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Cubs, Sox hard to watch, but here are 9 reasons it's worth it

Progress of Castro, Rizzo, potential departure of Konerko among the things to look for in second half

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

6:58 PM CDT, July 2, 2013

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Remember the summer of 1986?

Gas cost 89 cents a gallon. The blockbuster "Top Gun'' made teenage boys want to be as cool as Tom Cruise. A Bears Super Bowl celebration that has lasted 27 years began in earnest.

Collectively, Chicago baseball seldom was more forgettable.

The White Sox went 72-90 in '86. The Cubs went 70-90. That was the last time both teams lost 90 games in the same year.

Midway through 2013, they are on pace to do it again — the Cubs on track for 91 losses and the Sox 96 heading into Tuesday.

Baseball commentary in this town should come with a Surgeon General's warning that paying attention could make you drowsy. But at your own risk, here are nine reasons to watch the second half of the Sox and Cubs seasons anyway:

1. To find out what kind of GM Rick Hahn will be.

Maintaining is out, rebuilding is in. Articulate a plan that is currently too vague and then begin to execute it. The Sox fan base will accept dealing veterans — I would start by aggressively shopping Alexei Ramirez and Alex Rios — to replenish the minor league system as long as it feels like part of a process. Create a bidding war for Jake Peavy. Gauge the market for John Danks. Adam Dunn, anyone? Be as transparent as possible about short-term pain in the name of long-term gain; that approach works for the Cubs. Be smart, but most of all, be bold to close the gap in the improving AL Central.

2. To monitor the progression of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

Both must stop any regression. The Cubs regime can't be wrong about the career arcs of Castro and Rizzo without casting doubt on every assertion Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have made. For the Cubs' grand plan to proceed, Castro needs to hit better than .233 and Rizzo must avoid the slumps to which he has been susceptible. It also would be nice if Castro finally improved his fielding and awareness at shortstop to squash reasonable speculation he will be playing a different position by the time the Cubs contend.

3. To see which manager cracks first?

I wonder more how the losing affects Robin Ventura than Dale Sveum, who strikes me as a baseball lifer bound for a dugout no matter what happens with the Cubs. The same seems harder to say about Ventura, whose life in California might look more appealing than ever after a 90-loss season. If the Sox commit to rebuilding as they should, the manager's job description at 35th and Shields will change drastically from when Ventura took over in 2012 with fewer flecks of gray.

4. To say goodbye to Paul Konerko?

Interesting that reports identified Konerko, along with ace Chris Sale, as untouchable in Sox trade talks. Protecting Sale makes sense. But Konerko? Until he gets healthy enough to consider being moved to a contender, it's a moot point. But it wouldn't be surprising to see Konerko the competitor agree to waive his no-trade rights if a deal put him in the thick of a pennant race and helped the Sox rebuild. Konerko deserves another playoff appearance, wherever, and the Sox owe it to themselves to remove sentiment from the equation if he affords them that opportunity.

5. To appreciate Travis Wood.

He's young (26), consistent and cheap — the best $527,500 the Cubs will spend in 2013. If Wood had played college football somewhere famous, Chicago would be salivating over his future like one of his fellow starting pitchers. Wood isn't likely to bring as much in return as Matt Garza would, so keeping Wood for the long term makes as much sense as trading Garza for prospects.

6. To watch Tom Tunney flip and flop.

The myopic 44th-ward alderman has replaced Reds slugger Joey Votto as the most consistent Cubs killer — doing to progress promised by Wrigley Field renovation what Votto does to fastballs. The longer Tunney continues to vacillate on support for the proposed $500 million investment into the ballpark — and his neighborhood — the more the franchise hangs in limbo as suitors from Rosemont and DuPage County wait patiently. Tunney really wants to require the Cubs to get City Council approval to reschedule rainouts? Hello, Mayor Emanuel? Your thumb is needed.

7. To discover Gordon Beckham's true calling, finally.

After trading Ramirez for prospects, move Beckham to shortstop and hope the switch back to his natural position unlocks the potential at the plate Chicago has been waiting for since his rookie year. Injuries slowed Beckham's development this season, but he is in his fifth major league season and we shouldn't still be asking what kind of player he will be. Perhaps a change back to short will bring the Sox closer to a long-term answer.

8. To track how the Cubs spread their money around … the world.

In spring training, I remember Theo Epstein stressing during a conversation how, more than ever, everything in baseball comes down to talent acquisition. It seemed an abstract concept until Tuesday, when part of a shrewd trade with the Orioles included getting two international bonus-signing slots. According to Baseball America, that increased the Cubs' bonus pool for international prospects to $4.945 million — the highest of any team. This gives the Cubs an edge in signing elite international prospects such as 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres, who just signed for $1.7 million. Following the money this summer should entertain Cubs fans more than watching the scoreboard.

9. To follow the most intriguing Cubs outfielder in Chicagoland.

That would be Albert Almora, who roams center field for Class A Kane County. The 19-year-old phenom has cooled off after a torrid start but is hitting .346 through his first 136 at-bats. Besides Almora, prospects Dan Vogelbach and Rock Shoulders — a DH with an ideal linebacker's name — make a trip to Geneva tempting to escape baseball problems in Chicago that aren't disappearing anytime soon.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh