Tigers may send 13 players to Classic
Cabrera, Guillen, Ordonez plan to power Team Venezuela
DETROIT -- The Tigers will head south over the next few weeks for Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla. For quite a few of them, though, it won't take long to head back north, where a potential showdown awaits.
When the first round of the World Baseball Classic comes to Toronto's Rogers Centre, five of the biggest names on Detroit's baseball club could be on the trip. Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Armando Galarraga and Magglio Ordonez were formally named to Team Venezuela's roster for the WBC, where they'll have a meeting with Team USA's Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander as opponents rather than teammates. Cale Iorg, widely viewed as the Tigers' shortstop of the future, could be anchoring the infield for host country Canada.
If Venezuela or the U.S. advance, they could have a meeting with the Dominican Republic, where Placido Polanco and Fernando Rodney await.
In all, the Tigers will have as many as 13 players taking part in the event, giving them one of the highest totals among the Major League teams. Considering the Tigers made the World Series the last time the World Baseball Classic was played, back in 2006, they have no problem with the absence.
Most of the participating Tigers were already known, or at least widely expected. Granderson accepted an invitation to Team USA earlier this month, while Cabrera, Guillen and Ordonez were on a preliminary list of committed players that came out of Venezuela in November. Detroit signed left-hander Fu-Te Ni to a Minor League contract last week knowing he would miss time to represent his native Chinese Taipei, having pitched in the inaugural event.
MLB Network will televise 16 World Baseball Classic games, along with a nightly studio show dedicated to the tournament. ESPN will televise 23 games of the Classic in the U.S., including the semifinal and final games, across ESPN and ESPN2 and on its Spanish-language platform, ESPN Deportes.
"We are talking about representing my country," Granderson said recently. "It is an honor to be considered among the best in our nation, and to be able to represent my country on the field in an amazing event. We are trying to make the game of baseball a more globalized game, and it is humbling to be a part of that process."
Still, Polanco and Rodney were less than certain, though they made the team three years ago in a country deep in baseball talent. Polanco said near the end of the season that he wasn't sure whether he wanted to take part again entering the last year of his contract. Rodney, meanwhile, is coming off of an injury-shortened 2008 season and limited his winter ball work in the Dominican League.
Also uncertain was the case of Verlander, who won 35 games over his first two seasons but fell to 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA in an inconsistent 2008 campaign that left fans, coaches and front-office members asking themselves what went wrong with Detroit's young ace.
Now, Verlander has a chance to be part of a USA rotation that could include the likes Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, John Danks, Joe Saunders and Ted Lilly. Teams will cut down their 45-man provisional rosters to 28 next month.
If Verlander makes the cut, depending on the matchup, he could end up facing some of his Tigers teammates in a showdown of power against power. There's no guarantee of a USA-Venezuela matchup, since the first round is a double-elimination format rather than round-robin play. Given the relative strength of the two squads, however, a showdown seems likely. If the U.S. wins its opener over host Canada and Venezuela does the same against Italy, the two would meet on Sunday, March 8.
Granderson will be out there, though where exactly remains to be seen. He's slated to be part of a four-man rotation of outfielders alongside Indians competitor Grady Sizemore, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Colorado's Brad Hawpe.
Depending on Venezuela's roster, Guillen and Ordonez could make up two-thirds of their nation's starting outfield, with Cabrera powering the lineup from his expected spot at first base. Guillen is listed as an outfielder on Venezuela's roster, but played a bit at shortstop during his four-game stint in the Venezuelan League this winter, and played third base in Detroit last year.
With several gifted shortstops in Venezuela, led by the great Omar Vizquel, plus Melvin Mora committed to the WBC at third, Guillen will likely be in a mix with Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera for one of the corner outfield spots. He could also end up as a designated hitter.
While Iorg could make the first of several appearances for Team Canada, Max St. Pierre has a chance to make the roster for the second time. Tigers Minor Leaguers Andrew Graham and Brendan Wise round out the list as part of Team Australia.
The final rosters of 28 players -- including a mandatory 13 pitchers -- must be set by Feb. 24. Tickets are on sale at mlb.com.
The first round opens March 5 in Tokyo, with defending 2006 champion Japan facing China. Mexico City, Toronto and San Juan, Puerto Rico, host the other three first-round brackets, as follows:
Tokyo (March 5-9): Japan, China, Chinese Taipei and Korea
Toronto (March 7-11): USA, Canada, Venezuela and Italy
San Juan, PR (March 7-11): Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama
Mexico City (March 8-12): Mexico, Cuba, South Africa, Australia
It's a double-elimination format this time in the first two rounds. The winners from Toronto will meet the winners from Puerto Rico in the second round at Miami's Dolphin Stadium, while the winners from Tokyo will meet with the winners from Mexico City in San Diego's PETCO Park.
The semifinals and finals are on March 21 and 23 at Dodger Stadium.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.