Showing posts with label Los Angeles Dodgers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Los Angeles Dodgers. Show all posts

Monday, March 13, 2017

White Sox score 14 runs in ninth inning to beat Dodgers

Leury Garcia
Let's be honest: Most spring training games are not worth much analysis. However, it gets your attention when a team scores 14 runs in one inning.

While most of the world was sleeping late Sunday night, the White Sox entered the ninth inning trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1. They ended up winning the game, 15-5, after one of the most bizarre half-innings I've ever heard on the radio. (The game was not televised.)

The Sox batted around twice -- sending 18 men to the plate -- and scored 14 runs on only seven hits. A few highlights:

  • Luis Alexander Basabe, an outfielder who was acquired in the Chris Sale deal, had a two-run single to put the Sox ahead, 5-3.
  • Yoan Moncada, the team's top prospect, had a two-run double. Previously in the game, he had struck out in four consecutive plate appearances.
  • Longtime minor-leaguer Jason Bourgeois had five RBIs in the inning. He had a two-run single in his first AB of the rally, and he capped the Sox's scoring with a three-run homer. 
  • The Dodgers committed four errors, walked three men and hit two batters. So, the Sox were gifted nine baserunners, in addition to the seven hits they had.
The Dodgers probably could not have done any worse in that inning if they had just gone out there and lit themselves on fire. Sure, it was a collection of Double-A and Triple-A players on the field, but no professional team should be giving up that many runs in one inning.

That rally capped an interesting Sunday for the Sox, who also lost, 10-8, to the Texas Rangers in the other half of a split-squad day. In that game, the Sox scored all eight of their runs in the sixth inning.

So, to recap, the Sox had 18 offensive innings Sunday. They scored 23 runs, but they did it in the most bizarre fashion possible -- a 14-run inning, an 8-run inning, an inning with a single run scored, plus 15 innings with no runs at all.

I have to admit, I'm getting a little worried that Leury Garcia is going to make the team. He's got a slash line of .419/.500/.919 in 30 spring plate appearances. He had four hits against Texas on Sunday. But he also made two egregious mistakes on the basepaths, and at shortstop, he butchered a rundown play that allowed the Rangers to score a gift run.

I'm getting a little tired of hearing about Garcia's "versatility" being an asset. Sure, he plays multiple positions, but he plays them all poorly, so who cares? And, yes, he has speed, but he makes dumb outs on the bases, so who cares?

We know that Garcia feasts on Triple-A pitching -- he hit .313 at Charlotte in 2016 -- and that's what he's doing in this spring camp. Here's to hoping the Sox are not fooled. This is a player who makes mental mistake after mental mistake and does not belong on the roster. 

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 20, 2016

Indians clinch AL pennant; Cubs get even with Dodgers

Andrew Miller
Down is up and up is down in the MLB playoffs, so I was snickering to myself Wednesday afternoon when I heard expert after expert assure me the Toronto Blue Jays were going to win Game 5 of the ALCS.

The Cleveland Indians were starting rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, who had thrown all of 11 major-league innings in his career, while the Blue Jays were throwing Marco Estrada, who has been their best pitcher in these playoffs.

No way Merritt could hold up against the hard-hitting, right-hand-dominate Toronto lineup, right?

Wrong.

Merritt gave Cleveland exactly what it needed, tossing 4.1 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. The Indians' seemingly omnipotent bullpen took it from there, securing a 3-0 victory and sending Cleveland to its first World Series since 1997.

Once again, the Blue Jays had no answers for Cleveland relievers Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The trio combined to pitch 4.2 innings, allowing no runs on four hits with five strikeouts.

Miller was named ALCS MVP, and why not? He appeared in each of the Tribe's four victories, tossed 7.2 shutout innings, allowed just three hits and struck out 14.

The Indians won this series, 4-1, despite scoring only 12 runs total in the five games. The MVP needed to go to a pitcher, and certainly Miller was the best guy on a Cleveland staff that limited Toronto to just seven runs in this series.

One other key: I think it really helped Merritt that he got an early lead. The Indians scored single runs in three of the first four innings. Mike Napoli had a two-out RBI double in the first. Carlos Santana homered in the third. Coco Crisp homered in the fourth. An inexperienced pitcher is more likely to relax and execute if he has some margin for error. Merritt had the lead before he set foot on the mound, and he did what he needed to do to protect it.

The Indians will now have five days off before the World Series begins Oct. 25, and they'll have at least two more NLCS games to watch and scout their next opponent.

