Showing posts with label James Shields. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Shields. Show all posts

Monday, June 19, 2017

James Shields returns from DL; Miguel Gonzalez goes on DL

The White Sox had an overall good week -- they went 5-2 against two teams from the AL East, taking three of four at home against the Baltimore Orioles and winning two of three on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays.

However, the Sox (31-37) can't seem to shake their season-long problem of pitching injuries. Right-hander James Shields came off the disabled list to make his first start since April 16 on Sunday, but he was merely taking the spot of Miguel Gonzalez, who went on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Now we know the reason Gonzalez has been so terrible lately. The right-hander has a 10.34 ERA in three June starts, and longer term, he's 1-8 with a 7.32 ERA over his past nine games. His season ERA is 5.49, well above his career norm of 3.97.

As for Shields, he was mediocre in receiving a no-decision in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays. And, honestly, mediocrity is all we expect from the 35-year-old declining veteran. He went 5.2 innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk.

Shields was one out away from getting through six innings with a 3-1 lead, but he couldn't close the deal. He easily retired the first two batters of the inning, but Troy Tulowitzki reached on a scratch infield single that hit the third-base bag. Shields then hung a slider to Russell Martin, who hit a game-tying two-run homer that hit the top of the wall and bounced over in right-center field.

That was Shields' final pitch of the day, and the Sox bullpen -- which has been solid most of the year -- was not solid on this day. Anthony Swarzak (3-2) gave up a single and a triple that allowed the Jays to take a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning.

Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Michael Ynoa combined to give up three runs in the bottom of the seventh as the Jays broke it open and salvaged the finale of the series.

Jennings was brought in to force switch-hitter Kendrys Morales to turn around and hit from the right side, and boy, did that move fail. Morales hit a two-run blast that hasn't landed yet. I've said it before this year, and I'll make the point again: Jennings is overused, having appeared in 32 of the Sox's 68 games. As we go along, his performance gets worse and worse.

The problem is that Jennings is the only left-hander in the bullpen, so he gets summoned to pitch to left-handed hitters on a frequent basis. Injuries have forced David Holmberg into the starting rotation, even though he is more suited to be the second lefty reliever.

Perhaps Holmberg could have kept Morales in the yard Sunday, but alas, he needs to stay in the rotation for now, with Gonzalez headed to the disabled list.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Pitching reinforcements could be coming for struggling White Sox

Jake Petricka
Up until their current road trip, the White Sox have been mostly competitive -- rarely getting blown out despite an overall losing record.

But the wear and tear of having seven pitchers on the disabled list has started to show of late. Starting pitchers have struggled to make it through more than five innings, the bullpen is taxed, and the Sox have given up 61 runs over their past eight games on their way to a 1-7 record.

At long last, the Sox are finally getting somebody back off the DL for this weekend's three-game series in Cleveland. Reliever Jake Petricka (strained lat), who hasn't pitched since the first game of the season, has been activated after pitching in three games for Triple-A Charlotte on a rehab assignment.

To make room for Petricka on the roster, right-hander Brad Goldberg was optioned back to Charlotte. Goldberg had one disastrous relief outing with the Sox and heads back to the minors with a 108.00 ERA. He was pretty much unusable, so it's much preferable to see Petricka -- who has a 3.29 ERA in 155 career big-league relief appearances -- back to work in middle relief.

While it's hard to get real excited about a post-peak James Shields (strained lat) nearing his return from the disabled list, I think we can pretty much agree that he's a reasonable bet to provide the Sox with more innings as a starting pitcher than David Holmberg.

Shields made his second rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte on Thursday, allowing two runs on four hits with five strikeouts over five innings. He got his pitch count up to 72, which means he should be no more than one start away from returning to the big leagues. Then, Holmberg can go back to being the second left-hander in the bullpen, which is a more reasonable role for his skill set.

Left-hander Carlos Rodon (biceps bursitis) also is pitching on a rehab assignment. He made his first start this year at any level Tuesday with Class-A Winston-Salem. In that outing, he allowed five runs in 3.1 innings with six strikeouts. Don't worry about the results -- his fastball touched 98 mph and he seemed to emerge healthy. He gave up a bunch of runs the second time through the batting order, which is indicative of a pitcher who has been sidelined all season and doesn't have much endurance.

Rodon is scheduled to make his second rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Charlotte. We might see him in Chicago by the end of the month, if he avoids setbacks. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Injury updates: When will Carlos Rodon pitch for the White Sox again?

Carlos Rodon
Forget about the White Sox's 5-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night. Nothing to see there, nothing much to talk about, an inconsequential loss in a season that is expected to be full of them.

The most important news of the day was on the injury front, where left-hander Carlos Rodon met the media for the first time in a long time after throwing 60 pitches in a simulated game against minor leaguers Monday at Chase Field.

Relief pitchers Jake Petricka and Nate Jones also worked during the simulated game, but the big story is Rodon, whose recovery from left bicep bursitis has taken much longer than expected.

For Rodon, this was his fourth simulated game, and he says he considers himself to be on an every-fifth-day schedule at this point. Still, there's no timetable for his return, and general manager Rick Hahn used the phrase "in the coming weeks" when asked when Rodon might return to game action.

