Thursday, March 31, 2016

Projected White Sox lineup for Monday's opener vs. Oakland

Robin Ventura
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said the lineup he fielded in Tuesday's 6-2 exhibition win over the Texas Rangers would likely be the one he uses Monday when the season opens against the Oakland A's.

If that's true, here is Monday's lineup:

1. Adam Eaton, RF
2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Todd Frazier, 3B
5. Melky Cabrera, LF
6. Avisail Garcia, DH
7. Brett Lawrie, 2B
8. Austin Jackson, CF
9. Alex Avila, C

Chris Sale, P

The biggest questions were who Ventura would use at DH, and how he would align his defensive outfield. Clearly, he's going defense-first here, with the weakest defensive outfielder of the four in the lineup (Garcia) serving as the DH. As long as Jackson is playing, he's going to be in center field. That moves Eaton to a corner spot. If Garcia is the DH, that puts Eaton in right field. If Cabrera gets a DH day, expect to see Eaton in left field with Garcia in right.

The Sox broke camp in Glendale, Arizona, with a 15-13-1 Cactus League record. They hit a major-league best 49 home runs and finished with a winning spring record for the first time since 2004.

The South Siders have two exhibition games in San Diego against the Padres on Friday and Saturday before the opener in Oakland.

One thing to watch this weekend: Mat Latos is slated to start Friday after pitching coach Don Cooper said the team needs more from the right-hander, who has a 12.46 ERA in 8.2 innings this spring. Cooper is looking for Latos to be more efficient and pitch deeper into games.

Latos is scheduled to start the fourth game of the season April 7 in Oakland. He's one of the biggest question marks as the Sox head north.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Jimmy Rollins will start at shortstop for White Sox on Opening Day

Jimmy Rollins
I almost forgot that Jimmy Rollins was in White Sox camp on a minor league deal.

The 37-year-old has had a big spring, hitting .354/.373/.604 with four home runs and 13 RBIs. It's been pretty clear from early on in camp that he was going to make the team, and the Sox made that official Wednesday, purchasing his contract from Triple-A Charlotte and adding him to the 40-man roster.

According to tweets by CSNChicago's Dan Hayes, Rollins will start at shortstop on Opening Day. Manager Robin Ventura said Rollins will not play every day, however. Tyler Saladino will get his fair share of starts at shortstop to try to keep Rollins healthy and fresh over the course of a long season.

Rollins will make $2 million in 2016.

The Sox on Wednesday also optioned pitcher Scott Carroll to Triple-A Charlotte and outrighted pitcher Jacob Turner to the minors.

That leaves 29 players left in camp, including these five: Travis Ishikawa, Jerry Sands, Jacob May, Phillippe Aumont and Hector Sanchez.

One of those five is coming north with the team. The smart money continues to be on Ishikawa.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Carlos Sanchez, Matt Davidson, Leury Garcia among latest Sox roster cuts

Carlos Sanchez
We are six days away from the start of the 2016 baseball season, and the White Sox are down to 31 players in major league camp after a series of Tuesday roster cuts.

Second baseman Carlos Sanchez, third baseman Matt Davidson, infielder Leury Garcia and relief pitcher Tommy Kahnle were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Outfielder Jason Coats also was reassigned to minor league camp.

Sanchez and Davidson did just about all they could this spring. Sanchez, who appeared in 120 games for the Sox last season, hit .333/.368/.593 with six doubles, two home runs in six RBIs in Cactus League play. He had two home runs in Monday's 11-7 win over the Colorado Rockies.

Davidson was the biggest surprise at camp. After two seasons of hitting around .200 at Charlotte, he showed up in Glendale and hit .413/.438/.783 with a team-high five home runs and nine RBIs.

Unfortunately for these two players, they didn't do enough last season to earn their way into the organization's plans, and they are now blocked by offseason acquisitions Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie. Both Sanchez, 23, and Davidson, 25, are still young and would be better off getting everyday at-bats in Charlotte than occupying the 25th spot on the Sox roster.

It's looking like that spot is going to go to veteran 1B/OF Travis Ishikawa, who has posted a .289/.347/.556 slash line in camp, with two home runs and nine RBIs. Ishikawa fills the need for a left-handed bat and backup option at first base after the abrupt retirement of Adam LaRoche earlier this spring.

Nick Swisher released by Braves

Nick Swisher
The Atlanta Braves released veteran outfielder and first baseman Nick Swisher on Monday.

The 35-year-old former White Sox knucklehead hit just .195 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 46 games for Atlanta last season. Here's the funniest line from the AP story:

"There was no room for [Swisher] on the roster after the Braves signed Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur, Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio to contend for spots on the bench."

Yes, it's true, Swisher's career has bottomed out to the point that Beckham and Bonifacio are considered better uses for roster spots on a rebuilding Atlanta team than he is.

Swisher is set to make $15 million this year, but the Cleveland Indians are paying most of that bill after trading Swisher and outfielder Michael Bourn to the Braves last season in exchange for third baseman Chris Johnson. Any team can now sign Swisher for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

I was horrified this morning to see the Sox listed as one of six possible landing spots for Swisher, according to an article on Other teams listed are the Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland.

Swisher has hit just .224/.315/.373 in the three years since he signed a four-year, $56 million contract with the Indians. He has stunk for a long time. He's coming off surgeries on both his knees. He's 35 years old. I'd say he's done.

I hope the Sox stay far, far away from this guy. When Swisher was with the Sox in 2008, his nickname was "Dirty 30," as he wore uniform No. 30. I called him "Dirty .230" because that's about all he could hit.

At this point, a .230 average from Swisher would qualify as wishful thinking for any team that signs him.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The White Sox's spring leader in RBIs? Avisail Garcia

White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia made several mechanical adjustments at the plate this offseason. He has lowered his hands. He's standing taller in the box, and his head position was changed in hopes of getting him a longer look at the ball.

We said at the start of spring Garcia was one of the players to watch in camp -- in fact, we had him No. 1 on our list -- to see how these changes would work. All the usual caveats about spring numbers being (relatively) meaningless apply, but I'd say Garcia has given the Sox reason for optimism.

He hit his fourth home run of the spring Sunday in a 13-9 win over the San Francisco Giants. He's posted a .333/.385/.708 slash line in 51 plate appearances this spring. Nine of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. The four home runs are tied for the team lead, and his 16 spring RBIs are tops on the team.

Can it carry over to the regular season? Garcia will continue to be one of the players to watch as the games begin for real next week in Oakland.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mat Latos has mixed results in first spring outing

Mat Latos
The pitching line for Mat Latos in his first spring outing looks ugly: seven earned runs on 11 hits over 4.2 innings.

That said, the White Sox right-hander's performance wasn't without positives. He allowed only two of those seven runs through the first four innings. His fastball was clocked between 89 and 92 mph, about where it should be, and he threw a couple of sharp curveballs to record two of his four strikeouts. He also declared his troublesome left knee to be healthy after the outing.

But that fifth inning didn't go so well. He gave up two home runs and quickly turned a 3-2 lead into a 7-3 deficit (although the Sox would rally to win, 8-7). Latos noted that he gave up "a couple cheap hits" and allowed himself to become frustrated on the mound.

"I didn’t expect it to be a complete explosion, that was embarrassing," Latos told CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes. "But I’m healthy, the knee feels good. Like I said, first inning through fourth inning shows how I really feel. Just again, a dumb move by me. A blonde moment, if you will, just getting out of what I wanted to accomplish and that’s not the game plan. We don’t want to get aggravated when we’re out there. Stick to the game plan. If it’s not broke don’t fix it. I kind of let it to get me and that was a dumb, selfish mistake and we’ll progress there."

Another potential explanation for the horrible inning: Latos isn't strong enough yet to pitch deep into games. That theory was offered by manager Robin Ventura.

“I thought the first few [innings] he was crisp,” Ventura said in Hayes' report. “He looked good. He was down [in the zone]. After that, there could be a couple things in there -- fatigue, could be getting him out here for the first time. I think it’s just getting him back out here and getting him stretched out and getting him stronger. Encouraged by the start of it just how crisp he was.”

We'll get more answers as we see more of Latos in the final two weeks of spring. If he looks like the guy he was in the first four innings Tuesday as he pitches deeper into games, then he's going to help the Sox this year. Time will tell whether this fifth-inning implosion is any cause for concern.

And if you are concerned about Latos, consider this: Jeff Samardzija, the guy Latos is replacing in the Sox rotation, has an 8.53 ERA with the San Francisco Giants this spring. Samardzija has given up five home runs in 18 spring innings with San Francisco. Sound familiar? Again, I'll take my chances with Latos on a one-year deal worth $3 million over the $90 million over five years the Giants gave Samardzija.

Monday, March 21, 2016

White Sox option Erik Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte; Carson Fulmer opening eyes

Erik Johnson
The White Sox will have one right-handed pitcher in their Opening Day starting rotation. It just won't be Erik Johnson.

