By Chris Emma–
(CBS) It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Nestle around the fire and enjoy the comforts of the season. It’s been quite a year for Chicago’s teams.
The Cubs won the World Series, and the White Sox are building the right way. The Blackhawks are the best team in hockey once again, and the Bulls are a thing, for better or worse. As for the Bears? Well, John Fox claims there’s progress and Ryan Pace promised better is on the way.
Before we tie a bow on 2016, Santa Chris has gifts for Chicago’s teams to bring into the New Year.
To the World Series champion Cubs — A new swing for Jason Heyward
Only two months remain to bask in the World Series glow before spring training begins and the Cubs start their championship defense. While fans cherish their title, Theo Epstein canceled his month-long bender by bringing in Wade Davis, Jon Jay and more. What more do the Cubs need? A productive Jason Heyward at the plate.
After losing Dexter Fowler and his great value to the Cardinals, it’s imperative that Heyward brings his bat north from Arizona. Perhaps his Game 7 rain delay speech was worth $18 million for the Cubs, but he needs to be a weapon at the plate in 2017. For the world champion Cubs, here’s the gift of a new swing for Heyward.
Heyward has been hard at work in Arizona, reconstructing his swing alongside John Mallee, Eric Hinske and Darnell McDonald. Here’s hoping his new cut brings more hits.
To the rebuilding White Sox — More prospects
Rick Hahn made good use of my gift from last year, a long-term plan, and began rebuilding the White Sox. In fact, the White Sox now have one of the best young farm systems in baseball. Yoan Moncada was a great enough gift, but Lucas Giolito and more made this holiday season extra bright for the White Sox. More prospects to stuff the stocking would help forge this team into a perennial contender.
The White Sox could have, in time, the gift that will keep on giving — sustained success. No more acquiring former MVPs and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. The beauty is that there’s the chance to keep adding before opening camp in Glendale. Jose Quintana could bring a huge return back to Chicago. Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera could also bring some young talents.
Credit to the White Sox for finally committing to building the right way. The gift of more prospects will bring hope for well beyond 2017.
To the 3-12 Bears — A franchise quarterback
If you’re Pace, the expectation is that your Bears won’t be picking this high ever again. The Bears should never be this bad. A 13-loss season would be their worst in a 16-game schedule. But there’s a reward that comes with this season’s struggle. Finally, Pace and the Bears are in position to get a franchise quarterback.
Whether that comes in the top five or early in the second round, the Bears can go draft the quarterback who offers hope for the future. A franchise can be altered by drafting a quarterback. The 2-14 struggle of John Fox’s final season in Carolina brought Cam Newton to the Panthers the following spring.
Now, Pace and his team of scouting minds must determine the best course of action. DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson are considered the top quarterback options in the first round, though Myles Garrett or Jonathan Allen could bolster the Bears’ budding defense. Patrick Mahomes, Davis Webb and Brad Kaaya could be among options in the second round.
The Bears will be looking very different in 2017. The gift of a franchise quarterback would help bring Chicago a winner once again.
To the best in the West, the Blackhawks — Good health
In Game 7 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, the Blackhawks forgot to bring my stocking stuffer of fortunate bounces. Had Brent Seabrook’s slapshot not rattled off two posts, they may have advanced past the Blues and beyond. Instead, the Blackhawks went home early.
Here are the Hawks once again playing terrific hockey, to no surprise. Despite injuries to Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and more, Chicago has the hopes of another summer with Stanley. All this team needs in 2017 if the gift of good health to once again have a shot. As long as the Hawks have their championship core, they always have a chance. But this team is too young to afford injuries headed into the playoffs.
Joel Quenneville has managed his lines well, but he needs those stars to rely on in crunch time. Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Artemi Panarin need to be healthy and productive come time for a Cup chase. Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell must be on the blue line. Crawford has to be in net.
The gift of good health gives the Hawks the chance to hoist the Cup once again this summer.
To the eye sore Bulls — On-court competence
So far, this Bulls season has gone as most outside of the Advocate Center expected — not well. They are 14-15 headed into their Christmas Day game in San Antonio with the Spurs, where Gregg Popovich must be thrilled to match up with this mess of a team.
The Bulls have lost five of their last six, with a few complete clunkers. After vowing to get younger and more athletic, John Paxson and Gar Forman rebuilt a team that was older and can’t move up and down the court. We don’t even know what Fred Hoiberg can do as a coach, because management has yet to give him a team that fits his style.
Happy holidays, Bulls, because Santa is offering you the gift of competence. In reality, it’s more of a plea just to be interesting this season. The Eastern Conference is the Cavaliers, the Raptors and a big pile of mediocrity. If the Bulls can just stay afloat in that mess of middlings, that would make this season interesting in Chicago. Hit a few more threes, play some defense in the fourth quarter and get back down in transition.
Take your gift of competence and be more watchable, Bulls, please.
To you, the Chicago sports fan — Joy
Here’s to a prosperous 2017 filled with happiness. Chicago sports fans are passionate and deserve winners. May your teams bring you great joy in the new year. First, cherish this holiday season.