“He’s been out there now three or four times throwing to hitters,” Hahn told Sox beat reporters. “Each time has been a little more crisp from what I understand from the previous ones to today. Hopefully here in the coming weeks we are able to announce he’s starting a rehab assignment and we’ll have a better sense of his time frame at that point.”

Let me take an educated guess: Rodon might be back around the All-Star break. Say it's three more weeks until he heads out on a rehab assignment. Realistically, he'll probably need three or four starts in the minors before he's got enough strength and endurance to start in a big league game.

So, maybe we'll see him in July.

Why does this matter so much? For two reasons. One, the 24-year-old is seen as a cornerstone pitcher in the Sox's rebuilding plan. If he cannot get healthy and pitch effectively at some point this season, his status as a building block for the future would have to be called into question.

Secondly, his status affects the Sox's strategy at the trade deadline. With Rodon and James Shields both on the disabled list, the team's organizational pitching depth has been stretched thin. Retread veteran Mike Pelfrey and Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey don't belong in a major league rotation, but they are there because of the injuries, and because the Sox don't want to rush prized pitching prospects such as Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer into the starting rotation.

A healthy Rodon -- and a healthy Shields, for that matter -- makes it a little easier for Hahn to deal ace Jose Quintana for a package of prospects when July comes around.

If Rodon is not healthy for the second half of the season, and the Sox choose to deal Quintana, they might be faced with having to force-fit a prospect into the big league rotation before they really want to. That's a situation everyone would like to avoid, and it can be avoided if Rodon can take the ball 14 or 15 times before the 2017 season is over.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

White Sox must stop overusing Dan Jennings

Dan Jennings
The Pollyannas in the White Sox fan base tell me I should be rejoicing because the team "finally has a plan" to return to legitimate pennant contention.

From where I'm sitting, it appears part of the plan is to kill left-handed reliever Dan Jennings before Memorial Day.

Tuesday night's game, a 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins, got out of hand under Jennings' watch. With the Sox trailing 3-2 in the fifth, Jennings relieved and cleaned up a mess left by starter Mike Pelfrey. But the wheels came off when the lefty went back out for the sixth inning. Jennings allowed singles to three of the first four hitters he faced, and that set the table for a four-run Minnesota rally that put the game out of reach.

I can't blame Jennings because he has been overused in the early going this season. He has appeared in 15 of the 31 Sox games, and that seems excessive. The wear and tear is starting to take its toll, as Jennings was pitching well until this past week.

First 12 appearances: 2-0, 0.93 ERA, 7 Ks, 2 BBs, 10 H in 9.2 IP
Past 3 appearances: 0-0, 32.40 ERA, 0 Ks, 1 BB, 8 H in 1.2 IP

Yes, it's going wrong for Jennings now, and the overuse is a twofold problem: First, he's been the only left-hander in the bullpen for most of the year, which means he is being summoned frequently as a situational pitcher. The Sox recently added left-hander David Holmberg to the 25-man roster when Nate Jones went on the disabled list, but Holmberg is roster filler. He's not the type of pitcher who is going to be trusted in medium-leverage situations, let alone high-leverage roles.

Secondly, Jennings has been used as the "first man out" when a starter pitcher falters in the fifth or sixth inning. That was the case in Tuesday's game against the Twins, and it's been the case more than once in games started by Pelfrey and Dylan Covey.

Pelfrey has averaged 4.2 innings in his four starts, while Covey has averaged an even 5 innings in his five starts. Forty percent of the Sox rotation cannot make it through the sixth inning, ever, and that's going to cause somebody in the bullpen to either get hurt or lose effectiveness.

Jennings appears to be the first victim.

So, what are the Sox to do? They are boxed into a corner to some extent. Two guys who were supposed to be in the rotation -- Carlos Rodon and James Shields -- are on the disabled list, and return dates are unknown. In the meantime, somebody has to pitch. The Sox have been consistent in their message that they don't intend to rush their prospects, even though Triple-A results suggest Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez could probably pitch more effectively than Pelfrey and Covey.

But since the Sox don't want to take that step, Pelfrey and Covey are going to keep getting starts. My suggestion? Make them wear it if they don't pitch well. Pelfrey is supposed to be a veteran "innings eater." Well, let's see him eat some innings for once, even if the innings he is providing are not of good quality. That's better than running a left-handed bullpen asset such as Jennings into the ground. Covey is a Rule 5 pick and a developmental guy. Well, it's time to learn the hard way, kid.

When these guys go to the mound, tell them six innings are expected, come hell or high water. Will it result in losses? Of course, but the Sox are already losing the majority of games on the days Pelfrey and Covey pitch. (They are a combined 3-6 in those nine games.)

Another option: Designate Cody Asche for assignment and add a 13th pitcher to the roster. Asche has zero defensively utility, and he's hitting .107/.180/.179 for the season. He easily could be replaced with placeholder pitcher such as Juan Minaya, who is right-handed, but he could soak up some of the burden for the front end of the Sox bullpen. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

White Sox as contenders? I don't think so

Nate Jones
With the White Sox off to a respectable start, there have been some questions about what general manager Rick Hahn might do at the trading deadline if the team stays on the fringes of contention through the first half of the season.

Would he stay the course of a long-term rebuild? Or would he look to add to the roster for a second-half push in 2017?

