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It’s the thaw that counts: Cubs, White Sox about to send warmth our way

In theory, thinking warm thoughts when it’s bitterly cold is a fine idea. For a few blessed minutes, you might forget that you’ve lost feeling in your extremities. But eventually, the fact that your core temperature has dropped below 50 degrees will override your best efforts to imagine a beach in Tahiti.

As I write this, it’s nine degrees outside, the wind chill is minus-10 and the temperature in my home office, thanks to the wonderful insulation inside a 120-year-old home, is 61. The “feels-like temperature’’ is I hate everybody and everything.

Baseball, help me out here.

Warm me, thaw me, transform me. Give me a sunburn that will sting the back of my knees every time I take a step. I don’t care.

The Cubs' Ian Happ (8) and Kris Bryant warm up prior to a spring-training game against the Royals last year in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Pitchers and catchers for both the Cubs and the White Sox report to Arizona on Tuesday. The rest of the players report Feb. 17. The start of spring training is the best remedy known to man for the brutality of winter. Before you know it, it’s March, which is practically July, if you look at it in just the right way.

Baseball is the thermal underwear of my soul. Or something like that.

For a moment, let’s put aside the big issues that are dominating the headlines for the two teams – the frustrating pursuit of free-agent superstar Manny Machado for the Sox and the Islamophobic emails of Joe Ricketts, the billionaire father of team chairman Tom Ricketts.

Let’s think about baseball.

About the promise of the Sox’ rebuild. About Luis Robert, Dylan Cease, Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez. About all the talented players filling a pipeline to the majors.

About the expectation that the Cubs’ Kris Bryant will revert to being the dominant player he was before a shoulder injury dragged down his numbers last season.

About the hope that Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish can find his way back from the hell of 2018, when lots of people turned against him for not being able to stay healthy.

OK, fine. Let’s think about Machado joining the Sox. It’s still a possibility, so why not add it to the fire?

You’re getting warmer just pondering all of this, aren’t you?

FanGraphs projects the Cubs to go 88-74 this season, a seven-victory drop from last year. It has the White Sox going 70-92, an eight-victory improvement from 2018. Before you Cubs fans lose your minds, know that those 88 victories are projected to be enough to win the N.L. Central. Does that make you feel better? I didn’t think so.

Let me send more warm thoughts your way. Let me take a blowtorch to your Off-Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Nobody fields the way Javy Baez does. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Cubs fan or not to be able to appreciate that. A baseball fan understands that having the infielder in Chicago is a blessing. Baez will be coming to a ballpark near you soon.

Jose Abreu is one of the more underappreciated players in baseball. It’s easy to get caught up in the Sox’ rebuild and forget about his career 162-game averages of .295, 32 home runs and 107 runs batted in. He struggled statistically last season (a career-low slash line of .265/.325/.473) but struggled even more with testicular torsion. It required surgery and caused the entire male population of the Chicago area to wince in sympathy. Here’s hoping he gets everything straightened out this season.

There’s so much that’s unknown, and that’s OK. The intrigue raises the temperature a few degrees. Cubs manager Joe Maddon is going into the final season of his contract, and team president Theo Epstein has said there won’t be talk of a possible new deal until after the season. Given that Epstein has called 2019 a “year of reckoning’’ for everyone in the organization, there’s a chance Maddon won’t even get a chance to have a discussion about another contract. The skipper says he’s fine with his status, but a hot seat surely isn’t the kind of warmth he’d prefer.

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Will the Sox’ young players develop enough to make the team a contender someday? It’s impossible to say. Injuries can derail careers. Prospects can underachieve or be overvalued. Fans of teams following the Cubs’ template believe it’s as simple as tearing it all down and building a product around high draft picks. What they don’t understand is how fortunate the Cubs were that so many of their young players succeeded. They also don’t understand that, with as many as eight teams in some stage of rebuilding, not all the reconstruction projects are going to work.

But for now – and this can’t be overemphasized – who cares? It’s February. Baseball is upon us, even if it’s a bunch of pitchers doing fielding drills before everybody else arrives. It speaks of youthfulness, hope and new beginnings.

Mostly it speaks of warmth. I can almost feel my hands again.