Showing posts with label Conor Gillaspie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conor Gillaspie. Show all posts

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.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jansen, Turner deals make Dodgers an unlikely trade partner for White Sox

Kenley Jansen
The Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed with free agent closer Kenley Jansen on a five-year, $80 million contract, sources say.

Jansen, 29, recovered 47 saves and posted a 1.83 ERA and a sparkling 0.670 WHIP for the Dodgers in 2016. He struck out 104 and walked only 11 hitters in 68.2 innings.

Sources also indicate the Dodgers are close to a deal to retain free agent third baseman Justin Turner. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports the sides are discussing a four-year deal in the $64 million range.

Turner, 32, had his best year in 2016, hitting .275/.339/.493 with 27 home runs, 34 doubles and 90 RBIs in a career-best 151 games.

How do these moves affect the White Sox? Well, it means the Dodgers are no longer a likely trading partner for the South Siders, because the Dodgers have no need for two of the players the Sox are trying to trade -- closer David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier.

With Jansen's signing, all the major free agent closers are off the board. The New York Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman (5 years, 86.5 million), and the San Francisco Giants picked up Mark Melancon (4 years, $62 million) during the winter meetings last week.

The losers in the Jansen sweepstakes -- notably the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins -- could be potential landing spots for Robertson, who is owed $25 million over the remaining two years of his contract.

Other free agent possibilities for teams shopping for closers include Greg Holland -- who recorded 125 saves from 2013-15 in Kansas City, but did not pitch in 2016 after arm surgery -- and Brad Ziegler, an eight-year veteran with 85 career saves who finished last year in a set-up role with the Boston Red Sox.

If Holland is healthy -- a big if -- his upside is better than Robertson's at this stage, but Robertson's durability makes him less of a risk for teams. Robertson has appeared in at least 60 games for seven consecutive seasons. The same is true for Ziegler -- his stuff isn't as dynamic as a healthy Holland, but he's appeared in 64 games or more for eight consecutive seasons.

If the Dodgers settle up with Turner, we know Frazier won't be traded to Los Angeles, but where might he go?

How about San Francisco? At the end of last season, the Giants were counting on Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie at third base. It turns out Gillaspie had some big hits for the Giants during the postseason, but as all Sox fans know, Gillaspie is best utilized as a left-handed bench bat, not as an everyday third baseman. Frazier is an upgrade over Nunez or Gillaspie.

Boston also would be a possibility. The Red Sox traded third baseman Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire the eighth-inning reliever they needed in Tyler Thornburg. People have been saying that opens the door for Pablo Sandoval to be the Boston third baseman in 2017. OK, I suppose, but do the Red Sox really want to count on 140 to 150 games from Sandoval in a season where they are trying to win a championship? I'm skeptical.

Lastly, don't count out St. Louis. The Cardinals showed they are serious about making a push in 2017 with their five-year, $82 million commitment to center fielder Dexter Fowler. But they still appear to be a bat short. Some of the big free agent hitters out there -- notably Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo -- are DH types who are more suitable to the American League. Frazier, in contrast, can actually play his position well, and he represents a potential upgrade both offensive and defensively over Jhonny Peralta. Frazier has only one year left on his contract, so the risk would be minimal for St. Louis.

The best available free agent third baseman right now? It's Luis Valbuena. Teams would rather have Frazier, I'm sure.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

'You don't use your closer in a non-save situation'? Nonsense

Buck Showalter (left) and Terry Collins
Biggest takeaway from the wild-card playoff games this week: One manager lost because he failed to use his closer in a non-save situation; another manager lost because he did use his closer in a non-save situation.

Countless times through the years, I've heard fans and even some media members remark that you're not supposed to use your closer in non-save situations. The argument for this is the idea that closers are successful only because of the adrenaline rush that goes along with a save situation, so they can't pitch effectively if that carrot isn't dangling in front of them.

Nonsense.

I'm of the school of thought that it's never a bad play to bring your closer, who is presumably your best or second-best reliever, into a tie game. Does it make sense to save your closer for a save situation that might never present itself? I don't believe so.

That means I will join the chorus of people who have criticized Baltimore manager Buck Showalter for bringing in Ubaldo Jimenez to face the top of the Toronto batting order with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning in a 2-2 tie Tuesday in the AL wild-card game.

Jimenez, he of the 5.44 ERA, needed just five pitches to blow the Orioles' season. Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson singled for Toronto, setting the table for Edwin Encarnacion to hit a three-run homer and send the Blue Jays to the ALDS with a 5-2 win.

Meanwhile, Zach Britton sat unused in the Baltimore bullpen. Britton is the best reliever in baseball this year, and he's a legitimate candidate for the AL Cy Young award. He was 47 for 47 in save opportunities, has a ridiculous 0.54 ERA, and has held right-handed batters to a .155 average this season. Travis, Donaldson and Encarnacion are all right-handed.

