White Sox

Fire's Gargan set for bittersweet return to Toronto

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Fire's Gargan set for bittersweet return to Toronto

Some of the edge was taken off Saturdays Fire road match at FC Toronto when the club announced on Friday that Chris Rolfe wont be playing. The popular striker, who rejoined the Fire this week after spending three seasons playing in Denmark, suffered what the Fire calls a minor ankle injury in training on Thursday.

The Fire (1-0-2) hopes to fatten its record against the only team in Major League Soccer without a standings point. FC Toronto is 0-5-0. Rolfes presence would have bolstered an attack that produced just three goals in the first four MLS games.

While Rolfes participation would have spiced up the Fires latest road trip, it wont detract from the match for right back Dan Gargan. He started 25 times for FC Toronto when the club made its MLS debut in 2010. He was dumped midway through the following season after the club switched coaches from Preki Radosavljevic to Aron Winter, a former Dutch international who had been an assistant coach for that countrys famed Ajax club.

Winters arrival triggered a massive roster revampment, with Gargan just one of those leaving. He was sent to the Fire along with a second-round draft choice for defender Dasan Robinson. Gargan calls his stay in Toronto "a bittersweet memory." This will be his first game back since the trade.

"I love the city," he said. "Toronto has some of the best fans in the league. When Toronto came into the league they set the standard for how good an atmosphere can be. I look back on Toronto and thought I would have been there a lot longer than I ended up being there, just because of the kind of player I am. I bring a lot to a team, and when they brought in new guys they went in a different direction."

Generally, that direction hasnt been the right one as this seasons record suggests. The Gargan trade was one of the new regimes worst moves. In exchange for a proven starter FC Toronto acquired Robinson, who apparently didnt fit in either. Less than two months after joining FC Toronto, Robinson himself was traded to Los Angeles. The Galaxy declined to re-sign him after last season, and Robinson eventually announced his retirement.

Shortly after the Fire acquired him Gargan scored against his former team in a 2-0 win at Toyota Park. He didnt look back fondly on Toronto then.

"The way they handled some things was tough to swallow," he said. "I dont think they gave this league enough respect. Slowly but surely theyre probably understanding that a bit more. At the end of my time there it was tough to be in the lockerroom and deal with the situations that were going on."

Given the winless record, things cant be too happy in the FC Toronto lockerroom these days, either, but Gargan still respects the group that will take the field against the Fire on Saturday.

"Theyve been a bit unlucky," he said. "They had good results in the Champions League and played some good football at times. I watched some of their games. They have some talented players."

He is sure his Fire teammates wont be caught looking past a struggling opponent to the next home match, on April 28 vs. Seattle.

"Toronto may have no points yet, but we cant change how we play," said Gargan. "Its a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand theyre in last in the Eastern Conference, but our guys are smart enough to know that theres parity in this league. I dont know if your record reflects how good of a team you have."

The Fire hasnt exactly torn up the league yet, anyway, and just playing in the charged-up atmosphere in Toronto could make for a difficult match.

"I dont expect that to change just because theyre 0-5," said Gargan. "Itll be a tough match. It usually is going there and, for the most part, Toronto is a great organization."

Less heralded than prospects White Sox acquired with them, it's Dylan Cease and Luis Basabe starring in Futures Game

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USA TODAY

Less heralded than prospects White Sox acquired with them, it's Dylan Cease and Luis Basabe starring in Futures Game

WASHINGTON, D.C. — You don’t need to be a headliner of one of the White Sox major trades to make an impact on the ongoing rebuilding effort.

The White Sox two representatives at Sunday’s Futures Game had one very big thing in common: Neither was the most talked-about player in the trades that brought them into the organization.

Luis Alexander Basabe was the No. 3 piece in the Chris Sale deal, overshadowed by Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Dylan Cease was the No. 2 player in the Jose Quintana trade, overshadowed by Eloy Jimenez.

But as their selections to the Futures Game show, these guys weren’t just throw-ins. Cease is having a sensational season, the best campaign of any of the White Sox highest-rated pitching prospects. Basabe had a hot start to the season and showed his potential with a two-run homer on a 102 mph pitch in the third inning Sunday.

Rick Hahn’s talked all during this rebuild about his desire to make the White Sox farm system as deep as possible. Moncada, Kopech and Jimenez brought star power to the rebuild. Cease and Basabe have helped bring the depth.

“I love the fact that Dylan and Basabe are the two down there at the Futures Game, in part because — through no fault of their own — in their own transactions, publicly, they got a little bit overshadowed by the headliners, so to speak, in those deals,” Hahn said last week. “But the Quintana trade doesn’t happen without Dylan Cease being part of it. He was a very important part of that for us, and we’re thrilled to see him getting some recognition for his ability and his accomplishments, and the Futures Game honor is very fitting.

“Basabe, obviously, was overshadowed in the Sale trade by Moncada and Kopech, and they’re bigger names, but our scouts felt very strongly about his upside and what his tool set presented. And you saw it at Winston-Salem, the way he was able to perform at an All-Star level there.

“It’s nice to see guys who might not be at the top of mind for people when they think of our system being recognized in that way and certainly for those two guys, who were important parts of big trades for us but perhaps not perceived previously to the recognition they deserve.”

Until recently, Cease has been the fourth name mentioned when discussing the White Sox fleet of starting-pitching prospects, behind Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning. And that’s typically after mentioning guys already in the majors like Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. But Cease has certainly moved to the front of that conversation with his big 2018.

Basabe is still buried, in conversation, behind Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo. Blake Rutherford is ranked ahead of him, too. But he’s shown himself worthy of consideration for a spot in the White Sox future plans. His performance at the Futures Game will keep him in that discussion.

Down in the minors, these guys are going about their business. And as headlining names like Jimenez and Kopech have either dealt with injuries or gone through struggles, “under the radar” guys like Cease and Basabe have produced.

Of course, the descriptors of “headliner” and “under the radar” don’t mean much to them.

“Eloy Jimenez is such a good player. That’s nothing, necessarily, against me, it just happens to be the way it is,” Cease said Sunday. “With Basabe, Kopech and Moncada are really studs, too. You’ve just got to be grateful for the opportunity you have. That doesn’t upset me by any means.”

Projecting lineups and depth charts of the future has become one of the favorite pastimes on the South Side during this rebuilding period. And while it’s easy to pick the highest-rated guys for the starting spots, rebuilds have a way of surprising. And maybe the emergence of guys like Cease and Basabe count as the surprises that awaited the White Sox effort.

Getting to the big leagues is obviously the end goal, and starring in the big leagues would mean usurping the projected place of one of the more-heralded prospects ahead of them. That’s not how Cease is looking at it, though, just sticking to that old baseball axiom of controlling what he can control.

Which is really the only way to get to where he and all these prospects want to be.

“It’s easy to dream on it,” Cease said of getting to the major league level. “It’s just that baseball’s such a difficult game that if you take your focus away from what you’re doing right now, it’s very easy to snowball away. So you can sit and dream about it, but you’ve got to do it and let it happen.”

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.