I have wasted no effort pondering these questions, because I don't see any scenario in which the Sox hang in the race. Yes, the 14-12 start has been surprisingly watchable. However, I don't think this stretch of competitive ball is sustainable, especially knowing the Sox now have five pitchers on the disabled list.

Five pitchers on the DL! And it's only May 4.

Nate Jones is latest Sox pitcher to go on the shelf. He was placed on the 10-day disabled list Thursday (retroactive to Monday) with right elbow neuritis.

Left-hander David Holmberg's contract was purchased from Triple-A Charlotte. To make room for Holmberg on the 40-man roster, Carlos Rodon (left biceps bursitis) was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

Never mind the holes the Sox have in center field or at designated hitter, their biggest problem is Rodon, James Shields, Jones, Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam all being on the disabled list.

The Sox have no fewer than two relief pitchers -- and arguably three -- who have no business being in the major leagues. With Rodon and Shields both sidelined, the Sox have significant holes in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the rotation.

As we've said before, Dylan Covey is on the roster only because he's a Rule 5 draft pick, and the Sox would like to hold onto him and see if they can develop him. As for Mike Pelfrey, I guess we can give him credit for keeping Wednesday's game scoreless through five innings.

But the wheels came off the third time he went through the Kansas City batting order in the sixth inning. A scoreless game turned into a 3-0 Royals lead in the span of four batters, and the Sox ended up losing, 6-1.

Pelfrey, at this stage of his career, is a five-inning pitcher, at best. And there isn't a single contending team in the league that he could pitch for.

The possibility of the Sox hanging in the race, honestly, it's not worth much discussion. I can't see a situation where that happens given the volume of injuries the team is dealing with this early in the season. Regression will hit at some point here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

White Sox begin nine-game trip with typical Cleveland loss

Michael Brantley
The White Sox are 12-25 in their past 37 games in Cleveland, so we shouldn't be surprised that their first road game against the Indians this year ended with an archetypal punch to the groin.

Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle (0-1) retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 10th inning, but then he walked Francisco Lindor and gave up a game-winning double to Michael Brantley as the Indians came away with a 2-1 victory.

It's too bad, because the Sox wasted a serviceable start by the erstwhile James Shields. The veteran right-hander gave up a solo home run to Lindor in the bottom of the first inning, but nothing more over 5.1 innings. He allowed only two hits, walked two and retired 12 consecutive Cleveland hitters at one point.

Given the garbage we saw from Shields last year, how can we complain about that performance against one of the better lineups in the American League? We can't.

And, the Sox bullpen covered 13 more outs before Kahnle finally cracked in the bottom of the 10th.

Have we mentioned the fact that the Sox can't hit? Yeah, it's becoming a theme. Other than Todd Frazier's solo home run in the fifth inning, the offense generated little. The Sox were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and four of the nine starters finished the game 0 for 4.

The best scoring chance came in the top of the eighth inning against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller, of all people. Geovany Soto walked and advanced to third on a double by pinch-hitter Matt Davidson with one out.

With runners on second and third, Tyler Saladino hit a Miller slider right on the screws, but his line drive landed in the glove of diving Cleveland third baseman Yandy Diaz. Good defense by Diaz, bad luck for Saladino. If that one gets through, the Sox (2-4) take a 3-1 lead. Alas, it did not, and Tim Anderson swung over the top of two Miller sliders and basically struck himself out to end the threat.

The Indians also missed an opportunity in the eighth inning, thanks to some curious managing by Terry Francona. Sox reliever Nate Jones was laboring; he walked the first two hitters. But Francona for some reason ordered the red-hot Lindor to sacrifice bunt, which he did.

Sure, that gave Cleveland (4-3) runners on second and third with one out, but it opened the door for Sox manager Rick Renteria to walk Brantley intentionally and set up the double play. That's precisely what Renteria did. Jones got a righty-on-righty matchup that was favorable for him against Cleveland's Edwin Encarnacion, and he induced a 5-4-3 double play to keep the game tied. Good managing by Renteria, not so good by Francona, who is normally the game's best.

Unfortunately, given a second life, the Sox's offense was too inept to scratch across a run and steal a winnable game.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Surprise, surprise, James Shields secures first White Sox win of 2017

James Shields gave up 40 home runs last year, including 31 in the 22 starts he made after the White Sox acquired him in a midseason deal with the San Diego Padres.

So, I wasn't expecting good results Thursday when Shields took the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field on a day where the winds were gusting out to right field at 25 to 30 mph. I figured the Detroit Tigers would hit at least three home runs off the veteran right-hander.

Matt Davidson
Well, surprise, surprise. Shields hung in there for 5.1 innings and earned the win in an 11-2 White Sox victory. It wasn't the best pitching performance I've ever seen -- Shields walked five and struck out five -- but he allowed only one run on two hits. He gave up one home run -- a solo shot by Tyler Collins in the second inning -- and it was the Sox hitters who best took advantage of the windy conditions.

The South Siders hit three home runs. The biggest one came from catcher Geovany Soto, whose 3-run shot in the bottom of the third inning gave the Sox a 5-1 lead and knocked Detroit starter Matt Boyd out of the game.

Matt Davidson added a long 3-run homer (estimated at 428 feet) in the bottom of the fourth inning -- his first in a Sox uniform -- off Detroit reliever Anibal Sanchez to make the score 9-1.