In the face of these facts, does anyone want to argue that Jimenez was the right choice? Does anyone want to argue that you don't use your closer in a non-save situation? I wouldn't think so.

Incredibly, Showalter's move is now conventional wisdom in the game. MLB Network's Brian Kenny had a useful discussion on the air Wednesday, where his research showed that managers used their closer in situations such as Baltimore's on Tuesday just 27 percent of the time in 2016. We're talking about spots where you're on the road, the game is tied in the ninth inning or later, and you need your pitcher to put a zero up in the bottom of the inning to force an extra inning.

So, 73 percent of the time, managers are using non-closers in those spots. That seems like a very high number, and to me, that's not smart baseball.

In contrast, I cannot blame New York Mets manager Terry Collins for his club's 3-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Wednesday's NL wild-card game.

The situation was a little bit different, of course, because the Mets were playing at home. The game was scoreless into the ninth inning, and there was no chance at that point for a save situation to arise for New York closer Jeurys Familia.

With everything on the line in the ninth, Collins wisely went to his best reliever, Familia, who screwed the pooch. Familia gave up a double to Brandon Crawford, a walk to Joe Panik and a three-run homer to former White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

That was all San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner needed, as the left-hander continued his postseason mastery by throwing a complete-game, four-hit shutout.

From the Giants' perspective, credit goes to Bumgarner and Gillaspie, and from the Mets' perspective, Familia is wearing the goat horns. Collins made the right move. It didn't work.

You see, I like to judge a manager's moves on the philosophy and logic behind the decision more than the result. Baseball is a game where the right move still can lead to a bad result, and sometimes a move that makes no sense comes up aces.

Philosophically, from my perspective, it's never wrong to use your best reliever with the game on the line. If that reliever fails, it's on him. However, it is wrong to leave your best reliever sitting in the bullpen while a lesser pitcher flushes your season down the toilet.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Gordon Beckham stinks as a starting player, but plays well off the bench

White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham hit the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the 11th inning Sunday for a solo home run, lifting the South Siders to a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers in the rubber match of a three-game series.

Beckham entered the game in the 10th inning for defensive purposes and started a 5-2-3 double play in the top of the 11th inning that got the Sox out of a bases-loaded jam. The home run was his fourth of the season, and three of the four have come in games where Beckham has come off the bench.

There is little doubt Beckham is a more useful player in a reserve role. He can provide decent-to-excellent defense at third base, second base or shortstop, and it's clear his bat is better when he enters late in the game. His overall .220 batting average is not impressive, but check out his splits this season:

Beckham as a starter: .198/.263/.264, 1 home run
Beckham off the bench: .333/.375/.810, 3 home runs

Obviously, Sunday's home run won the game for the Sox. Beckham also came off the bench May 29 to hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of a game the Sox eventually won in extra innings. An eighth-inning home run on April 12 took a 4-2 Sox lead to a more comfortable 6-2 margin in an eventual victory.

With third baseman Conor Gillaspie's inconsistent performance both with the bat and the glove, Sox manager Robin Ventura has given in to the temptation of starting Beckham more often in June. It hasn't worked. Beckham has started 13 of the Sox's 19 June games, and he has hit .143 with just one extra-base hit and one RBI in those games. He gets exposed as a weak hitter playing every day. In a bench role, he can be spotted in matchups more favorable for him, and that's where he's been able to contribute to the team this year.

The Sox are having struggles at second base, as well, where Carlos Sanchez has made all the plays defensively, but has floundered to a .155 batting average. It would be easy for Ventura to be tempted to try Beckham at second base. He shouldn't give in to that one, either. For all of Sanchez's struggles, he's 22 years old and learning at the big-league level. He can still get better, and a little patience might pay dividends.

Beckham, however, is not a kid anymore. He turns 29 this year, and this is his seventh year in the big leagues. He is who he is at this point, and he's a utility player. He can do that role and do it well, so the Sox would be well-advised to leave him there.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quantifying the White Sox offensive woes

Toronto starting pitcher Drew Hutchison entered Monday night's game against the White Sox with an ERA of 6.06. Naturally, he fired a four-hit shutout in the Blue Jays' 6-0 win over the South Siders. While not feeling well.

Right now, the Sox offense is enough to make you sick to your stomach. They've lost six out of their last eight games to fall to 19-23 on the season. They've scored just 15 runs during that stretch, and have not scored more than three runs in any game during that time.

You look around the league, and you'll see that most teams have a hitter or two performing under expectations. That's baseball. Sometimes guys have slow starts, or bad years. That's just how it goes.

But the Sox? Well, they've got seven of their nine regulars performing below their career norms and below the numbers they posted in 2014. Avisail Garcia is the lone exception. For purposes of this discussion, we'll just exempt second base, because the Sox have played two rookies with little or no track record there throughout the season.

