Friday, March 28, 2014

The Tigers are crazy for giving Miguel Cabrera $292 million

The Detroit Tigers on Thursday gave first baseman Miguel Cabrera a 10-year, $292 million contract. I'll be honest: The length of this deal and the amount of dollars included shocks me. I'm floored.

Don't get me wrong, Cabrera is a great hitter. He won the American League Triple Crown in 2012 and has earned league MVP honors in each of the past two seasons. No one would be surprised if he won the MVP again in 2014.

But why did the Tigers need to do this deal now? They had Cabrera locked up through the end of the 2015 season. Cabrera was set to make $44 million over these next two years. That's a lot, sure, but in the current marketplace that's not an unreasonable price to pay for the guy who is right now the best hitter in baseball. It might even be considered a bargain.

However, Cabrera is just three weeks shy of his 31st birthday. His body started to show signs of breaking down last season. In fact, the Tigers traded Prince Fielder and moved Cabrera from third base to first base, in part, to lessen the wear and tear on his body. Like everyone else, Cabrera has a shelf life, and I question whether he will still be considered the best hitter in baseball three or four years down the road.

So why did the Tigers add eight years and $248 million to the contract of a player on the wrong side of 30? You got me. You can't even justify it on the grounds that the Tigers are in win-now mode and needed to lock up Cabrera, because they already had him signed for this year and next.

You would think the absurd contract given to Albert Pujols prior to the start of the 2012 season would be a cautionary tale for clubs. At the time he signed, Pujols was 32 years old. He had just led the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2011 World Series championship. He was considered by many to be the best hitter in baseball, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim awarded him with a 10-year, $240 million deal.

Unfortunately for the Angels, that move has not worked out thus far. They have not made the playoffs in the first two years of Pujols' deal. The 34-year-old played just 99 games in 2013 and slumped to a career-low 17 home runs and 64 RBIs. He was even being booed by some of the hometown fans in Anaheim.

And there are *only* eight years and $212 million left on that contract. Good luck with that, Angels.

It's not too hard to envision a similar scenario unfolding with this Cabrera contract. There are decades worth of evidence that suggest sluggers decline in their mid-30s, and the Tigers will be paying absurd dollar figures for a fading superstar.

At least with Pujols, he was a free agent, and you can make the case the Angels had to go big to get the player to sign. The Tigers, in contrast, already had the player under control and were bidding against themselves. That makes it all the more crazy.

This if further evidence that oftentimes baseball players get paid based upon what they have done in the past, not on what they will do in the future. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Here's a look at the second of my two fantasy teams

Let me start out by saying nobody should derive any fantasy baseball advice from looking at this roster. I'll be shocked if I contend in this particular league.

It's a 10-team league -- five new owners (including me) and five returning owners. The five returning owners got to keep up to five players from last year, with the stipulation they couldn't keep their first-round draft pick from last season. That means there were still some elite players on the draft board, like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and Clayton Kershaw. All those guys were first-round picks in this league last year, and therefore could not be "kept" by any of the returning owners.

Nevertheless, some elite guys who were *not* first-round draft picks last year were kept and were not available in this draft. That list of players included Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew McCutchen -- all of whom certainly would have been drafted in the first round had they been available.

I had the 10th pick out of 10, so pretty much all of the real top-flight guys were gone by the time I made my first pick. They were either kept by returning owners, or selected in the nine picks made before mine. I knew I was behind the eight-ball no matter what I did, but I ultimately decided to take Troy Tulowitzki with the 10th overall pick and Jason Kipnis with the 11th. If nothing else, I had my middle infield set, and those positions are traditionally harder to fill than first base or any of the outfield spots.

Without further discussion, here's the team I drafted:

C: Brian McCann
1B: Eric Hosmer
2B: Kipnis
SS: Tulowitzki
3B: Manny Machado
LF: Mark Trumbo
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: Jay Bruce
Util: Mike Napoli
Util: Coco Crisp
BN: Jhonny Peralta
BN: David Freese
BN: Kelly Johnson

SP: Cole Hamels
SP: James Shields
SP: Julio Teheran
SP: Matt Moore
SP: Sonny Gray
SP: Justin Masterson
SP: Chris Tillman
RP: Trevor Rosenthal
RP: Grant Balfour
RP: Tommy Hunter

It should be noted I've already made two roster moves since the draft. Bourn is going to start the season on the DL, so I added another speedy outfielder in Ben Revere, who surprisingly was left undrafted in this league. I think he's a decent sleeper this year. In addition, another owner dropped Chase Headley, so I quickly snapped him up and released Freese, who is coming off a rough year and has had a poor spring.

Much like my other team, I'm taking a chance on Machado getting healthy and returning to form at third base. He's not going to be ready for the start of the season, so I needed a decent backup. Headley was the guy I wanted for that role all along, but somebody drafted him before I could get to him. I settled for Freese, but I was delighted earlier this week to see that Headley became available for nothing. I see him as a reasonable stopgap in the short run.

Have I mentioned yet there's one guy in this league who had Trout, Goldschmidt, McCutchen and Dustin Pedroia as his keepers? And, oh yeah, he drafted Kershaw, Jose Fernandez and Justin Verlander with his first three draft picks. That team is completely stacked, and it's hard not to feel like the rest of us are playing for second.

Me? I'll be lucky to finish in the top half of the league. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Adrian Nieto not much of a risk for White Sox

Catcher Adrian Nieto's agent broke the news on Twitter the other day that his client would leave spring training as the backup catcher for the White Sox to start the season.