Cubs 10, Dodgers 2

Speaking of the NLCS, the Cubs are even with the Dodgers at 2-2 in the series after their bats finally woke up Wednesday in Game 4.

The North Siders were held without a hit by Julio Urias for the first three innings, but they exploded for four runs in the fourth inning, then roughed up the Los Angeles bullpen with another run in the fifth and five more in the sixth.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell -- two hitters who had previously done nothing in the playoffs -- came up big for the Cubs. Both were 3 for 5 with a home run. Rizzo had three RBIs, and Russell knocked in two runs with his homer to cap the four-run fourth. Chicago also got two-hit games from two other struggling hitters, Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler. We'll find out in Game 5 whether this was the breakout night those four guys were looking for.

Jason Heyward? Well, he was 0 for 5 again. For those scoring at home, Heyward is scheduled to make $28 million in each of the next two seasons. The Cubs are fortunate they have enough good players that they can probably overcome the fact that Heyward is a colossal waste of money.

The stage is set for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night, and the Cubs have the advantage in the pitching matchup with ace left-hander Jon Lester on the mound. He'll be opposed by Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cubs' offensive woes: Is it the pressure or the Dodgers' pitching?

Anthony Rizzo -- 2 for 26 in the playoffs
Panic might be too strong a word, but there is definitely consternation and concern on the streets of Chicago after the Cubs lost, 6-0, to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 3 of the NLCS.

The Dodgers have taken a 2-1 series lead, and they have limited the Cubs to zero runs on six hits over the past two games combined. Until this week, Los Angeles had never posted back-to-back shutouts in its 200-game playoff history.

The Cubs hadn't been shut out in back-to-back games since May 2014. But in these playoffs, they've scored just 25 runs in seven games and have posted an ugly team slash line of .185/.242/.335.

Some of the individual statistics are even worse:

Addison Russell: 1 for 24, .042 avg.
Anthony Rizzo: 2 for 26, .077 avg.
Jason Heyward: 2 for 19, .105 avg.
Ben Zobrist: 4 for 26, .154 avg.
Dexter Fowler: 5 for 28, .179 avg.

So, five of the Cubs' eight everyday players are a combined 14 for 123. That pencils out to a .114 average. With production like this, the Cubs are lucky they won the NLDS. They were fortunate to play a San Francisco Giants team that had no bullpen whatsoever.

Here's the question with the Cubs (and it's a rhetorical one -- I don't have a definitive answer): Are they struggling because they are facing good pitching, or are they struggling because they are feeling the pressure of trying to end a 108-year World Series drought?

After the Cubs lost, 1-0, to the Dodgers in Game 2, I would have said the Cubs were simply beat by good pitching. They saw Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of this generation, for seven innings. Then, the next two innings they saw Kenley Jansen, who is one of the top five closers in the game today.

There is no shame in getting shut down by the combination of Kershaw and Jansen.

But then came Game 3, when the Cubs managed only two hits in six innings against Rich Hill, a journeyman who has played for eight teams and was pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League as recently as last year. The Dodgers also used journeyman right-hander Joe Blanton and rookie left-hander Grant Dayton in relief Tuesday, before going to Jansen to close out the game.

Am I wrong for thinking the Cubs, who scored 808 runs this season, should have been able to get something done against the trio of Hill, Blanton and Dayton? I don't believe so.

The Cubs' Game 2 loss struck me as good pitching by the Dodgers. The Cubs' Game 3 loss struck me as bad offense, and a sign that the Cubs might be feeling the pressure.

I can't be sure; I certainly don't have any insight into what the Cubs hitters are thinking at the plate. But I do know this: The Dodgers are starting 20-year-old Julio Urias in Game 4. He's a talented kid, but he's a rookie, and he hasn't thrown as many as 90 pitches in any game since August.

The Cubs should beat this guy, and they better if they want to end their World Series drought this year. If the Cubs lose this game, they are one loss away from elimination, and you already know they are going to see Kershaw one more time before this series is over.

If you're the Cubs -- and, of course, I am not -- you don't want to put yourself in a situation where the best pitcher in baseball can close you out.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hopefully, John Danks has to earn his spot in the White Sox rotation this year

John Danks
Even though it's only spring training, it was nice to hear baseball on the radio Thursday afternoon. The White Sox lost, 6-1, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The result wasn't satisfactory, but all the usual caveats about spring training being meaningless in the won-loss column apply.

