By Matt Spiegel-
(WSCR) Ugly Lockouts have yielded some beautiful gifts.
Over the summer, when the NFL finally realized that missing games would be idiotic and made themselves an agreement, fans found themselves in roster rotation madness. Beginning July 25, NFL teams began cutting veterans, talking to undrafted players, and then signing free agents at a break-neck pace. July 31, long owned in conversational circles by the MLB trade deadline, saw two sports in absolute deal-making frenzy. Seldom have two sports given their fans as much to talk about in the same week.
It's happening again. Baseball's winter meetings presents Cubs and Sox fans with free agents to dream about, trades to anticipate then dissect, and master plans to quarrel with. Meanwhile, the NBA has just allowed the Bulls' locked-out office to pop open for a Caron Butler visit. Hell, with Hawks fans yearning for trades that would bring a top-four defenseman, or maybe a second line center, this town has four fandoms channeling their inner Monty Hall. (Sorry Wayne Brady, it will never fully be your gig.)
Kenny Williams is in the midst of a none-too-subtle payroll reduction, hoping to not alienate his fan base in the process. Is it possible? Maybe. He's asking the moon for John Danks, as he should be. Danks, with one year left before he hits free agency, is highly coveted. The Yankees may eventually break, and agree to give up one of their prized young players, pitcher Manny Banuelos or catcher Jesus Montero. Getting either one in a Danks deal, instead of nothing when he leaves, should be seen by Sox fans as a win. The next few weeks could find Danks, Carlos Quentin, Matt Thornton, and maybe even Gavin Floyd on the way out. If the return includes several major-league ready, cheap, useful, young players, it might successfully look like a reload rather than a rebuild.
The Cubs continue to be named in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder rumors, and I continue to not buy it. Agents need teams interested to drive up the price, and the Cubs want their big picture intentions obscured to maintain leverage on various fronts. If the Cardinals end up giving Albert more years and dollars than intended, thereby hamstringing themselves in the latter years, well, that's a bonus. The real intrigue for me is in the trades I expect this week or shortly thereafter. Which third baseman, Chase Headley of San Diego or Ian Stewart of Colorado, ends up here, and do one of those teams really want Blake DeWitt? Airport rides are available. Will an overwhelming offer come in for Matt Garza? Garza has more value than Danks, salary protected for an additional year, with an arguably better track record. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer (Epstoyer) should not give up Garza for anything less than two MLB ready players and a top tier prospect, with a lefty power bat as the #1 target.
And then there are the Bulls, and the blissful, open, Dwight Howard dreaming. Howard wants out of Orlando, and he'll get out. If he's not a Laker somehow, I'll consider it an upset -- after all, it's what he seems to want. But the Bulls have to try, with aggression. Anyone not currently the league's MVP is available, plus up to two draft picks. To make the money work, the Bulls would have to send back combined value near Howard's $18 million dollar salary. Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer gets it done (No chance). Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and two No. 1 picks gets it done, with Hedo Turkoglu possibly coming back along with Howard. That's the likeliest rumor yet.
Look, no one admires and enjoys Noah more than me. He's perhaps my favorite athlete in town, using every bit of his talent and effort to improve himself into a worthy cog on an excellent team. But if he's what it costs, so be it. Howard and Rose together for the next five years would be the best combo to beat the Miami Heat, in either conference. That duo directly goes at the heart of the Heat's weaknesses. You'd have to fill in around them with willing role players not afraid to be underpaid, but Chicago becomes a destination for those guys. Caron Butler suddenly likes his chances of winning, and getting to play as much as he wants, appreciably more.
These are Rich Times. Bears fans appreciate the distraction.
Matt Spiegel cohosts The McNeil and Spiegel Show weekdays from 9am-1pm on 670 The Score.
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