Showing posts with label Harold Baines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harold Baines. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The six worst recent White Sox reunions

You've seen the best, so now here are the worst reunions between the White Sox and their former players:

6. Darrin Jackson
First Tenure: 1994, .312/.362/.444
Second Stay: 1999, .275/.288/.430
Jackson was part of the most infamous "What If" White Sox team of the modern era, the 1994 team that had its chance to win a World Series wiped away by baseball's strike that season. Jackson enjoyed what was probably his finest professional season that summer, hitting well and playing a good right field, just like Ellis Burks -- the team's previous stopgap solution in right -- did the year before.

The Sox looked much different when Jackson returned a few years later after a couple seasons in Japan, and stops in Minnesota and Milwaukee. Gone were all of the players from the previous team who might have made a title run, except for Frank Thomas, around whom the Sox were trying to build a new core of young players.

Jackson was different, too. Instead of a starting right fielder, he played as a fourth outfielder. What was so disappointing about Jackson's return wasn't so much his play in that role, or the sad reminder of the last talented team that collapsed, but that the Sox had an abundance of young outfielders who needed looks.

Three of those those young outfielders did emerge with firm holds on jobs by the end of the year (Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and Chris Singleton), and among the others who auditioned (Jeff Liefer, Jeff Abbott, McKay Christensen and Brian Simmons), the most noteworthy thing any of them did after leaving the Sox was when one of them locked himself in the bathroom during a game. So in that sense it didn't cost the franchise any opportunity to let a kid run with a job. And Jackson was so well-liked he remained with the team, first in the TV booth before moving over to radio.

Still, even season ticket holders weren't interested in watching Jackson start half the games in center field, which knowing how then-manager Jerry Manuel liked to run things, might have been a job-share that persisted had Jackson dropped in a few more singles.

5. Sandy Alomar
First Tenure: 2001-2002, .264/.296/.382, then 2003-2004, .254/.289/.365
Third Stay: 2006, .217/.255/.358
Perhaps the biggest laugher in the "Trade for an Alomar!" jokes longtime general manager Ken Williams wrote in the early and middle parts of the previous decade.

The first time the Sox brought in Alomar, they needed a catcher. After trading him to Colorado, they brought him back again as a veteran caddy for a young Miguel Olivo. Then Olivo was traded, and Alomar could not credibly start over Ben Davis. That's OK. Life is rough for catchers near the end of their careers. A.J. Pierzynski fell in the Sox's laps that offseason, and catcher wasn't a huge concern for nearly a decade.

Then when the Sox began spinning their wheels during July of their 2006 title defense, they reached for the old security blanket by bringing Alomar back again, this time in a trade with the Dodgers for some guy you've never heard of.

It's not that Alomar was costly. It's not that he wasn't marginally better than they guy he replaced (Chris Widger). It's not like he even mattered in his 19 games played behind the workhorse Pierzynski. He was a backup catcher, so who cares?

It was just the pointlessness of it. Trading for a guy who was barely better than the incumbent, who probably wasn't at all better than Chris Stewart, who wasn't all that good either, and who wasn't even going to play much, all while there were much bigger issues.

4. Roberto Alomar
First Tenure: 2003, .253/.330/.340
Second Stay: 2004, .180/.203/.449
Again, it's hard to see past the pointlessness of this one. Alomar was a shell of himself when the Sox traded for him to man second base in 2003. When it turns out the contract Alomar and Williams worked out with a handshake, on a bar napkin, or whatever was alleged, Alomar took his steeply declining career to Arizona for even less money.

The decline was so steep that Alomar, Utility Infielder of '04 was even more disappointing than Alomar, Second Baseman '03.

The only happy part of this reunion story is that Williams and the Sox weren't out the money they would have been if Alomar had been cornered without his agent.

3. Esteban Loaiza
First Tenure: 2003-04, 30-14, 3.65 ERA
Second Tenure: 0-0, 6.80 ERA, 3 IP
Loaiza was the first, and maybe remains the most famous of Sox pitching coach Don Cooper's reclamation projects. A journeyman in his 30s when he joined the Sox as a minor league free agent before 2003, Loaiza learned a cutter and finished second in the Cy Young voting that season while going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA.

His second season in Chicago was a little rougher, and with no contract extension likely to be worked out, he was traded for Jose Contreras.

