Melky won't take part in Classic
Youngster wants to win center-field job over playing in tournament
TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the few criticisms of the World Baseball Classic is its timing. Held in March every third year, the Classic forces regulars to work their way into game shape quicker, tempts rehabbing players to test the limits of their injuries and whisks young players -- many of them competing for roster spots -- away from their respective Major League camps.
Yankees pitcher Alfredo Aceves cited the latter reason as an excuse to withdraw from the Classic, despite his status as one of Team Mexico's top starters. And now Melky Cabrera has followed his lead. Cabrera told the Yankees this week that he has abandoned plans to play for the Dominican Republic, in an effort to win the starting center-field job over Brett Gardner.
"Personally, I think the [Classic] is something of a disruption to camps," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, despite admitting that he would have also had a desire to play. "I wish none of my players were really leaving, to be honest. I wish they were here. You have new players in camp that you want them to bond to. They could be gone as long as three weeks, and that's a substantial amount of time."
Cabrera, 24, held the starting center-field job for most of last season, though he posted the worst numbers of his career: a .249 average and a .301 on-base percentage in 414 at-bats. The rookie Gardner, meanwhile, earned increasing playing time down the stretch. But aside from 13 stolen bases in 42 games, his offensive numbers were no better.
Cabrera was on the preliminary roster for his native Dominican Republic, along with outfielders Moises Alou, a free agent, Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels, Jose Guillen of the Royals, Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs and Willy Taveras of the Reds. Though Taveras represents the only regular center fielder of that group -- giving Cabrera the potential for playing time -- Cabrera decided that he would be better served remaining in Tampa.
It will certainly give him an opportunity to be noticed. The Yankees currently have seven players in big league camp set to leave for the Classic, including Robinson Cano, Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras and Alex Rodriguez for the Dominican Republic, Derek Jeter for Team USA and Francisco Cervelli for Team Italy. Aceves was once among that group, but, fighting for a long-relief role in the bullpen, he opted out last week.
"I know why we do it, and I think it is good for baseball," Girardi said of the Classic. "I support it, because I think it's important, and I think it's important for players to have that opportunity to play for their country. I like that. I would have wanted to play for a [Classic] team if I had that chance."
The Classic begins on March 5 in Japan, and players will begin practicing with their national teams during the first week in March, just after the first few Spring Training games. If a player's team makes it to the finals from March 21-23, they will be away from big league camp for roughly three weeks.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.