Ahh, Spring –

cst_0318

When a Young Person’s Thoughts Turn to…Gloves, and Bats, and Other Things –

by Tom DeMichael

Despite the logjam of free agents who remain unsigned, baseball teams are starting their annual ritual of spring training in areas of Arizona and Florida. For Chicago, that includes…

South Side Sox

In the midst of their major rebuilding project, the White Sox made their shrewdest move by signing Dave Duncan as a pitching consultant. The 72-year-old former catcher was Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa’s right-hand man in 1983 when the Sox won the AL Central Division. In this second time around the block, expect Duncan to provide an extra set of eyes (and a boat-load of experience) in supporting the team’s young starting rotation and bullpen.

Of those starters, the team is hoping for veteran James Shields to make some sort of return to his former ability (yeah, and I’m hoping for a callback from Jennifer Aniston.) Otherwise, young bucks like Lucas Giolito (3-3 in seven starts last year, with an ERA of 2.34 and a WHIP of just .949,) Reynaldo Lopez (a similar 3-3 in eight starts in ’17,) and Carson Fulmer (3-1 in just five starts last year,) will be under the microscope to pick up where they left off. Dylan Covey, going 0-7 with a 7.71 ERA last year, will be hard pressed to make this year’s roster.

There’s plenty of excitement over righty Michael Kopech, but at only 21 years of age and just three games at the AAA level, it’s more likely he’ll make the Show in 2019.

In the bullpen, 34-year-old Joakim Soria will be counted on to close, as he once did with success for the Royals. Nearly a decade ago, the right-hander picked up as many as 42 and 43 saves in KC. But trades have taken names like Robertson, Kahnle, and Jennings elsewhere.

Veteran Nate Jones – fresh from elbow surgery – would like to show up in 65 to 70 games like he has in the past for the Sox. But Juan Minaya will have to improve on his career 4.50 ERA. Lefty Luis Avilan – traded from the Dodgers in January – comes to town with a sub-3.00 mark in earned run average.

Still, there’s much to be hopeful for – on the mound – at 35th and Shields in 2018.

North Side Cubs

The continuing juggernaut known as the Chicago Cubs filled significant deficiencies in their desire to return to the Fall Classic. With Arrieta gone to free agency and Lackey off to find the haircut of retirement, Mssrs Epstein and Hoyer were pressed to find suitable replacements. What’s more, a sometimes-iffy bullpen in 2017 needed additional scrutiny.

Moving quickly, righty starter Tyler Chatwood was signed as a No. 5 starter. Seemingly recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2014, Chatwood showed signs of being a solid starter as a Colorado Rockie, with records of 8-5 and 12-9, and ERAs of 3.15 and 3.87, in 2013 and 2016, respectively. It should be interesting to see how Tyler will pitch without having to wear the requisite Coors Field crash helmet and flak jacket.

As for relievers, Epstein and Hoyer inked righty Brandon Morrow, in anticipation (rightly) of losing last year’s closer, Wade Davis. With the Dodgers last year, Morrow proved to be a thorn in the Cubs’ side during the playoffs. He faced them in all four games, posting a non-existent ERA (assuming 0.00 to be invisible) and microscopic WHIP of .429. The Cubs front office heeded the old adage – If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em (or, have ’em join you, or…whatever.) Morrow saved sixteen games over two years with the Mariners – back when POTUS Obama first took office. Can he still save? The team hopes so.

If not, free agent Steve Cishek might be able to fill the bill. He spent three years closing for the Miami Marlins, with save totals of 15, 34, and 39 between 2012 and 2014. The right-hander also saved 25 for the Seattle Mariners in 2016. Also, Brian Duensing resigned, with Strop, Edwards Jr., Grimm, and Wilson as returning vets from last year. Solid lefty Mike Montgomery seems destined for the role of swing man, even though he has earned better than that.

Not content with just signing Tyler Chatwood, Theo Epstein proved the suggestions of owner collusion to be a fallacy by winning the Nippon sweepstakes AKA Yu Darvish just days before spring training opened. Ignoring a subpar (read: 21.60 ERA) World Series with the Dodgers, the Cubs expect the righty to give something akin to his days with the Nippon Ham Fighters (never knew pork could hit,) where he posted a five-year run that averaged an ERA of 1.73 and 15 wins. With a dizzying array of six pitches, there’s much speculation as to what appendage catcher Willson Contreras will use when he runs out of fingers.

The Cubs claim the fire in their belly has returned after a struggle to make the playoffs in 2017. If Darvish fails to deliver, this town will know what everyone’s always feared.

There’ll never be another Yu.

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