Friday, January 29, 2016

The greatest baseball board game ever invented

I'm at SoxFest this weekend and won't have time to blog, so in the meantime check out this tutorial on the greatest baseball board game ever invented, Statis Pro Baseball:


Thursday, January 28, 2016

White Sox, Cubs top two suitors for Dexter Fowler?

Dexter Fowler
I'm not sure I buy this NBC Sports report that says the White Sox and the Cubs "appear to be the two teams with the most interest" in Dexter Fowler.

I'm especially skeptical because the source appears to be Bruce Levine of 670 The Score. The Score isn't exactly the place I go to get intelligent baseball talk, but that's a blog for another day.

Just for grins, let's discuss the possibility of Fowler landing on either side of Chicago. I think it makes a lot of sense for him to go back to the Cubs, for whom he hit .250/.346/.411 with 17 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 156 games last year. In contrast, I don't think Fowler is the right guy for the Sox, but more on that in a minute.

First, let's look at why Fowler is a good fit for the Cubs: Well, he was their center fielder last year when they won 97 games, and they haven't replaced him with anybody else. I know what you're thinking. Didn't the Cubs sign outfielder Jason Heyward to a eight-year mega-deal worth $23 million a year?

Yes, yes, they did.

But let's think logically about Heyward's skill set. What is it that he does well that makes him worth all those millions? He's the best defensive right fielder in baseball, right? He's got three Gold Gloves in the past four years that prove that.

That being the case, why would the Cubs pay Heyward, the best defensive right fielder in baseball, $23 million to be an average or slightly above-average center fielder? Wouldn't it make much more sense to re-sign Fowler to play center field, put Heyward in right field where he belongs and trade Jorge Soler to help solidify a top-heavy pitching staff?

Yes, I think that makes a lot of sense. And unlike other teams, the Cubs wouldn't have to surrender draft pick compensation to sign Fowler. You better believe that qualifying offer has contributed to a slow market for Fowler. It's moot if he goes back to the Cubs.

As for the White Sox, one of the things that's perplexing about this report is that it calls for the Sox to sign Fowler to play center field and move Adam Eaton to right field. Huh?

I feel like Fowler would be redundant with Eaton on the Sox roster. Let's look at some numbers:

2015:
Eaton: .287/.361/.431, 14 HRs, 18 stolen bases
Fowler: .250/.346/.411, 17 HRs, 20 stolen bases

Career:
Eaton: .284/.355/.407
Fowler: .267/.363/.418

Pretty similar players, right? The Sox already have Eaton, a center fielder with some pop and some speed who can bat leadoff and get on base. Why give up a draft pick to sign Fowler, when he essentially provides the same thing?

What the Sox really need is a corner outfielder who can hit the ball over the fence. Incumbent corner outfielders Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia combined for only 25 home runs last season. Fowler doesn't offer a big upgrade over that, as the 17 homers he hit last year represent a career high. His career norm is 11 home runs per 162 games, which is less than what Cabrera and Garcia hit last year.

Further, there's no evidence that Fowler offers a defensive upgrade over Eaton. Let's take a look at Fowler's defensive WAR over the past five years:

2011: -0.1
2012: -0.8
2013: -0.2
2014: -1.8
2015: -1.0

Five straight years of negative defensive WAR.

Eaton's defense is a little harder to judge, based on the two years he's been a full-time player with the Sox:

2014: +1.8
2015: -1.1

Eaton was a Gold Glove finalist two years ago, then slipped defensively for unknown reasons last year. I need to see what he does this year to make a more firm judgment on what kind of defensive player he'll be over the long haul, but Fowler has a more established track record of being mediocre (at best) in center field. The Eaton we saw in 2014 is clearly superior to Fowler defensively, so I wouldn't be signing Fowler in order to move Eaton to right field.

It just doesn't make a lot of sense for the Sox to bid too high, or even bid at all, on Fowler.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A question I will ask Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura at SoxFest

As most White Sox fans know, the team has not made the playoffs since 2008. What is the common denominator in these non-playoff years? Well, you can come up with a few things, but the one that stands out to me is poor starts to the season.

2015: 10-16
2014: 14-17
2013: 15-21
2012: 13-17
2011: 11-22
2010: 16-24
2009: 15-22

Seven straight years of poor starts. Seven straight years of digging an early hole in the division. Seven straight years of excuses about how "early" it is. Seven straight years of no October baseball on the South Side.

Hey Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura, have you identified the reasons for these continued bad beginnings, and what can be done to fix it?

We'll see what they say this weekend ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Four notable free agents remain on the market

Ian Desmond
This offseason, there were 16 players who received qualifying offers from their teams and declined them, opting instead to become free agents. Twelve of them have signed; four remain on the market as of Tuesday afternoon:

1. Dexter Fowler, outfielder: Fowler is coming off a decent season with the Cubs, where he posted a .250/.346/.411 slash with 17 home runs and 20 stolen bases. His on-base percentage was actually down a little bit last year from his career norm of .363, but he's always been a guy who gets on base at a decent clip at the top of a lineup. However, he is horribly miscast as a center fielder -- he's posted a negative defensive WAR in each of the past five seasons. And he lacks the arm strength to play right field. Those defensive warts are likely why he's still on the market, with teams reluctant to surrender a draft pick to sign him.

