More MLB players available for Olympic baseball qualifying

Sports

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. may get some better players for its second attempt to qualify for the Olympic baseball tournament.

Major League Baseball and the players’ association agreed to make players not likely to be on 26-man major league rosters available for the Americas qualifying tournament, to be played in Arizona from March 22-26.

When the U.S. stumbled in its first chance to qualify, at the Premier12 tournament in November, only players not on 40-man big league rosters were eligible for selection and the 28 Americans at the Premier12 combined for a career 2.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

The change makes the roster rule similar to the one in place the last time baseball was included in the Olympics and could also benefit other nations with players under contract to big league organizations. For the 2008 Games in Beijing, players were eligible if they were not on 25-man big league rosters as of June 26 — about seven weeks before the Aug. 13 Olympic opener.

The timing of the Americas qualifying tournament makes player selection difficult. Nations must submit 26-man rosters on March 11 and can make changes through March 20. The MLB season does not start until March 26, so some clubs will not have made final roster decisions.

The U.S. was three outs from qualifying last November at the Premier12. Matt Clark hit a tying home run off former St. Louis pitcher Brandon Dickson leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, Efren Navarro had a broken-bat single against Caleb Thielbar to drive in the winning run in the 10th and Mexico beat the Americans 3-2.

At the Americas tournament, the U.S. opens against Nicaragua on March 22 at Surprise, plays the Dominican Republic the following day at Tempe and finishes Group B against Puerto Rico on March 24 in Surprise. Canada, Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela are in Group A.

The top two teams in each group advance to a super round, with head-to-head group results carrying over. The super round winner joins host Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea in the six-nation Olympic field. The second- and third-place nations advance to a final qualifying tournament from April 1-5 in Taiwan, joining a field that will include Australia, China, the Netherlands and Taiwan.

Baseball was an Olympic event from 1992-08. Cuba won three gold medals, the U.S. one (2000) and South Korea one (2008). The sport has been restored for the Tokyo Oympics and is likely to be dropped again for 2024.

This year’s Olympic event will be played at Fukushima and Yokohama from July 29 to Aug. 8.

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