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Even with Nicholas Castellanos, can the Reds — or anyone — challenge the White Sox for baseball's best offseason?

Even with Nicholas Castellanos, can the Reds — or anyone — challenge the White Sox for baseball's best offseason?

Winning the offseason is meaningless if you don't win in the regular season and the postseason.

Everyone knows this, particularly the big league clubs who are making all these offseason moves. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn talked just last week about this very thing.

“Quite candidly, we haven't accomplished anything yet, we haven't won yet,” he said during his pre-SoxFest press conference last Thursday. “This whole process was about winning championships, was about finishing with a parade at the end of October down Michigan Avenue. Until that happens, I don't think any of us are really in a position to feel satisfied or feel like we've accomplished anything.

“We've had a nice winter. ... We think very bright days are ahead of us, and we look forward to enjoying them. But in terms of feeling like we've accomplished something or feeling satisfied, ask me after the parade.”

That being said, the White Sox seemingly have won the offseason. By adding a slew of accomplished veterans to a young core that broke out in a big way in 2019 there are justified playoff expectations on the South Side. Look no further than an extremely excited fan base buzzing during SoxFest over the weekend.

But, you know, other teams have had good offseasons, too. Here's a look at some baseball's best winters. Let's make sure the White Sox really have earned the fictional and totally meaningless title of "offseason champions."

White Sox

Before we reach across the league, let's run through what Hahn & Co. have done since the book closed on 2019's 89-loss campaign:

— The White Sox signed Yasmani Grandal to the richest contract in team history, adding an All Star behind the plate for the next four years. Obviously, he's one of the better offensive catchers in the game. And as we've seen, Grandal's skills as a totally committed guiding force for the pitching staff are already having an effect,

— They gave a three-year contract to Jose Abreu, the face of the franchise. While Abreu rightfully earns a ton of credit for his off-the-field work with the White Sox younger players, which will remain important over the next three seasons, especially with fellow Cuban Luis Robert hitting the majors this season, let's not pretend like he's washed up or anything like it. Abreu just had one of the most productive seasons of his career as a 32-year-old in 2019, leading the American League in RBIs and coming three homers away from a career high.

— They traded for a new everyday right fielder in Nomar Mazara, who has hit 79 homers in four big league seasons. He might just be a "bridge" (a descriptor Hahn unleashed last week) to the organization's still-developing outfield prospects, but White Sox brass keeps touting the untapped potential they think they can coax out of the one-time top prospect, who's still just 24 years old.

— They added Gio Gonzalez to the starting rotation, a reliable back-of-the-rotation piece who will finally get his chance to pitch for the organization that drafted him a decade and a half ago — then traded him, twice.

— They signed Dallas Keuchel to a three-year contract (with an option for a fourth), bringing in the accomplished front-of-the-rotation starter they needed to team with Lucas Giolito this winter. Keuchel has a Cy Young Award, a World Series ring and a closet full of Gold Gloves on his resume and brings the winning experience this roster was lacking. With question marks in the middle and back of the rotation, Keuchel's steady hand figures to be of great benefit.

— They signed Edwin Encarnacion, the veteran slugger, to a one-year deal (with an option for a second) that not only added the thump they needed to the lineup but signaled that these White Sox are indeed trying to win and win big in 2020. The other, longer term deals could have pointed to a solid though perhaps more cautious belief that the contention window might still be a little ways off from opening. Not the one-year pact with Encarnacion, though, which showed the White Sox are serious about contending this year with a 37-year-old bopper hitting a bunch of dingers.

— They gave a six-year contract extension (with a pair of options that could push it all the way to eight) to Luis Robert, the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball. For the second straight offseason, the White Sox locked up a young player who's yet to play a game in the majors. But Robert and Eloy Jimenez figure to be powering this team for the better part of the next decade. The extension cleared the way for the five-tool Robert to be the White Sox starting center fielder come Opening Day, and 162 games' worth of a guy expected to be a superstar is better than any lesser alternative.

— They added Steve Cishek to the bullpen, complementing back-end pitchers Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer with a veteran who proved both effective and dependable in his two seasons on the North Side, posting a 2.55 ERA in a whopping 150 appearances.

So that's all pretty good. Can anyone else can compete with that? Let's see.

Cincinnati Reds

If anyone's coming close to challenging the White Sox for that ridiculous title of "offseason champs," it's the Reds. Much like the White Sox, the Reds are a team with some great young talent looking to capitalize on a weaker division and make some noise. The Reds have positioned themselves to do just that, adding the biggest piece of their offseason haul Monday morning with the signing of outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. He was on a lot of White Sox fans' wish lists, particularly the ones not sold on Mazara as a confidence-inspiring option in right field. But Castellanos is finally off the market, getting a four-year deal from the Reds (that includes opt-out clauses after each of the next two seasons).