Nieto's victory in the backup catcher derby might not be so surprising considering the other options the Sox had behind anointed starter Tyler Flowers. It's also not surprising considering the roster constraints on each option, namely that as a Rule V pick, Nieto would have to be offered back to the team he was drafted from last winter, while Josh Phegley has options and Hector Gimenez is terrible.

Now all that remains to be seen is if the 24-year-old who has never played above Class A can make the leap to the big leagues.

Nieto's hit .254/.346/.385 in the minors over just more than 1,400 plate appearances, including his .282/.371/.446 line last year that tantalized the Sox enough to grab him from the Nationals' system.

If Nieto just started to put things together as a hitter last year, the Sox are risking his progress by giving him a job where he won't get many reps, and will be getting tossed in the deep end of the talent pool and asked to swim when he does.

You could say that's not the Sox's problem. They only need a capable backstop for the days Flowers isn't in the lineup. And Nieto doesn't seemed all that concerned about this roadblocking his career, either.

Can he handle the job? Maybe we'd have to ask how bad he'd really have to be to not be able to handle it.

Here's a look at what the White Sox have gotten out of their backup catchers over the last two decades, at least the guys who have gotten at least 50 plate appearances:

Phegley: .206/.223/.299
Gimenez: .191/.275/.338

Flowers: .213/.296/.412

Flowers: .209/.310/.409
Ramon Castro: .235/.307/.456

Castro: .278/.328/.506

Castro: .184/.262/.382

Toby Hall: .260/.304/.333

Hall: .207/.225/.241

Sandy Alomar: .217/.255/.348
Chris Widger: .181/.265/.263

Widger: .241/.296/.383

Alomar: .240/.298/.305
Jamie Burke: .333/.386/.402

Alomar: .268/.281/.407

Alomar: .287/.309/.485*
Josh Paul: .240/.302/.279

Mark Johnson: .249/.338/.382
Paul: .266/.327/.410

Brook Fordyce: .272/.313/.464
Paul: .282/.338/.423

Johnson: .227/.344/.338

Charlie O'Brien: .262/.303/.390
Robert Machado: .207/.254/.342

Ron Karkovice: 181/.248/.333*
Tony Pena: .164/.250/.179

Chad Kreuter: .219/.308/.368
Pat Borders: .277/313/.383

Mike LaValliere: .245/.303/.337

LaValliere: .281/.368/.331

* -- Alomar started more games than Johnson through mid-May, but was slowly phased to the bench before being traded to Colorado. Johnson had a solid April, but hit .204/.284/.280 the rest of the year.
** -- Karkovice started 1997 as the starter but was benched after the Sox traded for Jorge Fabregas
who hit .280/.302/.382 in the finest season of his career.

If you think that's a generally depressing list, I'd implore you to get over the idea that your life is miserable if every second isn't packed with happiness. COME ON! THESE ARE BACKUP CATCHERS!

There doesn't even seem to be much correlation between having a good backup catcher and competitive seasons.

Castro is the gold standard for backup catchers of the post-strike Sox, and his talents were wasted on teams from 2009-11 that had stabbed themselves in the heart with daggers like "Josh Fields and Chris Getz, Starting Infielders," not to mention unpredictable events like "Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, Historically Bad Seasons."

Alomar kept turning up, probably because of familiarity with the front office. The Sox tried to work in some prospects, like Flowers, Machado, Paul and Johnson, with none of them panning out unless Flowers gets it together. Then it's whatever journeyman or veteran they could dig up.

The Sox won a World Series with Widger as their backup catcher. They won divisions or were at least competitive competitive with guys on their last legs like Alomar, LaValliere and Hall back there. Not a single season was tanked because a youngster couldn't get his big league legs beneath him.

Of a more pressing concern is what the Sox get from the starting catcher this year. If Flowers falters again, we'll likely see Phegley again before Nieto is pressed into expanded duty. Or if someone like Kevan Smith tears up the minors for a few months, maybe he'll get a turn to be cannon fodder. The pipeline of catching talent is pretty dry, though, thus necessitating the drafting of Nieto and hoping he could stick.

If everyone fails, the future of the position doesn't look all that different than it did before last offseason began. That would be a bummer because that's another year of flailing at catcher, presumably while the Sox are another year closer to (hopefully) being a contender again. Though to be fair to Sox GM Rick Hahn, if there were a better option out there, I don't know what it is, so I can't really fault him for not finding it. They'll just have to try again next offseason.

In the meantime, there's not really much harm in the Sox seeing what they have now in Nieto, even if the only way to do it is to give him a job he might not be ready for.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Signing young players an accelerating trend

With left-handers Jose Quintana and Chris Sale now both signed to long-term contracts, the White Sox have two rotation anchors locked into affordable salaries for the rest of the decade.

It's not hard to see the upside for the Sox in making those deals. Sale is among the very best pitchers in the game, and Quintana has quietly been up to the task of No. 2 starter. Both guys are young enough to desire some security, and the Sox have some cost certainty and the flexibility that comes for paying their two best pitchers low annual salaries.

Locking up players before they reach arbitration, with teams sometimes getting discounted free agent years, isn't new. It was sometimes called the Cleveland Model after the Indians of the 1990s gave young players like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel long-term extensions instead of taking them to arbitration year-to-year.

More recently, the Rays reaped huge rewards by signing third baseman Evan Longoria to a massive bargain of a contract very early in his career. Longoria's been so good that Tampa Bay went to the next step of extending him again so they can keep him through the 2023 season if a team option is exercised. His new deal is still looked at as a bargain for the Rays.

