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Good morning, frents!
So we're coming off the coldest Valentine's Day in Chicago history and we're heading straight into a snowfall we need about as much as another year of the Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy era.
But good news! The Cubs and Sox are climbing back into view down in Arizona this week, which means we'll be looking at soul-warming pictures of strewn-about duffel bags (above) and baseball buckets in no time.
- Cubs pitchers and catchers are set to report on Wednesday with the first full-squad workout scheduled for next Monday. The team's first game is Monday, March 1 against the Padres. Full schedule here.
- The Sox are on the same reporting and workout schedule as the Cubs. They'll start against the Brewers on Saturday, February 27. Full schedule here.
Both teams are heading into their most uncertain season since ... well, the last one. Major League Baseball still hasn't settled on a postseason format, we're not sure when fans will be allowed at either ballpark and who knows how much of an impact COVID-19 will have on the league's attempt to get a full 162-game slate in.
There are plenty of team-specific questions, too, and here are three for each franchise that will get the most attention out of the gate.
3 storylines for the Cubs
1. When is Kris Bryant going to be traded? The ratio of time we've spent enjoying KB's career to reading articles about labor grievances and trade rumors is horrifically out of whack. And it's only going to get worse with Bryant scheduled for free agency after this season and the Cubs poised to pivot toward the next era. It stands to reason the team would get a better haul trading him to a team for an entire season than at the trade deadline, so get ready for an interesting (and awkward) few weeks ahead.
2. The return of Jake Arrieta. Turns out that nostalgia signings just aren't for the Hawks. Arrieta is back on a one-year deal worth $6 million. He'll be 35 by Opening Day and is coming off three seasons of pitching at league average in Philadelphia. No longer the ace he once was, Arrieta will be tasked with shoring up the back end of the team's rotation. It'll be one of the more interesting storylines to follow on either side of town.
3. Can the Cubs still win the division? Jed Hoyer's offseason didn't leave any room for optimism that the Cubs will run down the Dodgers or Padres. But the NL Central remains a mediocre division that the Cubs won with a hot start in 2020. If the postseason is expanded again, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs getting another playoff berth they likely won't do anything with come October.
3 storylines for the Sox
1. The return of Tony La Russa. If you thought the idea of a 76-year-old manager returning to the White Sox was weird last fall,l wait until you see that same guy wearing a uniform he hasn't put on for 35 years. How the old school La Russa bonds and leads a young team is probably in baseball's top 5 storylines for 2021.
2. Can Michael Kopech produce? The 24-year-old prospect missed 2019 with Tommy John surgery, then sat out 2020 for personal reasons. He's been an occasional presence in celebrity tabloids, but the Sox need him to finally provide consistent production in the rotation. It seems likely that he starts the season in the minors, but the team could really use the addition of his arm at the major-league level. And let's be honest, he's not getting any younger.
3. Can the young lineup keep improving? The Sox were one of the most surprising stories of 2021, winning 23 times in a 30-game stretch to clinch the team's first playoff spot since 2008. But they wilted late to cough up the AL Central crown and were bounced in the first round by Oakland. Yoan Moncada had a rough year after an early COVID battle and Luis Robert's stats suffered after a hot start. The Sox will not only need everyone to keep producing, but take it to the next level if they're to survive a full 162-game schedule and what comes after.
Drake 51, Loyola 50 (OT)
Bulls at Pacers (6, NBCSCH)
Hawks at Wings (6:30, NBCSCH+)
Will the Bears tag Allen Robinson?
We've been so consumed with Bears quarterback rumors that it's easy to forget that Allen Robinson's future is still up in the air. Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reports the team could put the franchise tag on A-Rob while they attempt to work out a longer extension. The first day to do that is February 23 and would give the Bears the chance to keep Robinson after not coming to terms during the season. Luis Medina has a good look at all of the scenarios here.
1. Alyssa Barbieri with seven things to love about the Bears in 2021. BearsWire
2. "I don't want to lose," Michael Jordan said before his first NASCAR race as a team owner. But Bubba Wallace's car failed two inspections before Sunday's race and he started at the back of the field. New York Times | NASCAR
3. Loyola split a weekend series against Drake after entering the AP Top 25 rankings, something they never did in the Final Four season. The analytics say this team is better than that edition, too. Five Thirty Eight
4. Steve Greenberg with a good read on Bret Bielema. Sun-Times
5. Happy Valentine's Day from Serengeti. YouTube