The Sox were limited to just three hits, and starting pitcher John Danks gave up three runs on four hits over two innings. He walked the first batter he saw, then gave up three singles to put the Sox down 2-0 after the first inning. He also gave up a long solo home run to Alex Guerrero in the second inning.

Let me say this about Danks: I hope his spot in the starting rotation isn't secure. His ERAs over the past three years have been 4.75, 4.74 and 4.71, respectively. He's been consistent, give him that, but he's been consistently below par. In each of the past two seasons, his WHIP has been higher than 1.4 (1.441 in 2014, 1.413 in 2015).

Nothing he has done recently should be good enough to guarantee him a spot in the rotation. He should have to compete for one, and unlike previous seasons, the Sox do have other options. We know Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon will be in the rotation, assuming good health. But the other two spots should be up for grabs among Danks, Mat Latos, Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner.

If two of those three other pitchers are more impressive this spring than Danks, then they should be in the rotation, and Danks should go to the bullpen. If Danks outpitches all of them this spring, then he can keep his spot. But I don't think it should be just handed to him.

Earlier this winter at SoxFest, a fan asked GM Rick Hahn whether designated hitter Adam LaRoche was going to keep his spot in the lineup based on his veteran status and $13 million salary. Hahn insisted the Sox do not have any "scholarship players," that LaRoche would have to earn his spot, and that manager Robin Ventura has been told to play the best players regardless of who is making the most money.

I don't know if I believe it when the Sox say they will send a high-priced player to the margins if that player is not producing. Like LaRoche, Danks is set to make big bucks in this, the final year of his contract. In fact, Danks will be the highest paid player on the team at $15.75 million.

Based on that figure, I can't shake the feeling that Danks is going to be in the rotation whether he deserves the spot or not. And based upon what I've seen the past three years, he's a good candidate to be replaced. His poor outing Thursday comes with the aforementioned caveats about spring training not mattering, but there have been plenty of times where Danks has failed miserably when it did matter.

Let's hope the Sox take that into account if Danks flounders all spring.

Monday, February 22, 2016

White Sox sign Jimmy Rollins to minor-league deal

Jimmy Rollins
We all thought the White Sox were content to go into the season with Tyler Saladino as their starting shortstop. That was last week.

The Sox moved Monday to create competition at shortstop, signing veteran Jimmy Rollins to a minor-league contract.

Rollins, 37, is coming off a poor season with the Los Angeles Dodgers that saw him post a .224/.285/.358 slash line with 13 home runs, 12 stolen bases and 41 RBIs in 144 games.

That said, Rollins was a 4.0 WAR player as recently as 2014, when he batted .243/.323/.394 with 17 home runs, 28 stolen bases and 55 RBIs for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Is Rollins a bounce-back candidate in 2016? Or are his poor 2015 statistics a sign that he is succumbing to old age? Nobody has a definitive answer to those questions, so the Sox have nothing to lose by giving Rollins a minor-league deal and taking a look at him this spring.

Rollins will reportedly earn $2 million if he makes the club. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal is reporting Rollins rejected offers from two teams that offered him more guaranteed money and a super-utility job. The veteran switch-hitter apparently believes he's still an everyday shortstop, and he was willing to take a minor-league deal with the Sox for the chance to prove it.

"We envision Jimmy contributing both on and off the field," GM Rick Hahn said in a team statement. "He provides us with another quality infield option with the potential to play a variety of roles, as well as another significant positive presence inside our clubhouse."

In other words, get ready to read a deluge of stories about Rollins mentoring top shortstop prospect Tim Anderson.

Best-case scenario: Rollins makes the club and gives the Sox a decent year at a low cost while keeping the seat warm for Anderson. Worst-case scenario: He looks terrible in spring, gets cut and the team is none the worse for wear.

There's not a lot of upside here, but there's also not a lot of risk.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Los Angeles Times report shoots down Andre Ethier rumor

Following up on the Andre Ethier-to-the-White Sox rumors, the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin made it seem unlikely there will be a deal between the Sox and the Dodgers.

 According to Shaikin's report:

"[Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew] Friedman declined to say whether he was in trade discussions with the Chicago White Sox. However, there is little traction in talks between the teams, according to a person familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly. The White Sox approached the Dodgers about Yasiel Puig -- apparently in the hope that fellow Cuban Jose Abreu might bring out the best in Puig -- and the Dodgers instead tried to interest the White Sox in Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford."

