SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles are preparing to tiptoe through the logistical problems that accompany this year's World Baseball Classic, and they'll undoubtedly pay official lip service to the importance of baseball's global reach, but the event really isn't compatible with the way Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter need to prepare their team during spring training.
Maybe you can say that about any major league club, but the 17-day international tournament that takes place from March 6 to 22 almost certainly will create special challenges for an Orioles team that has two new pitching coaches and a new everyday catcher who was recently added to the Dominican Republic roster.
For a pitching staff that will depend heavily on ace Chris Tillman and young starters Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, the prolonged absence of catcher Welington Castillo could have a very significant impact on the ability of the Orioles to make a smooth transition from veteran Matt Wieters and get everyone on the same page by Opening Day.
Showalter has made no secret of his reservations about the participation of certain players, but that's about all anybody can do. It is entirely up to those who are invited to play in the WBC to decide whether they are better served by representing their countries in baseball's version of the World Cup or remaining in spring camp to get ready for the regular season.
Think about it. Castillo will report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex Monday with a pretty full dance card. He's got to go to school on a roster full of unfamiliar pitchers and — after tying for the National League lead in passed balls last year — continue to work on the finer points of his craft behind the plate.
If you think that's not important, consider the impact on the Orioles' chances in the American League East if he has trouble tracking closer Zach Britton's nasty sinker.
New pitching coach Roger McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills also are going to lose significant time that would otherwise be spent settling into a coaching comfort zone with Team USA member Mychal Givens. No doubt, Showalter can't be comfortable handing over control of a key pitcher to WBC coaches who are trying to win games at a time when those players would normally be easing into their spring training throwing schedules.
There's a history there. Orioles reliever Pedro Strop played a big role in the Dominican Republic's WBC title in 2013, pitching six times in 13 days and throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Then he rejoined the O's and struggled through the first half of the season before being traded to the Cubs in the much-debated Jake Arrieta deal.
There was no way to know for sure whether his performance in the WBC caused those struggles, but the Orioles certainly suspected that. Strop quickly rebounded with the Cubs and that 2013 season remains the only full season of his big league career in which he did not finish with a sub-3.00 ERA.
It's not just about the Orioles. Obviously, every manager and general manager with star players involved in the WBC will be sweating out the possibility of losing one or more of them to injury just a few weeks before the start of the regular season.
Though the tournament has been very popular in several countries, it's fair to question whether it's really worth the trouble. It has not captured a huge audience in the United States and its long-term future required an immediate vote of confidence from MLB officials at the end of the Dominican Republic's exciting victory over Puerto Rico in the 2013 final.
There has been speculation that this might be the last WBC if the domestic television ratings and overall revenues don't improve, but no one has officially put the event on notice.
The return of baseball to the Summer Olympics in 2020 could diminish demand for a stand-alone international tournament, even though the MLB is unlikely to interrupt its season to send its biggest stars to compete. The professional leagues in Japan and South Korea, however, might suspend its seasons to take part in the Tokyo Games.