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World Baseball Classic: Should you be afraid?

Johnny Cueto might pitch in the WBC. Is your water supply and are your children safe?

Junko Kimura

Brandon Phillips was named the sole representative of the Reds on the USA World Baseball Classic squad yesterday. Later in the day, farmhands Loek van Mil (the tallest man in baseball), Ray Chang, and Chris Manno were named to the Netherlands, China and Spain, respectively. I'm not sure what Manno's tie is to Spain. Or what the Spanish people could possibly care about less than their WBC team.

The general reaction to having a player named to the WBC shows just how far this whole experiment has to go toward respectability, at least Stateside. When BP was snubbed by Tony LaRussa last July, the reaction here ranged from annoyance to outrage. When a hometown player joins a WBC team, there's trepidation.

The WBC is like the Bizarro All Star Game. If someone from your home nine is named to a team, about the best he can expect is a pro forma "good luck with that."

I'm not saying this is a good thing, in the scheme of things. As a fan of baseball, I'd like to both see the sport become more popular globally and witness an event where the absolute best players from everywhere play against each other. I support this thing. In theory, anyway.

The Reds are in pretty good shape, for now, if you're rooting for not many Reds to participate. Cueto and Votto were both left off provisional rosters, but the Dominican and Canadian teams are likely still counting on their participation. If they both pass physicals and clear up insurance issues, they'll likely be playing.

It's difficult to say how much more risk the WBC presents. Spring training games start a week early this year, so at most the WBC adds about a week's worth of non-regular-season-baseball these players wouldn't have seen normally.

The bigger difference is one of intensity. Players won't be treating these as tune-up exhibitions. Pitchers won't be on the ease-'em-in schedules their home team's would prefer.

Maybe I'm too risk-averse, but this is why Johnny Cueto's potential participation has me a little bit nervous. Cueto missed a month to start 2011 and then was shut down in mid-September of that season. He threw over 30 more innings than he'd ever thrown in a season last season, cresting 200 for the first time. After wearing down toward the end of the regular season, you know what happened after that and let's not ever do that again.

I don't think a few appearances in the WBC is anything to be on the march about. It would be interesting to see him alongside Volquez again. But it's hard to ignore the fact that Cueto is the Reds' staff ace - on a team still reliant on the health of its starting five. And the org may end up paying him 27 more millions of dollars to play baseball.

Is it possible to support the idea of a World Baseball Classic - and of national pride - while also secretly resenting it? I guess I should ask a soccer fan.

Let's also not rule out the possibility that - even from a strictly homer perspective playing in the WBC could actually be a good thing, at least for Votto and Phillips. BP has started off slowly in 3 of the last 4 seasons. As he creeps into his mid-30s, a few more reps to stay sharp. Meanwhile, Votto is looking to get his power stroke back. Seeing more pitches from, theoretically, better competition could be beneficial.

What about making it the World Coach's Pitch Classic?

Update: Rob Neyer wrote about this, comparing the MLB and FanGraphs studies on injuries. There's less reason to suspect bias in the FanGraphs study, though it's a less "official" source.. I'd almost forgotten the case of Edinson Volquez and his Tommy John the year he pitched in the WBC. The similarities - Reds' starting pitcher in his mid-20s going off to pitch for the Dominican team - is enough to make me feel weird.