Pujols likely to be held out of Classic
Insurance complicates slugger's situation; Ludwick declines
ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols' offseason surgery eased a great deal of discomfort in his right elbow, but now it's causing the Cardinals superstar a headache.
Because of the nerve transposition operation, Pujols very likely will not play in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, eliminating the tantalizing possibility of Pujols facing off against his St. Louis teammates in an exhibition game. Insurance guidelines prohibit players from participating in the Classic if they had surgery during the offseason. The Cardinals could apply for an exemption to allow Pujols to play.
"I'm really excited, looking forward to it," Pujols said on Sunday. "But I guess there's a couple things about the injury list, something like that. If you had a surgery in the offseason, you fall into a file. ... I don't know if I'm ever going to be on the roster right now because of insurance. Something weird is going on with the whole thing. It's not just myself. A bunch of players for different countries, I guess the insurers don't want to take the chance on something like that to cover it, because we came from surgery. But I'm really looking forward to it."
Meanwhile, Pujols' fellow All-Star Ryan Ludwick expects to decline the opportunity to represent the United States in the Classic.
Both Pujols and Ludwick were placed Monday on their countries' provisional rosters, which include up to 45 players. The final rosters of 28 players -- including a mandatory 13 pitchers -- must be set by Feb. 24. Tickets can be purchased online through mlb.com.
MLB Network will televise 16 World Baseball Classic games, along with a nightly studio show dedicated to the tournament. ESPN will televise 23 games of the Classic in the U.S., including the semifinal and final games, across ESPN and ESPN2 and on its Spanish-language platform, ESPN Deportes.
St. Louis' greatest representation will be on Team Puerto Rico, where Yadier Molina and Joel Pineiro are on the provisional roster. Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo will manage the Puerto Rican squad, and he may have an interesting political line to walk. Along with his own player, Molina, Oquendo will also have to choose between a group of catchers that provisionally includes Ivan Rodriguez, Geovany Soto and Molina's brother, Bengie.
The provisional rosters also include five Cardinals Minor Leaguers. Pitcher Blake Hawksworth is on the Canadian roster, infielder Curt Smith is on the Dutch roster, and infielder Isa Garcia and pitcher Arquimedes Nieto are on the Venezuelan roster. Pitcher Adam Ottavino is on the Italian provisional roster.
Still, the greatest disappointment -- or relief, depending on your perspective -- is that the Classic will not include Pujols. The 2008 National League MVP represented the Dominican Republic in 2006, and it was widely believed that he would play for the Dominican again in 2009.
That possibility included an especially juicy potential matchup. On March 5, the Cardinals will play an exhibition game against the Dominican team, and at least one Cardinals pitcher had already voiced his desire to pitch against his superstar teammate. But Pujols evidently will not be permitted to play.
Ludwick, on the other hand, is choosing not to play. The slugger would have been happy to play for Team USA if he had the chance to play extensively, but he said it appeared he would be a role player. Coming off the first full Major League season of his career, Ludwick decided that a full Spring Training outweighed a small role on the American team in the Classic.
"I told them unless I was playing, I didn't want to sit on the bench and be a fourth or fifth outfielder, and I don't think they intended for me to play every day," Ludwick said. "So I feel like for me it was more important to be in Spring Training getting more repetitions than sitting the bench. This is a big year for me.
"Obviously, it would be an honor. I've played for Team USA, and it's an honor. But right now, it's more important for me to get repetitions."
Two coaches with Cardinals ties will also serve in the Classic. Brent Strom, who serves as a pitching instructor in the St. Louis Minor League system, will coach for Team China. And Larry Walker, who finished his illustrious playing career in St. Louis, is the hitting coach for Team Canada.
The Classic's first round opens March 5 in Tokyo, with defending 2006 champion Japan facing China. Mexico City, Toronto and San Juan, Puerto Rico, host the other three first-round brackets, as follows:
Tokyo (March 5-9): Japan, China, Chinese Taipei and Korea
Toronto (March 7-11): USA, Canada, Venezuela and Italy
San Juan, PR (March 7-11): Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama
Mexico City (March 8-12): Mexico, Cuba, South Africa, Australia
It's a double-elimination format this time in the first two rounds. The winners from Toronto will meet the winners from Puerto Rico in the second round at Miami's Dolphin Stadium, while the winners from Tokyo will face the winners from Mexico City in San Diego's PETCO Park.
The semifinals and finals are March 21 and 23 at Dodger Stadium.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.