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Olney: Is WBC to blame for early slumps?

Eric Hosmer will be a free agent after this season if he doesn't sign an extension with the Royals. Brian Davidson/Getty Images

An evaluator trailing the St. Louis Cardinals early last month was astonished by Yadier Molina's sluggishness, because he had seen how Molina led Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic -- the fist-pumping, the shouting, the inspired play.

"He looks like a completely different guy," the evaluator said, noting how Molina wasn’t showing nearly as much of that at the outset of the regular season. "Very little energy."

Similar observations have been made about other players who served in prominent roles in the WBC -- so much so, that it is now accepted as a reality by many folks in the game that some players have struggled because of their participation in spring training's great event.

The vast majority of the comments are not meant to be complaints or whining about the WBC, but as loose conclusions based on the early regular-season play of some of the participants. Some players from the WBC, such as the San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey and the Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones, have performed well. Marcus Stroman is also off to a good start.

But other players might have experienced a hangover from the WBC, some evaluators believe.

Eric Hosmer

Kansas City Royals and Team USA

He’s had much better days recently after hitting .195 through April 25.

Javier Baez

Chicago Cubs and Puerto Rico

He batted .203 with one homer in April. Manager Joe Maddon, believing that Baez was still resetting after the WBC, sat him down for a couple of days to give him an emotional breather.

Jurickson Profar

Texas Rangers and the Netherlands

He was batting .135 when Texas optioned him to the minors at the outset of what is an important year for him, as he is the fourth outfielder in Texas' lineup and is being mentioned in trade rumors.

Jonathan Lucroy

Texas Rangers and Team USA

Through May 1, he was hitting .200, with a .246 on-base percentage, and he is now up to .263 batting average. "He’s a better player than what he’s shown," one evaluator said.

Carlos Correa

Houston Astros and Puerto Rico

Through April 27, he was batting .219, with a .638 OPS. He hit two homers in his first 24 games and has gotten hot lately.

Yadier Molina

St. Louis Cardinals and Puerto Rico

He distinguished himself as a leader in the WBC, starting last summer when prospective members of the Puerto Rican team started texting each other. But early this season, scouts felt he was not nearly as active behind the plate in blocking pitches in the dirt.

Luke Gregerson

Houston Astros and Team USA

He has an 8.49 ERA for the Astros this season, having allowed 17 hits and five walks in 11 2/3 innings.

Alex Bregman

Houston Astros and Team USA

He didn't play as much as expected in the WBC and opened the regular season hitting second in the Houston lineup. But after scoring one run in the first 10 games and hitting .231 through April 14, he was moved down in the Astros batting order.

Manny Machado

Baltimore Orioles and the Dominican Republic

With his nightly defensive highlight show, he was one of the real stars of the WBC. But on April 25, he was batting .188 for the Orioles, with six extra-base hits. He has had a burst of power lately.

And these are just some of the examples. "I do think there’s an emotional high/low that affects these guys," one evaluator said. "There’s an exhale moment when the tournament is over that you don’t get with spring training. I am still a fan of the tournament, but there are definite risks that come with it."

Said an American League official: "It impacted our guys."

A number of Astros participated in the WBC, including Jose Altuve, Correa, Bregman and Gregerson.

"We [had] a lot of participants, and I think the impact has been individually based," said Houston manager A.J. Hinch. "For all of them, though, I think we underestimate the impact of disrupting the preparation routines of players. It impacts players differently case by case, but I have seen it with virtually all our guys. The letdown after the intense games was pretty obvious the last week of spring training preparation, before the season."

The 2017 WBC turned out to be a great event, demonstrating the potential for this sort of thing in the years ahead. But all of the emotion that distinguished the event might have been double-edged for some players.

Giants veterans don't have strong trade value

The Giants have started so poorly this season that San Francisco general manager Bobby Evans is already fielding questions about when the team might consider a midseason sell-off of some players. Even after Posey's 17th-inning walk-off homer Friday night, the Giants were 11 games under .500 at 13-24. And as John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle detailed, the team’s best reasonable hope for ace Madison Bumgarner is that the left-hander recovers enough to make starts in August and September, which means he would miss about four months, or twice as long as the initial report that indicated he would be sidelined six to eight weeks.

But the Giants' choices are stark, because beyond a core group that they would probably never consider trading -- catcher Buster Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford and a couple of others -- their veterans don’t have much trade value. Hunter Pence is under contract through 2018 but is 34 years old and has struggled this season. Denard Span is signed through 2018, but he has battled injuries this year. Jeff Samardzija, signed through 2019, is 0-5 with a 5.44 ERA.

Johnny Cueto could be the most attractive of the San Francisco veterans, but he has an opt-out clause at season’s end. The Giants might want to keep him for themselves, for 2018 and beyond, but the opt-out would greatly complicate any trade talks and cut into his value.

Baseball Tonight Podcast

Friday: Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay with his Derek Jeter memories; the Fireball Express on why a Zack Greinke deal makes sense for the Cubs, and Dallas Keuchel; and Houston reliever Luke Gregerson on a cool charity thing he is doing, and the Astros’ strong start.

Thursday: Advice for superagent Scott Boras; Keith Law on contenders that need help the most; Seattle manager Scott Servais, who tells an interesting story about picking the person who carries the lineup card to home plate; Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post on the Nationals’ bullpen travails and Ryan Zimmerman’s hot start.

Wednesday: Steve Gelbs of SNY and Tim Kurjkian on Matt Harvey's apology and the Orioles' hot start; John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle on what’s next for the Giants.

Tuesday: Reds GM Dick Williams on Cincinnati’s excellent first month and the idea of limiting extra innings; Boog Sciambi on the nuclear option the Mets possess; and Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Info plays the numbers game.

Monday: A conversation with the Yankees’ Brett Gardner; Todd Radom on the No. 21 logo of all time; Jerry Crasnick on the 18 innings in Wrigley Field.

And today will be better than yesterday.