It's that year again.
Yes, I'm talking about the 2013 World Baseball Classic which could really hurt the Tigers' success this season.
Detroit's position players could actually gain an advantage since they will be facing competitive pitching in the WBC instead of minor leaguers or a pitcher experimenting with new pitches. This will get them more at-bats than they would have in spring training.
The only player I have concern about participating in the WBC is Justin Verlander. Though he hasn't officially been asked yet, I assume he would participate if given the opportunity due to his competitive nature. It wouldn't be the smartest decision for him and I hope he says no.
If Verlander does join Team USA, then his spring training routine will be altered which could hamper him in the regular season and leave him tired toward September and October or, even worse, cause an injury.
Unfortunately, every pitcher only has a limited number of pitches and/or innings pitched before they tire. There are safeguards when it comes to the WBC for pitchers by having strict pitch limits imposed on pitchers in the WBC.
Even with these limits, Verlander is one of the best conditioned pitchers in the game and takes advantage of spring training to get in shape. He'll tinker with his pitches and gradually get into his regular-season form at his own pace.
As all Tigers fans are aware, he is a very competitive person who loves to win. This is both a strength of his and a weakness at the same time. With this personality, he may decide to go all-out knowing he's on a strict pitch limit and he's representing his country. This is when problems can occur.
Look at the last two seasons. The Tigers have had pretty good luck when it comes to their starting pitching. Sure, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer have experienced some injuries but none were serious enough to cause long-term concern and they were healthy in the playoffs for the last two seasons when it mattered the most.
Over time, the reason most teams have had trouble with sustained success in the playoffs is the extra innings that are thrown after a full season.
Verlander threw 251 innings in the 2011 regular season and then added another 20.1 innings in the playoffs. He followed it up in 2012 throwing 238.1 innings in the regular season and then in playoffs throwing another 28.1.
Verlander's body is built to be a workhorse—as he's proven over the course of his career—and he only gets stronger in the later innings; but, everybody has a limit sooner or later before they need to rest a little.
My main concern isn't even the innings or the pitches thrown but the actual way Verlander will throw. I don't want him overexerting himself in March and hitting high 90s to 100 mph. He needs to ease into regular-season form. Besides, this will be his first WBC and he has never needed to prepare for one. He may be one of the smartest athletes and know how to prepare his body for the long season, but he's never had to prepare it for a tournament in March as a major leaguer.
If Verlander fades at the end of season or worse, suffers an injury, then this season of high expectations will be a huge disappointment. At the very least, the Tigers front office should be preparing for the worst—which is why they must keep Rick Porcello for insurance.
Porcello has regressed during some of the past year, but he's still only 23, and the Tigers don't have a reliable starter in Triple-A or Double-A that could step into the rotation. Plus, if Porcello is needed, then maybe he can raise his trade value and the Tigers could trade him next offseason or even keep him and unload one of their other starters. A win-win scenario all around.
Verlander not only represents the Tigers' present but their future as well. There aren't many pitchers like him and hopefully he'll have a long Hall of Fame career in Detroit. But first he needs to stay healthy and understand his priorities are winning a World Series in Detroit by saying no to the WBC.
Do you worry about Verlander participating in the WBC?