Thursday, February 27, 2014

Let's catch up on some White Sox spring training news

We haven't written much about the goings-on in Glendale, Ariz., so let's take a few moments to catch up on some of the White Sox spring news....

1. Pitchers and catchers reported almost two weeks ago, but there is still no sign of free agent acquisition Ronald Belisario, nor is there any timetable for his arrival.

This isn't the first time Belisario has had visa issues, and reports indicate his off-the-field problems contributed to the Dodgers' decision not to tender the right-handed reliever, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Sox this offseason.

“It’s something that’s beyond our control,” White Sox GM Rick Hahn told's Doug Padilla. “It's not entirely unexpected with immigration, especially with a player that had issues with immigration in the past. We’ve got to keep in mind that we're dealing with a relief pitcher who needs to get stretched out to one inning, maybe two, by the end of camp and there's more than enough time for that.”

True enough, but if I were a White Sox player, I would be annoyed if I were in camp working to get ready for the season while one of my teammates is still at home doing whatever. Yes, the visa process can take time, but players know what day camp starts well in advance. Is it too much to ask a player to start his visa process early to ensure that he can report on time? I don't think it is.

Like Belisario, right fielder Avisail Garcia is from Venezuela. Yet Garcia reported to camp early. He didn't seem to have any problems. So what's the deal with Belisario? I'm not sure, but I hope reporters question him, if he ever arrives in Arizona.

A couple days late is one thing. A couple weeks late and it's hard not to find that irritating.

2. Designated hitter Adam Dunn may struggle to hit his weight, but he is going to the Oscars. Dunn is an investor in the production company that made the film "Dallas Buyers Club," which is nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture.

Dunn has a cameo in the film as a bartender.

Sox manager Robin Ventura gave Dunn his blessing to leave camp and attend the event with one caveat: Dunn has to go on stage if "Dallas Buyers Club" wins.

So, if you watch the Oscars on Sunday, just maybe you'll get to see a Big Donkey up there accepting an award.

3. What was your favorite memory of the Jake Elmore Era? It didn't last long.

The infielder played 52 games with the Houston Astros last season, and the Sox picked him up on waivers this offseason.

Alas, there is no spot for Elmore in the Sox' crowded infield. He was designated for assignment and traded Thursday to the Oakland A's for cash considerations.

We hardly knew ye.

4. The Sox will play their first spring game Friday afternoon against the Los Angeles Dodgers. This game will air on MLB Network on tape delay at 4 p.m. local time. Ace left-hander Chris Sale will get the start.

Not that we should read anything into Ventura's batting order for the first spring game, but here's how he's going to line them up: Adam Eaton, cf; Alexei Ramirez, ss; Garcia, rf; Jose Abreu, 1b; Dayan Viciedo, lf; Paul Konerko, dh; Matt Davidson, 3b; Gordon Beckham 2b; Tyler Flowers, c.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Late, great (and not-so-great) additions, Part 2

The White Sox have a modest record when it comes to late free agent additions, and the Cubs haven't done that much better, if they've done better at all adding pieces after Feb. 1 and before Opening Day .

Here are the five best late free agent additions for the Cubs in recent history (just like with the Sox list, we're excluding the strike-affected 1995 season):

1. Terry Mulholland (Feb. 2, 1998)
Mulholland was no stranger to signing late in the offseason or playing for the Cubs. The left-handed pitcher went to camp on a February contract with the Phillies just a couple years earlier, and played for the Cubs in 1997 before being claimed on waivers by the Giants in August.

Having been primarily a starter in his career, Mulholland was an effective swingman for a surprising Cubs team that made the playoffs. In 70 games -- which included seven starts -- he recorded a 2.89 ERA in 112 innings. It was a pretty good value for the one-year, $600,000 contract.

Mulholland was less of a good deal when he signed a two-year, $6 million contract to stay after that season, posting a 5.15 ERA before being packaged with Jose Hernandez for a pitching prospect (Ruben Quevedo, if you must know).

2. Kent Bottenfield (March 9, 1996)
Bottenfield is probably most famous for being a guy who won 18 games out of nowhere for the Cardinals in 1999 before being traded for Jim Edmonds the following year. Talk about buying low and selling high. The Cubs actually had an opportunity to get in on the ground floor, signing the right-hander after spring training was underway after Bottenfield spent the previous year laboring in the minors for the Tigers.

Without much service time, Bottenfield spent two seasons with the Cubs, appearing in 112 games, all as a reliever. He logged a respectable 3.34 ERA in 145 2/3 innings for teams that finished in fourth and fifth place, respectively.

Figuring they'd seen the best Bottenfield had to offer, the Cubs didn't offer him arbitration after the 1997 season. Instead he went to the Cardinals, where on balance, he was only slightly above average despite the gaudy win total. The year after he was let go, he really only filled the same role for the Cardinals that Mulholland did for the Cubs, only less effectively.

An earlier version of Edmonds than the one the Cubs eventually dragged in years later sure was a nicer return than Quevedo, though.

3. Hee-Seop Choi (March 3, 1998)
OK, this one is cheating. Choi was a international amateur signing and the Cubs had no intention of him playing for several years. He was annually one of the team's best prospects, and even after a rough rookie season, was valuable enough a commodity to be the centerpiece of a trade for Derrek Lee, who we know had some big years for the Cubs.