Let's take a look at the on-base plus slugging (OPS) numbers for the eight Sox regulars who do not play second base -- biggest drop-offs listed first:

Only Avisail Garcia has swung the bat well for the White Sox this year.
Melky Cabrera
2015 OPS: .558
2014 OPS: .808
Diff: -.250
Career OPS: .747

Jose Abreu
2015 OPS: .964
2014 OPS: .808
Diff: -.156
Career OPS: .929

Adam Eaton
2015 OPS: .621
2014 OPS: .763
Diff: -.142
Career OPS: .721

Adam LaRoche
2015 OPS: .682
2014 OPS: .817
Diff: -.135
Career OPS: .808

Tyler Flowers
2015 OPS: .559
2014 OPS: .693
Diff: -.134
Career OPS: .660

Alexei Ramirez
2015 OPS: .614
2014 OPS: .713
Diff: -.099
Career OPS: .715

Conor Gillaspie
2015 OPS: .683
2014 OPS: . 752
Diff: -.069
Career OPS: .714

Garcia
2015 OPS: .821
2014 OPS: .718
Diff: +.103
Career OPS: .746

So, there are basically six players in the Sox everyday lineup whose OPS is down 100 points over where it was last season. That's two-thirds of a lineup that could be characterized as severely underachieving. Remarkable.

Only Garcia is better than he was last season. Only Garcia is performing better than his career average. Everyone else is under career norms, some significantly so.

You would think these guys would eventually come back to their career levels, wouldn't you? There's no sign of that happening right now.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Three changes the White Sox could make today that wouldn't cost a thing

Last night, we highlighted the poor defense the White Sox played in the first inning behind starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Pitiful glove work sadly has become the norm and not the exception for this Chicago team through the first 29 games of the season.

If you've been watching, you already know that, so I won't pain you with further examples of the problem.

Rather, I'd like to present three changes the Sox could make today that would improve the team and not cost a thing. Note that none of these suggestions involve firing any of the organization men in the dugout.
Carlos Sanchez

  • 2. Move Carlos Rodon permanently into the rotation. Hector Noesi is a two-pitch pitcher. Put him in the bullpen where he belongs.
  • 3. Have Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche flip roles. LaRoche becomes the primary first baseman. Abreu becomes the designated hitter most days.

I've identified three major problems with this team over the course of this 12-17 start. One of them is the catching situation. Unfortunately, there are no internal solutions, other than crossing your fingers and hoping Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto play better.

The other two problems are very correctable with the solutions already available in house. One of the two is the back of the starting rotation. It's just not working out with Noesi, who hasn't won a start since Aug. 27, 2014. Rodon is ready and able, so let him pitch. Yes, he will have his ups and downs as all young players do, but I don't think having him pitch mop-up duty in the bullpen helps his development, nor does it help the Sox win games. Putting Rodon in the rotation allows him to not only develop his pitches, it will allow him to impact winning and losing. Based on what I've seen from Rodon, he will help the Sox more than he hurts them.

The biggest flaw on this team -- and it's a fatal one if it doesn't get addressed soon -- is the infield defense. The fan base is howling. They want manager Robin Ventura fired on the grounds that he doesn't emphasize fundamentals enough, and that he doesn't hold players accountable for their poor defense.

But let's take a step back and make an honest assessment of this infield: Abreu at first base, Johnson at second base, Alexei Ramirez at shortstop, and Conor Gillaspie at third base.

I'm sorry, but three of those four men are poor defensive players. All but Ramirez, who will soon turn 34 and is starting to show some regression, are subpar with the glove. People preach about accountability, but Ventura could show these guys the Tom Emanski instructional videos and drill them on fundamentals all day and they still wouldn't be a good defensive infield.

The good news is potential solutions exist, if the Sox would be willing to give them a try. Sanchez is a good fielding second baseman, and he's hitting .369/.394/.500 in Charlotte. Why isn't he in Chicago?

LaRoche is a top-notch fielder, yet the Sox are using him as their primary DH. Why? Team brass probably has a reason. I just don't know what it is.

Make LaRoche-Sanchez-Ramirez-Gillaspie your infield, and all of sudden your defense goes from pitiful to adequate, if not slightly above average. On days Gordon Beckham plays third base in place of Gillaspie, that infield is above average defensively.

Why won't the Sox try it? The organization has an annoying habit of ignoring defense when it comes to lineup and roster decisions. With the Sox, it's offense, offense, offense. Young players are promoted in the minor leagues based upon what they do offensively. Johnson is here because he's perceived as being ready for the big leagues offensively. His slow hands and poor footwork defensively are completely ignored, because the Sox are forever searching for that offensive upside.

It's backfiring, and they are too obstinate to make a change. They ought to reconsider before the season swirls completely down the drain.

Monday, April 27, 2015

White Sox finally beat Royals -- twice in a day

It was anything but business as usual Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field. First off, the White Sox beat the Kansas City Royals not once, but twice -- a rare sight indeed. Secondly, relief pitcher David Robertson threw both the first pitch of the afternoon and the last.