Castellanos now anchors a lineup that already included a pair of newcomers: slugging infielder Mike Moustakas, who White Sox fans know well from his days with the Kansas City Royals, and center fielder Shogo Akiyama, who came over from Japan this winter. Add those guys to an already potent group of hitters that included Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, Aristides Aquino and highly rated prospect Nick Senzel (coming off shoulder surgery), and you've got yourself a contender — if not the favorite — to win the NL Central crown. And, oh yeah, their pitching staff ain't half bad, either, with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer as perhaps the best 1-2-3 punch in the NL. They added Wade Miley this offseason, too, bolstering (if not in a huge way) that rotation further.

That's a great offseason, no doubt, and if you don't count Robert as a true offseason addition on the South Side — he was already part of the organization — then it's not a stretch to say that Castellanos and Moustakas are a better pair of lineup improvements than Grandal and Encarnacion, though it's close. On the new-pitching front, Keuchel, Gonzalez and Cishek make for a more appealing group than Miley by himself. It seems like the White Sox addressed more areas — and more glaring needs — than the Reds, but both teams are well positioned to challenge for a Central Division title.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves, like the White Sox, got to work early and often. They're the two-time defending NL East champs, yet they've been ousted in the NLDS in each of the last two postseasons, then had to watch the division-rival Washington Nationals win the World Series. So they understandably loaded up this winter. They added perhaps the biggest name on the relief-pitching market, Will Smith, to an already significantly remade bullpen that included midseason acquisitions Mark Melancon and Shane Greene. They added Cole Hamels to their starting staff, bringing in the kind of winning experience and veteran know-how the White Sox found in Keuchel.

While White Sox fans spent months debating whether they wanted Marcell Ozuna on the South Side, the Braves found a seeming bargain in getting Ozuna on just a one-year deal. While there were justifiable red flags in Ozuna's numbers during his two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, he has the potential to be an impact bat in the middle of a championship lineup. And with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman already in the Braves' lineup, it's not like Ozuna has to shoulder the load.

The Braves also added a new catcher in Travis d'Arnaud and brought back Nick Markakis. In the same division as the team that just won it all, the Braves might still be the favorites to repeat in the NL East.

Washington Nationals

The reigning champs had their biggest offseason success in retaining Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP who proved during the postseason that he's among baseball's best hurlers. Of course, they couldn't retain Anthony Rendon, one of the most consistently excellent hitters in the game. But had they lost both to greener bank accounts the winter after winning the whole thing, that would have been brutal. Keeping Strasburg counts as a huge win, even if the Nationals have lost their biggest bopper in each of the last two offseasons: first Bryce Harper, now Rendon. But they won the World Series without Harper, so ... 

The Nationals also retained former White Sox pitching prospect Daniel Hudson, who played such a huge role out of the bullpen en route to their championship, and Howie Kendrick, who hit that unforgettable game-winning grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and send the Nationals to the Fall Classic. New guys include Will Harris, who along with bringing Hudson back goes a long way toward solidifying a bullpen that was the team's weakest link throughout the regular season in 2019. Eric Thames and Starlin Castro join the position-player side of things, though they won't be expected to make up for Rendon's departure like the guys who were already there: Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles and the like.

It's hard to say the Nationals are anything but worse, on paper, than they were when they won the World Series three months ago, but hey, that's what happens when you lose a perennial MVP candidate. Still, even with the Braves' big offseason (and status as defending NL East champs), the Nationals remain right in the thick of things in their division thanks to an elite 1-2-3 in the rotation of Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

Philadelphia Phillies

Attempting to keep pace in the NL East, the Phillies followed up their spending spree from an offseason ago by handing out another huge contract, this one going to Zack Wheeler, who turned down a richer offer from the White Sox to pitch on the East Coast. Wheeler provides a nice safety net for a Phillies rotation that needed an infusion after big ERA increases for both Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola last season (though Wheeler's 2019 ERA was still higher than Nola's). The Phillies also brought in Didi Gregorius, who was very good in his tenure with the New York Yankees, to be their new starting shortstop.

The Phillies, especially offensively, appear to be loaded, with Gregorius joining Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Scott Kingery. The pitching staff has its issues but also has some arms that have been/could be very potent. So what's the problem? Well, they play in baseball's most competitive division. They looked loaded last year, too, and finished fourth. They've got to prove they can hang with the Braves and Nationals and horribly underwhelm with a .500 finish like they did in 2019.

