By Dave Wischnowsky–

For Cubs fans, there’s only one thing bleaker than the 2010 regular season.

And that’s the 2010 offseason.

So far, at least.

First, the organization runs off club icon Ryne Sandberg and hires a manager in Mike Quade who may engender support among his players, but hardly generates excitement among a fan base most recently (not) seen avoiding Wrigley Field in droves last September.

Then, Ron Santo – the unofficial face and the undisputed soul of Cubs Nation – passes away, leaving the franchise with a gaping void both in its broadcast booth and its collective identity.

Now, with the Winter Meetings underway, the Cubs’ big offseason plans appear to pretty much include pinching pennies, actively not trying to sign White Sox free agent first baseman Paul Konerko and probably preparing a press release spinning the returns of Koyie Hill and Jeff Baker as a big deal.

Heck, with Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot and Ryne Sandberg all out the franchise door during the past few months, even

the Cubs’ female fans have lost their favorite organizational eye candy.

So …

Have you ordered those Cubs Convention tickets yet?

Look, here’s the deal. With the White Sox spending cash like a Stimulus Act and boasting the only boisterous manager still in town, the South Siders are poised for the first time since 2006 to potentially sway the city’s summertime attention in their direction.

Meanwhile, by preparing to field what will essentially be a faceless franchise without any clear compelling storylines or personalities in 2011, Tom Ricketts and the Cubs are playing with fire.

And that’s why they could use some Grace under it.

Mark Grace, to be specific.

This week, Chicago – as it should be – is still focused on remembering Ron Santo and is set to celebrate the life of the future Hall of Famer (he’ll get in) on Thursday evening during a public visitation at Holy Name Cathedral.

But, at the same time, in the back of all Cubs fans’ minds – and on the tip of their tongues – is the question of who will succeed Santo alongside play-by-play man Pat Hughes in the team’s radio broadcast booth next season.

The official candidates for the job remain to be seen, but whatever names do arise, my pitch is for the guy who saw plenty of them while swinging a sweet bat and playing first base for the Cubs for 13 seasons.

In my opinion, Mark Grace – who has spent the past seven years working as the Arizona Diamondbacks color analyst on Fox Sports Arizona – is the one man that could prove to be a clear-cut and worthy successor to Ron Santo.

He has the iconic Cubs chops. He has the popularity. And he has the magnetic, folksy persona to energize the fan base.
Quite simply, just seeing “Gracie” return to Chicago after a decade in the desert and hearing him broadcast games at Wrigley Field next season would be truly interesting.

Which is a lot more than the Cubs can say about the rest of the team right now.