Tweaks possible for Caribbean Series
New rules could be instituted to strengthen future competition
MEXICALI, Mexico -- When Venezuela takes the field next February to defend its Caribbean Series title, it could do so under a different set of rules.
Caribbean Confederation commissioner Juan Francisco Puello is contemplating fining players who participate in the Winter League finals but do not play in the Caribbean Series. He's also considering a format change from round-robin to a double-elimination tournament.
The goal for Puello is to retain interest in the series and feed off the success of the upcoming World Baseball Classic while also honoring the Caribbean Series tradition that dates back to 1949. He's also looking to avoid a repeat of the final day of this year's series, when the games had little effect on the tourney's outcome because Venezuela's Tigres de Aragua was crowned champion with one day to play.
The Tigres finished the tournament with a 5-1 record, losing on the final day of the tournament to Puerto Rico's Leones de Ponce (2-4). Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan finished in second place with a 4-2 record. The Dominican Republic's Tigres de Licey came into the 2009 Caribbean Series as the defending champion. The club finished 2-4.
Puello is looking to tweak the Caribbean Series; he doesn't want to overhaul it.
"This series is good for baseball," Venezuela manager Buddy Bailey said. "Anytime you get to see a game that is different than what you see in your own country, that's a good thing. Every league and every culture has a little different take on the game, but the game itself is still the same. I think the people in the United States can see how much energy is at these games. I don't even know if the MLB postseason has as much excitement as there is in these countries."
Puello is wise to keep an eye on the World Baseball Classic. Like the Caribbean Series, the World Baseball Classic also offers a peak into baseball in other countries. But there is some debate about the similarities between the two and how one tournament impacts the other.
"The World Baseball Classic is going to be a whole different ballgame because the rosters are going to be a lot different," Bailey said. "When you have Johan Santana pitching instead of Brad Knox, that makes a difference. There will be a different level on the field because you are going to have guys that hit .300, won Cy Youngs and MVPs.
"I think the demand on the individual at the World Baseball Classic is going to be more demanding than the Caribbean Series," Bailey continued. "Here, we have four countries. That tournament has 16 countries representing the whole world."
Dominican Republic catcher Ronny Paulino, who is also listed on the country's provisional roster, agreed.
"We will be a completely different team," he said. "The rosters will be better. We will have all of our stars there."
Puerto Rico manager Eduardo Perez, also a coach for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, had a different take on the subject.
"I think for us it's a preview, especially with our pitching," Perez said. "I think it was important for us to see if our pitchers can pitch in this environment [at the Caribbean Series] and handle the pressure, because some of the guys on our roster will be there. There will be different players for us position-wise, but what you saw on the mound will be what you see in the World Baseball Classic."
Said Mexico manager Lorenzo Bundy: "In the Classic, I expect the Mexican team to pitch very well like we've done here. The question will be if they will be able to score enough runs and compete with those other teams."
Bundy added that wouldn't be surprised to see a country that participated in the Caribbean Series win the World Baseball Classic. His explanation is simple: some of the players who will participate in the World Baseball Classic have been playing year-round in their country's leagues.
"When that thing started in 2006, the United States had great talent but they lived the life of working out and getting ready for the season," Bundy said. "And a lot of these other teams have been on the baseball field and it's different. It takes a while to get acclimated to the field again when you have been in the weight room all winter, but that's what Spring Training is all about. The guys who have been playing winter ball have a little bit of an advantage."
The real advantage is earned by the players that participate in offseason baseball, Bailey said. Whether that means suiting up for the Winter League, Caribbean Series or the World Baseball Classic, participating can be a boost to a player's career.
"I think it's crazy that organizations don't take advantage and send their players to winter ball," Bailey said. "If you go to winter ball and you don't produce, you are going home. It's like the big leagues in that if you don't produce, you are going back to Triple-A. Minor League baseball is not even close to getting you seasoned because you really have to have physical maturity, mental maturity and emotional maturity in this game. In these types of tournaments, you play with the pressure of a whole country watching you. You just can't get that in the Minor Leagues."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.