2. Ian Desmond, shortstop: Desmond picked a bad time to have a horrible year in 2015, .233/.290/.384 with 19 home runs, 62 RBIs and 27 errors. All those figures are worse than his career norms, and despite a weak crop of free-agent shortstops, nobody has been willing to meet his asking price -- especially with the draft pick compensation attached. Desmond, 30, may have to change positions to convince a team to take a chance on him at this point.

3. Howie Kendrick, second base: It's a little bit surprising this guy is still available, especially with second basemen who can hit being hard to come by. Again, the draft pick thing is a major hindrance, but GMs should know what they are getting in Kendrick. His batting average has been between .285 and .297 in each of the past five years. His on-base percentage has been between .325 and .347 in each of the past five years. Not much variance. Kendrick is 32, so he's not going to command a four or five-year contract, but you would think he would be a nice option for a team looking for a second baseman on a two- or three-year deal. This is a consistent player.

4. Yovani Gallardo, pitcher: Gallardo's days of being a top-of-the-rotation pitcher with the Milwaukee Brewers are past, but give him credit for surviving despite a noticeable decline in his stuff. He can't overpower anybody anymore, yet he still managed to go 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts with the Texas Rangers last year -- his first season in the American League. There are a lot of career NLers who have had a much more difficult adjustment to the AL than that. That said, Gallardo's strikeout rate has fallen from 25.9 percent to 15.3 percent. Even though Gallardo will only be 30 on Opening Day, he's got nearly 1,500 big-league innings on his arm, and that seems to be taking a toll.

Other notable players still available:

David Freese, third baseman
Doug Fister, pitcher
Justin Morneau, first baseman
Tyler Clippard, relief pitcher
Tim Lincecum, pitcher
Austin Jackson, outfielder
Steve Pearce, outfielder
Mat Latos, pitcher
Juan Uribe, infielder
Pedro Alvarez, first baseman

Monday, January 25, 2016

Yoenis Cespedes signs three-year deal to stay with Mets

Yoenis Cespedes
Yoenis Cespedes was the last of the impact free-agent outfielders on the board this offseason, and he had to wait until late January to sign a contract.

But, what a player-friendly contract it is.

Cespedes will stay with the New York Mets, after agreeing Friday on a three-year deal worth $75 million. The Mets front-loaded the deal -- Cespedes will make $27.5 million for the 2016 season, and the contract includes an opt-out after one year.

Given next offseason's weak crop of free agents, Cespedes is in position to go back on the market next year and cash in with an even bigger contract -- if he performs at a high level this season in New York.

Cespedes was acquired by the Mets midseason last year, and he hit .287 with 17 home runs and 44 RBIs in 57 games. During that stretch, New York went 36-21 and transformed itself from a middling team into NL East Division champions. They went on to make the World Series before losing to the Kansas City Royals.

Give the Mets credit. This move solidifies them as one of the top teams in the National League. Quite possibly, they are the favorite to make it back to the World Series. It's hard to bet against them with the pitching staff they have in place. Their rotation includes Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and one of Bartolo Colon or Zack Wheeler.

Find me another team in baseball that can match that kind of quality and depth in starting pitching. I don't think there is one.

There's every reason to believe Cespedes, 30, will continue to be productive as a cleanup hitter. The only real problem for the Mets here will be their outfield defense. Cespedes is a plus defender in left field, but on the Mets, he'll need to play center field in between Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson. As a center fielder, Cespedes is adequate at best. That could hurt New York at times, but I think the benefits of this signing far outweigh the drawbacks for them. They are one of the teams that has a shot to win it all in 2016.

What does this mean for the White Sox? Well, back to the drawing board. I'm not sure the Sox were ever serious contenders for Cespedes, and certainly, they were not going to hand out a contract like the one Cespedes signed.

The Sox got caught a little bit here, slow-playing the outfield market, believing somebody's price would eventually come down into their range. That never happened, and for now, they are stuck with the status quo in their outfield. We'll find out in the next few weeks how much they really believe in Avisail Garcia. Will they give him another year in right field, or will they make a trade to replace him?

Friday, January 22, 2016

White Sox bring back Matt Albers on one-year deal

Matt Albers
The White Sox moved to increase their bullpen depth on Thursday, re-signing veteran reliever Matt Albers on a one-year deal worth $2.25 million. The contract includes a $3 million club option for 2017.

It's a pleasant surprise to see Albers, 33, back in a Sox uniform. He pitched so well the second half of last season that it was reasonable to believe he would get a better contract than the Sox would be willing to offer him.

In 30 games, Albers went 2-0 with 1.21 ERA. He was unscored upon in his final 20 appearances of the season, and his 1.14 second-half ERA was best among all American League relievers.

Albers is unlikely to pitch at that same high level again, but his approach helps him survive in a hitters' park such as U.S. Cellular Field. He attacks the strike zone -- he walked only nine in 37.1 IP last year -- and he keeps the ball low and produces a lot of ground ball outs. He allowed only three home runs in 2015, which is a positive for a guy who figures to pitch in the seventh and eighth innings. If healthy, Albers should be a useful reliever for the Sox.

Barring unforeseen injuries, the Sox appear to be heading toward spring training with a settled bullpen situation. We'll assume they're going with five right-handers and two left-handers. The five righties would closer David Robertson, Nate Jones, Albers, Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam. The two lefties would be Zach Duke and Dan Jennings.

