All of a sudden at 1:15 a.m. this scribe found out Chicago might be an exciting two-baseball-team town again.
That wee hour was about when the Cubs pulled off what manager Joe Maddon called “Plan A,’’ signing star free-agent pitcher Jon Lester, late of the Red Sox and A’s, to a whomping six-year deal for $155 million. There’s an option year at the end, if Lester wants it, for millions more.
But the lefty starter, who has a stellar 2.57 ERA in 14 playoff appearances, brings huge credence to a Cubs team that has been treading water and nearly drowning for the last three years.
Then there are the White Sox. How’s the off-season been for them? How does snagging starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and closer David Robertson sound?
The Sox got Samardzija, the former star wide receiver for Notre Dame and ace for the (ahem) Cubs in a trade Tuesday with the A’s, and they plucked Yankees reliever, World Series winner and 2011 All-Star Robertson via free agency.
Samardzija, 29, was a former All-Star, too, and he had a 2.99 ERA last season, with 202 strikeouts.
People (Cubs fans?) say that Samardzija was just 7-13 last season and has a blah career record of 36-48. True. But he goes deep into games and then is let down by bad hitters and lousy relievers more times than Kate Upton has been let down by faulty brassiere wires.
His 1.07 walks and hits per inning pitched in 2014 is the best of his career. His WHIP with the A’s in the second half of the season (0.93) was his best ever. If he has arm troubles that’s news to all.
And the young man from nearby Merrillville, Ind., the fellow who was the Cubs Opening Day pitcher last April, will have a nice South Side fan following and should be geeked up to perform well for the Sox, especially against the Cubs.
Then there’s Robertson, who took over for just-retired Yankees Hall of Famer-to-be Mariano Rivera last season. The 29-year old finished with 39 saves and has a career ERA of 2.81 over seven seasons. He fills a gaping hole for the Sox, whose bullpen had a 4.28 ERA in 2014, the 28th worst in the majors.
Signing him for a reported $46 million for four years was un-Jerry Reinsdorf-like, but, apparently the Sox owner acquiesced to pesky GM Rick Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams and said, in essence, let’s roll!
With the acquisition of new first baseman/DH Adam LaRoche and the signing of left-handed reliever Zach Duke (already one of my top 10 baseball names since it sounds like “Strike Out’’ in Bulgarian), the Sox are going for it in 2015.
Jose Abreu at first, rehabbed Avisail Garcia in right, Alexei Ramirez at short, maniac Adam Eaton in center—with a pitching lineup of Chris Sale, Samardzija, Jose Quintana, John Danks and Hector Noesi? It’s a lineup that woud have knocked the upstart Kansas City Royals out of their divisional playoff run last season, for sure.
OK, nothing is sure in baseball. Injuries and failure come with the territory, unexpected and inexplicable. But this is a start. This is for real.
The Cubs have a thousand youngsters and minor league stars-to-be (we think), and now they have established ace Lester, who tweaked the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox and Cubs into this massive payday. But the Cubs won! The Cubs won! Roll over, Harry Caray.
They also got their former pitcher Jason Hammel back with a two-year, $20 million deal Monday, and traded for Diamondbacks All-Star catcher Miguel Montero.
The days when the two Chicago teams lost 195 games between them (2013) or finished with identical 73-89 records (2014) seem over.
For the Sox it could be a new 2005 in the making—remember that last World Series championship for anybody in our city? For the Cubs it could be a build toward sustained National League dominance just over the rise.
If the Cubs pick up some more veteran studs to go with their kids and new bleachers and—(angels sing, please) new Jumbotron!—we could dream again about that thing called a “Subway Series.’’
OK, I’ll calm down. Let’s all chill out. Thank you. I dunked my head in Lake Michigan. Kinda chilly. Ice cubes forming.
But even if these plans all go to hell, we still have five months until Opening Day. Party on. It’s gettin’ hot in here!