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United States-born Braves star Freddie Freeman will reportedly play for Team Canada at the upcoming World Baseball Classic in March, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi. Take that, America.
Freeman's mom, who was born in Ontario, passed away when he was 10 and he had said in the past that he planned to honour her by playing for Team Canada at some point (his dad was also born in Canada). And now there's an opening for him after Reds star and Canada's best player Joey Votto elected to pass on the World Baseball Classic, allowing the Atlanta slugger to assume first base/DH duties with veteran Justin Morneau.
Getting Freeman is a big get for Canada, to be sure, but he would have looked a lot better hitting behind Votto in what will be a thin Canadian lineup that will reportedly also be without major leaguer Brett Lawrie, who, despite not living up to the hype, would have been a strong addition to the team.
The reality is that Canada doesn't have a deep pool of major leaguers to choose from, so when guys like Votto and Lawrie drop out it's felt especially hard.
Freeman, a 27-year-old two-time All-Star, will instantly be the top bat on the team. He's coming off the best season of his career, hitting the 30-homer mark for the first time (he blasted 34), while slashing .302/.400/.569 and putting up 6.1 WAR to finish sixth in National League MVP voting.
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Freeman will likely hit alongside Morneau, Russell Martin and Michael Saunders at the top of the Canadian order. Switch-hitting speedster Dalton Pompey, who spent 2016 at Triple-A Buffalo, should also figure into the equation, as well as Mariners farmhand Tyler O'Neill, who hit 24 homers with an .882 OPS at the Double-A level last season.
Even without established big leaguers Votto and Lawrie, the Canadian lineup could still cause some fits for opposing pitchers. The bigger question mark on the team will be the pitching staff, which lost one of its best possible options in dual-citizen Jameson Taillon, who represented Canada at the 2013 WBC but declined a return invitation.
That leaves 28-year-old Mariners left-hander James Paxton as the clear ace if he elects to play. Paxton was a career-best 3.5 WAR over 121 innings last season, striking out just under a batter per inning.
The biggest issue, though, is the quality of the group. Canada will have to upset one of the United States or Dominican Republic to advance to the second round, a tall order for any country. Canada failed to advance past the first round in each of the previous two WBCs. Colombia will round out the four-team pool which will play its games out of Marlins Park in Miami.
Regardless of how things play out for Canada, we can only hope the tournament is as entertaining as last time.