The 2017 World Series Champs

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With the 2017 Major League Baseball season under way it’s time for Cubs fans to start thinking about the season ahead. It’s hard, I know. Last fall brought with it everything a die-hard fan could want complete with a nearly unfathomable storybook ending. But the Cubs have found their way to 2017, we should too.

A look at the World Series odds point to another Chicago Cubs World Series title in 2017. The lineup is stacked with star hitters, defensive wizards scatter the field and, with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey back for at least one more season, the pitching staff is armed for dominance. But don’t kid yourself Cubs faithful, there are legitimate contenders across the majors looking to dethrone the champs.

In the National League the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, New York Mets and San Fransisco Giants will all try to bring down the reigning champions. The Dodgers return basically the same team that won ninety-one games along with the NL West last season. With Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen starting and closing out games, respectively, again this season the Dodgers won’t go down without a fight. If their pitching staff stays healthy in 2017 the Nationals will be hard to beat come October. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer along with Geo Gonzalez and Tanner Roark can match up against almost any staff in the league. Will the Mets have the offensive fire power to keep up with their NL competition? If Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker bring the same level of power to the 2017 season they’ll certainly stand a chance. Out of the National League elite, the Giants have the best chance at getting to the World Series. Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija combined for forty-five wins last season. That troika, plus Matt Moore, have the pitching talent that pairs well with an offensive collection of consistent performers.

Tough competition lies within the ranks of the American League where the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox will compete for the AL pennant in 2017. Last season’s pennant winners aren’t too happy with how their 2016 ended. The Indians pitching staff, lead once again by Corey Kluber, will bring the same talent and intensity to 2017 that they did last season. And look out for shortstop Francisco Lindor to carry the offense and challenge for an AL MVP award this summer. The Astros finished third in the AL West last season–expect Houston to leap to the top of the AL West this year. Why? They’ve surrounded young talent–Carlos Correa, George Springer and Jose Altuve–with vets like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann to form a poised, prepared lineup that will win a lot of games this season. There’s no doubt that the lineup will look strange without David Ortiz in the DH spot but Red Sox Nation is excited about another year of Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts roaming the outfield. And with the offseason trade for former-White Sox ace Chris Sale the Red Sox have piled more talent onto a pitching staff that already boasts David Price and Rick Porcello. Speaking of the White Sox, do the South Siders stand a chance in the American League? No way but that’s alright. For the first time in a long time White Sox brass is allowing themselves the space to rebuild the right way so they can challenge for a World Series ring again in the near future.

So which club will win the 2017 World Series championship? Winning back-to-back championships is a Major League Baseball rarity–the Yankees did it way back in 2000. But the World Series odds just make too much sense going into this season. With a deeply talented lineup the Cubs will win the NL Central by double-digits. Joe Maddon will have the luxury of resting pitchers and moving position players in-and-out of the lineup leading up to another fall playoff run. Maddon’s ability to play with all the pieces of the chessboard that Theo Epstein collected will prove too much for the rest of Major League Baseball.

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RE: Chris Sale Traded to Boston

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Last week the Chicago White Sox’s turned up the volume on their rebuild trading Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz. Nick Schaefer of South Side – Baseball Prospectus gave us a quick breakdown of the Sox prospect haul. Here’s a couple tidbits.

Depending on whom you ask, Moncada is somewhere between the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball to anywhere down to 10ish or so. He has massive tools — power, speed, etc. — but has had barely any time at Double-A or Triple-A, so I would hope the White Sox give him most of 2017 in the minors. He’s been playing primarily third base, but his natural position is at 2B… 

Kopech is a flamethrower in the low minors who sits touching triple digits and has popped 102-103. His change has evidently improved to go along with his low-90s slider that may be a plus pitch. The question here is “starter or reliever?” because the guys who throw this hard are overwhelmingly unable to hold up as starters. Our prospect team has him as a reliever.

Whether Moncada and Kopech turn into All-Stars, average starters or big-time busts it was time to trade Chris Sale. The early analysis around the league suggests Rick Hahn brought back a nice package for the sometimes moody, always amazing Chris Sale. Let the rebuild begin!

