The Best Thing I Did In 2016 I Didn’t Even Write About (Until Now)

I probably should have known 2016 was going to be The Year for the Cubs when Kanye West announced his tour dates. His two-day Chicago stop was scheduled for what was expected to be (and what turned out to be) Games 1 & 2 of the NLDS. Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to take a weekend night off from work for both NLDS Game 1 and a Kanye show the next night, I did the next best thing. I saw Kanye at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, which was the show closest to me that didn’t interfere with meaningful baseball games. It also happened to be the tour opener. The following is a re-telling of the events of that evening.

We didn’t know it then, but Kanye West’s Aug. 25 show at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis turned out to be a microcosm of 2016 for Mr. West.

At its worst, the set was disjointed, unhinged and unsettling. But at its best, it was the kind of performance you could easily justify driving 193 miles to see.

While the obvious focus of the Saint Pablo Tour was on tracks from his 2016 release The Life Of Pablo, West sprayed to all fields when performing that Thursday evening. And that’s fitting because I’m certain I haven’t been to an event with as much crowd diversity as that show. Standing in line only for the doors to open late wasn’t ideal, but it allowed me to scan the crowd in an attempt to capture the vibe of what might be on the horizon. West’s crowds are represented by teenagers, fans in their 60s and everyone in between. Men and women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ethnicity were well represented in the crowd that gathered to see West that night.

Among the many things that makes Kanye West great to me is his ability to create music that attracts many different kinds of people. For whatever reason, West’s music cuts across myriad demographics. The fact that West’s music can touch a city boy from Chicago and the guy next to him, the son of a farmer in rural Pennsylvania bows my mind.

I wish the same could be said about the entirety of the show. The late entrance led to a late start, which ultimately probably led to songs like Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2, Ultralight Beam, Real Friends and Waves — popular joints from The Life Of Pablo — being left unperformed. Also, the inclusion of a track like “Only One” made the absence of those songs more evident to me.

The fragmented performance of Blood on the Leaves and the ramblings during Runaway songs such as Black Skinhead are to be expected from a West show, but they serve to unfortunately break the rhythm of the show itself.

And despite that, West put on an amazing show that was highlighted by the fact that he was performing on a moving stage that hovered above the adoring crowd below him.

The floating stage was the epitome of what Kanye West represents. It was equal parts creativity that goes largely unmatched by his peers and the narcissism that demands he is the center of attention — literally and figuratively in this particular case.

As is typical for a West show, the crowd was entranced from the first notes of the sample West used for Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1, proving it was ready to go as it bellowed out “If Young Metro don’t trust you, I’m gon’ shoot” to usher in the start of the show as West opened with Pablo’s lead track.

Crowd participation has become a highlight of West’s shows as his popularity has grown and he has evolved as an artist. Fans chiming in at the perfect time at a West show will give you goosebumps. The infamous “I made that bitch famous” line that caught the ire of Taylor Swift, the Pusha T ad-lib that starts the West-aided Chief Keef hit “I Don’t like” and the first words of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” were all belted from the crowd in sync to the point where you might have believed it was choreographed if you didn’t know any better.

No choreography needed when your audience is that in tune with your music.

No matter which Kanye is your favorite, you were represented in song at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on that August evening as songs from College Dropout, Graduation, 808s and Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus were weaved seamlessly throughout the night.

Unfortunately, I was left with the impression that the show ended with a whimper. Closing out with 30 Hours, Highlights, All Falls Down, Only One and Fade represented a decrescendo in a night that seemed building up to a bigger finish. The awkward ending left more to be desired, especially as West’s stage dangled with him on it as the lights came on. The show was over, but it was fair if you left unfulfilled because of the ending.

Hence, it was the show that summed up West’s 2016 in that you were happy for the experience despite being disappointed along the way.

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A look at the best things I wrote in 2016

We’re on the cusp of stepping into 2017, where I will start writing a new chapter in my life.

