One of the biggest moments in his career left Brett Eibner conflicted, and the U.S. team without one of its key players just hours before the Premier 12 final on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.
The deadline for MLB clubs to promote players to their 40-man roster, thereby protecting them from the Rule-5 draft, was set for 8 p.m. on Friday night in the U.S. and, as usual, there was a flurry of activity as clubs adjusted their rosters accordingly, calling up minor leaguers they want to keep in the fold. Eibner, who is a part of the Kansas City Royals’ system, was among the players called up.
Eibner had also started all seven of Team USA’s games at the Premier 12 and was serving as the No. 3 hitter for manager Willie Randolph. But because MLB had barred players on 40-man rosters from competing, the promotion meant that Eibner had to been removed from the U.S. roster just hours prior to the final against South Korea, which the U.S. lost 8-0.
“That was tough,” Eibner said. “It’s a bittersweet thing. It’s what you work for and it’s just tough. I was sitting there not being able to help my team, and it was killing me just feeling helpless on the bench.”
The U.S. team also lost pitchers J.B. Wendelken and Jake Barrett, who were called up by the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively.
“Obviously it was a little bit stunning when we got the news,” Randolph said. “Anytime you’re playing with all the guys who have been here, it kind of puts you on your heels a little bit.”
Eibner, an outfielder, hit .259 with a double, a triple, and a team-high seven RBIs during the tournament. Eibner began wondering about his status for the final after the Americans’ 6-1 victory over Mexico in Friday’s semifinal matchup.
“We were trying to figure out if I was going to be able to play if I was put on, but it’s effective immediately,” Eibner said. “JB and Jake Barrett both were put on, so all three of us were just kind of . . . like I said, it was a bittersweet thing. It was definitely killing us being on the bench not being able to help our team out there on the field.”
The U.S. was simply caught in an unlucky point in time, with the roster call-up deadline in the U.S. coming the day of the final in Japan.
“I want to be out there with those guys,” Eibner said. “I’ve been here since Day 1 and I wanted to be out there and help them any way I could. It’s hard sitting there knowing I’m not going to be able to get in the game.”
It’s possible the situation could be avoided in the future if MLB allows players who start the tournament to finish it, regardless of their roster status, makes 40-man roster members available, or if the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the organizer of the Premier 12, makes sure future finals are held before the deadline date.
“It’s the way the situation was set up for us,” Randolph said.
Eibner said the absences didn’t affect the outcome of the game.
“I believe in all those guys that played out there,” Eibner said. “It didn’t have to do with one or three guys. We’re a team and we win and we lose as a team.”
Randolph also refused to use the issue as an excuse.
“You get to this point, it’s do-or-die,” Randolph said. “If you’re dealt that card, you gotta deal with it and move on. Today’s game was indicative of the fact they (South Korea) just played much better than we did.”