Grazzini still without a new contract

559508.jpg

Grazzini still without a new contract

All season long the Fire has downplayed the possibility of attacking midfielder Sebastian Grazzini leaving the club after his contract expires in July. Grazzini's departure, however, seemed a distinct possibility after Tuesday's training session at Toyota Park.

Grazzini made it clear that he and the club have an unresolved contract issue, and the possibility of getting it resolved seemed cloudy after Brazilian midfielder Alex went through his first training session in Bridgeview.

Alex, like many Brazilian players, prefers to go by only his first name in the soccer world. His full name is Alex Monteiro de Lima. Like Grazzini, he's also an attacking central midfielder but also says he's comfortable on the left side.

The Fire took a good look at Alex in preseason training, when he was under contract with FC Wohlen of Switzerland's second division. He signed with the Fire on April 26 but couldn't report until Wohlen's season was over, and he can't get into a match for the Fire until June 27 when the transfer window opens. He could make his Fire debut on June 29 at Sporting Kansas City.

Grazzini could still be on the roster then, too, but could be done shortly thereafter. He signed a one-year contract on July 13, 2011. So far his Argentina-based agent and the Fire have not reached agreement on a new deal.

The Fire brought in Grazzini in hopes of averting a second-straight disastrous season, and Grazzini did his part to bring respectability back to the franchise. He had five goals and four assists in 11 games, helping the Fire to a 7-2-1 finish that salvaged a.500 season (9-9-16).

Though more talented players have come on board this season the Fire is only a mediocre 5-5-3 heading into the resumption of the MLS season in Sunday's home match against the New York Red Bulls. The Fire lost its last three games prior to a two-week break, and Grazzini didn't play in two of them. He was on the field for Tuesday's training session while playing an uncomfortable waiting game with his contract.

"If the financing there, a good contract offer, I'm willing to stay,'' said Grazzini, speaking through the same translator that Alex used moments later, "but they've taken a little longer to decide.''

He is not happy about that.

"It bothers me because I have a family and am 20 days out of a contract,'' he said. "I don't want to leave on a bad note on anything, especially because I've done well on the pitch. I don't understand why it's taken so long. Thankfully I have offers from Argentina, but I like it here.''

Following MLS policy, the Fire doesn't disclose contract information but the MLS players union reports Grazzini as the lowest-paid Fire starter. According to the players group he was paid 48,000 in 2011 and has a base salary of 50,400 for 2012. There are players on the roster earning more than twice that.

Coach Frank Klopas might have been able to explain the contract delay, but he was missing from the session and said to be on a scouting trip at an undisclosed location. He spoke highly of Alex during the preseason and felt that his participation during three weeks of February sessions in Florida would help familiarize Alex with his future teammates.

"I know most of the players,'' said Alex. "Now I'm working on my fitness. I haven't been doing anything for two weeks, but by the 27th I should be ready again.''

Alex had offers from Dubai and Switzerland and his decision to choose the Fire came after discussions with his wife and other family members. He said his contract is for six months, which means just the rest of this season. According to sources, though, his loan agreement includes an option to extend the deal for three years. More financial details weren't disclosed.

There will be some pros and cons if the Fire decides on a midseason change at the critical attacking midfield spot. If Grazzini goes the Fire will lose experience. Grazzini has played for teams in Argentina, Spain, Belgium, Venezuela and Italy. He joined the Fire after a stint with the Argentine club All Boys.

If the Fire goes exclusively with Alex, the youth movement will get a boost. Alex is only 23, while Grazzini is 31. But Alex has only played professionally in Switzerland. He had two goals in 18 games for FC Gossau in the Swiss Challenge League to start his pro career and had seven goals in 48 matches for the last two seasons for FC Wohlen. He will wear No. 71 for the Fire.

Klopas wasn't the only absentee from the Fire coaching staff on Tuesday. Leo Percovich guided the reserve team in a match at Real Salt Lake. Arne Friedrich (hamstring), Chris Rolfe (ankle) and Dominic Oduro (hamstring) shook off their recent ailments and went through the whole training session, which was directed by assistant coach Mike Matkovich.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Here are some of Tuesday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Wednesday on CSN: Illinois State and Loyola host in Valley doubleheader

Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Report: Bears seeking trade partners for Jay Cutler

Bulls Talk Podcast: What is the Bulls' approach at the trade deadline?

