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Cubs in Five

Buying Instead of Selling (For Once)
by Jeff Webber

It's July, and that must mean it's time for Cubs in Five's annual deadline deals feature. But holy crap, this year, we actually get to talk about picking up good players instead of shipping them out of town. (Anxious to see a Sports in Fiver write about dismantling his favorite team? Talk to Steve.)

The most obvious need the Cubs had was for a catcher, but it seems they took care of that by dealing Rob "I Only Had Two Hits as a Cub" Bowen and also-ran minor league reliever Jerry Blevins to Oakland for the dessicated remains of Jason Kendall. Well, he calls a good game anyway, and he seems like a model citizen. He's no long-term answer, but maybe he can give us a few good months.

Now for the trades. Keep in mind, I'm not recommending all of these trades, or even most of them. They're just five very different ideas on how the Cubs could improve their team for the rest of the season.

One: Bobby Howry and Cesar Izturis to Boston for Julio Lugo
May as well start with a doozy. Julio Lugo, the one-time leadoff hitting stud shortstop who the Cubs coveted this offseason, ended up signing a four year, $36 million dollar deal with the Red Sox only to rapidly emerge as one of the worst everyday players in the American League. But since the beginning of the month, he's been on fire, hitting .361 with a .439 on base percentage. Add in 24 steals and solid defense and he's worth taking a chance on. The Sox would bite to get their hands on right-handed setup man Howry (who we'd replace easily with Carlos Marmol) and they'd swallow Izturis's salary to get out from under Lugo's deal (thus freeing up room to chase A-Rod at the end of the year). Risky, but potentially a steal.

Two: Wade Miller to Philadelphia for a PTBNL
You were hoping maybe for a stud prospect in return? No dice. But the Phillies, with one of baseball's thinnest minor league systems and a serious shortage of starting pitching are one of the few teams in baseball who might willingly eat Miller's salary just to see if he has something left in the tank. I'd throw in Scott Eyre here, just because of the Phils' insane tendency to trade for over-the-hill relievers, but with the commish forbidding the Cubs to send cash along with trades while their ownership is in transition, that's not going to happen.

Three: Jacque Jones to the White Sox for Scott Podsednik
Yes, that Scott Podsednik. But the White Sox, starved for outfield production and nearly as exhausted with Pods and his salary as the Cubs are with Jacque Jones, might relish the chance to turn one year of punchless pinch-running into a possible year and a half of league-average-ish center field. And the Cubs, well, they could ask Scotty to run sometimes or something.

Four: Donald Veal and Neal Cotts to Los Angeles for Delwyn Young
Delwyn Young was once seen as a star outfielder in the making. Now he's playing in Triple A for the third year in a row, with no clear path to making the big club. Donald Veal is a drool-inducing Cubs minor league lefty whose control has all but abandoned him this year. Would the pitching-starved Dodgers unload persona non grata Young for the chance to have their coaching staff take a crack at Veal? Maybe if we threw in reliever/starter Cotts they'd bite. Young, for his part, could either fight for the right field job or at the very least, light a much-needed fire under underachiver Matt Murton.

Five: Sean Gallagher to Texas for Eric Gagne
Yeah, why not... Gallagher is a potentially useful part for somewhere down the line, but Gagne is the kind of pedal-to-the-metal let's-win-now veteran acquisition that could provide a spark to fire up the current roster. And oh yeah, he's not far removed from being the best relief pitcher alive. The Rangers would love the chance to turn their Gagne rental into something they could build on. And Gagne would likely flourish by returning to the NL.

Sox in Five

Hey, We're Still a Few Games Ahead of the Royals!
by Steve Gozdecki

Wow. I suffered through a whole lot of bad Chicago White Sox baseball in my teenage years, but there always seemed to be promise even when Ivan Calderon was my team's best hitter and a never-ending parade of junk-balling lefties wore the mantle of team ace. But this White Sox team, which went 72-88 from last year's All Star Break to this one, has truly been demoralizing. And it isn't likely to get all that much better all that soon, as we'll discuss in this edition of Sox in Five.

One: Four More Years!
As you've heard by now, after nearly a month of dicking around, the Chicago White Sox have signed the very good Mark Buehrle — many White Sox fans' favorite player — to a four-year contract extension that runs through the 2011 season. The left-hander gave the team a "hometown discount" by agreeing to $14 million per year, and the team gave him... well, not much except a no-trade clause through the end of next season. After that, the team will have a one-and-a-half-year window in which to trade him if they must, but such a move would kick in a clause that would raise his salary a mil per year and tack on a fifth year at $15 million. Midway through 2010, Buehrle will gain the same no-trade protection that all players with 10 years of total major league service time and five years with a single club receive. In the end, it's a good deal all around and a smart PR move by the Sox, whose management has to be a bit embarrassed by the preponderance of Aaron Rowand, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee jerseys are still seen in the stands at every home game.

