With all of the NFL Draft nonsense over with it’s time to update what has been going on in the local sports world that has caught my eye and ear.

Chicago Cubs :  As the weather has warmed in the last couple of weeks so have the arms of the Cubs starting rotation and some of the Cubs bats.  With rapid acceleration, the Cubs have assumed their rightful place as the best team in the National League Central Division.  The other teams in their division are no longer beating up on the Cincinnati Reds, who are the tank version of the Cubs 2012 team that lost 101 games.

Things usually level out after the first month and this year is no different.  As Pittsburgh’s and Milwaukee’s schedules have gotten a little tougher, the Cubs starting pitching has found a groove in the past week to allow them to climb near the top of the division.  They should be able to stay there all season and outlast Milwaukee and St. Louis for a division title, unless an injury to the starting staff comes into play.  I wouldn’t worry about Darvish too much, but he may be in need of a personal catcher not named Contreras.  More on that in weeks to come.

The Cubs have taken over 1st place with minimal contributions from captain Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell.  Kris Bryant has returned to form after being out for a week after being beaned in the head, with hits in his last three games.  As those three round back into form along with Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs should have enough offense to carry them to a division title, even if the pitching does falter a bit.  Almora is doing a good enough job in the leadoff spot, but I do admit to liking Rizzo batting leadoff occasionally.

The Cubs batters need to start looking at more pitches though.  Aggressiveness is great when people are hot, but the rate of strikeouts for the Cubs batters is reaching ridiculous levels, especially from Ian Happ.  The Cubs need to start drawing more walks simply as a season long game plan against their divisional opponents.  Javy Baez, I hear, hasn’t drawn more than 1 walk since mid-April.  In divisional games against the Cardinals and Brewers it would be nice to get opposing starting pitchers pitch counts up and get into their bullpens, where the Cubs appear to currently have a decided advantage.  It’s a long season and the Cubs needs to wear their rivals out, and Cub fans need to have patience.  You’re not going to win every game.  Be happy with winning a series, a homestand and an occasional road trip, a season of 162 games is a marathon, everything will be fine!

As always Team President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer can be counted on to creatively tinker with the roster to put the Cubs into position to go for their 2nd world series win in the last three years.  On this front there are a couple of developments that have arisen that Cubs fans should keep an eye on.

The Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals have gotten off to bad starts.  Why is this significant?  Because they are home to two of the biggest, most exciting free agents that will hit the market in over a decade.

Manny Machado, the 25 year old slugging superstar 3rd baseman of the Orioles, is a near 100% certainty to be moved this summer.  With Baltimore already 13.5 games out of their division lead it’s just a question of when he is dealt for a massive package of prospects.  Machado is currently batting .366, hit 9 home runs and driven in 23 rbi.  He has averaged 35 home runs the last 3 seasons and has a career on base % of .333 and OPS of .816.  He has already won 2 gold gloves and made 3 all-star teams.

Bryce Harper, the former childhood teammate of Kris Bryant, and 2015 MVP of the National League, is the other pending free agent who will hit the market in the off season.  With the northside of Chicago long thought of as a destination for the five-time all-star, the question is, do the Cubs have enough assets to acquire the superstar at the trade deadline for a world series run this year, and sign him to an extension? Or do they wait for an off-season bidding war for his services, that is expected to start at $300 million?

Unlike the Orioles, the Nationals are expected to climb back into the race behind former Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, and be a world series contender.  If they out are of the race in mid-July, the Nationals will be looking for a deal.

Would Cubs fans be willing to trade Addison Russell, Ian Happ and a top minor league pitcher for either Machado or Harper?  Because that would be a starting point to get either one before they hit the market, and improve the Cubs inconsistent offense this year.

My guess is that the National’s will be close enough and stubborn enough, not to trade Harper, and that would be a mistake.  If the Cubs can somehow trade Jason Heyward’ s contract, they will make every effort to sign Harper, who may give the Cubs a discount to play for an annual world series contender for the rest of his career.