The other good thing about Albers' return: We get another summer of jokes about his portly stature. Albers is listed at 225 pounds, and that's probably being kind.

If you're out at the ballpark this year, I'll be the guy whose yelling, "HEY HEY HEY! IT'S FAT ALBERS!" as Albers jogs in from the bullpen:


Na, Na, Na, gonna have a good time!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Frank Thomas, Tom Paciorek, Mike Squires, Carlos May, Adam Eaton added to SoxFest 2016 lineup

Frank Thomas
There has been some grumbling about the lack of star power on the list of former White Sox players who will be in attendance at SoxFest 2016.

That complaint should be silenced now that the franchise's greatest player, Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas, is scheduled to appear Jan. 30 at the event, which runs from Jan. 29-31 at the Chicago Hilton.

According to a news release issued Wednesday by the team, former White Sox players Carlos May, Tom Paciorek and Mike Squires also are scheduled to appear. I chuckled to myself when I read the release, which referred to these three players as "greats."

Paciorek had a good career, and had two nice seasons for the Sox in the early 1980s. May was a two-time All-Star for the Sox (1969, 1972) and had a 96-RBI season on the South Side in 1973. So, I could at least make a case for calling those two guys "greats."

But Squires? That dude had a .318 career slugging percentage. That's slugging percentage, not batting average. He was a slick fielder, but he might have been the weakest hitting first baseman the Sox have ever had. For me, Squires' main claim to fame is the fact that he played some games at third base in 1984, despite being a left-handed thrower. He's still the only left-handed player I've ever seen play an infield position other than first base at the major-league level.

But was Squires a "great"? Uh, no, Frank Thomas was great.

In any case, as expected, current center fielder Adam Eaton has been added to the SoxFest lineup. Other recent additions include prospects Eddy Alvarez, Adam Engel, Jacob May and Trey Michalczewski.

A complete list of scheduled attendees can be found at whitesox.com/SoxFest.
 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

California Angels at White Sox: August 7, 1974


An excellent YouTube video for a cold winter's day. This one has it all: Nolan Ryan, in his prime, leading 1-0 and taking a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth. Harry Caray, in his prime, before he became a slobbering drunk. Dick Allen showing some hustle with the game on the line. A young Bruce Bochte establishing himself as one of the worst defensive players in MLB, and of course, the AstroTurf infield and natural grass outfield at Old Comiskey Park in the Bill Veeck years.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tigers gamble on Justin Upton reversing their decline

Justin Upton
Both Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are better players than Chris Davis. So, after Davis got paid by the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, you just had a feeling that Cespedes and Upton would soon get their big paydays, as well.

Cespedes still is on the board as of Tuesday afternoon, but Upton agreed on a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Detroit Tigers on Monday.

Upton hit .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBIs for the San Diego Padres last season, and he fills the hole the Tigers had in left field.

But does he make Detroit a legitimate contender? I knew the Tigers would make big splashes this offseason. They are coming off a last-place finish in the AL Central, and their owner, 86-year-old Mike Ilitch, has shown that he's willing to spend his millions on trying to build a winner sometime before he dies.

Here's one problem for the Tigers: Several members of their core (Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez) are aging and coming off years where they've spent time on the disabled list, or played through injury issues.

Here's another problem for the Tigers: Despite an active offseason, they won't be entering 2016 with a better roster than the one they had 12 months ago.

Think about it: They have Jordan Zimmermann instead of David Price. They have Upton instead of Cespedes. They have Cameron Maybin instead of Rajai Davis. They have Francisco Rodriguez instead of Joakim Soria. The rest of their core is the same.

Which of these four would you rather have: Price, Cespedes, Davis and Soria? Or Zimmermann, Upton, Maybin and Rodriguez?

It's close, but I think I would take the group with Price and Cespedes. The Tigers had those guys last year, along with Cabrera, Martinez, Verlander, et al., but after an 11-2 start, they slumped badly. They were back to .500 by the first week of June and never got it going again. They struggled so much, in fact, that former GM Dave Dombrowski broke up the band, dealing Price, Cespedes and Soria to contending teams at the July trading deadline.

Dombrowski was ultimately fired for abandoning the win-now mentality that has existed for years under Ilitch. Normally, I'm a proponent of the win-now philosophy, but there's something to be said for a front office that realizes its window has closed. Dombrowski knew that last year, and he changed gears. Just because ownership dismissed him for that decision does not mean he was wrong.

Even with the addition of Upton, I'm looking at a Detroit roster that has significant question marks, and costs roughly $200 million. For that kind of money, a team should probably be a favorite to win its division. But to me, the Tigers (and everyone else in the AL Central) are still looking up at the Kansas City Royals, and frankly, they aren't as close to the top as they believe they are.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Chris Davis gets big bucks from Orioles; Ian Kennedy to Royals

Chris Davis
It pays to be a left-handed slugger. It also pays to have Scott Boras as your agent.

The Baltimore Orioles on Saturday agreed with first baseman Chris Davis on a seven-year, $161 million contract. The deal reportedly includes a limited no-trade clause.

I'm shocked Davis got this kind of money, especially in what has been a cool market for free-agent hitters. Sure, Davis hit a league-leading 47 home runs last year and amassed 117 RBIs, but he's also just two years removed from a 2014 season where he hit just .196 and got suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Also, if you look at the 29-year-old's career, he only had two good years in his 20s -- 2013 and 2015. What in the world makes the Orioles believes Davis will be productive for seven years into his 30s? 

