How much Bears 'need' Forte overhangs possible contract talks

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How much Bears 'need' Forte overhangs possible contract talks

Matt Forte was direct and blunt after the Bears signed former Raider running back Michael Bush early in this offseason. He said he felt disrespected.

In some ways, its very likely he was. But not in a simplistic we-dont-like-you kind of way, possibly not the way Forte envisions.

The Bush signing was intended to be an elite-grade addition to depth at a franchise-altering position. The Bears have done the same thing with Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber in recent offseasons.

Bush just happens to be the best in a continuing elevation of the talent search which has gone from Jones and his torn ACL to Taylor and his steady decline as hes aged to Barber, still with something left but clearly not much since hes since retired. Bush is a potential starter; Forte was right about that.

Tilting away from 22

But what the Bears have done this offseason is steadily made themselves less and less dependent on a back even as good as Forte. Oversimplifying a little, and apart from any general devaluing of the running-back position, they just dont need Forte as desperately as they did a year ago.

Part of that is most evident in the major upgrades at wide receiver. The Bears did not trade for Brandon Marshall and draft Alshon Jeffery in the second round with the intention of Forte accounting for the nearly 40 percent of total offensive yardage as he did through the 11 complete games he played in 2011.

To stress one point here: The Bears absolutely, unequivocally want Forte in Chicago, for the foreseeable future. Thats not a question; thats why they put what they consider a very strong offer on the table for him nearly a year ago.

But where Johnny Knox and Roy Williams combined for 74 catches at one wideout spot, Marshall has averaged 95 in the five seasons since his rookie year. Knox and Williams combined for 4 touchdowns last season; Marshall averages more than 6.

Options increasing

More notable, Marshall and Jay Cutler were both under-used rookies in 2006. The next two years Marshall caught 102 and 104 Cutler passes, best in his career, plus 13 TDs.

And take talk of a Devin Hester package seriously. That will be more targeted and designed than the previous program of Hester basically as a straight-up starting receiver.

Fortes high-water production mark arguably may have been last season, when his value to the Bears also was at its peak. With the possible tilting of the offense toward a West Coast scheme (what Cutler, Marshall and Jeremy Bates worked in under Mike Shanahan in Denver), Fortes abilities have not declined in the least. The Bears simply have significant alternatives.

That does not drive the price up, regardless of what other running backs are receiving under their new contracts.

Very cloudy future

Indeed, unless a long-term deal does get done with Forte and there is salary cap space to conclude one -- it also is becoming increasingly difficult to envision a scenario in which Forte is a Bear in 2013.

The only way he creates value for himself is to play, and play well enough for the organization to pay him 7.7 million this year and deem him worth some 9.5 million next year.

Forte has not vilified the organization as some others have theirs but he has not always taken what could be characterized as the complete high road. Understandably; hes more than earned the right to say what he feels.

But hard feelings dont always completely go away. Up in New England, where franchise-tagged, All-Pro receiver Wes Welker was quoted as saying that his contract talks were getting worse, the sentiment is growing that this is Welkers last year as a Patriot. Boston Globe reporter Shalise Manza Young wrote that Welkers comments did not play well with the Patriots, and that organization does not have a long fuse with players out of step.

Forte is held in very high regard in the locker room and on the field. The Bears do want him signed. He is a unique back who fits in a West Coast, Mike Martz or just about any offensive scheme.

But how much more they will offer at a time when they have upgraded factors elsewhere in the offense is very problematic.

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Pirates on CSN

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Pirates on CSN

The Cubs wrap up their three-game series with the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage from the North Side starts at 7 p.m., and be sure to stick around following the final out for reaction and analysis on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (13-7, 3.21 ERA) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (3-3, 3.02 ERA)

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Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

The White Sox close out their series against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (15-7, 3.14 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.33 ERA)

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White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

DETROIT — The 2016 White Sox expected an improved offense when they addressed two of last season’s biggest needs with trades for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie.

While scoring is up a hair over the 2015 club, it hasn’t nearly been enough.

As they have for much of the season, the White Sox jumped out to an early three-run lead on Tuesday night but failed to put their opponents away. Their dormancy allowed the Detroit Tigers to rally back to send the White Sox to an 8-4 loss in front of 27,121 at Comerica Park. Frazier homered early before Detroit scored eight runs between the fifth and seventh innings. The Tigers look to complete a three-game sweep of the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon on CSN.

“That’s kind of been the story of our year,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “With runners in scoring position we haven’t been able to drive in and get the big hit. When we do that we win. When we get it done we win and when we don’t it bites us.”

The White Sox thought they added serious bite to an offense that finished at or near the bottom of the American League in 2015 in most of the major categories. Frazier was acquired in a three-team deal from the Cincinnati Reds and Lawrie came over from Oakland for two-minor leaguers. On top of the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche a year earlier, Frazier and Lawrie were expected to bolster positions in which the White Sox finished last in OPS in the majors last season.

To an extent, the plan has worked. The White Sox entered Tuesday having increased their scoring average to 4.07 runs per game, up from 3.84. But even with that improvement, the White Sox started play 13th among 15 AL clubs in runs scored and 63 runs below the league average.

They also were 13th in home runs (131), slugging percentage (.402) and OPS (.717).

Part of their struggles can be attributed to injuries — Lawrie has been out since July 22 and Austin Jackson has been gone since early June. The unexpected retirement of LaRoche also left the White Sox short on left-handed power in the middle of the lineup and forced Cabrera from the second spot to fifth to provide balance. And some can be attributed to down years by several key veterans, including the performance with runners in scoring position by Jose Abreu and Frazier.

But even the White Sox thought they’d be a better run-scoring team than they have proven through 131 games.

“I think we did,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You lose Rochie at the beginning of the year, and that changed the left-handed dynamic of what our lineup would have been like. But you still expect guys to hit a little better and score more runs than we’ve done. We haven’t held up our end of the bargain.”

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Their end of the bargain left the White Sox vulnerable on Tuesday. Frazier’s two-run homer and an RBI groundout by Eaton in the second inning had the White Sox in command. But Daniel Norris struck out Tim Anderson to strand a runner at third.

Then in the fourth, Norris got Tyler Saladino to fly out to shallow right, which prevented the runner on third from tagging. After Eaton walked, Norris got Anderson to ground into a fielder’s choice.

Even though Norris’ pitch count was sky high, the White Sox failed to knock him out of the game. That allowed the Tigers to rally back against Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Albers and Jacob Turner.

“They seem to add on,” Ventura said. “They don’t stop adding on that extra run. A guy on third with less than two outs, they’re able to get it in. That’s been an Achilles heel for us.”

It’s also been a source of frustration, Eaton said. The White Sox look around the room and feel like they have a talented group, especially now with Justin Morneau solidifying the middle. But once again, that group didn’t keep their foot on the pedal and paid the price.

“They just continue to plug away,” Eaton said. “Their offense is good enough to come back from any deficit. Hats off to them, but we’ve got to keep adding on. We got on Norris early and got his pitch count up, but we’ve got to keep knocking on the door. We didn’t keep on it enough and knock him out real early.

“Top to bottom I think we have a pretty good lineup. It is frustrating when you don’t get that big hit and vice versa for the big pitch.”