Could offseason moves finally blow good baseball fortune to the Windy City?
By Kyle Magin
History is pretty relative in Chicago baseball.
106 seasons began and ended since the Cubs last won a world series.
Before their 2005 World Series, 88 seasons elapsed since the White Sox raised a banner on the South Side.
So, considering it’s been six years since both teams made a playoff appearance (they’ve only got 27 between them in 250ish years of combined baseball), the wait for postseason play on the western shore of Lake Michigan doesn’t seem like that big a deal.
But, both teams are making it an excruciating wait. The fact that they both made moves to end the streak in the last two months is nearly cosmic.
Since we last saw the Cubbies in October they’ve finished dead last in five of six seasons, watched Carlos Zambrano devolve from Cy Young contender into derailed fun house ride, observed as Jeff Samardzija develop bad blood with a new front office and lose nearly every game he pitched in last year despite being arguably the best pitcher in the first half and found out about Starlin Castro’s penchant for popping caps in clubs across the Dominican Republic.
Theo Epstein took an arsonist’s approach to rebuilding the organization after he was hired as president in 2011—that’s how you got back-to-back 101 and 96 loss seasons in 2012 and 2013.
That things have been slightly better on the South Side over that same time period despite the fact the team has finished 30 and 17 games behind in the division over the past two years is probably telling.
GMs Kenny Williams and his successor Rick Kahn held onto the title team for too long after 2005 then dismantled it in a hurry without a lot of thought to the next roster. Certified young stars like pitcher Chris Sale and first baseman Jose Abreu have watched while an outfield including Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza proved themselves hopeless illiterates at the art of reading fly balls.
The team paid, in bizarrely unquestioned and un-criticized fashion given the size of the market, a pointless and terrible contract when it signed Adam Dunn in 2010 to fart through the last four seasons at a .732 OPS. For comparison’s sake, the Rays and Braves have received roughly the same output from BJ Upton (the ‘bad’ Upton in any lineup including him, model Kate and brother Justin) over the same time, got a worthwhile defender and paid $5 million less per year for the trouble.
A few moves does not all this ineptitude wash away, but both Chicago clubs do appear to be headed in the right direction. Joe Madden signed on to manage the north siders. It was sort of sad to see Dale Sveum go, but to be fair, dude was complicit in 195 combined losses over the last two seasons.
Expecting him to be fresh for a turnaround is tantamount to expecting Muhammad Ali to hold court in Jenga. Madden is a proven winner who keeps young clubs loose—exactly what the perennially-pressured Cubbies need. Epstein also reunited with John Lester and Billy Beane returned rent-a-pitcher Jason Hammel after a pointless half-season in Oakland. The Cubs suddenly have three front-line pitchers (Lester, Hammel, Jake Arrieta), a fresh-breath manager and the fruits of Epstein’s farm system beginning to bear. .500 isn’t out of the question, and more than that is within spitting distance.
The White Sox looked remarkably competent when they signed Zach Duke and Nate Robertson for a bullpen that probably cost the team 5-10 games last year. They looked downright bullish when they added Samardzija—whose 16 game half-season with the Athletics represented the longest stretch of his life he played more than 60 miles from his Valparaiso, Indiana hometown.
Additions like Melky Cabrera added a little pop to the lineup and with the Detroit Tigers aging, and Kansas City a few streaks away from not making the playoffs, the Sox have to be thought of as an outside contender heading into the season.
Recognizing the Windy City’s clubs’ pickups as anything special may seem a bit like giving a 4-year-old daps for not shitting himself. Normal clubs operate this way all the time.
But, when you’ve been so incompetent for so long, a little adequacy goes a long way. Maybe all the way to October.