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Team Canada mulling roster options for Classic

Opening round to take place from March 9-12 at Marlins Park
MLB.com

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Team Canada will open the World Baseball Classic on March 9 in Pool C, which means it will play the defending champion Dominican Republic, the United States and Colombia at Marlins Park.

"I guess I lost the coin flip," joked Ernie Whitt, who has managed every Classic game Canada has played, during the first day of the Winter Meetings.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Team Canada will open the World Baseball Classic on March 9 in Pool C, which means it will play the defending champion Dominican Republic, the United States and Colombia at Marlins Park.

"I guess I lost the coin flip," joked Ernie Whitt, who has managed every Classic game Canada has played, during the first day of the Winter Meetings.

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Making it to the final round, which will be held at Dodger Stadium from March 20-22, won't be easy. But Whitt certainly isn't conceding anything, either.

"It's going to be difficult, but you know what? You still have to play these teams," Whitt said. "There are 16 countries that are outstanding, and you've got to go on the field, and that's why you play the game. You play the game, and anything can happen. That's the beauty of the international game. Everyone has a chance because it's one game."

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Before you dismiss that as the standard pep talk that every underdog team gets, remember that Whitt was there during the inaugural Classic in 2006 when Canada upset the heavily favored United States.

"After almost losing to South Africa," Whitt recalled with a laugh. "Again, that's why you play the game. There's just no way we should have beaten the U.S. that year. I remember the turning point: Adam Loewen was pitching. I went out to the mound. He was facing [Alex Rodriguez] with the bases loaded and one out. I said, 'Do you know who you're facing?' He said no. I said, 'Good. Then let's get him out.' He got a double play and got out of the inning."

Canada will rally enough big names to have a chance against anybody. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin has announced he will participate, and Whitt confirmed that first basemen Joey Votto of the Reds and free agent Justin Morneau will also be on the roster.

That means it's possible that there might not be room for a proven slugger like the Braves' Freddie Freeman.

"I'm excited that [Martin] wants to play and, pretty much, he can play wherever he wants to," Whitt said. "If he wants to play some middle infield, he's more than welcome to do that. With permission from the Blue Jays, of course. And naturally, we'd like him behind the dish.

"[Votto and Morneau are] a big part of this Baseball Canada organization. They've been with us for a long time, and they're great players. You want those guys on your team. And if something happens, [Freeman] has indicated that he'd like to be a part of it. So we have those options."

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins indicated that Martin will "most likely" play the infield.

"It's such an incredible opportunity," Martin said. "The WBC is a great initiative. ... Will I worry [about injuries] as I watch? Sure. But we're supportive of the program. We're supportive of Russ. That's where it starts. If it's something that Russ really wants to do, then we'll figure out how to put him in the best position to have success."

At this time, it's uncertain whether second baseman Brett Lawrie (White Sox) and free-agent outfielder Michael Saunders will play. Whitt said he'd love to have both on the roster.

The biggest question mark at the moment appears to be the rotation. Mariners left-hander James Paxton projects as the No. 1 starter followed by right-hander Nick Pivetta, who went a combined 12-8 with a 3.27 ERA at Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley of the Phillies' organization in 2016.

"We've got some other guys who are kind of hiding right now and may come out of the woodwork," Whitt said. "We have our old standbys. We've got Scottie Diamond and Loewen. Scott Mathieson is coming back over [from Japan]. Dustin Molleken. So we have some good arms. But as far as starters, those right there would definitely be two."

Paul Hagen is a columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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