Three opinions for the price of one:
● Now that Cliff Lee is off the trading board -- shockingly swapped to the Texas Rangers -- the value of Cubs lefty Ted Lilly dramatically increases among dealmakers.
The White Sox should at least kick the tires. What's there to lose? You know the Minnesota Twins, the original projected destination of Lee and in need of another starting pitcher, will call Cubs GM Jim Hendry. And the Twinkies likely will have more position-player prospects with whom to tempt Hendry than the Sox.
Lilly loves Chicago, and wife Natasha, a recent veterinary school graduate, has put down some local roots both in the PAWS animal-rescue organization and in helping out in a practice in the area. Moving to the South Side for at least two months would be least disruptive. Lilly, buddy Ryan Dempster and catcher Koyie Hill biked to at least one of the Cubs-Sox games at U.S. Cellular Field from Wrigleyville.
The Sox worried for the longest time that Lee, an ace of aces, would land in Minnesota. Manager Ozzie Guillen breathed a sigh of relief Friday that he won't have to face the lefty four times as a Twin this year.
The Cubs reluctantly will have to bid good-bye to Lilly, a pillar of character in the clubhouse whom they'd probably love to keep if they didn't have a desperate need to reduce payroll for upcoming seasons, given some bad contracts enveloping them like molasses. The Sox also have the uncertainty of Jake Peavy's condition for 2011 and beyond. He described himself as a "guinea pig" for the surgery to re-attach his shoulder muscle on Wednesday; the operation has never been done to a pitcher to the best of Peavy's and his doctors' knowledge.
The Sox will give first call to Daniel Hudson to fill Peavy's rotation slot short-term. But going into 2011, they can't really count on Peavy, whose schedule calls for him to resume throwing next spring in Arizona. They'll probably need to look at another starter, given the mortality rate of pitchers, for next season. They can't go wrong with Lilly, who is as tough as they come among the mound brigade.
● I wouldn't be surprised if the Blackhawks are privately thankful LeBron James took his dog-and-pony show elsehwere.
A rising tide lifts all boats -- in most places. Had LBJ become a Bull, the Blackhawks -- who had leapt ahead as the top winter sports attraction due to their hard-won Stanley Cup -- would have to at least share the stage at the United Center. LBJ would generate a three-ring circus, if the Jordan Era is a guidepost.
Despite the massive surge of Hawks popularity, basketball is far more indigenous to Chicago than hockey. And then there's the mega-star factor to attract the casual fans and fair-weather crowd. For all their success and accessible players and management, the Hawks might have slipped behind the Bulls in appeal and media coverage given the long shadow of LBJ.
Now the Bulls with Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver (if the Magic doesn't match his offer sheet, which they might) will be a nice, watchable team with postseason aspirations, but not on a par with a rare Chicago sports champion, albeit one that has eviscerated its clutch, checking third line due to salary-cap machinations. Timing is everything, and the Hawks, who pulled some nifty escape acts in the playoffs, have dodged another bullet.
● One reason for Hawks mania by thousands of fans who couldn't explain hockey nuances, rules and slang is disgust with the No. 1 and 1-A sports franchises in town -- the Bears and Cubs.
Both those teams should be perennial powerhouses, the flagship franchises of their respective leagues. But mismanagement and money-squandering have steadily turned off fans along with "Rex Is Our Quarterback" and "Look, What Do You Want Me To Do?" quotations from the head field guys.
Chicagoans demand winners and well-managed franchises who appear inclusive to paying customers. The Hawks are definitely more corporate and dressed-up under president John McDonough, but they also are young, appealing and have a big tent for prospective fans. They also have Rocky Wirtz, the most popular owner by far in town. Fans turned off by blunderbuss practices by the Bears and Cubs have found a rallying point in the Hawks, who should become the NHL's flagship team in a hurry if they don't screw it up.
In the wake of the Great Recession, fans will spend increasingly scarce discretionary income on sports where they are made to feel welcome and they receive good value for their tickets.