[from The A.V. Club Chicago, with Andy Seifert / March 18, 2010]
Andrew: Well Andy, baseball season is almost upon us and, as a White Sox fan, let me just say this year is going to suck. The Sox, already a non-factor in baseball’s absolute worst division, went out and replaced ineffective leadoff man Scott Podsednik with ineffective leadoff man Juan Pierre, swapped out Jim Thome’s club-leading power for Andruw Jones’ heinously declining offensive skills, and traded the painfully average Chris Getz and Josh Fields for the equally average (though less painfully so) Mark Teahen. It’s like Sox brass took a look at the landscape of the American League Central and thought, “You know, we finished seven games out in a year where a measly 86 wins were enough to force a one-game playoff. What can we not do this winter to make the team any better?” And yet, Sox general manager Kenny Williams’ annual roster purge makes the team appear just different enough to create the illusion of improvement, even if the club didn’t make any real forward strides in the offseason. I hate to say it, but in a way I envy the Cubs’ impending mediocrity—at least when their 2010 ends up in the toilet, absolutely no one will be let down.
Andy: Pssh. You think that was a bad offseason? The best move the Cubs made in the past five months was the trade for Carlos Silva—a has-been pitcher who spent the past two years dazzling Mariners fans with a 5-18 record and an ERA above 6—and that’s only because the trade kicked Milton Bradley out of town. So yeah, nobody in this year’s clubhouse is going to blame his sluggish RBI numbers on decades of racism, but it’s not like newly signed hitters Xavier Nady and Marlon Byrd are going to be cranking shots out of the park on a regular basis, either. At least when the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano in 2006, there was palpable sense of infectious and completely unwarranted hope. Now, there’s just the thought of his $136 million ass crashing to the turf as a pop fly lands for an easy triple. There are too many potential flaws on this team for Murphy’s Law to not kick in around mid-June—Ted Lilly’s rehabbed shoulder, Carlos Zambrano’s propensity for putting his fist through coolers, and the fact that you can get injured at Wrigley during mild victory celebrations. You’re dead-on about the Cubs’ mediocrity, but it’s not something to envy. It wasn’t so long ago that Cubs fans would just watch their team lose, then smile and shrug. Now we have “expectations,” and let me tell you, it blows. There’s less shrugging, and more eye-gouging. Kill me.
Andrew: Oh Andy, how I admire your Cubbie fatalism. “One of our two excellent new outfield options might deliver a less than magnificent season.” Boo fucking hoo, at least they did something logical about their most glaring weakness. The Sox needed a more well-rounded offense, and instead simply signed the badly rounding Jones on the cheap and hoped for the best. They needed to vastly strengthen their defense up the middle, so they moved Gordon Beckham (a shortstop by trade) to second base—the third position he’s played since being drafted in 2008—and, by signing 42-year-old shortstop Omar Vizquel to coach on the fly, admitted that Alexei Ramirez is a terrible defender who shall nonetheless stay firmly rooted.
You also show some nervousness about Marlon Byrd’s offensive capabilities, but I want to share two numbers with you: 89 and 88. The former is the number of runs Byrd drove in last year, the latter, the number Paul Konerko drove in—the most anyone on the current White Sox roster delivered in 2009. That means your team’s flyer would be my team’s leader. I’m not saying Byrd is better than Paulie, nor are the Cubs anything beyond a joke that isn’t funny anymore, but at the same time, I’m staring down a season with an American League team opting to waste its designated-hitter spot on weak-hitting backup outfielders. A season where the Sox’ bats will again live and die with Carlos Quentin’s self-destruct button. A season in which the bullpen will have to magically reassemble itself on the strength of J.J. Putz’s brand-new elbow as Bobby Jenks pitches just well enough to become lucrative trade bait. Honestly, Andy, it’s hard to see how we’re both bracing for the same level of sportswatching shame.
Andy: Well, I couldn’t agree more about Andruw Jones. What the hell was Kenny Williams’ rationale? Maybe he’ll miraculously bounce back to 2006 form? But still, you dwell on role players when you haven’t even mentioned the Sox’s plainly superior starting rotation: two bonafied aces in Jake Peavy and Mark Buehrle, plus two young, consistent hurlers in John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Nobody in the AL Central comes close to matching that. A little Ozzie Ball can’t muster enough run support for that group? Ozzie Guillen would disagree with that as much as he disagrees with Sean Penn.
On the flip side, the Cubs are playoff-worthy on paper, but there are subtle flaws, too. They have no clear-cut lead-off man and a perplexing inability to draw walks, and Lou Pinella’s insistence on starting Soriano over, say, anyone else (is Neifi Perez still available?) makes me wonder if he knows what he’s doing. And I don’t forsee this team remaining as remarkably healthy as it has to be to compete with the Cardinals. The Cubs’ offense essentially rests on the health of Aramis Ramirez, and whenever I watch him violently swing for the fences during every at-bat, I wonder how his entire muscular system doesn’t shut down in protest. Of course, I hope I’m wrong: I’d love for the Cubs to make a run in the playoffs and confront all their silly, irrational curses. Let Steve Bartman throw the first pitch of the World Series to a goat wearing a catcher’s mask. But unfortunately, I think it’s much more likely that Derrek Lee posts MVP-like numbers for two months, then shatters his pelvis in a freak boating accident. I guess that what’s makes me a Cubs fan.