Working at the Tribune was a dream come true. And yet, the opportunities at BleacherNation.com and BaseballIsFun.com have me pumped up about the future.

But before we get there, allow me to share my favorite pieces of 2016:

I wrote some pretty neat stuff on this blog, too:

I’m looking forward to doing this again in 2017.

So, your favorite team is going through a rebuild…

I recently promised to put together thoughts on my personal blog on embracing a rebuild. It was timely because of what the White Sox did with their trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.

So, here I am ready to share the secrets of living through a rebuild.

It won’t be easy. But you already knew that because trading established players for minor league talent with potential isn’t easy to accept. On the other hand, trading a five-time All-Star pitcher and a Gold Glove finalist right fielder netted your team the kind of organizational depth it had been lacking for years.

#NotAllProspects

The rumors are true, not all prospects pan out. And since the White Sox share a city with the Cubs, there will often be references to the Cubs’ success rate with call-ups. You might even hear something like: “Well, the Cubs hit on all their prospects.”

Factually speaking, that isn’t true.

It’s easy to look at the successes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Javier Baez and think that, but you really shouldn’t. In fact, the 2016 Cubs were more than that. They needed to get lucky along the way with a post-hype sleeper like Jake Arrieta (rated #52 by Baseball Prospectus pre-2009) and a pitcher who performs better than his stuff would indicate (Kyle Hendricks).

Since it’s easy to forget the misses after the team (led by the guys who panned out, mind you) won the World Series, here is a list of those can’t-miss prospects who missed.

  • Mike Olt (MLB.com, Baseball America.com #22 pre-2013)
  • Arismendy Alcantara (Baseball Prospectus #83 pre-2014)
  • Neil Ramirez (Baseball Prospectus #77 pre-2012)
  • Ryan Sweeney (Baseball Prospectus #42 pre-2005)
  • Ryan Kalish (Baseball Prospectus #60 pre-2008)
  • Edwin Jackson (Baseball America #4 pre-2004)
  • Ian Stewart (Baseball America #4 pre-2005)
  • Chris Volstad (Baseball America #40 pre-2007)
  • Josh Vitters (Baseball Prospectus #31 pre-2010)
  • Brett Jackson (Baseball America #32 pre-2012)

That’s 10 (count ’em, TEN!) former top-100 prospects who were either acquired (or in the case of Alcantara, Vitters and Jackson inherited) by Theo Epstein’s regime who didn’t live up to that top-100 billing for one reason or another.

There are no guarantees about who becomes a star from this group that features six of MLB.com’s top 100 prospects, but the competition that will go on under the radar for these players to make a name for themselves and get to The Show will (A) be fun to watch and (B) serve as a reminder that the cream always rises to the top. Players who deserve to make it to The Show will do so on their own merits.

Game Watching

Wins and losses are meaningless and there is no reason for a loss to ruin your mood while your team rebuilds. This will be easier than you think. I found it better for my everyday fandom to divorce myself from being results-driven and become process-oriented when watching baseball. It might take a minute to re-wire your brain to think this way, but it’s worth it to take in baseball with a different perspective.

Besides, wins are empty if a player whose development your team is counting on in the future stalls because he isn’t learning from his mistakes or making natural adjustments that lead toward progress.

Pressure is good because it means expectations are high. Only good things can come from high expectations. But no pressure can also be good. The lack of results-based stress should open your mind and your eyes to a different world. Follow me for a minute.

Guy gets down in a count early, works it back even by laying off some pitches in the dirt, but lines out. The outcome sucks for the player (and as a fan). But if you know he would have previously waved and missed, ending that at bat three pitches earlier a month ago but he’s not doing it now — that’s process.

