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SportsMonday: Cubs vs. Bears

By Jim Coffman

If Jim Hendry had to give away fan favorite Jake Fox to subtract Aaron Miles's lousy contract from the payroll, just think of what teams are demanding from the Cubs for the favor of removing Milton Bradley from the roster. It can't be anything short of Derrek Lee, can it? And how did this deal with the Athletics pass just about completely under the local sports commentary radar last week? I suppose new owner Tom Ricketts is still on a honeymoon of sorts but this was a terrible trade on its face and it bodes ill for the rest of the Cubs off-season.

  • Bears still stink

  • In other words, as bad as the Bears season has been, the Cubs off-season might end up worse.

    Yes I know the Cubs picked up forgettable Jeff Gray, a righty reliever, and a couple prospects, but what they really gained was $1.7 million worth of salary relief. Of course even that isn't very good, what with Miles being owed more than $2 million next year as part of the unfathomable two-year contract GM Jim Hendry lavished on him before last season.

    In other words, Fox, who has plenty of potential as a designated hitter and who could end up being a good enough corner infielder (he never had a real chance to prove himself with the Cubs on a day-to-day basis), wasn't enough for A's general manager Billy Beane. Beane had to have "cash considerations" as well. And Hendry forked it over. Fox finished with 11 homers and 44 RBI in just over 200 at-bats for the Cubs last year. His on-base percentage (.311) wasn't good enough but we'll never know (barring another trade) what he could have done in the National League with consistent at-bats. Late in the season, manager Lou Piniella didn't hide the fact that he regretted not giving Fox the every day shot at third base when Aramis Ramirez was out for a month-plus with the shoulder injury.

    As for Gray, he struggled to stay in the big leagues last year with an A's pitching staff that wasn't exactly overpowering. He did post an ERA under 4.00 and a strikeout/walk ratio of 19/4 in 26.1 innings, but he was also farmed out three times before the All-Star break. His status solidified a bit late in the season, but he is still far from a sure-fire major league contributor. And the prospects the Cubs received are still as far from The Show as the Cubs are from actually trading Bradley.

    There was actually a straight-faced report over the weekend that the Cubs will not assume more than $5 million of the $21 million remaining on Bradley's contract as part of any trade. As if! As if there is a team out there stupid enough to take on Bradley's baggage without the Cubs absorbing a much bigger chunk of that obligation. The other thing that could happen, of course, is the Cubs could take back a bad contract in return (Gary Matthews Jr.'s ridiculous deal with the Angels, for instance, that still has multiple years left at more than $10 million per). But the teams that have been identified the most as possible landing sites for Bradley are Texas and Tampa Bay. And they don't have players who fit that description.

    Of course, the Cubs aren't going to give away Lee just to dump Bradley. But they'll have to do something drastic . . . maybe even welcoming Milty back for an encore in 2010? I suppose a bright-sider would point out that at least the Cubs aren't totally paralyzed this off-season by the fact that their first priority is to make what looks more and more like an impossible trade. But considering the specifics of the Fox and Miles deal, perhaps paralysis is preferable.

    Bulls Blemish
    In other happy Chicago sports news, the Bulls didn't just suffer their worst loss of the season at home Saturday night (110-78) to the last-place Toronto Raptors, they embarrassed themselves in front of free-agent-to-be Chris Bosch. It isn't too much of a stretch to say that Bosch, a 6-10 perennial All-Star forward, is the Bulls' one true hope for something close to championship contention in the next five years. There are bigger name free agents who will be available in 2010 (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade lead the short list), but no one makes more sense for the Bulls than the 6-10 Bosch, who led the Raptors with 25 points and 12 rebounds in all of 22 minutes of action on Saturday. It isn't hard to project him as the perfect complement to point guard Derrick Rose for many years to come.

    The question will be whether inexperienced general manager Gar Forman can make something happen, either with a mid-season trade (if Toronto determines it won't be re-signing Bosch and tries to get something in return for its young star) or in free agency.

    Of course, why would Toronto want to trade for any of the stiffs who wore Bulls jerseys on Saturday? Bulls center Brad Miller's expiring contract would give the Raptors significant salary cap relief, but teams like the Houston Rockets have trade bait worth even more relief. And when the summer comes, it would make an awful lot of sense for Bosch to take a long, hard look at Miami, where he could team with Wade should Wade decide to re-sign there.

    In other words, Bosch coming to Chicago is already a long shot. But it seemed like a full-court late Saturday night.

    Bears Bit
    The only thing that mattered about Sunday's game was that second-year offensive lineman Chris Williams did a decent job in his first-ever start at left tackle. If Williams can't hack it protecting Jay Cutler's blind side, it is almost impossible to project the line as anything other than damaged beyond repair in the coming season or three.

    Given a lack of draft picks and a weak projected free-agent crop, whatever improvement the Bears hope to make next year will hinge on players who are already here playing better.

    Fellow former first-round pick Chris Long, a defensive end, flew past Williams for one sack. But overall, Williams did okay.


    Jim Coffman rounds up the sports weekend in this space every Monday. He welcomes your comments.

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