So if it's been going on for so long, how is this trend now accelerating?

Just look at what the Astros are trying to do right now. In addition to offering a long-term deal to a player who hasn't even reached the majors yet, they've been rumored to be offering their third baseman Matt Dominguez a five-year contract with team option years at the end.

Nothing has officially happened yet with Dominguez, so we're not entirely clear on the Astros' thinking here. One thing for sure is that Dominguez isn't the type of player we usually think about for these early contract extensions.

Dominguez is 24-years old and has a .248/.290/.410 career batting line in 750 plate appearances. He was a first-round pick in 2007 and has an OK glove, but his minor-league career as a hitter (.256/.323/.409) suggests Dominguez is pretty much everything we can expect him to be. That's a capable third baseman who in a good year won't poison your lineup with his bat.

Maybe there's something I'm not seeing here, and he'll surprise almost everyone and become an All-Star-type player. Frankly, I'll be surprised if Dominguez is just still in the majors after his 30th birthday.

Even accounting for how crummy the free agent market has been for third basemen in recent seasons -- Juan Uribe was the (booby) prize there this offseason, Kevin Youkilis and Jeff Keppinger the last -- locking up your own fringe players doesn't yet look like a great idea.

The five years and $17 million the Astros allegedly have on the table for Dominguez is more than Uribe, Youkilis or Keppinger received. Dominguez would make less annually, and offer Houston a pair of option years at around $9 million each if he did get better.

But there's still the reality that Dominguez isn't any better. Or that he goes the way of Mark Teahen, Sean Burroughs, Josh Fields or Kevin Orie, all of whom began their careers with more promise than Dominguez, and none of whom spent their 20s getting better.

Locking in mediocre-to-bad players doesn't really give a team good value. Even if a contract like this gave a team some sort of performance floor -- which it can't guarantee -- and some cost certainty, should the Astros ever look like a contender again, Dominguez's spot will probably still look like an area that could be upgraded. Except then the upgrade is even more expensive when you have to pay the incumbent to go away.

Teams are still smart to be exploring ways to lock up their young players before being priced out of the market for their talents. They might still want to consider where to draw the line when it comes to big deals and continuing to go year-to-year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A look at the White Sox' weekend roster moves

The White Sox trimmed their roster down to 33 players Sunday with five roster moves.

Third baseman Matt Davidson, outfielder Jordan Danks and pitcher Jake Petricka were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Pitcher Dylan Axelrod was reassigned to minor league camp, and pitcher Mitchell Boggs was placed on waivers for the purpose of granting him an unconditional release.

We've discussed the third base scenario frequently on this blog, and things played out as we expected. The 22-year-old Davidson is going to Charlotte to refine his game. The Sox hope he develops into a long-term solution at the position. In the meantime, Conor Gillaspie is a reasonable placeholder on a rebuilding team.

Danks has to be frustrated about being sent down. He did everything he could to make the club. His spring slash line was a robust .333/.378/.738. He hit five home runs and totaled 10 RBIs. Unfortunately for him, the numbers game didn't work in his favor. The Sox are only keeping four outfielders, and he's the fifth guy behind Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza.

There has been plenty of speculation -- including here on this blog -- about the Sox possibly trading one of Viciedo or De Aza. It doesn't look like that is going to happen, at least not initially. Perhaps the Sox couldn't find a deal to their liking.

Word on the street was the Sox were wanting to trade one of their left fielders, and sometimes when that happens rival GMs think they can acquire the player who is on the trading block with a low-ball offer -- mistakenly believing the trading team is desperate to make a deal. The Sox don't *have* to trade Viciedo or De Aza, so there was no reason to make a trade just for the sake of making trade. The loser in this whole scenario is Danks, who has to start the year in the minor leagues. But frankly, the Sox don't have much outfield depth in their organization once you get past those first five guys, so it might not be the worst thing in the world for the team to stand pat there.

Petricka is a guy we could see in the majors again if there's an injury in the bullpen. As for Axelrod, thank goodness the Sox aren't going into the season with him as the fifth starter again. We've seen that movie before, and it's not a good one. Axelrod is fine for organizational depth, but it would be foolish to count on him for 150 or 200 innings at the big-league level.

Boggs was coming off a bad season, and the Sox were hoping he would regain the form he showed in 2012 with the St. Louis Cardinals. It just didn't work out. He looked awful this spring, posting a 12.79 ERA in 6.1 innings. At least the Sox had the good sense to cut ties with him now. Sometimes, you sign a guy like this and you allow him to blow five or six games the first month of the season before you realize you made a mistake. It's better to cut your losses before that happens.

Quintana gets five-year extension

In other news Monday, the Sox signed starting pitcher Jose Quintana to a five-year contract that could be worth as much as $26.5 million.

If Quintana stays healthy for the life of the contract -- always a big if with pitchers -- that's a real team-friendly contract.

The Sox now have both Chris Sale and Quintana inked to reasonable long-term contracts. There's always a risk in committing to pitchers over the long haul, but considering what Sale and Quintana have done to this point in their respective careers, that risk is worth the potential reward for the Sox. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

White Sox' Matt Davidson making late push for roster spot

A week or 10 days ago, I would have said it was a given Conor Gillaspie would be the White Sox third baseman on Opening Day.

I still believe Gillaspie will win the job, but give prospect Matt Davidson credit for making a late push for a roster spot.

Davidson got off to a poor start this spring, collecting just two hits in his first 18 at-bats. However, the 22-year-old has turned it around since, going 8-for-17 with two home runs and six RBIs. That puts him at a respectable 10-for-35 (.286) on the spring. In 37 plate appearances, he has walked twice and struck out seven times.