It will not happen, and you have to wonder whether Boras got Baltimore to bid against itself in this deal.

This signing could be good news or bad news if you're a White Sox fan, depending on your perspective. First the good news: the Orioles won't be signing Yoenis Cespedes now. As recently as Friday, we heard reports that Baltimore was offering the free-agent outfielder a five-year deal worth $90 million -- an offer the Sox would be unlikely to match or beat. But now that the Orioles have made their move to sign a hitter, that's one less potential landing spot in play for Cespedes or Justin Upton.

Now for the bad news: If Davis is worth seven years and $161 million, then aren't both Cespedes and Upton now in position to demand at least that much money and years, if not more? If that's what the market will bear, then the Sox aren't going to pay. And I'm not sure they should, frankly.

Kansas City signs RHP Kennedy

Speaking of questionable contracts, how about the Royals giving $70 million over five years to Ian Kennedy?

Kennedy was great in 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he's never been able to duplicate that success:

2011: 21-4, 2.88 ERA
2012: 15-12, 4.02 ERA
2013: 7-10, 4.91 ERA
2014: 13-13, 3.63 ERA
2015: 9-15, 4.28 ERA

Kennedy's 4.28 ERA last year came with pitcher-friendly San Diego as his home ballpark, so that doesn't bode well for a smooth transition to the American League.

In fairness, there are a few things that might make this OK for the Royals. First, their outfield defense is much better than San Diego's, and that should benefit a fly-ball pitcher such as Kennedy. Secondly, Kennedy has previously worked with pitching coach Dave Eiland; both were in the New York Yankees system when Kennedy was a young prospect.

Third, the Royals looked similarly foolish when they signed Edinson Volquez, who like Kennedy had his fair share of struggles in the National League. As it turns out, Volquez has turned his career around in Kansas City and been solid under Eiland's tutelage.

Kansas City is obviously banking on a similar improvement from Kennedy.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Alexei Ramirez signs one-year deal with San Diego Padres

Alexei Ramirez
After eight seasons on the South Side of Chicago, Alexei Ramirez is moving on.

The longtime White Sox shortstop agreed to a one-year contract with the San Diego Padres on Thursday. He leaves the Sox after 1,226 games; 4,999 plate appearances; 109 home runs; 542 RBIs; 135 stolen bases; and two Silver Slugger awards.

Those are respectable numbers, but it was time for Ramirez, 34, and the Sox to part ways, and I think both sides knew that when the team declined Ramirez's club option for $10 million late last year.

Ramirez is just two years removed from one of his finest seasons. In 2014, he posted a .273/.305/.408 slash line with 15 home runs and 74 RBIs. That production earned him the second of his Silver Slugger awards.

However, he regressed in 2015, finishing at .249/.285/.357 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs. He slumped badly early in the season, contributing to a Sox swoon that caused the team to be buried with a 28-38 record by mid-June.

Here are the split stats for Ramirez from last season:

First half: .224/.249/.292, 2 HRs, 27 RBIs
Second half: .277/.325/.432, 8 HRs, 35 RBIs

Almost all the damage done by Ramirez came in the second half with the team out of the race. It smelled like a contract drive to me. No doubt, Ramirez wanted that $10 million option picked up. But the reality is, he isn't worth that money any longer, and the Sox were not wrong to head in a different direction.

That's not to say the Padres are stupid for signing Ramirez. Far from it. San Diego used four different shortstops last year, and I think it's fair to say Ramirez is an upgrade over the two players who got most of the starts at shortstop in San Diego last year -- Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes.

Moreover, Ramirez provides an everyday reliability at a key position. He has played 154 games or more at shortstop in each of the past six seasons. Ramirez is the kind of guy who expects himself to play every day, and that's not a bad thing for a San Diego club that is looking for some short-term stability at shortstop.

The Padres recently acquired a good shortstop prospect from the Boston Red Sox in Javier Guerra. They see him as their future at that position, but he's only 20 years old and at least a year or two away. Ramirez is a good stopgap solution on a short-term deal.

As for the Sox, Tyler Saladino appears to be the heir apparent at shortstop. There is every reason to believe Saladino has a good enough glove to play the position. The bat is a question mark, and that's why the Sox could still use another offensive upgrade at corner outfield or designated hitter. Saladino is OK as a No. 9 hitter and starting shortstop, as long as there aren't glaring holes in other spots in the lineup. I think the Sox are still a move short of being able to say that at this stage.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

White Sox name Jason Benetti new announcer, settle questions about TV booth

Jason Benetti (left) has been added to the White Sox broadcast team.
The White Sox on Wednesday named Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate Jason Benetti their new TV play-by-play announcer, while at the same time extending the contracts of Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone.

Benetti, 32, will call 81 games alongside Stone this season. The local product grew up as a White Sox fan and has called college basketball, football, baseball and lacrosse at ESPN since 2011. He also previously served as the radio play-by-play man for the Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

"Jason is one of the top up-and-coming voices in sports television," White Sox vice president of sales and marketing Brooks Boyer said in a news release. "He is a homegrown talent who will mix a love for the game with a deep knowledge of the White Sox and an informative and entertaining style. We believe Sox fans will immediately connect with his humor, intellect and personality."