For good measure, Soto added a solo shot in the seventh inning for his first two-homer game since 2011.

The most eye-opening thing about Thursday's game was the performance of Davidson, who also tripled, walked and scored three runs as part of a 2-for-3 day as designated hitter.

I'm on record as a Davidson nonbeliever. He's 26 years old, and he still strikes out too much -- despite his prodigious power. That said, I've been wrong about people before, and Davidson should be getting at-bats ahead of Cody Asche, lefty-righty matchups be damned.

This is Asche's fifth year in the big leagues. He already has 1,291 plate appearances under his belt. His career slash line is .240/.298/.384. At this point, I think it is safe to say those numbers reflect who he is. Perhaps he'll stick around for a while because he bats left-handed, but he's a fringe player.

It's possible, maybe even likely, that Davidson is a fringe player as well. However, Davidson has made only 93 plate appearances at the big-league level across parts of four seasons. He's struck out 26 times, which is way too much, and has a slash line of .259/.355/.506.

That's not enough sample size to make any firm judgments. I'd be in favor of letting Davidson play. The Sox aren't going anywhere this year. It's as good a time as any to find out what they have in him, if they have anything at all.

The Sox (1-1) will next host the Minnesota Twins (3-0) for a three-game weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday: Derek Holland vs. Phil Hughes
Saturday: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Adalberto Mejia
Sunday: Jose Quintana (0-1) vs. Ervin Santana (1-0)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday's White Sox-Tigers game postponed; James Shields starts Thursday

Wednesday afternoon's game between the White Sox and Detroit Tigers was postponed because of rain.

The game will be made up at 4:10 p.m. Friday, May 26, as part of a straight doubleheader.

James Shields, who was scheduled to pitch Wednesday for the Sox, will take his regular turn in Thursday's 1 p.m. series finale against the Tigers, weather permitting. (The forecast still sucks.)

The Tigers are making an adjustment in their rotation. Left-hander Matt Boyd, who was originally supposed to pitch Saturday against the Boston Red Sox, has been moved up to start Thursday's game.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jose Quintana: Still with the White Sox, but hasn't been named Opening Day starter

Jose Quintana
CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes tweeted Wednesday that the White Sox still have not made a decision on their Opening Day starting pitcher. Manager Rick Renteria wants folks to "give him a few more days."

This is unusual, because if you take a look at the Sox's roster, there is no debate about who should be starting the home opener. Jose Quintana is a proven All-Star left-hander, easily one of the top 20 pitchers in the game, and probably top 15. Then, the Sox have four other guys in the rotation. There is substantial drop-off from Quintana to Carlos Rodon and Miguel Gonzalez, and then another drop-off to James Shields and Derek Holland.

So what's the delay in naming Quintana the starter for the first game? There must be something blowing in the wind on the trade market. The only reason for Renteria to start any other pitcher besides Quintana on April 3 would be because Quintana is no longer on the team.

Jeff Passan, Yahoo's MLB columnist, weighed in on Quintana's situation Wednesday, but there's nothing more to his report than the same things we've been reading from the Sox beat reporters all spring: "White Sox scouts are everywhere. They are willing to deal Quintana, but only for the right price, etc., etc. etc."

The teams mentioned as possible suitors are ones that we've been hearing all along -- the Atlanta Braves, the Houston Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Passan correctly notes the market for front-end pitching is bleak beyond Quintana. He says sources tell him that Milwaukee's Junior Guerra, who enjoyed a breakout season as a 31-year-old rookie (!) in 2016, is the next-best starting pitcher who might be available after Quintana.

And, the market might not be much stronger when we get to the middle of the season. Perhaps Oakland's Sonny Gray gets healthy and rebuilds his value. Perhaps not. Perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays fall out of the race and become more willing to deal Chris Archer. Perhaps not. Even if the Toronto Blue Jays falter, Quintana still would be a more attractive options for a contender than Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano.

The Sox are biding their time, hoping to get the deal they want, and gambling a little bit that Quintana will remain both healthy and effective until they make a move. The club's inability to commit to Quintana as the Opening Day starter makes it clear to me that there's something going on, but somewhat amazingly in this day and age, whatever is going on has been kept under the radar -- even from well-connected national baseball reporters such as Passan.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How might the White Sox pitching staff look when the season starts?

Jose Quintana -- still here
White Sox pitchers and catchers will have their first full workouts Feb. 14 in Glendale, Arizona. It's closer than we think, so let's take a look at how the pitching staff might shake out given the current roster construction.

We'll assume there are no trades between now and Opening Day -- a big assumption, because general manager Rick Hahn made it clear at SoxFest that he's still open to making moves before the season starts.

For a rebuilding club, the Sox look surprisingly set on the pitching side of things. The five projected starting pitchers right now are pretty obvious:

1. Jose Quintana
2. Carlos Rodon
3. Miguel Gonzalez
4. James Shields
5. Derek Holland

In anyone gets injured or traded, Rule 5 draft pick Dylan Covey might get the first shot at taking a spot. The other roster contenders would be two of the three players acquired in the Adam Eaton trade -- Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. However, Hahn indicated a preference to have all the recently acquired prospects start the season in the minor leagues, so we probably will not see Giolito or Lopez in Chicago until later in the 2017 season.