Konerko’s Unsurprising Hometown Discount

Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko is not a Hall of Fame first baseman. Sixty-six homers shy of entrance in the five hundred home run club, zero MVP awards and unimpressive defense and base running make him a long shot, even with a strong 2014 season. He is, however, a six time All-Star and an all-time great Chicago sportsman that led the Sox to its first World Series title since 1917 and epitomizes the blue collar persona the south side team holds tightly. Undoubtedly, a bronze statue in Konerko’s image is sure to reside at U.S. Cellular Field in the near future. Paulie, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract this offseason, will almost certainly conclude his career in a manner rare to most premier Chicago athletes. Michael Jordan, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Scottie Pippen, Kerry Wood, Bobby Hull. Each of these Chicago greats, along with a host of others, found their way onto other teams before hanging up their gloves, jerseys and cleats. But Konerko has taken the road less traveled, subjugating his ego and paycheck to close his career in a city he has called home since 1999.

Brian Urlacher couldn’t swallow his pride and accept $2 million to stay in Chicago for one more season. Frank Thomas bitterly departed the south side when the White Sox declined to bring him back after he rode the bench during their 2005 World Series run. Scottie Pippen donned Rockets and Blazers jerseys before concluding his career with two final, unimpressive seasons back with the Bulls. And it’s impossible to wipe the image of MJ in his Wizard’s jersey from Bulls fans’ retinas. But Paul Konerko is willing to make less than Jeff Keppinger and accept a limited role to play the game he enjoys with the team he loves. When Konerko surprised Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf with the World Series winning baseball after the team’s championship parade, skeptics thought it was a ploy to help secure his next big contract. If it was then it worked as, before the ‘06 season, he signed a hefty five-year, $60 million deal followed up by a three-year, $37.5 million contract in ‘10. But, from his agreement to defer $7 million from that 2010 contract to his acceptance of this latest $2.5 million deal – $1 million of it deferred – Paul Konerko has proven to be the ultimate team player. The 2014 White Sox season will be about ace Chris Sale, newly signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu and the moves Rick Hahn makes to future proof his middling team. But the 2013 offseason will be remembered for the sacrifices an aging star made to solidify his place in White Sox lore. Sacrifices that clearly diminish his role with the club while allowing GM Rick Hahn and senior VP of baseball operations Kenny Williams to make moves for future team improvement.

To leave millions of dollars on the table will be hard to swallow. To spend more time cheering on teammates than swinging a bat or snagging errant throws at first base will be tough. Paul Konerko gets that. “If I can get the Beckhams and the Viciedos, Abreu, Gillaspie, any of these guys. If I can help to get them going … that’s kind of where a lot of my energy will be spent. It’ll be a little bit different.” The man many refer to simply as The Captain will share time with Adam Dunn at DH while backing up Jose Abreu at first base. There is a chance his role will increase as the season progresses since the likelihood of either Dunn or Abreu struggling are significant. But whether his at-bats dip below four hundred for the first time in his White Sox career or he regularly finds a way into Robin Ventura’s starting lineup by midseason, Paul Konerko will handle it well. His pragmatic nature ensures that and his proven leadership qualities demand it. Despite the expected dip in on-field production, his presence will be felt as a leader and teacher in the locker room, in the dugout, on the team plane and wherever else he can lend a hand. The Chicago White Sox may be a disaster come March but knowing Paul Konerko will be a part of a challenging transition year makes it a mess worth watching.

Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com

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Time for Sox GM Hahn to fix Kenny’s Mess

In a dream, new White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn stands before an Iowa cornfield and hears a voice whisper to him “if you rebuild it, wins will come”. He wakes up, uncertain of whom was behind the voice but knowing for sure it wasn’t White Sox VP of Baseball Operations, Kenny Williams. Williams, promoted to his new role this past off-season, racked up a pile of baseball debt before handing the checkbook over to Hahn, a skilled baseball man and White Sox’s assistant general manager for the past 12 seasons. Kenny Williams, who will continue his heavy involvement in baseball operations, forever robbed Peter to pay Paul, gutting an already meager farm system to collect veterans in pursuit of another World Series championship. It worked in ’05 as his veteran team went the distance and swept the now hapless Astros to collect a ring. The ultimate baseball prize was worth what it cost but it solidified Kenny’s mentality of eschewing youth in favor of high-to-mid priced veterans. The strategy hasn’t worked since but the former GM refuses to tear down his ball club and start anew. Across town, the Cubs are in the middle of a multi-year rebuilding process of their own which, at its early stage, seems to be progressing fairly well. But the White Sox challenge is one their north side rivals aren’t faced with. Popular veterans like Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy are names the fans recognize and are relied upon to keep the Sox relevant in a two team town. Sox ownership believes a rebuild would cause mass fan defection and result in an even emptier stadium. Rick Hahn must see what his predecessor failed to. Baseball fans are also drawn to wins, not just famous faces. In the new era of baseball, a team built around young stars and selectively signed veteran free agents will result in more victories than an expensive, on-paper all-star team.

