'A dream come true' for Bowden with Cubs

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'A dream come true' for Bowden with Cubs

This was the message Theo Epstein delivered to reporters one night during the winter meetings: We have opportunity.

Thats easy to say inside a Dallas hotel suite, during the Christmas shopping season. But the Cubs are backing up those words, turning Wrigley Field into a kind of baseball Ellis Island.

That means handing 500 at-bats to Ian Stewart, to see if he can become the hitter Baseball America projected hed become years ago. Its looking at Bryan LaHairs monster Triple-A numbers and being willing to give him a chance at this level.

So the Cubs will throw Michael Bowden into their bullpen and see if he can live up to his potential.

As much as the Cubs want to copy the Red Sox, this is the major difference now. Every game here isnt covered like the Super Bowl, the way it is in Boston. There is room to grow at Clark and Addison.

This is what the 25-year-old Bowden was hoping for when he was designated for assignment on April 15. He got bored waiting around Boston for some answers, so he hopped in his truck and drove back home to Oswego.

When Bowden found out he was traded to the Cubs in the Marlon Byrd deal, he put it right up there with getting drafted (47th overall in 2005) and making his big-league debut (beating the White Sox at Fenway Park in 2008).

This is a dream come true, Bowden said Monday. Im very blessed.

Growing up, Bowden didnt have cable, but he watched the Cubs all the time on WGN. He starred at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, where people noticed the drive and professional focus inside the kid who wanted to pay back the single mother who raised him.

The three former Red Sox executives now running the Cubs Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod know all about Bowdens makeup. They took him five picks after Clay Buchholz, and hoped hed develop into a frontline starter.

After the 2008 season, Baseball America ranked Bowden as the No. 2 prospect in the Red Sox organization. Across the next three years, he had 10 different stints with Boston, but never finished a single season with more than 20 big-league innings.

Bowden paused for a few moments after he was asked: Do you feel like you were given a fair shot in Boston?

Thats a tough question to answer, Bowden said. Every time you get the ball, its an opportunity. (But I went) up and down. I never really got a level of comfort over there. So Id go up there and I didnt know really what they wanted out of me and they threw me in a lot of different roles.

But you know what Im very grateful for it. It made me a versatile pitcher. Now, throw anything at me, I feel Im prepared to tackle that.

The Cubs bullpen is in a state of flux. To make room for Bowden, Rodrigo Lopez was designated for assignment, and the Cubs have hopes hell go to Triple-A Iowa. Kerry Woods right shoulder is said to be improving, though theres a chance the veteran reliever will eventually need to go out on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Bowden will have opportunities to show he belongs here. His major-league resume 5.61 ERA in 59.1 innings is pretty polished when compared to rookie relievers Lendy Castillo and Rafael Dolis.

Bowden didnt have much left to prove at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he spent parts of the last four seasons, and went 16-for-17 in save chances last year.

Over the weekend, Bowden was flooded with messages and phone calls, but he left only two tickets for Monday nights game against the Cardinals, one for his wife and one for his mother. The ticket requests, well, he said: Ask me again in a week or two.

This is what a full-scale rebuilding project looks like, letting someone sink or swim in the big leagues. If Bowden wasnt in the right place at the right time, he certainly is now.

I just couldnt have written it any better, he said.

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

Bobby Howry wasn't aware of the fact he was part of one of the more infamous transactions in White Sox history until a few years after it happened. 

In 1997, with the White Sox only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, general manager Ron Schueler pulled the trigger on a massive trade that left many around Chicago — including some in the White Sox clubhouse — scratching their heads. Heading to the San Francisco Giants was the team's best starting pitcher (left-hander Wilson Alvarez), a reliable rotation piece (Doug Drabek) and a closer coming off a 1996 All-Star appearance (Roberto Hernandez). In return, the White Sox acquired six minor leaguers: right-handers Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, left-hander Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Only Foulke had major league experience, and it wasn't exactly good (an 8.26 ERA in 44 2/3 innings). 

Howry was largely oblivious to the shocking nature of the trade that brought him from the Giants to White Sox until, before the 1999 season, he was featured in a commercial that referenced the "White Flag trade."

"I don't even know if I knew it was called that before then," Howry recalled last weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago at Cubs Convention. 

The trade was a stark signal that youth would be emphasized on 35th and Shields. Both Alvarez and Hernandez were set to become free agents after the 1997 season, and the 40-year-old Darwin wasn't a long-term piece, either. With youngsters like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee rising through the farm system, the move was made with an eye on the future and maximizing the return on players who weren't going to be long-term pieces. 

Sound familiar? 

It's hardly a perfect comparison, but when the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December for four minor leaguers — headlined by top-100 prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — it was the first rebuilding blockbuster trade the organization had made since the 1997 White Flag deal. Shortly after trading their staff ace at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox shipped Adam Eaton — their best position player — to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects featuring two more highly-regarded youngsters in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. 

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And there still could be more moves on the horizon, too, for Rick Hahn's White Sox (Jose Quintana has been the subject of persistent rumors since the Winter Meetings). But for those looking for an optimistic outlook of the White Sox rebuilding plans, it's worth noting that the club's last youth movement, to an extent, was successful.

Only Howry (3.74 ERA over 294 games) and Foulke (2.87 ERA, 100 saves over 346 games) became significant long-term pieces for the White Sox from those six players brought over in 1997. And it wasn't like Schueler dealt away any of the franchise's cornerstones — like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Robin Ventura — but with future starters in Lee, Ordonez and Chris Singleton on their way the White Sox were able to go young. A swap of promising youthful players (Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko) proved to be successful a year and a half later. 

And with a couple of shrewd moves — namely, dealing Jamie Navarro and John Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin — the "Kids Can Play" White Sox stormed to an American League Central title in 2000. 

"It was great," Howry said of developing with so many young players in the late 1999's and 2000. "You come in and you feel a lot more comfortable when you got a lot of young guys and you're all coming up together and building together. It's not like you're walking into a primarily veteran clubhouse where you're kind of having to duck and hide all the time. We had a great group of guys and we built together over a couple of years, and putting that together was a lot of fun."

What sparked things in 2000, Howry said, was that ferocious brawl with the Detroit Tigers on April 22 in which 11 players were ejected (the fight left Foulke needing five stitches and former Tigers catcher/first baseman Robert Fick doused in beer). 

"About the time we had that fight with Detroit, that big brawl, all of a sudden after then we just seemed to kind of come together and everything started to click and it took off," Howry said. 

The White Sox went 80-81 in 1998 and slipped to 75-86 in 1999, but their 95-67 record in 2000 was the best in the league — though it only amounted to a three-game sweep at the hands of the wild-card winning Seattle Mariners. 

Still, the White Flag trade had a happy ending two and a half years later. While with the White Sox, Howry didn't feel pressure to perform under the circumstances with which he arrived, which probably helped those young players grow together into eventual division champions. 

"I was 23 years old," Howry said. "At 23 years old, I didn't really — I was just like, okay, I'm still playing, I got a place to play. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into three veteran guys for six minor leaguers." 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox 2016 first round pick Zack Collins joins the podcast to talk about his future with the White Sox, when he hopes to make the big leagues and the doubters who question whether he can be a major league catcher.   He discusses comparisons with Kyle Schwarber, his impressions of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, why his dad took him to a Linkin Park concert when he was 6 years old and much more.