I have seldomly looked forward to an All-Star game so much as I am this year. As I wrote to a friend the other day, I am really enjoying this baseball season. I'm fascinated by the Josh Hamilton story and the Chipper Jones chase. Edinson Volquez' ungodly low ERA. The Rich Harden trade. The Rays, A's, and Marlins overachieving. And much more. It's been just a joy to be a baseball fan so far this year.
What about this...what if Josh Hamilton led off for the AL and the NL pitcher was Edinson Volquez? That would be fitting. Either way...I'm rooting for Josh Hamilton in the HR derby and expect big things from him. The avenues he's had recently to share his testimony have been amazing.
People wondered if the Rich Harden move was reactionary. Not a chance. Anyone who thinks that those few days (between the Sabathia move and the Cubs' trade) were enough to put together something that monumental doesn't know much about the way it works. The Cubs have coveted Harden for a long time now, and have been scouting him for weeks. It just all came together last Tuesday.
And me? I've been clamoring for a true number two starter for a long time. The day they signed Lilly...I said he wasn't a legitimate number two. He's a perfect three or four. Then the next signing was Jason Marquis and I realize they DID plan on using Lilly as the two behind Zambrano. Last year he went out and won 15 games and proved me wrong. And still...this year the way the rotation was constructed...I wanted a number two starter. I've said it since day one. The Cubs have done all this without the benefit of an imposing starting rotation. And now they have one. I didn't want to go toward the playoffs with the rotation as it was.
Harden has long been one of my favorite non-Cubs. But people say this is the second coming of the Mark Prior fiasco. Hey I welcome that!! To have a second chance at a Mark Prior-type talent is a dream. And he's that kind of pitcher. Every year I would follow his success because I knew he had a chance to be truly great. I would always put him on my fantasy team at the beginning of the season thinking "this" was the year he would put it all together. And he still hasn't. But to think that he's a Cub is still very exciting. And you absolutely have to make that trade. Harden's arm may fall off tomorrow. And I still make that trade. You have to. The Cubs may or may not win it all, but if you have any bullets remaining at the end, something's wrong.
And they STILL didn't have to give up anything. About a week and a half before the trade, I asked Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus (before he went on the air with us) if the Cubs had a chance at Harden. "Oh heavens no," he replied quickly. "Billy's going to ask the world for him." So in my mind when I did hear the Cubs were pursuing him, I thought the Cubs would have to package Felix Pie, Rich Hill, Donnie Veal, and Ronny Cedeno to even get Billy talking! When in reality, the Cubs kept ALL their top prospects!!! Even Tyler Colvin, Jeff Samardzija, AND Josh Vitters. Unbelievable.
Eric Patterson? A guy with decent speed and no position. He wasn't going to contribute for a long long time. Sean Gallagher? He probably could've been a good one but he wasn't going to be a difference maker this year. Josh Donaldson? Draft a couple more good hitting catchers next year. And Matt Murton? A one-tool player. And the fact that "Billy" threw in Chad Gaudin is almost too much to take at this point.
What do I want from here? A left handed power hitter? Another front line starter? No. I want two things. I want one more setup guy. And I want a proven playoff role player. I know the Cub bullpen has been good, but if you can go out and get a Brian Fuentes or Scott Downs, you have to. That bullpen needs to be a little deeper I think. A month ago the Cub bullpen was the strength of the team. Now? Marmol is lost out there. Howry still hasn't got it right. Wuertz just got sent down. Cotts hasn't been consistent yet this year. Hart's been up and down between Iowa and Chicago. Scott Eyre is on the DL, and Wood is always one pitch from being there. Jose Ascanio isn't the answer, and John Lieber wasn't brought here for short relief. Chad Gaudin will help. But get me another guaranteed eighth inning guy who can also close in an emergeny before you start talking playoffs.
And the proven role player? I don't think the Cubs need to make a big splash for a center fielder or some such. If they do add another hitter, find someone who has done if before in October. Why? Because Soriano and Ramirez went oh for everything last October. This year feels different, sure. But if you're going to add anything on offense, find someone who is consistent but not flashy. Who has been to the postseason and performed well. Because if the big hitters start to gag on it again this Fall, I want to know there's someone else there to pick them up.
This is as vested as I've ever been in the result of the All Star game. I still haven't decided how I feel about the event deciding home field advantage in the World Series, but since it is that way...it's high time for the NL to end the drought. As I've said many times, I've never been a "this is our year" kind of Cub fan. But then again they've never had the best record in the majors at the All Star break in my life. So while I'm not convinced that this is our year, I sure wouldn't mind the National League winning the All-Star game in case the Cubs do get to the World Series. As differently as they play at Wrigley, I sure would feel a lot better--if they get that far--about starting the Fall Classic there.
And so that's why I don't want Kosuke Fukudome playing in my All Star game. That's everything that's wrong with the All Star voting. A bunch of simpletons voting for a .280 hitter with 7 HRs and 30 RBIs. And yet...in a potentially very important starting lineup...there he is. No thanks. He's not an All Star. Neither is Marmol. Six weeks ago he was. Six weeks ago he was by far the most important player on the Cubs team. Now? I don't want him even sniffing that mound at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night.
Anyway, here's to a 9-5 National League win.