Successful teams could play into late March

NEW YORK -- Players on teams that advance to the final
stages of the first baseball World Cup would not be with their
major league clubs for most of spring training next year.

Under the proposal being formulated by the commissioner's
office, the 16-nation tournament would start March 4 in Asia and
begin in the United States and Puerto Rico on March 9, several
baseball officials told The Associated Press on the condition of

There would be four groups of four nations in the first round,
and the top two teams in each group would advance, according to
documents distributed to team officials last week.

In the second round, there would be two groups of four teams,
with the top two in each moving on to the semifinals. The
semifinals and the final would be one-game knockouts, with the
championship game played approximately March 21 in the western
part of the United States.

The plan probably will be put to owners for a vote within a
month. Deals for the tournament still need to be finalized with the
International Baseball Federation and the Major League Baseball
Players Association.

"We are encouraged by the progress that has been made," said
Bob DuPuy, chief operating officer in the commissioner's office,
"and we remain guardedly optimistic that we can get this done for
next spring."

Many players would be excited to perform for national teams,
among them Chicago White Sox pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who would play
for Mexico.

"If they say yes, then I would like to go," he said Monday.
"It's the World Cup of Baseball, something for our country to be a

Some players might decline invitations because of the timing.

"Big-league players aren't going to play in that," San Francisco outfielder Michael Tucker said. "It's right in the
middle of spring training. We've got games. What are we going to
do, miss spring training and not be with our teams? It doesn't make
any sense to me."

Giants manager Felipe Alou didn't go as far but said the timing
is "going to be tough." Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon said
it "will be disruptive somewhat," then added that he was "not
overly concerned."

"You're talking about playing for keeps and using integral
parts of these major league teams," Los Angeles Dodgers manager
Jim Tracy said. "Playing from March to October would be a long
time. But if they want to do it, they'll try to contrive a way to
do it."

In the first round, two groups are likely to be located in
Florida, with one in Asia and one in Puerto Rico, the officials

Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations
in the commissioner's office, acknowledged that some teams may not
make certain players available -- such as a starting catcher on a
team with several new pitchers.

"It's going to depend on the individual, the circumstances of
the team, other catching assets that they have," he said. "Each
of these is going to have to be dealt with in critical positions on
a case-by-case basis. I think that's a legitimate issue that would
be discussed and resolved in the ordinary course."

Alderson said that teams generally aren't troubled by the
prospect of losing players for several weeks next spring.

"Right now, I've gotten no disagreement on that point from any
of the general managers with whom I've talked, and I've probably
talked with half of the general managers," he said.

Although nations for the tournament have not been finalized, one of
the documents created by the commissioner's office lists possible
teams: Australia, Canada, China, Cuba, the Dominican Republic,
Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico, South
Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States and Venezuela.

The teams meeting in the finals would play eight games each in
the tournament, not including any exhibition games before their
openers. Because games start when players are just getting into
playing condition, pitchers will face restrictions, especially in
the first round. Don't expect any complete games.

"We've talked about pitch limitations and appearance
limitations in pitching," Alderson said. "The idea would be to
mirror the pitch limitations that are faced by pitchers at any
particular time during their spring training with their teams. We
have not at this point projected specific restrictions for closers.
We have a rough outline for all relief pitchers so, for example,
anybody that pitched more than one inning in relief would have to
not be used early in the tournament for a minimum of two days. And
there also would be a pitch limitation."

Some teams are concerned about insurance in the event of

"There will be insurance provided," Alderson said. "We expect
that existing insurance policies on high-salaried,
multiyear-contract players would continue to remain in force, so
there would be two levels of insurance."