US Cellular FieldKenny Williams famously told Frank Thomas to “stay out of White Sox business” when the Big Hurt questioned the manner in which the team chose to part company with him. Though Kenny remains in a prominent front office position, it’s time for him to heed his own advice. Let Rick Hahn make day-to-day baseball decisions to ensure the farm system is well-nourished. Williams should offer advice, sign-off on major decisions and be a team spokesman but must cede the driver’s seat to the new GM. Long considered one of the best minds in baseball, Hahn doesn’t really need a rung between himself and the team’s owner. But his devotion to the White Sox and its chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf, prevented him from flying the coop multiple times over the past decade. His extensive education – University of Michigan, Harvard Law, Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management – and baseball experience has allowed him to prove his value across the organization. Negotiating contracts with the likes of Paul Konerko, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Alexei Ramirez as well as finding diamonds in the rough like Bobby Jenks and Carlos Quentin are just some of his front office achievements. The concern remains that Kenny has been in charge for so long that it will be hard for him to relinquish much power. Chairman Reinsdorf must hope that the Williams/Hahn duo will start working much like Garpax have for his Chicago Bulls. John Paxson is an overseer and checks Gar Forman on basketball decisions while stepping out of the media spotlight and giving up some decision-making power to the GM. Can Kenny Williams do the same to help the White Sox get back to respectability in a tough A.L. Central?

The White Sox organization is a mess from the farm system to the south side big club. Baseball Prospectus ranked its farm system 28 out of 30 in this year’s evaluation. Sadly, that rank is up two spots from the prior year but it still doesn’t bode well for the start of Hahn’s reign in Chicago. Bolstering the minor league system should bubble up to the top of his to-do list even though Chicago media cameras remain focused on the happenings at U.S. Cellular Field. There are zero White Sox minor leaguers on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 list. Hahn’s mission – through the draft and via trade – will be to crack that list and then add to it on a yearly basis. Back in Chicago, the 2013 season looks like a lost cause. The Sox, sporting a sub .500 winning percentage, sit at the bottom of the American League Central with little hope of climbing out. Alex Rios is the only hitter with a respectable batting average/on base percentage. Out of the six hitters with over 200 at-bats – Alexei Ramirez, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Jeff Keppinger – only Rios is worth his paycheck to this point in the season. Newly signed third baseman Jeff Keppinger has been a bust and A.J.’s replacement, Tyler Flowers, has decent hitting stats for a catcher but doesn’t handle the pitching staff nearly as well as A.J. could. And, Dunn – bad contract and all – still can’t find his way over the Mendoza Line. On the mound, Chris Sale is pitching like an ace but the rest of the starting staff is middling at best. Once young treasures, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, have accrued only 10 starts between them this season. The White Sox roster was built to thrive with trustworthy, veteran hitters and up-and-coming pitchers. With cold bats and wavering arms, the approach hasn’t panned out and it’s time to bring in the bulldozer.

Rick Hahn must be allowed to utter baseball’s dirtiest word to the White Sox faithful. An out-and-out rebuild is necessary to permanently fix the organization. Trade veteran talent for good minor league athletes, sending a bag of cash along with each overpaid vet. The White Sox don’t have the revenues to maintain a high-end major league payroll while concurrently expanding its minor league operation. Year-by-year, Hahn must lower team payroll – currently 10th in MLB – and funnel more money into scouting, analytics and international talent acquisition. The starting lineups will look uninteresting for several years and attendance may drop. But future money will be better spent and when the wins come, the fans will return. A future will be solidified for the south side ball club and its new boss, Rick Hahn. And who knows… maybe there will still be a place for Kenny Williams too.

