All five major sports teams here in town are embattled in one way or another right now. Then again, is any team ever not embattled? Maybe for a few days immediately after winning a championship. Otherwise, it's pretty much nonstop embattlement. But I digress ...
The Chicago Bears fell into an icy pit of doom in their own stadium last Sunday. The Chicago Bulls are, well, awesome -- but still at least a high-scorer away from elite status. The Chicago Blackhawks appear to have fallen into almost complete chaos thanks to injuries and a porous defense. The Chicago White Sox are struggling to cap off an off-season that has made most fans happy but has still left the team with a few notable vulnerabilities. And the Chicago Cubs? Well, they're just trying to keep their edgy fan base at an even keel while they wait for opportunities to open up.
As the calendar hits the middle of December, there doesn't appear any one earthshaking move any of these teams can make to solve all of their many woes. But that doesn't mean they should sit on their respective hands. Here's my Top Five moves that each Chicago team should make right now to stay competitive or get a little more so:
1. Fuh-get About It, Bears
Look, Sunday sucked. No one is going to deny that. Most of us were expecting, at the very least, a competitive game and, instead, we were treated to a home field beat-down in which the New England Patriots showed up our team in pretty much every facet of the game.
Now, it would probably be going a little too far to say that the Bears-Pats game "didn't matter." A win would've been a huge statement game -- a veritable shot across the bow of every contending team in the NFL. But, let's be honest, as soon as the results of the Detroit Lions win over the Green Bay Packers hit the scoreboard, Soldier Field became a practice field. At that point, the players' priorities flipped (perhaps subconsciously, perhaps otherwise) from "win at all costs" to "stay healthy so we can clinch the division next week."
A lot of people might call this lame. But the important thing right now is winning the NFC North and making it to the playoffs. So the best thing the Bears, as a team, can do right now is put Sunday's game in the past, tip their helmets to a great QB in Tom Brady and a top-tier Patriots team, and get in shape to crush the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.
2. Sit D-Rose, Bulls
Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose appears to be on a mission this season. His apparent objectives: Take leadership of the team, claim every possible victory (and a few impossible ones) and lay the groundwork for a legendary Chicago sports career. And whether it's hitting game-winning shots, knocking down three-pointers like nobody's business or (as we saw in Monday night's game against the Indiana Pacers) throwing his body all over the court, he's progressing quite nicely.
Now here's what head coach Tom Thibodeau should do: Sit Derrick until at least next Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Many ticket-buying fans won't like it. Maybe a few of his teammates won't like it. DRose himself won't like it. But Derrick is far, far too valuable to the team this season to risk worsening his hip/wrist/elbow injury against the likes of the Toronto Raptors (winning percentage: .375) and Los Angeles Clippers (winning percentage: .200).
Maybe the Bulls will ultimately pale in comparison to the 2010-2011 Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic or Miami Heat. But a strong season dominating their division will do wonders for this team's confidence and they should focus on getting to the playoffs rather than worry about who they'll have to beat there anyway.
3. Stick With Crawford, Blackhawks
Whatcha gonna do? The injury bug has hit and the team just hasn't gelled. The stars don't look like stars and the stars that were jettisoned in the annual salary cap battle still look good (well, mostly). I ask again: Whatcha gonna do?
Perhaps the one positive the 'Hawks can take from Monday night's crushing loss to the Colorado Avalanche is that, despite the final score, young goalie Corey Crawford still looks good in the net. Sure, the defense in front of him has been constantly tripping over itself, but, now more than ever, it appears that one way to solidify the team's chemistry is to make Crawford the starting goalie and rely on Marty Turco as one of those tried-and-true, Crash-Davis-esque (to mix a sports metaphor) veteran backups who can just as well share his wisdom on the bench than he can contribute on the ice.
In the meantime, the Blackhawks just have to hold the line and hope that, when Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Fernando Pisani return to the team, things will finally start falling into place. They should also keep giving looks to Jeremy Morin and Ryan Potulny (both returned to Rockford on Tuesday) -- Morin especially looks like the kind of young talent that GM Stan Bowman was counting on to cool tempers over his off-season fire sale. And, for what it's worth, Bowman is reportedly shopping for a defenseman. I mean, let's be honest, it's fun to watch John Scott fight, but he's not the level of talent this team needs.
4. Dangle Dayan, White Sox
I'm not necessarily saying trade Dayan Viciedo, but see what you can get. The Cuban corner infielder has a metric ton of power potential in his bat -- and he'll be a mere 22 years old on Opening Day -- but the first base position has vanished with the return of Paul Konerko and the signing of Adam Dunn. And many believe the Sox favor the sure glove of rookie Brent Morel over Viciedo's slugging lumber.
What's more, the market for really good free agent relievers is pretty much dry. So, if Sox GM Kenny Williams feels that a trade is the only way he's going to be able to field a competitive bullpen, he's going to have to offer up something good. A young bat like that might be able to pry a really good arm out of a team like the Oakland As, who seem desperate for offense, or the Toronto Blue Jays, whose veteran first baseman Lyle Overbay just signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Many Sox fans would probably prefer to see a Carlos Quentin or certainly a Mark Teahen go in a trade, but dealing Quentin leaves a glaring hole in right field. And Teahen's hefty contract and mediocre career numbers hurt his value.
5. Pass On Garza, Cubs
As of this writing, the Cubs are reportedly still discussing a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for starting pitcher Matt Garza. By most of the accounts that I've read, the Rays are asking for top prospects in exchange for the right-handed starter, who will be 28 years old on Opening Day. If that's the case: Pass.
Garza is by no means a bad pitcher. But he's never been a particularly great one either -- and that's been while he's mainly throwing in an extremely pitcher-friendly park with a stellar defense behind him. Sure, he'd probably pick up some steam moving from the ultra-competitive American League East to the lowly National League Central, but he'd also lose that pitcher-friendly park and stellar defense thing, too.
All in all, he'd marginally improve the Cubs rotation but he wouldn't complete it. To truly complete the North Side's starting five, GM Jim Hendry would need to add a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and, well, now that Cliff Lee is back with the Philadelphia Phillies, and barring an unlikely trade for Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals, there are none available.
Indeed, the Cliff Lee deal could wind up playing into the hands of Rays GM Andrew Friedman. With Lee off the table, any and all of teams interested in Lee (the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, mainly) may now set their sites on Garza. And that sky-high asking price could go even higher. The Cubs would be better off holding Garza's theoretical spot open for one of their young pitchers, such as Andrew Cashner or, eventually, Chris Archer.