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Chen may join Team China for Classic

KANSAS CITY -- Royals left-hander Bruce Chen said Monday he's waiting to hear if he'll be eligible to pitch for Team China in this year's World Baseball Classic.

Chen cannot pitch for his native country, Panama, because it was eliminated during a November qualifying round in Panama City. Brazil advanced from a field that included Panama, Colombia and Nicaragua.

"Team China contacted me about the possibility of playing for them," Chen said. "I told them I'd think about it, but they're in the process of seeing if I can become eligible first. There's nothing [definite] yet."

Chen pitched for Panama in the 2006 and '09 Classics. He did not play in November's qualifier because it came too soon after the close of the Major League season.

"Panama is not in the World Baseball Classic. Otherwise I would pitch for Panama," he said.

China is scheduled to open Classic play on March 3 against Japan at Fukuoka, Japan.

Chen's grandparents came from China to work on the Panama Canal and settled in Panama, where he was born in 1977.

"Panama wanted me to play for them, but they didn't make it. But China wants me to play for them, and it's an honor," Chen said. "It would be a great way for me to represent my ancestry. Everyone knows I'm of Asian descent and it would be a tribute to my grandparents and a tribute to my ancestry."

This year's Classic rosters are scheduled to be announced on Thursday night.

Chen led the Royals' pitching staff in victories the last three seasons and started Opening Day in 2012, but he's facing a battle just to win a rotation spot this year. The first four spots are projected to be occupied by James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis.

"It's very exciting. The front office did a really good job. I know we gave up a lot to get Shields and Wade Davis, but to get those type of guys, you have to give up something," Chen said. "But the way the team played last year, the position players that we have and the bullpen that we have, I think we've put ourselves in a position with these trades that we've significantly improved our team and can be able to compete."

Winning a job will be nothing new for Chen.

"Every year I have to prove myself," Chen said. "I go to Spring Training and have to prove myself. But this isn't about me, this is about the team sending their five best starters out there. If I'm not one of the best guys, then I shouldn't be starting. If I am one of the best five and can help the team win, then by all means."

As the Royals head for the official opening of Spring Training on Feb. 12, Chen is seen as competing with Luke Hochevar, Will Smith and Luis Mendoza among others for the No. 5 spot. All four of them were in the rotation last year with Chen's 34 starts leading the club.

"It's up to us to bring the team to the next level and I think with the guys that we've got and, with the support of everyone, this could be a very special season," Chen said. "I'm very excited because I think our team has improved tremendously."

Chen realizes that he could start the season working in relief.

"My job is to do everything I can to help the team win in whatever role they put me ... and hopefully it's going to be as a starter," he said.

Chen is among 20 active players due to appear at the Royals FanFest on Saturday at the Overland Park (Kan.) Convention Center.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for

Kansas City Royals, Bruce Chen