"Joining the White Sox television team of Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone -- with the chance to work with Steve on home games -- is truly a dream come true for a kid who grew up in the south suburbs watching Sox games during the 1990s," Benetti said in the release. "This is beyond exciting for me."

The 74-year-old Harrelson will begin a reduced schedule this year. Like Benetti, "Hawk" will work 81 games, 78 of them on the road, plus Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field and the two home games against the Cubs.

I like the move to bring Benetti on board for a few reasons. First, he's a professional broadcaster. He already knows his way around a broadcast booth, and he has earned this opportunity through his previous work. Those things seem like they should be a prerequisite for the job, but that's not always been the case with the White Sox -- who have inexplicably tried to force former players into the booth in the past. Darrin Jackson has improved through the years, but he really struggled when he first started with the team. And Chris Singleton's time in the Sox radio booth was a disaster. With Benetti, there shouldn't be any sort of learning curve that makes the broadcasts an awkward listen. He'll be ready to do the job from day one.

Secondly, Benetti is a guy who grew up in the area, so he's familiar with White Sox history, the Chicago market and the fan base. That institutional knowledge can only help as he works to build a connection with the fans in his first year. I'm optimistic his broadcasts will both entertain and inform, regardless of whether the White Sox are winning or losing. Too often, the Harrelson-Stone TV booth has had fans reaching for the mute button -- if not the off button -- in recent years. Benetti hopefully can provide a change of pace that makes Sox baseball more fun.

And, lastly, I think the reduced schedule will be beneficial for Hawk Harrelson. He has sounded terrible at times during these past few seasons, perhaps beaten down by the Sox losing a total of 264 games the last three years. His extension is a multiyear deal, but he admitted this could be his last year if the 2016 Sox stink it up.

"It’s a contract, that, as I told [Brooks Boyer] and [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], it might be at the end of the season where I say 'Hey, I’ve had enough,' " Harrelson told the Sun-Times Wednesday. "I hope that’s not the case because that means our team didn’t do well again. If I have to go through another season like we did last year, that would probably be enough -- no, you can count me out."

Hawk has been a polarizing figure throughout his career, even for Sox fans, but I've always said this about him: He's great when the team is doing well, because his passion for Sox baseball shines through on the broadcasts. But when the team is doing poorly, as has been the case for three years, he becomes completely miserable and makes the broadcasts hard to listen to for even the most diehard of fans. I think the combination of bad play and grumpy Hawk has caused a lot of people to change the channel away from Sox baseball.

Hopefully, the Sox play well this year, and it all becomes a moot point. But if they do play poorly, it will be better for Hawk's health and demeanor if he doesn't have to watch the team flounder every day, and it will be more tolerable for fans if they don't have to listen to Hawk grump every day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Gerardo Parra signs with Rockies; Carlos Gonzalez trade coming next?

Carlos Gonzalez
The Colorado Rockies on Tuesday agreed to terms with outfielder Gerardo Parra on a three-year, $27 million deal.

It's a curious move, because the Rockies already have a crowded outfield. With Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson and now Parra on the roster, Colorado has a logjam of left-handed hitting outfielders. That's four starting quality outfielders with only three jobs available.

I don't think a team with the Rockies' mid-market budget would give Parra an average of $9 million a year to serve as the fourth outfielder. At that price, it seems reasonable to believe their intention is to play Parra every day. And if that's the case, one of Gonzalez, Blackmon or Dickerson is going to be dealt sooner rather than later.

Cue the speculation about Gonzalez, as reports indicate the Orioles, Angels, White Sox and Cardinals all have interest. 

The market for Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton might slow again now, as teams searching for an outfielder kick the tires on what it would cost to acquire Gonzalez, who has two years and $37 million remaining on his contract. Some clubs, including the Sox, could see those financial terms as more palatable than a four- or five-year commitment to Cespedes or Upton.

That said, I'd be reluctant to cough up too many top prospects for Gonzalez, who can't hit lefties anymore, despite the 40 home run season he posted last year. Check out his 2015 splits:

Gonzalez vs. RHP: .301/.364/.633, 35 HRs, 78 RBIs
Gonzalez vs. LHP: .195/.222/.308, 5 HRs, 19 RBIs

FanGraphs has published a more detailed offering on why Gonzalez should no longer be considered a superstar player. He's oft-injured, and the wear and tear is starting to show up in his performance.

Gonzalez is a big name in the game, of course. He'd be a big-splash acquistion, for sure, but I'd say buyer beware here. And, as one article I read today put it, the Rockies might be asking for two top-100 prospects in any trade involving Gonzalez, but that doesn't mean they are going to get it.

The Sox should resist any urge to buy high on this player.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

White Sox make additions to 2016 SoxFest roster

Jose Contreras
With the holiday season over, it's time to look ahead to SoxFest 2016, which believe it or not is just a little more than two weeks away.

The event is scheduled for Jan. 29 to 31 at Hilton Chicago.

The White Sox on Monday announced outfielders Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia; pitchers Dan Jennings, Erik Johnson, Nate Jones, Zach Putnam and Daniel Webb; and catcher Dioner Navarro have been added to list of current players expected to attend.

World Series hero Jose Contreras highlights the list of former players slated to appear. Other 2005 team members include Carl Everett and Willie Harris. Chet Lemon, who was an All-Star outfielder for the Sox in 1978 and 1979, will be in attendance, as will former pitcher Kirk McCaskill, who is best known for being on the mound when the Sox clinched the 1993 AL West Division championship.