The Sox would certainly have no interest in Crawford, and it sounds like their interest in Ethier is lukewarm at best.

This news comes as no surprise. White Sox rumors that are floated only by Chicago-based reporters tend to not get much traction.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rumor mill links Andre Ethier to White Sox

Andre Ethier
The rumor started with a report by The Score's Bruce Levine, and continued with speculation from MLB.com's Phil Rogers.

Yeah, I know. I should probably stop right there. But the reports from Levine and Rogers have led White Sox fans to ponder whether Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier would be a good fit on the South Side.

On Thursday, USA Today's Bob Nightengale threw some cold water on the rumor, tweeting that there are no signs of a potential match between the Sox and the Dodgers.

My speculation would lean toward agreeing with Nightengale, but speculation is just speculation, so let's talk a little bit about Ethier's situation.

Ethier has a contract that would scare off teams. He's owed $18 million in 2016 and $17.5 million in 2017, and he has a vesting option for $17.5 million with a $2.5 million buyout for 2018. That's a lot of money owed.

The Dodgers likely are motivated to get out from underneath that contract for a couple reasons. First off, they are looking to trim their payroll. Secondly, they have way too many outfielders: Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Scott Van Slyke, Alex Guerrero, Enrique Hernandez and former Sox outfielder Trayce Thompson. That's eight outfielders. You only need five. Lastly, Ethier will gain his 10-and-5 rights in April, which means he will become much more difficult to trade once the spring is over.

Ideally, the Dodgers would want to get rid of Crawford, but much like Adam LaRoche on the Sox, his contract and recent poor performance makes him an immovable object. The highest-paid guy on that list of Dodgers outfielders who still has value is Ethier.

What skill does Ethier bring? Well, he hits right-handed pitching.

Here are his 2015 splits:
vs. RHP: .306/.383/.517
vs. LHP: .200/.229/.244

All 14 of his home runs, all seven of his triples and 18 of his 20 doubles came against right-handed pitching last year. He obviously can't hit lefties worth a damn, so he's a platoon player at this stage of his career -- he turns 34 in April.

You can see where this could be a potential fit for the Sox. Their only lefty middle-of-the-order bat is, well, LaRoche, and it's not unreasonable to think he's just washed up at this point.

That said, Ethier makes an awful lot of money for a platoon player. The Sox should not be giving up any top prospects for a high-priced platoon outfielder -- especially given that the Dodgers need to act to address their outfield logjam. Los Angeles doesn't have that much leverage here.

If Sox GM Rick Hahn can get the Dodgers to eat some money and take nothing more than middle-tier prospects for Ethier, then he should consider doing this deal. But if the Dodgers want a top prospect, or if they want the Sox to take on all the contract, then Hahn should pass.

I'm guessing that right now the Dodgers are wanting both salary relief and a good prospect in return for Ethier, and that's why Nightengale is reporting there is no potential match with the Sox. That's simply not a move the Sox should make at the moment.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Howie Kendrick, Jean Segura, Carlos Quentin, Mark Buehrle, etc.

Howie Kendrick
Shifting the focus from SoxFest and its aftermath, let's take a look at some of the other news and notes from around baseball the past few days.

Kendrick returns to Dodgers on two-year deal; Segura to Diamondbacks

Veteran second baseman Howie Kendrick signed a two-year, $20 million contract to return to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, a deal that figures to be a bargain for the Dodgers.

Kendrick turned down a qualifying offer that would have paid him $15.8 million for the 2016 season, and apparently could not find another team that was interested in coughing up a draft pick in order to sign him.

This move makes the Dodgers better, because Kendrick is a better solution at second base than a platoon of Chase Utley and Enrique Hernandez. Moreover, it keeps Kendrick away from the NL West rival Arizona Diamondbacks, who have needs in the middle infield and seemed to be a logical destination for Kendrick.

Apparently, the Diamondbacks didn't want to part with the 39th pick in the draft, which they would have surrendered to the Dodgers had they signed Kendrick. Instead, they traded pitcher Chase Anderson, infielder Aaron Hill and minor leaguer Isan Diaz to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop Jean Segura and pitcher Tyler Wagner.

Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart said the club is "seeking a little bit more offense" with this trade. OK, let's compare Kendrick and Segura.

2015:
Kendrick: .295/.336/.409, 9 HRs, 54 RBIs, 6 SBs
Segura: .257/.281/.336, 6 HRs, 50 RBIs, 25 SBs

Career:
Kendrick: .293/.336/.409
Segura: .266/.301/.360

If you were "seeking a little bit more offense," which player would you add? Kendrick, right? It's a slam dunk.

