Thursday, July 27, 2017

White Sox trade reliever Dan Jennings to Rays

Dan Jennings
There is only one relief pitcher remaining with the team from the White Sox Opening Day roster after left-hander Dan Jennings was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday in exchange for Triple-A first baseman Casey Gillaspie.

Yes, Gillaspie is the younger brother of former Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

Casey Gillaspie, a 24-year-old switch-hitter, began the season ranked as the No. 74 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. He was a Midwest League All-Star in 2015 and a Southern League All-Star in 2016, but he has fallen on hard times this season at Triple-A Durham.

Gillaspie has slumped to a .227/.296/.357 slash line with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 95 games for Durham. The struggles are a little bit surprising because Gillaspie hit .307 in 47 Triple-A games after being promoted to Durham late in the 2016 season. That's how he got that respectable ranking on the prospects list.

Is the slump this year an anomaly? Possibly. Gillaspie had hit at every level until this year, so we can't count out the possibility that he'll regain his form. He's a former first-round draft pick, so he's obviously got some talent.

And, really, it's not a bad gamble for the Sox, who are parting with a league-average reliever in Jennings. The left-hander is 3-1 with a 3.45 ERA in 48 appearances this season, and he's certainly a respectable bullpen arm. However, Jennings doesn't have much value on the roster to the Sox, who are obviously on their way to finishing well up the track.

Do you really need decent-to-good bullpen arms when there are so few leads to protect? Not really.

For the record, Jake Petricka is the last man standing from the Opening Day bullpen. He's often injured, and thus has little value in a trade. That's probably the one thing that's keeping him in Chicago.

James Shields is pitching? I'd rather watch 'Alf'

Wednesday night's White Sox game provoked a text conversation among my friends and I where we asked the question, "Could Alf hit a home run if he had a chance to face James Shields"?

Or better yet, could the 1980s TV sitcom character pitch well enough to earn a spot in the Sox bullpen?

Why Alf, you ask?

Well, reruns of that program air in syndication on MeTV at 8:30 p.m. weeknights in the Chicago area. And 8:30 p.m. is about the time when the average Sox game goes to hell, and fans start reaching for the remote control to find something else to watch.

So, flipping channels, you might find yourself watching "Alf." Did you know that when Alf gets the hiccups, the only two cures for him are cat juice and spinach?

Ah, that crazy Alf! You never know what he's going to do next.

Would Shields pitch better if we provided him with some cat juice and spinach before his next start?

The erstwhile right-hander got pummeled again Wednesday in an 8-3 loss to the Cubs. He made it through three innings unscathed, but he gave up a run in the fourth and four more runs in the fifth without recording an out. Shields, an alleged "innings eater," once again lasted only four innings and left a depleted Sox bullpen with five innings to cover. Alf eats more cats than Shields eats innings. It's a miracle the Sox only lost by five.

In his past four starts, Shields is 0-2 with an ERA of 9.00. This is not a new trend. Since he was acquired by the Sox in the middle of the 2016 season, he has gone 6-15 with 6.49 ERA in 32 starts.

How much longer do we need to put up with this? Shields profiles as a relief pitcher at this stage of his career. He can only get through a batting order one time before he implodes. Why do we think he's getting knocked out in the fourth or fifth inning every time he goes to the mound?

Thank goodness the "Alf" reruns come on about the time the fourth inning starts.

In all seriousness, it's time to remove Shields from the rotation and replace him with Reynaldo Lopez, who has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level.

Lopez fanned 10 more hitters in his latest start Wednesday with the Charlotte Knights. He has compiled a 1.96 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 36.2 innings over his past six starts.

It's time to make a change. The Sox have a prospect who is forcing the issue. If Lopez is on the mound, I won't be switching over to watch "Alf," I promise.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

White Sox trade reliever Anthony Swarzak to Brewers

Anthony Swarzak
The White Sox continued to trade veterans players as part of their rebuilding process Wednesday, sending relief pitcher Anthony Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Triple-A outfielder Ryan Cordell.

I've been more critical of Rick Hahn than most people, but this actually was a pretty good piece of GM'ing.

Swarzak was a nonroster free-agent signing in the spring. He made the club out of camp and has surprised everyone with a career-best season. He's 4-3 with a 2.23 ERA and 1.034 WHIP in 41 appearances this year, plus his first career save in Monday's win over the Cubs.

The right-hander went from being an afterthought at the start of the season to being a reliever who can be trusted in high-leverage situations.

Will that last?

Probably not. Swarzak's career ERA is 4.31. His career WHIP is 1.345. He's pitching well above career norms at age 31, and he's a free agent at the end of the season. He has "sell high, sell now" written all over him. That's what the Sox did.

I'm not going to sit here and tout Cordell as some sort of future All-Star, but he's close to major league ready, and could be useful in some role.

The 25-year-old was an 11th-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2013. He joined the Milwaukee organization last year as part of the Jonathon Lucroy deal. He was hitting .284/.349/.506 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs in 68 games with Triple-A Colorado Springs this year.

In the minor leagues, Cordell has played all three outfield spots, as well as some first base and third base. Unlike a lot of the other recent Sox acquisitions, we could see him on the big club this year -- especially if veteran left fielder Melky Cabrera is the next to go as part of this sell-off.

The bottom line is this: When your GM turns a journeyman reliever such as Swarzak into a position player that has a chance to be useful, you can't complain. Sometimes, the small deals are just as crucial as the big ones.

We'll see how Cordell works out.

In the meantime, the Sox have activated right-hander Jake Petricka from the 10-day disabled list to take Swarzak's place on the 25-man roster.

Not sure what to make of Carlos Rodon's crazy day ...

Carlos Rodon
White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon on Tuesday became the first pitcher in major league history to strike out 11 batters in a start that lasted only four innings.

Congratulations to Rodon on becoming an answer to a trivia question.

His performance in a 7-2 loss to the Cubs was baffling. He obviously possessed enough stuff to generate plenty of swings and misses. Normally, when a guy strikes out 11, you're looking at a dominant outing, if not a victory.

Not so here.

Rodon faced 22 hitters -- only eight of which put the ball in play. (He also walked three.) But seven of those eight balls in play resulted in Cubs hits, and four of those seven hits went for extra bases. The biggest of those was a three-run home run by Cubs catcher Willson Contreras in the bottom of the first inning. The North Siders led from that point forward.

It's almost as if Rodon has become a three-outcome pitcher: It's either a strikeout, a walk or a cannon shot. Weird.

The other thing about Rodon's day: He collected his first major league hit: a two-out, two-run double in the top of the second inning off John Lackey. The Sox were 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position in the loss, and Rodon's hit was the "1."

It could have been a different game. The Sox hitters blew chance after chance after chance.

Bases loaded in the fifth after Lackey hit three batters in the inning. No runs.

Second and third with nobody out in the sixth inning. No runs.

First and third with nobody out in the eighth inning. No runs.

There was nothing doing in the clutch for the Sox in this game. Maybe they would have lost anyway because, well, they did give up seven runs. But things would have been far more interesting with even average offensive execution.

As for Rodon, he's the one remaining starting pitcher who is supposed to be a piece of the future. He's got to start being more efficient with his pitches. It shouldn't be taking him 30 pitches to get through the first inning. He shouldn't be piling up 98 pitches to get through four innings.

The Sox need him to be a six- or seven-inning pitcher, not a four- or five-inning pitcher like some of the retread veterans in the rotation. If he needs to pitch to contact more, so be it.

I read this morning that Rodon is averaging 4.24 pitches per hitter. That's up from 3.90 in 2016. (League average is 3.88).

In fairness to Rodon, he hasn't pitched much this year. He's been hurt. This was only his fifth start of the season. Hopefully, the lack of command is a sign of rust.

