The Current State of Chicago Baseball
Baseball in Chicago has occupied an incredibly large portion of every spring, summer, and much of the fall every year for the past 21 years or so. Whether it be watching or listening to whichever games are on, playing my own games, or coaching for the past 8 years, it has probably qualified as an obsession. Fellow Chicagoans, I know I’m not alone, and this is the first time both the Cubs and White Sox have been in the playoffs since 1906. This could be cause for excitement, or the fact that they both got blown right out of the playoffs could cause some serious dismay. This article isn’t designed to take us in either direction, and this is also not intended to be slanted towards my preferred team, the White Sox. It is just an analysis of Chicago baseball as I see it.
But First: The Fans
I’ve engaged in it myself, as has just about every serious fan of baseball in the city of Chicago. Sniping back and forth… It’s pointless, and I just don’t care to hear it anymore. For some, it is fun, but the really obnoxious aspects of the back and forth is the talk about personal qualities of the other team’s fan base. There are all kinds of insults that each side throws back and forth, and we all know that there are plenty of truths and plenty of falsehoods in every stereotype. Most of us know plenty of good, intelligent people who root for both sides of town. Why am I hitting this point right now?
Here is why:
All I am hearing from the media the past two days is how White Sox fans are crowing about how the White Sox made it farther than the Cubs. There may have been a few idiots who have done this, but most of what I have heard said has been a result of a reporter asking a question like, “How do you feel knowing that at least the Sox made it farther than the Cubs?” I believe most of the time wasting bickering is the fault of the media, or at least the fault of the fans for not ignoring the stupid things that the media says to inflame feelings between fan bases.
Anyway, I think it is great that both teams have been receiving such great support over the past handful of years. I love baseball, I love Chicago, and it seems that the combination of the two is healthy, despite the 1-6 record in the opening round of the playoffs this year. I’ll try to hit the positives, and also the things I think need to change in order for each team to improve.
Next: The Cubs
The Good News:
*Carlos Marmol looked to be every bit the exceptional pitcher he was already believed to be aside from a one or two week stint in the middle of the year. He will hopefully be a strong building block for years to come.
*Kerry Wood made it through a season in the closer role basically staying healthy, and doing a solid job.
*Geovany Soto is a tremendous building block to have, and having a strong young player to build around behind the plate is good news for any team.
*Ryan Theriot, rather than showing himself as a fluke, improved upon his previous year in many ways.
*If the Cubs see fit to make Micah Hoffpauir a regular part of their lineup, he may turn up huge for them. He strikes out too much, but I see very good things for him as a young piece of the Cubs’ puzzle.
*The general good news should be that, barring substantial injuries to their starting pitching staff, the Cubs should have a good shot to repeat as division champs, especially if the Brewers lose their two aces to free agency.
The Needed Changes:
*I really do not want to sound like a baseball geezer who moans and groans about the way the game should be played, or how the game used to be played. I was still playing in college 5 years ago, and I still play now, so I shouldn’t sound like that. I have to go down this path while addressing the Cubs though. At least one of the lazy, selfish players has to go, but probably won’t. If I were the general manager of the Cubs I would be actively seeking a trade partner for Alfonso Soriano. Cubs fans, there was a reason that the Yankees wanted Soriano out of New York after the 2002 postseason. He did well in the 2003 postseason, but I think it is safe to say he hasn’t done so well in the past two postseasons. I would love to suggest getting some value in return for Aramis Ramirez and his 7 hits in 41 postseason at-bats, but he is far too good of a run producer during the regular season. Many Cubs fans have discussed finding a way to lose Derrek Lee also, but I personally still think he’s a quality player at the plate and in the field. He is not what he was a few years ago, but if the Cubs can get Lee out of the 3 hole, and Soriano out of the leadoff role, they should still be happy to have Derrek.
*The Cubs need a big left-handed bat for the playoffs, but are unlikely to be able to get one without making significant lineup changes.
*The Cubs need a left-hander in the bullpen besides Neal Cotts, unless they plan on using Sean Marshall as a full time reliever. Cotts may not be the answer at all, but he is definitely not the sole answer.
*Fukudome either needs to have a complete turn-around, or the Cubs need to find a buyer who feels like rolling the dice on him. A guy who is set to make $41 million over the next three years has been banished to the bench…
And Now: The White Sox
The Good News:
*The young core that has formed this year is reason for great hope. Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd all had exceptional years, and all were born in ’81 or later. Clayton Richard also had a few outings near the end of the season that have to open the door to being a part of the pitching staff in ’09. Throw in the possibility of Chris Getz, the young second baseman, and a couple of the young arms that started to show up this year, this team soon may not be as old as it has been.
*As much as the slugging middle of the order that can’t run a lick is a huge area of concern, in addition to the young core that has started to form, there will still be some serious thump left in all likelihood. If Konerko, Dye, Thome, and Griffey are all still somehow in the lineup together in 2009, the White Sox will have four 300 home run hitters in the same starting lineup (as soon as Konerko and Dye each hit 2). There is the obvious down side of this too though…
The Needed Changes:
*Orlando Cabrera is going to be departing, and while he is a solid player, I believe this will be a positive for the White Sox as Alexei Ramirez will move to shortstop. Second base will hopefully be filled by a player (perhaps Chris Getz) who can hit in the top of the order and has a better attitude.
*Javier Vazquez needs to throw as few important innings as possible, if he is still a member of the team at all. I have no problem with Vazquez in a White Sox uniform, so long as he is serving as the #5 starter. He may be overpaid as a back of the rotation starter, but he would also be a quality #5.
*The Sox obviously need to get faster at one or two positions minimum.
*The Sox need to head into 2009 with a solidified answer at third base. If Joe Crede’s health is still in question, and Josh Fields’ ability is still in question, there must be another every day option. While Juan Uribe would be an excellent player to keep on as a utility infield backup, he should not be the starting third baseman either.
As the Chicago baseball season ends a few weeks too early, I am looking forward to the upcoming offseason. My hope for 2009 is that both teams are just as relevant in September as they were in 2008, because I love Chicago baseball. Go White Sox, and good luck Cubs.