by Tom DeMichael
So…we broke out the hats and hooters and all that stuff in November. The thrill – and rare, RARE, celebration of a World Series win for the Chicago Cubs – stayed with us right through the end of the year.
But, now – it’s 2017. The meters are reset to “zero” and nothing is a given. Yeah, it was a great feeling, but that was yesterday. What’s next on the docket for both sides of town?
Who Knows About the Pale Hose?
Despite angry calls from many rabid fans to bring in a new architect and contractor, Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn remain in command of the White Sox’ destiny. So they tore down the house, sending ace pitcher Chris Sale and top-notch outfielder Adam Eaton packing. In exchange, they received a bunch of promising prospects, with the hopes that the batter will set into a glorious and well-deserved just dessert.
Still, just whose bat will provide offensive protection for thumper Jose Abreu in the lineup? Yes, Todd Frazier has plenty of power – as long as he gives up the Adam Dunn impersonation. Avisail Garcia is still young at only 25. But who will patrol center field? Youngster and local boy Charles Tilson is considered to be the 2017 starter – but he’s totally untested at the major league level.
Actually, the infield looks OK – along with Frazier and Abreu at the corners, Tim Anderson looks to build on a decent rookie season and there’s always room for defensive improvement. Brett Lawrie should be healthy and Tyler Saladino comes off the bench to cover any infield position. Top prospect and Sale acquisition, Cuban second-sacker Yoan Moncada, is a few years off.
There’s still a lot of talk about also moving Jose Quintana, which can only return more valuable young talent. But, if he’s gone, then the rotation will be hurting. Carlos Rodon can do a lot better than last year and (quietly, now) James Shields couldn’t get any worse. The Sox picked up free agent lefty Derek Holland, whose 16-5 days with the 2011 Texas Rangers may only be a pleasant memory. David Robertson still closes (for the time being,) but getting to him may be a bumpy ride.
The reacquiring of veteran catcher Geovany Soto should go far in mentoring young Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith (ala Miguel Montero) behind the plate. The former NL Rookie of the Year has never returned to his great 2008 season form, but his value may be higher in the clubhouse than on the diamond.
The White Sox do promise to make a solid effort under the direction of everyone’s favorite uncle, Rick Renteria. He certainly has a lot to prove to this city. But, unless he swings a bat and flashes the leather, one can only expect so much from Uncle Rick.
With spring training still five weeks in the future, predicting where the Sox will end up in 2017 is pure folly at this point. They would have to match up against division teams like the Indians and Tigers – which they probably aren’t yet up to.
What About the Friendly Confines?
On the other side of town, it’s important to remember that several of the key people who helped the Cubs get to the Promised Land in 2017 are now gone. But the depth of the team and wheeling-dealing of top execs Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer assures fans that they don’t expect to stand pat.
Leadoff phenom Dexter Fowler moved on to the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman is back with the Yankees (just as well, as skipper Joe Maddon – under all good intentions – might have Chapman’s overused left arm down to his socks by now.) Lefty pitcher Travis Wood may re-sign, or search for a better pair of shirt sleeves elsewhere. Catcher and leader David “Grampa” Ross has retired.
Outfielder Jorge Soler may finally show his potential in Kansas City, as the Cubs acquired closer Wade Davis in exchange for the Cuban. Jon Jay brings solid defense to the team, sharing center field with the exciting Albert Almora, Jr. And, it’s hoped that Jason Heyward’s hard work in the batting cage this winter will return him to the offensive threat he can be.
Along with Davis, the Cubs bullpen have the additions of righty Koji Uehara and lefty Brian Duensing. The starting pitching is still solid, with left-handed Mike Montgomery filling in for departed Jason Hammel.
And, then we can hope to have Schwarber for the entire year.
Still, as stated at the outset – nothing is a given. Injuries are a constant unknown. Heyward could continue his funk, with others following suit. But one thing is sure. The attitude and tenets that pervade the club – from the lowest minor leagues to the Show – won’t tolerate mediocrity or resting on last year’s laurels.
Bottom line: If you love baseball, you gotta love 2017 – on both sides of town.