Will the White Sox stay the course or take a sharp turn in strategy under new leadership? And will Hahn’s brilliance make Reinsdorf realize that Kenny Williams is no longer a vital spoke in the wheel? Or will their strong relationship keep the new management duo in place for years to come? What do you think?

Found It:
ESPN Chicago
ESPN
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Baseball Prospectus – 1
Baseball Prospectus – 2
CBS Sports

Chicago Media Prepares for Life After Ozzie

In 2004 Ozzie Guillen was hired as the new White Sox manager and quickly brought the south side franchise out of the Cubs shadow. Yes he led the Sox to 99 victories and a World Series championship in 2005 but that was only part of the reason the team grabbed headlines. Ozzie replaced an older, much more reserved manager in Jerry Manuel. His short fuse, willingness to say anything about anyone and humorous nature pulled headlines away from a Cubs-dominant baseball media. For a newspaper writer or beat reporter, Guillen was a dream to cover and will surely be missed as he moves on to lead the Miami Marlins.
Scroll through the Tribune White Sox section and you’ll find 4 current headlines containing “Ozzie” or “Guillen”. You’ll find only 1 headline containing the name of current Sox manager, Robin Ventura. Why does Guillen make an interesting Chicago story even while preparing to manage a team 1400 miles away? His tirades, quips and insults kept writers writing and reporters showing up to his office in droves. Ventura gets that his personality won’t garner headlines the way Guillen’s did:

“I played with Ozzie for a long time, and we were good friends. I have a different personality, but we both go out on the field with the common goal of playing every day, winning and having fun…”

White Sox beat writers like Joe Cowley and Mark Gonzales, reporters like Doug Padilla as well as columnists across the city relied on Guillen quotes to fill newspaper pages and website blogs alike. Guillen could throw one of his players under the bus and bash a former Sox ‘s player in the same post-game news conference. He could blame Kenny Williams for an inadequate roster in one breath while demanding a contract extension in the next. And he could crack a joke forcing laughter out of the group of reports gathered around him. All of which made for great headlines and interesting copy. But a new spring brings a new manager and it’s time for the media to feed fans baseball stories, not baseball drama.

The new manager won’t squabble with his General Manager, wear out a radio bleep censor or attract nearly as much attention as Ozzie did. Without the sideshow, the focus will turn to analyzing Kenny Williams rebuilding project and how well the players actually perform on the field. John Danks takes over as the team ace now that Mark Buehrle has left for the Marlins. Chris Sale will move into the starting rotation leaving the bullpen even weaker than it was last year while Adam Dunn looks to bounce back from a tragically poor season. And Dayan Viciedo will attempt to take a major step forward as he becomes an everyday outfielder. These headlines and more should give the Chicago media plenty to focus on but the sensational headlines of yore won’t be seen around town in 2012.

White Sox Familial Approach to Hiring

In an era where baseball teams select managers based on their past successes, future potential or some combination of the two, Jerry Reinsdorf has taken an antiquated approach to the hiring process. The White Sox last skipper, Ozzie Guillen, and the newly appointed manager, Robin Ventura, both had close ties to the team before being hired. Neither were bench coaches, pitching coaches or minor league managers in the organization though. Both, however, were successful players for the team. In fact, Ventura is the 17th former White Sox player to manage the club. Ozzie Guillen played shortstop with the Sox from ’85 to ’97, won the Rookie of the Year, had 3 All Star appearances and a Gold Glove award. Ventura played on the south side from ’89 to ’98, took home 5 Gold Gloves and participated in the ’92 All Star game. Ozzie Guillen had coaching experience with the Expos and Marlins before being hired by Reinsdorf while Ventura’s post-playing resume only includes being a White Sox special advisor in 2011. Even in that position he wasn’t very active with the team. Guillen’s managerial stint with the team lasted from 2004 to 2011 which is a considerably long tenure for someone who regularly criticized management, ownership, his players and everyone in between. There is no telling how long Ventura’s tenure will last but Jerry is known for his patience so expect it to be a long-term appointment. Though general manager Kenny Williams should be the man making these hiring, the last two selections have Reinsdorf’s name all over them. In previous generations of baseball, management often hired their former players to coach because they were known commodities and already were identifiable with the fan base. Hiring a team’s former players to manage is no longer necessary in our era of readily available information and expansive media coverage. But Reinsdorf must believe this approach will help his team succeed and bring more fans into U.S. Cellular Field.