I look for prospects Carson Fulmer and Tyler Danish to potentially get some starts during spring training, but both players are ticketed for the Triple-A rotation in Charlotte when the season starts.

Let's assume the Sox will carry 12 pitchers -- most teams do -- so that means there are seven spots in the bullpen. There isn't a lot of mystery with five out of the seven:
David Robertson -- also still here

1. David Robertson
2. Nate Jones
3. Dan Jennings
4. Jake Petricka
5. Zach Putnam
6. ????
7. ????

Contenders for the last two spots include a quartet of right-handers we saw in Chicago in 2016: Tommy Kahnle, Michael Ynoa, Juan Minaya and Chris Beck.

I'm guessing one of the four makes the club, with Kahnle having the inside track. Unlike the rest of that crew, he had a strong finish to 2016 -- a 0.87 ERA over his final 11 appearances with 11 strikeouts in 10.1 IP.

Why would only one of the four make the team? Well, I'm thinking the Sox want a second left-hander in the bullpen. Jennings is the only left-handed roster lock as a relief pitcher. The door is open for waiver claim Giovanni Soto, who last pitched in the majors with Cleveland in 2015. The 25-year-old's left-handedness is an advantage for him as he battles Ynoa, Minaya and Beck for a roster spot.

But what of the non-roster invitees, you ask? Are there any pitchers that could surprise and make the roster out of spring training?

I'd say keep an eye on the non-rostered lefties, a list that includes Matt Purke, Aaron Bummer, Brian Clark, Jace Fry, David Holmberg and Cory Luebke.

Purke is a familiar name to Sox fans, although his 12 big league outings last season were pretty bad. I'll be interested to see what Bummer has after amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler spoke highly of him at SoxFest. Bummer is hard thrower who missed the 2015 season with Tommy John surgery, and he has fewer than 40 professional innings under his belt. It seems unlikely he'll compete for a roster spot given his inexperience, but he might be the most intriguing name in this group.

Clark is more advanced, having thrown 56 innings across 37 games between Birmingham and Charlotte last year. Fry missed the 2016 season with Tommy John surgery, and has thrown only 61 professional innings. Holmberg has worked mostly as a starter in his career. He made 28 starts between Birmingham and Charlotte last year, and has 167 career starts in the minors. Luebke is a 31-year-old former San Diego Padres prospect who underwent two Tommy John surgeries and missed three seasons from 2013-15.

From that list of six, we'll see if any emerge as a worthy challenger. Personally, I wouldn't count on it. Of course, when do you ever count on non-roster invitees?

Non-rostered right-handed pitchers in camp include Blake Smith, who made five September appearances with the Sox last year; 31-year-old veteran Anthony Swarzak, who had 26 relief appearances with the New York Yankees last year; and 20-year-old prospect Spencer Adams, who split time between Winston-Salem and Birmingham in 2016.

And, oh yeah, Michael Kopech and Zack Burdi are going to be in camp as non-roster players. Heard anything about them lately? How's that for burying the lead?

In all seriousness, Kopech is probably ticketed for High-A Winston-Salem when the season starts, while Burdi will be headed to the Charlotte bullpen, in hopes of one day becoming the White Sox closer.

Neither of these two hyped prospects are going to make the club, but they will generate headlines each and every time they take the mound this spring.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Rick Renteria impresses with answers to fan questions at SoxFest

Rick Renteria (center)
I went to SoxFest this past weekend without much enthusiasm toward the rebuilding project that is just beginning on the South Side of Chicago.

Guess what? I'm still not excited, but after listening to new White Sox manager Rick Renteria talk this weekend, I feel a little better knowing he will be the man leading the team through a 2017 season that is almost certainly going to be trying and ugly at times.

Renteria has been talking all week about doing things the "White Sox Way," so I stood up in the seminar room Friday night and asked him to elaborate on what the "White Sox Way" is, and to provide me with some examples of the things he wants to do differently than what we've seen in the past.

First, Renteria praised me for asking a good question, then he gave a detailed, specific and thoughtful response. He talked about the need for players to play with maximum effort  -- back up bases, run hard out of the batter's box, etc. He talked about how it was his responsibility to hold players accountable for actions they take or don't take on the field. He talked about the importance of improving in several small but key areas, a better two-strike approach at the plate, better base running, understanding situations in the field, hitting the ball the other way when the situation calls for it -- all things that seemed to be lacking during the Robin Ventura Era.

The paragraph above is just a Cliff Notes version. Renteria spoke for about five minutes after I asked my question, and he gave similarly detailed responses to other questions posed by fans. It was a welcome change from previous SoxFests.

Some other highlights from the seminar room:

1. General manager Rick Hahn said repeatedly that all the prospects acquired in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades are expected to start the season in the minor leagues. He added that the Sox still are actively looking to make more moves before the season begins, with the goal of stockpiling as much young talent as possible. Hahn noted that a deal fell apart for him on Christmas Eve, so yeah, all that Jose Quintana-to-the-Yankees stuff around the holidays probably had some validity to it. It just didn't happen.