Two: Will Someone Buy Dye?
First off, I have no idea why Jermaine Dye wasn't removed for a more mobile outfielder in the ninth inning of last night's ridiculously close game, in which the Sox managed to turn an 11-2 laugher into an 11-10 nailbiter that would've ended with a 1-2-3 ninth inning were someone who could, you know, actually run was playing right field. I guess losing teams just don't bother with defensive substitutions. Anywaysies, one small negative of the Buehrle signing is that rightfielder Jermaine Dye now feels dissed, as his camp feels that he too should receive a contract extension from the Sox, which his agent tried to discuss with the front office during the All-Star Break. Which is, of course, a total as-if. Memo to Jermaine: there really isn't room for you with the Sox next year due to the presence of Paul Konerko and Jim Thome. Another aging slugger who can't play anywhere besides first base (and at this point, Dye simply isn't capable of playing outfield full time) is the second-to-last thing this team needs. (The last thing, of course, is any more damn grinders.) Dye will sign a nice-sized deal this off-season with a team that has the flexibility to DH him frequently, and he'll have another 30-homer season or two. But in the meantime, he's a luxury on a White Sox team that is headed nowhere fast, and will almost certainly be traded by month's end.

Three: Josh Fields? Well, He Hits, Anyway...
So far, so good with rookie third baseman Josh Fields. Relatively speaking, anyway — he's outperforming his much more highly touted compatriot Alex Gordon of the Royals, at least. The defense is a work in progress and could eventually push him to the outfield, but after a long stretch of busts from position player prospects like Joe Borchard, Miguel Olivo and Brian Anderson, it's a relief to see that the Sox seem to have produced a genuine major leaguer in Fields.

Four: No Way, Jose!
With every bad start, the aged Jose Contreras seems to be losing trade value. Yet he's almost certainly to be dealt, especially with so many teams convinced that they're in the race and so few pitchers on the trading block. I see an "M" in Contreras' future — if not the oft-rumored Mets of New York (where he would be reunited with El Duque, Orlando Hernandez, who might be able to remind him how to pitch) then perhaps the Mariners of Seattle.

Five: Wait 'til Next Year?
Knowing what we know — that the Sox don't throw around money in the free agent market, that the payroll will likely be slashed as fickle fans cancel their season ticket plans and that the Cell is not the most attractive to free agents — it's hard to be optimistic about next year's Chicago White Sox. Realistically, the core of next year's team could well look something like this:

Lineup
RF Ryan Sweeney (up from AAA at last)
2B Danny Richar (recently acquired from Arizona and playing in AAA)
DH Jim Thome
1B Paul Konerko
3B Joe Crede (back from his back surgery)
C AJ Pierzynski
CF Luis Terrero (just a hunch)
LF Josh Fields (for half the season, until Crede gets traded and Fields comes back to the hot corner)
SS Gonzalez (possibly current utility guy Andy, possibly one of several Alexes who seem to float from team to team each offseason — the one on Cincinnati right now is showing good pop)

Starting rotation
Mark Buehrle
Javier Vazquez
John Danks (after Jon Garland gets traded this offseason — again, a hunch)
Gio Gonzalez (up from AA)
Mystery Reclamation Project Guy (any "seasoned veteran" the club can find coming off of surgery or several consecutive bad years)

Bullpen
Bobby Jenks
Matt Thornton
Boone Logan
Someone bad
Someone worse
Someone else who can't throw strikes
Charon, the Ferryman of Hades

Fire In Five

A Bold New Era (Of Not Being Very Good)
by Steve Gillies

One: The First Game Of The Osorio Era
Thursday night saw Juan Carlos Osorio's coaching debut against defending champions, the Houston Dynamo, in front of a packed Toyota Park and national TV audience on ESPN2. The stage was set for the team to make a statement that things had changed. By the end of the game it seemed the only thing that had changed was the fact that we now have a coach who looks good in a tie. Things started out OK, with the Fire looking more capable of passing the ball than they had in recent matches. But a Houston goal at the end of the first half, and then a second midway through the second half from Nate Jaqua of all people, and the wheels completely fell off of the bus. Heads instantly dropped and the Fire's attack started to look as hapless it's been for most of the season, and Houston's strikers began to toy with the slow Jim Curtin and the short and slow Diego Gutierrez in defense. In the end, even with a couple of outstanding saves from Matt Pickens, the final score turned out to be a completely embarrassing 4-0 win for Houston.

