Fire sign Friedrich for 2013

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Fire sign Friedrich for 2013

The Fire hasnt finished work on its 2012 season yet, but the club already took its first big step towards preparing for 2013 on Wednesday with the signing of German defender Arne Friedrich.

Friedrich, 33, was the Fires Defender of the Year this season and made it clear in the waning days of the campaign that he wanted to play one more season in Bridgeview. He didnt have to do that. He undoubtedly would have had other options, but -- for whatever reason -- he didnt want to play across the pond again.

"This is what I told everybody in the past, before I came to America," Friedrich said after the Fire was eliminated from the Major League Soccer playoffs last week. "I would never again play in Europe.

He did plenty of that quite well in the past, as a member of Germanys third-place finishers in the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals. He had 82 caps for Germany before playing his last match for Wolfsburg in his countrys Bundesliga.

Friedrich signed with the Fire on Mar. 7 and made 23 appearances in the 34 MLS regular season matches. His presence helped make Austin Berry, his central defender partner, a favorite for MLS Rookie of the Year. They were key players in helping the Fire limit opponents to 41 goals in 34 games. That tied the Fire for second-best defensively in the Eastern Conference.

Slowly but surely Javier Leon, the Fires president of soccer operations, will build a team for next season, but Friedrich is a good start. His signing might mean the departure of Cory Gibbs, who suffered a serious knee injury in the third game of the season and underwent surgery. He still isnt in full training, as his postseason workouts this week have been inside with a focus on fitness.

Leon, in a statement announcing Friedrichs re-signing, said "Building continuity at the center back position is a priority for 2013."

The quick re-signing of Friedrich was in sharp contrast to last season when another veteran, Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo, didnt sign a new contract until January. Pardo, like Friedrich, was happy with his first season in MLS and made it clear he wanted to return for another season. The Fire wanted him, too. It just took longer for that to happen.

Friedrich sounds like hes planning to play just one more year, but thats always subject to change.

If this years back line of Friedrich, Berry, Jalil Anibaba and Gonzalo Segares remains intact, the Fire will be in good shape defensively for next season. The lineup in front of them might not resemble this years nearly as much, however.

The Fire needs an attacking, playmaking midfielder. The club did some winning after Sebastian Grazzini returned to Argentina after a midseason contract dispute but was never as good. Coach Frank Klopas did some lineup patching, but it didnt work in the last six matches when the Fire stumbled to a 1-4-1 finish (counting the season-ending 2-1 home loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Fires first postseason appearance since 2009).

Klopas will keep his players on hand for workouts through next Thursday, Nov. 15. Leon is also expected to make a visit from his offices in California as the offseason administrative work continues.

The Fire could lose a veteran or two in the MLS entry draft in early January and will add a player -- at least temporarily -- when the winner of the Dec. 14-15 open tryout in Bridgeview is chosen.

That player is guaranteed a week in the first phase of preseason training, expected to begin in Florida in mid-January. The MLS SuperDraft, on Jan. 17 in Indianapolis, will also bring some fresh talent to the camp.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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