So, instead of surrendering the 39th pick in the draft to sign Kendrick and keep him away from the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks surrendered a major league pitcher (Anderson) and a good prospect (Diaz) to trade for Segura, who is clearly a lesser player than Kendrick.

This is a fail for Arizona.

Quentin comes out of retirement, signs with Twins

Former White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin, 33, will attempt a comeback with the Minnesota Twins. He signed a minor league deal Tuesday that would pay him $750,000 if he is added to the 40-man roster.

Quentin enjoyed his best season in 2008 with the White Sox, when he totaled 36 home runs and 100 RBIs. Injuries have plagued his career -- he hasn't played more than 86 games in a season since 2011. He last played in the majors with San Diego in 2014 and announced his retirement after Atlanta released him in April 2015.

Buehrle not signing a contract, not retiring either

Former White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, currently a free agent, says he's “not planning to sign, but not officially retiring," acccording to reports.

The 37-year-old lefty finished last season with a 3.81 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays and probably could help a team as a veteran at the back of the rotation.

If some team has an injury to a significant member of its starting staff during spring training, I wouldn't be surprised if that team gives Buehrle a call.

Will anyone sign Thornton?

Continuing with this theme of former White Sox, they say left-handers can pitch forever. That being the case, how come relief pitcher Matt Thornton can't find a job?

Sure, he's 39 years old and not as overpowering as he used to be, but he held left-handed hitters to a .198/.205/.279 slash line and compiled a 2.18 ERA with the Washington Nationals last year.

Hard to believe some team can't use that.

Olivo gets minor league deal with Giants

Former White Sox catcher Miguel Olivo, 37, has signed a minor league deal with San Francisco. Olivo spent 2015 in the Mexican League, exiled after the Dodgers released him in 2014 for biting off a chunk of Alex Guerrero's ear during a dugout brawl at Triple-A Albuquerque.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Scott Kazmir signs 3-year deal with Dodgers

It's always been comical to me the past couple years listening to people complain about the White Sox having "too many left-handers" in their starting rotation.

If you think the Sox have too many lefties, take a look at the Los Angeles Dodgers' projected rotation for 2016.

The Dodgers signed free-agent left-hander Scott Kazmir to a three-year deal reportedly worth $48 million on Wednesday, adding him to a group of starting pitching options that includes ace Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Brett Anderson and Hyun-jin Ryu.

Yes, all five of those pitchers are left-handed.

The Dodgers whiffed on their two right-handed starting pitching targets. They failed to retain free agent Zack Greinke, who eventually signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and their deal with Hisashi Iwakuma fell apart after a failed physical. Iwakuma eventually re-signed with the Seattle Mariners.

That left the Dodgers desperate for starting pitching, and they ended up signing the guy who was probably the best available arm remaining on the market at this point. Kazmir had a 3.10 ERA in 31 combined starts with the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros last year. His stuff should translate well as he switches over to the National League.

The only "problem" for the Dodgers here is that Kazmir is left-handed, just like all their other starters. But to me, that's really no problem at all. I think you have to find five guys who can pitch and go with them, regardless of what hand they use to throw the ball.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw win MVP awards

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout on Thursday was named the unanimous MVP of the American League.

The 23-year-old received all 30 first-place votes and finished with 420 points. Detroit's Victor Martinez took second with 229 points, while Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley placed third with 185 points.

Let me say this: I do not disagree with this vote. But what's funny about this is Trout didn't have as good a season in 2014 as he had in 2012 or 2013:

2012: .326/.399/.564, 30 HRs, 84 RBIs, 49 SBs
2013: .323/.432/.557, 27 HRs, 97 RBIs, 33 SBs
2014: .287/.377/.561, 36 HRs, 111 RBIs, 16 SBs

Sure, Trout's power numbers were up in 2014, but he also struck out a league-leading 184 times. The batting average, on-base percentage and stolen base totals, while good, took a noticeable dip. I feel like his best year was 2013, when he finished second in the MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera. Trout also finished second to Cabrera in 2012.

Frankly, Trout has been the best overall player in the American League for each of the past three years. What was different about this season that swung the vote in Trout's favor? For one, Cabrera regressed to the point where he was no longer the best hitter on his own team. (Martinez was.) And two, the Angels won a league-best 98 games and made the playoffs.