The Sox must have remembered his success with them fondly, because despite only one solid season after his exodus from the team, they brought him back for a look after he was released by the Dodgers during the 2008 season.

Be it that the end was near all along, or rumors that Loaiza wasn't working out and in game shape between stays in organizations, he never recaptured his stuff.

2. Bartolo Colon
First Tenure: 2003, 15-13, 3.87
Second Stay: 2009, 3-6, 4.19 ERA, 13 unearned runs, 13 HR allowed in 62 1/3 IP
Colon couldn't quite put the White Sox over the top and into the playoffs during his first stay, but rode a gaudy win total to a Cy Young Award a couple seasons later in Anaheim. Always an innings eater, and probably an eater of many other delicious things, his massive workload that year probably set the stage for the health problems that plagued him since, and only ended once he found a unique medical treatment.

It wasn't just the results that were a letdown from Colon, though that was less than expected, too. It's that while battling injuries, he also went missing for a time, leading to some amusing speculation that it had something to do with the King of Pop's demise.

Despite a drug suspension stemming from his treatments, Colon has been back. A couple solid seasons in Oakland even helped him sign another albatross contract the Mets would be happy to unload right now. Don't look for them to unload it on the Sox now.

1. Harold Baines
First Tenure: 1980-89, 1996-97, .288/.346/.463, 220 HR
Third Stay: .166/.240/.225, 1 HR
The first reunion was great, despite the circumstances surrounding it. The third and final reunion cut deeply into Baines' playing time as he was added via trade to be a bench bat for an ill-fated playoff run in 2000. 

At the time the Sox picked him up from Baltimore, Baines was batting .266/.349/.437 with 10 home runs. This was coming off a .312/.395/.533 year with 25 home runs split between Baltimore and Cleveland. With 2,842 hits in his career, Baines looked to be one and a half healthy seasons away from reaching the 3,000 milestone that might have bolstered his Hall of Fame case.

Hindsight tells us 3,000 probably wasn't in the cards for Baines. If he declined between 1999 and 2000, then he absolutely fell off a cliff after the trade back to the White Sox. He hit only one more home run in his career, on Aug. 15, 2000, appropriately against Baltimore. With a double that night he also had his last multi-hit game.

Baines came back with the Sox in 2001, presumably in the same bench role he occupied down the stretch the previous season. Even when a season-ending injury to Frank Thomas opened the door for playing time to rebound from a .105/.150/.105 start and start marching up the career hit list, Baines couldn't answer the bell. He finished May with a barely improved line of .117/.187/.130. Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, he played three more games, collected two more hits, and came to the plate a final time on Sept. 27 as a pinch hitter, striking out to close his career.

What was most disappointing about this reunion was that if everything had worked out as planned, the Sox would storm to another division title like they had with a young team the year before, Baines would add a few more marks on his record sheet, but probably come up short of making things tough for Hall of Fame voters.

When Thomas got hurt and contention fell through, the would-be consolation prize -- watching an old hero get a legitimate run at 3,000 hits -- also evaporated.

Even if Baines had no real shot at matching the hopes of wishful White Sox fans, in a way it was still like watching the present burn and the past fade at the same time. Or like with Jackson, for Sox fans it was facing an uncertain future while holding on to a past we couldn't make more glorious.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The six best recent White Sox reunions

If the theme to "Welcome Back Kotter" wasn't enough to get you stoked for the return of former first-round White Sox draft pick Brian Anderson, maybe a listing of other favorite sons returned home to U.S Cellular Field will.

Two things the Sox have been noted for over the years are loyalty and a love of all things familiar. So they haven't been shy about giving players an extra spin in their uniform, and that extends beyond former prospects like Anderson and Kip Wells, who missed both comeback lists.

Let's start with the best, going back only through the New Comiskey Park Era:

6. Scott Podsednik
First tenure: 2005-2007, .270/.333/.354 batting line, 111 stolen bases
Second stay: 2009, .304/.353/.410, 30 SB
In need of an extra outfielder as the team was still trying to make something of Anderson's first stint, and with an injury-prone Carlos Quentin in left field, the Sox turned to one of their former World Series heroes.

To me, Podsednik was a better hitter late in his career than when he was the electrifying leadoff man earlier in his career. By then he had found more balance to his hitting approach, not trying to pull the ball as much as his forgettable final season in Milwaukee, but willing to turn on balls enough to keep pitchers honest, which he didn't always do with his slappy approach when first joining the Sox.