New York Yankees

I'm going to fly through these next three teams, not because they didn't have good offseasons but because their good offseasons are based on the addition of one superstar player. The Yankees reeled in the biggest fish in the free-agency pond, adding Gerrit Cole, who showed during the postseason that he might just be the best pitcher in baseball. It looked like he was going to land on the West Coast. Instead, he landed on the East Coast, giving the Yankees a much-needed dominant force at the top of their rotation. The AL pennant — thanks in part to Cole's defection and in part to the Astros losing their general manager and manager in the wake of their cheating scandal — looks like the Yankees' to lose.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins did more than just signing Josh Donaldson. They brought back Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda and added Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. That's four starting pitchers, and yet their starting rotation is still a question mark. What's not a question mark is their lineup, which last season set the record for the most home runs hit in a single campaign. They might hit even more of them now that they've got Donaldson, a perennial MVP candidate who the White Sox now have to worry about trying to get out 19 times a year for the next half decade. The White Sox had a better offseason than the Twins, yes. But the Twins are still looking like one heck of a challenge in the AL Central, not because they won 100 games last season and still employ Nelson Cruz, but because they now also employ Donaldson.

Los Angeles Angels

The aforementioned Rendon is now in the same lineup as Mike Trout. Dear god. Of course, this is the Angels we're talking about, a team that has made the postseason all of one time in Trout's eight full major league seasons. The guy who's arguably the best baseball player ever has played in just three playoff games and won zero of them. So is Rendon going to single-handedly change that? No, probably not. Joe Maddon might, though, and the new skipper in Anaheim could prove a bigger addition than his new middle-of-the-order bat. But if there's ever been a time to jump up and dethrone the Astros, it's now, considering they could be in for a season of disarray in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that cost them their GM and their manager. The Angels have a big-time outfield prospect coming up in Jo Adell. But how have they fortified their worrisome starting rotation? With Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy. Ok, maybe the Astros will be fine.

Toronto Blue Jays

Certainly, the Blue Jays have been active, most of their efforts directed at remaking their rotation. They landed one of the bigger fish on the starting-pitching market in Hyun-Jin Ryu, as well as bringing in Chase Anderson, Tanner Roark and Matt Shoemaker. How good those moves are remain to be seen, as those three have plenty to prove. Ryu is obviously a nice acquisition after he won the NL's ERA crown last season. Travis Shaw was the big addition to the lineup.

The thing with the Blue Jays is not only are most of these moves not terribly exciting, they do little to make a dent in the AL East race. The Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays still seem much better after their playoff appearances last season, and though the Boston Red Sox suffered a crippling World Series hangover last year — and face a ton of questions about their future, given their financial commitments — they still have the kind of talented roster to win more games than the Blue Jays. So, in the end, how effective was this offseason for Toronto?

———

The verdict: The White Sox won the offseason.

As established, of course, that means nothing until it turns into on-the-field success. But it allows for some changing expectations in certain places, the South Side included, which gets to reap realistic playoff hopes from the work of the front office.

But as for whether the team has actually accomplished anything, do what Hahn says and ask him after the parade.

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An intriguing Kyle Schwarber trade that probably won't ever happen

An intriguing Kyle Schwarber trade that probably won't ever happen

Another offseason, another rumor involving a Cubs-Yankees trade that would include Kyle Schwarber.

It's actually the first time this winter that Schwarber's name has been mentioned in trade rumors, the longest it's ever taken to get into the weeds on the topic in an offseason. Typically, Schwarber's name is bandied about in trade rumors in October or November.

However, as The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal cautions several times in his latest column, this is not a legitimate trade discussion. Rosenthal calls it an "interesting but unlikely trade proposition" and emphasizes there probably won't ever be any momentum between the Cubs and Yankees on the matter.

But The Athletic's national baseball reporter is using Schwarber as a window into the thinking of both clubs. 

From the Cubs' perspective, trading Schwarber would accomplish the same thing as a Kris Bryant deal — freeing up some budget in the short-term and also adding young talent into the organization in an effort to extend the window of contention beyond 2021. Schwarber — like Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo — is under team control for only two more seasons. He's set to make a projected $8 million in his second year of arbitration in 2020.

The last thing the Cubs want to do is go the way of the Tigers, who began the decade with a window of contention but ultimately fell flat after 2014 and wound up in a long rebuilding phase they're still trying to climb out of. The Tigers are the cautionary tale to all teams with a potential steep decline on the horizon, as NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan has pointed out several times this winter.

