By Phil Rogers/Chicago Tribune
GLENDALE, Ariz. — An umbrella?
Are you kidding me? The things you need to pack for spring training are sunscreen — SPF 30+ for Midwesterners — a cap and Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook, so you’ll know something about the players in the game after the fifth inning.
Yeah, right. So as we sit here in the desert, watching it rain and wondering why we even packed shorts and flip-flops, I give you 10 baseball truths to be held self-evident as spring training nears its midpoint:
1. Neither Chicago team will enter the season as a division favorite. The Cardinals winning the NL Central is almost as automatic of a choice as the Phillies, behind Roy Halladay, winning the NL East. Some people will pick the White Sox to win the AL Central, but not as many as will pick the Twins (assuming Joe Nathan’s elbow is OK) or Tigers. I’ve visited the camps of all five of these Central teams and believe the optimism in four of them to be well-founded.
2. Baseball Prospectus is dissing one of the two Chicago teams it picks to go 80-82. That’s the Sox, who are clearly the better of our two teams. After the unlikely spending spree that brought Jake Peavy and Alex Rios last season, Ken Williams and Rick Hahn have done what they do best — filling the cracks with solid players at bargain prices.
The best part of importing guys like Freddy Garcia, J.J. Putz, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel is they add a ton of low-risk depth while prospects like Jordan Danks, Dayan Viciedo, Daniel Hudson and Clevelan Santeliz continue a relatively low-pressure development. “I like our kids,” Ozzie Guillen said Sunday. “Before we’d bring guys here who were kind of an embarrassment. Now our minor-league system is better.”
3. $140 million doesn’t buy what it used to. The Cubs, who join the Phillies in spending more money than every team except the Yankees and Red Sox, somehow have themselves about half a pitching staff. They had big bullpen issues long before Angel Guzman arrived with a sore shoulder and failed to address them, instead spending the winter preoccupied with off-loading Milton Bradley. The rotation isn’t scaring anyone, either.
4. Andruw Jones, baseball’s most experienced 32-year-old, isn’t ready to call it a career. He has lost weight and is in the best shape he has been in for years, and it’s showing on the field. He last had double-digit steals in 2001 but is running great, as evidenced by steals in his first two games.
He could wind up with a bigger role than he’s being penciled into, provided he stays healthy. “He’s played center field real good,” Guillen said. “If Andruw continues playing like that, we’ll find a place for him to play.”
5. Jake Peavy carries himself the way a front man should, whether it’s in a band or a starting rotation. His stats could take a beating as he moves from the NL and Petco Park, but the only one that will bother him is if he can’t maintain the .583 winning percentage. His Jockstock concert Thursday in Scottsdale will show the results he gets when he puts his mind to a cause.
(And, oh, along the lines of the Adrian Gonzalez talk, don’t overlook his influence on Roy Oswalt, who might ask Houston for a trade later this season. How would you like a rotation with Peavy, Oswalt and Mark Buehrle at the top?)
6. No knock on him, but Marlon Byrd isn’t likely to be the Cubs’ starting center fielder for even two of the three years of his contract. Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick from California, is the kind of college player who advances fast. He’s big, strong and can run. He has just as much of a chance to be a star as shortstop Starlin Castro. In Jackson and the Sox’s Jared Mitchell, Chicago’s teams both have center fielders to help build future teams around.
7. The Cubs really might go 80-82, payroll be damned. They look more like a team in transition than one that will allow Lou Piniella to finish the job he was hired to do. How could they have invested in Bradley, not Adam Dunn? When they gave Bradley $30 million over three years, Dunn would have loved to have taken his $20 million from the Cubs rather than the Nationals.
8. The Mark DeRosa trade still looks bad. Cubs GM Jim Hendry really likes the pitchers he got in that trade (Jeff Stevens, John Gaub and Chris Archer), but now’s the time to get something out of the right-handed Stevens and the left-handed Gaub, and both are off to shaky starts this spring.
9. Sox players have more fun than Cubs players. Guillen is a big part of that. “He keeps the clubhouse loose, keeps things moving,” said Rios, who played for Cito Gaston in Toronto. “I think it’s a good thing.”
10. Carlos Silva, not so much. I still think the Cubs should have just released Bradley instead of going through the agonizing process of trading him. Because the Mariners are paying $9 million of the $25 million owed Silva, the Cubs will save $5 million if they wind up releasing Silva, who looked like he was throwing BP against the Sox on Saturday.