to start the last two games, or maybe not. It's hard to say.
Whatever the case, expect the talking point to remain alive and well until Team USA either wins another title or starts attracting the likes of Scherzer.