The closer became the first White Sox pitcher to earn both a win and a save on the same day since Bob Howry accomplished the feat in a doubleheader on Aug. 21, 1999.

After Saturday's rainout, the two clubs had to complete Friday's suspended contest, which was tied at 2-2 after eight innings when the showers came.

John Danks got his first win of the season Sunday.
The game resumed in the top of the ninth inning Sunday, and that put Robertson in the unusual position of "starting" the game on the mound. He worked a scoreless inning, pitching over an error by first baseman Jose Abreu, and earned a 3-2 win when the Sox scored a run in the bottom of the inning on a single by Avisail Garcia.

The Sox took the regularly scheduled game, 5-3, as John Danks (1-2) improved his career record against Kansas City to 8-1. Danks walked off the mound in the sixth inning trailing 3-0, but his teammates rallied for five runs in the bottom of the sixth to give him the lead.

The combination of relievers Jake Petricka, Zach Duke and Robertson made it stand up, as the trio combined for three scoreless innings. Melky Cabrera made one of the best catches of the season in the eighth inning for the Sox, robbing Eric Hosmer of a game-tying home run for the final out of the inning.

Robertson wasn't as dominant in his second outing of the day. He gave up two singles, but also fanned two batters to earn his third save of the season.

When these two teams meet, typically it's the Royals who capitalize on mistakes by the Sox to win close games. That script was flipped on Sunday, as it was Kansas City that made the costly miscues.

In the completion of the suspended game, Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera walked Cabrera with two outs and then uncorked a wild pitch to move the runner into scoring position. Herrera's wildness came back to bite him when Garcia's bloop to left-center field fell in and Cabrera came home to plate the winning run.

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas booted a grounder off Abreu's bat in the sixth inning of the second game, allowing the Sox to score their first run. From there, the South Siders strung together four more singles to surge ahead -- the biggest hit was a two-out, two-run single by Conor Gillaspie that put the Sox ahead 4-3 and sent Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez (2-2) to the showers.

It's been a long time coming for the Sox to win a series against the Royals. Coming into Sunday, they had lost 15 of the last 18 head-to-head meetings. Will this be the day that marks the end of Kansas City's domination of the Sox? We'll find out later in the season. The two teams have 13 more games to play, but they don't meet again until a doubleheader on July 17 in Chicago.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Gordon Beckham returns to White Sox; Dayan Viciedo designated for assignment

The White Sox announced Wednesday they have agreed with infielder Gordon Beckham on a one-year, $2 million contract.

The club also designated outfielder Dayan Viciedo for assignment, after apparently failing to find any takers on the trade market.

Beckham, 28, was the Sox's first-round draft pick in 2008 and struggled with the bat throughout most of his five-plus seasons with the team. He was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 21 and finished 2014 with a .226 average, 27 doubles, nine home runs and 44 RBIs.

We already know Beckham, a lifetime .245 hitter, isn't good enough with the bat to be an everyday second baseman. The good news is the Sox's intention seems to be to use him in a utility role.

“Adding Gordon improves the depth and flexibility of our roster,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. “We are thrilled to have him back. Like Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon brings the ability to play solid defense at multiple positions or play on an everyday basis should the need arise. This also gives [manager] Robin [Ventura] the ability to play matchups more effectively when setting the lineup.”

Ah, matchups.

Most of Beckham's critics probably didn't realize that even at his worst last season he could still hit left-handed pitching. Here are his slash lines from last year:

vs. LHP: .293/.349/.431
vs. RHP: .203/.242/.318

Beckham can hit lefties; Conor Gillaspie can hit righties. There's your third base platoon, Sox fans. We know Beckham is good enough defensively to play anywhere on the infield. His glove is a plus at second base, and it's no worse than average at third base. The Sox could even throw him at shortstop, his college position, in a pinch.

If fans put aside their bias, they can see this signing makes sense -- as long as Beckham is used in a utility role to maximize his strengths. If both Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez fail at second base this year and Beckham becomes the everyday player at that spot once more, well, that's not ideal. Cross your fingers and hope that doesn't happen.

With this move, the Sox are about to part ways with Viciedo. The 25-year-old hit .231 with 21 home runs and 58 RBIs last year. He's neither a good fielder nor a good baserunner, and his bat was simply never good enough to overcome his other weaknesses. There didn't seem to be any room for him on the Sox's 2015 roster, and apparently he has no trade value either.

Lastly, Beckham's return gives us another opportunity to cue up "Welcome Back Kotter." That's been happening a lot lately ...

Monday, January 5, 2015

White Sox sign Emilio Bonifacio to one-year contract

The White Sox have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with veteran utilityman Emilio Bonifacio, sources say.

According to reports, Bonifacio will make $3 million in 2015. The deal includes a $4 million club option for 2016 with a $1 million buyout.

Bonifacio posted a .259/.305/.345 slash line with three home runs, 24 RBIs and 26 stolen bases last season for the Cubs and the Atlanta Braves. The eight-year veteran played six different positions at different points in 2014 -- all three outfield positions and every infield position except first base.

