Thursday, February 23, 2017

Davis bows out, "El Titan" questionable for Mexico in WBC

One aspect of the World Baseball Classic that the event's critics rarely fail to bring up is that a nation's best baseball players are often made unavailable to represent their country in the WBC, either because their major league organization wants to withhold their services during spring training or because the player himself does not want to jeopardize his chances of making a big league roster if he's considered on the fringe.  Injuries are also a concern, of course, no matter what the MLB organizations or players have in mind.

Two of the expected power sources for Mexico's 2017 World Baseball Classic squad may end up being scratches next month for Pool D play in Guadalajara.  Oakland outfielder Khris Davis, who khrashed 42 homers for the A's last summer, has pulled out of the WBC altogether while Dodgers first baseman Adrian "El Titan" Gonzalez may have to sit out his fourth Classic after coming down with tendinitis in his right (non-throwing) elbow during winter training.

Davis, whose 42 roundtrippers helped him drive in 102 runs in 2016 after a slow start in which he was hitting just .222 with 5 homers on May 22 before picking up the pace the rest of the season.  The Cal State-Fullerton product, whose mother Sonia was born in Mexico before coming to the USA at age 4, expressed remorse at his withdrawal from the WBC.  "I'm not going to be able to do it due to some timing issues," the San Jose Mercury News quoted Davis as saying.  "I feel kind of overextended personally.  You take on a lot.  It's days away.  May main focus is this organization.  I feel this year I want to get off on the right foot this year..."

"I feel horrible about it.  I feel terrible.  At the same time, I have to be here."

On the other hand, Gonzalez' decision may be predicated on his physical fitness more than a desire to get off to a better start. The five-time All-Star first sacker, who hit .285 with 18 homers and 90 RBIs for Los Angeles last year, says he first noticed a twinge in his elbow two months ago.  "It's tennis elbow from jsut working out," Gonzalez tells MLB.com's Ken Gurnick, "too much hitting and too much boxing.  I felt it while working out in early December and it didn't seem like much, but it hasn't gone away."  Gonzalez has been shut down from swinging a bat for two weeks.  Although he's been one of the most durable first basemen in baseball, playing in at least 156 games in each of the past eleven years, the 34-year-old career .290 hitter (308 homers, 1,146 ribbies) may need to miss the WBC to continue resting his elbow after representing Mexico in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Mexico manager Edgar Gonzalez, Adrian's brother and former teammate in both Mazatlan and San Diego as well as with the Verdes Grande, will have to adjust his lineup even before their first game.  Losing Davis left him with three outfielders on the roster: Chris Roberson, Jose Juan Aguilar and Alex Verdugo.  Efren Navarro, a former Angels first baseman who hit .275 with seven homers splitting 126 games between AAA Tacoma and Memphis last year, can play the outfield, but it's likely Gonzalez will replace Davis on the roster with a regular outfielder.

Replacing Adrian Gonzalez would prove an impossible task.  Although the aforementioned Navarro has MLB experience at first base, the call might go to the mountainous Japhet Amador, the 6'4" 330-pound El Gigante de Mulege.  Amador, the 2015 Mexican League MVP when he hit .346 with an LMB-topping 41 homers and 117 RBIs in 103 games, will be playing his second season in Japan in 2017 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles.  In an injury-nagged 2016 debut in the Pacific League, Amador hit .258 with nine homers and 19 RBIs in just 39 games.  The big fella is more nimble than one would expect and has made himself into a decent fielder at first base, but he doesn't compare to the four-time Gold Glove-winning Gonzalez.

Losing Gonzalez would mean more than losing Mexico's best ballplayer, as if that wouldn't be enough on a standalone basis.  For ten years, El Titan and Edgar helped form the heart and soul of the Verdes Grande lineup and clubhouse, so losing even one of them would leave a hole in the team that can't be quantified by hardware or sabermetrics.  However, there are 22 million rea$on$ why Adrian Gonzalez may have to beg off from playing in his fourth Classic and I can't blame him.