T4. Jeromy Burnitz (Feb. 5, 2005) / Cliff Floyd (Feb. 1, 2007)
Part of the ongoing efforts by the Cubs to plug a decade-long hole in right field. Since smashing Sammy Sosa's boombox and shipping him and the pieces to the Orioles, the most frequent starters for the Cubs in right field each season have been: Burnitz (2005), Jacque Jones (2006), Floyd (2007), Kosuke Fukudome (2008), Milton Bradley (2009), Fukudome (2010), Fukudome (2011), David DeJesus (2012) and Nate Schierholtz (2013).

Burnitz just wasn't much of a hitter anymore at 36 years old, and faded from respectable to bad in the second half. His one-year, $4.5 million deal was an acceptable risk. Floyd, who came on a cheaper-still one-year, $3 million deal, still hit for a good average and on-base percentage as a 34-year-old, but the power he had in his late 20s wasn't ever coming back. He was still a piece of a playoff team, filling a gap in the outfield as a part-time player.

5. Will Ohman (Feb. 11, 2004)
Ohman was actually a draft pick by the Cubs back in 1998 and had spent years in the organization. He also spent years battling injuries, missing all of 2002 and 2003. The Cubs released the left-hander just after the 2003 season, and when he couldn't find a home all winter, welcomed him back on the eve of spring training.

While Ohman was never great, even as a lefty specialist later in his career, he did give the Cubs mostly solid relief work and a 3.97 ERA over 145 innings from 2004-07. He was traded along with Omar Infante to Atlanta for some guy who definitely wasn't as good of a reliever as Ohman, or as good a second baseman as Infante.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The home plate collision rule: Much ado about nothing

I saw a web headline this morning that read "Plate collisions banned with exceptions." I figure now is the time to brush up on new MLB rules, so I clicked the link and read the article.

Thing is, I don't think this new rule changes much. I felt like the headline should have read "Plate collisions OK with exceptions."

Basically, there are two parts to the rule. First, catchers cannot block the plate unless they have the ball. Second, the runner can't leave the basepath in order to initiate contact with the catcher.

In other words, at least 90 percent of the home plate collisions I've seen in all the years I've been watching baseball are still legal under these rules. If the catcher has the ball and is blocking the plate, the baserunner is within his rights to try to knock him over and dislodge the ball. That's always been legal, and it sounds to me like it's still legal.

The only real change here is if the baserunner goes out of his way to give the catcher a shot, he's automatically out and could be subject to league discipline. Honestly, I haven't seen too many situations like that through the years, Torii Hunter and Jamie Burke in 2004 notwithstanding.

This sounds to me like much ado about nothing. Am I wrong in my intepretation? 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Late, great (and not-so-great) additions, Part 1

With players having reported to spring training, teams are pretty much set as far as the major pieces of their rosters. Sure, there's jockeying for starting jobs, along with guys vying for spots on the back ends of benches and bullpens. But there's not really much left on the free agent market, even with the trend of some players signing later and later in the offseason.

This year you still could grab a starting shortstop (Stephen Drew), a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher (Ervin Santana) or a DH/first baseman (Kendrys Morales). That's only because those guys are clinging to the hope that a huge contract is on the horizon. For the most part, what's left are bench players (Kelly Shoppach, Laynce Nix, Andres Torres), organizational depth (Tyler Greene, Casey Kotchman), rehab projects (Jair Jurrjens, Johan Santana, Andrew Bailey), last-gasp attempts (Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre) or various arms to fill up a pitching staff (Jon Garland, Mike Gonzalez, Brett Myers).

The White Sox and Cubs don't look positioned to cull the cream of what's left, even if the price comes down. Even if they were, neither Chicago team has done well with last-minute additions.

By last-minute, I'm talking about a player signed after the start of February, but before Opening Day. That's when most of the good free agents are off the market, but before the season starts and the roster crunch some teams face creates a different kind of market.

We're just looking at the last 25 years, and not counting the post-strike year in 1995, when the work stoppage pushed free agency back and left everyone scrambling.

First here are the top five late-signing players for the White Sox, and later we'll look at the Cubs:

1. Kevin Tapani (Feb. 3, 1996)
Tapani signed late because while he was a solid innings-eater, he lacked overpowering stuff and owned a less-than-spectacular track record. At the age of 33, there were no takers for his services until the Sox offered him a one-year, $1.5 million contract.

The right-hander lived up to expectations, chewing up 225 innings with an average-ish ERA (4.59 -- average back in the swinging mid-90s) for a team that contended for a wild card before folding late. Like the Sox, Tapani also faded down the stretch, posting a 6.81 ERA in 71 1/3 innings from the start of August until the end of the season.

That didn't stop the Cubs from offering Tapani a five-year, $24 million contract the following offseason to be mostly mediocre, though he was very good in 1997 and almost won Game 1 of the 1998 NLDS against the Braves before Cubs manager Jim Riggleman left him in one batter too long.

As far as what the Sox got out of Tapani, though, they couldn't have really asked for more.

2. Danny Darwin (Feb. 7, 1997)
Darwin was the next-year edition of the Tapani signing. A very solid pitcher over most of his career, Darwin had trouble finding a job as a 41-year-old before the Sox gave him a one-year, $475,000 contract hoping he could help the back end of a suddenly needy rotation that had lost Alex Fernandez and Tapani to free agency and Jason Bere to injury.

While Darwin held up his end of the bargain (4.13 ERA in 113 1/3 IP), the Sox didn't. Other more highly touted (and much higher-paid) free agent pitchers Jaime Navarro and Doug Drabek were disasters, while the offense underwhelmed with a disappointing Albert Belle and Robin Ventura missing to injury.

Controversially, Darwin was packaged with Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez as part of the infamous "White Flag" trade. Other than that, this signing probably far exceeded what the Sox could have asked for.

3. Kenny Lofton (Feb. 1, 2002)
The Sox needed a center fielder while Lofton, just a few months shy of his 35th birthday, was coming off what would be the worst season of his very good career. That understandably scared off would-be suitors, so the Sox swooped in with a one-year, $1 million contract.

Lofton only disappointed people expecting him to recapture the glory days of his mid-20s. For the Sox he batted .259/.348/.418 and swiped 22 bases before being shipped off to the Giants for spare parts. Lofton went on to be a useful, and affordable, piece for contending teams through his 40th birthday. It's just that the 2002 Sox weren't a contending team.

4. Dewayne Wise (March 5, 2008)
This is where the list takes a turn for the worse. Is it a love affair that's still going on to this day? It's easy to be frustrated to see Wise on your team when he's been pressed into duties beyond his abilities. For a fourth outfielder, he still had his moments for the Sox.

5. Wil Cordero (March 23, 1998)
A domestic assault incident the previous year earned Cordero his release from the Red Sox. After a guilty plea in the offseason, the Sox were the only team to offer him a $1 million contract with a team option, only then because of his ties to then-manager Jerry Manuel from their days with the Expos, and his agreement to submit to tests and ongoing counseling.

If this story has any kind of a happy ending, it's that Cordero has seemingly put his history of violence behind him, at least by public indications. His talent was also rehabbed enough to last seven more seasons in the big leagues as a part-time player, though the rebuilding Sox never had much use for him. With Mike Caruso and Ray Durham ensconced in the middle infield, Cordero's inability to make good throws from third base, and lack of a bat big enough (.267/.314/.446 in 371 PAs) for first base or a corner outfield spot, the team said goodbye at the end of the year. be continued when we look at late Cubs signings...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Orioles grab from the bargain bucket again

In another late maneuver, the Orioles signed outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal.

Nelson Cruz is taking a one-year deal
and will try again for a longer contract
next winter.
Baltimore had been quiet this offseason until signing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year deal last week. The Orioles decided to wait out the market on Jimenez and Cruz, who reportedly was looking for a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $75 million. Cruz declined the Rangers' qualifying offer of one year and $14 million earlier in the offseason.

It's obvious now Cruz's agent misread the market for his client's services coming off a PED suspension and lacking much in the way of defensive ability.

The Orioles weren't reluctant to snag Cruz at this price, even while having to forfeit a draft pick to do so. Having already given up their first-round pick in the upcoming draft to sign Jimenez, Baltimore only gave up its second-rounder for this deal.

This might not be the end for the Orioles. Having already invested in two bargain free agents, they might also look to fill another gap in their rotation with Ervin Santana, who also languishes on the free agent market.

With the addition of Cruz, Baltimore's lineup looks like:

RF Nick Markakis
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
LF Cruz
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Ryan Flaherty
DH Nolan Reimold/Steve Pearce
C Matt Wieters

That group could be pretty potent, especially if Reimold gets his bat back on track, or the Orioles replace him or Flaherty.

The rotation looks a little more suspect, with Jimenez leading a group that currently includes Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris. Baltimore is really crossing its fingers here, along with some key spots in the bullpen.

Still, give the Orioles credit for not submitting in what is annually a tough American League East. There's possibly a case that could be made that the Orioles are still no better than the third- or fourth-best team in that division. Every team there still has its flaws, and with a second wild card now in play, Baltimore is still good enough to be pursuing the postseason instead of joining the ridiculous race to the bottom some other organizations choose to run in the name of attaining marginally more valuable draft slots.

Don't get me wrong, draft picks are an important part of maintaining fiscal flexibility for teams in the face of exploding free agent contracts. The Orioles might be missing out on some cheap young talent by dipping into the free agent pool right now.

Still, if the point of keeping your picks is to reap millions of dollars in savings, it's hard to say Baltimore isn't also saving millions of dollars by vulture-picking players to bargain contracts now late in the offseason.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The White Sox can't be 'Paul Konerko's team' any longer

Paul Konerko's leadership skills will have only a minimal impact on the success or failure of the 2014 White Sox.

There, I said it.

It won't be a popular opinion, especially among lazy reporters who plan to spend the spring and summer beating the "Paulie as mentor" story to death because they can't think of anything else White Sox-related to write about.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Konerko invited center fielder Adam Eaton over to his house for some batting practice, a couple beers and a shoot-the-bull session. Sox management has asked Konerko to take the young players on the roster under his wing, and to try to pass on some of the wisdom he has gained during his 21 years in professional baseball.

I have no doubt Konerko will perform this task to the best of his abilities, and his efforts can only help these young guys. I don't see how it can hurt.

That said, there's only so much a veteran player can say or do to help age 20-something players who are trying to prove themselves at the big-league level. If it were as simple as having a guy like Konerko pull a young prospect aside for some chit-chat and sage advice after a batting practice session, you wouldn't see so many once-promising players wash out in the major leagues.

Take the case of second baseman Gordon Beckham, who is good friends with Konerko. The two are close enough, in fact, that Beckham's teammates give him a hard time about Konerko being his "dad." Heck, Konerko stood up in Beckham's wedding over the offseason. Think Konerko hasn't been generous with the "fatherly advice" when he's talking with Beckham around the batting cage or in the clubhouse? I'll bet you he has, but that hasn't stopped Beckham from struggling. Despite Konerko's help and good intentions, Beckham has posted a disappointing .249/.314/.380 slash line in five seasons with the Sox. He has never lived up to the potential he had coming out of the University of Georgia as a first-round draft pick.

