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A day after my assessment of the Cubs, it's good timing to look at what's happening with the White Sox, as we've been greeted with two fairly big pieces of Pale Hose news this morning: Manager Ozzie Guillen has chosen Matt Thornton to open the season as his closer, and The Great and Powerful Oz also said Jake Peavy looks ready to start in April, at least a month ahead of what many of us assumed earlier.

With this news in mind, I'll kick off my spring training likes/unlikes:

Matt Thornton: Like. He actually hasn't done much one way or the other, and if he is going to be the closer, I would like to see him in some save situations soon, but you know what you're getting with Thornton. I have been a big fan of Chris Sale, but Thornton deserves the call right now.

Chris Sale: Unlike. I still actually like his promise, and hope Ozzie's tough love methods don't make him worse before he gets better again (and he will get better). However, spring training has been a big missed opportunity for him. On the plus side, he is striking guys out, and has only issued a couple walks, but he has been way too hittable for further consideration as closer.

Jake Peavy: Like. I have not always been a fan of Peavy, but the guy is showing his toughness coming back ahead of schedule, and has been pretty effective. I'm feeling more confident about him right now than about Mark Buehrle.

Mark Buehrle: Unlike. This is a borderline call, because he looked great in his start this week, and you know he will show up when the season starts. But these off-season regimens he has been engaging in the last two winters seem to do little for him, and I'm also getting tired of reading how baseball is a burden for him.

Ozzie Guillen: Like. He has been behaving well, and has been decisive about things like the closer move. What more can you ask for? Also has been very funny on Twitter--I want to create a Twitter feed built only around Ozzie retweets.

Lastings Milledge: Like. He has been a problem child and a bust elsewhere, and I'm not ready to believe he is a long-term answer for the Sox, but he has shown power, hitting chops and nice defense, and his speed fits the profile for the role previously played by Willie Harris, Dewayne Wise and Pablo Ozuna. It may be him of Brent Lillibridge. Sorry, Brent.

Tyler Flowers: Like. He was practically written off days into spring training, but has been hitting really well. The Cubs (with Wellington Castillo) and Sox both have great young catchers just about ready for the majors. I think the Cubs should turn to their newbie now, but I'm not sure the Sox would consider the same. I have a feeling the Sox' traditionally heavy focus on pitching favors vet Ramon Castro and puts Flowers back in the minors to start the season.

Brent Morel: Unlike. Like Sale, another young guy that was in a position to win a big job, but he just has not delivered, leaving Mark Teahen looking like a possible starter. Why do I have the feeling we will be seeing a lot of Omar Vizquel at third again?

Phil Humber and Jeff Marquez: Like. In a battle for bullpen spots, these guys are really showing their stuff. Humber looked good enough to be a possible fifth starter if Peavy would have need more time. He still looks like a bullpen lock and a successful Don Cooper reclamation project. Marquez has show flashes before, but could never stick with the big club. His 11 strikeouts in 9.1 innings and 1.93 ERA are pretty enticing.

Dayan Viciedo: Like. There was a lot to like before he was injured, and let's hope he can make a quick comeback.

Sox offense: Like. In terms of springs stats, the Sox are among the leaders in HRs and RBIs, which probably was expected. They also have been generally hitting better recently than earlier in the spring. On the down side, there have been fewer stolen bases than you would expect from an Ozzie team, and Adam Dunn has not done much yet. But, other middle of the order guys like Alex Rios, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin look ready.

Sox defense: Unlike. The defense overall has been creaky (though not as bad as the Cubs'), and Gordon Beckham and Mark Teahen have specifically not been good. Beckham has hit well, but I hope he's not sacrificing growth on defense. Watching Teahen on defense makes me prefer Vizquel with one hand tied behind his back.


Spring training isn't over yet, but I just don't have Mike Quade's patience when it comes to making final roster decisions--or for being level-headed amid disastrous performance. With that in mind, here's my partial assessment of spring training heroes and zeroes thus far for the Cubs, in a language you social media-loving kids will find easy to understand (my White Sox review will follow shortly):

Starlin Castro: Like. Revive the hyperbole that greeted Castro's MLB debut in Cincinnati last season. With 4 HRs and 12 RBIs this spring while keeping his average consistently above .400, Castro is showing signs that he is ready to accept the probably unwanted mantle of being the Cubs' next big star. Is it too early to start planning where we will put his statue? How about at the corner of Aggressive Hitting and Poor Defense?

Carlos Zambrano: Like. Even-tempered? Check. Pitching well? Check. I reserve the right to click "Unlike" if either changes by May 1.

Carlos Silva: Unlike. He really should be gone by now, but the Cubs have a possibly misguided idea that keeping him on the staff will somehow project trade value upon him. Day by day, the out-of-shape, poor-performing, ill-tempered Silva is changing the assesment of the Milton Bradley trade from a clear win to a probable draw.

