Let’s be honest: Opening Day is awesome no matter what. It means a whole bunch of things, the best of which has to be that summer is most certainly near since I'm still in college. But in Chicago, I don’t remember an Opening Day in recent memory that has started with as little hope for both the Cubs and White Sox as we’re seeing in 2012.
Cubs fans, at least a lot of them, are bursting at the seams with optimism after the team brought in a dream team of stud executives. There’s finally legitimate hope that the team will be a winner… by 2014. That’s certainly the rub, isn’t it? Unless Theo and company recently found the baseball equivalent to the glowing basketball that turned monsters into basketball superstars in Space Jam, the Cubs are a team with roughly four MLB players that would demand major interest on the trade market right now.
Now, we probably shouldn’t be doubting what Theo Epstein is capable of, but things are bleak for this season. Good things are happening, but there’s a reason why Cubs fans have heard the word "patience" like 500 times in the past few months. (This much failing should give you patience, not make you anxious to win. Right?)
Then there are the White Sox. They could totally win 87 games if the following things happen: Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Gordon Beckham all stop being terrible and play like Kenny Williams thought they’d play when he built a lineup around them; Paul Konerko somehow continues to thwart the miracle of aging; Jake Peavy and Chris Sale don’t have their arms fall off; All of the other things happen so the White Sox don’t trade off guys like Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Matt Thornton.
So you have like a dozen things that need to happen for the team to get into a position where it maybe makes the playoffs. I don’t like those odds, and neither should you. So no, White Sox fans are expecting to have a super fun season on the South Side either.
But this is what Chicago is stuck with, and I don’t see too many of our fans planning on jumping the wagon any time soon. Our teams have lost many times before, and they’ll lose again. In fact, they’re going to lose a lot this season, so I’ve mentally prepared myself to be entertained by other things instead. It’s fine for now, because when they win, I’ll run down the street screaming like a crazy person because it’ll be that good.
At the start of a season that’s going to be unusually boring, let’s do our best to sort out what’s good and count our blessings.
For the fans actually going to Wrigley, this is pretty much it. Matt Garza is really, really good. He’s also about to get ridiculously expensive really soon unless the Cubs decide to deal him off and bolster the farm system even more. Otherwise, there isn’t really another player on this team that’s going to make your eyes pop other than Starlin Castro.
The errors might make you want to slap him silly, but he’s got special talent when it comes to hitting and the fact that he’s even got the potential to be solid defensively at shortstop makes him a possible cornerstone. Castro led the National League in hits last season as a 21-year-old. That kind of success is reserved for guys with "give this guy a bajillion dollars!" kind of talent.
Now, he’s not quite at that level yet and the Cubs shouldn’t treat him like he is. But he’s flashed the talent, and great teams often start with those kinds of players. Watching him grow before our eyes should be considered part of the journey, even if he doesn’t totally pan out.
They’re not always fun, especially in cases like this we’re basically talking about the Chicago teams getting worse at the big league level. But is it really all that important to you that the White Sox win 73 games instead of 70? This is precisely when you trade expensive veterans for prospects, when the stakes are so low because the odds that you’ll compete are nearly non-existent anyways.
Having guys like Gavin Floyd around might be nice for a lot of obvious reasons, but go look at the White Sox’s farm system and try to tell me that they don’t need a lot of help. You can’t, because their farm system is so mind-numbingly bad that I could sort of care less about Gavin Floyd right now.
At this point, I’m far more annoyed by the baseball media constantly mocking the White Sox’s pathetically bare farm system. And the worst part is that the organization entirely deserves all of it, and baseball’s cheapest club when it comes to amateur spending (that’s an article for another day) essentially has no effective avenues to acquiring more young talent other than trades.
Plus, you have to admit that it’s a tad easy to dream with those young guys when you first get your hands on them. You know that Ronald Torreyes guy the Cubs got from Cincinnati? Yeah, meet your new awesome second baseman two years from now.
Yeah, yeah, Wrigley is cooler than The Cell. Everyone knows that already. But if I don’t want to deal with ridiculous traffic or taking the El, and maybe I’m just feeling the DH on that day or whatever, I admittedly love taking in a White Sox game. They got some pretty good food at that place if you know the right places to find it, too, which is always good if my dad is there so I can actually afford it. (Dads rule, by the way.)
Alfonso Soriano, Year 6 (Almost There!)
Listen, I’m not mad at Alfonso Soriano for taking the money that the Cubs offered to him. I’d have happily taken $136 million, too, because that’s what people do when they’re offered boatloads of money. But after all of this time, I will admit one thing: I’m just kind of sick of watching the guy play. The hopping around in the outfield, the "What the heck was that?" swings on wild pitches, and everything else that he does that makes you wonder how anyone thought he would ever be worth $18 million in 2012.
Unfortunately, he’s still around through 2014, but by next season he and Garza will be the only players due to make over $10 million on the team. Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly and Milton Bradley are all gone, plus Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd have their contracts end in 2012. Pretty soon, Soriano will be the final piece from a team that eventually grew to become pretty hard to root for. Jeez, I’m just getting exciting about the prospect of him leaving the team three years from now.
Predictions, Just Because
With all of this said, I haven’t really discussed how I feel about these teams other than recognizing that I don’t think either one is all that good. Even getting to 85 wins would have to be considered a major success for either team this year.
For the Cubs, I’m predicting a fourth-place finish with a 74-88 record. There will be problems abound, but they could actually win a few games if Jeff Samardzija’s improvements turn out to be real and they get good seasons from guys like Geovany Soto and Ian Stewart. They’re like that home-cooked meal from someone you love, but only one part of the entire meal is good so most of the time you’re just putting on a nice face. But in the end, you’re not going anywhere and they’re not going anywhere, so all you can really hope for is that they get better with time.
Sadly, I feel even worse about the White Sox, which I’m predicting to finish in last place in the AL Central with a 69-93 record. Sale, Peavy, Floyd, Humber and Danks could turn out to be a pretty decent rotation and the lineup isn’t bad if guys like Rios, Dunn and Beckham are right, but teams just don’t get that lucky. Considering the likeliness that a bad start will lead to some trades, you could see an increasingly youthful (and bad) team on the South Side as the season progresses.
2012 Cubs MVP: Castro.
You almost need Castro to be the MVP of this season in 2012. Because if he’s not the MVP of a pretty mediocre team after what he did last season then the bigger concern will be that he’s not progressing as hoped. The other possibility is that Garza just blows up and has a Cy Young-caliber season, because you’d be nuts to think that it’s not possible given how talented he is.
2012 White Sox MVP: Alexei Ramirez
One thing that’s clear is that shortstop isn’t a problem for either team, which is actually kind of surprising given the dearth of quality players at that position these days. Ramirez doesn’t put up flashy numbers, but he’s a solid hitter that plays great defense at shortstop and runs the bases well. He’s also proven to be extremely durable, averaging 154 games per season since becoming the full-time shortstop for Chicago in 2009. At this point, nobody on the White Sox seems capable of doing any better than that.
Satchel Price is a newsdesk contributor for SB Nation Midwest and a feature columnist for SB Nation Chicago. His baseball writing also appears on MLB Daily Dish and Beyond the Box Score, two of SB Nation's general baseball sites. For more of his splendid whimsy in display, follow him on Twitter.