There came a point for all of us--maybe at the first sight of Jar Jar Binks, maybe at the nails-on-the-chalkboard "romantic" dialogue between Anakin and Amidala, or maybe, if you're a diehard believer, at that final shout of "Noooooooooooooooo!"--but in any case, at some point, you were forced to admit to yourself that no matter how much you admired the vision that George Lucas had for his Star Wars franchise, the execution just isn't going to match the vision.
Ordinarily, I'd be walking on cloud nine after a five-game winning streak, including sweep of the Yankees, but the news of the Rich Harden injury, punctuated by Will Carroll reporting that Tommy John surgery now increasingly likely, has left me screaming "Nooooooooooooo!" to myself all weekend. The thought of Harden missing most of this year and next still haunts me.
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Whether constructing a work of art or a baseball team, there are many paths to excellence. Sometimes, excellence arises from combining a bunch of pieces that work perfectly together. Sometimes, you stumble upon one or two of such quality that other details can be flawed, and it's still excellent. And then there's the rare moments of transcendence where you combine one or two great pieces with their perfect complements.
The original Star Wars films worked pretty well because they had three excellent things: a great villain in Darth Vader, a great actor in Harrison Ford who took a bunch of corny lines and made them sound plausible, and an interesting universe for the characters to inhabit. We barely noticed the flaws with the films because these three excellent things carried us past them.
But the prequels had neither the villain nor the actor, and suddenly all the flaws started sticking out like sore thumbs. In hindsight, Lucas needed to do one of two things:
Use the stars-and-scrubs formula again
You need a great bad guy. In the prequels, Anakin isn't bad yet and the Emperor isn't really revealed as the bad guy until the third film. Perhaps you show the Emperor being evil right from the start.
You let a great actor act. Let Samuel L. Jackson be Samuel L. Jackson. I want Jules Winnfield as a Jedi, not some cardboard cutout called Mace Windu.
Used a fully balanced attack
Without stars to cover for the flaws in the details, you have to fix all the flaws in the details. You may not have any pieces that stand out, but you need every piece to fit together right, or the whole thing falls apart.
No overly convoluted plots. No wooden dialogue. No annoying characters.
Or...maybe...both? Add the perfect complements to a few great pieces, and build something timeless.
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Losing Harden depresses me for this reason: he's the only eye-popping, shake-your-head-in-disbelief, can't-take-your-eyes-off-him dominant talent in the whole A's organization. He's the only Darth Vader/Han Solo the A's have, a guy who can make up for the flaws in the rest of the story. There's no one else on the major league roster, and no one in the minor league pipeline, who has this quality. Everyone else just does their part to move the plot along, some better than others, of course. But Rich Harden is a plot by himself.
The A's hoped that maybe Eric Chavez would be such a player, or Bobby Crosby, but it should be clear that neither of them is that sort of player. They're both a level below that: truly good, not truly great.
Losing Harden limits the A's options. There's no chance of transcendence, where a great player is complemented by a great balanced attack around him. You can't do the stars-and-scrubs approach, because without him, there's no big star.
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That leaves two choices: find yerself another dominant player, or build yerself a flawless team.
I think it's possible, that when all these injured players get back and hit their stride, that the A's might have this kind of balanced, flawless team, with good, solid players at every position. But given what's happened so far this year with all the slumps and injuries, no one can be blamed for being skeptical that this will come to fruition.
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I need some kind of silver lining in this dark cloud to make me feel better. And that's where the Barry Zito conundrum comes in.
This is Zito's last year. If the A's are going to win this year, without Harden, they're going to need Zito.
However, Zito is also the A's best trading chip if they want to land another dominant player. To trade or not to trade, that is the question.
I chatted with Bryan Smith earlier this week, and he said the 2007 draft class looks "awesome". That helps give Billy Beane a little leverage in any possible trade, because the two draft picks the A's would get in the upcoming draft is worth more than picks in a weak draft. He can afford to set a high price for Zito.
If his price isn't met, and Zito can't land the A's their next dominant player, Beane will just take his chances: that this team will be good enough with Zito to compete for a title in 2006, and that the those extra picks in that awesome draft class will bring them the kind of dominant player or perfect puzzle pieces they need to keep competing in the future. Either way, it's good.