Blake DeWitt: Unlike. Seemed like a nice acquisition last year, but a pitiful spring has the Cubs rumored to be considering vet Luis Castillo, just released from the Mets.

Cubs starting pitchers: Like. Even though Silva didn't show up for the starting rotation battle, other starters have looked very good, and Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner have given little reason not to pick them as the fourth and fifth starters.

Andrew Cashner: Like. You can unlike the seven walks and 11 hits in 11 innings, but Cashner has been mostly effective. We'll see how we feel about him after he gets a spring training start.

Cubs defense: Unlike. The less said about this the better. Maybe a sign of the team's youth, but Aramis Ramirez in particular seems to be regressing.

Scott Moore: Like. Back in a Cubs during training uniform again after a brief stint in Baltimore, he is looking like a better back-up to Ramirez at third than DeWitt.

Wellington Castillo: Like.11 hits in 15 at-bats, and with the Cubs basically already out of contention, why not give him a longer tryout? Koyie Hill, by the way, is 1-for-24.

Tyler Colvin: Like. Another tentative endorsement. He is not exactly hitting everything in sight and defesne remains questionable, but you can tell the power storke is there.

Carlos Pena: Like. Ask me a week ago, and I would have felt differently, but Pena has slowly raised his average and found his homerun stroke.

Matt Garza: Like. Another slow starter who seems to be picking up the tempo, along with his pitch velocity.

Carlos Marmol: Unlike. Spring is just a tune-up, of course, but his propensity for walks is rearing its ugly head at a time when he should become the top closer in the majors. He's got about 10 days to get his head on straight.

Mike Quade: Like. Totally engaged and level-headed, though I would like to see him challenge his guys Ozzie-style on their defensive play and shoddy bullpen outings.

Jeff Samardzija, John Russell, John Gaub: Unlike.These guys all still look more like Quadruple A pitchers than big leaguers, which doesn't bode well for the future.

 

 

 


Freddy, Todd: You can go home again

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MLB Trade Rumors has something this morning on the possibility that Freddy Garcia could again return to the White Sox. The Sox got more than they could have ever expected last season from the 2005 World Series vet, as he went 12-6. He did fade, and ideally you would like to see a starter pitch more than 157 innings, but he had his moments.

Given his age--35--and recurring general gimpiness, I still assumed at the end of 2010 that Garcia would be long gone, with the Sox potentially adding a different againg, back-of-the-rotation starter. The Adam Dunn deal may have changed things, and looking at the free agent crop and the pricing, bringing Gracia back wouldn't be a bad idea, particularly if it means you mold Chris Sale as closer from the start of spring training. I'm not totally against Sale being a starter, but for this season at least he may be more valuable as closer and should have that as his main focus.

Meanwhile, the Cubs recently welcomed back right-handed pitcher Todd Wellemeyer on a minor league contract. Wellemeyer is one of those guys who had an incredible debut with the Cubs, earning the save in a 17-inning game in 2003, but faded quickly. He did win 13 games for the Cardinals in 2008, though he has again faded since then, with an elbow injury on his resume. Anyway, it's a low-risk deal, so if the Cubs don't want him, he won't be floating Samardzija-like in the minors for very long.


Who's on first? Paulie and Pena

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Sox fans said good-bye to one of their favorites on the last day of the 2010 season, but guess what--it wasn't good-bye after all.

The news of the day is that the White Sox have succeeded in re-signing Paul Konerko to a three-year contract, a deal that came after what seemed like 11th-hour hijinks by GM Kenny Williams to bring in a first baseman from elsewhere, though of course Kenny might have been bluffing.

The duration of the contract is perfect for the Sox and Konerko. It may allow him to finish his career in Chicago, but doesn't keep the Sox tied to a 40-something player down the road, as so many contracts these days do. There were other options for the Sox, but hard to argue re-signing a guy who got MVP votes.

This saves the Sox from having to look at Adam Dunn as a full-time fielder, rather than as a DH. Look for Paulie to so some very hittable pitches batting a spot ahead of Dunn, or maybe even getting more walks from lefties who want face Dunn instead.

Meanwhile, on the Northside, the Cubs have signed slugger Carlos Pena as their new first baseman, concluding a hunt that had them rumored to be interested in Dunn, Adrian Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, Chris Davis and pretty much every other 1B with either trade value or no current contract. Pena is a gamble, having hit .196 last season. He had 28 homers, and usually has been among the A.L. leaders while playing for Tampa the last few years, but his homer totals have been going down.

He does know how to take a walk--actually a lot of walks, and he hits left-handed, so might be a good compliment to Aramis Ramirez in the line-up, more than Derrek Lee was in his final days as a Cub, but the Cubs really need to hope for a rebound in homer totals and his average. As an intangible, he is said to be a happy-go-lucky guy and a fun clubhouse mate, something that always helps in surviving those Cubbie occurrences.

