Chicago, for now, is the center of the baseball universe

SAN DIEGO – At least it’s a fair race.

Chicago’s two ball clubs – the one in the north and the one in the south – wobbled home most recently with identical records and matching division deficits, the usual blends of hope and disillusionment, and one championship between them since World War I.

The Cubs are in the thick if things in the Jon Lester sweepstakes. (USA TODAY Sports)
The Cubs are in the thick if things in the Jon Lester sweepstakes. (USA TODAY Sports)

Yeah, Cubs fans may eye the latest prospect rankings, this sudden scurry toward 2015 and get a load of this new dude Joe Maddon, cross their arms and rightfully wonder if there’s a bucket of water resting atop the door to their hearts.

And, yeah, White Sox loyalists may take a long look at their beefy Cuban and their stringy lefty and this sudden commitment to 2015, and rightfully suspect the other foot will drop square into their bowl of Froot Loops.

So, in a week in which the last-place Cubs are thick in the bidding for Jon Lester, seemed about to acquire catcher Miguel Montero, and could run with the big boys through a promising winter …

In a week in which the nearly last-place White Sox signed first baseman Adam LaRoche and closer David Robertson, and seemed about to acquire Jeff Samardzija, and had their own vice president of baseball ops feted by another franchise …

It would seem Chicago’s a good – or at least an appealing – place to be for ball again, if understandably a place that engenders a certain amount of skepticism from the folks asked to believe. That’s sort of the Chicago way, not that you could blame the people for having just about enough of the plans and promises and rebuilds and non-rebuild rebuilds and fancy press conferences that amount to little more than a waste of the helium in the balloons.

For the moment, however, in what could be the most glorious hardball winter in Chicago in years, the Cubs ask that you consider the majesty of, maybe, Jon Lester on opening day, of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro and a farm system come to life, of Maddon making the game look taut and fun and worthwhile again.

And the White Sox, in a division that would appear to be coming back to them, on Tuesday announced Samardzija (and 23-year-old right-hander Michael Ynoa, who has not yet grown into his promise or his signing bonus) had been acquired for four players – infielder Marcus Semien, right-hander Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley and corner infielder Rangel Ravelo. By participating in the deconstruction of the Oakland A’s, they’d added a top-end starter to ride along with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.

The White Sox made a big splash by acquiring Jeff Samardzija. (USA TODAY Sports)
The White Sox made a big splash by acquiring Jeff Samardzija. (USA TODAY Sports)

Even before the lobby café here had run dry of coffee and Mountain Dew, general manager Rick Hahn had put LaRoche in the middle of his lineup, Robertson (for four years and $46 million) at the back end of his bullpen, Zach Duke in the middle of his bullpen, and then Samardzija – all but plucked from the Cubs (with a stop in Oakland in between) – in a rotation that could displace the Detroit Tigers’ as the best in the AL Central.

While winning the winter has its cautionary tales – the Toronto Blues Jays and Miami Marlins immediately come to mind – the White Sox could make this work. They should make it work, straight into the primes of Jose Abreu and Sale, and – again – into a division that could be had.

Maybe the best part about this is the White Sox won’t be going it alone. Slightly ahead of schedule, and still awaiting a decision from Lester, and with other work to do – they were less than average offensively and pitching-wise in ’14, and don’t overlook a rather ordinary defense – the Cubs at least have a chance to be better than atrocious for the first time in the Era of Theo.

With a little luck, which, granted, is not often their specialty, they could even lurch toward respectable and beyond.

So, while waiting on the Yankees to remember who they are, and the Dodgers to get on with their check writing, and the Red Sox to lift themselves out of last place, take a moment to enjoy a good week all over Chicago.

You know, depending on what Lester does. ’Cause that could ruin the whole damn thing.

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