The Sox are clearly bottoming out right now in their rebuilding phase, and it would be nice to see a few signs of progress from some younger players who are expected to become cornerstones. Rodon is one of those guys. The team needs more from him, both now and in the future.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Surprisingly, Miguel Gonzalez baffles Cubs in crosstown opener

I apologize for previously including Miguel Gonzalez on my list of washed-up White Sox veterans.

Unlike starting rotation mates James Shields, Mike Pelfrey and Derek Holland, Gonzalez occasionally comes up with a well-pitched ballgame against a good team.

The right-hander came off the disabled list July 18 and fired six innings of one-run ball in a 1-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he backed that up with another strong outing Monday -- pitching 7.1 innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 victory over the Cubs in the first game of the 2017 Crosstown Classic at Wrigley Field.

With the win, the Sox (39-57) broke a nine-game losing streak and collected their first victory since the All-Star break. Gonzalez (5-9) also became the first Sox pitcher in 30 games to have an outing of seven innings or more.

It wasn't easy.

The key moment came in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Sox leading 2-1. The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs for Anthony Rizzo, and with the Sox bullpen depleted because of trades, manager Rick Renteria had little choice but to stick with Gonzalez.

With the wind blowing in at Wrigley, Rizzo flew out to the warning track in center field to end the threat.

The conditions did not stop the Sox from hitting a pair of home runs. Rookie center fielder Adam Engel's drive in the top of the sixth inning off Cubs reliever Justin Grimm (1-1) got into the left-center field bleachers to give the Sox the lead for good at 2-1.

Matt Davidson added a 476-foot solo shot off Koji Uehara in the top of the eighth inning to complete the scoring. That one was going to be a home run on any day, at any park, in any conditions.

Sox reliever Anthony Swarzak picked up his first save in 226 career relief appearances. He retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the ninth before Kris Bryant reached on an infield single and Rizzo walked. Willson Contreras came to the plate representing the winning run, but Swarzak overmatched him with two blazing fastballs right on the black of the outside corner, the second of which was strike three called.

Contreras didn't think they were strikes, arguing with home plate umpire Angel Hernandez and breaking his bat in frustration after the out was recorded. Alas, they were strikes. Those pitches looked good to me, and good to K zone on the Comcast SportsNet Chicago broadcast, too.

Hey Willson, now it's your turn to cry.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada makes long-awaited debut

Yoan Moncada didn't get a hit in his White Sox debut, but he didn't make a fool out of himself either. He also didn't save the slumping Sox from getting run over by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who collected their 11th consecutive win and 31st win in their past 35 games with a 9-1, rain-shortened victory.

Moncada went 0 for 2 with a walk, and it was a well-earned walk. After quickly falling behind 0-and-2 in his first at-bat, he ended up seeing nine pitches before taking his base against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda.

In the fourth inning, Moncada just missed extra bases with a line drive down the right-field line that landed foul. He ended up grounding out to first base. In his third and final at-bat, he lined out to center field on a 2-0 pitch.

Nothing wrong with those ABs. The first hit will come soon enough.

We can't say there was nothing wrong with Carlos Rodon's performance. The left-hander didn't make it out of the fourth inning and gave up four home runs, resulting in five Los Angeles runs. Yuck.

Relievers Chris Beck and David Holmberg provided little relief, combining to allow four runs in the sixth inning. The rains came in the eighth inning, and mercifully, the game was called.

Looking for positives? Hey, Melky Cabrera continues to swing the bat well. He hit a solo home run in the first inning for the only Sox run. He's probably hoping some team in contention is eager to acquire his services.

The folks who are gung-ho about the rebuild have been chatting about how the "fun starts today" with Moncada's call-up. Not really. This game wasn't fun. The Sox are 38-54, and it's hard to fathom them getting much more than 25 wins out of the remaining 70 games.

