'You have to be a little callous,' Team USA skipper Leyland says
By Jesse Sanchez
SAN DIEGO -- It's an honor for Jim Leyland to guide Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, but the longtime skipper is the first to admit that managing a dream team can lead to lot of sleepless nights.
While others snooze, Leyland tosses and turns in bed trying to figure out how he is going to get the 28 stars on his roster into games. He wakes up to early-morning phone calls from big league organizations wondering when their players are going to play and for how long.
Leyland walks into the clubhouse every day with the knowledge that each player wants to be in the starting lineup -- or even get into the game -- but sometimes, it's just not possible.
"It's a lot harder to manage this," Leyland said. "When you have your regular team, you have your star players that play pretty much every day, and you have what you call utility players. Well, everybody on this team is a star, so you've got your stars sitting on the bench. That normally doesn't happen during the regular season, during a regular Major League season. So this is a little bit different."
"I don't think Giancarlo Stanton has ever been on the bench in his life," said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, who hit a decisive two-run home run in the win. "It's guys doing whatever they can to win. And when you have a group of guys like that, it's special and it makes it a lot of fun to play with."
One of the biggest challenges World Baseball Classic managers face is trying to win while adhering to tournament rules like pitch limits and accommodating specific requests made by teams.
The Indians allowed Francisco Lindor to participate in the tournament for Puerto Rico, but he can only play shortstop or serve as the designated hitter. The Astros allowed Carlos Correa, their starting shortstop, to shift to third base for Puerto Rico, and they understandably want Alex Bregman, their third baseman of the present and future, to see action for Team USA. Bregman started at shortstop on Wednesday night.
There's also Rangers infielder Rougned Odor, who has played both second base and third base for Venezuela, and Marlins veteran Martin Prado, who was allowed to play multiple positions for Venezuela before straining his right hamstring on Wednesday night and returning to Marlins camp. In Thursday's Venezuela-Dominican Republic game, Odor started at second, while Altuve, a four-time All-Star who won an American League Gold Glove Award at the keystone in 2015, played third base for the first time since he was a member of the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks in 2011.
"It's amazing that the guys that have been coming up to me saying, 'If you need me in right field, if you need me to catch, I'm able to,'" Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel said. "But sometimes they're not aware that the [World Baseball Classic teams] don't have that kind of permission. I just talk to them and let them know that it's not as easy as they think -- that you're not just going to play another position. We've got our rules that we have to go by, and we have to be really aware of that."
Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena, the current first-base coach for the Yankees and a former big league manager, also leads a group of All-Stars and says it's his job to make sure they get plenty of playing time and return to their Major League teams on track to start the regular season. Pena has also been pleased with how accommodating the players have been in the tournament.
Alex Cora, the general manager of Puerto Rico, described his group of players as "a team of 28 ballplayers" compared to others that are "a team of 28 stars." It's Cora's belief that Puerto Rico players like Enrique Hernandez and Kennys Vargas have adapted to their limited playing time because that's part of their usual role in the big leagues, and that makes it easier for guys like Lindor, Correa and Yadier Molina to get their at-bats.
"You have to be honest with teams and players from the get-go," said Cora, who also serves as Houston's bench coach. "We all have a goal to win it all, and we have not been caught up in anything other than what's good for the players' careers. Players understand that if they come here to play with us, they might not get at-bats, but we will do our best. That's why the off-day workouts are so important, because all of the guys can get their work in so they can be ready for the season."
Puerto Rico will play Team USA on Friday at 10 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.
"At the end of the day, you have to be a little callous, because if you don't, you'll drive yourself crazy," Leyland said. "At the end of the day, I want to walk away from this thing knowing I did the best job I could trying to get everybody in as much as I could. But there are so many great players."
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games in San Diego's Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.