English: This was weeks before Ventura was eve...

In his tenure on the south side Ozzie Gullien helped bring the White Sox out of the shadow of the Cubs. But, despite what the owner might believe, it has nothing to do with his ability to identify himself as a former player of the team. Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams might get a kick out of bringing former players back to lead the club. But fans appreciated Guillen because of his ’05 World Series victory, explicit f-bombs and other wise-cracking quotable quotes. After years of boring, cliche-spitting managers, it was refreshing to hear an honest assessment of a game with some added humor. Ozzie brought other former players like Harold Baines, Joey Cora and Tim Raines back to coach. He did it because he knew their talent would translate well in the dugout. Not because he wanted to organize a family reunion. Robin Ventura’s coaching staff is filled with former major league players (including hold overs Cooper and Baines) but none are former White Sox players. But it doesn’t really matter as long as they can coach a rebuilding team. Eventually Reinsdorf will accept that finding the best manager available and not just choosing a former Sox player with managerial potential is the way to build a winning team. He got lucky with Guillen but won’t fare as well with Ventura who wasn’t on any team’s potential candidate list before being hired in October.

Taxpayers to Ricketts: Don’t Follow Reinsdorf’s Extortion Tactics

Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman and primary owner of the Bulls and White Sox franchises has brought trophies to Chicago. To be specific, six basketball championships (1991–1993 and 1996–1998) and one World Series title (2005). As the owner of those teams, he paid a lot for those championships. A recent Tribune/WGN-TV joint investigation revealed Illinois taxpayers did too. About $6.9 million of taxpayer money was used in the building of Bacardi at the Park, a 10,000 square foot upscale restaurant across the street from U.S. Cellular Field. And what percent of those profits go back to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the government agency that funded it and also owns U.S. Cellular Field? Let’s ask Jim Thompson, the agency’s board chairman at the time the deal was made.

“We said to Jerry, ‘Jerry can we have part of the profits?’ and he said no,” former Gov. Jim Thompson… said in an interview. “We said, OK.’

This isn’t Jerry Reinsdorf’s first time leveraging the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA) to get what he wants. He threatened to relocate his baseball franchise to Tampa Bay in the late 1980s but then-governor (guess who?) Jim Thompson lobbied successfully for the creation of the above mentioned ISFA. That agency then funded the building of U.S. Cellular Field as the new home of the White Sox. Public funding of a baseball stadium isn’t unique but the way he got it done coupled with the more recent revelation of how Bacardi at the Park was paid for should make taxpayers view Reinsdorf in a more negative light.

Sign on the outside of Wrigley Field

Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts enters his third off-season as owner of the team and faces the challenge of rebuilding his ancient ballpark. How he funds the construction will either grow his goodwill with Cub fans or make all Illinois taxpayers compare him to crude businessman Jerry Reinsdorf. Tom Ricketts’s first attempt at securing public funding for rebuilding historic Wrigley Field was a non-starter with ex-Mayor Richard Daley in 2010. He begins discussions again with new Mayor Rahm Emanuel who seems more receptive to helping the Cubs. This is likely because reports indicate Ricketts is proposing to fund at least half of the $400 million rebuilding project privately, a significant increase from his original proposal to the city. Like all sports franchises, the Cubs will do what is needed to get the best deal for themselves. But to garner some goodwill from citizens, Ricketts must not utilize scare tactics to get what he wants. Threatening to move the team to Schaumburg or lobbying politicians like a snake-in-the-grass oil executive isn’t acceptable. All the praise he is receiving from the Theo Espstein hiring will quickly evaporate if he handles it poorly. Ricketts is obviously a smart businessman and should find creative ways to fund as much of the renovation as possible on his own. Whether it be more Wrigley Field advertising or negotiating better TV and radio deals, there are options to get it done. Let’s hope Ricketts grows into an owner everyone in Chicago, not just Cub fans, can come to respect.