Two: The Second Game of the Osorio Era
On Sunday the Fire had a chance to take their mind off their miserable league form and gain a little confidence by starting their defense of the US Open Cup championship against USL (minor league) expansion team, The Carolina Railhawks. Well, it didn't work out that way as a team made up of Major League Soccer rejects and hopefuls beat the Fire 1-0. I watched the game online and this wasn't your typical lower league side managing eek out a win against superior opposition. The Railhawks totally outplayed the Fire and could have won by more. And this wasn't the case where the Fire didn't field their strongest team. The only notable omissions from the side were Jim Curtin and Diego Gutierrez, and that probably had as much to do with their performance against Houston as it did resting first team players. So yeah, we got knocked out in the first round of the tournament that we've dominated since we've been in existence by minor leaguers. And we deserved it. This week might go down as the worst in Fire history. (Hopefully — I don't see how it can get worse.)

Three: What's Going Wrong
Obviously, Osorio can't be held responsible for the performances yet. But this week has certainly shown he's got a massive job ahead of him as there are big tactical problems that need to be addressed. Things have been so out of whack, it's hard to tell what formation we've been using lately, but the lack of attacking options usually leaves Chad Barrett, who's clearly not ready, on his own as a striker. The pressure has clearly gotten to him and he's noticeably regressed this season. In the back, the mix between youth and experience isn't right, with too many old, slow guys playing in the center and getting abused by fast forwards like Joseph Ngwenya. Dasan Robinson really needs to be on the field and in the middle of that backline. And the quality on the ball just isn't good enough from the central midfielders. The experimenting with Bakary Soumare as a holding midfielder has to end. Sure, he looks like Patrick Viera when he trots around the center of the pitch, but when he actually gets the ball he looks more like Billy Walsh. I'd like to see him moved to a more natural defensive position, taking the role of young athletic guy back there when Robinson's out injured. So, not too many problems to fix for Osorio, just the defense, the midfield and the attack...

Four: What's Really Going Wrong Though?
But really, it's not about formations or moving a few players into different positions. Osorio is going to have to address whatever it is that's badly lacking in this team's attitude. Generally, when a new coach comes into a struggling team there's an immediate lift in the team as players approach their games with a renewed sense of energy, and a sense that their job might be on the line. It says something about this Fire group that their lift lasted only 43 minutes. I don't know what's going on in the locker room right now, but I think it's safe to say that it can't be a very happy place. Having watched most of these players for at least three years, I know that every single one of them is a better player than they've shown this season, which makes me think there's something deeply wrong with the team's chemistry. What's it going to take for the team to get out of this funk? It's tough to say. Maybe they just need a bit of luck to turn things around. Maybe the fans need to stop being so critical and give the players time to get their mojo back (although it must be noted Section 8 was cheering hard for the team even at 4-0). Maybe they need to take the All Star break (to which, justifiably, no Fire players were invited) to recharge their batteries for what will be a tough playoff battle in the second half of the season. Maybe they need that X-factor that Blanco will bring.

Five: Blanco's Debut
Oh yeah, Blanco. Now that the Copa America is over, Blanco will be making his debut for the friendly against Glasgow Celtic on July 22. I've read that tickets are still available (although I'm probably not going to bother with a friendly unless anyone can score me some freebies). Blanco's currently a fringe player on a national team that routinely loses to a US team made up of mostly MLS players. So I don't hold out that much hope that he's instantly going to light the league up. But the hope is the energy his fans will bring to the crowd, and just the treatment of his arrival as an "event" might be enough to wake this team up. Something has to soon, because we can't really be this bad. Can we?

Sky in Five

At the All Star Break
by Anne Elizabeth Moore

One: Condi Does It Again
The July 15 All-Star festivities in Washington, DC kicked off with an address by Condoleeza Rice, and just like her various peace-keeping missions in a plethora of war-torn countries, it initiated a seemingly pointless but nonetheless difficult struggle.

But the All-Star game is incredibly important, as it's the only nationally televised WNBA game on regular broadcast channels. So major marketing efforts are put in by all sides — still, there's a jokey quality to actual play, smiles and laughter all around, as if no one believes the final score will really affect that much, and that everyone knows the airtime is the big deal here. Thus the All-Star game, from its fan-vote interactivity to the extensive commercial time highlighting WNBA All-Star players' off-season volunteer efforts — teaching kids to read, building houses in New Orleans — is little more than a two-hour advertisement for the league in its entirety.

But the ads work: The league, ABC and ESPN did renew contracts to carry WNBA games for another eight years. Which I know I should feel enthusiasm for as a fan, but because I spent about two hours three days earlier desperately trying to find the Chicago Sky game on any cable, TV or radio station in town — only to learn it had been bumped for a pig pile of lacrosse, baseball and volleyball games — it makes me wonder how, exactly, this is going to make my life any better. Unless those All-Stars wanna join the volunteer effort to come out and play me some damn basketball whenever I miss a game.

