COMMENTARY | The third installment of the World Baseball Classic begins March 2, and rosters were officially announced Jan. 17 for all 16 participating countries. As we stand right now, 14 players from the Milwaukee Brewers' organization have committed to playing in the worldwide tournament.
That's the maximum amount of players allowed to play in the Classic from one organization, which makes the Brewers a pretty hot commodity in comparison to the rest of the league. Members of the Brewers' 40-man roster who will play in the tournament are as follows: John Axford, Jim Henderson and Taylor Green (Canada); Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada (Mexico); Martin Maldonado and Hiram Burgos (Puerto Rico); Carlos Gomez (Dominican Republic); Jeff Bianchi (Italy); and Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy (United States).
This time around, the tournament won't affect the start of the MLB season like it did in 2009, when opening day was pushed back to April 7 for Milwaukee. This year, the Brewers kick off play April 1 and the World Baseball Classic ends March 19, giving players who participate a few weeks to settle back in with their organizations.
Even so, the Brewers will be missing over one-fourth of their 40-man roster for a significant portion of spring training, which is bound to have an effect one way or another. For Braun, it will be the second time he represents the U.S. in the Classic, and it didn't seem to take a toll on the left fielder in '09. He hit .381 in six games in the WBC while going on to set a career-high in RBIs (114), hits (203) and games played (158) the following season -- marks that still stand today.
There were three players -- Braun, reliever Mark DeFelice and utility man Frank Catalanotto -- who played in the WBC that were Brewers in '09, but the only Brewers player who participated that Milwaukee had a long-term vested interest in was Braun.
That isn't the case this time, as 10 of the Brewers playing in the WBC are nearly guaranteed to make the opening-day roster. There's no question that Milwaukee's higher-ups will have a close eye not only on how their players perform but also if they are able to stay healthy.
This may be hard to believe, but of all the Brewers who will play in the Classic it could be Taylor Green and Martin Maldonado whom have the most hinging on their performance. Both currently have backup roles, Maldonado at catcher and Green as an infield utility man. Green is the only Brewers' WBC participant who isn't a surefire opening-day roster member, and time away from the club might hurt Green's chances at competing for a roster spot. His numbers suffered from being buried on the bench, as Green only managed a .184 AVG in 104 at-bats last season.
Bianchi is more of a lock to make the roster because he is the only other shortstop besides Jean Segura on the 40-man roster, even though he only managed to hit .188 in 33 games with Milwaukee. However, he did flash some impressive leather and had his moments at the plate after hitting .325 in the minors before his call-up last season.
In Maldonado's case, he surprised many when he was pressed into an everyday role after Jonathan Lucroy broke his hand on May 29, hitting .266 with 8 HRs and 30 RBIs. He saw his numbers dip a touch after Lucroy's return, which shows Maldonado may flourish as a No. 1 catcher elsewhere and make him a valuable trade chip.
Jim Henderson may also have something to prove as one of the only relievers retained after the 2012 season. The struggles of the Milwaukee bullpen have been well-documented, but Henderson was one of the few bright spots and at 30 years of age, manager Ron Roenicke wants to make sure that Henderson wasn't just a flash in the pan after finally breaking through to the major-league level last season.
Henderson's Canadian companion, John Axford, was one of the few relievers brought back as well and despite a strong finish to 2012, the Ax Man blew nine saves in all last season and lost his closing role to Henderson for a few games. Uncertainty was aplenty in the Brewers' bullpen last year, and it's unclear just how Axford and Henderson will answer the bell in 2013, so how the WBC affects their play -- if at all -- is something to keep an eye on.
Other than that, Braun and Lucroy, two of Milwaukee's biggest offensive contributors; Gomez, perhaps the Brewers' top defender and likely opening-day center fielder; and Gallardo and Estrada, likely the one-two punch at the top of the rotation to begin next season. Is fatigue truly an issue for six guys under the age of 30? It shouldn't be, seeing how these games are taking the place of exhibition play. But when Braun made his WBC announcement, he also noted that his preparation would have to begin earlier as a result of the tournament, and that likely goes for everyone involved.
With health as the obvious No. 1 concern entering the Classic, rules that put a limit on the number of pitches thrown in a game have also been instituted, but with Gallardo and Estrada as the top two starting pitchers in Milwaukee's rotation, there is certainly a risk with both competing. It will be interesting to see how the Brewers handle their returns to camp based on how many pitches they throw in the WBC.
But this is a tournament, and tournaments are fun, so like hockey and basketball in the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic should be welcomed as a rare opportunity to see some of the best compete against each other a month earlier than usual.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
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