By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) My radio partner threw out a question the other day that made a lot of people sad.
Would a collaborative, fused squad of Cubs and White Sox players create a team that could win 81 games?
The fact that it’s even up for discussion is deflating.
Almost as deflating as last year’s combined record of 195 losses. By the way, Sports Illustrated projects a new record of 197 this year.
There will be Chicago baseball storylines we’ll want to follow — debuts to dissect, farewell tours to savor, comebacks to track.
But rebuilding year No. 3 for Epstoyer isn’t expected to bear much fruit in the win column. And Rick Hahn’s White Sox are in a year of transition, with individual development more realistic than contention.
Combine any two MLB teams and you ought to have a winner, no? Excepting the Astros and the Marlins. And probably the Twins. And maybe the Cubs. OK, I guess we have to map it out.
You ought to turn over some random piece of paper, draw a baseball diamond replete with all the bases, then write in the names by position. Sort of like math class in junior high. That helps put you in the optimistic, child-like mind frame this year is going to demand.
Based on the Opening Day rosters, presented here in lineup order are your 2014 Chicago White Cubs. (No, that doesn’t mean it’s full of guys like DeRosa, Sutcliffe and Reed Johnson.) It’s an American League team, because we really need the designated hitter.
1. Adam Eaton (CF)
A fast battler who understands the value of getting on base, his decent defensive range and potential wins him a chance. Eaton has a higher ceiling than Junior Lake for this season.
2. Starlin Castro (SS)
Both Castro and Alexei Ramirez had 22 errors last year. Ramirez’s regression makes this an easy choice with Starlin’s offensive upside. Let’s hope he can start hitting fastballs again.
3. Jose Abreu (DH)
The batter in town I’m most interested to see from Opening Day onward. I expect good things early, and then I want to see how he adjusts as the league gets to know him. It’s a testament to the state of things when the No. 3 hitter in our fictional lineup has never had an MLB at-bat.
4. Anthony Rizzo (1B)
I’m going to need more than 23 homers, 80 RBIs and a .742 OPS out of him, but I still believe it’s coming. Rizzo needs a modicum of protection. Rizzo has a much better glove than Abreu — and most first basemen, in fact.
5. Avisail Garcia (RF)
Another ceiling pick here. Man, this team could really be … something. I worry about Garcia. Will he eventually show the power? Can he stay healthy and agile with that big frame? Maybe I worry too much. He gets a shot based on the possibilities.
6. Nate Schierholtz (LF)
He’s only played eight games in left field in his career, but we have faith he can make the switch to an easier position. We have to find a spot for his lefty bat with some pop. Dayan Viciedo has exhausted all chances to make me a believer.
7. Mike Olt? (3B)
Uhh, yeah. So…huh. I think it has to be Olt, right? Luis Valbuena will be on the bench and available. But let’s see what Olt has, with clear vision. Sorry Conor Gillaspie. (Editor’s note: not really that sorry)
8. Welington Castillo (C)
Castillo’s one of the more underrated players in town. A 2.8 defensive WAR helps show how good he is as a receiver and framer, and he’s in the top half in caught stealing percentage in the NL. With some offensive growth, he may claim this job long term.
9. Gordon Beckham? (2B)
Oy. Can we come back to this? No? Beckham then. Beckham is, kind of stunningly, not that far away from Darwin Barney defensively. And who do you have more faith in offensively? Not a trick question. The bench and midseason call-ups would fight for time here.
SPs: Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana, Travis Wood, John Danks.
Sale is one of the best starters in baseball and also the best player in town. The only real decision here was Wood vs. Edwin Jackson, but the risk of four lefties is worth not grimacing through E-Jax every fifth day.
RP: Matt Lindstrom, Nate Jones, James Russell, Scott Downs, Ronald Belisario and Pedro Strop.
So, is a big Cubs’ weakness apparent to anyone? You could actually argue for Donnie Veal over the often-used Russell. I suppose I’d close with Lindstrom, but I’d command our manager to use the Bob Melvin approach as Oakland did last year. High-leverage situations get one set of pitchers, while blowouts get another. I’d play matchups in the ninth inning and not over-manage as a slave to handedness.
Reserves: Luis Valbuena, Alejandro De Aza, Emilio Bonifacio, Tyler Flowers and Marcus Semien
We’d have two lefties, a switch hitter, a catcher, and some real offensive potential in Semien. Valbuena can play third base or second base, Semien can play all around the infield, and Bonifacio can valuably play just about anywhere. He’s a great pickup. De Aza is the fourth outfielder, and I pray he doesn’t get thrown out on the bases every time he pinch runs. Flowers was a tough choice over John Baker, believe it or not. But at least Flowers can hit it out sometimes. I like our bench.
At manager I have to go with Robin Ventura over his unproven counterpart, but I’m adding Rick Renteria as a bilingual bench coach. Don Cooper is the absolute goods. As hitting coach, Bill Mueller is the unproven choice, though I’d really rather use Paul Konerko there. Give me Eric Hinske as first-base coach, super Joe McEwing as third-base coach and I’ll find some spot for Mark Parent. Love that guy. He knows more than Ventura.
Our TV broadcast team is Len Kasper and Steve Stone. You’re intrigued.
Our radio team is Pat Hughes and Darin Jackson. I’m intrigued.
Hahn replaces Jed Hoyer to join Theo Epstein and Jason McLoed in The Beatles of MLB front offices. I believe in the baseball smarts and vision of all of those guys. We have good general managers in this town.
You know what’s going to be really fun? When Javy Baez joins the team in June, and then Kris Bryant and Matt Davidson are among September call-ups as the Chicago White Cubs battle for a playoff spot. I’d expect either Valbuena or Beckham to be traded or Olt/Semien to head the minors if need be to make room for Baez.
So we need to find a division to put them in. I don’t want any part of the AL West with the Rangers/A’s/Angels, nor the AL East because of, well, every team.
But could the Chicago White Cubs win more than 81 games as a replacement for the Sox in the AL Central? Are they better than the Indians and/or Royals?
We will never, ever find out, but it’s fun to think about.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.