Yes, I'm sitting here at the University of Missouri, watching our football team steadily move up to No. 5 while our basketball team quietly lays the foundation for what could be an NCAA Tournament berth.
If somebody had told me when I left the Chicago area for Mizzou in August that the University of Missouri would have more athletic success by Thanksgiving than the entire city of Chicago—well, I probably would've asked if they also thought I'd be riding a unicorn to class.
But it's happened.
The Bears are struggling to keep their heads above water, the Bulls are off to a pitiful start, the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by a team that was swept out of the playoffs by a team that was swept out of the playoffs, and the Blackhawks are all but forgotten despite their 10-8 record.
How can this losing trend be reversed? I'll discuss the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Cubs in due time—but first let me start with my beloved White Sox, who finished 70-92 in 2007.
How can Ozzie & Co. turn it around?
1. Trade Jon Garland or Jose Contreras, and resolve the Joe Crede/Josh Fields dilemma.
I always hate to break up a good pitching staff, but the White Sox have to do it.
While Contreras struggled mightily for the first four months of the season (see his 12.97 July ERA), he settled back down in August and September, posting ERAs of 4.00 and 3.54, respectively.
I think he still has something left in the tank, and other teams might too.
That said, Garland is the more likely pitcher to be traded. If Garland is moved, GM Kenny Williams could get some very good players in return.
Like Garland and Contreras, Joe Crede is in the last year of his contract—and with Scott Boras as his agent, it's highly unlikely that he'll consider coming back to the White Sox after 2008.
The problem with Crede is that he missed almost all of the 2007 season with a back injury...and when he did play, he was barely able to hit his weight.
The fact that Crede's future is uncertain will greatly diminish his trade value. But at this point, trading Crede and freeing up a little bit of money—and the third base spot for Fields—would probably be the best option for the White Sox.
Trading Fields would likely mean a big fish (see part II) coming to the South Side, which wouldn't be all that bad—but Fields has great potential and could easily hit 35 home runs next year.
This is why the White Sox should trade Garland or Contreras—it would free up money to sign a marquee free agent or land a top-notch player through a trade.
The White Sox need to sign a player like Torii Hunter to instill some confidence in a fanbase that's starting to lose it.
Even better, signing Hunter would solve one of the team's three problem areas—center field/left field, second base, and bullpen.
With Hunter in center, the Sox could shift Jerry Owens to left field to take over the role Scott Podsednik once filled.
As for a trade—the Sox have been rumored to be in the Miguel Cabrera sweepstakes. Getting him would likely require trading a package of Fields, Owens, Gio Gonzalez, and the prospects the Sox get from a Garland or Contreras trade.
If you ask me, that price is a little too steep—and the Sox really don't need Cabrera, as crazy as that sounds.
3. Get a leadoff hitter.
There are two ways the Sox could go about this—an internal solution in Jerry Owens, or making a trade or free-agent signing.
Owens hit over .280 after being called up for a second time last year, but his strikeout numbers over that period were worrisome. He definitely has the potential to be a leadoff hitter in the Podsednik mold—but at this point, nobody is really sold on Owens leading off in 2008.
A trade for Boston's Coco Crisp would also be a very good move. Crisp struggled under the microscope in Boston and appears to have lost his starting job to Jacoby Ellsbury, so he could be had for a bargain price.
Crisp had success with the Indians before being traded to the Red Sox, and a return to the AL Central could be just what he needs to regain his old form.
Getting Crisp, a notorious White Sox killer with the Indians, would also keep him away from Minnesota, which also needs a center fielder.
If they sign a center fielder, the White Sox will have to then shift their focus to signing a second baseman who can lead off. The best option here is to make a strong push for Luis Castillo.
Castillo may be losing a step as he grows older, but he's still one of the best contact hitters in the league.
4. Fix the bullpen.
This one's easier said than done.
The White Sox bullpen was pretty good in 2006 if you discount the brutal seasons from Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts. Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal, and Bobby Jenks all turned in very good years.
However, MacDougal tanked and Thornton struggled in 2007. The rest of the fill-ins (David Aardsma, Nick Masset, Andy Sisco, etc.) were sent down to Triple-A with ERAs ballooning into the 7's.
The only "certainties" next year (and I use that term loosely, because I thought Thornton and MacDougal were certainties going into 2007) are Jenks and Wasserman.
Thornton will be back and and should do fine. The same goes for Boone Logan. I think both will turn in acceptable seasons next year—but that still leaves a gaping hole for right-handed setup men.
Wasserman is young and may not be ready to come into a one-run game in the eighth inning. Since MacDougal can't be counted on to hold down a five-run lead, the Sox need some help here.
Scott Linebrink is available, as are Kerry Wood and Mike Timlin. I would love to see any of them setting up Jenks.
If all else fails, the Sox could bring back a couple of old friends in Roberto Hernandez and/or Luis Vizcaino.
A sleeper to watch in all of this is Dewon Day, who was called up for a few weeks in 2007. Day has electric stuff but has had control issues. If he can develop any sort of control, he could be a nice surprise out of the bullpen next year.
2007 was one of the worst offensive seasons the White Sox have ever had, but there's reason to believe this won't happen again—the track records of Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, and A.J. Pierzynski.
All of these players saw their batting average, home run, and RBI numbers take significant hits from 2006 to 2007. I firmly believe they'll bounce back and return to their career averages in 2008.
Here's a quick rundown of what I would like the team to look like next year:
Backup C-Toby Hall
Backup OF-Marlon Anderson
#1 Starter-Mark Buehrle
#2 Starter-Javier Vazquez
#3 Starter-Jose Contreras
#4 and #5 starters-Any two of John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Lance Broadway, Charlie Haeger, Gio Gonzalez, and possibly a prospect or two from a Garland or Crede trade
RHP-Luis Vizcaino/Roberto Hernandez
RHP-Dewon Day/Adam Russell/loser of one of the starter spots
That's my dream scenario. The batting order would likely look like this:
I'd take my chances with that lineup and rotation any day—assuming Danks/Floyd/etc. improve in the offseason.
Now, do I think all of this will happen?
That's pretty unlikely.
More than likely, the Sox will get outbid by somebody for Torii Hunter, but I don't think that'll stop Kenny Williams from signing a big-name free agent or making a big trade.
Either way, it's going to be a very interesting offseason.