This pickup makes sense for the Sox for a few different reasons. First, Bonifacio is an upgrade as a utility player over Leury Garcia, who was pathetic last year. Garcia hit .166 with a .192 on-base percentage in 74 games in 2014. He also struck out 48 times in 145 at-bats.

It won't take much for Bonifacio to be an improvement over Garcia's laughably poor numbers. Bonifacio is a .262 lifetime hitter. If he hits close to that level, as he did last year, the Sox will be happy with the signing.

In addition, the switch-hitting Bonifacio hits left-handed pitching much better than he hits right-handed pitching. This is key, because the Sox have been searching for someone to platoon with Conor Gillaspie at third base. Gillaspie hits righties well, but struggles against lefties.

Bonifacio's career numbers against left-handed pitching suggest he can be a reasonable complement to Gillaspie:

Career vs. LHP: .291/.341/.380
Career vs. RHP: .250/.311/.326

In 2014, Bonifacio's platoon splits were even more drastic. In fact, he destroyed left-handed pitching last year:

2014 vs. LHP: .365/.411/.548
2014 vs. RHP: .221/.266/.272

Bonifacio has played 141 career games at third base. Expect that figure to go up once he joins the Sox. You'll see him at third base against left-handed starters.

You'll also see Bonifacio as a pinch runner late in games. He has 164 career steals in his eight seasons, so he figures to be the speed guy off the bench.

Lastly, Bonifacio has played more games at second base in his career (196) than at any other infield position. The Sox intend for a couple of rookies (Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson) to compete for the starting job at that spot. But what if both fall flat on their faces? Now, the Sox have a player in Bonifacio who can serve as an insurance policy in case that happens.

For multiple reasons, this signing makes good sense for the Sox.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

White Sox announce early lineup for SoxFest 2015

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and shortstop Alexei Ramirez are among the current players scheduled to attend SoxFest 2015 at the Hilton Chicago from Jan. 23-25.

In a news release and an email to fans, the team released a list of eight players who are expected to appear at the annual convention. Joining Abreu and Ramirez will be outfielders Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia, catcher Tyler Flowers, third baseman Conor Gillaspie and pitchers Jose Quintana and Jake Petricka.

Sox manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper and hitting coach Todd Steverson also are scheduled to attend.

That's a good list. Chris Sale is probably the only current player fans care to see who isn't on there.

The Sox have said former players from the 2005 World Series championship team will be at SoxFest this year for a 10-year anniversary celebration. Unfortunately, we've yet to hear exactly which players will be back in Chicago.

Maybe the team just hasn't gotten those former players to commit yet, but in the interest of selling hotel packages and weekend passes, you would think the Sox would want to release that list of names sooner rather than later.

Call me crazy, but I think Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede, Aaron Rowand, Scott Podsednik and the newly retired Paul Konerko, et al, would sell more SoxFest passes than any of the current players would.

We'll stay tuned to see if there's any more news on this in the coming weeks.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Max Scherzer outduels Chris Sale in marquee pitching matchup

There aren't many hitters in the American League who routinely get the best of White Sox ace Chris Sale. Detroit Tigers 1B/DH Victor Martinez can count himself among the few.

Martinez hit a solo home run off Sale in the top of the fifth inning Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field, and that proved to be the game-winning hit as the Tigers avoided a sweep with a 4-0 win over Chicago.

Martinez is now 13 for 25 (.520) with two home runs in his career against Sale.

The much-anticipated pitching matchup between Sale and reigning Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer did not disappoint.

As we've noted, Justin Verlander is no longer the Detroit ace. Scherzer is, and he delivered the first complete-game shutout of his career (179 starts) on Thursday. The right-hander limited the Sox to just three hits, while striking out eight and walking three. Only twice did Chicago have two baserunners in the same inning. The Sox' best scoring chance came in the fourth when they had runners at second and third with two outs after Conor Gillaspie reached on an error and Alexei Ramirez doubled. However, Scherzer (8-2) retired Dayan Viciedo on a flyout to avoid any damage.

Sale (5-1) once again pitched extremely well. He simply got outpitched in suffering his first loss of the season. He allowed only one run on five hits over seven innings. He struck out 10 hitters (all swinging) and walked none.

Unfortunately for the Sox, Sale had thrown 116 pitches through seven innings and had to be removed from the game. The Tigers scored two runs in the eighth off reliever Jake Petricka and another run in the ninth off Daniel Webb.

But on this night, all Scherzer needed was one run, and the Sox missed a chance to get out the brooms against Detroit for the first time since 2008.

Yes, you read that right. The last time the Sox swept a three-game series against Detroit: April 4-6, 2008. Six years is a long time to go without a sweep against a team you play 18 times every year.

Suffice to say it will be easier for the Sox to beat Detroit once Martinez and his .327 lifetime average against Chicago retire. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Justin Verlander takes a beating from White Sox

As a White Sox fan, I used to dread games when the team would have to face Detroit right-hander and former Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander.

