Joey Votto, left, is likely to play for Canada while Russell Martin is out. (Getty Images)Just days after getting good news about its biggest star, Canada’s World Baseball Classic roster got some bad news Sunday when Russell Martin dropped out of the tournament.
Martin, a three-time All-Star catcher, withdrew, it seems, because both the Pittsburgh Pirate and Team Canada were hesitant to let him play shortstop at the tournament.
Martin told MLB.com:
“They both were uneasy about that,” Martin said, “and I simply didn’t want to catch. It’s just too much grind. The catcher’s out there the whole game, and it just takes your body so long to recover from catching 20 innings or so.”
The loss of Martin is certainly a blow to Canada, which has never advanced past the round robin portion of the tournament, and lacks depth outside of its biggest major-league stars.
One of those stars, however, could be coming to Canada’s rescue. After weeks of uncertainty, on Friday Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto was added to Canada’s roster. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Etobicoke, Ont., native, and 2010 National League MVP, will play.
Votto suffered a torn meniscus last year and had two arthroscopic surgeries, putting him on the disabled list for seven weeks. He returned for the end of the season and the playoffs but the Reds are taking precautions with their superstar. Votto will not participate in Canada’s training camp but if he gets the green-light from the Reds could join the team in time for its first game against Italy on March 8.
“During Canada’s training camp, Votto will remain in Spring Training with the Reds where he will continue to be monitored by team staff. Votto and the Reds will make a decision with regards to his participation in the tournament prior to Canada’s first game.” (Baseball Canada)
The addition of Votto would be a major boon to Canada’s hopes at the tournament, especially given the loss of Martin. Canada’s roster lacks big-league starting pitcher but has a strong bullpen led by Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford and Chicago White Sox reliever Jesse Crain.
Offensively, the loss of Martin, who hit a career-high 21 home runs with the Yankees last year, hurts their depth and leaves questions behind the plate. Former American League MVP Justin Morneau and Toronto Blue Jays budding star Brett Lawrie can make up for the lost power.
But now the only catcher remaining on the roster is career minor-leaguer Chris Robinson. Robinson has spent the last four years in AAA for the Cubs and Orioles’ systems. Robinson, however, is a veteran when it comes to international baseball competition. He was a member of Canada’s 2009 Baseball World Cup team and the 2011 gold-medal winning Pan Am Games team.
Canada will look to add another catcher and could turn to George Kottaras, who is fighting for a spot with the Kansas City Royals.
Assuming Votto makes the trip to Arizona for the first round of the tournament, Robinson ends up being the man behind the plate, here’s a look at what Canada’s patch-work opening day lineup might look like:
- 1. Michael Saunders (SEA), CF
- 2. Brett Lawrie (TOR), 3B
- 3. Justin Morneau (MIN), DH
- 4. Joey Votto (CIN), 1B
- 5. Adam Loewen (AAA-TOR), RF
- 6. Chris Robinson (AAA-BAL), C
- 7. Tyson Gillies (AA-PHI), LF
- 8. Pete Orr (PHI), 2B
- 9. Cale Iorg (AAA-DET), SS
Earlier last week, Canada added left-handed Philadelphia Phillies prospect Jay Johnson to the team in place of righty Nick Bucci of the Milwaukee Brewers’ system. Bucci withdrew because of a shoulder problem.
After opening the tournament in Phoenix against Italy, Canada will play Mexico on March 9 and the United States on March 10.