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Cubs, White Sox spring-training report: Cubs are amused by preseason projection

Joe Maddon oversees pitchers during bullpens at the Under Armour Performance Center, the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, AZ. | John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

The latest PECOTA projections by Baseball Prospectus have some Cubs fans upset.

Baseball Prospectus projects the Cubs will win only 80 games, which is good for last in their division. That’s a 15-win drop for the Cubs from 2018.

Manager Joe Maddon finds that prediction “entertaining” and left fielder Kyle Schwarber basically called it a publicity stunt by the respected metric website.

But is there something more in this projection? Is it a sign that the Cubs, who have averaged 97 wins the last three years, are on the decline?

The Cubs have been awfully quiet this winter, while other teams in the division have gotten better. Team president Theo Epstein previously said the Cubs have all the right pieces in place to compete for their division title this season — that is if key players like Yu Darvish and Kris Bryant stay healthy.

So as for that preseason project?

“I have zero interest in something like that,” Maddon said.

Meanwhile, the Sox are on the rise (kind of).

After a 100-loss season, the Sox are projected to win 70 games or eight more than last season, according to Baseball Prospectus.

Machado March Madness?

The main storyline at White Sox spring training still revolves around a player who might never actually put on a Sox uniform.

Manny Machado remains unsigned and it looks like it’s going to stay that way until next month.

YES Network reported Thursday that marquee free agents Bryce Harper and Machado saga won’t end until mid-March.

While the baseball world waits, Sox players have said they would love to have a star veteran player in their clubhouse.

RELATED: Add ex- teammate Welington Castillo to list of Sox who would welcome Machado with open arms

But the Sox are just one of several teams eyeing Machado’s bat in their lineup. And it appears there’s more teams stepping up to the plate.

The Padres are the latest team to throw its hand into the Machado sweepstakes. Padres general manager A.J. Preller flew to Miami last week and met with Machado, according to San Diego Union-Tribune.

Machado has been a free agent longer than his time with the Dodgers last season. It’s time to put ink to paper and move on.

Sights to see

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Irreplaceable Strop

The Cubs could find a replacement in the bullpen for reliever Pedro Strop, but they might never be able to match the energy he injects into the team.

In his Friday column, our Rick Morrissey dives into what makes Strop such a unique player.

“Strop builds teammates back up after their struggles. He entertains them tirelessly,” Morrissey writes. “Despite all the best efforts of professional sports teams to create leaders, you really can’t teach what Strop has inside him.”

In short, Strop’s supportive demeanor and fun personality energizes a team when it’s down. He’s the kind of player you want in your clubhouse.

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