INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) – Mike Piazza could find himself on a new team next year – Italy.

The All-Star catcher could be eligible to play for the Italians in the inaugural World Baseball Classic under eligibility rules being discussed by the commissioner’s office and the players’ association.

Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., will be used with Bithorn Stadium as a second-round site for the tournament, to be played from March 3-20, the commissioner’s office announced Tuesday. The semifinals and final will be at San Diego’s Petco Park, baseball and the union said in September.

Chase Field in Phoenix (formerly Bank One Ballpark) and Scottsdale Stadium will join the Tokyo Dome, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Atlanta Braves’ spring training ballpark in Kissimmee, Fla., as first-round sites, said Paul Archey, a senior vice president of Major League Baseball International.

For soccer’s World Cup, players must be a citizen of a country and hold a passport for that country to participate. Rather than let each nation’s eligibility rules be the determinant, baseball will likely apply the broadest rules of any participating country to all teams in the 16-nation event.

Under these rules, players born in the Dominican Republic who are United States citizens still would be eligible to be on the Dominican team. These rules probably will lower the quality of the U.S. team and boost the depth of other nations in the tournament.

While rules have not been finalized, among the ways players could be eligible for a team would be if they hold a passport, were born in the country, have a parent who was born in that country or they had residency in that country.

“The union told us they determined that Mike could play for the Italian team,” said Piazza’s agent, Dan Lozano. He was unsure of the specific reason why Piazza, who was born in Norristown, Pa., was eligible.

“The Italians believe that if Mike Piazza was to apply for dual citizenship, he would be granted it,” players’ association chief operating officer Gene Orza said. Orza said he thought the reason was because Piazza has a grandparent who was born in Italy.

Baseball hopes to announce at the winter meetings in December commitments from players to participate.

“Eligibility rules are still being discussed. It will be similar to the IBAF rules,” Archey said, referring to the International Baseball Federation.

With seven teams changing their top baseball operations people since August, many clubs were still formulating their offseason plans heading into the five-day session. Agent Scott Boras predicted that will lead to a slow market for free-agent signings.

“With so many new GMs, there’s a belief that with many clubs there have been philosophical changes that may free up players who were previously unattainable,” he said.

The free-agent class is not very strong or deep, also likely to slow the market.

“I think teams are going to look at trades first, if possible, before they dive into the free-agent market,” New York Mets GM Omar Minaya said.

With Boston still seeking a replacement for Theo Epstein, GMs aren’t sure whether the Red Sox will be trying to trade Manny Ramirez. New Phillies GM Pat Gillick said Philadelphia is not thinking of trading oft-injured first baseman Jim Thome, another top hitter some teams might want.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman plans to meet Wednesday night with Arn Tellem, the agent for Hideki Matsui. The outfielder’s contract says he must be re-signed by Nov. 15 or he’ll be released.

Also, Tampa Bay plans to interview manager candidates this week: Los Angeles Angels bench coach Joe Maddon on Tuesday and Devil Rays bench coach John McLaren on Wednesday. The third finalist, former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, will be interviewed by telephone.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who like the Red Sox are without a general manager, sent a delegation headed by assistant GM Kim Ng.

Boston, which sent four officials, said it will interview Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and former Baltimore Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie as potential replacements for Epstein. The Red Sox also received permission to interview two other individuals but did not identify them.

The Chicago Cubs and infielder Neifi Perez agreed Tuesday to a $5 million, two-year contract.

Associated Press writer Andrew Dampf in Rome contributed to this report.

AP-ES-11-08-05 2022EST

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