The White Sox, though, have a big hole at 3rd base they would like to fill with Machado.  And the Sox have the assets necessary to pry him out of Baltimore, who will be entering a complete rebuild very shortly.  If the Sox start to get signals from Machado’s agent about his willingness to sign with the southside ballclub, I would expect Machado to be with the Sox next year, they want him that much!  It would be worth it, and easier to justify trading for Machado if the Sox weren’t playing so poorly and so far out of playoff contention.   They may decide to keep assets and get into a bidding war next off-season.

At 7.5 games out of first, the Sox have the look of a team that is dead in the water and may have to consider a coaching change if Rick Renteria can’t right the ship quickly, and the Sox can’t start drawing some crowds to Guaranteed Rate Field.

The rebuild of the bullpen looks like a total failure.  The Sox should just cut bait with the veterans they brought in and develop the younger triple-a and double-a arms for the bullpen and just take their lumps this year.  Since they are in no rush to bring in minor league sensation Micheal Kopech and get his career started, I’m sure the talk will turn to the Sox tanking the year for another high pick very shortly.  Might as well, because the sloppy defensive play, base running mistakes and leaky bullpen has the Sox looking like a 100 loss team.  The rebuild doesn’t really start until Kopech gets here and Carlos Rodon comes off the disabled list.  Until then Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada can tear it up in front of a consistently empty stadium.  The only highlights you’ll see of the Sox before Kopech, will continue to be like a blooper reel.  And you sure won’t see them on …

ESPN, creates almost as much news as they report, and what they report most of the time is equivalent to an empty, smelly garbage can.  I was pretty amused to see that ESPN was signing Cowboys tight end Jason Witten for $4-5 million to broadcast Monday Night Football for the network.  Talk about knocking over the apple cart.

This will crate all kinds of turmoil throughout the broadcasting industry.  People will be mad that they got passed over for that job.  And everyone will be screaming about the money!  Every former athlete at ESPN and every female on air talent will be looking for big raises from ESPN, and they will scream discrimination if they don’t get what they want.  And they were hemorrhaging money before!!  They just cut a lot of talent to save a $100 million from the bottom line and than they go and do this?!

The stockholders at Walt Disney Company won’t stand for this kind of financial malfeasance.  This signing and subsequent fallout will cost ESPN dearly.  It will send shockwaves through the sports programming industry, where ESPN has been losing market share on everything not related to the NBA.

They have already lost the rights to the NFL Draft, which will broadcast on CBS next year.  It may open the door for Fox, NBC or CBS and their streaming partners at Amazon, Facebook and At&T to rise up and challenge ESPN dominance in sports broadcasting.

With 2 new football leagues to emerge in the next two years, the balance of power may finally shift away from the East Coast Bias Network.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all if some networks got out of sports programming all together, with the signing of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan (who?  you might say) for $30 million a year.  It may become too expensive to blindly bid for the rights to broadcast football.

ABC, which is separate from ESPN under the Walt Disney tent, gave up Monday Night Football over a decade ago.  And NBC was out of it for a few years before jumping back in with Sunday Night Football, buoyed by NBC’s status as the number 1 network.

I for one will welcome ESPN’s downfall for all their New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox coverage.  What I don’t welcome is paying higher prices for tickets and subscribing for sports broadcasts.  With player salaries now exceeding $30 million without pubic outrage.  The cost of ALL entertainment goes up for everything and everybody.  Please think on that.

I mean really, if this new version of the Bears doesn’t work out, do you want to pay $200 a ticket for a nosebleed seat in the dead of winter… without a roof over your head? 

Or do you want to contribute to a Mitchell Trubisky contract extension that will pay him $30-40 million a year, and without a super bowl to watch?   Of the top 5 highest paid quarterbacks in the league right now, there has been ONE appearance in the big game.  Success on the field doesn’t seem to correlate with salary, just an idiotic general manager–Ryan Pace anyone?

I know I promised Bears aftermath post draft in the title, but the possibility of shelling out that kind of money for no playoff wins, alah Cutler, has me too depressed to write anymore.  See you next time!  Thanks for reading!