Pitchers and catchers have reported and the occasional position player may find his way to the spring training complex for the Cubs or Sox, but the games don’t start for another few weeks. This gives us plenty of time to debate which team will find themselves with more W’s at the end of the season. Both the North side and the South side are bracing for a cold summer at the ballpark, but one of these two teams will at least win something at the end of the season– best baseball team in Chicago.
The Cubs have FINALLY undergone rebuilding mode after years of high payroll teams that ended with either a one-and-done playoffs series or finished sub-.500. Meanwhile, the White Sox are trying to keep intact the core that showed so much promise but ended with poor results last year. Both tactics figure to push these two teams down in the rankings, especially in the AL Central, where the Detroit Tigers are doing their best NY Yankees impression.
For the Cubbies- their hope rides on the fact that the new found depth of starting pitching, combined with the expected growth of Starlin Castro, will give the Cubs some sort of formidable core. But we have seen time and time again that one hitter in a lineup cannot carry a team, especially when that hitter is a slap hitting shortstop in his third year in the majors. While some fans will point to David DeJesus and Marlon Byrd and claim them to be his supporting cast, I simply say… no. If DeJesus and Byrd were in their early 20’s, then there would be room for optimism, but these guys are past their peaks and must now rely on knowledge of the game and a good eye at the plate, rather than any physical gifts they may have had at one point in their careers. Returning to the starting rotation, I applaud Theo Epstein on making this his number one priority this off-season. If I had to see Casey Coleman or James Russell start one more game…. oooo I would have lost it. While Randy Wells was at times the Cubs number three starter last year, he is now being pushed all the way down to six with the additions of Chris Volstad, Travis Wood and Paul Maholm. Now, there will be a battle between Andy Sonnanstine, Jeff Samardzija, Coleman and Wells just to stay relevant and possibly be a long reliever.
For the Sox- They lost Carlos Quentin, Sergio Santos, and Mark Buehrle, which will have a marginal ripple effect throughout the roster. However, a lot of pieces remain from one of the most disappointing teams in MLB history. Adam Dunn returns for a second year on the south side and is looking to improve, which shouldn’t be too hard to do. Alex Rios comes in after a down year in 2011. Finally, Gordon Beckham is back at second base despite two years of nothing better then mediocrity after such a promising start to his career. So can this team fair better than their 2011 version? To me, yes, but it depends on a few variables. One- Jake Peavy needs to throw at least 150 innings this year. Two- Dunn, Rios and Beckham need to all improve on their averages. Three- the players need to buy into whatever new manager Robin Ventura is selling. If they can do that, they will do fairly well in 2012.
So who will be better in 2012? The White Sox. But don’t gloat Sox fans, because your farm system is as ugly as Dunn’s 2011 stat line, and Paul Konerko is going to decline sometime in the next three years. Meanwhile, the Cubs are on the up slope. Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson and Starlin Castro should be able to develop and help the Cubs make a resurgence in the next 2-4 years.
Either way- 2012 looks like it might shape up to be the worst baseball year in Chicago since, well, last year. Sorry baseball fans.