Russell Martin's last-minute decision to withdraw from the upcoming World Baseball Classic has left Team Canada with a major void in the heart of its lineup.
Martin announced on Sunday that he was no longer willing to take part in the tournament. The news came as a major surprise to Baseball Canada and the teammates he was set to join in less than two weeks.
Team Canada first baseman Justin Morneau appeared disappointed with the turn of events and admitted that it's a major blow to the club's chances in a group that also includes the United States, Italy and Mexico.
"With so many left-handed hitters, it obviously affects the balance of our lineup," Morneau said during an interview with the Canadian media prior to Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays. "He's an established Major League hitter that has had some success.
"Obviously, we're going to miss him, but we're going to have somebody there who wants to be there and is going to be honored to put the jersey on and be a part of it. Whoever's there will have to find a way to get it done."
Martin's decision to withdraw has less to do with not wanting to play for Canada and more to do with a bizarre desire to play shortstop. He expressed his interest in playing up the middle during the offseason and reiterated that request again this spring.
The 30-year-old has played a handful of games at third base and second base during his Major League career, but never shortstop. Despite that, he began taking ground balls there during the spring in an attempt to prepare for the tournament.
That plan came to screeching halt when both the Pirates and Baseball Canada indicated they were not comfortable with the idea. The whole process has left his would-be teammates on Team Canada rather confused.
"It's kind of hard for me to understand," Morneau said. "Obviously, if you want to learn your pitching staff, new team, it's important as a catcher to learn those guys and he signed [in Pittsburgh] for two years.
"If that was the case, I think we'd all be fine with it. But the desire to play a new position is kind of what has everybody wondering what the decision-making process was behind that. When we get there, we'll be there with everybody who wants to be there and with somebody who's capable of playing shortstop."
Martin played a key role on Team Canada during the last Classic in 2009. The club recorded a surprise victory over the United States, but was still eliminated in the first round after disappointing losses to Italy and Mexico.
Morneau baffled by Martin's Classic withdrawal
MLB.com | Feb 26