The Baseball Winter Meetings just wrapped up in Orlando and after a week of rumor mongering and hot stove hoopla, very little has changed for our ballclubs in Chicago.  Well, technically the White Sox added a new centerfielder (a move I liked very much but we’ll get to that later) but there were no nine digit contracts handed out or organization shifting transactions.  Basically anyone who follows the Buster Onley’s, Ken Rosenthal’s, Jonah Keri’s, & various baseball writers on Twitter your feed has been filled with a lot of confirmation of things that aren’t happening.  A compelling use of social media it was not.  Despite the inactivity I actually think both of Chicago’s baseball teams did just what they needed to do. 

As a quick reminder it was at these meeting in 2011 that the Florida Marlins blew the doors of the industry with deals for Jose Reyes (6 yrs/$106 million) and Mark Buehrle (4 yrs/$58 million) and just last year the Toronto Blue Jays acquired those two plus Josh Johnson from Florida and made another mega deal to get Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets.  Over this time span the Angels have set records with deals for CJ Wilson, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton as well.  Take a moment to check the standings to see how the Marlins, Blue Jays, and Angels fared after their big off season shuffles (Cliff’s Note Version: it did not go well).

So here’s a quick recap of where our teams started, where they ended up, and where they go from here…

Chicago White Sox

In many people’s eyes the White Sox ended their 2013 campaign in need of just about everything.  Their kids hadn’t fully panned out, their veterans were aging, and their expected stars did not shine as bright as they had hoped.  While all of this is true the one thing they do have is pitching and with that you can always compete in baseball. 

The Sox needed to turn the offensive side of their team around this off season if they have any hope of getting back into contention. 

Enter Rick Hahn.  He very well may be the most underrated GM in the game today.  Looking back at the moves the Sox have made over the years and then at what they have done in these past twelve months, it would appear that Mr. Hahn has been unofficially calling the shots long before he took over the GM title.  In the past five months he’s imported one of the top prospects from the rival Tigers in Avisail Garcia to add athleticism to the outfield, signed Cuban phenom Jose Abreu to man first base for the foreseeable future, and just this week traded 4th or 5th starter Hector Santiago for Aaron Rowand 2.0 (aka Adam Eaton).  I think we’ll look back at the Abreu signing as the best off the off season this time next year and I think Eaton is the kind of player that can change the culture of a ballclub whom Sox fans will embrace from day one.  That’s a pretty impressive beginning to an organizational turn around. 

The White Sox have made each of the move above without giving up something that they weren’t prepared to lose already.  Short of Jake Peavy (who isn’t the right fit for this team at the moment anyways), all of the pieces they’ve moved are replacement level or worse and this new infusion of talent is young & here for the long term.  The White Sox today are a more athletic team that is built to play in today’s game.  Best of all they’re also one year closer to clearing Adam Dunn off their payroll. 

What remains is room for improvement at both the catcher and third base positions.  Tyler Flowers proved he’s not the answer last year but they brought him back for another go around since there’s no real viable upgrade at the moment.  At third they’ll return to last year’s free agent pickup Jeff Keppinger and hope he more resembles the guy they signed than the guy they actually got here in his second season on the Southside.  Otherwise, if Alexi Ramirez, Gordon Beckham, and Dayan Viciedo can put together any form of bounce back seasons then we’re looking at a team that all of a sudden can be described as “frisky.”  That’s not a bad one year turn around Mr. Hahn, not bad at all.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are exactly what they say they are.  You’ve got to give them credit for their stated goal of transparency these past few years.  Despite the calls from the fan base, the media, and most recently super agent Scott Boras, they are sticking to their plan to develop from within and augment via big money and flashy signings when the time is right. 

There is no single move that is going to turn this organization around at this time.  Their biggest asset and biggest detriment at this moment is time.  That’s all it’s going to take for this wave of uber-prospects to reach Wrigley but it’s also what their critics hold against them the most.  How much longer?  We’ve waiting over 100 years already…  

Theo & Co. have avoided being pulled into the fray of doing what’s popular and continue to do what’s right.  That’s admirable in this day and age of media pressure.  The Cubs made a trade for some guy who’s name you’ll never need to know this week (you probably didn’t know the name of the player they traded away for him for what it’s worth) but the bigger move is the one they did not make. 

Jeff Samardzija is one of the hottest names of the hot stove season and the Cubs front office has continued to hold tight to their best asset until they find the deal that’s right for them.  I’m sure every time Jed Hoyer sits at a restaurant or stands in line at a store these days the guy next to him has a suggestion as to what he should be doing to improve the team.  To be able to tune all of that out and stay true to your plan despite the results on the field takes monk-like dedication. 

At the end of the day I think the Cubs end up making a trade of Samardzija that returns a healthy number of pitching prospects from another major league system.  Whether that trade happens next week, next month, or on July 31st I think it’s going to happen.  By holding out on trading Matt Garza during the winter of 2011 when he was in the same position as Samardzija is today, the Cubs front office showed everyone that they have they intestinal fortitude to wait out the market for the deal they want.  This will do them well in these negotiations.  I think they are saving all of their free agent bullets (read: dollars) at the moment for the “right” free agent opportunity – aka Masahiro Tanaka.  Otherwise this is another development year for the organization and there is no point in throwing empty dollars at big name players at this time.  By the end of next season the first wave of prospects will be washing ashore on the Northside and that’s all that really matters at the moment.

Bears Prediction

I’ve got to give the Bears fans credit, they’re a resilient bunch.  After loses to the lowly Rams and Vikings in back to back weeks the story of the Bears was one of woe and despair with a lost season at hand.  Enter the Cowboys on Monday night and all sins have been forgiven.  While an incredible offensive performance by all accounts (I feel bad for Adam Podlesh having to get dresses and stand in that cold but never having to play), let us not forget that All-World Josh McCown tried his darndest to throw three interceptions, each of which would have had a dramatic effect on the outcome of the game (all of them we’re dropped or called back), and the defense is still the defense giving up a sixth straight 100 yard rushing game by half time. 

The Bears problems are still problems, they just didn’t come back to haunt them on Monday night.  I don’t think they will on Sunday either thanks to the other-than-Josh-Gordon-anemic-Browns-offense.  After a soul shattering loss to the Patriots last week I think the Browns are already defeated coming in – with only draft positioning to play for.  I think the Bears win a closer game than many anticipate but the true test of this team comes the following week when they take on the high flying Eagles in Philadelphia.  That’s will be game that tells us whether this Bears team is serious about competing this season.  The challenge now is just to get there.

Prediction: Bears 24 – Browns 23

Bears Record: 7-6

Chi-Guy Record: 8-5