2. A fan astutely asked Hahn whether he would try to include the declining and overpriced James Shields in a deal with one of his assets. How would that work? Say Hahn wants to trade Quintana. He could go to a team and say, "You guys want Quintana? Well, you gotta take Shields and his high salary as well." Under such a scenario, the Sox would get less return in prospects for Quintana, but they would be off the hook for Shields' bad contract. Hahn said he would not do that under any circumstance, because his goal is to acquire top young talent, and throwing a liability such as Shields into a trade would defeat that purpose. I was happy to hear Hahn say that. We won't have a repeat of the Mark Teahen situation with Shields.

3. Both Friday night and Saturday morning, fans asked Hahn and Renteria about the role sabermetrics play in decision-making. Renteria said there was no shortage of information for he and his coaches to digest, but I was most impressed when he noted that numbers represent outcomes, and while they can be instructive, it's important to stay ahead of the curve by looking at more than just the past. Renteria noted that he has to trust his eyes and his gut, as well, beyond just absorbing the numbers, and there needs to be an understanding of what individual players can and cannot do in certain situations. Good answer.

In summary, Renteria's words, of course, are merely that. He has to produce results on the field, as well, but he gave the die-hard fans at SoxFest reason to believe he might be the right man for the job.

That's no small statement coming from me, because I was skeptical when Renteria was hired, and critical of Sox management for not conducting a more thorough search.

And, hell, I'm still skeptical, but I'm at least a little more open to the direction they are going based upon what I heard from the new manager over the weekend.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

White Sox trade outfielder Adam Eaton to Nationals for 3 pitching prospects

Jason Bauman (left) and Adam Eaton at SoxFest 2016.
A day after the White Sox traded their ace pitcher, they dealt the guy who was their best position player in 2016 for three pitching prospects.

Adam Eaton is now the center fielder for the Washington Nationals. In exchange, the Sox have acquired right-handed pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

It's no secret that I did not care for the Chris Sale trade that was made Tuesday, but now that the Sox have committed to a rebuild, they have to go all in on it. You can't just trade Sale and keep the rest of the band together, because that is a path to certain failure. So, against that backdrop, it makes sense to deal Eaton, although it's difficult to see him leave after the fine 2016 season he produced.

Eaton hit .284/.362/.428 in 2016, with 29 doubles, nine triples, 14 home runs, 14 stolen bases, 91 runs scored and 18 outfield assists in 157 games. He was a American League Gold Glove finalist in right field, even though deficiencies with the Sox roster forced him to play 48 games in center field.

There's no question Eaton is a good fit for the Nationals. He's an established leadoff hitter. His presence in center field will allow Washington to move Trea Turner back to his natural position at shortstop, and he helps balance out the lineup. The Nationals have two elite left-handed hitters in Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. While Eaton is not at the level of those two, he's another quality lefty bat.

Not to mention, Eaton has a team-friendly contract -- five years remaining at the bargain rate of $38 million over the life of the deal. Maybe that's why the Sox were able to get Washington's top three pitching prospects in this trade.

Giolito, 22, is the top-ranked pitching prospect in the game, and the No. 3-rated prospect overall. The former first-round draft pick pitched at three levels in the minors last year, recording 116 strikeouts in 115.1 innings to go along with a 2.97 ERA. He received a late-season promotion to Washington, where he appeared in six games (four starts). He went 0-1 with 6.75 ERA in 21.1 innings.

Lopez, 22, is the No. 38-ranked prospect in baseball, and the No. 3-rated prospect in the Nationals' system. He worked in 11 games (six starts) for Washington last season, going 5-3 with a 4.91 ERA. He was good enough to make the Nationals' postseason roster, and from a White Sox perspective, hey, he's probably already better than James Shields.

Dunning, 21, is a little bit more of a project. He was the Nationals' first-round draft pick and No. 29 overall in 2016. He was the No. 6-rated prospect in the Washington system. He got seven starts in at Low-A Auburn and went 3-2 with a 2.14 ERA.

I never get excited about trading established players for prospects because prospect rankings are just that -- rankings. They mean nothing on the field, and we don't know what these guys are going to do until they get an opportunity.

That said, I somehow feel as if the Sox got a better deal for Eaton than they got for Sale. Maybe it's just because I'm looking at Giolito and Lopez and seeing two guys who could potentially contribute from Day 1 in 2017, whereas the four guys in the Sale deal all look as if they are going to need some more minor-league time.

I doubt Rick Hahn is done dealing yet. There are rumors that Jose Quintana and Todd Frazier could be on the move soon, too. We shall see ...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Adam Eaton a Gold Glove finalist, and other assorted White Sox news

Adam Eaton
Catching up on a few White Sox notes from the past few days:

1. Right fielder Adam Eaton has been named a finalist for the American League Gold Glove Award. Eaton led major-league outfielders with 18 assists and was second to Boston's Mookie Betts with 22 defensive runs saved.

Eaton is trying to become the first Sox player to win a Gold Glove since pitcher Jake Peavy won the honor in 2012. The last Sox position player to win a Gold Glove was third baseman Robin Ventura in 1998.

Eaton was a finalist for the award as a center fielder in 2014. The other finalists among right fielders this year are Betts and Houston's George Springer.

Consider Betts the favorite, since he also had a big offensive season (yeah, I know it shouldn't matter, but it does) and plays in Boston.