The Sox optioned Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte on Monday as one of three roster moves. Pitcher Tyler Danish and infielder Steve Lombardozzi also were assigned to minor league camp.

Johnson's demotion is a sign the club sees Mat Latos as its fifth starter going into the season, although Latos is yet to pitch in a game this spring. As for Johnson, he did nothing to distinguish himself in two starts, allowing nine runs on 10 hits in six innings.

The other rotation candidate, Jacob Turner, has made three Cactus League starts, but he has looked shaky -- allowing nine earned runs on 13 hits over 7.2 innings. He allowed two runs and lasted just two innings in a struggling performance against the Oakland A's on Sunday.

Latos seems to be the leader by default for that rotation spot.

Meanwhile, Carson Fulmer continued to impress Sunday with 3.1 scoreless innings and four strikeouts against the A's. It caught my attention on the Sox broadcast Saturday when pitching coach Don Cooper said Fulmer is further along in his development now than Carlos Rodon was at this same time last year.

Cooper reiterated the point when Scott Merkin of asked him if Fulmer could contribute to the 2016 Sox.

"Absolutely. Why not?" Cooper said. "I believe at this point, right now, compared to last year, he's slightly ahead of where [Carlos] Rodon was."

Manager Robin Ventura also praised Fulmer in a story filed by's Dan Hayes.

“He’s jumped up there pretty high,” Ventura said. “Coop’s excited about what he’s been doing down here, making some adjustments and really putting himself on the radar for a couple of needs that might arise. He could probably fill both of those. Just an impressive young guy and is very mature and is learning very quickly as he goes along.”

This is a change from what we heard at SoxFest, when Ventura and general manager Rick Hahn tried to tamp down high fan expectations for Fulmer.

The 2015 first-round draft pick is not going to come north with the Sox, but his recent performances and the latest comments from team brass suggest his stay in the minors might not be a long one.

Friday, March 18, 2016

FanGraphs: 'How the White Sox Could Win the Pennant'

It's hard not to feel bad about White Sox baseball today. Chris Sale and Adam Eaton are fanning the flames of the Adam LaRoche retirement controversy, and the organization is coming off looking bad.

But here's an article that could inspire some hope: A FanGraphs blogger has charted a potential path to the pennant for the Sox.

Cliff notes version: The Sox project as an 81-win team, so they need to find another 10 wins to be a playoff team. How do they get those 10 wins? A young and hard-to-project Carlos Rodon blossoms into a top-of-the-rotation stud, Mat Latos is healthy and returns to his 2013 form, and Avisail Garcia surprises the critics by learning how to hit for power.

The LaRoche retirement creates savings that allow the Sox to acquire a player to fill in a hole, and shortstop prospect Tim Anderson comes up the second half and makes the team better.

Yes, that's a lot of stuff that needs to go right, but realistically, that's probably the course the Sox would need to take to reach the postseason in 2016.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Kids in the clubhouse?

All of this drama about Adam LaRoche's kid has gotten out of hand, and I don't feel like weighing in on a tempest in a teapot. So, I'll just ask this: Would this kid be allowed in the White Sox clubhouse? Maybe as a batting practice pitcher?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Who takes Adam LaRoche's spot on White Sox roster?

Travis Ishikawa
Adam LaRoche hasn't officially announced his retirement yet, but we'll go ahead and assume he's played his last game with the White Sox.

What impact will this have on the roster moving forward?

For starters, it likely means a full-time role for recently signed outfielder Austin Jackson. The best guess here is Jackson is the center fielder, Adam Eaton moves to left field and Melky Cabrera replaces LaRoche as the primary DH. Here's the current projected starting nine, assuming Jimmy Rollins makes the club -- and we have no reason to believe he won't:

C: Alex Avila
1B: Jose Abreu
2B: Brett Lawrie
SS: Rollins
3B: Todd Frazier
LF: Eaton
CF: Jackson
RF: Avisail Garcia
DH: Cabrera

The four bench spots? Well, I think I have a good idea on three of them:

C: Dioner Navarro
IF: Tyler Saladino
OF: J.B. Shuck
UT: ???????????

With LaRoche out of the mix, the battle is on for the 13th and final position player spot on the roster. The Sox are now without an obvious choice for backup first baseman. Traditionally, they've had Abreu DH once or twice a week for the sake of keeping him healthy over the course of a long season. I would expect that trend to continue, but who plays first base on those days?

