Is There Magic In Millar?

In 2004, it had been 86 years since the last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. A near collapse, a stolen base, a miracle comeback and a defeated curse later and the Boston Red Sox were World Champions for the first time since 1918.  

The baseball world was turned upside down.

Fans across the country couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.  Red Sox fans celebrated in a mixture of absolute euphoria and a foggy haze of this world around them they no longer recognized.  The Boston Red Sox had finally won the World Series.
There were few Red Sox fans alive in 2004 who were around to see the team win in 1918 (the year they defeated, guess who?  The Chicago Cubs). That’s how long it had been since the club had won it all. Yet, there their team was on the field. The team’s closer running a cleanly fielded, lively ground ball to the first base side of the infield and gently tossing the baseball through the air like it were a water balloon toss competition on Field Day.  You’ve never seen a grown man toss a baseball with more grace and more caution than in that moment.  The first baseman corralled it in his glove and held on for dear life, to the point where the organization had to fight in order to get the ball back long afterwards.  The Red Sox were on top of the baseball world.  Something no one in February of 2004 could have ever guessed would turn out to be that particular team’s ultimate destiny.  
And right in the center of it all?  The first baseman the Chicago Cubs signed to a minor league contract today, Kevin Millar.
Every piece of that 2004 Red Sox team was a small piece of the puzzle in what resulted in one of the most memorable baseball seasons of all time.  Imagine if a little bit of magic existing in Kevin Millar’s piece were to carry over to this Cubs team in 2010.  How amazing would that be?  As crazy at that may sound, some people just have that thing.  That thing that makes believers out of their teammates and fans.  That thing that makes a group guys believe they can be, and ultimately turn themselves into winners.  What if Millar is that kind of guy?
Now, Xavier Nady has also been added to the Cubs roster.  With his second Tommy John surgery occuring last year, I hardly expect a very memorable season from him although he serves as a decent option as a fourth outfielder.  A low-risk platoon member for starting right fielder Kosuke Fukudome.  Xavier Nady, however, has never truly contributed to a winning ball club.  His Yankees of ’09 won the World Series but Nady went down and out with no real production to help take home the trophy by going down in mid-April.  He might bring a great attitude to the clubhouse (so says his ex-teammates, managers, etc) however he hasn’t proven to be a winner in his time with the Pirates, Mets or Padres.  I believe the Cubs will get exactly what they expect out of Nady and nowhere near what they hope.
With Millar, however, I plead to the front office, not to overlook the intangibles.  Here is a guy who was part of one of the most historic years/teams in the history of the game.  A season that featured a Boston team so blessed with charisma, character and chemistry, they loved referring to themselves as Idiots and it spread throughout the media like wildfire.  It drove them to be great.  To ‘Cowboy Up’.  To believe. 
What if Millar turns out to be one of those necessary intangibles you need to, as Eddie Vedder so eloquently puts it in his tribute song to the Cubs, go ‘all the way’?  What if one of the most important pieces of the puzzle for 2010 is merely signed to a minor league contract and no one even realizes what he could truly be worth to this squad.  Here’s to hoping that if that’s the case that it only lasts for the next couple of months ending with Millar serving up a magical Spring Training (as magical as a successful Spring Training can be, that is) finding himself on the big league roster come April 5th against the Braves in Atlanta. 
Don’t laugh.  It may not be as much of a long shot as it sounds.
When you take a look at his twelve year career you’ll see some very Cub appropriate milestones and magical moments.  Dave Roberts stole the base that kept the Red Sox alive in the 2004 ALCS allowing the Sox to come back from down three games to none against the Yankees.  Who did he come in to pinch run for?  Kevin Millar.  Along with the efforts of some of the best players in the game, he helped a storied franchise break a curse and win a long awaited championship.  That curse part sound familiar?  In his second season playing in the major leagues he hit the first home run of his career.  Where, you ask?  Wrigley Field.  How, you ask?  An inside-the-park home run.  Rare.  Special.  Some may say…magical. Cubs baseball is in his blood.  His uncle, Wayne Nordhagen, played for the team in 1983.   Also, without even suiting up in Cubs pinstripes the front office has shown a long time belief in his abilities considering Gary Hughes, the Cubs special assistant to the general manager signed Millar to his first contract with Florida back in 1998.  
Starting out on the right foot, Millar considers Dempster to be a great friend and has stated that he has a lot of friends on the team. I believe that counts for a lot in keeping things loose and fun through a challenging and tumultuous season.  It could turn out to be a key ‘intangible’ that Millar could bring to the Cubs in 2010, helping push this team over the proverbial hump.  
I realize that there are only so many spots on a major league roster and there may not be room for Millar right away.  But the rate this team has seen itself hitting the DL in recent years proves that an opportunity may arise and Millar may find himself with the Cubs at Wrigley.  Depending on how things go from there will determine whether he gets to stay and how much of that intangible magic he actually ends up bringing to the team.  I also realize this may sound crazy, it’s not like we signed Pujols here.  However, crazy seems to be what people call unbelievable turns of events that no one ever saw coming.  
Piniella, Hendry…please be the guys that say “What do you mean crazy?  I knew it all along”, when the calendar flips to November this year.  Keep an eye on Millar this off-season and really give him a shot despite having Lee, Tracy and Hoffpauir already lined up to contribute at first.  
You may just have more than meets the eye in Kevin Millar.  And I’m going to say it again here, too.  In addition to Millar’s potential in contributing a second long standing curse/streak, it wouldn’t hurt to give Pedro Martinez a shot at helping bring that curse breaking magic to Wrigley in 2010 either.  What’s the worst that happens?  We don’t become World Champions in 2010?  I think we’ve proven we’ll get over that and show up again ‘next year’.  But, why not try something new?  The game has seen some strange things happen.  And one of the most amazing resulted in a championship with great contributions from Kevin Millar…and of course, Pedro.  (I’m just saying).  
Go Cubs Go!
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for PROSE LOGO2.jpg

