Chicago Baseball Wrap-Up

As 42-year old Jason Giambi destroyed a game-winning home run to left off closer Addison Reed, you could just hear Hawk Harrelson’s voice that he had all but had enough. A tired Hawk softly announced that the game was over before the ball had even landed. Giambi’s game-winning home run came on the heels of an even more debilitating loss just a few days previous when the White Sox managed to enter the 9th inning with a 6-run lead only to see Nate Jones and Reed combine to throw it away.

The White Sox were supposed to take a giant leap forward this year after having a pretty successful opening campaign with Robin Ventura at the helm.  Instead, the Sox will cross the finish line with about 100 losses and finish comfortably in last place in the AL Central. Ken Williams has totally ripped apart his once promising roster for a youth movement that will take years to bare contender-quality fruit. The days of Konerko, Dunn and Rios are over, and more than likely Konerko will finish up his White Sox career this week with an expiring contract.  Dunn still has another year on his contract and will be dead weight with his down year. The White Sox have so many question they could be a biology mid-term.  The players they received in all the money-dumping deals are young and unproven. The farm system is one of the weakest in baseball because the Sox have a sorry legacy of winter spending.

Ken Williams isn’t the GM anymore; we all know who’s running the show down on 35th. The White Sox need to figure out if they’re going to retain the services of Robin Ventura or if they’ll move on from the former All-Star 3B. The pitching staff is the one bright shining part of the team, in particular the SP. Chris Sale has had one of the highest strikeout totals since August 1st, and Jose Quintana is another southpaw that should do the Southsiders some good in the future. The problem is that there’s no conventional righty to stick between those guys to break up the staff. Free Agency is clearly not the solution to the team’s travails. Kenny Williams needs to put the purse away unless it’s to do what the those Northsiders have done – invest in youth and development. The White Sox as currently constituted will be picking either third or fourth in the amateur draft next June. The reason that isn’t set in stone is because the race for draft supremacy in Chicago is still neck and neck with both teams separated by just 2.5 games with the Sox trailing at 95 losses.

The Cubs situation is far more optimistic even at an appalling 93 losses on the year. GM Theo Epstein has decided he’s had enough of the lovable loser tag and is now committed to not only breaking the curse but fielding a perennial powerhouse in the best division in baseball. The NL Central will field three playoff teams this year, and have more than prepared a future Cubs team for the playoffs if they’re in the cards to win the division or make it to the Wild-Card play-in game.

The Cubs finished last year with 99 losses, and although they won’t miss that loss total by much, they won’t duplicate it.  In this I seem to be setting the bar pretty low, but there’s a lot going for the Cubs that aren’t reflected in the win-loss columns.  The Cubs have made many gains with the returns from Garza, Feldman and the good-riddance of Soriano’s contract.  They’ve set themselves up to start really bringing up some of the biggest prospects in baseball next year. One can’t be too surprised if Kris Bryant is playing 3B next year or if Mike Olt is in left or vice versa. Javier Baez will more than likely come up next year and be a part of the team. The Cubs have such a deep positional player pool in its farm system that it makes one think that they could package some of those players to get a front-end starter when the time is right to make a deal.

The starting rotation is currently solid with three starters – Jackson, Sharknado and Wood – who can each handle a 200-inning workload.  Jake Arrieta can be the number-four starter and if Scott Baker returns then you’ve got a set five-man rotation in 2014. The problem with those guys is that there’s no clear ace on the staff. Kevin Gregg was a tremendous mid-season addition but to ask him to assume the closer role next year is iffy at best. Only time will tell how the back end of that bullpen pans out. Pedro Strope should assume eighth-inning duties out of camp next year, but he could very well swap roles with Gregg if he doesn’t return or doesn’t handle himself in the pressure situations of late one-run games.

The other issue is of course “Send em” Sveum who’s definitely got more job security than Robin Ventura, but not by much. Sveum has done a very admirable job in his time in the Cubs dugout and while I don’t see the upper management shaking anything up with such a young developing team, you never know. The Chicago Cubs are unfortunately at the time where if things don’t turnaround markedly next year then Ricketts may start to rethink the whole thing. The Cubs need to chop 15 losses off the books next year and get back to 75+ wins or else things could get ugly on Addison. The Cubs, and more importantly Theo and Jed, know that with the brash moves they made this year the clock is now ticking to see a return.

The moves that have been made by the front office are bold and swift, with the international signings that may not be fruitful for another five years the time is now to star bridging the gap between the Cubs and Pirates who just a few years back were selecting Pedro Alvarez with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Alvarez now has his team headed to at least the Wild-Card game and possibly deeper. For the Cubs the model has to be what the other teams have done in their division. Develop a conveyer belt of interchangeable parts that can replaced under any circumstance.

The St. Louis Cardinals don’t have one player that anyone would need to have on their fantasy team. They’ve got something far more valuable: the ability to field a 40-man roster that complements each other in ways no other team does. The Cardinals last year finished 10 games behind Cincinnati, this year they’re more than likely going to host the NLCS.