Overall, the list of ex-players slated to attend the event is pretty good. It includes Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Bo Jackson and Ron Kittle.

Other current players who previously committed to appear include first baseman Jose Abreu, catcher Alex Avila, pitcher John Danks, third baseman Todd Frazier, infielder Tyler Saladino and pitcher Chris Sale.

If Twitter is any indication, center fielder Adam Eaton also will be on hand.

You can monitor any additional updates to the list of attendees by visiting whitesox.com/SoxFest.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who closes in Toronto: Roberto Osuna or Drew Storen?

Drew Storen
There was one interesting deal made over the weekend, with the Washington Nationals trading former closer Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere.

Storen was put in a difficult situation in July. He had 29 saves and a 1.73 ERA to that point in the season, but he lost his closer's job when the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies in a midseason trade. Storen was shifted to an eighth-inning role, where he struggled the rest of the year. His ERA ballooned to 3.44, and he did not record a save the rest of the season.

It was clear one of Storen or Papelbon would be dealt this offseason, and it appears the Nationals have chosen to keep Papelbon -- despite his late-season dugout altercation with NL MVP Bryce Harper.

Now Storen heads to Toronto, where he's once again in an interesting position. The Blue Jays are the defending AL East champs, and they won the division last year with 20-year-old Roberto Osuna closing games. Osuna's 20 saves, 2.58 ERA and 0.919 WHIP are solid, if not impressive, for any reliever who toils in the AL East. That performance is especially good considering Osuna's age and relative inexperience.

Does Osuna deserved to be replaced as closer? I would say not. There's no question the Blue Jays needed to acquire another reliever. Aaron Sanchez's high ceiling was being wasted as a short reliever last year. It's time for Toronto to move Sanchez into the starting rotation and see what he can bring. So, from that perspective, it's a good move for the Jays to add Storen.

But can Storen deal with an eighth-inning role if Osuna pitches better than him and keeps the closer's job? Or will he fall apart mentally like he did in Washington?

Either way, I'm not sold on Storen closing big games. His postseason meltdowns in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against St. Louis and Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS against San Francisco are part of the reason the Nationals have never fulfilled their potential. I suspect that's why the Nationals chose to keep Papelbon, despite the potential clubhouse problem he creates. Even though it's been a while, Papelbon has proven he can close in the postseason. The right-hander is unscored upon in 17 of his 18 career playoff appearances.

As for Revere, he takes the spot in the Washington lineup vacated by Denard Span, who signed with San Francisco last week. The Nationals had been players in the Jason Heyward sweepstakes earlier this offseason, but they were beaten out by the Chicago Cubs.

It didn't seem as though Washington was interested in any of the right-handed power-hitting outfielders on the free-agent market. The Nationals wanted to add a left-handed hitter who can cover center field, and they obviously feel Revere is a more cost-effective option than Span would have been.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Denard Span agrees to terms with Giants; outfield market starts to move

Denard Span
Now that Alex Gordon has re-signed with the Kansas City Royals, maybe we'll see some of the other free-agent outfielders come off the board this weekend. There was more movement Thursday, as the San Francisco Giants agreed to terms on a three-year, $31 million deal with veteran outfielder Denard Span.

Hip surgery limited Span to 61 games last year, but he did hit .302 with a league-leading 184 hits for the Washington Nationals in 2014. If healthy, he's a good fit in San Francisco. He'll bat leadoff and play center field, and the Giants can move the oft-injured Angel Pagan over to left field -- and allow Gregor Blanco to slide into the fourth outfielder role, which is where he belongs. With Hunter Pence in right field, San Francisco appears to be in good shape in the outfield.

Other teams, including the White Sox, Baltimore, Detroit, Texas and L.A. Angels, still could use some outfield help, and there remain plenty of useful players on the market.

Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are the most attractive options for teams seeking an outfielder, but even with Span off the board, there are a few other decent second-tier guys available, including Dexter Fowler, Gerardo Parra and Austin Jackson.

According to a tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Sox have not changed their stance on free-agent outfielders: They aren't willing to go beyond three years on a contract length for any of these guys. We have no way of knowing whether that's true, or just posturing, but it would be my speculation that the Sox aren't going to land Cespedes or Upton if they are unwilling to give at least a fourth year.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza make up surprisingly small 2016 Hall of Fame class

Ken Griffey Jr.
During his 1990s heyday with the Seattle Mariners, Ken Griffey Jr. was perhaps the most complete baseball player I've seen in my lifetime.

His career accomplishments are many: 630 home runs; 1,836 RBIs; 2,781 hits; 184 stolen bases; a .284 lifetime batting average; a .538 lifetime slugging percentage; the 1997 AL MVP award; 13 All-Star appearances; nine Gold Gloves; seven Silver Slugger awards, etc., etc., etc.

It was a no-brainer for Griffey to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and elected he was on Wednesday, appearing on 437 of 440 ballots. Griffey earned 99.3 percent of the vote, surpassing Tom Seaver's record of 98.84 percent in 1992.

A lot of folks are making a big deal about Griffey's selection not being unanimous, and I understand the dismay to a point. There's no justification for a voter not naming Griffey on his ballot, but when all is said and done, who cares? I doubt there will ever be anyone voted into the Hall unanimously, and at the end of the day, Griffey is taking his rightful place among the game's greats.

