Dominicans regroup for second Classic
Added star power should make up for '06 disappointment
Of the two co-favorites to fall short of expectations in the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic, the breakdown of one caused national depression.In the United States, a country of multiple passions, most people were able to get over it and move on. But in the Dominican Republic, a fourth-place finish threw salt into gaping wounds of pride. The Caribbean republic of eight million expected much more from the latest crest of a tidal wave of talent that had been battering the Major Leagues' shores for decades.
The '06 disappointment, acerbated by the team getting knocked out of the tournament with a 3-1 loss in the semifinals to Caribbean-rival Cuba, appears to have only heightened the Dominicans' make-good resolve.It appears that the country's 2009 manager -- Stan Javier, who replaced Manny Acta after serving as GM for the first go-round -- will have his pick of front-line players. Dominican big leaguers are storming the roster, so to speak: The number to already submit written applications to participate is enough to fill three rosters. Officially, no roster spots have been filled, but Team Dominican's star power will be considerably brighter. Judging by information disseminated two weeks ago by Dominican Baseball League officials, players who were absent in 2006 for various reasons but are in the 2009 fold include Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Guillen and even Sammy Sosa. Without intending any disrespect to the '06 participants, put it this way: The reserve first baseman then was Pedro Feliz, who had seldom played that position for the Giants, his Major League club at the time. Feliz now says he "definitely" wants to rejoin the team because he was "proud to play for my country, " and he very well might be back -- but not at first base, since Carlos Pena is now on board to share the position with Albert Pujols. "Definitely, I want to play," said Pena. "Are you kidding me?"
Possible 2009 Team Dominican Republic Roster
|One possible projection of Team Dominican's 2009 roster, based on players survey, positional breakdown and certain variables, primarily MLB teams' attitude toward participation by specific players.|
Similarly, right-hander Julian Tavarez hopes to be back because, "I loved it the last time and I think this time it will be even better because it will be better organized." Tavarez might find it hard to land a staff spot with such marquee names as Ervin Santana and Edinson Volquez on Javier's preliminary list."They know how important this tournament is for our country," Javier said recently, addressing his countrymen's response. "We love to play baseball. What better chance to represent your country than to try to win [a world tournament]? People here breathe, talk and live baseball." Having options will be good for Javier, because the return of several key members from the 2006 team is up in the air due to health or competitive issues. The top concern in that regard is Pujols, one of three to play in all seven of the Dominican's games in 2006. Pujols batted .286 with a homer and three RBIs while being largely dodged by foes; his seven walks ranked second to teammate David Ortiz's eight among all players. Pujols had surgery on his chronically sore right elbow in mid-October, but Javier remains optimistic that he'll be ready to go in March. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, the only Dominican to earn a spot on the '06 All-Classic team for his four-homer, nine-RBI performance, is recovering from thumb and shoulder injuries. Reliever Robinson Tejeda's season ended prematurely with a hip injury. Others, like Frank Francisco, who might close for the Rangers next season, and Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, are talking about preferring instead to focus on the upcoming Major League season. Polanco could be a particularly steep loss: He batted .500 (9-for-18) while splitting the position with Alfonso Soriano, who was hitless in 12 at-bats. But finding replacements for Polanco and Soriano (he's entrenched in the outfield now) would not be a problem: the Yankees' Robinson Cano and Alexi Casilla of the Twins are both on board. Then, Javier's riches at shortstop will give him flexibility in the middle of the infield, with the option of switching someone to the other side of second: Incumbents Jose Reyes and Miguel Tejada both are interested in returning, and others like Jhonny Peralta and Hanley Ramirez want in. Yet all of the foregoing could be incidental to a loaded outfield and fortified pitching staff. Not to imply that the Dominican's 2006 outfield was shorthanded, but it included Luis Polonia, six years after his last Major League sighting. Moises Alou was the only one of the five outfielders on the '06 team to hit a home run. In total, the outfield combined to drive in five runs. Guerrero (who withdrew in 2006 in the wake of a family tragedy, the death of three cousins in a car crash), Manny Ramirez (who fell out after reporting late to Boston's camp) and Jose Guillen (who was recovering from elbow surgery) are all now in. Last season alone, that trio was good for 84 homers and 309 RBIs. Add to them Soriano, the Twins' Carlos Gomez and Sosa, who sat out the 2008 season and has long been suspected of planning on the 2009 Classic as his formal last bow. The upgrade to the pitching staff could be even more dramatic, with such breakthrough pitchers as Carlos Marmol, Fausto Carmona, Francisco Liriano, Johnny Cueto, Santana and Volquez eager to get the ball and join up with Odalis Perez (he led the '06 staff with two wins) and Fernando Rodney (big out of the pen, with seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings). All of those components would certainly add up to a formidable force, ready to finish a job the 2006 team began in impressive style. For that Dominican team actually did far better than the Classic's bitter aftertaste suggested. In fact, the Dominican Republic's final record of 5-2 ranked second to South Korea's 6-1. But neither team made it to the final. The finalists, Japan and Cuba, both wound up 5-3. But such are the vagaries of international round-robin play, which was the system in use in 2006. This will be replaced in 2009 by double-elimination, with its greater emphasis on won-lost records instead of tiebreaker rules. The Dominican Republic is grouped with the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico in Pool D, set to play out March 7-11 in San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.