First off I’d like to thank the Bulls & Hawks for tanking their seasons so early. You’d be amazed what can be accomplished when you know you’re going to have a ton of free time. Also a big shout out to the Bears. Now that I know I really don’t have to get invested until they find out who their Super Bowl opponent is going to be that makes my Sundays much more pliable to plans.
See? A little preparation and suddenly you do have all the time you need to learn the names of those crazed delinquents who keep stealing your food and whom your wife keeps coddling.
They are known as your children.
Don’t worry you’ll, most likely, learn to like them. Some of them, anyway.
In the meantime the future of Chicago’s two baseball teams is playing out in front of our very eyes.
Anthony Castrovince from MLB.com takes a look at what is going on with the Cubs.
That the Cubs were open for business at the Trade Deadline was about as predictable as people sucking down Old Style at a Wrigley matinee. Their status as sellers was cemented well before the season’s first pitch.
It was one of those significant mileposts at which the Theo Epstein regime could seemingly flash its evaluative might, making a purge for prospects, swapping short-term veteran presence on a team going nowhere for long-term contractual control of projectable talents.
Business, though, was not quite as booming as the Cubs intended, and the reasons for that were largely out of their control.
Ryan Dempster was well within his rights to hold the Cubbies hostage with his 10-and-5 trade veto power, but he held them hostage all the same. And the Matt Garza injury, which had him shelved on Deadline day, impacted his market, or lack thereof.
So when the dust had settled Tuesday, the Cubs had moved Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto, had made a last-minute deal of Dempster and had reeled in five young bodies they hope will fit within the “foundation for sustained success.”
But even with a 40-percent turnover in the starting rotation, these were not the sweeping changes (Alfonso Soriano is still standing in left field, after all) or the huge haul some had expected. And perhaps those expectations were overly anticipatory, anyway.
For the Cubs, it is going to be a slow and often painful process (as if North Siders don’t already know quite a bit about slow and painful). We’ve known that from the day Epstein rode in from Boston, but the difficulty of the dealing that was illustrated in recent weeks only further hammers that point home. Because while it is unfair to fault the Cubs’ approach and execution at the Deadline, the reality remains that the closest thing they received to Major League-ready talent of the high-impact variety was Tommy John surgery recipient Arodys Vizcaino, who won’t be available to them until midway through the 2013 season.
It’s a process. But at least the Cubs’ system, also augmented by Cuban import Jorge Soler and top Draft pick Albert Almora in recent months, is further along than it was before.
“We’re getting there,” general manager Jed Hoyer told reporters. “We have to have a lot more good Drafts and make more good trades. I think the best teams are able to replenish the bullpen internally and able to bring up starters from the Minor Leagues whenever they need to, and we’re not at that point yet. Since we got here, we’ve worked hard to build up that depth. I don’t think the job is complete.”
No, it’s not. Neither, in fact, is the in-season dealing, for Soriano, owed roughly another $42 million through 2014, must be moved, no matter the financial ramifications, if he can reap any sort of reasonable return. He’ll certainly clear waivers, and he’s cooperated by posting probably his strongest offensive season in four years.
“We had some interest,” Hoyer said. “You should have interest—he’s having a [great] year.”
The Soriano sell job was still on in full effect even after the Deadline had passed, and the Garza market will be explored again over the winter. The concern for the Cubs, though, has to be that the market for starters will become crowded with other, more accomplished pitchers such as Cliff Lee or Josh Johnson, thereby affecting the Garza price tag.
That’s why his untimely injury hit hard.
“Teams ultimately shied away [after] not seeing a guy on the mound,” Hoyer said. “So it certainly hurt his market.”
Give the Cubs credit for the chicken salad they concocted out of this situation. It’s not exactly headline friendly to trade for a guy currently out of commission in Vizcaino, but he lit up radar guns before surgery and the recovery rate from Tommy John is roughly 85 percent. The only circumstance in which the Cubs could get a high-upside arm like Vizcaino without forking over top-end talent is if he’s hurt or struggling. Getting him for Maholm and Johnson, in whom the Cubs had invested less than $6 million this season, was a smart play.
The Cubs also got Jaye Chapman in that deal, and he’s more of a flier pickup who has averaged almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings in the Minors and might get a chance in the big league bullpen this year. For Soto, they got another potential bullpen or back-end rotation piece in Double-A right-hander Jake Brigham.
And the Dempster trade? After nearly landing a highly touted arm in Randall Delgado from the Braves, the Cubs had to settle for two Class A guys from the Rangers. That’s where Dempster’s decision-making loomed large. Christian Villanueva has hit for average and shown a little pop, so he could stick at third base, and Kyle Hendricks has a plus changeup and throws strikes. But it will be a long while before either can accurately be assessed.
So it is with the Theo-era Cubs. They have a couple of nice building blocks in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, high hopes for Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, and they’ll have plenty of payroll wiggle room if they want to get frisky in free agency. But they are still a long way away from where they want to be as a ballclub.
The Deadline got them incrementally closer.
I love watching Theo and Hoyer when they talk to the press. Every time they open their mouths it sounds like this; “We are pleased (Dempster lied) with the direction (Dempster lied) the club is (Dempster lied) heading in. We are sure (Dempster lied) that we will be (Dempster lied) truly competitive in just a couple of (Dempster lied) years. In the meantime (Dempster lied) we hope fans will embrace (Dempster lied) the exciting new (Dempster lied) players who are here (Dempster MUTHA-FUNKING lied) today.”
