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What to Expect from the Cubs and White Sox this Winter

Trade rumors and potential moves for the two ball clubs, who are in very different phases of teambuilding this year

How will the Cubs replace Jake Arrieta? And will the Sox dangle Jose Abreu as a trade piece?   Photos: (left) Brian Cassella (right) Nuccio DiNuzzo of Chicago Tribune

This week, Major League Baseball held its annual general managers’ meetings, when members of the 30 front offices gather and prepare to shore up their rosters for the upcoming season.

It was at about this time when the Cubs signed Jon Lester three years ago, and when the White Sox made the deal that brought Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech over from Boston in 2016.

This year, Chicago’s baseball teams are on opposite sides of the winning spectrum. The Cubs, still relatively fresh from a World Series title and having made deep runs in three consecutive postseasons, are looking to continue fostering a burgeoning dynasty, and the White Sox, having just finished the 2017 season with the third-worst record in baseball, are building for their return to October baseball.

So, the crosstown rivals will likely take different approaches to any personnel changes this winter; here’s a preview of what you can expect.

Cubs: Starters and Relievers

The Cubs starting staff has been thinned by the departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey through free agency, and they have already been linked to former Rays pitcher Alex Cobb.

Cobb, who turned 30 in October, pitched for several seasons under Joe Maddon when he was manager in Tampa Bay, and more recently, Cobb has worked with newly hired Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey. Cobb and Hickey worked together for six seasons, so the history there is rich. The former Rays starter recently expressed that it would be an “honor” to sign with the Cubs, so it’s safe to bet that one of the vacant rotation spots will be filled by Cobb.

Otherwise, the starting pitching market is unfortunately thin. Ironically, Arrieta is one of the more appealing targets, but unless the Cubs are willing to give him a four-to-five-year deal, he’s not coming back to Chicago. That leaves former St. Louis Cardinal Lance Lynn in free agency. Lynn is serviceable at worst, and he has shown—at his best—that he can even come close to excellence. He won 18 games in 2012, and he has pitched at least 175 innings for five consecutive seasons, an attribute that is among the most vital for the Cubs starting staff in 2018.

In the bullpen, the Cubs are rife with arms that hold great potential, like Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop, but when the playoffs came, only Wade Davis proved reliable, albeit tenuously so at times. Davis is gone in free agency unless the Cubs re-sign him, so like their starters, they will likely turn to who is available on the market.

There are a few options here, like Greg Holland, Brandon Morrow, or Juan Nicasio, but the most intriguing might be through trade. Recently, the Orioles have expressed interest in shopping closer Zach Britton, and he presents a viable option for the North Siders. Britton, an All Star in 2015 and 2016, has been Baltimore’s closer since 2014. Though slowed by forearm and knee injuries last year, he was nearly untouchable in 2016, when he posted a 0.54 ERA and a league-leading 47 saves. A healthy Britton would be a game changer for the Cubs bullpen if they can line up the right pieces for a trade.

White Sox: The Rebuilding Continues

The Sox are going to be more quiet. They made a great deal of noise in 2016 by sending Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Adam Eaton to the Nationals, but after continuing to raid nearly all of the rest of baseball—including the Cubs—for their best prospects during the summer, the time to let their newfound bevy of talent develop has come.

This means that the hot stove will be decidedly cooler on the South Side this winter, but that’s because the work has already been done. There have been rumors of general manager Rick Hahn being willing to dangle Jose Abreu, but he has said that he doesn’t believe that other teams value the first baseman like they do—words that should halt any trade talks before they start.

But Abreu is 30, and his most productive years are already starting to wane. He has been stellar offensively since coming to Chicago in 2014, and if the White Sox are willing to part with him, they could still add a prospect or two.

Like Abreu, outfielder Avisail Garcia presents another possible trade piece. At 26, he turned in his best season to date, batting .330 and hitting 18 home runs for the White Sox on his way to an All Star berth. Garcia once drew comparisons to Miguel Cabrera when he was coming up through Detroit’s system, and if he is finally realizing that potential, the question for the White Sox will be whether to hold on to him for the future or trade him while his value might be at its peak.

Opposing general managers could be forgiven for being hesitant to deal with Hahn, who has shown that he is adept at raiding them for their best young players, but if he chooses to continue, Hahn has more in-house talent that he could use to continue stockpiling an already prodigious farm system.

Whatever he decides to do, the White Sox are building toward their first World Series championship since the 2005 title, and with the Cubs in the throes of dynasty-building, this winter might be the time when both teams make the moves that lead to overlapping success at the end of this decade.

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