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5 questions for Cubs, White Sox at the start of spring training

5 questions for Cubs, White Sox at the start of spring training
Photograph: CC/Flickr/Brian Holsclaw

At first blush, the Cubs and White Sox appear to have very little in common. The Cubs are the defending champs and one of the most talented teams in baseball. The Sox said goodbye to arguably the best pitcher in the game and seem ready to invest in a full-scale rebuild. With both teams’ pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training this week, the 2017 season is unofficially underway. And despite their differences, the Cubs and White Sox have the same goal: winning the World Series.

Here are five questions for North Side and South Side fans to ask as their team heads into camp:

What do we know?

Cubs: After winning Game 7 of the World Series on November 2, the Cubs began what would amount to the shortest off-season in the team’s history. The short break could bring its own set of problems, namely exhaustion, but that’s the price of winning it all. Speaking of winning it all, the Cubs will carry a lot of high expectations into the 2017 season, and fans are going to worry about a championship hangover. But the Cubs have proven they can handle the pressure, and these are problems every other MLB team would like to have.

Sox: Sure, the White Sox want to win the World Series, but they are admittedly operating on a slightly longer timeline than that other Chicago team. We’ve already seen patience pay off on the North Side, and the Sox look to be stealing a page from the Cubs playbook: Trade your assets, stockpile prospects and young talent, and prepare for a run a season or two down the road.

What’s changed?

Cubs: The team will begin the season without Dexter Fowler, Aroldis Chapman, Trevor Cahill, Jorge Soler and David Ross. But the Cubs stayed busy this offseason, adding outfielder Jon Jay, starting pitcher Brett Anderson and relievers Wade Davis, Koji Uehara, Brian Duensing and Caleb Smith to the roster.

Sox: Roster, identity, manager, philosophy; take your pick. The 2017 White Sox will be unlike any Sox team in recent memory—that is, they won’t be spending ungodly sums of money on has-been all-stars. Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were dealt for a boatload of young prospects, including Baseball America's No. 2 overall prospect, Yoan Moncada. The Sox also have a new skipper, ex-Cubs manager Rick Renteria. Overall, the biggest change is the team’s philosophy. No longer content with being “all in,” the Sox have committed to a lengthy, but needed, rebuild.

What to expect?

Cubs: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and that means they’ll be expected to repeat as world champs this year. Given the grind of a 162-game regular season and the inherent randomness of the MLB playoffs, the Cubs could have a great year and still not win it all. The Cubs expect Jason Heyward to rebound from a miserable season at the plate last year, as well as continued development from youngsters Javier Báez and Albert Almora. Throw in MVP-caliber seasons from Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, as well as a trip to at least the National League Championship Series, and I think Cubs fans will be happy.

Sox: Short answer: not much. A successful season for the Sox will mean being much worse than they were in 2016—the tank is another important characteristic of the rebuild. Losing a lot of games this season will ensure the team gets a worthwhile future draft pick. In the meantime, the Sox expect those veterans who haven’t been traded to help some of the team’s new young faces find success in the Majors. And if Moncada lives up to the hype, he could be playing on the South Side this season.

What’s up in the air?

Cubs: Again, this is the first time in 107 years that the Cubs are entering a season as defending champs, and it’s yet to be seen what (if any) effect that will have on the team. The Cubs are also going to have to fill several holes left by Dexter Fowler’s departure. In center field, either recently signed veteran Jon Jay or Almora will have to step up. However, the more interesting question is who will bat leadoff now that Fowler is gone.

Sox: The Sox are a team in transition, and a lot could change between now and the trade deadline. Trade rumors continue to surround a number of Sox players, including starter Jose Quintana, third baseman Todd Frazier, closer David Robertson and slugger Jose Abreu. What remains to be seen is whether the Sox will find trade partners for its remaining assets or opt to keep some of these fan favorites around and hope they’re able to help the team win in two years.

What’s it all mean?

Cubs: Cubs fans should get ready for a long season and try not to burn themselves out the first time the team goes through a tough stretch. Your team is one of the best in baseball and will continue to have success for years to come. So go to games, enjoy the wins, forget the losses and save your sports-fan hysteria for October.

Sox: The Sox are going to be horrible, but that’s okay. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and the team appears to be making all the right moves. For now, Sox fans still have Abreu’s bat and Quintana’s arm to make things fun. And once some of the team’s prospects start to emerge, excitement and anticipation are sure to follow.

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