Strikeouts have been an issue for Davidson in the past. In 2013, he fanned 158 times in 587 combined plate appearances between Triple-A Reno and Arizona. That's a strikeout once every 3.7 plate appearances. This spring, Davidson has struck out once every 5.3 plate appearances. That shows improvement in a small sample size, and I know the Sox want him to make a little more contact.

But despite this recent hot streak, I won't be shocked if Davidson heads down to Triple-A Charlotte to get a little more experience. He has options remaining while Gillaspie does not, and that's always a factor when it comes to roster management.

Gillaspie, for his part, has been decent this spring. He has hit three home runs and posted a reasonable .273/.314/.606 slash line. He's not a long-term solution, but he's an adequate placeholder until the Sox feel Davidson is ready to take over the full-time job -- which I suspect will happen before 2014 is over. I just don't think it will happen right out of the gate.

In case you were wondering, veteran Jeff Keppinger is not a factor in this discussion because he's still injured. His surgically repaired right shoulder in giving him problems, he can't play the field, and the Sox already have a logjam at designated hitter. That renders Keppinger useless, so he'll be starting the season on the disabled list. Ideally, the Sox would be able to trade Keppinger, but an injured player has no value.

The competition at third is down to Gillaspie and Davidson. I think Gillaspie will win it, but Davidson is making the decision a little tougher as camp moves along.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

So far, so good for White Sox rookie Jose Abreu

It's been a good spring for Cuban import Jose Abreu.

The White Sox rookie first baseman is hitting .308 with two home runs, 9 RBIs and an .838 OPS so far in Cactus League play. Maybe those numbers aren't eye-popping, but they are solid -- better than those put up by some of Abreu's more established teammates.

Abreu's contact rate has been respectable. He's struck out just six times in 40 plate appearances, or once every 6.7 at-bats. If that translates into the regular season, we can certainly live with that in the middle of the order -- especially if it's coupled with solid run production. I've watched a few at-bats on television, and Abreu's swing and approach look good to me.

In Abreu's first at-bat on Wednesday, he struck out on a check swing against Angels' left-hander Tyler Skaggs. In his second at-bat, Abreu took Skaggs deep on the first pitch he saw. That makes me hopeful he can make adjustments quickly.

In this 2014 season, Abreu is the great unknown for the Sox. The United States is new to him, and he is new to us. He's yet to play a regular-season game on American soil, and we have no idea how good he will be. If you asked me to predict what his season totals will be, I would struggle to even hazard a guess.

But I will say that Abreu seems to have the mental approach and work ethic to succeed. In fact, Sox brass had to tell him to back off his workout plan because he was working too hard. I'm anxious to see how Abreu will fare once the games begin for real in less than two weeks.

Here's a good article from that discusses Abreu's transition to the United States and to Major League Baseball. In particular, I like this quote:

"The pitchers have more velocity and more control, but you adjust to them," Abreu said. "This is a game of adjustments and that might be the hardest part. That's why it's important you have a clear head and understand what you are doing at the plate and what they are trying to do to you."

Indeed, it is a game of constant adjustments. I think this guy gets it. I'm cautiously optimistic. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

White Sox option Josh Phegley, Andre Rienzo to Triple-A

Up until now, all the roster moves the White Sox had made this spring were obvious ones. Every few days, you'd see news of guys you knew weren't going to make the club being reassigned to minor league camp.

But with just 12 days remaining until the home opener, the first significant decisions of the spring were made on Wednesday as catcher Josh Phegley and pitcher Andre Rienzo were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte.

For better or for worse, the Sox have decided to give it another go with Tyler Flowers as their starting catcher. Manager Robin Ventura named Flowers the starter on Sunday, and that gave Phegley a pretty good idea his season would be starting in Charlotte. He seems to be taking it pretty well, though.

“I believe I'm a starter and I can be a front-line starter in the big leagues, but there just needs to be some improvement,” Phegley told the Chicago Tribune's Colleen Kane. “And I think sitting, catching every four, five days, I don't think that’s going to do me any justice. I want to play every day, and I'd like to help this club. It's everyone's goal to be a big leaguer. I want to be a starter, and going to Charlotte and playing every day is going to help my game out, so I'm all for it.”

That's the approach Phegley needs. This is a big year for him. Unlike Flowers -- who is who he is at this point -- I think Phegley still has some upside in his game both offensively and defensively. But at age 26, he's moving into an area where he's not going to be considered a prospect anymore. He needs to make that step forward and prove he can be a starting catcher in the big leagues, and he needs to do it soon.

With Phegley headed to the minors, that leaves Rule 5 draft pick Adrian Nieto and Hector Gimenez in camp competing for the backup catching role. I'll bet Nieto sticks, because the Sox would have to offer him back to the Washington Nationals if he doesn't. At age 24, Nieto could develop into a useful player, whereas the 31-year-old Gimenez is nothing more than a career minor leaguer.

Rienzo made 10 starts for the Sox at the end of 2013, but as expected, top prospect Erik Johnson and free-agent acquisition Felipe Paulino have pushed Rienzo out of the starting rotation. I thought Rienzo had a shot at sticking in the big leagues as a long reliever, but perhaps Sox brass sees him as a pitcher who needs to stay stretched out as a starter, so that he can be called up and step into the rotation in the event the team has an injury to one of its starting pitchers.

In other moves, pitcher Eric Surkamp was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Pitchers Chris Beck and Cody Winiarski and infielder Andy Wilkins were reassigned to minor league camp. All of those moves were expected.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Wondering what the Tigers will do at shortstop

Free agent SS Stephen Drew
Detroit Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias will begin the season on the disabled list and could miss significant time with stress fractures in both of his shins.

Infield defense has been a weakness for the Tigers the past couple years, but they appeared to have upgraded this offseason by moving Miguel Cabrera from third base to first base, trading first baseman Prince Fielder to Texas for second baseman Ian Kinsler, moving on from Jhonny Peralta and installing Iglesias full time at short, and deciding to give prospect Nick Castellanos a shot at third base.

The key to this whole plan was Iglesias, who is a plus-plus defender at the most important position on the infield, and who would likely help cover up for some of the inconsistencies Castellanos has defensively. But Iglesias is not available to the Tigers now, so what is their Plan B?

The internal options aren't favorable. They acquired utilityman Steve Lombardozzi from the Washington Nationals in the Doug Fister deal this offseason, but I don't think shortstop is Lombardozzi's best position. He could play there in a pinch, but his main value is his ability to play multiple positions, and I wouldn't want him as a full-time shortstop.

Another option is Danny Worth, who has split time between the Tigers and Triple-A every year since 2010. Worth is an organizational depth kind of player, another guy you probably wouldn't want playing every day. He hit just .223 at the Triple-A level last year, and has never played more than 80 games at shortstop in a single season. He's also a nonroster invitee this year, which means he'd have to get added to the 40-man roster if he makes the club. It's unlikely he'll be Detroit's answer.

The Tigers also have youngsters Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez, who have been getting playing time in spring games in Iglesias' absence. Suarez has a good defensive reputation, but he's never played a game above Double-A, where he hit .253 last season. If I had to take a guess, he's not ready to make the jump to the big leagues.

That leaves Perez, who has played more second base since getting in 124 games at shortstop in Single-A as a 19-year-old in 2010. He was on Detroit's postseason roster last year and was used as a pinch runner. He has the potential to steal some bases, but he can't hit a lick. His .197/.217/.227 line in 71 major league at-bats last year probably doesn't inspire much confidence.

I wouldn't want any of these four guys as my starting shortstop. I think Detroit has to do something, especially with pitcher Max Scherzer, designated hitter Victor Martinez and right fielder Torii Hunter all in the last year of their contracts. There has to be urgency to win now, and Tigers brass can't afford to let this season swirl down the toilet because of a sinkhole at shortstop.

You have to believe Detroit is going to make a play for shortstop Stephen Drew, who is still a free agent. Drew is not as good as Iglesias with the leather, but he's at least above average. He's not dynamic with the bat by any means -- he hit .253 with 13 home runs for the Boston Red Sox last year -- but that would be much better production than anything the Tigers could hope to get out of guys like Lombardozzi, Worth or Perez.

I don't know what shortstops might be available in a trade. Longtime Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins has already said he won't waive his no-trade rights to go to Detroit. Maybe the Tigers have a trade option I'm not aware of. But, if no deal can be struck, don't they have to sign Drew? It just seems like an obvious fit.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Here's a look at the first of my two fantasy teams

Manny Machado
I'll be participating in two fantasy baseball leagues this summer. In addition to talking about actual baseball, I plan to post about fantasy baseball from time to time once the regular season begins. I'll talk about the progress of my own teams, and hopefully hand out some decent advice to readers of this blog.

I was nowhere near a computer last night and therefore unable to participate in the draft for the first league I'm in. This is my first year in this keeper league, where I inherited a last place team. I did have the first pick in the draft, and the league commissioner selected a team for me based upon player rankings. Here is my roster:

C: Jason Castro
1B: Prince Fielder
2B: Ian Kinsler:
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
3B: Manny Machado
LF: Starling Marte 
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: Josh Reddick
DH: Matt Kemp

BN: Domonic Brown
BN: Aramis Ramirez
BN: Daniel Murphy
BN: Todd Frazier
BN: Alexei Ramirez

SP: Jordan Zimmermann
SP: David Price
SP: Gerrit Cole
SP: Mike Minor
SP: CC Sabathia
SP: Dan Straily

RP: Steve Cishek
RP: Addison Reed
RP: Joaquin Benoit
RP: Mark Melancon

The league allows owners to keep four guys from the previous year's team. My four were Tulowitzki, Machado, Fielder and Zimmermann.

Zimmermann was the easiest choice. I can see why last year's owner finished last. His relief pitching was terrible, and Francisco Liriano was his second-best starter. I figured I had to keep one pitcher, and Zimmermann was the only guy on that roster I liked.

I'm always a little reluctant on Tulowitzki. He always seems to have injuries, but he's still the best offensive shortstop in the game. It's hard not to keep him if you have the chance.

I kept Machado because third base is a hard position to fill. Even though he's coming off an injury and may not be ready to start the season, I feel like he's a good fantasy option over the long haul. At least I have Ramirez and Frazier as backups at third base to get me by in the short run.

Finally, I had to decide whether to keep Fielder or Josh Hamilton as my fourth guy. I chose Fielder because I think he will thrive in hitter-friendly Texas, and Hamilton hasn't been healthy this spring. I was already keeping a couple health risks in Tulowitzki and Machado, and didn't want to take another one.

At first glance, it looks like right field and relief pitching will be my two weaknesses. Reddick, who was chosen for me in the 21st round, is my only option in right field. Once Machado is healthy, I might be looking to deal one of my third basemen to fill that spot.