And you know what? That's not Konerko's fault. Beckham is a grown man and a professional baseball player. He's responsible for his own performance.

That's one thing that is getting lost amid all these stories of Konerko helping out the young guys. He can share what he knows, and he will. But he can't get in the box and hit for these guys. He can't make them establish themselves as major league hitters. He can't make them accept leadership roles. He can't make them take responsibility for their own futures or the future of the White Sox. They have to do that themselves.

It's also worth noting that Konerko can only do so much "leading" from the bench. He's only going to play two or three times a week. We all hope there are a few more big hits in his once-mighty right-handed bat, but he's no longer the cornerstone middle-of-the-lineup presence that he was from 2004-12. He knows it, too. Konerko is still playing to erase the bitter taste of 2013. Hopefully, he'll go out on a decent note, and it will be one last season for the fans and the White Sox to thank him for all he's done for the organization. 

However, his activities both on and off the field are really just a sidebar to what is going to be most important for the White Sox in this 2014 season. This is the year the torch needs to be passed from Konerko to somebody else.

Konerko won't be around to be the "leader" in 2015, so now is the time for other guys to get used to the idea that it's going to be their team for the next several years. Guys like Chris Sale, Beckham, Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, these are the guys the Sox are counting on to be those cornerstone players in coming seasons.

They cannot and should not sit around deferring to Konerko's leadership any longer. If something needs to be said in the clubhouse, in the dugout or on the field, one the younger guys shouldn't be afraid to say it. Moreover, if something needs to be done on the field, one of the younger guys needs to do it.

Why? Because Konerko is going to be 38 years old, and he's not physically capable of doing it day in and day out anymore. His time is past. For some of these other guys, their time is now. It's their responsibility to seize the day, not Konerko's.

The White Sox have been Paul Konerko's team for the last 15 years. It can't be his team anymore. It's Chris Sale's team now. It's Gordon Beckham's team. It's Adam Eaton's team. It's Avisail Garcia's team.

I just hope they all realize it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Braves smartly investing in young core

A tip for frugality that gets passed around from time to time is to shop in your pantry for dinner instead of buying all new ingredients for that night's meal. Find something you can use that you've already got, and work from there.

Andrelton Simmons tells reporters
how awesome it is to be rich.
The Braves have decided to do something similar this offseason. Instead of focusing on the free agent market, they've instead worked to sign some of their young players to big contract extensions to keep them in Atlanta for years to come.

The latest in the line of extensions was the seven-year, $58 million deal for young shortstop Andrelton Simmons. The Braves decided to go all-in on the 24-year-old after only one full season in the big leagues.

This move came after locking up closer Craig Kimbrel (4 years, $42 million, plus a team option), first baseman Freddie Freeman (8 years, $135 million) and starting pitcher Julio Teheran (6 years, $32.4 million, plus a team option).

These are all big investments in players already on the Braves' roster, and looking at each one individually, each also has its risks.

Simmons is pretty light on experience and hasn't even shown he's an average hitter yet. Freeman has posted only one monster season, his most recent, yet his contract was among the biggest given to a player with his service time. Teheran and Kimbrel are both pitchers who could get hurt. Teheran, like Simmons, also only has one full year of experience, and as good as Kimbrel has been, he's still only a closer expected to throw around 70 innings a year.

Atlanta is definitely agreeing to fork out more money the next few years than it would by going year-to-year, renewing the contracts and taking these players to arbitration when they accrue enough service time for that. 

But here's the way I look at these deals, and I'm sure how the Braves do, too:

Simmons is already an amazing defender and a nonzero with the bat. If he never gets any better, the Braves will get a good value out of this contract. If he makes adjustments and becomes an average or better hitter -- which his minor league track records suggests he can -- then this contract is a massive bargain.

Freeman's huge 2013 came after two good-but-not-great years for a first baseman. But it's hard to fault Freeman for being the best first baseman in the organization as a 21- and 22-year-old. Now just 24, he's already more accomplished than Mark Teixeira was at the same age. Unless something goes wrong, the Braves will be paying much less for the very best years of Freeman's career than the Yankees paid ($180 million) for Teixeira's last great year, three decent years, and what might be four awful, useless years.

The same goes for Kimbrel, who will cost less than other closers such as Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Cordero and ... hold your breath ... B.J. Ryan ... have cost teams on contracts signed over the last decade. Kimbrel could have even eclipsed this total by going to arbitration with his gaudy save and strikeout totals.

Having Teheran under control means not having to plug a rotation hole with an unproven or more expensive player.

And don't forget the pay scale in baseball is only going up right now.

The Braves do lose some flexibility with these deals. If any of these guys gets hurt, or just becomes awful, Atlanta can't just nontender them and walk away. But that's the case when teams choose to sign a player from outside the organization to a huge contract as a free agent. (Too keep it close to Atlanta here, don't you think the Braves wish they could flush Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton and the rest of their contracts down the memory hole?)

Even if the total dollars in these contracts seem eye-popping right now, they still pale in comparison to some of the deals given to players not under team control.