It would be difficult for Theo Epstein's front office to find a way to extend all four key position players beyond 2021, and the Cubs also are in dire need of long-term pitching solutions. Both Jon Lester and Jose Quintana are heading into their last guaranteed years of their respective deals and the Cubs don't have much in the way of young pitching closing in on the big leagues.

That's where a trade comes in — Epstein and Co. could deal Bryant, Schwarber or Willson Contreras and receive young, impact pitching in return. They also would get immediate salary relief, which is important given they are currently projected to be about $6 million over the luxury tax threshold in 2020.

Enter Rosenthal's proposal with the Yankees, a team that has been interested in Schwarber for a half-decade. The Bronx Bombers still live up to their nickname with arguably the most powerful lineup in baseball, but almost all of that slugging is coming from the right side. They could really use a left-handed hitter in the middle of that order.

The fit is tougher defensively, as Rosenthal points out that the Yankees already have Giancarlo Stanton locked up at DH for the next eight years. Beyond that, the Yankees could use a first baseman, but Schwarber has never played there. Left field at Yankee Stadium is more spacious than at Wrigley Field and would present another challenge for Schwarber's defense.

That's what makes this deal more of a dream scenario than an actual rumor. In theory, the Yankees have the desire to add a left-handed hitter of Schwarber's magnitude and they also have the young pitching (led by Deivi Garcia) that could entice the Cubs. There's also 24-year-old third baseman Miguel Andujar, who missed most of 2019 to injury and is currently in the midst of a roster crunch on the infield in New York. If the Cubs wound up trading Bryant, Andujar could be an immediate option to replace him at third base, though the young slugger has some serious defensive questions.

A trade with the Yankees would also open up a position in the Cubs' outfield to potentially re-sign Nicholas Castellanos to a long-term deal (as Rosenthal mentioned). But would the Cubs really want to deal Schwarber after he finally put it all together and became a complete hitter in the second half of 2019?

It's even harder to see a scenario in which the Cubs trade both Schwarber and Bryant, as they've reiterated time and time again this winter that they plan to contend in 2020 and 2021. 

Don't expect a Schwarber-to-the-Yankees trade to actually happen, but it's certainly interesting fodder for the offseason rumor mill. 

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Cubs release 2020 schedule with some interesting changes

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USA TODAY

Cubs release 2020 schedule with some interesting changes

Mark your calendars now for March 26, 2020, when the Cubs will open up a brand new season of action in Milwaukee against the division-rival Brewers.

Major League Baseball released all the tentative schedules for next year and the Cubs will cross off both openers before the first of April — the home opener is slated for March 30 against the Pirates, so roughly a 40 percent chance of snow baseball. 

Frigid temperatures at Wrigley for early-season games aren't new, but this is the first time ever the Cubs will open a season in Milwaukee. 

The Cubs also are making some big changes with the games at Wrigley Field, as every weeknight contest before Memorial Day and after Labor Day will start at 6:40 pm now. That pushes first pitch up 25 minutes during the school year (which could also help if weather is an issue for early-season games). 

Here are some other notable games on the Cubs' 2020 schedule:

—The Cardinals' first trip to town comes April 10-12 for a three-game weekend series at Wrigley Field. Milwaukee isn't in Chicago until May 11-13 for a mid-week series. 

—The Cubs play the AL East in Interleague matchups in 2020 and that includes a visit from the Boston Red Sox to Wrigley Field in June (19-21). The Red Sox haven't played at the "Friendly Confines" since 2012.

—The Cubs also host the Tampa Bay Rays July 3-5 and have a home-and-home series with former coach Brandon Hyde and the Orioles (in Baltimore April 14-15, in Chicago June 2-3).

—The AL East tour also includes a trip to the Bronx to play the Yankees (June 26-28) and a series north of the border against the Toronto Blue Jays (Aug. 14-16). 

—The Crosstown series will once again be a four-game set, with two games at Wrigley July 20-21 and two games on the South Side (July 7-8). 

—The Cubs finish the year with 10 of their final 12 games at home, including yet another season-ending series with the Cardinals — this time at Wrigley Field Sept. 25-27. 

—The Cubs also play the Cardinals in London June 13-14 and have a pair of off-days before that series plus another one after.

—As far as off-days are concerned, the breaks seem to be spread out more evenly for the Cubs in 2020 compared to this year. The breakdown by scheduled off-days per month:

March: 1
April: 3
May: 3
June: 4
July: 3 (plus All-Star Break)
August: 3
September: 3

Here is the complete 2020 regular season Cubs schedule: