The Bulls ended 2007 bad. Really bad. They went into the 2007-2008 season as one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference, or at least reach the Conference Finals. And with two young players entering free agency, G Ben Gordon and F Luol Deng, the thought was they would have lights out years, enabling them to bank in July. But, despite all these things, the Bulls started the season terribly and on Christmas Eve, GM John Paxson fired coach Scott Skiles and replaced him with an interim coach, Jim Boylan. And they started off their run with the new coach with a 4-1 record. So, what does the rest of 2008 have in store for the Bulls? I think that they finish the season in the 8th seed for the playoffs, but in doing so, will get swept in the playoffs by the Boston Celtics. Both Deng and Gordon will remain with the Bulls if they aren't moved before the end of the season. Which is a possibility, if they can get Paol Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. And, for his effort of getting the Bulls into the playoffs, Boylan will become the permanent head coach.
I don't have a lot on the Chicago Blackhawks either, since I stopped following them once they decided to sell off their players to rebuild for the past few years. But I guess these two young players, Kane and Toews has Hawks fans excited again and that can only be good for the City of Chicago. Blackhawk fans are among the most passionate in all of sports, so a return to the postseason would be a great for them. And I think this season it's going to happen. I think that the Hawks will end up making the playoffs, as a 6th or 7th seed, and will play hard in their first round series, but will fall short. GM Dale Tallon will make some moves during the summer that will help make the Hawks stronger for the 2008-2009 season and a deeper run in the playoffs.
The 2007 season for the Chicago Bears can only be called a complete and utter disaster. The Bears relied on an aging offensive line, a high draft pick, but thus far unproven runningback and a QB that was the poster boy for split personality disorder. They made no improvements on D, unless you call an aging safety that washed out in Washington an improvement and the only thing the did on offense was give KR/PR Devin Hester former runningback Thomas Jones' playbook after they shipped him to the New York Jets for a draft pick. And other than the bright spot that Hester has been since being drafted, the Bears did nothing, but bench QB Rex Grossman in the hopes that QB Brian Griese would lead the Bears back to the playoffs. It didn't. And once the bears were officially eliminated from the playoffs with a 5-9 record, what do the Bears do? Win two in a row and ruin their draft status. The unintelligent Bears fans would be happy, since one of those two victories was against the Green Bay Packers, but a victory over Green Bay wasn't worth moving from a top 8 pick to a mid first round pick. Worst of all, on the last game of the season, they beat the New Orleans Saints, who then ended up with a higher pick than the Bears. Way to go Lovie and boys. But it doesn't really matter. I'm sure GM Jerry Angelo would have ended up trading down to later in the first round or eve out of it completely despite the fact they have some major, major holes everywhere. When WR Bernard Berrian leaves via free agency, the Bears with be left with an aging Mushin Muhammad, a clueless Devin Hester and a bust in Mark Bradley to catch passes next season? From who at QB? I would hope
that it might be Donovan McNabb from the Philadelphia Eagles, but it's still unsure if he will become available at all this offseason. More likely, it will be the same 3 QB's. And that's not going to be good for the Bears. I still think Grossman is capable of being a good QB, but much like former Cub Corey Patterson, it won't be in Chicago. My prediction for 2008 is that unless the Bears have a major upgrade of their offensive line, they will finish the season 5-11 and Lovie Smith might end up looking for a new gig.
After starting off this past offseason by missing out on both CF's White Sox GM Kenny Williams was after, he rebounded nicely last week by picking up RF Nick Swisher from the Oakland Athletics. Granted, he sold most of the farm system to get him, which will end up costing the Sox in the future, but Kenny is under the impression that building up your team to World Series contenders is a bad thing, despite the fact that two teams in his division will be contenders for 2008 by doing just that. Unfortunately, Kenny and manager Ozzie Guillen plan on using Swisher as a CF, which isn't the best of moves. Swisher has played center, but is built more as a corner outfielder and that's where he would benefit the Sox at. But since they never answered their CF question, this is it for them. Unless they trade Paul Konerko. With rumors whirling around that the White Sox are looking to move him to the Angels for some combination of Chone Figgins and Ervin Santana, if I was a sox fan, I'd be emailing Kenny Williams to do the deal as fast as possible. Figgins give the White Sox a leadoff hitter and CF, and with Santana, it gives the White Sox someone to rely on as a 3rd starter instead of 62 year-old Jose Contreras. Of course, that move does nothing to help the Sox remedy the bullpen problem that they tried to address with MR Scott Strickland. Giving him a 4 year deal might have been the biggest mistake the White Sox made this offseason. The fact that for a while, the only thing holding up the Sox from re-signing P Mark Buerhle was that 4th year that Kenny said the Sox don't give to pitchers because of injury concerns, only to give it to a 32 year-old declining MR is funny to me. But regardless of that, the Sox aren't built to contend this year, at least not yet. I don't see them as anything better than a .500 club and with two strong teams in their division like the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers, a 3rd place finish is going to be the best they can do. And I think that is a stretch.
Finally, my 2008 outlook finishes with the Chicago Cubs. After making the playoffs, a lot of Cubs fan expects the almost 100 year championship drought to finally end this year. I don't see it. While the Cubs will be better in RF this season and they aren't losing any other starters from their lineup, I just don't think they are all that better than they were in 2007. Unless the Cubs can make a few more moves before Spring Training, I think they are an 85 win team at best, and I don't think that will win the Central in 2008. Moving Ryan Dempster out of the bullpen into the starting rotation is going to blow up in the faces of the Cubs as Dempster isn't the same starter as he once was and he wasn't that great of a starter to begin with. With him being their 3rd/4th starter the Cubs have a bit of a surplus of young pitchers they can maybe move for some position players. Hopefully the Cubs are looking to move someone like Sean Marshall or even Sean Gallagher for someone like Brian Roberts from the Baltimore Orioles. Getting Roberts from the Orioles would help the Cubs in a couple of ways. One, it would give them a true leadoff hitter and move Alfonso Soriano down in the lineup where he belongs. Two, and I think most importantly, it would hopefully move Ryan Theriot out of the starting lineup and back into a utility role where he would be better suited. Roberts is a 2B, so that would mean that the Cubs would have to play Mark Derosa at SS instead of Theriot. And I'm not sure if that's something Lou Pinella would do. My ideal Cubs lineup would be as followed:
2B Brian Roberts
RF Kosuke Fukudome
1B Derek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
LF Alfonso Soriano
SS Mark Derosa
CF Felix Pie
C Geovanny Soto
How their lineup looks right now is:
With Roberts, I think they are a World Series contender. Without, they will be looking to wait again till next year, again.
One last prediction and this is for an individual, which I don't like doing predictions for, but this one is special circumstances. San Diego Padres pitcher Mark Prior. I still hate the Cubs making the move to not bring him back for even one year. I would much rather take 4 months of Prior than 6 months of Dempster. And with rumors that the Cubs are looking to pick up pitcher Jon Lieber off the injury scrap heap, it makes me even angrier. I don't know how it makes sense to pay a 38 year-old pitcher coming off an injury instead of a 28 year-old pitcher coming off injury, but for some reason the Cubs think it is. I will curse the Cubs more if this one happens.
Anyway, as far as Prior goes, I won't guess W-L numbers since I'm sure he'll be on a pitch count at first, but I would guess that he comes back towards the beginning of June, and finishes the year with an ERA around 3.30, and would be lower than every starter in the Cubs rotation. I would also say he comes back with a WHIP around 1.14 and a K/9 of 8.7. Let's hope I'm wrong.