The Braves are climbing on the hook for some big paychecks here, but in return they're keeping the pantry stocked without paying free agent prices, which means they stand to put a good team on the field and save money in the long run.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pitching prices come down for the patient

Jason Vargas will make more money
than Royals fans would like.
It's not really easy to like the contract Ubaldo Jimenez got from the Orioles, unless you think he's going to pitch like an ace the way he did way back when for the Rockies. If he does that, this deal will be a steal for Baltimore. Though he probably won't.

That might not really matter though, because even if Jimenez is just an inning-muncher with a little upside, the Orioles paid what is the going rate for that kind of guy, and much less than Jimenez and his agent might have expected when the offseason began.

Jimenez isn't the only one. Ervin Santana, who is still a free agent, was no doubt pleased to see rumors floated that it would take six years and $100 million to land him. If he gets half of that now, I'll be surprised.

Matt Garza, thought to be one of the prizes of the free agent pitching market, also didn't sign until late in the offseason for much less than most people -- including the Cubs -- probably expected him to get. I mean, if you're Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, wouldn't you rather have Garza for Edwin Jackson money instead of Edwin Jackson?

Or another point of contrast: Is Jimenez more or less dicey than Homer Bailey, who just got more than $100 million without even hitting the market?

While the top of the pitching market maybe didn't reach the heights we might have expected with the money rolling into baseball, the bottom of the market didn't seem to suffer. At least not among the teams that felt like they had to strike deals before Christmas.

Does the four-year, $49 million deal the Twins gave Ricky Nolasco before Christmas look so great now that Jimenez and Garza barely got more?

How will the Royals feel if Santana takes the same four-year, $32 million deal they gave Jason Vargas long before everyone in the Midwest got sick of snow this winter? Even worse, what if Santana decides that's a bunk deal so decides to look for a well-paying, one-year prove-it deal -- or what an agent would call a pillow contract -- in an attempt to hit the market again with two recent and successful seasons on his resume.

If the Royals hadn't rushed to sign Vargas, or the Twins to ink Nolasco and Phil Hughes (3 years, $21 million), both might have the room in their budgets and rotations to take advantage, either grabbing a better pitcher for the same or less money, or a comparable pitcher on better terms.

Instead both teams are hamstrung. Bad contracts don't usually do that until after someone's thrown a pitch.

The lesson here seems pretty obvious. Good things, or at least better prices, come to those who wait.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Does Ubaldo Jimenez make Baltimore a contender? I'll vote no

The Baltimore Orioles have been seeking a starting pitcher the entire offseason. They finally got one Monday night when Ubaldo Jimenez agreed to a deal that is reportedly worth $50 million over four years.

Jimenez joins a rotation that includes Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris.

Is the addition of Jimenez enough for the Orioles to become a major factor in the American League East? If I were a betting man, I'd say no. I'd still put Baltimore behind Boston, New York and Tampa Bay in baseball's toughest division.

I've never been a big believer in Jimenez. Yes, he went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA in 32 starts with Cleveland last year. Yes, he pitched like an ace down the stretch and was one of the keys to the Indians getting into the playoffs as a wild-card team.

However, this is a pitcher who has never been consistent. Even last year in a "good season," Jimenez was all over the map. He was 7-5 with a 4.49 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP his first 20 starts. League average at best. He salvaged that with a red-hot finish over his final 12 outings, going 6-4 with a 1.72 ERA.

Jimenez' best season was 2010 with the Colorado Rockies, when he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA. But again, a closer look reveals his inconsistency. Over his first 14 starts of that year, Jimenez enjoyed the best stretch of his career. He went 13-1 with a 1.15 ERA.

But look at his last 19 starts in 2010: 6-7 with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. For a National League starter, that's worse than league average. 

In 2011 and 2012, Jimenez went a combined 19-30 with a 5.03 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Basically, he was brutal for two full seasons.

What it comes down to is this: Jimenez pitched like an ace for 14 games with the Rockies at the start of 2010. Then, he stunk for three full calendar years. From the last half of 2010 through the first half of 2013, he was a below-average starter. Finally, he pitched like an ace for 12 games with the Indians at the end of last season.

Which Jimenez do you think will show up in Baltimore? I think his three years of badness outweigh his 26 good starts, which were three years apart. Twenty-six good starts in four years. That's not even a full season. That's not the stuff top-of-the-rotation pitchers are made of.

If I were an Orioles fan, I wouldn't get too excited about this signing. I don't see Jimenez having much success facing the stacked lineups in Boston and New York.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

White Sox infielders, get ready to catch some grounders

We've talked previously on this blog about how White Sox GM Rick Hahn has been targeting groundball specialists to restock his pitching staff.

Here's a good article from Yahoo Sports that discusses his strategy.

The article notes that newly acquired relief pitcher Ronald Belisario has a 60.8 percent groundball rate for his career. That means six out of every 10 balls put in play against Belisario are hit on the ground.

Just in case you were wondering, the league average in 2013 was 44.5 percent. It would be an understatement to say Belisario is an extreme groundball pitcher. Here's how the other pitchers Hahn has acquired this offseason stack up in this category:

Scott Downs: 58.0 percent
Mitchell Boggs: 52.6 percent
Felipe Paulino: 45.6 percent

So, all four of Hahn's major pitching acquisitions this offseason produce groundballs at a higher rate than league average. For the record, traded closer Addison Reed's groundball rate was the worst on the team in 2013 and well below league average at 33 percent.