Frazier has 83 games of MLB experience at first base, and Avila has 24. Those two are options. Or, will the Sox consider bringing Travis Ishikawa north with the team? Ishikawa is mostly a first baseman, although he's played some games as a corner outfielder. He doesn't have much pop -- only 23 home runs in 1,050 MLB plate appearances -- but he is a left-handed hitter. Left-handedness is something the Sox are lacking in terms of position players.

Jerry Sands has gotten some playing time at first base this spring, and he has some power -- 151 home runs in eight minor-league seasons. But, the 28-year-old fits the profile of a Quad-A player, and he's an outfielder by trade. It seems unlikely the Sox will come north with six outfielders on their 25-man roster. Further, they already have plenty of right-handed hitters.

What about Carlos Sanchez? He's a good infielder and would provide defensive versatility. However, Saladino provides those things, as well, making the two redundant on the roster. I wouldn't expect Sanchez to come north unless the 37-year-old Rollins gets hurt, or the club sours on Saladino for some reason. That seems unlikely, since the Sox spoke glowingly of Saladino's defense all offseason.

Then, there's Matt Davidson. Were you ready to write him off after two bad years at Triple-A? Me too. But, he's opened some eyes this spring. He hit two home runs -- including a walk-off shot -- in Tuesday's 8-6 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is hitting .455/.478/1.045 with four home runs and only two strikeouts in 23 plate appearances this spring. That isn't enough to erase the woes of the past two seasons, but Davidson is suddenly worth keeping an eye on, just in case he pulls off some sort of career Lazarus act.

There also are outside-the-organization possibilities. The assorted rumors about Andre Ethier, Carlos Gonzalez and Jay Bruce become a little more plausible, with the Sox in need of a left-handed bat and suddenly having $13 million in unexpected savings.

Or, maybe they'll kick the tires on Justin Morneau, who is still a free agent and has health question marks. Wouldn't it be odd to see Morneau in a Sox uniform, given the mutual hatred that existed between him and the Sox during his Minnesota days?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Report: White Sox 1B/DH Adam LaRoche 'stepping away from baseball'

Adam LaRoche
White Sox 1B/DH Adam LaRoche is stepping away from baseball, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

The 36-year-old apparently intends to retire, but teammates reportedly asked him to reconsider during a lengthy team meeting Tuesday morning.

LaRoche said he would take a couple days to ponder his future, but it sounds like his career is over.

"I’m confident I am stepping away from baseball," LaRoche said in the Tribune report. "Out of respect for my manager, my GM, these guys and my teammates have asked me for an hour (to reconsider). I’ve tried to convince them I am convinced, but I will do them that, and give it a day or two, and then come back in and finish the story."

LaRoche had a career-worst season for the Sox in 2015. He batted just .207 with a .634 OPS, 12 home runs and 44 RBIs in 127 games. He has been sidelined for much of this spring by a back injury.

It would be surprising to see LaRoche walk away, as he is owed $13 million this season. The Sox will be off the hook for that if he retires.

From a baseball perspective, it's too bad that he didn't arrive at this decision two months ago. The Sox would have had $13 million more to spend in free agency in the offseason.

From a personal perspective, hopefully there isn't a health issue or a family problem that has caused LaRoche to make this abrupt decision. It didn't work out for him with the White Sox, but there should be no ill will directed toward him.

White Sox make four roster moves

The Sox made four roster moves Tuesday.

Pitchers Brandon Brennan and Daniel Webb were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Pitcher Jordan Guerrero was assigned to minor-league camp. Infielder Mike Olt was given his release.

Monday, March 14, 2016

White Sox have back-of-the-rotation questions

The White Sox had two spring training games that were hard to watch and/or listen to over the weekend -- they were beaten by the Cubs, 9-2, on Saturday and lost 11-4 to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

Poor performances by back-of-the rotation candidates were a common theme in both losses, with Erik Johnson looking more like the 2014 version of himself than the 2015 International League Pitcher of the Year.

Johnson gave up five runs on seven hits over three innings against a split-squad Cubs lineup that featured only three regulars (Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo). His fastball was clocked between 85 and 89 mph and had little life. Once such fastball was hit over the fence by Fowler in the second inning. Johnson was hanging his breaking ball and consistently behind in counts.

We'll forgive the hanging breaking balls, because the dry Arizona air can make it hard to snap off a good curve. But reduced velocity and poor command doomed Johnson two years ago, and those issues seem to have resurfaced early on in 2016. He's given up a combined nine runs in his first two Arizona starts, and the stuff he's featuring now isn't going to be good enough for him to make the club.