Does Moncada give us one other player to watch and talk about? You bet. Say what you will about rebuilding, but nothing changes the fact that this is hard to watch, and there are several dark days still in front of the Sox from now until the end of the season.

White Sox trade Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle to Yankees

David Robertson
The seven-player trade between the White Sox and the New York Yankees was a foregone conclusion by the time it was announced late Tuesday night.

Todd Frazier was seen giving teammates goodbye hugs before the Sox played the Los Angeles Dodgers, and neither David Robertson nor Tommy Kahnle were summoned from the bullpen in the high-leverage relief situations that arose in the Sox's 1-0 loss.

After the game, it was announced that Frazier, Robertson and Kahnle were dealt to the Yankees in exchange for outfielders Blake Rutherford and Tito Polo and pitchers Ian Clarkin and Tyler Clippard.

Here's a summary for each of the players the Sox received:

Rutherford: This is the best prospect in the deal. He was the Yankees' first-round draft pick in 2016, and he's ranked 36th on Baseball America's midseason top-100 prospect rankings. He was hitting .281/.342/.391 at Class-A Charleston with 20 doubles, two home runs and 30 RBIs in 304 at-bats.

Clarkin: The 22-year-old left-hander has been frequently injured since he was drafted out of high school in 2013, but he's managed to stay healthy enough to post a 2.61 ERA over 72.1 innings for Class-A Tampa this season.

Polo: The 22-year-old outfielder has split time between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year, and has hit .298/.358/.446. He's also got 25 stolen bases in 31 attempts.

Clippard: The 32-year-old veteran reliever is 1-5 with a 4.95 ERA in 40 appearances with the Yankees this year. He's got an expiring contract, and the Sox will use him to close games in Robertson's absence, on the rare occasion where they actually have a lead going into the ninth inning. Hey, somebody has gotta pitch.

This deal is almost like two trades in one. The way I see it, Robertson and Kahnle were traded for the three prospects. Robertson is owed about $20 million until his contract is up at the end of the 2018 season. The Yankees are taking all that salary on, so he alone wouldn't have been enough to net a top-50 prospect such as Rutherford. Throw Kahnle into the deal, and now the Yankees add two quality pieces to their bullpen, and they are willing to part with a better quality young player.

The other part of the deal is basically Frazier for Clippard. Two underperforming veterans on expiring contracts. Basically, you have each team saying to the other, "Go ahead and take this guy, and maybe he'll do better for you than he did for us."

Clippard takes Robertson's spot on the roster. The leaves two other openings. One is going to relief pitcher Brad Goldberg. The other is going to some young infield prospect named Yoan Moncada. You might have heard of him.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Baseball America updates list of top White Sox prospects

With the Jose Quintana trade in the past and the White Sox getting swept at home by the Seattle Mariners over the weekend, the 2017 season is starting to feel even more rebuild-y.

I'm not one to get overly enthusiastic about prospects, but if you're so inclined, Baseball America has updated its list of top-10 Sox prospects:

1. Yoan Moncada, 2B
2. Eloy Jimenez, OF
3. Michael Kopech, RHP
4. Luis Robert, OF
5. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP
6. Lucas Giolito, RHP
7. Dylan Cease, RHP
8. Jake Burger, 3B
9. Dane Dunning, RHP
10. Alec Hansen, RHP

Of note, only Hansen was a member of the Sox organization before last December. Moncada and Kopech were acquired in the Chris Sale deal. Jimenez and Cease were acquired in the Quintana deal. Robert was an international free agent signing earlier this spring. Lopez, Giolito and Dunning all were acquired in the Adam Eaton deal. Burger was the Sox's No. 1 pick in the June draft.

There have been some changes since December. Here's how the list looked then:

1. Moncada, 2B/3B
2. Giolito, RHP
3. Lopez, RHP
4. Zack Collins, C
5. Kopech, RHP
6. Zack Burdi, RHP
7. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF
8. Carson Fulmer, RHP
9. Spencer Adams, RHP
10. Dunning, RHP

Burdi fell off the list because he had Tommy John surgery and is out until 2019. Collins has seen his stock fall with the .216/.366/.414 slash line he's posted at Class-A Winston-Salem this season.