Two: All-Star Action
Still, it was brilliant players doing what they do, and forced to do it in a new arena. Plus, with no real affinity between teammates, and the big check awaiting the All-Star MVP, watching each player respond to the pressure to perform as an individual was a change of pace. The Mystics' Armazon Alana Beard wowed fans with aggressive athleticism and her 19 points and two steals per game average; Most-shocked-to-be-nominated All-Star starter Indiana Fever guard Anna DeForge (8 PPG avg) had only a 20 percent FG success rate, and played for only 13:14 — less time than anyone except fellow Fever Tammy Sutton-Brown; the Sky's Candice Dupree — "a young superstar," the announcers named her — had an 80 percent FG success rate, and evened up the score at the half to 53-all. The teams were evenly matched throughout — both in terms of talent and in terms of sloppy turnovers — but under head coach Bill Laimbeer, the East finally took victory, 103 to 99.

The real honor though went to WNBA All-Star MVP (and former Rookie of the Year) Cheryl Ford. The 26-year-old Detroit Shock forward swept the board with 16 points and 13 rebounds, earning the new title, a pay increase and a "personalized" credit card from the company that sponsors the event. Wow!

Three: Oh the Brutality
A brutal streak of Sky games against nothing but the Indiana Fever and Detroit Shock — the first and second-ranked teams in the East, respectively — was interrupted by the All-Star action, but continues Wednesday, July 18, when the Sky visit the Fever for a noon game. Of 18 games, Indiana's lost exactly four of them; of the same many, Detroit has lost five. We're on a four-game losing streak right now, and I won't lie. It hurts.

Over in the West, San Antonio's topping the chart with only six losses in 18 games; the second-ranked Sacramento Monarchs have lost seven. No one sucks worse than the Minnesota Lynx though, who've lost 16 of 21 games, with their most consistent streak being six consecutive losses.

Four: What Bo Knows
Music, apparently: Chicago Sky Head Coach Bo Overton's cleverly named blog "Bo Knows" (It's a Nike marketing slogan! Which is a popular maker of athletic wear!) features this week a list of his favorite songs. Not a one of them is surprising: Journey's 1981 "Don't Stop Believing," Survivor's 1982 "Eye of the Tiger," Guns'n'Roses 1987 "Welcome to The Jungle," — Each of these hits, in Bo's estimation, perfectly capturing the heart and soul of the 2007 season of Chicago's women's basketball team primarily due to their shared awesomeness. Also on the list is Kanye West's "Touch the Sky," which was the disturbing slogan for the entire team last year. Are all sports people so enchanted with '80s top 40 hits? And, um, why?

Five: The Two Most Recent Losses
With their eyes perhaps distracted from the prize, the Sky suffered two losses to the Shock last week, dampening hopes for a playoff spot. The July 12 65-78 Detroit loss (not to be confused with the July 10 84-92 Detroit loss) was notable for Shock Guard Deanna Nolan, Eastern Conference All-Star starter, who scored a game-high 18 points. Meanwhile, the Sky's returned to its regular starting lineup, with Dominique "The Beast" Canty finally back on all fours after a sprained ankle, while strong backup by Jia "Jia" Perkins keeps funelling in. Still, the upcoming two games against Indiana don't look good. Perhaps Bo should go back to his previous strategies of viewing game tapes and stop spending so much time jamming out to Journey?

You might be able to help the effort, though: the first annual Fan Fashion Awards are ongoing: the best janky tee or tank supporting the Sky I receive means the maker gets to come to a game with me and cheer them on themselves. Check in at sky@gapersblock.com for a mailing address. And unlike in grade school, creativity counts!

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Comments

Jeff Webber / July 19, 2007 11:24 AM

If I had the article to write over again, I'd have the Cubs acquiring Wily Mo Pena from Boston instead. How is that guy *still* being denied an everyday job?

 

About the Author(s)

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to cubs@gapersblock.com.

Steve Gozdecki has been a White Sox fan his entire life, with the exception of an ill-advised flirtation with the 1984 Cubs in the days when his town wasn't wired for cable. Because he swears by the work of the "baseball outsiders," who believe that statistical analysis trumps old truisms like subjective evaluation and team chemistry, he found himself pleasantly surprised when the Sox won it all last year. Each week through the season, Steve will bring you five crucial talking points you can use the next time someone says, "Hey, how 'bout them Sox?" Send comments to sox@gapersblock.com.

Steve Gillies has been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to fire@gapersblock.com.

Anne Elizabeth Moore didn't go to professional blogging school or anything like some of these sports writers today, but she's been nominated for more comics awards. That's gotta mean something. Send comments to sky@gapersblock.com.

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