I don't have those pangs of fear anymore.

We discussed it on this blog a couple weeks ago: It looks like Verlander's best days are behind him. And, if that's the case, then Detroit can be had in the AL Central Division race.

When I looked at Wednesday night's matchup between Verlander and Chicago left-hander John Danks, my initial instinct was not "Oh crap," as it might have been two or three years ago. Instead it was, "Hey, the Sox could win this one."

Win it they did, 8-2. The victory means the Sox (33-33) have as many wins as the first-place Tigers (33-28) and are just 2.5 games back in the division race.

However, the main story I took out of this game was Verlander's continuing vulnerability. The Sox touched him up for seven runs on eight hits over 5.2 innings. The erstwhile Detroit ace has now given up five runs or more in five of his past six starts. His ERA over that stretch is 8.72. His season ERA has swelled to 4.61. That's Hector Noesi territory right there.

And, anyone who watched this game knows the Sox should have scored more runs than they did. The South Siders loaded the bases with just one out in the third inning, but neither Conor Gillaspie nor Jose Abreu could knock in a run.

The Sox also got a one-out triple from Adam Eaton in the fifth inning, but failed to score after the Sox center fielder was thrown out at the plate on grounder off the bat of Gordon Beckham.

Verlander found himself in bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the sixth, and this time he did not get off the hook. With the score tied 1-1, Dayan Viciedo grounded into a double play that gave the Sox a one-run lead. The twin killing gave Verlander a great chance to minimize damage and keep his team in the game. Instead, he imploded.

Alejandro De Aza singled in a run. Verlander then walked light-hitting catcher Adrian Nieto and Eaton back-to-back to reload the bases. Beckham ended Verlander's night with a two-run single that put the Sox ahead 5-1.

Detroit summoned Naperville product Ian Krol from the bullpen, and the lefty provided little relief. Gillaspie's two-run double increased the Sox' advantage to 7-1. After an intentional walk to Abreu, Adam Dunn singled to make it 8-1. Chicago cruised to victory from there.

How often do you get a seven-run inning in a game started by Justin Verlander? The answer used to be never. Now, it can be done. The Sox proved it Wednesday night.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Little League-style inning costs White Sox

Maybe it's a good thing the White Sox were playing on the West Coast on Monday night. That means most fans had probably already retired for the evening when the Sox played their worst inning of the season to date.

What's really unfortunate about the whole mess is the Sox seemed to be in prime position to beat reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sox first baseman Jose Abreu had hit a two-run homer in his return from the disabled list to give the South Siders a 2-0 lead, an advantage they enjoyed into the sixth inning.

Jose Quintana was cruising on the mound for Chicago. He had a two-hitter going, and he had thrown only 65 pitches. He was outpitching Kershaw, hitting his spots and looking like he'd be able to blank the Dodgers at least through seven innings -- if not eight innings.

But then the White Sox infield turned in a pathetic, amateurish inning of defense in the sixth inning. Two errors cost Quintana five unearned runs, and the Dodgers went on to claim a 5-2 victory.

Kershaw got a base hit to start the inning, but that didn't seem like too big a deal the way Quintana was pitching. He struck out Chone Figgins for the first out and induced Matt Kemp to hit into what should have been an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Too bad Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham forgot to catch the ball.

Instead of being out of the inning, the Dodgers had runners at first and second with one out, with Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez due to hit. That's when it was time for Quintana to toughen up.

Toughen up he did.

He fanned Puig for the second out, and got Ramirez to hit a routine chopper to third baseman Conor Gillaspie, who fielded the ball about eight steps behind the bag. Keep in mind, Kershaw was the runner at second base, so all Gillaspie needed to do was jog to the third-base bag and tag it for the third out. But, no, he for some reason decided to throw across the diamond. A good throw still would have gotten Ramirez by two strides, but he threw it in the dirt and Abreu failed to make a pick that most first baseman probably make.

It should have been inning over for a second time, but instead a run scored and the inning continued. The meltdown was on. Adrian Gonzalez hit an infield single that produced the tying run. Justin Turner hit a two-run bloop single just over the outstretched glove of Beckham that barely dented the outfield grass. Light-hitting Drew Butera hit a 35-hopper with eyes into right field for an RBI single.

All of a sudden, it was 5-2 Dodgers. With Kershaw on the mound, that's ballgame.

Quintana ended up needing six outs to get out of that nightmare, an inning in which he had to throw 40 pitches. After that, his night was done and the Sox were forced to go to the bullpen.

Had Beckham fielded the grounder on the routine double play, Quintana would have thrown just 15 pitches in that inning. Had Gillaspie made his play, Quintana would have gotten out of the inning with a still manageable pitch total of 23. Had either play been made, perhaps the Sox go on to win 2-0. We'll never know.