Fulmer has had a bad season, too. The former first-round draft pick is 1-5 with a 7.90 ERA over the past two months at Triple-A Charlotte. He was 5-1 with a 2.72 ERA in April, but not much has gone right since. It might be time to abandon the "Fulmer is a starter" experiment and move him to the role a lot of people believe is his future: high-leverage reliever.

Adams and Basabe dropped off the list, as well, but I don't know that I ever saw them as anything more than midlevel prospects anyway. It stands to reason they would drop on these lists with the Sox adding Jimenez, Robert and Burger in recent months.

Friday, July 14, 2017

White Sox reliever Nate Jones done for the season

Nate Jones
Lost amid all the Jose Quintana trade discussions Thursday was this bit of news: White Sox reliever Nate Jones will miss the rest of the 2017 season after having elbow surgery earlier this week.

Jones is arguably the Sox's best reliever, so this is a big loss. The right-hander was one of the top setup men in the game last season, when he went 5-3 with a 2.71 ERA, 0.892 WHIP and 80 strikeouts over 70.2 innings covering 71 appearances.

The elbow injury, which required nerve repositioning surgery (!?), limited Jones to 11 appearances this season. He hasn't pitched since April 28.

This makes three relief pitchers from the 2015-16 Sox bullpen who are out for the season after elbow surgeries. Zach Putnam and Zach Duke, who is now with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, are the other two. A fourth reliever, Jake Petricka, is on the disabled list with a strained right elbow. I hate to speculate, but I will anyway: You can't help but wonder if Petricka is the next guy on his way to the operating table.

I never agreed with the way former Sox manager Robin Ventura used his bullpen. He was beholden to lefty-righty matchups. He ran his guys into the ground, sometimes using four or five relievers just to get through one inning.

I don't think it's a coincidence that these four men are experiencing elbow problems right now.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

White Sox trade Jose Quintana to Cubs for four prospects

Jose Quintana
Shock and disbelief are reverberating throughout Chicago, after the White Sox traded left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana to the crosstown Cubs on Thursday.

I'm probably not as stunned as some people are. If you watched any of the Sox-Rockies series over the weekend, you might have heard Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone talking about how it would be "crazy" for the Sox not to entertain trade offers from the Cubs.

Harrelson, for better or for worse, has long been regarded as a mouthpiece for Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Listen carefully to the oracle, and you might be able to read the tea leaves. If Harrelson is talking about a potential Sox-Cubs deal, then you shouldn't be shocked when one occurs.

Let's take a look at the four guys the Sox acquired:

  • Eloy Jimenez, OF -- The best prospect in the Cubs' system, the 20-year-old outfielder is ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. Jimenez, who was on the World roster for the Futures Game, was hitting 271/.351/.490 with eight home runs and 32 RBI in 42 games with Class-A Myrtle Beach this season. 
  • Dylan Cease, RHP -- The sixth-round pick of the Cubs in 2014, Cease was regarded as the best pitching prospect in the North Siders' system. He is ranked as the No. 83 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. In 13 starts with Class-A South Bend, Cease had a 2.79 ERA and 1.258 WHIP with 74 strikeouts.
  • Matt Rose, 1B-3B -- The 22-year-old was an 11th-round pick in 2015. Rose had a .227/.281/.481 slash line with 14 home runs and 38 RBIs in 65 games at Myrtle Beach this season.
  • Bryant Flete, IF-OF -- The 24-year-old has played both infield and outfield positions. He was slashing .305/.355/.425 with six home runs and 37 RBIs in 70 games at Myrtle Beach.
People who know me will probably not be surprised that I'm less than enthusiastic about this trade. I'm not going to say that Sox general manager Rick Hahn did not acquire good prospects in this deal -- he did. He said he was looking to get the top two prospects out of an organization in a Quintana trade, and the Cubs clearly met his asking price.