Miscellaneous

The following are bullets that probably could have had their own section, but for time and space purposes, this will have to do:

  • Playoff baseball is easier because you can watch without a mind clouded by emotion. With that out of the way, you can note what’s working and not working for teams with regards to organization building. You know you want your team to be a postseason contender, note how other teams do it and see how anything can be applied to your team.
  • Media coverage will be weird. Maybe the Cubs’ success will change things? But teams have been doing what the Cubs did since the 1920s when Branch Rickey was doing it with the Cardinals. The dynasty Yankees were build on the foundation of young, homegrown talent. So were those Dodgers teams that reeled off one Rookie of the Year after another. Look at the core of the #EvenYearMagic Giants teams. I’ll never understand why professional journalists were willingly ignorant about a process every good team goes through at one point or another. Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself.
  • It’s a good time to buy into a ticket plan. It’s simple economics, but worth repeating. There might not be a better time than now to buy a season-ticket plan for the White Sox. It’ll pay for itself when the team gets good again. Trust me. And if you don’t want to pay for that, now would be a good time to be active on the secondary ticket market. StubHub had Cubs tickets during the rebuild as low as $5.
  • Another investment worth making is MLB-TV. I bought my package when the Cubs started their rebuild so I could balance my baseball viewing with good teams. Of course, I gravitated to Vin Scully and the Dodgers. If I had to suggest a team to follow fot White Sox fans looking for a taste of something different: Red Sox (Chris Sale factor), Orioles (good offense, popular manager), Astros (young core of players), Dodgers/Giants (pick one of these to get a feel for what a real rivalry is like), Mets (Thor! Cespedes! Asdrubal Cabrera! OK, not so much the third….) and Nationals (Bryce Harper is a perennial MVP candidate and soon-to-be free agent).
  • Perhaps buying MiLB-TV would be a wiser and less costly package to keep an eye on the prospects bubbling below in the White Sox organization. I never went this route, but Cubs fans I know seemed to like it and some have even kept it.

Here’s hoping this was helpful. Good luck with all that.

Random lunch-time baseball thoughts

IMG_1272I had a weird Wednesday night in which I helped my dad do some Christmas shopping, but I got home later than expected, thus, leading me to start dinner later than I should have.

Which led to me eating later than I should have.

Which led to me going to sleep and waking up later than I should have.

While eating, I watched the MLB Network 2016 World Series special that was saved on my DVR. It was worth the wait, but it made me want to write some stuff down. This is the result of writing after watching baseball and eating dinner at an hour too late to be eating dinner.


Moments that are difficult to grasp during the baseball calendar year aren’t limited to days and nights in which the games are played. The 2016 edition of the annual Winter Meetings provided Chicago baseball fans with that reminder this week.

The White Sox traded ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Red Sox in a move that fans might have trouble stomaching, even if it comes with the potential of better days ahead.

Not only was Sale the face of the franchise, he was a beacon of light during some dark years (the Sox averaged 75 wins in Sale’s five All-Star seasons) and also represented one thing the organization has done exceptionally well.

The White Sox’s ability to find, scout, draft, sign and develop pitchers is remarkable in an era where pitching is hard to find, scout, draft, sign and develop is extremely difficult. On the other hand, we would be talking about a dynasty if they developed hitting the same way they did pitching. Instead, the White Sox have made only four postseason appearances since I was born in 1986.

But I digress.

Sale (along with now-former teammates Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon) joined Jack McDowell, Wilson Alvarez, Alex Fernandez, Mark Buehrle and others among the most productive starting pitchers developed by the White Sox organization over the last 25 years. It’s a pretty solid group if you know your White Sox history — or have access to Baseball-Reference.com.

Unfortunately, Sale never received the praise or accolades he should have because he played on one winning team since becoming a full-time starter in 2011. He leaves Chicago with the 18th highest bWAR number (31.1) in franchise history, which ranks him as the ninth best pitcher in franchise history.

Sale joins a Red Sox team primed to win another American League East title and could find himself reaping the benefits of playing with a different batterymate. No pitcher was hurt by a lack of pitch framing behind the plate than Sale, who missed a significant amount of calls in the wake of Tyler Flowers being sent packing by White Sox brass after the 2015 season. Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro both ranked in the bottom 10 in calls added and runs above average, according to StatCorner’s pitch framing metrics.

As if a guy armed with a 98-mph fastball and two swing-and-miss secondary offerings (a filthy slider and a nasty changeup) needed any more help.


Cubs fans found themselves in a similar situation Wednesday when the Cubs traded outfielder Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for right-handed closer Wade Davis.

While Soler was never the main attraction of the Cubs’ rebuild, he was the first meaningful prospect developed during #ThePlan’s development years.

It’s easy to forget now, but the Cubs outbid the Yankees, Braves and Dodgers (among others) to sign Soler in June 2012. He was a hot commodity who became a star prospect during his meteoric rise through the Cubs’ minor league system. He played at three different levels before making his major league debut on Aug. 27, 2014, slashing .340/.432/.700/1.132 while showing a keen eye at the plate (13.98 BB%) in 236 plate appearances.

The successes of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and other rookies who came up and had immediate sustained stretches of success made it easy to forget Soler played like rookies usually play. He was streaky and raw with flashes of potential at the plate and in the field to go along with the extreme highs and lows that make fans and prospect hipsters alike squirm.

Soler will likely always be remembered for three things:

  • He was the Cubs’ best hitter in the 2015 postseason despite not starting in the NL Wild Card Game or NLDS Game 1. He slashed .474/.583/1.105/1.689 in seven starts, mashing three homers and three doubles to go along with five walks in 24 plate appearances.
  • Being a Cardinal killer, slashing .287/.364/.552/.915 in 99 regular season plate appearances.
  • He was on the team that ended the Cubs’ 108-year title drought.

I’m not sure if it will go down in history this way, but let the record show this was the moment the young Cubs were put on the map:

The Cubs were bad in 2014, but things were changing as they started to call up minor-league talent that was bubbling at the minor league level. Soler was the headliner, seeing that he was the first impact signing of the Theo Epstein regime.

On this night, Jorge Soler mashed two homers against Shelby Miller, who was pretty good at the time, and Pat Neshek, who was in the midst of his best year as a reliever.

Both were tape-measure shots. Both were followed by audible cheers by Cubs fans and a noticeable murmuring among Cardinals fans that gave off a “who the heck are these guys and what happened to Darwin Barney, Donnie Murphy and Cody Ransom?” vibe.

I wouldn’t go as far to write Soler had nowhere to play because there are ABs to go around as the right-handed counterpart to Kyle Schwarber in left and/or Jason Heyward in right in 2017. And we can’t forget about DH usage in the 10 interleague games in American League parks. But Soler’s pitch recognition skills and raw power aren’t best suited for part-time play — at least, not at this point in his career.

Soler needs consistent reps moving forward and will get them in Kansas City, a team in search of young, cost-controlled right-handed power with upside. And because of that, he is closer to being the player he projected to be as a prospect than he was prior to the trade.

As for Davis, he looks to use the 2017 season as a springboard for a significant free agent payday. During the Royals’ back-to-back pennant runs (culminating in the 2015 World Series title), Davis was the third most valuable reliever (5.0 fWAR) with the second best Win Probability Added (8.10) number.

Perhaps the new market inequity is acquiring high-leverage relief aces in the final year of their deal and running them into the ground. The three biggest arms in the Cubs pen are either coming off a triceps injury (Hector Rondon), a knee injury (Pedro Strop) or an forearm injury (Davis), so nothing is truly safe and the Cubs shouldn’t be done adding arms.

Making Sense of Nonsense: White Sox trade Chris Sale to Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and 3 other prospects

The White Sox’s rebuild officially began at 2:47 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2016 when they dealt ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox for a premium prospect package.