As for relief pitching, well, closing situations are always so fluid. Things change quickly, and if you're on top of things, you can sometimes find some good options for your team on waivers. We'll see.

I have another draft next Sunday. It's not a keeper league, and I'll actually be able to go to the draft. I'll post the results and my thoughts on it in this space next week.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Injury-riddled Braves sign pitcher Ervin Santana

It's been a bad week for the Atlanta Braves and their starting pitchers.

Kris Medlen, Atlanta's best pitcher and projected Opening Day starter, left a spring training start on Sunday while holding his right elbow. Preliminary tests showed ligament damage, and it's possible Medlen will be looking at his second Tommy John surgery in less than four years.

Then on Monday, Brandon Beachy could not finish his spring training outing because of continuing problems with his surgically repaired right elbow. Beachy has started just 18 games over the last two seasons and his suffered multiple setbacks in his recovery after surgery in 2012.

I haven't even mentioned Mike Minor yet. The left-hander won 13 games for Atlanta last season, but he's yet to pitch this spring because of a shoulder problem.

The Braves are staring down the possibility that 60 percent of their starting rotation will be on the disabled list when the season opens. Julio Teheran, a 14-game winner last year, and fifth starter Alex Wood are the last two men standing. Former White Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia is in camp as a nonroster invitee. Another former Sox, Gavin Floyd, is on Atlanta's roster, but he is not expected to pitch until May as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

The situation is obviously getting a little worrisome in Atlanta, so the Braves acted Wednesday, signing Ervin Santana to a one-year contract worth $14.1 million. The right-hander, who went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts with Kansas City last year, was the last major free-agent pitcher available.

It's no secret I'm not a fan of Santana. As recently as two years ago, his ERA was over 5. His 2013 performance with the Royals was a career year, and I wouldn't expect him to repeat that. It seems a lot of GMs felt the same way, and that's why the 31-year-old right-hander went unsigned halfway into March.

Also, the Braves have to give Kansas City a first-round draft pick -- in this case the No. 26 selection -- as compensations for signing Santana. Atlanta is paying a hefty price here, not just the $14.1 million but the draft pick as well.

You might go so far as to say the Braves are panicking in the wake of their recent injuries. I can understand their thinking, though. They won their division last year, and they obviously feel they are a contender again this season. But the house may crumble if they enter April with the corpse of Freddy Garcia as their No. 3 starter. That would be a scary proposition indeed.

Atlanta is counting on Santana to ride to its rescue. That's not a comfortable position to be in, but it's probably better than relying on Garcia or throwing some untested rookies into the fire.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chris Sale's strong outing alleviates bogus 'concerns'

I had to laugh Monday when I read news stories about the White Sox naming Chris Sale their starting pitcher for Opening Day. As if there were another pitcher on the roster under consideration.

That decision might be the easiest one Sox manager Robin Ventura has to make all season. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Sale made his third start of the spring Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers and turned in 4.1 dominant innings. He retired 13 of the 15 hitters he faced and allowed just a pair of two-out singles. He struck out three and walked none.

I was relieved to hear Sale pitched well, not because I was worried about him, but because it was obnoxious to hear the bogus "concerns" other people had when Sale got knocked around in his second outing against the San Diego Padres last week.

In that game, Sale allowed six earned runs over 2.2 innings and struggled to get command of his breaking ball. Sale hadn't thrown his slider at all in his first outing of the spring, so it stands to reason he had difficulty with that pitch the first time he threw it in game situations this year.

It was yet another example of spring training being about getting ready for the season, as opposed to being about achieving optimal results. Established guys who already know they are coming north with the team don't need to concern themselves with statistics. A pitcher can work on a specific pitch during a given outing, and if he happens to get shelled, then so be it. It's a means to an end in terms of refining that pitch so it will be effective when the results begin to matter in three weeks.

A pitcher who will not be missed

Even as pitcher Zach Stewart languished through a miserable 6-14 season last year at Triple-A Charlotte, I was always somewhat (irrationally) fearful the White Sox would recall him and and give him a few starts at the big league level at the end of the season.

That fear is gone now after the Sox on Monday traded Stewart to the Atlanta Braves for cash considerations. Thank goodness that guy is gone -- hopefully for good.

Stewart went 3-7 with a 6.14 ERA in 28 appearances (9 starts) with the Sox over a two-year period. He was last seen in a White Sox uniform on June 18, 2012, when he gave up six runs, nine hits and four home runs in a 12-3 loss to a Cubs team that would go on to lose 101 games.

Six days later, Stewart and Brent Lillibridge were traded to the Boston Red Sox for third baseman Kevin Youkilis. Naturally, Stewart did nothing to impress in Boston. He was traded to Pittsburgh in November 2012, placed on waivers and later picked up by the Sox once more in January of 2013.

Ugh. I guess somebody had to pitch at Charlotte last year. At least Stewart never got back to the bigs in Chicago. This is one pitcher I hope we never see in the Sox organization again.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Random White Sox thoughts for this week

Unfortunately, there haven't been too many spring training games on TV yet, so it's hard to get a good feel for how players have looked so far.

But, in looking over the box scores from this week, the White Sox player who has stood out the most has been center fielder Adam Eaton.

We said earlier this week that spring training numbers mean nothing, and they don't. But it's worth noting Eaton has played well thus far, reaching base in 10 of his first 14 plate appearances. He's 6 for 10 and has also drawn two walks and been hit by a pitch twice in five spring games.

Barring injury, Eaton will be leading off and playing center field when the Sox open March 31. Both the leadoff spot and center field have been a revolving door for the Sox over the past several seasons, so it would be huge if Eaton plays well enough to lock down those two roles.

De Aza on the block?

There's been some talk this spring about the Sox possibly trading second baseman Gordon Beckham. I doubt that will happen. If there's a trade to be made before the team breaks camp, it might involve outfielder Alejandro De Aza.

De Aza has been the Sox' leadoff hitter and center fielder the past couple years, but he's going to be supplanted by Eaton. The question is whether the Sox want to hold on to De Aza and platoon him in left field with Dayan Viciedo, or ship him elsewhere.

Rumor has it the Twins might be interested in De Aza, who will make $4.25 million this season and has a movable contract. The Sox would probably rather not pay De Aza that money to be a part-time player, especially when Jordan Danks can serve as a fourth outfielder for cheaper.

Some of this depends on how much the Sox still believe in Viciedo, who has been a disappointment both with the bat and in the field. However, Viciedo is still only 24, so there may be some untapped upside. De Aza, on the other hand, is what he is -- an league average 29-year-old outfielder.

For a rebuilding team like the Sox, it makes more sense to hang on to the younger guy with upside and see what happens.

Bad fundamentals

The White Sox beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 in a spring game Friday, but there was a brutal defensive play that drew the ire of manager Robin Ventura and his staff.

Catcher Tyler Flowers was charged with an error when he threw to second base to try to cut down a steal attempt by Cincinnati's Brayan Pena. Neither Beckham nor shortstop Alexei Ramirez covered the bag. The ball sailed into center field, and Pena easily advanced to third.

This is the kind of garbage we saw way too much of last season. Poor defense was huge factor in the Sox' 99-loss disaster in 2013. Ventura says he addressed this mistake immediately. Good, because these kind of errors are inexcusable for veteran players.

It's about time

Reports indicate reliever Ronald Belisario has finally cleared up his visa problems and is scheduled to report to Sox camp. It's about time, now that Opening Day is just over three weeks away.

The Sox bullpen depth could be tested early in the season. Both Nate Jones (glute) and Matt Lindstrom (oblique) have yet to pitch in a spring game due to nagging injuries, and obviously, Belisario hasn't been around. In addition, reliever Daniel Webb has been away from the team due to a death in the family.

The battle for the closer's job has yet to materialize, because the none of the players involved in the competition have been on the mound.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Joe Maddon talks about practice, not a game, practice

When I was at The Beacon-News, I never missed an opportunity to post Allen Iverson's infamous practice rant on my blog.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon was spoofing on that rant at one of his recent press conferences, so I figure it would be fitting to link to it here.

I was initially going to post the video itself, but I think it's copyrighted by MLB, which could get me busted.

In any case, it's too bad Maddon didn't ask, "How the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?" That's the best part of the whole Iverson rant.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Baltimore Orioles take a flier on Johan Santana

The Baltimore Orioles continued their recent habit of shopping in the bargain bin on Tuesday, signing two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to a minor league deal.

Santana, who missed the entire 2013 season, is attempting to come back from a second major surgery on his left shoulder. Reports indicate he had trouble getting his fastball over 80 mph when he threw a bullpen session for interested teams last week, but apparently Baltimore saw enough to take a flier on the former Minnesota Twins ace.

Since it's a minor league deal, it's not much of a gamble. If Santana is unable to regain his arm strength, the Orioles can just cut him and be none the worse for wear. If Santana impresses this spring, the Orioles can add him to the 40-man roster at a relatively low cost.

The 34-year-old lefty would get a $3 million, one-year deal if he is added to the roster and would have the chance to earn an additional $5.05 million in roster and performance bonuses. He would receive the full amount for 120 days and 25 starts.

Baltimore earlier added pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz to its roster late in free agency. I was critical of the Jimenez signing, but I can't blame the Orioles for picking up Santana. They still need pitching help, they don't have anything to lose by giving Santana a shot.

In his Minnesota heyday, Santana's out pitch was his changeup. He threw it from the same release point as his fastball, and there was such a wide variance between his heater and his change that opposing hitters had their timing completely disrupted. But if his fastball is going to top out in the low- or mid-80s, there isn't going to be enough variance between that pitch and his changeup for him to be effective.

The Orioles need to hope Santana can get his fastball back up into the 88 or 89 mph range. If he does, he might have some good innings left in his arm.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Be a smart fan: Don't draw grand conclusions from spring results

I was looking at some of the baseball stories on the Chicago Tribune website this morning when I took note of a Cubs-related web poll. It read: Barney at SS over Baez, right move?
Starlin Castro

I clicked on the poll and voted "yes," because that is the right answer. Not surprisingly, only 24 percent of the poll's 607 respondents agreed with me. That means 76 percent of the people who answered this poll are full of beans, and here's why:

OK, the Cubs' regular shortstop, Starlin Castro, is out 7-10 days right now with a hamstring injury. It's not believed to be serious, and there's every reason to believe Castro will be at shortstop when the North Siders open the season March 31 in Pittsburgh. But, hypothetically, let's say Castro isn't ready. You know who the likely Cubs starter at shortstop would be under than scenario? Darwin Barney. And that's why manager Rick Renteria is going to give him some playing time at that spot while Castro is out.

I'm sorry, but this is an obvious move. It's not even a matter of debate.

However, it's being debated because the moron contingent in Chicago mistakenly believes highly regarded prospect Javier Baez is ready for the major leagues. Baez is 4 for 9 with a home run so far this spring. Those nine ABs are enough for the meathead division of the Cubs fan base to be sold on the idea that Baez should be the team's starting shortstop -- even over Castro, according to some.

Not to be a wet blanket, but that ain't happening. Baez has only played 54 games in his life above the Class-A level. He isn't ready for the bigs. And, yes, I know he hit a combined 37 home runs between High-A and Double-A ball last season.

But you know what else is true? Baez also made 44 errors in 123 games at shortstop last year. 44 errors! I'm going to go out on a limb here and say his defensive game could use a little more refinement before he's ready to play a middle infield spot in the major leagues every day.

Baez also struck out 147 times last year against that lower-level pitching. I haven't seen enough of the kid yet to comment on his swing, but that strikeout total suggests there is still some refinement needed in his offensive game, too.

Cubs brass no doubt knows this, and I believe they will wisely ignore the din and send Baez down to the minors for the start of the regular season.

All the talk in Cubs camp is about prospects right now, but Renteria has 162 major league games to manage this year. He has to have his players prepared for all possible scenarios. Unlike Baez, Barney is going to be on the 25-man roster when camp breaks, and Renteria knows he needs Barney to be ready to play shortstop in a pinch. It's a point that should be painfully obvious to anyone with a brain.

Nine good at-bats from Baez isn't going to change the Cubs' plan for this prized 21-year-old prospect, nor should it.

South Side fans not immune from stupidity, either.

A co-worker of mine suggested yesterday the White Sox sign free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana because "Felipe Paulino is struggling right now."

No lie. And I think he might have been serious.

First off, Santana is a bad fit for the Sox, but that's another argument and beside the point for this discussion.

Everyone needs to remember Paulino missed almost the entire 2013 season after arm surgery. The sum total of his year was 27.2 rehab innings in the minor leagues. He's barely pitched over the last 18 months, so nobody should be surprised he gave up four runs and eight hits over 1.2 innings in his first spring training start.

My reaction to those results: So what?

Here's what I care about: Paulino's fastball was sitting between 92 and 94 mph, right where it should be. He threw 31 of 47 pitches for strikes, a good ball-to-strike ratio, and he felt good physically after the outing.

That's all that counts right now. We'll worry about results later.

Some other instructive reading

Any fan worried about spring training numbers should read this piece from Jim Margalus over at South Side Sox.

Jim notes the 2013 Sox put up a robust .299/.358/.494 slash line during spring training. It was hardly a foreshadowing of the regular season, when the Sox posted a .249/.302/.378 line on their way to scoring the fewest runs in the American League.

The article shows several examples of individual players whose spring training numbers lied, but perhaps the most telling was infielder Jeff Keppinger's line.

In spring ball last year, Keppinger looked like the answer to the Sox' third base woes when he put up a solid .412/.483/.510 line in 58 plate appearances. Too bad his regular season totals were .253/.283/.317 in 451 plate appearances.

The moral of the story is this: Nothing that's happening now means much in the grand scheme of things. Don't fall in the trap of drawing grand conclusions from spring results.

Smart fans are the ones who stay away from this kind of nonsense.

Monday, March 3, 2014

If Gordon Beckham is traded, it probably won't be soon

It's become a White Sox spring training tradition to wonder if Gordon Beckham can fix what's been wrong for him at the plate since the start of the 2010 season.

After posting promising numbers (.270/.347/.460) as a 22-year-old call-up during the 2009 season, Beckham has mostly fallen flat with the bat (.244/.306/.364). Gone is the power he flashed during his debut, and with it his ability to get on base and hit for much average.

Beckham's saving graces have been been his solid defense at second base, and his affordable paychecks that have made him a decent value for his salary while his offense only approaches adequacy.

Here's the problem for the Sox: Because of his glove and contract status, Beckham has value, just not much value to them as they seek to rebuild.

Beckham, and his two relatively cheap years of team control remaining, are probably enticing to a team in need of a second baseman. It makes more sense to kick the tires on him and at least get good glove work at second base than to trade for someone like Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks or Dan Uggla, who are all available because they were worse than Beckham last year and have huge, expensive contracts.

He's less useful to the rebuilding Sox because they're not a contender looking to fill a hole with a guy who is minimally useful. He's also less useful because they have at least one guy (Marcus Semien) who might be as good or better, and cheaper, right now. They've got another guy who might be near as good and cheaper right now (Leury Garcia). They've got another guy (Micah Johnson) rocketing through their system at second base, and another guy at the position (Carlos Sanchez) who the Sox hope can overcome a tough year to return to his top-prospect status.

With the cheaper in-house alternatives, the second base situation is similar to the one GM Rick Hahn had on his hands last August after trading Jake Peavy for Avisail Garcia. The Sox still had Alex Rios in right field, but suddenly had a player who was maybe just as good, certainly cheaper, and definitely more likely to be a part of the team's future.

Instead of pulling the trigger right away on a Rios deal in which he had to eat money, Hahn waited it out until the Rangers agreed to take on most of the remaining contract and send the Sox a useful player in return (Leury Garcia).

Here's why Hahn is likely to exercise patience again:
  • Beckham's value will only go up if he hits well to start the year. 
  • If Semien plays a while in Charlotte before a Beckham trade, the Sox limit his service time and maybe get an extra team-controlled year.  
  • It probably wouldn't hurt to make sure Semien doesn't implode like Sanchez a year ago. If he does and the Sox haven't dealt Beckham, the team at least has another option for 2015 depending on how everything else pans out. 
At this moment, it's hard to envision Beckham as part of the Sox's long-term future. While the natural temptation is to rush to turn the page, there's no need to act fast, so the Sox probably won't.