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Can the World Baseball Classic improve? Joe Maddon isn't sure that's possible

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AP

Can the World Baseball Classic improve? Joe Maddon isn't sure that's possible

MESA, Ariz. — Joe Maddon is a huge proponent of selling the game of baseball worldwide and clearly sees the place the World Baseball Classic has in that endeavor. 

But with the WBC kicking off this week, Twitter seems ablaze with how to "fix" or improve the international competition. 

Does playing it in the first few weeks of March really help? The schedule limits some of Major League Baseball's best players from participating given they are not yet in midseason form and still in the process of getting back into the swing of things.

But when would be better? 

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When the Olympics and other international hockey competitions are going on, the NHL shuts down for a few weeks and the game's best players head overseas to play for their home country. 

Could you imagine that in baseball? The entirety of MLB shuts down for all of July, the All-Star Game is canceled or rescheduled, the 162-game season is shortened and pitchers may endure extra stress pitching in high-intesity games that don't count toward their MLB team's ultimate goal of winning the World Series.

It'd be a mess.

And with the season already extending into November with the playoffs, after the MLB slate is out, too.

Which is why Maddon — who spoke at length on the matter Tuesday morning before his team took on Team Italy in an exhibition game at Sloan Park — isn't sure a better idea exists:

"I think it's as good as it can be under the circumstances. The time of the year really inhibits a lot of the best players playing more en masse. There's probably not an adequate or a proper time to do it other than this, so that makes it more difficult. 

"I don't blame some guys for not wanting to play. I understand why guys do want to play and support their country and participate. It's just an imperfect situation. I think we're doing the best that we can under the circumstances. It would be kinda neat if everybody's best could actually participate. 

"But the way our season is played and the length of it and what happens at the end of it, guys have just had enough. So when is the right time? At the beginning when you're fresh? At the end when you're tired? The middle like they did in hockey where they just shut it down, but nobody wants to shut it down. 

"I think we're doing the best under the circumstances and I think the number of guys participating is probably as much as you're gonna see. It's true: To get guys to get up to that mental and physical level this early can have an impact. It just depends on the player, but it can. I think the greater concern a lot of times is the physical impact, that somebody may get injured. 

"But for me, it's also like turning the dial up quickly, too. You saw Javy [Baez]. Javy noticably did that and did it well, I thought. His role this season, it's not every day, so it meshes pretty well with Javy. Like if Lester went or if Arrieta went, especially after the World Series, that would be a little bit of a concern trying to push it so quickly after playing so long."

But Maddon also understands the bigger purpose of the WBC beyond just winning: to promote the game of baseball and get kids more interested.

Of course, there's the matter of national pride, too, as teams like the Netherlands and Israel get to show the world what they're made of in countries where baseball isn't as prominent.

That being said, Maddon has always been in favor of his Cubs team carrying worldwide appeal — especially to the younger crowd — with guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber.

"Our group should appeal anywhere that baseball's played," Maddon said. "We do — and baseball does — a great job with us. It's about our players. I think we're authentic, we're charismatic players that are good and are young.

"So there should be a positive impact for the attempt to sell the game to a more wide-ranging group. Why wouldn't you showcase that group of players?"

Cubs reliever Kyle Ryan not at Summer Camp due to protocol 'technicalities'

Cubs reliever Kyle Ryan not at Summer Camp due to protocol 'technicalities'

Cubs reliever Kyle Ryan hasn’t arrived at Summer Camp yet due to a “process-based delay” that manager David Ross referred to as protocol "technicalities.”

Ryan has been working out on his own and throwing remotely. He threw a live batting practice session on Saturday and is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Tuesday. The Cubs said they hope he can join the team at camp by the end of the week.

Last week, Ross indicated no Cubs have tested positive for COVID-19. They're believed to be the only team, at least in the National League, with no positive tests.

Ryan is the Cubs bullpen's top lefty. Last season, he posted a 3.54 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 73 outings.

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Why COVID-19 crisis might create opportunity for Cubs to re-sign Kris Bryant

Why COVID-19 crisis might create opportunity for Cubs to re-sign Kris Bryant

His agent said the economics of the game over the next year or two won’t make any difference.

But Cubs star Kris Bryant said everything else that has changed in the world — and his own life — has caused him to re-examine the way he looks at his relationship with the Cubs and possibly even his stance on any extension talks that might arise before he’s eligible for free agency after next season.

“I feel like I’m more calm — although I do appear calm always,” he said Monday during a Zoom call with reporters. “but just things that really mattered to me before don’t matter to me as much.

“You value people in your life that bring value to you, and certainly this organization has brought value to me in my life, and hopefully I’ve returned the favor. You want to be around people that want you and care for you, and I’ve certainly felt that being a Chicago Cub.”

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Bryant, who said he considered opting out of playing this season in part because of the COVID-19 risk in relation to having a newborn son at home, emphasized that the idea of an extension with the Cubs is the last thing on his mind during such a high-anxiety moment in society in general and within what players and organizations are trying to make happen in an abbreviated 2020 season during a pandemic.

“I’m happy where I’m at; I love this organization, and I love everybody who’s part of it,” the 2016 MVP said. “I’m up for hearing what they have to say.

“But there’s a lot more other worries in my life and the world right now. So, I feel like it’s a little insensitive to be talking about big dollars and stuff like that when people are losing their job and their life. I’ve never been the type to be super selfish and want the attention on me to sign a contract or whatever. I think there’s bigger problems right now.”

Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, said in May the lengthy shutdown of professional sports and lingering economic impact would make little or no difference in markets for the top players, such as Bryant.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

“For the players who are the great players — because there’s always only a few great players — I don’t think it’s going to have anywhere near the impact,” Boras said, “because those great players are somebody you would sign for 10 years, and you can defer the cost.

"You just backload the contracts. You can do things with long-term contracts; you could wait for better times but still get the player for today.

“By the way, if I don’t sign that player, and I wait to sign that same star player when I do have the money in 2023, he’s going to cost me more.”

Bryant’s perspective adjustment since fatherhood and experiences during the pandemic may not make a difference on his chances to remain with the Cubs long-term, even if he shows a more willing approach to consider less than top dollar.

The Cubs’ payroll already was stretched to baseball’s luxury-tax threshold, with the front office re-evaluating its one-time championship core and how it might retool the roster for its next competitive window.

Pandemic economics wouldn’t seem to add any flexibility to that process or payroll math.

But the thoughts Bryant expressed Monday might at least be worthy of discussion over the winter, depending where the country and the sport is with the coronavirus crisis by then — if not the first actual talks on a long-term contract by the sides in three years.

Assuming he’s not traded by this year’s Aug. 31 deadline?

“I would like it not to be a concern,” Bryant said. “I’d like to think I wouldn’t be shipped out in the middle of a pandemic.”

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