The World Baseball Classic kicked off this morning with Israel’s 2-1 victory over South Korea, and noted WBC enthusiast Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) of MLB Network and Fox Sports graciously took some time to join me to talk some WBC and Marlins baseball. Jon really went into detail regarding his passion for the WBC, who he thinks the favorites are, which Marlins are going to be the most impactful and what he thinks about the Marlins chances this season. Because there was so much good stuff, I broke it up into two separate articles. Part two will come out tomorrow.
Jon Morosi will call the World Baseball Classic for MLB Network, along with Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz, as Team Canada and Team Dominican Republic begin Pool C play Thursday at 6pm ET and Team USA faces Team Dominican Republic this Saturday at 6:30pm ET.
Thomas: I was scrolling through twitter this morning as I am wont to do, and I came across a guy who paid you, in my opinion, a very high compliment. He said, and I quote, "find someone who cares for you as much as Jon Morosi cares about the WBC." So tell us Jon, why do you love the World Baseball Classic so much?
Jon: ::laughing:: Well Thomas it's a great question. I would tell you a couple things, no.1 I've always been a great fan of international sports, I've loved the Olympics whenever the Olympics are on, I watch them even if I don't know the sport very well, I love World Cup soccer, I love those moments when you can feel the world coming together over a sport, it’s something I really enjoy watching, and so, to have it occur in the sport that I love is very special.
Actually the first time I was able to cover it, I of course watched it in ‘06 and ‘09 I was able to cover it for the first time in ‘13. And to me, it’s the perfect intersection for me of my passion for international sports, my love of baseball, and the ability to watch the game grow, and when you watch even a game like this morning, and you seen Israel win, and beat Korea in Korea, that has a chance to change the whole narrative and the growth of baseball in a country. I think when you look at what one game can do, and when you think about the two wins the Dutch had over the DR back in 2009, you saw Italy’s upset and their ability to advance in 2013, even just qualifying for the tournaments has such a manifestly positive effect on the countries and the growth of baseball. I think about China and the Ray Chang hit that allowed them to qualify for the current classic, you have players crying on the field because they were able to continue the growth of baseball there, which of course means government funding there and the potential for the game to get even stronger.
So it’s the intersection Thomas of me loving the game so much, loving international sports so much, and being fascinated by the drama of literally watching the story and the growth of a country’s association with baseball occur in front of your eyes under the tension of a single nine inning baseball game with these amazingly pressure packed moments. We just saw it this morning, Josh Zeid who of course has been on Israel’s qualifying team in 2012 which was unsuccessful against Spain, he helps them qualify this past September and now he gets the win in this amazingly dramatic game against Korea in Seoul just today.
You see the stories unfold and I’m just fascinated by the way the human drama and the international sports intersect with the way these individual granular games actually have a hugely out-sized impact on the growth of the sport in it’s respective country.
Thomas: Yeah it’s fantastic and you can see that Israel’s win was greeted heartily on twitter, so it’s a big deal for these countries. You wrote a "five bold predictions" article on MLB.com a couple days back where you predicted that this will be the year where the United States finally captures gold which would be it's first championship in four tries. What makes you believe that this is the year for the Americans?
Jon: A few things Thomas, I would start by saying the roster itself I believe is the best roster the U.S. has ever had in a WBC, I think it has the most balance. You look at the everyday club, one name I mentioned in the piece is Nolan Arenado, who I believe is one of the five best players on the planet, somehow he’s still underrated. I think that probably because he plays in the mountain time zone for a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs during his entire career, I think he’s overlooked unless you’re a really serious baseball fan, and I look at these next couple weeks as a phenomenal opportunity for him to correct that. I think that if the narrative builds and if he’s able to play the way that he has the last two years, becoming the first third baseman in either league to lead the league in home runs in back to back years since Mike Schmidt, he’s got a chance to really seize the attention of the whole country because of just how dazzling he is on both sides of the ball.
I just love the youth of this team, you talk about Yelich in left field, Stanton who is still remarkably a young player, so I like the fact that we can start to see some of the narratives and some of growth of our domestic players too.
The WBC has a great unifying potential for our game. So much of the strength of the following is local and regional, it just is, that’s the way that the game has been consumed for a very long time, but this is one of the moments, like the postseason, where we have the chance to have the platform for national stars to develop. You saw it in the last couple with David Wright being called Captain America in the last couple of WBCs, I think if we see the U.S. get to the finals and especially win it, then I think you look at the heroes of this team and you say “Wow, we’ve got some players that now have a national connection,” where Nolan Arenado and Brandon Crawford and Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Lucroy behind the plate, they all become ours for a period of time, and I think that carries over then to the rest of the season where there’s a little more investment in a national telecast in a national game that maybe doesn’t involve your favorite team because you saw these players win gold for your country. So, I think it’s a really interesting paradigm shift from the standpoint from where the game can be marketed and stars can be marketed.
Thomas: As you know, it's been a tumultuous six months or so for the Marlins, bookended by the tragic death of José Fernàndez and now renewed talk of Jeffrey Loria potentially selling the team. Against that backdrop, the front office has tried it's best to make the team competitive. Given the moves they were able to execute such as the Dan Straily trade, the Volquez signing, bringing in Tazawa and Ziegler, do you feel they've done enough to keep themselves in the thick of things in the NL East?
Jon: It’s a tough division, I think that the Marlins as they were last year are Wild Card contenders if things go well. It’s difficult to really conceptualize how they’ll react to not having José for a whole year, it’s so emotionally difficult from a baseball standpoint, it’s just a period of time where it’s really hard to even know what to expect because the tragedy was just so difficult for the franchise on so many different levels and continues to be today.
Under those circumstances I think Mike Hill has done everything he’s been able to do to keep the team competitive and I think competitive is the right word. Are they as good as the Nationals? I’m not sure, but I would point out from Washington’s standpoint that I have concerns about their pitching depth in DC. Scherzer of course has been slow to start the spring because of his finger issue, you’ve got Strasburg’s injury history, Joe Ross’ injury history, and now there’s no more Lopez or Giolito to back them up. So I look at Washington as being one pitching injury away from really a difficult circumstance to start their season in terms of pitching depth.
The Mets as we know their pitching is very strong, they brought Cespedes back, so I think there’s a lot to like about the way their team sets up from the Mets standpoint.
So I think that again the Marlins are a competitive team, I think Yelich is only going to get better, I’m a huge Yelich fan, I think Giancarlo Stanton is able to stay healthy for a full season I’d look at great things from him, continued growth. I love what Prado brings to this ball club, Ozuna has a chance to be an All Star. On a lot of levels, there are very exciting things about this team, against a very difficult backdrop, but I look at their pitching and say this is a team that if Volquez does what he can do, Straily gives you innings, if things go right and they stay healthy in their rotation, we could see a Wild Card type season for them. I like Ramos in the ninth inning as well, I think he’s a very good closer, the bullpen with Barraclough, the front office has done a good job of assembling some arms back there as well, so I think it’s a solid team that provided good health could be a Wild Card team in 2017.