Bud Selig would love to see a series between the World Series and Japan Series champions. But among the realities is that as problematic as that idea seems now, it might become even less viable in the future.
Major League Baseball is lowering the talent pool in Japan, two or three players at a time, and the disparity in baseball economics between the two continents suggests that the number of Japanese imports will only increase.
"If it doesn't happen soon, or something doesn't change in Japan, it's not going to work," Bobby Valentine, who managed in Japan between stints with the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox, said of what Selig called a real World Series. "The Japanese leagues are being depleted of talent. They haven't taken care of players the way they could have."
There are no major league players on the Japanese team that will play in the World Baseball Classic semifinal Sunday night in San Francisco that is trying to three-peat in the event. But Japan's two best pitchers, hard-throwing Masahiro Tanaka and craftsman Kenta Maeda -- both of whom are only 24 -- are expected to be playing for big-league teams within two years.
It takes nine seasons for a Japanese player to reach true free agency, with the rights to come to the United States exclusive of the complicated posting process. That's the process that allowed reliever Kyuji Fujikawa to join the Cubs this spring, when infielders Hiroyuki Nakajima and Kensuke Tanaka (minor league deal) reported to the Athletics and the Giants.
"It used to be that just great Japanese players came to play here," Valentine said. "Now mid-level players are leaving Japan. It's not good for those leagues."
While even high school baseball is followed religiously in Japan, professional sports aren't valued as highly in that culture as in North America. Darvish became the highest-paid player in Japan his last year with the Fighters, earning the equivalent of $6.1 million. Twenty-four MLB players earned more than $17 million last year, including 14 that earned $20-million-plus, topped by Alex Rodriguez's $30 million from the Yankees.
Agent Don Nomura has referred to the migration of players from Japan to MLB as "nature taking its course."
Well built: Watch the Blue Jays for one day this spring and you know they're going to win 90-plus games and go to the playoffs. They have the AL's best roster by a tick over the Tigers and the Angels, and it goes a lot deeper than just the big guys.
When general manager Alex Anthopoulos acted on orders to go for it, he made moves of all sizes. In addition to the huge trades with the Marlins and Mets, he wisely talked left-handed reliever Darren Oliver out of retirement and signed guys like Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa.
Izturis is competing with Emilio Bonifacio to be the primary second baseman, with the other joining DeRosa and bases-stealing fiend Rajai Davis on the bench. DeRosa hasn't been the same since the wrist injury he suffered after the Indians traded him to the Cardinals in 2009 but is swinging the bat great this spring, hitting .500 in his first 10 games.
"I wasn't going to play just to play," said DeRosa, who will back up Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind at first while filling a utility role with Bonifacio. "This chance came around late, and it was the right place. If I was going to play, it was going to be if I was wanted by a team I wanted to play for. This has been great."
Off the tracks: How bad of a spring are the Yankees having? Bad enough that 28-year-old Cuban Triple-A player Ronnier Mustelier has put himself in competition for the opening created by Mark Teixeira's injury.
White Sox and Rays discard Dan Johnson seemed perfectly suited to hold down the fort until Teixeira's strained right wrist has healed but started the spring 1-for-23. That slump contributed to GM Brian Cashman's consideration of guys like Chipper Jones, Derrek Lee and Scott Rolen but the one real possibility is the one under the radar.
At 5 feet 7, Mustelier is truly a stealth candidate. He split last season between Double-A and Triple-A in the Yankee system, hitting .314 with 15 home runs and is called a natural-born hitter by Cashman and hitting coach Kevin Long.
"This kid's going to hit, you can see that," Long said. "The ability is there."
Zack Greinke's elbow problems will put him on the disabled list to start the season and could turn into a nightmare for the Dodgers. ... David Ortiz got himself into shape last year and then used his leverage position to get a two-year, $26-million extension from the Red Sox. He hurt his right Achilles last July and this spring is having issues with both of his heels, which sets a horrible tone for Boston's season. The team is downplaying the situation but he's out until May, if not longer. ... The Padres can't catch a break. They already lost outfield prospect Rymer Liriano for the season because of an elbow injury and now fear that Casey Kelly, the key to their Adrian Gonzalez trade with the Red Sox, needs Tommy John surgery. ... Andrew Cashner has been behind this spring after slicing his right thumb with a hunting knife, and pitching prospects Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland both had Tommy John surgeries last season. ... The Royals are open to trading Luke Hochevar, who was just moved to the bullpen, or Bruce Chen, who is in danger of losing the fifth starter's job to Luis Mendoza, Will Smith or prospect Yordano Ventura, who has a triple-digit fastball and a confidence-building nickname (Lil' Pedro). ... Brandon Maurer doesn't have the reputation of fellow Mariners prospects Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen, but he's still in camp while the others have been sent out. The Mariners had two openings in their rotation at the start of spring but it looks like one now, with Jon Garland claiming one with a successful comeback. ... Center fielders Christian Yelich and Jackie Bradley Jr. have been among the most discussed players in Florida but they aren't expected to stick with the Marlins and Red Sox, respectively. Right-hander Allen Webster, whom the Cubs tried to pry away from the Dodgers for Ryan Dempster, is looking great for the Red Sox, who got him in the Gonzalez/Josh Beckett/Carl Crawford mega deal. Dempster, who subsequently signed with the Red Sox on a two-year contract, also is pitching well. ... Nelson Cruz says the WBC is the best atmosphere he has played in because of "the way the fans respond." Maybe they would be responding better in Texas if he caught that Game 6 fly ball in the World Series two years ago. ... Stanford senior Mark Appel turned in his third straight dominating start, the latest against UNLV. It gave him 40 strikeouts against three walks and 10 hits allowed in 25 innings during that stretch. General manager Jeff Luhnow says the Astros "probably have eight guys" in the mix for the first overall pick but it's hard to see how they can say no to Appel for a second time. ... It took a lower percentage of votes to elect a new Pope last week -- 77 of the 115 electors, 66 percent -- than it does to get a ballplayer into the Hall of Fame. ... Along with Jurickson Profar, Kenley Jansen is being added to the Dutch roster for their WBC semifinal game Monday. Jansen has struck out 14.6 hitters per nine innings in his short big-league career, but was the Netherlands' regular catcher in the 2009 WBC, gunning down Willy Taveras to preserve a victory over the Dominican Republic. He wasn't cleared to travel to Asia for the start of the WBC after undergoing a procedure on his heart in October. ... John Ely has a good chance to win a long relief/spot starter's job with the Astros. They know their move to the American League West will test their pitching depth.
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