Speaking of poor stuff, John Danks got cuffed around in his third spring start on Sunday, allowing eight runs on six hits over 4.1 innings in the loss to the Diamondbacks. Danks gave up two homers to some guy named Peter O'Brien, a 25-year-old who has made 12 plate appearances in the majors in his career.

After the game, Danks said he understands his critics, but pointed out that he's trying to simplify his mechanics before the season starts. OK, I can buy that, but the problem is I feel like I've been hearing about Danks trying to make mechanical adjustments for the past four years. The bottom line is he's never been a pitcher with precise command, and now that he doesn't have the velocity he had before his shoulder surgery, it's going to be extremely difficult for him to be consistent over 30-plus starts. That's why he should be pitching for a job this spring, regardless of his contract status.

The Sox's other rotation candidate, Mat Latos, has yet to pitch in a game that counts in the spring training standings. He pitched in a "B" game Saturday, allowing three runs (all in the first inning) over four innings of work.

An American League scout told CSNChicago's JJ Stankevitz that Latos' performance was "pretty underwhelming." Sox manager Robin Ventura described it as "alright."

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement on either count, so the Sox are looking for at least two of these three guys -- Johnson, Danks and Latos -- to step up before the spring is over.

Friday, March 11, 2016

White Sox make first round of spring training cuts

The White Sox on Friday made their first round of spring training cuts, sending eight players to minor league camp.

None of the moves are surprises.

Pitcher Chris Beck and outfielder Daniel Fields were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Pitchers Colin Kleven, Peter Tago, Josh Wall, Will Lamb, Nik Turley and catcher Omar Navarez were reassigned to minor league camp.

Beck is the most prominent name on the list. He started one game for the Sox in 2015, a 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in the second game of a doubleheader on May 28. Beck went 3-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts at Charlotte last year, before his season was cut short because of an elbow injury.

I chuckled when I saw Fields' name on this list. The outfielder was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jan. 7, and at the time, the meathead division of the White Sox fan base exploded in rage, believing that Fields would be the team's "big free-agent outfield signing."

As it turns out, the Sox did not sign Yoenis Cespedes, as so many of us had hoped, but it was always a huge reach to believe Fields was looked upon as anything other than organizational filler. I said at the time Fields was acquired that somebody has to play outfield for Charlotte this season, and sure enough, that's where Fields is destined after this first round of moves.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Jay Bruce and more silly White Sox narratives from Chicago sports media

Jay Bruce
There has been a lot of discussion -- even some this week -- about the White Sox needing to acquire a power-hitting left-handed bat for the middle of their lineup.

I don't disagree with Bruce Levine when he says the Sox could use that piece, but I am unconvinced that Jay Bruce is the right man for the job -- especially considering that the Cincinnati Reds would most likely want the Sox to take on most of the $12.5 million Bruce is owed for the 2016 season in any deal.

Reports outside Chicago, most notably from MLB Network's Jon Heyman, indicate the Sox and Reds have not had any recent talks about Bruce. Heyman reports the Sox are not seeking a starting outfielder after their recent signing of Austin Jackson. I tend to think Heyman is correct.

That didn't stop the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh from adding to the Bruce talk, and in a bizarre twist, Haugh seems to believe the Sox should acquire Bruce with the idea of pushing Adam Eaton to the bench.


Here's what Haugh wrote:

"The broader big-picture question involving Eaton should be what to do with him if the Sox acquire outfielder Jay Bruce, the left-handed power hitter the Reds reportedly want to trade. Several other teams remain interested in Bruce, scheduled to make $12.5 million in 2016, and WSCR-AM 670 reported two top Reds scouts have been regulars at Camelback Ranch. If Sox general manager Rick Hahn can pull it off, Bruce would join former Reds teammate Todd Frazier in the middle of an increasingly dangerous Sox lineup.

"Trading for Bruce to play right field with Jackson in center and Melky Cabrera in left likely would make Eaton a fourth outfielder and part-time designated hitter -- perhaps platooning with Avisail Garcia -- Eaton's ideal role on a contending Sox team. It also would make Eaton's five-year, $23.5 million contract extension signed a year ago all the more baffling. Bruce offers 30 home-run potential, a capable glove and an expiring contract, which Hahn appears to be collecting."

Again, what? 

I'm not sure if Haugh is expecting us to take this narrative seriously, but let's humor him with some player comparisons. Tell me which of these four 2015 statistical profiles you like best:

Player A: .267/.311/.385, 2.3 fWAR
Player B: .287/.361/.431, 3.6 fWAR
Player C: .226/.294/.434, 0.1 fWAR
Player D: .273/.314/.394, -0.3 fWAR

So, what's your verdict? Who's the best player in the bunch? You gotta go with Player B, right?