2. No surprise: Pitcher James Shields will opt in for the final two years of his contract, according to reports.

Shields, who will turn 35 in December, is coming off a terrible season in which he posted a 6-19 record with a 5.85 ERA. After being traded to the American League, his ERA swelled to 6.77 in 22 starts with the Sox, during which he went 4-12.

The right-hander is owed $21 million for each of the next two seasons, although the San Diego Padres are on the hook for $11 million in both 2017 and 2018. That means the Sox will play Shields $10 million next year and the year after that.

There is a $16 million club option for 2019 on Shields, with a $2 million buyout, if he somehow manages to hold his roster spot for that long. The Sox would be on the hook for the buyout.

Great trade, huh?

3. The Sox claimed outfielder Rymer Liriano off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Liriano, 25, was once a top-100 prospect in the San Diego system, but his skills have never translated to the big-league level.

He made it to the bigs with the Padres in 2014, but couldn't stick, hitting .220 with a .555 OPS in 121 plate appearances in 38 games.

Liriano missed the entire 2016 season after being struck in the face by pitched ball in spring training. The move brings the Sox's 40-man roster back up to 40 players, but this acquisition is for nothing more than organizational depth.

Friday, October 7, 2016

James Shields trade didn't turn out great for San Diego, either

Erik Johnson
This probably won't comfort White Sox fans who have watched James Shields get rocked start after start over the past four months, but the guy the Sox traded for Shields -- Erik Johnson -- is sidelined after Tommy John surgery.

Johnson made just four starts for the San Diego Padres in 2016, going 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA. He allowed a Shields-like 20 earned runs on 32 hits -- including nine home runs -- and five walks in 19.2 innings. He didn't pitch a single game after July 1.

According to a report in Thursday's San Diego Union-Tribune, Johnson will miss the entire 2017 season after the elbow surgery.

The Padres can at least say they got some salary relief from the deal. They paid Johnson the league minimum to sit on the DL, which is not ideal, but it's probably preferable to paying Shields $21 million to go 6-19 with a 5.85 ERA.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Random White Sox thought for Wednesday afternoon

Found this tidbit in an article over at southsidesox.com:

The White Sox have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Carlos Rodon, Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Miguel Gonzalez, Tim Anderson and Nate Jones set to make just $50 million combined for the 2017 season.

Given the production of those nine players, that's an amazing value, is it not? That's what is so aggravating about the Sox's continuing struggles: There is clearly a core of quality players already in place, yet the losing carries on unabated.

The article also notes the $10 million owed to James Shields is the only significant contract liability.

If the Sox opt to try to contend next year -- and I have no reason to believe they won't try -- shouldn't they have plenty of money to spend to supplement this core?

I would think so. Of course, I thought that last year, yet the most significant free agent contract handed out by the Sox was the one-year, $5 million deal signed by mediocre outfielder Austin Jackson.

If the Sox aren't going to rebuild, it's time to stop the excuses and open the wallet already. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

White Sox pitcher James Shields will avoid 20-loss season

James Shields
For a change, struggling White Sox pitcher James Shields didn't lose Monday night.

The right-hander picked up his first victory since July 26, firing six innings of one-run ball in a 7-1 Sox win over Shields' former team, the Tampa Bay Rays.

With the victory, Shields improves to 6-18 (4-11 with the Sox) and ensures that he will not be a 20-game loser this season, regardless of the outcome of his final scheduled start Saturday against the Minnesota Twins.

Shields struggled for most of the game. Tampa Bay had multiple base runners in four of the six innings he pitched, but a couple of well-timed double plays and six strikeouts allowed Shields to pitch out of trouble.

I'm still 100 percent opposed to the idea of Shields being in the Sox's rotation for 2017. His 0-4 mark with an 11.42 ERA over six starts in August was more than enough for me to say it's time to move on. But the reality is Shields has two years left on his contract, and the Sox are probably going to trot him to the mound for 32 starts next season, so we're left with hoping the Shields of Monday night appears more often.

It didn't hurt that the Sox had another decent offensive game. Justin Morneau and Carlos Sanchez each hit two-run homers as part of an 11-hit attack. Morneau, Sanchez, Jose Abreu and Omar Narvaez had two hits each. Abreu picked up his 98th RBI, inching closer to reaching the 100-RBI mark for the third straight season. Melky Cabrera collected his 40th double Monday, becoming the first Sox hitter to reach that plateau since Jermaine Dye in 2008.

After a six-game losing streak, the Sox (75-81) have won three straight games and will send ace Chris Sale to the mound Tuesday in the second game of the four-game series with the Rays.

Monday, September 12, 2016

White Sox lose two out of three to Kansas City

Carlos Rodon
Nothing brings out the worst in the White Sox quicker than the sight of Kansas City Royals uniforms in the other dugout. The Sox dropped two out of three at home to Kansas City over the weekend. They have lost all five series they have played against the Royals this season, and are now just 4-11 against Kansas City this year.

Here's a look back at the weekend that was:

Friday, Sept. 9
White Sox 7, Royals 2: The late-season surge continues for left-hander Carlos Rodon, who settled down after a shaky first inning to win his fourth consecutive start and fifth straight decision.

Rodon (7-8) went six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits. He struck out nine and walked two while lowering his ERA to 3.80. He punctuated his outing by striking out Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando on a nasty slider with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Rodon is now 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA since Aug. 1, a period spanning seven starts. He continues to be a bright spot in an otherwise miserable second half for the Sox.