That said, while Jimenez and Cease are high-quality prospects, neither is close to MLB-ready. Both still need significant development time in the minor leagues, and the Sox are going to have to coach these guys up in order for them to reach their potential.

Based upon what you've seen over the past 10 or 15 years, what have the Sox done to earn our faith as fans that they can develop this talent? Very little in my estimation, and that's why I'm less than excited about this haul, just as I wasn't overly enthused about the haul the Sox get in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades.

It's nice to have a highly regarded farm system, but that doesn't amount to a hill of beans if the Sox do not handle these prospects correctly. I will continue to be skeptical until I see results at the major league level, and I think we all understand that it will be a few years before we can make any firm judgments on that.

As I've said before, it's not the rebuild itself that offends me. It's the actors in charge of the rebuild who concern me. The fan base seems to be in favor of this trade, and frankly, I've surprised by the lack of skepticism among Sox fans these days.

In the past, we as a fan base have always been willing to ask tough questions, to not just take things on faith or face value. In this rebuild, we are putting a lot of faith in the same people who brought us Jeff Keppinger, Adam LaRoche, James Shields and assorted other bums.

We can only hope their judgment of young talent, and their development of that young talent, is much better than their judgment on which veteran players to pursue in trades and in free agency. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

2017 White Sox reach season's halfway point

Jose Quintana
The White Sox took two out of three games from the Texas Rangers at Guaranteed Rate Field over the weekend, which puts their record at 36-45 at the halfway point of the season.

Projected out over the full 162 games, they would finish 72-90. That sounds about right given the preseason expectations.

I've always said the 2013 Sox are the worst team I've cheered for in my lifetime -- and that club had the 63-99 record to prove it. This year's team only needs to go 28-53 the second half to top that, and that seems doable, even though some productive veterans are likely to be traded before July is over.

That said, this season has a more painful feel to it than that 2013 campaign, and I think I've finally put my finger on why: The losses this season are as ugly as they come. Perhaps they aren't frequent as they were in 2013, but the brand of baseball is a little bit worse -- especially when it comes to pitching.

You go back and look at the numbers from 2013, and the Sox had three starting pitchers with ERAs below 4 -- Chris Sale (3.07), Jose Quintana (3.51) and Hector Santiago (3.56). The Sox also had Jake Peavy on the team for half the season before he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, and his ERA (4.28 ERA) was no worse than league average.

So, for most of the year, the 2013 Sox had four men in their rotation who could give you a competitive outing. Now, that team couldn't hit worth a damn; they lost 99 games for a reason. But when you went to the park to watch the 2013 Sox, they would typically lose 4-1 and you'd be outta there in two and a half hours.

This year is a different scene, because starting pitching is the biggest weakness for this club. James Shields, of all people, is the only pitcher with an ERA below 4 (3.98), and he's made only six starts this season. Quintana is having a down year (4.45 ERA), and you've got retread veterans Derek Holland (4.52), Mike Pelfrey (4.13) and Miguel Gonzalez (5.15 ERA) hanging around the rotation.

A typical Sox loss this season is characterized by a short outing from a post-peak veteran starter, followed by a parade of middle relievers who struggle to throw strikes, and are lucky to be in the major leagues. By the end of the day, Sox pitchers have thrown about 200 pitches to get through nine innings, and three and a half hours later, you're walking out of the ballpark with a 10-2 loss or a 10-4 loss.

Linked are the box scores to the past two games I've personally attended. Frankly, I'd rather see some decent pitching and have the Sox get beat in a hurry than watch some of these long, drawn-out messes where five or six relievers are used.

I'm one of those fans who stays to the end no matter what, no matter how painful, so I guess the one positive to blowout losses is I can get out of the parking lot much faster when the game is over. (Most people scram early.) But, I can't say that I'm enjoying the baseball I've been seeing this year.