Age and injuries took their toll, and Podsednik didn't have much career left after leaving the Sox again. But he was a pretty nice lift for a flawed Sox team that needed one.

5. Freddy Garcia 
First tenure: 2004-2006, 42-21, 4.26 ERA
Second stay: 2009-2010, 15-10, 4.56 ERA
Garcia was part of the vaunted World Series-winning rotation, and friend and family member of manager Ozzie Guillen. Injuries limited his time on the mound between Sox stays (only 73 IP between 2007-08, and 56 his first comeback season in Chicago), but Garcia capably filled a hole in the back of the rotation through 2010, even though he wasn't the workhorse he was earlier in his career.

4. Jim Abbott 
First tenure: 1995, 6-4, 3.36 ERA, 112 1/3 IP 
Second stay: 1998, 5-0, 4.55 ERA, 31 1/3 IP 
Abbott was famous for becoming a big league pitcher with only one hand. After a few down seasons with the Yankees, Abbott signed as a free agent with the Sox. He held up his end of the bargain in 1995, but with the Sox going nowhere, he was traded to the Angels, where he began his career, for a bundle of prospects that included Bill Simas, John Snyder and McKay Christensen.

The revival didn't last in Anaheim, where Abbott was OK down the stretch, but bottomed out the next year with a 7.48 ERA and a 2-18 record in which he led the league in losses. (Abbott also had two losses in AAA that year, even if the magical 20 didn't all happen in the big leagues.)

In need of another comeback, Abbott came back to the Sox in 1998, and after a brief minor-league audition, rolled through September with a perfect record thanks to some average-ish pitching and some huge run support.

Abbott's career ran out of steam for good the next year in Milwaukee, but his last run on the South Side helped make a second-half surge from the Sox a little more entertaining.

3. Carl Everett 
First tenure: 2003, .301/.377/.473, 10 HR 
Second tenure: 2004-05, .255/.314/.428, 28 HR
Everett was a midseason pickup in 2003, hitting like a monster out of center field, even if his glove left plenty to be desired. He probably would have been back with the Sox if his big salary ($9.15 million in the last year of his contract) wouldn't have made any Chicago offer look like a massive pay cut.

Instead the Expos signed him to a two-year, $7 million contract, and almost immediately regretted it. No longer able to handle center field, and also unable to hit for both average and power like he did in his prime, Everett was shipped back to the Sox in 2004 after Frank Thomas was lost for the year because of injury.

Still under contract, Everett started 2005 as the regular designated hitter while Thomas was still on the mend. When the Big Hurt's return was short-lived, Everett again took up most of the DH at-bats.

While his overall body of work during his return to the Sox was unimpressive, call this a results-oriented ranking. Everett did spend most of the year providing the team with a competent bat at a position that requires a minimum of that. He also batted .300/.333/.300 in 43 postseason plate appearances to help the Sox to a World Series title they maybe don't win if Timo Perez is the regular DH.

2. Harold Baines 
First tenure: 1980-1989, .288/.341/.462, 176 HR 
Second stay: 1996-97, .309/.394/.490, 36 HR 
The first overall pick of the 1977 draft, Baines was so beloved that his number was retired when he was traded to the Rangers during the 1989 season. After knee injuries early in his career forced him into a DH role, Baines was arguably just hitting his stride as a professional hitter, batting .321/.423/.505 for the Sox at the time of the deal.

Even adjusting for a higher offensive era, Baines was a better hitter from age 31 and onward (.290/.372/.468) than he was through the first 10 seasons of his career. When the Sox needed to add a designated hitter before the 1996 season, Baines was a natural fit.

After helping power a potent offense on a team that should have won the AL Wild Card, he was back again in 1997, out-hitting mega-free agent Albert Belle before the disappointing Sox shipped Baines out to another stay in Baltimore ahead of the infamous White Flag trade. When the team said the trade was about helping Baines get a chance to win a title, not about giving up on the season, Robin Ventura famously quipped, "Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing here?"

1. Ozzie Guillen 
First tenure: 1985-1997, .265/.287/.339, Rookie of the Year (1985), 3x All-Star (1988, 1990, 1991), Gold Glove winner (1990)
Second stay: 2004-2011, 678-617 (.524 win percentage), 2005 World Series Champion, 2005 Manager of the Year
Players rarely return to former teams as managers and find much success, but Guillen did.

