The All-Star game is an exhibition wrapped in an identity crisis. The game should be a showcase for the players that fans want to see, without the lords of baseball trying to attach some sort of meaning to the result.
That is what makes the home run derby so much fun. There is no larger meaning. Swing the bat hard, hit the ball far, as many times as you can. This oft-jaded generation of players spills onto the field to watch, to tease their peers, and to enjoy the spectacle.
Within the next two weeks, Major League Baseball could enhance this year’s derby by inviting pitchers to participate. Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants sparked the interest by saying he wanted in, then Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs did, and then so did Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The commissioner’s office is in discussions with teams about what format, if any, might work best.
A pitcher in the derby? A group of pitchers as a tag-team entrant in the derby, with each pitcher limited to one round so as to minimize the risk of injury? A one-round derby, just for pitchers, as a kind of opening act?
There was a consensus in the Dodgers clubhouse on how pitchers should be included.
“Bumgarner, and that’s it,” Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson said.
“He has the swing to win the home run derby,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. “I’d love to see him compete against the position players. That would be an awesome addition to the event.”
Players gawk at Bumgarner’s batting practice sessions, which come complete with shots into the upper deck. He has the build – “ox-strong, farm-bred,” Anderson said – to endure dozens of swings.
“He’s the only one I think could realistically compete,” Anderson said, “based on what I’ve seen him do against the best pitcher in baseball.”
Bumgarner is the only player to hit a home run off Clayton Kershaw this season and last.
Kershaw said he had no interest in participating in a pitchers’ derby.
“I’d like to see the hitters do it,” he said.
He thought back to outfielder Matt Kemp, who hit two home runs in the derby one year and one the next, and to outfielder Yasiel Puig, who failed to hit any.
“It’s not that easy,” Kershaw said.
Anderson thought the idea of a separate derby for pitchers – Bumgarner against, say, Arrieta and Wainwright and Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon – was borderline ridiculous.
“What are we going to do next? Punt, pass and kick? A piggyback race?” Anderson said.
“You can only do so much. You get pitchers to do things they aren’t accustomed to doing and, as soon as a pitcher goes down, everybody will have their heads in their hands, saying, ‘What were we thinking?’ ”
Speaking of which: The home team will bat first in this year’s All-Star game.
With a National League team playing host to the All-Star game in three consecutive years – Cincinnati 2015, San Diego 2016, Miami 2017 – MLB decided it would be only fair for the American League to get at least one chance to bat last. After all, the winning league in the All-Star game is awarded home-field advantage in the World Series.
That’s the kind of folly you get when you insist that the All-Star game count for something. It might be silly for three or four pitchers to compete in a home run derby of their own, but this is patently absurd: “Leading off the bottom of the first inning, for the visiting American League All-Star team, Mike Trout!”
Bumgarner or not, the most scenic home run derby in San Diego this year takes place Monday, the day before the California League vs. Carolina League All-Star game.
Four sluggers from each league will board the USS Midway, a retired aircraft carrier, and swing away, launching balls into San Diego Bay. Instead of hitting the ball over an outfield wall, the sluggers will take aim at a series of buoys some 350 feet away, according to Tyler Zickel, spokesman for the host Lake Elsinore Storm.
Baseballs sink into the bay in less than two minutes, so they will be retrieved promptly, by an armada of volunteers on paddleboards, jet skis and kayaks.
That cliche that the best trades sometimes are the ones you do not make? In the case of the Angels, absolutely not true.
The Angels arranged a three-way trade last winter in which they would have gotten outfielder Michael Saunders, the Toronto Blue Jays would have gotten outfielder Jay Bruce and the Cincinnati Reds would have gotten prospects. The Reds had concerns over medical reports on the prospects and backed out of the deal.
Saunders, who would have played left field for the Angels, is batting .314 with 15 home runs through Friday’s games. He has a .999 OPS, a figure that ranks second in the American League, behind David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox.
The Angels’ left fielders are batting .210 with three home runs and a .567 OPS. No other team’s left fielders have such a low OPS. In fact, of the 169 major leaguers qualifying for the batting title as of Friday, only one has a lower OPS – Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, at .552.
The week dawns with a compelling matchup at Dodger Stadium, with Kershaw scheduled to face Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg on Monday.
Kershaw and Strasburg entered the weekend as two of the National League’s four 10-game winners joining Arrieta and Johnny Cueto of the Giants.
Kershaw would have been the premier pitcher available in free agency two winters ago, at age 26. Strasburg would have been the premier pitcher available this winter, at age 28. Each passed up free agency to sign a new deal with his current team, and the two contracts could be worth a combined $390 million.
That is a lot of money on one pitching mound Monday. But Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will be eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, at age 26. How much might he get? Let’s just say that $390 million -- the combined contracts of Kershaw and Strasburg – is where the bidding figures to start.
If Kershaw opts out of his Dodgers contract, he and Harper could be on the market at the same time, after the 2018 season. So could Jose Fernandez, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and David Price. Gentlemen, start your checkbooks.
In the department of rare promotions, the Dodgers will give away a bobblehead doll depicting the visiting manager.
That will happen Tuesday; the Nationals’ manager is former Dodgers star Dusty Baker.
Baker was one of five future major league managers on the Dodgers’ 1981 World Series championship team, along with Mike Scioscia, Davey Lopes, Ron Roenicke and Bill Russell. The team also included a future general manager: Dave Stewart.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin