Tuesday, February 24, 2015

White Sox manager Robin Ventura considers carrying 13 pitchers

The offseason and the start of spring training has been jovial and full of optimism for the White Sox and their fans, but here's the first thing I've heard in a while that makes my stomach a little queasy: Manager Robin Ventura is considering carrying 13 pitchers when the team comes north to start the season.

“You could take the other route where you bring an extra pitcher,” Ventura told ESPN's Doug Padilla. “With the versatility we have, we have some options on how we are going to go early in the year, with some days off and probably have some rainouts and things like that, but you want to be protected all the way around. Right now, we are pretty open to it.” 

I shudder.

You can see how this idea of roster construction got hatched. Assuming either Micah Johnson or Carlos Sanchez wins the starting second base job, the Sox will have two versatile players on their bench. Gordon Beckham can play three positions. Emilio Bonifacio can play six positions. With Bonifacio's ability to play the outfield and Beckham's ability to cover the infield positions, you can make a case that the Sox don't need a true fourth outfielder to take up the 25th spot on the roster. I understand the philosophy; I just disagree with it.

Ventura actually brought up the biggest reason for my disagreement: You have days off early in the season. In fact, the Sox have three scheduled off days before the season is even two weeks old. In addition, the weather stinks in April. It will be a huge upset if all the early-season games are played as scheduled in the upper Midwest. Is there going to be enough work for 13 pitchers? I don't think so. I don't see the Sox being in any danger of overworking their pitchers early in the season, even if they were to carry only 11 guys.

Moreover, the Sox have a solid top three in the rotation this year. Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana are expected to get the game into the seventh or eighth inning more times than not. We already know new closer David Robertson has the last three outs in the ninth. If things go according to plan, that means most days you need middle relief to cover about 3-6 outs a day. Do you really need seven relief pitchers who are not named Robertson to cover those 3-6 middle-inning outs? Not in my world.

One of the things I like about the Bonifacio addition is his ability to come off the bench, pinch run and steal a bag in a key situation. But when you have only two other position players on your bench, you have to be cautious about using a guy in a specialized role like that. Under this "13 pitchers" scenario, Bonifacio would be the only backup outfielder on the roster, so if the manager uses him situationally, he leaves himself with no other outfield option if a game goes extra innings, and he leaves himself with no protection in the event a player gets injured. For me, that's an uncomfortable scenario.

I just don't see a lot of benefit to this, especially when the "13th pitcher" would likely be one of Daniel Webb, Maikel Cleto and Eric Surkamp. Those guys were members of the hated and despised 2014 White Sox bullpen. Don't we want to see less of them, not more?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

White Sox spring training: Sizing up roster battles

White Sox pitchers and catchers are set to report to spring training Friday, so let's have a look at each position group and see where the roster battles lie.

For purposes of this discussion, we'll break the team up into five categories: starting pitchers, bullpen, catchers, infielders and outfielders. The numbers in parenthesis with each position group indicate how many players I'm anticipating will come north from that group.

1. Starting pitchers (5)
Roster locks: Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana, John Danks
Competing for a spot: Hector Noesi, Carlos Rodon
Long shots: Brad Penny, Scott Carroll
Comments: The Sox have a top three that can compete with anybody in the American League in Sale, Samardzija and Quintana. Danks, despite his bloated salary ($15.75M) and bloated ERA (4.74), somehow managed to make 20 quality starts in 2014, so it's a given that he'll be in the rotation as a back-end innings eater. The question remains the fifth spot. Pitching coach Don Cooper is bullish on Noesi, who gave the Sox 27 starts last year and finished with a respectable 4.39 ERA after getting picked up on waivers in May. I'm skeptical the journeyman Noesi is any more than a stopgap measure until top prospect Rodon arrives, which could be as soon as midseason. But right now, Noesi has the inside track on the final spot. Carroll, who made 19 starts for the Sox last year, and Penny, a veteran reclamation project, would only make the roster in the event of an injury to someone ahead of them on the depth chart.

2. Bullpen (7)
Roster locks: David Robertson, Zach Duke, Jake Petricka
Competing for a spot: Javy Guerra, Dan Jennings, Zach Putnam, Daniel Webb, Maikel Cleto, Eric Surkamp
Long shots: Jesse Crain, Matt Albers
Injured: Nate Jones
Comments: We all feel like the Sox bullpen will be better with the addition of a firm ninth-inning option in Robertson, but everything else still needs to be sorted out this spring. We know Duke is on the roster as the primary left-handed reliever, and Petricka led the Sox with 14 saves last year and figures to settle into a more comfortable seventh- or eighth-inning role this season. The rest is up for grabs. The Sox traded for Jennings for a reason, so you figure he has the inside track on being the second left-hander. Putnam, another waiver claim who overachieved in 2014, set a team record by stranding 89 percent of his inherited runners (26 of 29) last year. You figure some regression is due, but he enters camp in good position. Guerra is also in good shape by virtue of his reasonable 2014 performance (2.92 ERA in 42 games) and relatively hefty salary ($938K). I wouldn't call Jennings, Putnam or Guerra a lock, but each of the three should be considered favorites to earn a roster spot. That leaves one spot left for Webb, Cleto or Surkamp, unless either Crain or Albers comes to camp healthy and unseats someone.

3. Catchers (2)
Roster lock: Tyler Flowers
Competing for a spot: Geovany Soto, George Kottaras
Long shots: Adrian Nieto, Rob Brantly
Comments: For better or for worse, Flowers is your starter. The pitcher like throwing to him, so at least there's that. I can't bring myself to expect much from his bat. Soto is the most accomplished of the potential backup options. I think he'll make the club if he's healthy and in shape. If not, that opens the door for Kottaras. Nieto handled the backup role last year, just because he was a Rule 5 pick who needed to remain on the 25-man roster the whole season. I think the organization realizes he needs to go back to the minor leagues and work on his game.

4. Infielders (7)
Roster locks: Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche, Alexei Ramirez, Conor Gillaspie, Gordon Beckham, Emilio Bonifacio
Competing for a spot: Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson
Long shot: Leury Garcia
Comments: Most of this in place. Abreu and LaRoche will share first base and DH duties. Ramirez is your shortstop. Gillaspie is your primary third baseman. Bonifacio and Beckham are utility players, with Bonifacio figuring to play some in the outfield, as well. The only question is, who is the second baseman? Sanchez hit .250 in 28 games at the end of last year. We know he can handle the position defensively, but the speedy Johnson has the higher upside. Of course, Johnson is a question mark with the glove and has never proven he can stay healthy. I'd give Sanchez the inside track going into camp, although I think the organization would love it if Johnson would step up and seize the job. Garcia is still around, basically as injury insurance.

5. Outfielders (4)
Roster locks: Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia
Competing for a spot: J.B. Shuck, Michael Taylor
Comments: The ranks got thin pretty quick here, didn't they? We know the starters: Cabrera in left, Eaton in center and Garcia in right. We don't know who the fourth outfielder is yet. Dayan Viciedo was released. Jordan Danks was claimed on waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies. Tony Campana blew out his ACL. That leaves Shuck in position to earn the job, because Taylor isn't much of an option, and there aren't any outfield prospects in the organization that you would consider major-league ready. If Shuck falters this spring, don't be surprised if the Sox go outside the organization to grab a backup outfielder.