Player B has the highest batting average, the highest on-base percentage, the second-highest slugging percentage (only .003 behind Player C) and the best fWAR.

Mr. Haugh might be interested to know that Player B is Eaton, the guy he thinks belongs on the bench.

For the record, Player A is Jackson, Player C is Bruce and Player D is Cabrera.

Eaton, to me, is the third-best positon player on the Sox, behind only Jose Abreu and Frazier. I look at him as a core player, and I can't see any rational baseball reason for him to be displaced from the lineup for a player such as Bruce. Play Eaton wherever you want in the outfield, but he and his .361 on-base percentage need to be at the top of the lineup for the Sox this year. There is no question about that.

Haugh wrote that, "this week's discussion over where incumbent center fielder Adam Eaton plays was cute," and I'm not sure what he means by that.

I'm not being cute at all when I tell you that some members of the Chicago sports media would be well-served to do a little research and maybe watch a few White Sox games before they sit down at a computer and offer their "opinions" about the team.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

White Sox bats showing some life in early spring

Avisail Garcia
The White Sox have scored 40 runs through their first six Cactus League games, including 34 runs in their last four games.

I know, it's spring training, so who cares? But the Sox are normally so terrible in spring ball that you can't help but notice when they do well.

Avisail Garcia and Jimmy Rollins both homered in Tuesday's 10-6 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, as the Sox improved to 4-1-1 so far in Arizona.

The Sox have 12 home runs by 12 different players through six games. Garcia and Rollins joined a list yesterday that includes Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Adam Eaton, Dioner Navarro, Matt Davidson, Steve Lombardozzi, Adam LaRoche, Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino and Jason Coats.

The South Siders are leading the Cactus League with a .609 slugging percentage heading into Thursday's game against the Oakland A's. All the usual caveats apply about these games being meaningless, but it's been a long time since the Sox have looked good in spring training.

Do you want to know the last time the Sox had a winning mark in spring games? 2004! Even the 2005 World Series championship team had a losing month of March.

So, while this recent stretch of good offense won't mean a thing when April 4 rolls around, it's refreshing to see some guys getting good results, instead of having to resort to the usual grumping about how early it is, or clinging to the idea that failure is OK because the players are "just getting their work in."

It's never a bad thing to play good baseball.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Orioles add Pedro Alvarez to a lineup that already has a DH

Pedro Alvarez
Former Pittsburgh Pirates 1B/3B Pedro Alvarez agreed Monday to a one-year, $5.75 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

Alvarez was No. 2 on our list of top 5 remaining free agents going into March (posted earlier this week), and he figures to add power to an already-potent Baltimore lineup. Alvarez has clubbed 101 home runs over the past four seasons. Last year, he hit .243/.318/.469 with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs in 150 games with the Pirates. He also struck out 131 times.

Pittsburgh, being a National League team, most likely parted ways with Alvarez because he is a defensive liability at both first base and third base. The Orioles have Chris Davis at first base and Manny Machado at third base, which means they can have Alvarez serve as designated hitter and hide his deficiencies with the glove.

There's just one problem with that: Where does that leave Mark Trumbo? I would have projected Trumbo as Baltimore's DH before this Alvarez move. Now, Trumbo is probably going to play right field, where he's just as big of a defensive problem as Alvarez would be at first base.

I wonder if the Orioles will try Davis in right field and have Trumbo play first. I'm not sure that's any better, but I won't be surprised if Baltimore manager Buck Showalter at least experiments with that defensive look during spring ball.

Baltimore is going to score some runs this season. Adam Jones, Davis, Machado, Trumbo, Alvarez, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy; they have a deep lineup with plenty of guys who can hit the ball off the wall and over it.

I question whether the Orioles have enough starting pitching to contend in the AL East. With a projected rotation of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman, there isn't an ace in that group -- unless the 25-year-old Gausman, a former first-round draft pick, takes a giant leap forward.

I think Baltimore is going to need to play good defense behind that questionable rotation, but it looks to me like there are too many weak gloves in its projected lineup. That's going to drive Showalter crazy, as he is known as a manager who values good defense.

If the Orioles are to be a playoff team in 2016, they are going to have to outslug the opposition on most nights.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Austin Jackson agrees to one-year contract with White Sox

Austin Jackson
The White Sox moved to bolster their outfield depth Sunday, signing veteran Austin Jackson to a one-year contract worth $5 million.