But those plays were not made, and that's why it's hard to believe the Sox are anything but a pretender this year, despite their hanging around in the muddled American League race.

The Sox are better than they were in 2013, but they still are not contenders. They make too many mistakes and beat themselves too often to be considered a potential playoff team. They've avoided long losing streaks to this point, but I won't be surprised if we see a hope-killing stretch of bad ball sometime in the near future.

A team can only outhit its mistakes for so long. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

White Sox All-Star possibilities -- there actually are some for a change

If you've recently been to a White Sox game and paid attention to the left field scoreboard, you know the team always runs an advertisement encouraging fans to vote their favorite "White Sox stars" into the All-Star Game. The advertisement always includes a list of Sox players who appear on this year's ballot.

The list always elicits a bit of a chuckle, as if anyone in their right mind would ever attempt to vote Alejandro De Aza into the All-Star Game. And last year, it would have been embarrassing to say you voted for any of the Sox' position players. None deserved the honor, and none were selected. Pitchers Chris Sale and Jesse Crain represented the club at the 2013 event.

This year is different, though. There actually are three Sox position players worth All-Star consideration. I'd go as far as saying one of them deserves your vote. Here's a list of Sox players who might make the trip to Minneapolis for the July 15 midsummer classic:

1. Alexei Ramirez - He has been the best shortstop in the American League this year. Based on merit, he deserves to start. Too bad he won't. In case you've been in a coma the past few months, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is retiring at the end of the season. The 39-year-old isn't the player he used to be, but there's no doubt the fans will give the future Hall of Famer the starting nod based on sentiment.

But, Ramirez is an easy choice for the next guy in line at shortstop. Entering Friday's play, he's tied for second in the league with a .327 batting average. His OPS is a career-high .843. He's got seven home runs, 36 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. After a poor defensive season last year, he's returned to form this season with just four errors to go along with a host of spectacular plays.

If he you believe in advanced metrics, Ramirez ranks eighth in the AL in offensive WAR, seventh in defensive WAR and fifth in the league in overall WAR. And, oh yeah, he's started all 55 White Sox games at shortstop.

He's the White Sox' MVP this year. He's got my vote.

2. Jose Abreu - The slugging first baseman has been on the disabled list for nearly two weeks, yet he still ranks third in the AL in home runs (15), fourth in RBIs (42), fourth in extra base hits (27) and 10th in total bases (103). The Sox' lineup looks different this year when Abreu is in it. He's a guy that pitchers fear every time he steps in the batters box, and the Sox haven't had that element since Jim Thome left the team.

First base is a crowded position in the American League, though. Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion has had a monster month of May and probably deserves to start, although Detroit's Miguel Cabrera will get the nod based upon his past track record. Albert Pujols (14 home runs) has regained his power stroke this year, and Brandon Moss has had a fine season for Oakland.

There's no shortage of competition among first basemen, so Abreu will need to get back in the lineup soon to have a shot at being selected. Reports indicate he will come off the disabled list the first day he is eligible -- June 2. If Abreu jumps back in and continues hitting like he did the first six or seven weeks of the season, he's got a great chance.

3. Conor Gillaspie - Bet you never thought you'd see Gillaspie's name on a list like this. I'm not going to tell you to vote for Gillaspie to start, because Oakland's Josh Donaldson is the best third baseman in the American League -- both offensively and defensively. In fact, Donaldson is an MVP candidate to this point in the season because he is the best player on a first-place team.

That said, it's hard to ignore Gillaspie's .352/.394/.461 slash line, especially since third base isn't among the stronger positions in the American League. Gillaspie had a two-week stint on the disabled list earlier this year, which means he doesn't have quite enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. But, if he did, he'd be leading the league in hitting right now.

I'm not convinced Gillaspie is going to keep up the pace. Nothing about his track record suggests he will. However, if he stays hot for another couple weeks, he might find himself in Minnesota on July 15.

4. Sale -- The fans don't get to vote for pitchers, and I think Sale is a longshot to be chosen this year because he missed a whole month with an arm injury. But, he's been his usual dominant self when healthy -- 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts.

If "this one counts," as they say about the All-Star Game now, Sale is one of the pitchers who would give the American League the best opportunity to win. Left-handed hitters are batting .000 against him this season. I could see him being added to the All-Star roster just for the sake of being used as a situational left-hander in the late innings.

That said, I won't be upset if Sale doesn't get chosen this year. Coming off an arm injury, I just assume he not waste any of his bullets in the All-Star Game. As we've said in the past, he's the most important player in the Sox organization, and the team needs him healthy to compete.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

White Sox designate Jeff Keppinger for assignment

In a move that surprised many observers, the White Sox on Wednesday designated infielder Jeff Keppinger for assignment.

Keppinger, 34, hit a career-best .325 two years ago with the Tampa Bay Rays, but he slumped to a .253/.283/.317 slash line for the 2013 White Sox. He was limited by a right shoulder problem, which ultimately cut his season short and required surgery. He was slow to recover from the injury over the offseason and appeared in just six spring training games before being placed on the disabled list on March 30.