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

White Sox Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with executive vice president Ken Williams

Northwestern's offense nowhere to be found as Illini complete sweep of season series

Quick Hits: Blackhawks respond the right way in win over Wild

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

Why Sammy Sosa compared himself to Jesus Christ in candid interview

Why Joe Maddon won’t tone down the stunts at Cubs camp

Why Joe Maddon won’t tone down the stunts at Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. – Joe Maddon teased reporters when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona one week ago, promising the Cubs wouldn't tone down the gimmicks now that they're World Series champions: "We already have something planned for the first day that you might not want to miss."

A weekend of rain in Mesa postposed the first full-scale full-squad workout until Monday, and the wet grass meant the big reveal had to wait until Tuesday morning, when gonzo strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss drove a white Ferrari onto the field for the team's stretching session.

The bearded man they call "Bussy" rocked sunglasses, a gold chain around his neck, brown dress shoes and the same navy blue windowpane suit he wore to the White House. The overarching message as Buss blew kisses and Cypress Hill's "(Rock) Superstar" and Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'" blasted from the sound system: Humility.

"I hope everyone gets the sarcasm involved," Maddon said.

So, uh, no, the Cubs aren't going to dial it back or turn the zoo animals away or worry about the target they proudly wore on their chest last year.

"I don't know if the mime's coming back or not," Maddon said during the welcome-to-camp press conference. "Could you do a mime two years in a row? I don't know if that's permissible under MLB rules somewhere. I don't think you can bring a mime back two years in a row.

"Magicians are OK. You can anticipate a lot of the same, absolutely."

Before rolling your eyes at a star manager who loves the spotlight, it's important to note that the stunts are largely Buss productions.

"A lot of times, I'm not even aware," Maddon said. "He just knows he's got my blessings. He knows he does not have to clear it with me, unless it's absolutely insane. It works pretty well this way."

While every Maddon dress-up theme trip doesn't get universal love in the clubhouse, Buss has a unique way of getting millionaires to pay attention, almost tricking them into doing work.

"He's got several well-endowed players on the team that support his histrionics," Maddon said.

[MORE CUBS: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field]

Since taking over this job in 2001, Buss has survived multiple ownership structures (Tribune Co., Sam Zell, Ricketts family) and the Andy MacPhail/Jim Hendry/Theo Epstein transitions in the front office, working for managers Don Baylor, Rene Lachemann (interim), Bruce Kimm (interim), Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria.

"He must have some good photographs, right?" Maddon said. "He's a different cat. He's a weapon."

Buss can clearly get along with almost any kind of personality. But it took Maddon – and the explosion of social media – to give him this kind of platform.

"No, nothing's changed, man," Maddon said. "It's all the same in regards to 'the same,' meaning the methods, the process. I just got aired out by one of our geek guys for not using the word ‘process.’ It’s true. Last year, I used the word ‘process’ often. I’m going to continue to use it a lot again this year.

"Why were we able to withstand the word 'pressure' and 'expectations' as well as we did last year? Because we weren't outcome-oriented. We were more oriented towards the process. Anybody in your job and your business – if you want to be outcome-oriented – you're going to find yourself in a lot of trouble just focusing on that word.

"It's all about the process. Our process shall remain the same, absolutely it shall. Hopefully, we're going to add or augment it in some ways that can be even more interesting and entertaining."

The irony is that the Cubs have repeatedly used outcome-based thinking in defending Maddon's decisions during the World Series. But the manager obviously deserves so much credit for creating an environment where this team could play loose and relaxed and not collapse under the weight of franchise history.

"Our guys are pretty much in charge of the whole thing," Maddon said. "I love the empowerment of the players. I love that they feel the freedom to be themselves. If they didn't, maybe Jason (Heyward) would not have gotten the guys together in a weight room in Cleveland after a bad moment.

"All those things matter. And you can't understand exactly which is more important than the other. So you just continue to attempt to do a lot of the same things. Process is important, man, and we're going to continue along that path."