Jackson, 29, posted a slash line of .267/.311/.385 with 9 home runs, 48 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 136 games split between the Seattle Mariners and Cubs last year. He's a career .273 hitter, but I don't think offense is the reason the Sox acquired him.

The projected outfield of Melky Cabrera in left field, Adam Eaton in center and Avisail Garcia in right is a subpar one defensively. Jackson will be the best fielding outfielder on the roster the minute he walks through the door. Jackson has produced 49 Defensive Runs Saved in six seasons in center and has a career Ultimate Zone Rating of 11.8 there, according to

Accordingly, Sox GM Rick Hahn has indicated Jackson will spend most of his time in center field.

“Most of, if not all of, Austin’s time will come in center,” Hahn told beat writers, including Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. “Obviously, a high quality defensive player out there and a lot of his value comes from having him in that spot. As I talked about with Adam Eaton at the end of last season and a couple times over the offseason and once again this afternoon, we also view Adam as a very fine defensive center fielder. He was one of the three finalists for the Gold Glove in 2014 out there and we think we’re stronger certainly from a defensive standpoint when we have both Adam and Austin out there in that same outfield. Adam’s expressed a willingness to do whatever we feel makes the most sense on a given day to win a ballgame whether that’s playing center field for Adam or DHing or being on one of the corners.”

Eaton remains the third-best position player on the Sox's roster -- behind only Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier -- so there is no chance he'll be displaced in the lineup by Jackson. If the plan is to play Jackson in center field and move Eaton to a corner outfield spot, that creates a logjam for Cabrera, Garcia and incumbent DH Adam LaRoche. Only two of those three players can be in the lineup if Jackson is in there.

Against left-handed pitching, LaRoche is certainly the odd man out -- the veteran hit just .157 with a .383 OPS against lefties last year.

Meanwhile, Jackson has been a solid bat against left-handed pitching over the past two seasons:

vs. LHP: .290/.345/.408
vs. RHP: .248/.293/.344

It seems like a pretty obvious move that Jackson plays center field against lefties, Eaton moves to right field, the weak-fielding Garcia is relegated to DH duties, and LaRoche goes to the bench.

The more interesting question is what the Sox will do against right-handed pitching. The splits show Jackson is not a good hitter against righties, but will his strong defense be enough for him to be in the lineup every day regardless? We'll assume the highly paid LaRoche will DH against righties, like it or not.

That leaves either the veteran Cabrera or Garcia as the odd man out. Would the Sox allow the 24-year-old Garcia to wither away on the bench? Will they send him to Triple-A Charlotte? Or might they give up on him entirely and trade him? It's a story to follow as the spring moves along.

With Jackson's addition to the 40-man roster, third baseman Mike Olt has been designated for assignment. No surprise there.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hopefully, John Danks has to earn his spot in the White Sox rotation this year

John Danks
Even though it's only spring training, it was nice to hear baseball on the radio Thursday afternoon. The White Sox lost, 6-1, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The result wasn't satisfactory, but all the usual caveats about spring training being meaningless in the won-loss column apply.

The Sox were limited to just three hits, and starting pitcher John Danks gave up three runs on four hits over two innings. He walked the first batter he saw, then gave up three singles to put the Sox down 2-0 after the first inning. He also gave up a long solo home run to Alex Guerrero in the second inning.

Let me say this about Danks: I hope his spot in the starting rotation isn't secure. His ERAs over the past three years have been 4.75, 4.74 and 4.71, respectively. He's been consistent, give him that, but he's been consistently below par. In each of the past two seasons, his WHIP has been higher than 1.4 (1.441 in 2014, 1.413 in 2015).

Nothing he has done recently should be good enough to guarantee him a spot in the rotation. He should have to compete for one, and unlike previous seasons, the Sox do have other options. We know Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon will be in the rotation, assuming good health. But the other two spots should be up for grabs among Danks, Mat Latos, Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner.

If two of those three other pitchers are more impressive this spring than Danks, then they should be in the rotation, and Danks should go to the bullpen. If Danks outpitches all of them this spring, then he can keep his spot. But I don't think it should be just handed to him.

Earlier this winter at SoxFest, a fan asked GM Rick Hahn whether designated hitter Adam LaRoche was going to keep his spot in the lineup based on his veteran status and $13 million salary. Hahn insisted the Sox do not have any "scholarship players," that LaRoche would have to earn his spot, and that manager Robin Ventura has been told to play the best players regardless of who is making the most money.

I don't know if I believe it when the Sox say they will send a high-priced player to the margins if that player is not producing. Like LaRoche, Danks is set to make big bucks in this, the final year of his contract. In fact, Danks will be the highest paid player on the team at $15.75 million.