For me, it's more bothersome that only two players were elected this year, when there are at least a half-dozen names on the ballot worthy of enshrinement. Mike Piazza, who received 83 percent of the vote, will be the only man joining Griffey in this year's Hall class.

Piazza, a former 62nd round draft pick -- I don't think they have 62 rounds in the draft anymore -- defied the odds by becoming one of the greatest offensive catchers in the game's history. He finished his career with 427 home runs, 396 of them as a catcher. Piazza is a 12-time All-Star who won 10 Silver Slugger awards. He finished with a .308 career batting average and a .545 slugging percentage. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1993. He finished in the top 5 of the MVP balloting five times, including four times in a row from 1993-97.

Congratulations to both of these two great players, but it's surprising some other guys didn't get elected this year. Players need 75 percent of the vote to earn enshrinement.

Here's the list of other guys who fell short:
Edgar Martinez

Jeff Bagwell: 71.6 percent
Tim Raines: 69.8 percent
Trevor Hoffman: 67.3 percent
Curt Schilling: 52.3 percent
Roger Clemens: 45.1 percent
Barry Bonds: 44.3 percent
Edgar Martinez: 43.4 percent
Mike Mussina: 43.0 percent
Alan Trammell: 40.9 percent
Lee Smith: 34.1 percent
Fred McGriff: 20.9 percent
Jeff Kent: 16.6 percent
Larry Walker: 15.5 percent
Mark McGwire: 12.3 percent
Gary Sheffield: 11.6 percent
Billy Wagner: 10.5 percent
Sammy Sosa: 7.0 percent

I'll bet every baseball fan out there can find a few players on that list who they believe should be in the Hall. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there making a case for Bagwell today, but for me, the two guys who deserve more respect than they are getting are Martinez and Kent.

Martinez's 2,247 career hits and 309 career home runs probably aren't good enough for some people, but his career slash line is .312/.418/.515. He's one of only 18 players in the history of baseball to have a career batting average over .300, a career on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500.

Martinez walked (1,283) more times than he struck out (1,202) over his 18-year career. Who does that anymore? And he had a period of dominance, as well, compiling seven seasons with a batting average of .320 or higher. He won AL batting titles in 1992 and 1995.

Why isn't Martinez getting more support? Well, he played for the Seattle Mariners, for one. He'd be enshrined already if he played for the Yankees or the Dodgers. Two, he spent most of his career as a DH, and some whiny purists have yet to accept designated hitter as a legitimate position, even though it's been part of the sport for more than 40 years. It's past time to get over that and put Martinez, one of the most feared hitters in the 1990s, into the Hall.

As for Kent, you would think the most prolific offensive second baseman of the modern era would be able to get at least 20 percent of the ballot, but you'd be wrong.

Of Kent's 377 home runs, 351 came as a second baseman. That's an all-time record. There's also the 2,461 career hits, the .290/.356/.500 career slash, the 560 doubles, four Silver Sluggers, five All-Star appearances and the 2000 NL MVP award. And, Kent was at his best on the postseason stage -- nine home runs in 49 career playoff games, including three home runs during the 2002 World Series.

The case against Kent? Well, his defense was average at best, and he was a jerk. But those factors didn't stop voters from putting Jim Rice in the Hall. I feel comfortable arguing that both Martinez and Kent were better players than Rice, and some other guys who have been inducted, as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Alex Gordon agrees to four-year deal with Kansas City Royals

The defending champion Kansas City Royals moved Wednesday to retain a piece of their title-winning core, signing left fielder Alex Gordon to a four-year deal worth $72 million.

Gordon, 32, has spent his entire career with the Kansas City organization after being drafted No. 2 overall in 2005. Since his breakout campaign in 2011, he's posted a .281/.359/.450 slash line, won four Gold Gloves and been credited with 94 defensive runs saved -- second most among major league outfielders (Jason Heyward) during that time.

The White Sox reportedly were interested in Gordon, but according to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal, the South Siders were not willing to give Gordon a fourth year on a contract.

It's unclear at this point whether Gordon was the Sox's "Plan A" in the outfield, or if he was a "Plan B" option. The team has been linked to free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. It remains to be seen whether the Sox would be willing to give Cespedes, who is two years younger than Gordon, a four- or five-year deal.

As for the Royals, this move solidifies their status as favorites to defend their World Series title in 2016. Kansas City had four key free agents going into this offseason -- Gordon, Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist and Ryan Madson. The Royals retained only one of the four, but they kept the most important one in Gordon.

Kansas City has already replaced Madson with the earlier signing of Joakim Soria, and while Cueto and Zobrist are key losses, people have to remember those guys were nothing more than midseason acquisitions in 2015. The Royals were in first place and had the best record in the league long before they traded for Cueto and Zobrist. Those two were never core members of the team. Gordon was and is a key piece to their puzzle.

With Gordon making $18 million a year, it will be harder for the Royals to keep long-term other key players such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis, all four of whom will hit free agency after the 2017 season.

But that's a problem for two years from now. With this move, the Royals are acting to keep their core together for as long as possible, and there is every reason to believe they will continue to be in the championship discussion for the next two years.

