WBC returns in March 2026, retaining spring training slot
By RONALD BLUM
MIAMI (AP) The World Baseball Classic will return for its sixth edition in March 2026, with organizers concluding spring training remains a better time than after the World Series or in the middle of the major league season.
Speaking before Tuesday night's final between the United States and Japan, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB owners and general managers have to be pursuaded to make more star pitchers available to national teams.
Since its launch in 2006, the WBC has been played in March, ahead of club opening day in MLB, Japan and South Korea.
“We have talked about timing until your head hurts,” Manfred said. “There’s just no perfect time. You can’t really do it after the playoffs because so many players have been down. We have talked about something in the middle of the season. I think on balance, although it’s not perfect, this is probably the right place for it.”
Many MLB teams blocked pitchers from participating, wanting them to concentrate on preparing for the season's start.
“From a competitive perspective, I think the most important thing is we’re going to need to continue to work, particularly with our clubs, about pitching,” Manfred said. "Obviously, it’s great the guys we’ve had, but I think that I’d like to see pitching staffs that are of the same quality as our position players.”
“Pitching in a high-leverage situation like these are, that actually helps players develop, No. 1,” he added. “No. 2, that we staff the teams in a way that pitchers are used appropriately and the staffs of WBC communicate with the clubs about what’s going on with the individual players and make good judgments.”
U.S. manager Mark DeRosa said he told clubs that he would never have a pitcher warm up twice in the bullpen on the same day. One a pitcher warms up, he had to enter the game then or not be used.
Two All-Stars players got hurt during the WBC. Mets closer Edwin Díaz injured a knee during a postgame celebration with Puerto Rico last week and had season-ending surgery. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve broke his right thumb when he was hit by a pitch and needs an operation that will keep him sidelined for a period still to be announced.
“I think maybe the best testimony to it is how the players, after the unfortunate injury that Díaz had, how the players came out and spoke in support of the tournament,” Manfred said. “It’s an indication that they really, really care about the event.”
He said the WBC will continue to take on the insurance of players participating with their national teams.
“You can’t play this event without insuring the players,” he said. “It's enough that the teams take the risk that somebody is going to be down, but to then say, oh, by the way, you get to pay for it, I don’t think that's fair.”
Manfred is open to returning to Puerto Rico or possibly playing in the Dominican Republic. Every WBC edition has includes games in Japan. Puerto Rico hosted in 2006, ‘09 and 13, Mexico in ’2009 and '17, Taiwan 2013 and this year and South Korea in 2017.
Unlike the World Cup in soccer, he doesn't intend for the WBC to become a bigger event than MLB's playoffs and World Series.
“I don’t foresee or actually want the tournament to be bigger than our traditional format,” he said. I think the World Series is always going to be the World Series, but I don’t see it as an either/or proposition. This is a different kind of competition. We do it to grow the game and internationalize the game."
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated March 21, 2023