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Players opt for Spring Training over Classic

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A decorated Team USA roster already has its back against the wall in the World Baseball Classic; a 5-2 opening loss to Mexico makes Saturday night's game against Italy a must-win. The result had little to do with talent -- more so with the reality and randomness of tournament play -- but it was another reminder of an underlying theme in the World Baseball Classic: American participation simply isn't as high.

Look no further than the star-studded Angels. Mike Trout opted to focus his time on preparing for his sophomore year; Josh Hamilton wanted no part of it after an offseason of transition; and Jered Weaver would've only considered it if he didn't end 2012 with a sore shoulder.

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"The guys they want out there are the guys that throw 220-plus innings," Weaver, who played in the Pan-American Games of 2002, told reporters on Wednesday. "Those guys want the down time in the offseason to recuperate. As great as it would be to wear the red, white and blue … it's a tough thing to have to be ready for."

Major League front offices and coaching staffs are most reluctant to hand over their starting pitchers because their arms are counted on for so many innings and due to the injury risk tied to the heightened intensity of the Classic.

But Major League players in general, particularly in a country where baseball is most important from April to October, just have different priorities.

"I think it's going to be a little bit difficult to convince certain guys," Angels designated hitter Mark Trumbo said, "because at the end of the day, it's cool, but when it really counts is during our regular season."

"World Baseball Classic is great," catcher Chris Iannetta added, "but the most important thing is the season."

The only Angels participant is Dominican shortstop Erick Aybar, with Minor League reliever Fernando Cabrera (Puerto Rico) and first baseman Efren Navarro (Mexico) also taking part. Chris Iannetta, who played in the '09 Classic, doesn't believe anything can be done to make Major Leaguers more eager to participate.

The only timing that makes sense still isn't ideal.

"Our season's so long, our offseason's so short," Iannetta said. "Every part of our season is extremely critical. You can't do it in the middle because then you take time away from the continuity of the sport. ... You're obviously not going to do it in the playoffs, and then in the offseason, it would be really tough, just because guys aren't really in game shape. The only viable time is during Spring Training, and it's the beginning of the season, so there's a myriad of reasons why guys don't play."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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