The Sox offense did have a good showing Friday night, seven runs without the benefit of a home run. The South Siders pounded out 13 hits, and all nine players in the starting lineup either scored a run or drove in a run. Tyler Saladino continued a prolonged hot streak, as he went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

Saturday, Sept. 10
Royals 6, White Sox 5: Can anyone explain to me why the Sox are suddenly using Chris Beck in a high-leverage role? The right-handed reliever has appeared in five of the last seven games, despite a 7.41 ERA and no real evidence of major league competency.

After a rare decent start by James Shields, Beck was summoned to protect a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning and did not get the job done. He gave up a one-out single to Christian Colon, who was pinch run for by Terrence Gore. The speedy Gore spooked the Sox bench and Beck by his mere presence on the bases. The Sox called for two consecutive pitchouts. Gore stole second base anyway, and Beck walked light-hitting Jarrod Dyson after the "brain trust" foolishly ran the count to 2-0 with the useless pitchouts.

After being issued the free pass, Dyson scored the go-ahead run on Whit Merrifield's two-run double (#typicalWhiteSoxnonsense), and Kansas City never trailed again.

The Sox were behind 6-4 going into the bottom of the ninth. They scored one run off Royals closer Wade Davis, but Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau struck out consecutively with runners at first and third, ending the comeback attempt.

Sunday, Sept. 11
Royals 2, White Sox 0: Ace Chris Sale struck out 12 and became the first Sox pitcher in 20 years to throw eight or more innings in five consecutive starts.

Didn't matter, because for all of Sale's brilliance, the rest of the team stinks.

The Royals got solo home runs from Kendrys Morales and Eric Hosmer, and starting pitcher Ian Kennedy and three Kansas City relievers combined to limit the Sox to just two hits -- both singles by Adam Eaton, one in the first and one in the ninth.

The Sox had another crack at Davis in the ninth, who allowed Eaton's second single and walked Melky Cabrera to put the potential winning run at home plate. But once again, Abreu lined out to right field and Morneau struck out swinging, allowing Kansas City to escape town with another in a long line of series wins over Chicago.

Here are some interesting splits on Sale:
Before the All-Star break: 14-3, 3.38 ERA
Since the All-Star break: 1-5, 2.82 ERA

Sale was chosen to start the All-Star game because of his strong first-half performance. He's been even better the second half, but you'd never know it based upon the won-loss statistics.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Maybe the White Sox should give Nate Jones a break

Nate Jones
White Sox relief pitcher Nate Jones is tied for the American League lead with 62 appearances.

The team is asking a lot from him, especially since this is his first full season back after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. Whether the Sox want to admit it or not, they are out of the pennant race, and they would be well-advised not to overuse Jones over the final 32 games of the season, which are relatively meaningless.

Jones has been the Sox's best reliever this season, and it's not close. It's important to get him through this season healthy, because he could be a valuable member of the Sox's 2017 bullpen, or he could be traded for something of value as part of a rebuilding plan this offseason.

Unfortunately, Sox brass doesn't seem to be giving any consideration to that strategy. They still are selling out to try to win games, and they are being reckless in the process. Jones was on the mound for the third straight game Monday night in Detroit, and he failed to protect a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a two-run homer off him that lifted the Tigers to a 4-3 win.

You can see where the problem is here. The Sox have eight relief pitchers on their roster, and only three of them belong in the major leagues: Jones, David Robertson and Dan Jennings. The Sox play a lot of close games, and Robin Ventura -- who is on an expiring contract and is managing for his job -- keeps calling for the only relievers he trusts. Even on days where Jones doesn't get in the game, it seems like he's warming up at some point.

The seeds for Monday's loss were sown in Saturday night's game. The Sox took a 9-2 lead into the ninth inning. Jacob Turner, one of the five Sox relievers that does not belong in the major leagues, could not close it out. Seattle scored a run and had the bases loaded with only one out. Jones relieved and got a double play to extricate the team from that mess, but the point is he never should have appeared in that game. Somebody else should have been able to get two outs with a six-run lead. It's just not that hard.

Jones was rightfully used in the eighth inning with a 2-1 lead Sunday, and he got the job done as part of a 4-1 Sox win. It's one thing to use a guy back-to-back days, but three in a row during garbage time is unnecessary, especially for a pitcher with an extensive injury history. I would have been OK with Jones being out there Monday if he had not been used Saturday, but he was foolishly and needlessly used in a lopsided win against the Mariners.

Who knows? If Jones gets the night off Saturday, maybe he's a little fresher and able to protect the lead Monday.

It's too bad, because the Sox got a rare quality start from James Shields on Monday. He went six innings and allowed only two runs. It would have been nice to finish that one off, but the Sox have way too many holes in their pitching staff to have visions of a September run.

The smart play here is to back the workload down for the pitchers who have value -- Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Robertson and Jones. If that causes the team to lose more games down the stretch, so be it. We can't trust Ventura to do that, sadly, because he's trying to win enough games to convince team brass to let him return in 2017.

For most Sox fans, including me, there's nothing that will convince us that Ventura should be allowed to manage next year's club. He's had his chances. He's overmatched. It's time to move on.