As a slappy-bat shortstop, Guillen only flirted occasionally with being an OK hitter. He became a lineup stalwart because of a glove that, depending on whom you ask, was either overrated or underrated. Nobody says he wasn't a good defender.

Guillen spent a few years as a utility infielder after leaving the Sox, and went from playing for the Devil Rays in 2000 to coaching with the Expos the next season. He was part of the Florida Marlins staff that won a World Series in 2003 before replacing Jerry Manuel as White Sox manager the next season.

When the Sox won a title in 2005, Guillen basked in the glow of the first baseball championship for Chicago in 88 years, taking home a Manager of the Year award. You could argue it never got better than that for Guillen and the Sox, who won 90 games the next year but came up short, and made only one other playoff appearance together -- a 2008 first-round exit against Tampa Bay.

Guillen certainly left hard feelings behind by demanding a contract extension or a trade to the Miami Marlins during his last month with the Sox. It was an ignominious ending to a reunion that began with triumphant glory.

Time will heal all wounds though, at least until the Sox win another title. If current skipper and all-time Sox great Robin Ventura is the manager lead them to one, he should easily displace Guillen at the top of this list. If he does that, he'll have engineered a surprising near-playoff run (2012), a rebuilding project (2013-?) and then a championship.

If those dreams come true, it would be another good reason getting back together isn't always a bad idea.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Top five deadline deals for the White Sox since 2000

Baseball's trade deadline looms Thursday. It's the last shopping day for teams to make moves without putting players on waivers first. Since that process is sometimes an impediment to adding reinforcements, the days before the July 31 deadline are always among the busiest on the baseball calendar.

Besides being the time to bolster rosters for the stretch run -- something neither Chicago team will be doing this year -- teams can also make more forward-thinking moves such as moving a veteran player for prospects, or picking up a veteran player under contract for multiple seasons yet. These kind of trades can be big moves that shape the future of a franchise, or small ones that add finishing pieces or future role players.

Here are the five best deals the White Sox have made near the deadline since 2000:

5. July 30, 2013. Traded Jake Peavy to the Boston Red Sox. Received Avisail Garcia from the Detroit Tigers and Francellis Montas, Cleuluis Rondon and Jeffrey Wendelken from the Red Sox. The Red Sox sent Jose Iglesias to the Tigers.

Garcia hasn't played much this season because of a shoulder injury. The Sox are hoping the fast-healing outfielder will see some time later this year because if he can develop into a solid everyday player, this trade will be exactly the kind of veteran-for-prospect deal the youth-starved Sox needed to make.

For all the flaws the Sox rotation has shown this year, Peavy isn't really missed considering his tepid performance this season and the big money he's making on the last year of his contract.

4. July 29, 2000. Traded Miguel Felix, Juan Figueroa, Jason Lakman and Brook Fordyce to the Baltimore Orioles. Received Harold Baines and Charles Johnson.

Johnson was a huge upgrade at catcher for the Sox over Fordyce (.272/.313/.464) and Mark Johnson (.225/.315/.316), batting an incredible .326/.411/.607 in 158 PAs over the last two months of the season. Consider how ridiculously talented the Sox offense was that year when Johnson, batting ninth in the playoffs, had 30 home runs on the season.

While Johnson left after the season, the Sox didn't win a playoff series and Baines wasn't a very effective bench bat during his third tour of duty with the team, this trade worked out just fine as none of the pieces the Sox gave up would haunt them down the road.

3. July 31, 2008. Traded Nick Masset and Danny Richar to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Ken Griffey, Jr. and cash.

It's easy to crack jokes about how Griffey was a shell of himself by the time he got to the Sox because it's true. He was no longer a great hitter and his play in center field could make you want to close your eyes. But consider that Brian Anderson, Dewayne Wise and down-season Nick Swisher were tasked with patrolling that spot after Alexei Ramirez was moved to second base full-time.

Griffey batted a decent .260/.347/.405 for the Sox, plus made a good defensive play to throw out the Twins' Michael Cuddyer at home plate in the 1-0 win over Minnesota in the AL Central tiebreaker. So even though Masset had a few decent seasons as a reliever, this is a trade the Sox should be happy they made.