In other news, The Sox lost J.J. Putz this week when he signed with Arizona, and the future of Bobby Jenks remains unclear, so I'm going to bet Chris Sale will be closer next year.


Who's on first? A Cubs wish list

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If you believe absolutely everything you read, then here is where the Cubs' wish list stands for their first base job:

--Adam Dunn: Probably too expensive a free agent for teh Cubs to afford. In any case, I think he White Sox are willing to out-bid them.

--Adrian Gonzalez: What the Cubs would give up to San Diego to get him is a scary thought indeed. Tyler Colvin and Carlos Zambrano? Starlin Castro and a boatload of minor leaguers? Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome? Actually, I could live with that last trade...

--Lance Berkman: The Yankees didn't pick up his option. He's a switch-hitter who has done well in the National League, certainly better than he was briefly in New York. Intriguing.

--Carlos Pena: He strikes out a lot, walks a lot, and hits a lot of homeruns. Depends how willing you are to ook past a .230 average.

--Aubrey Huff: He drives in runs in big bunches and has decent first-base power. Wears a thong. Turned out to be a significant piece of the puzzle for the current world champs, but that's why the Giants want him back.

--Nick Johnson: Nice hitter, walks a lot. Not much power. Injury-prone. Sounds a lot like Xavier Nady.

So, what's wrong with Nady?


Watching the play-offs

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Well, even though the Cubs and White Sox didn't come close this year, we still have a postseason worth watching, and some former Chicago players are making contributions.

It was nice to see Jose Contreras, key member of the 2005 World Champion White Sox, come out for the Phillies last night and hold down the fort to get the win. And it was just plain sad to see star-crossed Dusty Baker watching his own team become suddenly error-prone and give up a 4-0 lead with just a handful of outs left. It wasn't quite deja vu, but close enough.

In San Francisco, look who's overcome his penchant for late-inning implosions--the Farns. Kyle Farnsworth, now with Atlanta, got the win last night by pitching 1.2 not-perfect-but-good-enough innings. I was certain after the Giants blew the lead that the reliable Farns would provide them with a storybook comeback in the 11th inning, but he did the job for the Braves, who really had few options but to leave him in the game. Derrek Lee was 2-for-5 with two key runs scored.

And, of course, both Sox fans and Cubs fans are watching the Twins-Yankees series with interest. So far, Sox fans are getting exactly what they had hoped, with the Twins down to their last chance and unable to spook the Yankees the way the do the Sox. With every Yankees victory, however, Cubs fans may be forced to wait a little longer to find out who will be the next manager. Joe Girardi's postseason poise is something to make Cubs fans salivate, but I think the further the Yankess go, the less likely he'll figure in GM Jim Hendry's decision.

Finally, who isn't rooting for Kerry Wood? He has pitched a scoreless 1.2 innings this week as the Yankees set-up man. From heroic rookie pitcher to injured mess and 2003 NLCS Game 7 loser to even more injured mess to effective, but unwanted Cubs closer to Cleveland and finally to the Yankees, who seem to have figured him out. Here's hoping that one last Cubbie occurrence isn't lying in wait for the former Cub.

Former Sox Nick Swisher also plays for the Yankess, but let's not even go there...

 

 


I feel the need... the need for Reed

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Reed Johnson continues to come up big for the Cubs when they most need to break a bad pattern and score some runs. His biggest hit on a 4-5 day that helped the Cubs to a 9-2 victory Sunday wasn't his bases-loaded double that made it 8-2; it was the no-outs single that pushed Fontenot to third and chased Marlins starter Volstad from the game. Every thing broke loose from there...

Meanwhile, the Sox obliterated the hex by obliterating Oakland 13-1 and winning the series 2-1. They need it to stay on par with the dreaded Piranhas, who gobbled up Seattle. Three pieces of good news: Lowly Seattle is headed toward the Southside as we speak, so hopefully the Sox can build some momentum with their chance to hack at the Mariners; Javier Vazquez finally looked fantastic today, though he had a huge lead to work with--now, we need him to do it again and again into October; and Alexei Ramirez smacked a grand slam. C.Q. is obviously the biggest and most pleasant surprise for the Sox this year, but the Missile's combo of strong hitting, unexpected power and hotdog fielding is hard to beat.

SBW will start the week by exercising its right to root for both the Sox and the Cubs. Monday night, the wife and I will be ensconced in Scout Seat splendor (easy now, I only have those tickets about 4 games a year...) at The Cell as the Sox take on the Mariners, and Tuesday night, my brother and I will hit Wrigley with a local mens' church group (I am not kidding). Looks like great weather for baseball both nights...

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