Yeah, we can see a trend here. Hahn wants pitchers who keep the ball on the ground at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. That means the White Sox infielders had better improve their defense this season.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the 2013 campaign was the poor defense the White Sox played. They had the lowest fielding percentage in the league (.980) and had the second-most errors (121). They allowed 80 unearned runs to score, and that no doubt played a role in their pathetic 24-36 record in one-run games.

By way of comparison, the 2012 Sox committed the fewest errors in the league (70) and had the highest fielding percentage (.988). They allowed only 30 unearned runs to score the entire season. Not coincidentally, the Sox won 22 more games in 2012 than they did in 2013.

What was baffling about the 2013 defensive slump was that presumably good fielders were major contributors to the malaise. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez saw his error total jump from 12 to 22. Second baseman Gordon Beckham committed 12 errors in 103 games after committing just 7 miscues in 149 games the previous season.

There's been a lot of talk about whether Beckham and Ramirez will produce enough offense from the middle infield positions. Personally, I'm more concerned about whether they'll bounce back defensively. For Hahn's plan with the pitching staff to work, they better.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sports Illustrated gives White Sox, Royals high marks for offseason moves

It isn't too often the White Sox earn praise from the national media, so I found it interesting Sports Illustrated gave GM Rick Hahn an A- for his offseason moves.

The Kansas City Royals were the only other American League club to earn an A- from the publication.

This offseason, the Sox signed free agent first baseman Jose Abreu, acquired center fielder Adam Eaton from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that sent pitcher Hector Santiago to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and picked up third baseman Matt Davidson from the Diamondbacks in exchange for closer Addison Reed.

The Sox also added free agent pitcher Felipe Paulino and fortified their bullpen by signing veterans Ronald Belisario, Scott Downs and Mitchell Boggs.

"Chicago still has questions about how much offense it will get at catcher and in the middle infield, but there’s no doubting that general manager Rick Hahn has had a very good winter," wrote Joe Lemire of SI.

The Royals drew praise for fixing their two major positional weaknesses -- right field and second base. Right fielder Norichika Aoki was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, and veteran Omar Infante was signed to address the issue at second base.

Kansas City signed left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas to take the spot in the rotation vacated by free agent Ervin Santana and also retained starting pitcher Bruce Chen. The Royals also picked up former Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, who could form a platoon with Mike Moustakas, who has had his troubles hitting left-handed pitching in the past.

"Coming off their first winning season since 2003, the Royals effectively targeted their needs," Lemire said.  

On the National League side, the Cubs received a C after a mostly quiet offseason in terms of roster moves. The North Siders added starting pitcher Jason Hammel, relievers Wesley Wright and Jose Veras and backup catcher George Kottaras. They also acquired outfielder Justin Ruggiano from the Miami Marlins in exchange for outfielder Brian Bogusevic.

The main offseason news for the Cubs was the hiring of manager Rick Renteria, whom they hope will do a better job of mentoring young players than the fired Dale Sveum.

SI's Cliff Corcoran wrote Renteria's hiring is "a move [the Cubs] hope will prove to be their most significant of the offseason."

Who won the offseason in the National League? SI says it was the St. Louis Cardinals, the defending league champions.

The Cardinals earned an A+ after remaking their infield. St. Louis signed free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta and traded third baseman David Freese in order to move Matt Carpenter from second base over to the hot corner. They also added veteran Mark Ellis, who gives them insurance in the event Kolten Wong fails to earn the second base job. They also upgraded their outfield defense with the addition of Peter Bourjos, who was acquired from the Angels in the Freese deal.

"Thanks to their strong farm system, the Cardinals were able to have a practically perfect offseason," Corcoran wrote.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

My 5 favorite White Sox teams (during my lifetime)

When I got up this morning, it was 2 degrees with a wind chill of minus 17. There is somewhere between two and three feet of snow covering the ground here in Crystal Lake. Pitchers and catchers haven't reported yet (for most teams), Opening Day is still seven weeks away, and the news cycle is slow right now for baseball.

So, I figure what better time than to fill space with a pointless list?!

With that in mind, I present to you (in reverse order) my five favorite White Sox teams of all time. Keep in mind, this list only includes teams from my lifetime (I was born in 1976). Also, these are not necessarily the best or most successful Sox teams I've watched; they are just my favorite ones:

5. 1983: I attended my first Sox game as a 5-year-old in 1981, but the first year I really have good recollections of was the 1983 season. The Sox won 99 times and took the American League West by a record 20 games. I can still recite the everyday lineup: Rudy Law, Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Greg Luzinski, Ron Kittle, Greg Walker (or Tom Paciorek), Vance Law, Scott Fletcher and Julio Cruz. They had a 24-game winner in LaMarr Hoyt and a 22-game winner in Richard Dotson. Unfortunately, they lost the ALCS, 3-1, to the eventual World Champion Baltimore Orioles. Game 4 was lost 3-0 on an extra-inning home run by Tito Landrum. The Sox had Hoyt lined up to pitch a decisive Game 5, so there was a good chance they would have gone to the World Series if they had just won that Game 4. Broke my 7-year-old heart.

4. 2000: This was a fun season for two reasons. First, the Sox hit the living snot out of the ball that summer. Even if they were down five or six runs, they weren't out of the game. Magglio Ordonez had 32 home runs and 126 RBIs, and he was just the second-best hitter on the team. Frank Thomas had one of his best seasons: 43 homers and 143 RBIs. He should have been MVP, but the award went to cheating Jason Giambi instead. The Sox had three others with 21 or more home runs: Carlos Lee, Jose Valentin and Paul Konerko. The other reason this season was so much fun was because 95 wins and an AL Central title were totally unexpected. The Sox were coming off three straight losing seasons and weren't expected to do much, but they made the playoffs. Unfortunately, injuries to the pitching staff and a sudden offensive slump caused them to get waxed by the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS.