‘Lil’ Worried

Anyone else concerned about Ted Lilly?

Our most consistent pitcher over the past few years has only begun throwing lightly after having arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder two months ago.  Hendry mentioned at the Cubs Convention today that Lilly is expected to be back by the third week of the regular season putting him on the mound end of April/first week of May.  Now, he’d only miss about four or five starts in that case, but I don’t know.  
I already don’t feel super confident in our starting rotation.  Not the way I did in ’07 and ’08.  Zambrano, Lilly, Dempster, Harden and Hill.  All healthy, on paper that just sounds solid.  Even when we were going into the first season of Dempster as a starter and Wood as our closer, it just felt like a decent experiment that would lead to a positive outcome.  Cut to ’10…Big Z, Dempster, Wells…Lilly after surgery and a number five guy that is completely up in the air.  
The organization is apparently interested in Contreras and going to take a look at Sheets.  I think Sheets will have an average season but his asking price is going to be too high for the Cubs budget and honestly, too high for what teams will get out of Sheets.  This isn’t Ben Sheets a couple of years ago.  This is Ben Sheets now.  And Contreras?  Can we rely on him to be a decent stop gap until Lilly is back?  Maybe?  And what about when Lilly comes back?  How will he perform?  Will he give us the kind of season we need out of Lilly in order to compete in the NL Central?  Without Lilly’s all-star worthy campaign and Lee’s unbelievable (out of nowhere) turn around in 2009, we would have finished in third or fourth place in the Central easily.  And now we have Lilly, arguably best as our number two pitcher, coming back from surgery on his pitching shoulder?  Yikes.  I don’t know.  Honestly, I’m a little worried.
One name I haven’t really heard thrown around a whole lot as an option in 2010 as a number four or five guy is Pedro Martinez.  He was phenomenal in the couple months that he gave the Phillies at the end of last season, including the playoffs.  I think he’s healthier and less risky than Sheets, has done more than Contreras and is a known warrior.  He comes to play every game he’s listed as the starting pitcher for the day and is amazing in the clubhouse.  He’s respected all over baseball and would add a lot to the chemistry and atmosphere among the ball club at Wrigley if brought over to the Cubs.  I was at Opening Day at Shea in 2005, Pedro’s first year with the Mets.  The place went insane when he was introduced.  I know this is five years later and he has a few seasons behind him on his downside, heading towards the end of his career.  However, there is just something about the fight in Pedro Martinez and what he brings that I believe is an option Hendry should be seriously considering.  Not sure where the Phillies stand regarding bringing Pedro back, but if they don’t want him, Hendry should make a call and an offer.  I just feel like Z, Demp, Lilly, Wells and Pedro would be a solid 1-5 and if any of them were to go down to injury or end up unable to perform for an expected stretch of time we still have significant five spot options already signed to wear Cub pinstripes in 2010.  
Something to think about.  I don’t know Contreras is the answer.  Not expecting Sheets.  Would be thrilled at the roll of the dice with Pedro.  Just a little worried about the rotation is all.  And by little, I mean very.  Anyone else?
Go Cubs Go!
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for PROSE LOGO2.jpg