Keppinger has been on a rehab assignment since May 2 at Double-A Birmingham, where he hit .256 in 11 games. With the rehab period set to expire, the Sox decided they'd rather cut Keppinger loose than put him on the major league roster.

The decision is surprising because Keppinger is in just the second year of a three-year, $12 million deal he signed with the Sox prior to the start of the 2013 season. With the move, the Sox are opting to eat approximately $7.5 million dollars, which is a departure from business as usual on the South Side.

Typically in situations such as this, you would expect the Sox to trot Keppinger out to third base every day for the next two months, hoping he would play well enough to entice a contending team to take his salary off their hands.

Not this time. Instead, they recognized there is no place for Keppinger on the roster.

Conor Gillaspie has played well at third base for the Sox this season, and the team has hopes that prospect Matt Davidson will reverse his struggles at the plate and eventually become the long-term answer at the position. There's no room at second base for Keppinger, either, with younger players Gordon Beckham, Marcus Semien and Leury Garcia all ahead of him on the organization's depth chart.

Not to mention, the Sox recently promoted second baseman Micah Johnson, one of their better prospects, to Triple-A Charlotte. With Davidson and middle infield prospect Carlos Sanchez also toiling in Charlotte, there isn't even any room for Keppinger in the Triple-A infield. There is no point in giving Keppinger at-bats over any of these younger infielders, at any level, so it is the right baseball decision to send him packing.

In the past, the Sox have at times let economics get in the way of making the right baseball decision. In this case, I applaud GM Rick Hahn and the Sox front office for doing the right thing. At one point in time, signing Keppinger looked like a good move. It just didn't work out, but at least the Sox aren't compounding the mistake by keeping a useless player around because of money.

Keppinger is out of the organization, and the Sox rebuilding plan is better off for it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When Conor Gillaspie returns from the DL, who will the White Sox send down?

White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie is on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte and could come off the disabled list as soon as Wednesday.

Before suffering a bruised hand, Gillaspie was hitting .302 with 12 RBIs in 16 games. Upon his return, he's going to take over for Marcus Semien as the Sox's regular third baseman. And unlike earlier in the year, there isn't much playing time available for Semien at second base, now that Gordon Beckham is back off the disabled list.

So, what do the Sox do with Semien? Is he the guy they send back to the minors when Gillaspie is activated? Or will outfielder Jordan Danks or all-purpose player Leury Garcia be optioned? It's not an easy call, and there is more than likely some internal debate going on among White Sox brass.

If the fans had their way, Beckham would probably be the guy shown the door -- even with his 4-for-5 performance and go-ahead home run in Tuesday's 5-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The disappointing second baseman has become a bit of a whipping boy for fans on Internet message boards, but let's be realistic: The Sox aren't going to cut Beckham loose now or look to trade him when he's just coming off an injury and his value is at its lowest.

For better or for worse, Beckham is the regular second baseman until at least July. Defensively, he's still the Sox's best option at the position. If he rebuilds his value by midseason, he could be shipped off at the trade deadline to clear a starting spot for either Semien or Micah Johnson. But that's a question for another time.

When Gillaspie returns, one of Semien, Danks or Garcia is going to be gone. Of the three, Danks is perhaps the weakest player, but he needs to remain on the roster for as long as Adam Eaton is on the disabled list. With Eaton on the shelf, Danks is the only good defensive outfielder the Sox have. Without him, you're looking at a starting outfield of Moises Sierra, Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo -- with Garcia, an infielder by trade, and Adam Dunn, a designated hitter by trade, filling backup roles. Not acceptable. If I'm making the decision, Danks stays despite his ugly .098/.229/.195 slash line.

That leaves Semien and Garcia. A lot of Sox fans would disagree with me here, but I think Semien goes to Charlotte for more playing time. Garcia stays as the backup infielder.

It's tough because Semien has shown a flair for the dramatic this season. He's had some big hits for the Sox -- 15 of his 16 RBIs have come in the sixth inning or later. That said, I can't ignore his.213/.267/.346 slash line, nor can I ignore his league-leading 45 strikeouts.

I like Semien and think he could be an everyday player in the majors at some point in the future. I just don't think that day is today. I don't think he would benefit much from sitting on the major league bench, so I support sending him to Triple-A and having him work on closing some of the holes in that swing. Garcia, to me, will never be more than a utility infielder anyway, so I'm fine with leaving him right where he is.

For me, Semien's development is a greater priority than Garcia's development. He's the better of the two players. Semien's the one who needs the everyday at-bats in my book, so the Sox should put him in a place where he can get them. That place, right now, is Charlotte.

We'll probably find out sometime in the next 48 hours whether the Sox agree with me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A look at the White Sox' weekend roster moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quintana gets five-year extension

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

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

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

White Sox' Matt Davidson making late push for roster spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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