MESA, Ariz. — The White Sox are selling hope.
The Cubs have gotten out of the hope business. They’re selling anything else that moves, however, including official World Series champions bats, balls, key chains, caps, T-shirts, paperweights, playing cards, pen sets and, for all we know, romantic hot-oil massages. If you can think of it, the team already has designed, produced and price-tagged it.
To the victor go the spoils.
And to the Sox goes public patience. That might be more stunning than their decision to go through a rebuild. Maybe they should have tried this years ago. Think of all the fan and media beat-downs they would have avoided.
The Cubs will be the story of spring training. They’re the Little Engine That Finally Did after 107 years of Couldn’t. They don’t have to sell ‘‘next year’’ anymore. ‘‘Next year’’ was last year. They’re selling timeshares this year. They’re selling the idea of championships, plural. Two? Three? Four? Who is this, LeBron James?
Nothing anybody does this spring can match the Cubs’ story. How will they handle success? What can they do for an encore? Is it being greedy to think they might win back-to-back titles after going a century-plus without one? Why are we asking so many questions about a team whose last sentence was an exclamation point?
Now that’s a good question. The Cubs don’t have many issues or holes. Sure, everybody is wondering what Jason Heyward’s new swing looks like. But even if it looks like an old man vacuuming a living room, no one will care as long as he hits better than .230, his average last season.
But it’s worth remembering the Cubs won a World Series without Heyward putting bat on ball much. They were so stacked with talent that they could imply, with a straight face, that his stirring rain-delay speech in Game 7 of the World Series was worth his $21.7 million salary last season.
Not much has changed for the Cubs. Closer Aroldis Chapman has moved back in with the Yankees, so the North Siders traded for Wade Davis to handle the ninth inning. Davis is not Chapman, but there’s enough ability up and down the roster that drop-offs in talent can be made up elsewhere. Oh, and a healthy Kyle Schwarber could be like a valuable free-agent signing.
The Cubs are the rock-star attraction Michael Jordan’s Bulls used to be. Wherever Jake Arrieta, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell & Co. went last season, crowds followed them. It’s why the team’s spring-training facility is expected to be packed with Cubs fans for the next month and a half. The only people happier than long-suffering followers of this team are Mesa Chamber of Commerce employees.
The Cubs indeed can repeat. They were the favorites the moment Rizzo caught Bryant’s throw from third base in the 10th inning of Game 7. It’s more likely they won’t repeat than they will, given baseball history and the capriciousness of the sport. But if it was weird to see the Cubs celebrating on the field in Cleveland last season, one would be foolish to dismiss the possibility of weird times two.
The Sox have traded ace Chris Sale, one of the best pitchers in the majors, and there’s a good chance we’re going to see ugly times two, three or four. Is the Sox’ new approach another ruse to string along fans, only this time for three to five years of promise and commitment? How bad is this going to be while the rebuild grinds along? Who the heck are they going to put on the field? Why are we asking so many questions about a team that figures to be so unremarkable?
Because it’s all we have. Nobody can say with certainty what’s going to happen with this team even three years down the line. The hope is that some of the players they received in the Sale and Adam Eaton trades, along with whomever they get in a potential trade for Jose Quintana, will blossom into stars, the way the Cubs’ young players did during their rebuild.
Tentatively, though, it looks good. The Sox have six players each in Baseball America’s and MLB.com’s top-100 prospects lists. That includes infielder Yoan Moncada, whom Baseball America ranks No. 1; right-hander Lucas Giolito, who is ranked No. 3; and right-hander Michael Kopech, who is ranked No. 30 and whose fastball has been ticketed going 105 mph.
We care about the Sox because they’re going to lose a lot of games in the name of maybe, possibly, conceivably winning a lot of games somewhere down the line.
We care about the Cubs because they’re going to win a ton of games this season and beyond.
It’s enough, though in very different ways.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.