The Pirates Are Right to Keep Choi Out of the WBC

Photo credit: Cole Burston/Getty Images)

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I'd like to preface with two points before getting into the nitty gritty of this blog.  The first is that I am a huge Ji-Man Choi fan.  His splits over at 1st base for the Tampa Bay Rays were iconic, and I'm very happy our Pittsburgh Pirates acquired him.  And I don't mean his split stats, I mean he does physical splits when stretching for throws at first base.  He's awesome.  

The second point is that even though I will refer to the World Baseball Classic as a "meaningless tournament", because it is, I am excited for it and I will be tuning in.  It just ultimately doesn't mean as much as Major League Baseball games and that should be recognized.  

Now, let's begin.

It came out this week that the Pirates are using their right to keep first baseman Ji-Man Choi out of the upcoming World Baseball Classic (WBC) because of his offseason elbow surgery that occurred in November.   When this story first "broke", so to speak, I really did think it'd be a non-story.  Because to me, it really is. However, it became a story when Choi then expressed frustration over the Pirates decision to keep him off the Korean squad.

The easy narrative is to jump on the Pirates' front office for not being a player-centric organization because of their perception in the league.  Also, with the Bryan Reynolds turmoil that has been going on this offseason, if you can even call it that, the Pirates are an easy punching bag.  However, I think the Pirates are absolutely in the right in this case.

The Pirates addressed their terrible first base situation from last season by adding Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi this offseason.  They are in line to pay Choi about $4.5 million depending on the arbitration trial.  They are paying him to play in Major League Baseball.  They are not paying him to play in the World Baseball Classic.

Also, how often have we seen a guy struggle into May and we hear about how it could be from a lingering injury or an offseason surgery.  There is nothing more frustrating than watching a player struggle for the 1st half of a season just to hear he was playing through injury.  Or a past ailment was nagging him.  The Pirates need to make sure this is not the case when it comes to Choi. Choi should be given as much rest as possible to prepare for the real games.  Major League Baseball games.  

And I keep emphasizing "Major League Baseball" because that goes hand-in-hand with my point as well.  The World Baseball Classic could loosely be considered the Olympics of baseball.   In a lot of sports around the world, the Olympics is the pinnacle.  In sports like wrestling, speed skating, track, swimming, etc. the pinnacle of the sports is the Olympics.  That is not the case in baseball, basketball, or hockey.  The pinnacle of each of those sports is the MLB, NHL, and NBA.  Choi has already reached that pinnacle.

If a swimmer misses the Summer Olympics due to injury, they have to wait another four years to compete in the pinnacle of their sport.  If a relay runner drops a baton in qualifiers, they have four years to think about it until they can compete at the pinnacle level of their sport again.  If a skier misses the Winter Olympics, they have to wait you really want me to go on?  I think you get the point.

So keeping a player out of the WBC is a non-story.  And Choi should not be upset with a team who is probably going to overpay him for a single season of baseball where he will be platooning with another player.  But ultimately, the team paying a player to play in Major League Baseball should have no problem asking a player who had an offseason surgery to sit out a meaningless tournament.  

Don't get me wrong, it will be a very fun event to watch and I will tune in.  But ultimately, it's not much more than a longer and more competitive All-Star Game.  Guys sit out of that all the time.  So maybe it is a non-story, and the "frustration" Choi is expressing is being blown out of the proportion, but the Pirates are not in the wrong in this situation.  Just because we often hate the all powerful and rich owners does not the players are always in the right.  I bet we're not even talking about this by April 1st.