Hey there, it’s Justin. Remember me? You used to visit my house every year and deliver the goods. I must have been one of your first stops every year, because you always seemed to swing by on Christmas Eve while my family and I were at church, instead of at night while I was sleeping.
I haven’t believed in you in some time, honestly. The presents started showing up underneath the tree days before Christmas even arrived. I found stashes of gifts in my parent’s basement which later showed up on Christmas Eve. The illusion was shattered.
I’m writing to you this Christmas with some new belief. As a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I know all about belief and hope and faith. You’re probably aware that we haven’t had a championship to cheer about in my lifetime, or my dad’s lifetime, or my grandfather’s lifetime, or probably even my great-grandfather’s, either. I have faith, though. We’re headed in the right direction.
Maybe your magic can be the final push. So, Santa, in no particular order, here’s my Cubs wishlist for the Christmas Offseason of 2011:
Sign free agent pitcher Mark Buehrle.
One of the biggest factors of the disaster known as the Chicago Cubs 2011 season was the breakdown of their starting rotation. They approached the 2011 season with some depth for those five starting jobs: funny guy Ryan Dempster, the troublesome Carlos Zambrano, and new Tampa Bay Rays trade acquisition Matt Garza were locks, while the final two jobs were an open competition between Randy Wells, youngster Andrew Cashner, former Milwaukee Brewer Braden Looper, the overpaid Carlos Silva, and lefty Tom Gorzelanny. Looper decided to retire after not making the team for Opening Day, despite the possibility of being called up in case of injury to sub-par performance on the major league team. Silva was released and the Cubs ate almost $11.5 million in his salary after the pitcher made negative comments about the organization and struggled in Spring Training. Gorzelanny was traded away before the season even began for three minor leaguers. Thus, Wells and Cashner were given the final two starting jobs, with not much else behind them.
That came back to bite the Cubs in the tail when Wells and Cashner went down with injuries during the first week of the season. The Cubs scrambled to find pitchers to start every fourth and fifth day, shoving relievers like James Russell or veterans well past their prime like Rodrigo Lopez and Doug Davis into service with terrible results. When your starting pitchers are giving up four runs in the first inning, it’s hard for an offensively-challenged-at-times team to come back and even compete for that win. Cashner never came back from injury, but by the time Wells had returned, the Cubs were more than out of the race.
That’s why Mark Buehrle is on my wish list. The 32 year old starting pitcher is now a free agent after playing for the crosstown rival Chicago White Sox since coming to the big leagues in 2000. His list of accomplishments are long (a four-time All-Star, 2005 World Series champion, thrown both a no hitter and a perfect game, as well as three Gold Gloves), but that’s not why he’s on my list.
It’s his durability. Never before in his decade of being a regular starter has Mark Buehrle logged less than 200 innings in a season. (Wells and Cashner averaged 73 innings pitched this year.) Never has he started less than 30 games. Never before has he had a losing season, breaking even in 2003 and 2010, when he still won at least 13 times. That’s the kind of innings eater the Cubs need, especially when there’s so many questions about the rotation going into 2012.
Oh, and his spectacular flip between the legs play on Opening Day 2010 is still the best defensive play I’ve ever seen by a pitcher, pictured above. That just adds to the cool factor. “Mercy!”
Bring outfielder Reed Johnson back, at least for a chance.
Two great moments from Reed’s history with the Cubs: My personal favorite catch of his was a gem in 2009 at Miller Park. The Cubs and Brewers are playing, with the boys in blue up 6 to 2. The bases are loaded and the powerful Prince Fielder steps up to the plate. He sends one deep to right field, where Johnson is patrolling, only to have him scale the wall with his mountain climber cleats and keep the ball in the park. Reed Johnson robbed the Brewers of a tie game, and Fielder of his first career grand slam. It was spectacular, and I get chills watching it literally every time.
The second moment that illustrates Johnson’s value came in 2008 on “throwback day” for the team. The Cubs and Atlanta Braves were wearing uniforms from 1948, and viewers at home got to see how baseball used to be televised since WGN only used one or two cameras and black and white video for the first few innings. It really was a treat to watch, but the best part of the game was in the final at-bat. With the bases loaded and the game tied, the Cubs sent Reed Johnson to the plate. A hit would win the game. When the pitcher’s ball came in a little too close, Johnson didn’t swing or jump out of the way, he took it, a beanball to the leg. The hit-by-pitch forced in the run at third and the Cubs were victorious – one of the only walk off hit-by-pitches I’ve ever seen. It was so exciting, and Reed was fine taking a beanball if it meant a Cubs victory.
Yet, these are just the intangibles he possesses. Reed does, however, have value with the bat. He’s effective against left-handed pitching (.311 batting average, .832 OPS for his career), and not terrible against righties. The Cubs just signed David DeJesus to play right field in 2012. Although Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer said they do not view DeJesus as a platoon player, it wouldn’t hurt to have a bat like Johnson’s on the bench as backup (DeJesus is hitting .264 with a .690 OPS in his career against lefties). The Cubs outfield may be a little more crowded with the addition of DeJesus, but I still think there’s room for Reed, especially with the other backups struggling and big name starters like Alfonso Soriano or Marlon Byrd possibly out the door.
At very least, I hope the Cubs give Reed a chance, whether it be a minor league contract, and invitation to Spring Training, or an actual major league deal.
Add Craig Counsell to the new coaching staff.
After dismissing Mike Quade, the Cubs hired former Brewers coach Dale Sveum as their new manager. Now there’s a rumor going around that Counsell may join the Cubs as a coach. As I noted in my I <3 Bobblehead Days post, Counsell was my favorite Brewer. I’ve seen quotes and comments about him that are nothing but positive, it was like he was a bench coach already this past season on the Brewers. After a dismal 2011, it’s probably safe to say that Counsell’s playing days are over. So why not coach? If Sveum wants him, I’m all for it. Maybe Alfonso Soriano will pick up on Counsell’s old batting stance (right) and perform a little better. Ha, ha. One three more years, guys.
Note: This post was written as a blog assignment for my Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies 201 class: Media Writing. We are to write two posts on a blog. My letter to Santa will be continued soon!