Mariners Insider Blog

Mariners already bracing for loss of key players to World Baseball Classic

Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz on Photo Day with Mariners’ uniforms and Dominican Republic caps.
Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz on Photo Day with Mariners’ uniforms and Dominican Republic caps.

Even as they work through their first week of full-squad drills, the Mariners are facing a looming deadline.

They will lose eight players from their camp roster in early March to the World Baseball Classic, including lineup cornerstones Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.

Other clubs are losing players, too, but the count among the Mariners is particularly high.

"As far as the chemistry in our clubhouse," manager Scott Servais conceded, "those guys are a big part of what we’re doing. That’s a little bit challenging. But we’ll rev it up here early in camp to make sure they have a good feel.

"It’s more important that the new players have a good feel for them. It’s their team. It’s their clubhouse. And our leadership group is really important to that."

At least two of the rotation’s projected five members, Felix Hernandez (Venezuela) and Yovani Gallardo (Mexico), are also departing. Drew Smyly could join the United States team later in March if it advances to the second round.

But the greater concern surrounds Cano and Cruz, who are playing for the Dominican Republic, which is the defending champion and the pre-tournament favorite in the 16-nation field.

The WBC championship game is March 22 at Dodger Stadium.

"Once they head out of camp on March fifth or sixth," Servais said, "if (the Dominican Republic) continues to win, we may go a couple of weeks without seeing those guys. It’s not great, but it’s important to them."

That importance is hard to overstate.

"There are so many Dominican players," Cano said, "they’re not all able to represent their country. That’s something, when you retire, you look back and say, `We won the WBC as Dominicans.’

"You not only represented your country in the big leagues, but (the WBC allows) you to go out there and show how much proud you are to represent your country and how good you feel to be a Dominican."

Cruz added: "What you live in those moments is unique. You can only compare it to the playoffs. Every play and every pitch is really exciting, especially when you play good teams like Venezuela or Puerto Rico."

Closer Edwin Diaz will pitch for Puerto Rico and is already anticipating a possible matchup against Cano and Cruz — although that wouldn’t occur until the second round.

"It will be fun for me to face those guys," Diaz said. "I told Robby that, `When I face you, I’m going to strike you out.’ He said, `Just throw me fastballs.’"

Others taking part in the tournament: outfielder Tyler O’Neill (Canada), pitcher Pat Venditte (Italy) and catcher Sebastian Valle (Mexico). Two minor-league pitchers are also taking part: Sam Gaviglio (Italy) and Emilio Pagan (Puerto Rico).

There is at least one plus to the possibility of extended camp absences for Cano, Cruz and possibly others.

"They’re not going to be sitting on the bench," Servais said. "They’re going to be playing and getting their at-bats. They’ll be in very competitive situations. It should help them once the season starts."

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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