3. 1994: Another season of what could have been. A strike canceled the last month and a half of the season, plus all of the playoffs and World Series. It was heartbreaking because the Sox were so good and had a great chance to win it all. They were in first place with a 67-46 record when the season abruptly halted. Thomas was having his best year. He was hitting .353 with 38 homers and 101 RBIs through 113 games. Makes you wonder how it would have turned out for Thomas had he been allowed to play those last 49 games. What a terrific middle of the order the Sox had in '94, with Thomas, a resurgent Julio Franco and Robin Ventura in his prime. They had the pitching, too, with a rotation of Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez and Jason Bere, who was having his best season that summer. Still kills me that we'll never know how the '94 season would have played out.

2. 1990: The last year at old Comiskey Park. Once again, this was a memorable year because the White Sox had surprising success. In 1989, the Sox lost 92 games and finished dead last in the American League West. In 1990, they sent the old ballyard out in style with a 94-win campaign. They had the second-best record in the league. Unfortunately, they were in the same division as the 103-win Oakland A's, and this was before the days of the wild card. The Sox missed the playoffs despite having a terrific year. The lineup was almost void of stars. Fisk and Kittle were probably the two most recognizable players. Ventura and McDowell were young and not yet household names. Thomas and Fernandez were called up in August and still unproven. Bobby Thigpen did have a career year as closer, posting a then-record 57 saves. But this season was remarkable because the Sox were greater than the sum of their parts. The theme for that summer was "Doing the Lil' Things." The Sox pitched well. They played defense. They ran the bases smartly. They got timely hits. And, oh, they went 8-5 against those mighty Oakland A's. Unfortunately, nobody else in the American League could stop Oakland, which eventually won the pennant.

1: 2005: Duh. What other team would be No. 1 on this list other than the 2005 World Champions, who eased the pain of generations of failure? The Sox were wire-to-wire champions of the AL Central. They won 99 games. They ran through the playoffs and World Series with a record of 11-1, an accomplishment that is still underrated and understated, even here in the Chicago area. Guys who were castoffs from other teams (Scott Podsednik, Jermaine Dye, A.J. Pierzynski, Dustin Hermanson) came to Chicago with chips on their shoulders and played great. The team produced countless iconic moments: Podsednik's walk-off homer in the World Series. Konerko's grand slam that same night. Four consecutive complete games in the ALCS by pitchers Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras. Then, there was Joe Crede's magnificence with both the bat and the glove in the playoffs. For one season, this was a great baseball team. Not a good team, a great team. How the hell can you top 99 regular-season wins, plus 11-1 in the playoffs? Well, you'd have to win 100 in the regular season and go 11-0 in the playoffs. Good luck with that.

49 days until Opening Day. A new season is coming soon, I promise.

Friday, February 7, 2014

White Sox add relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs

Ken Rosenthal of reports the White Sox have signed relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs to a one-year, $1.1 million deal.

This will be a reclamation project for pitching coach Don Cooper. Boggs was once a solid reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals. From 2010-2012, he appeared in 190 games, threw 201 innings and compiled a respectable 3.08 ERA over that span.

Boggs' best year with St. Louis was 2012, when he went 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA. That season, he allowed just 56 hits over 73.1 innings.

But something went terribly wrong for Boggs last year. His ERA ballooned up to 11.05 in 18 appearances with the Cardinals, who were forced to demote him to Triple-A. Boggs was traded midseason to the Colorado Rockies, where he had a 3.12 ERA over nine appearances and 8.2 innings.

Walks were a problem. Boggs issued 20 free passes in 23.1 innings at the major league level last year. He's going to have to get that cleaned up this spring to be effective for the White Sox.

I find no fault with this signing. It's a one-year commitment for not much money. If Boggs regains his 2012 form, he will be an asset to the Sox bullpen. If he fails, he can be released without too big of a financial hit.

Maybe Cooper has watched Boggs on film and believes the pitcher can make the necessary adjustments to be effective again.

Coop will fix 'em? 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Giordano's is now the official pizza of the Chicago Cubs

I've only had Giordano's Pizza maybe once or twice in my life. I obviously wasn't that impressed, because if I had liked it that much I would dine there more often.

Now that Giordano's has signed a sponsorship deal with the Cubs, I'll probably never eat there again.

Under the deal, Giordano's will be the only pizza served at Wrigley Field. It also will be the only pizza served at the Cubs' new spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz. The pizza chain will also get signage in and around the ballpark, which will surely delight the Wrigley Field traditionalists.

Have I mentioned that I really like Lou Malnati's Pizza? It's great. It's much better than Giordano's. As a matter of fact, I've decided to name Lou Malnati's the (un)official pizzeria of "The Baseball Kid." And Lou's doesn't have to pay me a dime in exchange for this endorsement.

So take that, Giordano's! Have fun at Wrigley. You aren't getting any more of my money.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Does anyone want these five MLB free agents?

Ubaldo Jimenez
Does your favorite team still need a starting pitcher? Well, there are two free agents out there who might interest you. Both of them had ERAs of 3.30 or better last season -- in the American League, no less.

How about a middle-of-the-order hitter? There are two free agents available who can almost certainly give your team 20 home runs and about 75 or 80 RBIs.