That's an issue for the White Sox and the rest of the AL Central.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

USA Today publishes organizational report on White Sox

Carlos Rodon
If you live in Chicago or the surrounding area, it can be hard to find accurate, useful analysis of the White Sox organization. Most of the local media members are obsessed with the Bears and Cubs, and listening to them talk, it sometimes seems like they haven't watched a Sox game in two or three years.

They simply don't care about White Sox baseball. They dismiss the team as irrelevant, and while it may be irrelevant to them, it's still very much a passion for many of us fans. If you're a diehard Sox fan, it's far more useful to seek the national perspective on the team than to listen to the local talking heads. The national writers tend to be more knowledgeable, in spite of the fact that they have 30 teams to cover, and they tend to be more fair, as well.

That's why I look forward to reading articles about the Sox from national publications such as USA Today's Sports Weekly, which recently published its organizational report on the Sox. Not that any of this should be taken as gospel. Like anything else, I agree with some things in the article and disagree with others, but it's just nice to read a perspective that is outside the usual local talking points.

A few things that caught my attention from this article:

1. They expect the White Sox starting rotation to be better in 2016 than it was last year. It's an interesting thought, because the Sox rotation ranked No. 4 in the majors in WAR, according to FanGraphs.com. In fact, the Sox rotation was the best in the American League a year ago, according to those rankings. The writer of this article sees the departure of Jeff Samardzija to the San Francisco Giants as addition by subtraction, and there's no question Samardzija had a poor year last season. While I share the author's confidence in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana -- and I also expect Carlos Rodon to take the next step forward in his development -- I think Erik Johnson is a question mark as a replacement for Samardzija. Sure, Johnson won International League pitcher of the year honors at Triple-A Charlotte last year, and he showed well in six big-league starts at the end of the year. But Samardzija's team-leading 214.1 innings have to be covered by somebody. Johnson won't do that alone; he has only 86.1 big-league innings under his belt to this point. I question whether the Sox have built enough depth at this point to cover back-of-the-rotation starts.

2. The author doesn't think much of the Sox's bullpen, an area that has gone mostly unaddressed this offseason. Sox relievers logged a league-low 441.2 innings last year. I attribute that to the Sox having a strong rotation, plus manager Robin Ventura's tendency to stay with his starters too long. The writer of the article agrees that figure speaks to the quality of the Sox rotation, but also says a lack of bullpen depth perhaps handcuffed Ventura last season. Contrary to local beliefs, the author notes that David Robertson delivered in the closer's role, but the arms behind him were described as merely "serviceable." We'll see if Nate Jones can stay healthy and lock down the eighth inning for the Sox in 2016. If he can, that makes a big difference.

3. The prospects list is remarkably similar to the one provided by Baseball America, with shortstop Tim Anderson, RHP Carson Fulmer, RHP Spencer Adams and 3B Trey Michalczewski making up the consensus top four. The only variance is the inclusion of RHP Tyler Danish at No. 5. Danish was No. 6 on the Baseball America list, so there isn't much disagreement on who the top Sox prospects are. It's worth noting the author thinks Fulmer is close to contributing in Chicago. I expect Fulmer to remain the minors for all of 2016, but we'll see. You still hear some people saying Fulmer projects as a reliever, and this article alludes to that possibility. I don't think that's going to happen. Fulmer has three pitches and never showed any sort of stamina problem during his college days. For me, he stands a good shot of cracking the Sox rotation early in 2017.

Tim Anderson leads Baseball America's list of top White Sox prospects

Baseball America updated its list of top 10 White Sox prospects Monday, and it comes as no surprise that shortstop Tim Anderson occupies the No. 1 spot.

Anderson, the Sox's 2013 first-round draft pick, made major strides both offensively and defensively while playing with the Double-A Birmingham Barons in 2015. He posted a .312/.350/.429 slash line with five home runs, 46 RBIs and 49 stolen bases in 125 games.

Anderson is expected to start the season in Triple-A Charlotte, and could be in line to make his major-league debut sometime in the 2016 season.

Second on the list is last year's first-round draft pick, right-hander Carson Fulmer. The Vanderbilt product threw 26 minor-league innings in 2015 and struck out 26 while compiling a 2.08 ERA. The Sox have a history of fast-tracking first-round college pitchers (Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon) to the big leagues, but fans should not expect to see Fulmer on the South Side in 2016. He's a fine prospect, but not quite as advanced at this stage of his career as Sale and Rodon were.

Right-handed pitcher Spencer Adams ranks third. One thing I like about the 6-foot-3 Adams is he throws strikes. He split 2015 between Single-A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. In 24 combined starts and 129.1 innings, Adams went 12-5 with a 2.99 ERA. He fanned 96 and walked just 18.

Twenty-year-old third base prospect Trey Michalczewski checks in at No. 4. Michalczewski posted a .259/.295/.366 slash with seven home runs and 75 RBIs in 127 games at Winston-Salem last year. The kid is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, so the Sox are hoping he develops into a player with extra-base pop.

Jacob May is No. 5. The speedy outfielder swiped 37 bags in 98 games at Birmingham last year, but he's just a punch-and-judy hitter at this point, as evidenced by his .275/.329/.334 slash line.

Rounding at the top 10 are right-handed pitcher Tyler Danish, outfielder Adam Engel, left-handed pitcher Jordan Guerrero, outfielder Courtney Hawkins and first baseman Corey Zangari.

Engel is probably the most notable of those five names. He played his way onto the list by winning the MVP of the Arizona Fall League this year.