Based on that figure, I can't shake the feeling that Danks is going to be in the rotation whether he deserves the spot or not. And based upon what I've seen the past three years, he's a good candidate to be replaced. His poor outing Thursday comes with the aforementioned caveats about spring training not mattering, but there have been plenty of times where Danks has failed miserably when it did matter.

Let's hope the Sox take that into account if Danks flounders all spring.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Slick pickoff move attempted; announcers clueless

Check out this pickoff attempt by University of Rice pitcher Blake Fox:

Somehow, the announcers didn't notice what was happening. Granted, the attempt did not result in an out, but credit Fox for ingenuity.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Top five remaining free agents going in to March

David Freese
As the calendar turns to March, there are no more remaining free agents who turned down a qualifying offer earlier in the offseason. However, that does not mean there are no decent players left on the market.

Sure, all the high-impact guys have signed now, but there still are some free agents out there who can provide value to a team in the right situation. Here's the complete list of players still available, and let's take a more detailed look at the best of the bunch:

1. David Freese, third baseman -- Freese will turn 33 in April and he's now four years removed from his 20-home run campaign with the Cardinals in 2012, but you would think Freese would have a job by now given that third base often is a hard position for teams to fill. The veteran posted a .257/.323/.420 slash line last year with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs in 121 games with the Los Angeles Angels. I'm a little bit surprised Freese hasn't landed back with the Angels. The Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians also would be good fits.

2. Pedro Alvarez, first baseman/designated hitter -- I can't blame the Pittsburgh Pirates for cutting ties with Alvarez. He's a low-average guy and a lousy fielder, and that makes it hard to justify the eight-figure salary he likely would have gotten in arbitration. Alvarez is a career .236 hitter, and he's struck out at least 118 times in each of the past four seasons. However, during that same span of four years, he has hit 101 home runs -- so about 25 a year. He has value as a designated hitter and fallback option at first base for an American League club. New York? Houston? Cleveland? Maybe Boston if the Red Sox get sick of the Hanley Ramirez show?

3. Austin Jackson, outfielder -- Jackson is a strong defender at any of the three outfield spots, and he has experience, having started in center field for a contending Detroit Tigers team from 2010 through the middle of 2014, when he was traded to the Seattle Mariners. Jackson just recently turned 29, but his OPS of .655 in 2014 and .696 in 2015 seems to be giving potential suitors pause. Jackson's OPS during his time in Detroit was .755, but he's taken a turn for the worse lately. The Angels have a gaping hole in left field, but reports indicate Jackson turned down their one-year offer. Baltimore could be a fit after the Orioles struck out on Dexter Fowler. He also could land in the AL Central, where the Indians, White Sox and Royals all could use some outfield insurance.

4. Matt Thornton, relief pitcher -- Thornton is entering his age-39 season, and his elite years with the White Sox from 2008 to 2010 are past. That said, Thornton still was a competent reliever with the Washington Nationals last year. He posted a 2.18 ERA in 60 games and limited left-handed hitters to a .198/.205/.279 slash line. In today's matchup-obsessed game, you would think some team would want a left-handed reliever who can retire left-handed hitters, no matter the age of that pitcher. There are worse left-handed relievers on MLB rosters than Matt Thornton, that's for sure. Thornton has said he is waiting for a team to show "serious" interest in him. I read that as teams have offered him a minor-league contract and an invitation to big-league camp, but he doesn't want to sign unless someone offers him a major-league deal.

5. Tim Lincecum, pitcher -- The 31-year-old is now seven years removed from his back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009, and he's coming off an injury that limited him to 15 starts last year, when he went 7-4 with a 4.13 ERA with the San Francisco Giants. Supposedly, at least 20 teams have requested Lincecum's medical records, so proving he's healthy would likely lead to a contract offer. At some point in the near future, Lincecum is going to hold a showcase for teams. The Detroit Tigers will be there. Other interested clubs reportedly include Miami, Baltimore and San Diego.

Honorable mention, Ryan Raburn, outfielder -- The Giants are reportedly interested in the White Sox killer, and if you're a Sox fan like me, you're just praying that some team in the National League takes Raburn out of your sight. Raburn had eight home runs last season -- three against the Sox -- and 29 RBIs -- seven against the Sox. Twenty of his 82 career homers are against the Sox, as are 82 of his 322 career RBIs. Eighty-two RBIs against the Sox! His next highest totals are 12 home runs and 25 RBIs against Kansas City. Somebody make it stop.