World Series titles are not won in December but both the White Sox and Cubs have given their fans some early Christmas presents. The Cubs have been making a big splash by pulling off trades and signing big time free agents to bolster a roster that last year made it to the National League Championship Series. And while the past few seasons for the Sox have been a disaster, they were able to fill two huge needs in their infield.
Ever since he attended the general manager’s winter meetings in Nash- ville last week, Cubs GM Theo Epstein has been adding more pieces to his team. He started by sending shortstop Starlin Castro to the Yankees in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren. But then the fun really began for North Side fans, as he signed pitcher John Lackey, utility man Ben Zobrist and outfielder Jason Heyward all within a week.
Heyward was one of the most sought after free agents on the market. He is currently the highest African American player in all of Major League Baseball with his contract with the Cubs for $184 million over eight years. All of the money is guaranteed. But his decision was not based solely on money.
“For me, a winning attitude and culture and the fact that this group is such a young group and I could grow myself with it,” Heyward explained. “And to be 26 years old and look throughout my, hopefully, eight years here that I was able to grow up with a group of guys and make them family and to be able to cherish that the rest of the way without feeling I had to restart.”
Heyward is expected to be one of the Cubs main players featured this year in advertising campaigns. Epstein said in addition to Heyward’s talent, he also will bring leadership and a good vibe to a young team.
“I think Jason enhances our identity,” Epstein said. “It’s rare, I think, in free agency that you can add a player who so well fits the identity of the organization,” Epstein said. “We’re fortunate, I think, to have a developing identity that’s based around young players who are terrific talents on the field and who also demonstrate trem- endous character off the field.”
Combined with the other signings and the expected continual improvement of its young players, the Cubs have put themselves in a solid position to compete for a championship over the next few years. Lackey will give the starting rotation more depth, which Epstein said will be important late in the season and in the playoffs. Zobrist is also expected to bring veteran leadership, a quality bat and a defensive prowess to the Cubs.
The White Sox also made a couple of moves to shore up a lineup that has the same potential as the Cubs but has fallen flat on its face last year. General Manager Rick Hahn’s biggest splash was pulling off a three-way trade with Cincinnati and the Dodgers to bring All-Star and last year’s Homerun Derby Champion Todd Frazier to the South Side. Frazier will fill the hole at third base that has been leaking since Joe Crede departed several years ago. Frazier, 29, will bring a solid glove to the “hot corner” and will be expected to put up big numbers at small U.S. Cellular Field.
“I’m really happy about coming to Chicago. It’s a great sports city and I like the potential of the lineup we will have,” Frazier said.
In order to get Frazier, the Sox had to depart with three quality young players. Hahn said it was hard to let go of the young talent but the greater need of a third baseman was just too much to ignore.
“Bringing Todd in should stabilize our lineup and give us some much needed punch in the middle of the lineup,” Hahn said.
The White Sox also got Brett Lawrie, who is expected to play at either second base or shortstop if the Sox do not resign Alexi Ramirez. Lawrie, 26, put up his best offensive numbers last year while playing in Oakland, which is not a batter-friendly park. Hahn said he is not sure how many other moves he will make before the team heads to Arizona for training camp in February.
However the one move all Sox fans want is the one he has not made; the firing of Manager Robin Ventura.