Need defense? The starting shortstop from last year's World Series championship team is available, too.

The Super Bowl is over, and it's almost time for spring training to begin. However, pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are without contracts. Also without a job are first baseman Kendrys Morales, outfielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Stephen Drew.

All five players were given qualifying offers to return to their 2013 teams on a one-year, $14.1 million deal. All five declined and elected free agency. Here on Feb. 4, the waiting game continues for each player.

Why? Phil Rogers explained it in a recent column on Any team that signs one of these five guys would have to give up a first-round draft pick to that player's former team.

These days, teams are a little slower to part with those draft picks. Remember when the St. Louis Cardinals lost Albert Pujols in free agency? Don't cry for the Cardinals because they used the compensatory draft pick they received from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to select pitcher Michael Wacha, who was last seen helping the Cardinals to the 2013 NL pennant.

And don't cry for the Angels either. When they lost Mark Teixeira in free agency after the 2008 season, they received a compensatory draft pick from the New York Yankees and used it to select outfielder Mike Trout, who is probably the best young position player in the sport today.

So, if you're wondering why decent major league players like the five listed above are still looking for work, look no further than the rules about compensatory draft picks. GMs are now figuring the loss of a valuable draft pick into the "cost" of signing these free agents, and accordingly, they aren't willing to give as much money to guys like Ervin Santana. Clubs are going to wait until the last minute to sign these players, once the price comes down to bargain levels.

Eventually, these five players are going to get a contract with somebody. You won't need to cry for them either, because they won't go hungry. But they probably aren't going to get the money they believe they're worth, and they may not even get the $14.1 million they could have had by staying with their 2013 teams.

Most -- if not all -- of these players would already be signed if they weren't tied to draft pick compensation. But this is the gamble they took when they refused those qualifying offers, and here they sit on Feb. 4.

Monday, February 3, 2014

My dream of getting Bruce Chen out of the AL Central has died

Bruce "Cy" Chen
Bruce Chen has been a nemesis for the White Sox over the past three seasons, so much so that many Sox fans resign themselves to defeat each time the South Siders are scheduled to face the mighty Kansas City left-hander.

The loathing of Chen is understandable: The veteran soft-tosser has gone 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) against the Sox over the last three seasons. Thinking back, it's a wonder he ever lost two games. He always seems to pitch well against Chicago.

So, when Chen hit free agency this offseason, I was dearly hoping he would sign somewhere in the National League.

No sale.

He's back with a Royals, agreeing to terms Saturday on a one-year deal with worth $4.25 million.

All things considered, Chen isn't a bad option for the Royals or any other team at the back end of the rotation. Over the last three seasons, he's 32-26 overall with 4.18 ERA. Not great, but not terrible either. It just seems like the Sox have more than done their part to make sure the 36-year-old Chen hangs around baseball for another year or two.

If there's one silver lining about Chen being back in Kansas City, there's always the chance he'll lose his spot in the Royals' increasingly crowded rotation. Barring injury, James Shields, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie will take up the top three spots. The remaining two spots in the rotation could be filled any number of guys, including Chen, veterans Wade Davis and Brad Penny and youngsters Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Kyle Zimmer.

Among that group, Chen is far from the most talented, but I'm sure quite a few Sox fans would rather take their chances against Ventura, Duffy or anybody else.

Unfortunately, Kansas City manager Ned Yost says Chen has a spot in the starting five. I'm afraid the Sox are stuck facing him, at least at the start of the year.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

More on Matt Garza, creative contracts

It took a few days for the Brewers to officially announce their deal with pitcher Matt Garza, but with the news trickling out slowly, so have some interesting details about the contract.

It's basically a four-year, $50 million deal with some twists. In addition to some deferred money ($2 million per year) and a fifth year that vests if Garza is healthy and pitching. There's also a couple interesting team options for 2018.

If Garza doesn't pitch often enough to vest his fifth year at $13 million, the Brewers can bring him back for that fifth year at $5 million. Unless Garza misses 130 days during any roughly 13-month period during the first four years. Then they can bring him back for only $1 million.

Basically, if Garza has an arm injury -- a concern that kept some teams away -- and it costs him a year of this contract on the Brewers' dime, this contract says he'll give that year back at the end of the deal.

This kind of give-back isn't entirely unique. When the Red Sox signed John Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract, it had a clause giving Boston the option to bring him back for one more year at the league minimum salary if Lackey were hurt.

Lackey did hurt his elbow, had Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2012. And unless he gets hurt again, he'll likely be pitching in Boston in 2015 in what might be baseball's best bargain contract.

For the Brewers and Garza, there's just as much flexibility. If Garza pitches as he has and stays relatively healthy, he'll get a fifth year and what seems like less than the going rate for a good pitcher on the free agent market. If he's banged up, but maybe still pitching well when he does take the mound, the Brewers can bring him back on a cheap make-good option that compares favorably to the one-year deals teams gave injury-risk-ridden starters like Ben Sheets and Dan Haren  in recent offseasons.

Of course, Garza could pitch like Jeff Suppan and be designated for assignment before getting a chance at seeing his fifth year vest. In which case, Milwaukee will get to re-live the worst memories of one of the worst free agent contracts the organization has given out. (Though maybe not worse than the Jeffrey Hammonds deal.)

This kind of add-on contract year seems like it was a good way to give everyone what they want. The Brewers hedged against the risk of signing Garza. Garza will be compensated for exceeding expectations the market had for him this winter.

Not a bad way to split the difference to get a deal done.