Dealing Sale was a difficult pill to swallow for the White Sox and their fans. He was one of baseball’s best pitchers, making five straight All-Star Games from 2012-16 and posting MLB’s fourth highest fWAR (26.2), 10th best starter’s ERA (3.04) and seventh highest strikeout rate (27.8 K%) to go along with the 23rd lowest walk rate (5.4 BB%) among 179 qualified starters. No matter which way you cut it, Sale has been one of baseball’s elite pitchers of this half decade.

But with the White Sox mired in mediocrity (the words of GM Rick Hahn, not mine) something had to give as the White Sox tried to position themselves to win in the future as the present didn’t offer much of an opportunity.

The return for Sale projects to be a strong one as the White Sox acquired baseball’s best prospect in 2B/3B Yoan Moncada along with RHP Michael Kopech, OF Luis Alexander Basabe and RHP Victor Diaz. That’s a good return that features three of the top eight (including two of the top five) prospects from what is widely regarded as one of — if not, the — best farm systems in baseball.

Moncada ranks first and Kopech checks in at 67, according to MLB Pipeline. Meanwhile, Basabe and Diaz project to be listed in among the more highly regarded prospects in the coming years.

Any time you can swipe four of an organization’s top-30 prospects, you’ve done well in a trade. Even if it means sending off one of baseball’s best pitchers in the process.

Moncada is a dynamo, a future everyday player at either second base or third base who Jim Callis described as “Robinson Cano with more speed.” Kopech is a right-handed flame-thrower who reportedly hit 105 mph with a fastball this summer, though, that may have been debunked as a myth. Still, reports have him topping out at 103, which is mighty fine. Though, if you’re expecting that out of him as a starter, I would suggest re-adjusting your expectations until further notice.

Still, a hard-throwing righty whose floor is a high-leverage relief ace who also has potential to be a top-of-the-rotation arm if he can get a grip on some offspeed offerings is a quality get for Kenny Williams/Rick Hahn/Jerry Reinsdorf. And the fact that they did it by playing the Washington Nationals (and their rumored package of prospect RHP Lucas Giolito and OF Victor Robles) makes it very deserving of a tip of the cap to the White Sox front office.

The hardest part (again) is losing Sale, who has been the face of the franchise since Paul Konerko retired. Sale never pitched the White Sox to the playoffs, but it’s not like it was his fault the team around did not perform to its potential like he did. And even when they did, it simply wasn’t enough as the White Sox around him (specifically, the everyday players) lacked depth and high-end talent throughout his tenure in Chicago.

With Sale off to Boston, I’m also reminded that Chicago baseball fans really missed out on a chance to see one of baseball’s premier talents, especially when he was at the peak of his powers over the last three years.

If you have FOMO, the rest of this post isn’t for you, especially if you’re one who will find regret in not buying something of value at a discount. Because if you browsed and shopped on the secondary ticket market, seats for Chris Sale starts were plenty — and plenty affordable.

Using Fangraphs’ WAR number as our guide, Sale was MLB’s fifth best pitcher from 2014-16. Only Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer and David Price posted a higher WAR number than Sale’s 16.6 fWAR.

The White Sox’s average home attendance in Sale’s starts in those years:

  • 20,997 (2014)
  • 22,545 (2015)
  • 21,539 (2016)

On average, we’re talking about 53.4 percent capacity. Yikes.

In a sense, it’s disappointing to see the city not back a great player in his prime. I feel like some fans might regret this in when we’re a few years removed from this deal. I went to a bunch of Sale starts and even I wonder if I should have gone to more when given the opportunity. Further, I wonder if more support during Sale starts could have helped the White Sox financially during their free agent hunts in recent years.

I simply can’t help but wonder if packed houses for Sale starts could have been the difference between settling for an aging DH bat like Adam LaRoche and reeling in an impact outfielder such as Yoenis Cespedes.

For the sake of my friends who are White Sox fans, hopefully Moncada, Kopech and prospects to be acquired in deals that could send Todd Frazier, Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu, David Robertson and Jose Quintana packing can provide a glimpse of a bright future.

If it does, we’ll look back at Dec. 6, 2016 as the beginning of something special.