2. July 31, 2004. Traded Esteban Loaiza to the New York Yankees. Received Jose Contreras and cash.

Despite having traded for Freddy Garcia just a month earlier, the Sox were headed in the wrong direction after losing Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez for the season. Loaiza, who appeared to have turned his career around the previous season, was also struggling, so the Sox opted to swap him for another right-hander who was getting roughed up, but had some potential and wasn't a free agent at the end of the year.

Contreras kept scuffling that year, pitching to a 5.30 ERA, only a slight improvement over his work with the Yankees. But the next season things clicked for the Cuban as he finished with a 3.61 ERA, including a dominant second half where he posted a 2.96 ERA and was the Game 1 starter in three playoff series as the Sox went 11-1 on their way to their first World Series title in 88 years.

1. July 31, 2005. Traded Ryan Meaux to the San Diego Padres. Received Geoff Blum.

Blum wasn't anywhere near as important as Contreras to the 2005 title march. In fact, a lot of observers were puzzled when he was the only piece added at the deadline by then-Sox GM Kenny Williams, who was notorious for his all-in style of roster building.

But it's hard to beat it when a trade deadline acquisition does this...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Paul Konerko's future: The speculation mounts

The White Sox have 45 games left in the 2013 season. The question is, are there 45 games remaining in Paul Konerko's fine career on the South Side of Chicago as well?

Nobody knows for sure, but the beat writers and columnists are starting to speculate. Gordon Beckham was asked Monday about filling the clubhouse leadership void if Konerko either retires or signs with another team this offseason. The Sox second baseman didn't want to address the possibility of Konerko's departure.

“If Paul wants to play, he’ll play,” Beckham said. “Obviously that’s a decision for him after the season. He’s got a lot more left in the tank, so I wouldn’t rule him out of playing next year. If he doesn’t, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I think he’s got a while yet.”

But does he? One of the more painful things about being a baseball fan is watching a player who has been good for a long time struggle or hang on too long in the twilight of a brilliant career. Sox fans went through it in the early 1990s with Carlton Fisk. The Sox ended up releasing the future Hall of Famer in June of 1993 because the proud catcher couldn't admit to himself that he was done.

This season, we've seen a steep decline in Konerko's production. The lifetime .281 hitter is batting just .243. Over the course of Konerko's career, his 162-game averages have been 31 home runs and 100 RBIs. This season, he has but 9 home runs and 40 RBIs. His OPS is a career-worst .664, well below his career mark of .850.

Konerko, 37,  had wrist surgery last offseason and has spent time on the disabled list this year with back problems. Are the declining numbers the result of injuries, advancing age or both?

Nobody can say for sure, but I know this: I've never seen Paul Konerko take more defensive swings than I have this season. I've never seen Konerko get himself out by swinging at bad pitches more than I have this season. We're talking about a guy who has played 15 years with the White Sox. He's appeared in 2,148 games and made 8,887 plate appearances with this team. I've had the privilege of watching most of them. I feel like I know when Konerko is locked in, and I feel like I know when he's going bad. I'm that familiar with his approach.

And I'm afraid we've reached a point where it is no longer reasonable to expect Konerko to be a big-time run producer in the middle of the lineup. The bat speed isn't quite where it used to be. Konerko isn't trying to drive the ball in a lot of situations the way he did in the past. Often, he's just trying to slap a base hit into right field. There are certain times where that is good strategy, but this Sox team needed Konerko to produce more. He hasn't been able to do that, and I think that's evidence that Father Time is starting to knock loudly for the Sox captain.

So, what do you do if you're the Sox at season's end? We know Frank Thomas is the greatest hitter in team history. But Konerko is clearly in that next tier with Fisk, Harold Baines and Luke Appling, et al. There's no question No. 14 will one day be retired by the team. It's hard to say goodbye to a player like this, one of the best the franchise has seen.

On a personal level, I'm hoping Konerko hangs 'em up at season's end. He has nothing left to prove. He's won a World Series and been to six All-Star games. And that would be the easiest thing for me as a Sox fan. I don't want to see Konerko in another uniform, nor do I want to see him hang on as a shell of his former self.

His contract is up at the end of the year, and if he wants to play in 2014, I just can't see the Sox bringing him back. How big of a market is there for a soon-to-be-38-year-old singles hitter with no speed anyway?