By not actually throwing Dempster under a bus they let the other vets know they will be treated with respect no matter what. That will go a long way with them as this season progresses. Also, it lets other GMs know that they didn’t screw that particular pooch in Atlanta.
Not a bad overall message to send.
On the Southside they have a slightly different dilemma. Their future and present catcher are sitting on the same bench. 99 times out of 100 that’s a cause for problems. In this case, it’s the one out of a hundred that counts. Scott Merkin reports that A.J. is mentoring Flowers rather than competing with him.
Only one factor really could have hampered the strong working relationship developed by White Sox catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers.
Pierzynski, 35, who joins Paul Konerko as the two remaining players from the 2005 World Series championship team, can become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2012 season. Flowers, 26, who was acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade with Atlanta on Dec. 5, 2008, stands as the top candidate to take over for Pierzynski if the White Sox choose not to bring him back for year No. 9 and beyond.
Yet the potential changing and conflicting roles looming in the not-too-distant future have not served as any sort of stumbling point. Actually, these two players won’t allow it to happen.
“I really don’t think either of us are worried about that right now,” Flowers said. “We are worried about winning every night and helping each other to help the team. We have a real good team and a real good chance to go deep [in the playoffs]. That would be more fun than worrying about next year.”
“You don’t look at a guy and say, ‘Hey, this guy is going to be here next year and I’m gone,’” Pierzynski said. “You say, ‘I want to help this guy get better and become a better player.’”
This season already has been an interesting ride for Flowers as the White Sox backup. Even with the durable Pierzynski working toward extending his active Major League mark to an 11th straight season with at least 1,000 innings caught, there was some talk coming into Spring Training that the right-handed-hitting Flowers might get a few more at-bats against left-handed pitchers, although the rotation would certainly be far from a platoon.
However, Pierzynski began what figures to be the best offensive showing in a stellar 15-year-career, during which he already has equaled his single-season high at 18 homers. Flowers adjusted to extremely sporadic playing time, with his average taking a direct hit, until Pierzynski recently suffered a mild right oblique strain and Flowers played five straight games.
But just because Pierzynski had a rare period of inactivity didn’t mean he wasn’t involved.
“During the stretch where I was playing, he was talking to me before and after games,” said Flowers of Pierzynski. “I would ask his thoughts on some hitters, because he’s been around these guys a lot longer than I have. It has been very good give-and-go kind of stuff.”
Other White Sox players have been impressed by the two backstops, including those who are directly affected by their play behind the plate.
“Both of our catchers are awesome,” said White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, who threw to Flowers in Wednesday’s victory at Target Field. “[They are] a little different in the way they do things, but both professionals. We have a great mixture behind the plate.”
That mixture quite possibly won’t be together on the South Side of Chicago in 2013. Even if Pierzynski’s successful and entertaining tenure comes to an end, there’s no guarantee Flowers will take over. The White Sox were ready to bring in Miguel Olivo on a two-year deal before Pierzynski re-signed prior to the 2011 season.
Flowers’ game-calling ability shows he’s ready for everyday work, and his offense should improve with steady at-bats. But again, the thought of rooting for Flowers’ failure to enhance his own cause seems absurd to Pierzynski.
“By me not helping him, it doesn’t improve me in any way,” Pierzynski said. “If I do what I’m supposed to do, whatever happens will happen. ... I obviously have a deep respect for the White Sox organization. I want him to be successful, because I like him and I want him to have a good career and accomplish things he wants to accomplish.
“The White Sox will do what the White Sox are going to do. There’s no reason for me to hold a grudge or try to not show him anything. That’s not the right way to go about it.”
Ten rookie pitchers have been part of the White Sox roster this season, so there has been plenty for Pierzynski and Flowers to focus on in the present. The fact that the White Sox are a division leader with Jose Quintana, Addison Reed and Nate Jones, to name just a few first-year hurlers playing a major role, is a credit to everyone from the pitchers to the coaching staff down to this catching tandem.
“Tyler and I both should be proud of what we’ve done,” said Pierzynski of his team’s 3.97 ERA. “With [White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] Coop and [bullpen coach Juan] Nieves and everyone, we’ve done a good job of just kind of sitting down and talking about it and trying to get on the same page. It has been reflected in how we’ve pitched.”
Their relationship as teammates was never bad, according to Flowers. He added that like all other relationships in life, it will progress because you want it, too. In what could be their only full season together, Pierzynski and Flowers hopes this bond progresses well into October.
“Of course, I don’t want us to not get along or anything like that,” Flowers said. “But it has turned into something where we get along great and we communicate great.”
“We are on the same page, trying to accomplish the same thing, and we talk about different situations and what to try to ... do,” Pierzynski said. “He’s been great. He’s done everything that he’s been asked to do. It has been a good thing that we have going here.”
This is one of those times where you don’t know if the team can afford to keep them both. You also don’t know if it can afford not to. They are a very good tandem. Flowers has, obviously, regressed as a hitter but he has become a stud at calling games. Given the fact that he used to be a monster at the plate, and a defensive liability, one would think that he could regain that form. If he got anywhere near .275 with regular power, like he used to, the Sox would be terrifying.
And that could be a very fun future for the fans.
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