The title of “Reigning, Defending World Baseball Classic Champions” belongs to the Dominican Republic. Boasting the most players playing in Major League Baseball today, the Dominican Republic features one of the most star-studded rosters in the tournament. After finishing 4th in 2006 and being eliminated by the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 2009, Team Dominica bested Puerto Rico in 2013. It is here that we find the Rangers’ Captain…maybe.
Adding Adrian Beltre to what would probably be his last World Baseball Classic is just icing on the unbelievable talent pool cake of the Dominican roster. Beltre would join Robinson Cano, Manny Machado, Jose Reyes, Carlos Santana, Jonathan Villar and maybe Hanley Ramirez as infielders for Team Dominica.
The Orioles are already having Machado play Spring Training games at shortstop, instead of his regular season third base, but the Dominicans could turn to Reyes, Santana or Villar to play third. Santana may have to shift to first in the event that Ramirez cannot join the team due to injury. In any event, the team is well protected if Beltre cannot attend.
How should Rangers fans feel about this? On one hand, Beltre’s desire to play for his country should not be discounted. The calf muscle he strained on Valentine’s Day, already setting him back three weeks, should not be discounted either. Nobody questions the Ageless Wonder’s toughness or ability to play through an injury, and if the Rangers weren’t counting so heavily on Beltre, nobody would question him trying to play through the calf strain.
The Rangers are counting on Beltre, though, both as a Gold Glove third baseman and an average/power threat in the middle of their lineup. While the decision will ultimately be up to him, it would behoove the Rangers and Beltre to act in the best interests of the 2017 regular season.
The 38-year old has unfathomably been a top-10 MVP candidate in six of the previous seven seasons despite playing through broken fingers, strained back muscles, iffy hamstrings and knees. As magical as he is, those problems don’t simply go away with each new season.
Beltre has said that he would be open to skipping the first round and joining the Dominican should they proceed further in the tournament. That is probably the most ideal situation for all parties involved, including the fans. Don’t forget that Beltre doesn’t need or like Spring Training games to get warmed up for the season. And Beltre played in a couple of games over the weekend to test his legs and came out no worse for wear.
Entering his 20th season, Beltre prefers to just turn it on when the season starts. For him to take it easy in the Round Robin first round and then play a few significant games thereafter would allow the Captain to get a good feel for how hard he should push himself through the season. Nobody knows Beltre’s body better than he does, and the sooner he’s able to safely gauge his limits - or lack thereof - the better for him and the team.
The Dominican Republic starts its quest to repeat as WBC champions on March 9th in Miami against Team Canada. Beltre’s decision on whether to play in the first round or not is due until Thursday.
The World Baseball Classic kicks off tonight (March 6) and Matt will be following the tournament all spring. Follow him on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.