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posted: 3/30/2014 8:00 AM

Baseball best enjoyed with an optimistic view

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  • A bat lies on the ground as grounds crews prepare the field before and a spring exhibition baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Birmingham Barons on Friday, March 28, 2014, in Birmingham, Ala.

      A bat lies on the ground as grounds crews prepare the field before and a spring exhibition baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Birmingham Barons on Friday, March 28, 2014, in Birmingham, Ala.
    Associated Press

 
By Matt Spiegel
Special to the Daily Herald

Spring is supposed to be about hope, and weather-wise this late March finally is. Glimmers of warmth taunt us, rain melts the snow, parks slowly re-emerge.

Baseball hope is usually an accompaniment on at least one side of town. Some team ought to expect to contend.

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That's not the case this year, and reality can test the staunchest devotees.

Check a power poll, such as the one from Grantland's Jonah Keri. I looked at about a dozen, and of the 30 teams in MLB the Cubs were almost always ranked in the late 20s, with the White Sox in the early to mid 20s.

So with the 28th and 24th best teams in baseball, how is a Chicago fan expected to approach the season?

Dive in with a focus on potential cornerstones, while keeping an open mind. Watch those important, developing youngsters but remain available to be surprised.

What do you have to lose? You may not be rewarded with contention, or excellence, or perhaps even widespread competence. But life is enjoyed best by the optimistic.

If the possibility of better standings presents itself, that would be swell. But in the meantime here are some realistic goals for our baseball teams in 2014. Anything beyond this is gravy.

• Jose Abreu could show he was worth the investment, and might even end up a bargain. He's going to be a solid hitter for the White Sox. He may not be the straight-up slugger he was billed as, but his plate coverage and bat control will impress.

• Starlin Castro could prove to Cubs fans he can get around on a fastball again. In 2013, as his OBP dropped nearly 40 points, pitchers threw him fastballs 60 percent of the time. That was a 5 percent jump from 2012. He better show he has adjusted.

• John Danks could be healthy and competent. The rare White Sox big-money pitcher contract has shown why they've always been avoided. But 18 months after shoulder surgery, he has had a great spring. He says his "stuff's better. Command's better. Confidence is better. You could go on down the list. I'm happy about where I'm at right now."

• The Cubs' cookie could arrive in June. Mike Olt is here as a prelude to what Theo Epstein hopes is a feast. Think of Olt as an amuse-bouche. But the treat should come by summer. Javier Baez is ready now, offensively. I'll be watching to see what position(s) he plays in the Triple-A Iowa infield.

• Young position players White Sox general manager Rick Hahn acquired could showcase their readiness. In an impressive flurry, Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson arrived. Davidson will be up by June, and all three could be core pieces for a long time. I have concerns about when/if Garcia will show more power.

• A bit more on the Cubs' Olt: It seems his vision problems are gone, and he has reclaimed his potential. If he's a viable power-hitting, big-league third baseman, the domino effect on the Cubs' prospects depth could be dramatic. They're loaded there in the system.

• Adam Dunn could have a great few weeks early, enabling a trade for anything of value or consequence. In his three seasons with the White Sox, Dunn has struck out 588 times, hit .197, and put up an OPS of .722. While collecting $41 million. Hahn would take a C-level pitching prospect for him.

• Finally, one of the greatest White Sox players of all time, Paul Konerko, is being allowed to go out on his own terms, contributing as best he can while being more vocal in a year of transition. I'm interested in his year.

This is what must be done at a time like this: Find those worthy objects of our baseball attention.

In 2015, we ought to have broader hopes, and more ambitious team goals.

But, hey, you never know.

Game on.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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