Unlike Russell Martin, first baseman Justin Morneau says he’s willing to play anywhere for Canada at the World Baseball Classic.
“I’ll be happy to DH, wherever they need me, I’ll do it,” said the Minnesota Twins star from New Westminster, B.C.
Martin, a catcher from Chelsea, Que., who signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates over the off-season, said Sunday he wouldn’t be part of the Canadian team because he couldn’t play shortstop.
Martin, citing wear and tear, said he didn’t watch to catch and both the Pirates and Canada were uncomfortable with him switching positions.
“He’s an established major-league hitter who’s had some success so we’re obviously going to miss him,” Morneau said before playing the Jays on Tuesday in spring training action. “But we’re going to have someone there who wants to be there, who’s going to be honoured to put the jersey on and be part of it. Whoever’s there is going to find a way to get it done.”
Morneau said the news is better for Canada on Cincinnati star Joey Votto, who texted him a few days ago to say “everything’s going good.”
“So we’re counting on having him there ... which will be obviously huge,” said Morneau. “He’s probably the best left-handed hitter in the game right now. So to have him on our team makes a huge difference in our lineup.”
Votto, the 2010 National League MVP, wasn’t listed on Canada’s provisional roster. But the Reds star made it on the final roster.
Votto injured his knee last season but said he would play for Canada if healthy.
Asked if he will play first while Votto serves as designated hitter, Morneau says that will probably depend on Votto’s health.
“If we’re better defensively I’m fine with that. If we’re better with me defensively, I’m fine with that,” he added. “It doesn’t really matter to me. Whatever gives us the best chance to win.”
Asked if he played shortstop, Morneau said: “Not since I was 12. I made three errors and they haven’t ever put me back there.”
Chris Robinson of Dorchester, Ont., who plays for the Baltimore Orioles’ top farm team, is another catching option. Canada has Cale Iorg, son of former Toronto Blue Jay Garth Iorg, as a shortstop possibility.
Asked if Martin’s decision not to play upset him, Morneau said he just had a hard time figuring it out.
If the catcher had said he just wanted to stay with his new team so he could bond with the pitchers, Morneau said everyone would have understood.
“But the desire to play another position was something, I think, that’s kind of got everybody wondering what the decision-making process was behind that. But when we get there, we’ll be there with everybody who wants to be there, who’s happy and with somebody who’s capable of playing shortstop and good middle infield.
“Obviously we’re going to miss him a little bit but we’re going to have to move on. We’re going to be missing other guys too. As other countries are.”
Canadian players report for camp March 3 in Goodyear, Ariz., and open the tournament March 8 against Italy.