The Angels did not make the playoffs in either 2012 or 2013, and there is always that subset of voters that believes the MVP *must* come from a team that qualified for the postseason.

Again, Trout deserves the award. It's just funny that he finally received his recognition in his weakest season of the last three.

Clayton Kershaw wins NL MVP

It's been a good week for Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who won the NL Cy Young Award on Wednesday and the NL MVP on Thursday.

Kershaw went 21-3 with 1.77 ERA, a 0.857 WHIP and six complete games in 27 starts this year. There's no denying he's the best pitcher in the league. The debate surrounding him was whether a pitcher should win the MVP award over an everyday player.

Here's why I think it's OK for starting pitchers to win MVP:

Dodgers record with Kershaw on the mound: 24-3 (.852 winning percentage)
Dodgers record with all other pitchers: 71-64 (.526 winning percentage)

The Dodgers are a decent, but not great team when Kershaw doesn't pitch. But with him on the mound, they rarely lose. I'd say he's pretty valuable, and you can justify voting for him for MVP on that basis.

Eighteen voters agreed and named Kershaw first on their ballot. He totaled 355 points. Miami's Giancarlo Stanton got eight first-place votes and 298 points for second place. Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 winner, finished third with four first-place votes and 271 points.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Game 4 of the NLDS shapes up as a defining moment for Clayton Kershaw

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is widely considered the best pitcher in baseball. We'll make no argument to the contrary.

Kershaw's performance over the past four seasons has been without peer. This year, he finished 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. He claimed his fourth consecutive National League ERA title, and that 1.77 mark was nearly half a run better than his closest competitor. He is a lock to win his third NL Cy Young award in the last four years.

Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA during the 2013 campaign, so that means he is just the second pitcher in the live-ball era to post an ERA of 1.85 or less in consecutive seasons. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is the other.

Yes, Kershaw is the best in the game right now.

But you know what has eluded him to this point in his career? Postseason success. I've heard some people compare Kershaw to another former Dodgers' lefty, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Some say Kershaw may go down as the best pitcher to play in the live-ball era once he's all done. Who am I to say he can't do that? But if he is going to be considered better than Koufax, he better figure out a way to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.

The Cardinals will take a 2-1 series lead over the Dodgers into Tuesday's Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Kershaw is taking the ball on three days' rest. The season is on the line for the favored Dodgers.

Normally, a team feels pretty good about sending its ace out there in a must-win game, but Kershaw's postseason numbers are inexplicably terrible.

In 10 postseason games (7 starts), he's 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA. He has lost each of his last three playoff starts, all against the Cardinals. In two of those outings, he got bombed.

Kershaw went to the mound in a similar situation in Game 6 of last year's NLCS. The Cardinals were up 3-2 in the series, at home and looking to clinch. St. Louis roughed up Kershaw to the tune of seven earned runs on 10 hits over four innings. The Cardinals won, 9-0, and advanced to the World Series.

In Game 1 of this NLDS, Kershaw was staked to a 6-1 lead. He coughed up the whole thing, allowing eight earned runs on eight hits over 6.2 innings pitched. The Cardinals rallied to win, 10-9.

In Kershaw's last two playoff starts, he's allowed 15 earned runs on 18 hits over 10.2 innings pitched. Those aren't numbers you would associate with someone whose name is being mentioned alongside some of the all-time greats.

Most experts picked the Dodgers to win this series, because they figured the combination of Kershaw and teammate Zack Greinke would be too much for the Cardinals to handle. Greinke did his part in Game 2, a 3-2 Dodgers victory, and he's poised to pitch Game 5 back in Los Angeles if Kershaw can lead the Dodgers to a win in Game 4.

This game is a defining moment for Kershaw. His postseason failures are a black mark on an otherwise brilliant resume. As of this writing, we're just three hours from the first pitch of Game 4. I'll be interested to see how Kershaw responds in this pressure-packed start.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter: 15 strikeouts, no walks

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw fired his first career no-hitter Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

I was able to watch him pitch the last three innings, and you will never see a pitcher with more dominant stuff. He struck out 15 of the 28 batters he faced in this game. His curveball was unhittable.

His performance reminded me of just how difficult it is to throw a perfect game. Kershaw did nothing wrong in this game. He didn't give up any hits. He didn't walk anybody. He didn't hit a batter, but it still wasn't a perfect game. Why? Because you need your teammates to play flawless defense to pitch a perfect game.

Kershaw retired the first 18 batters he saw Wednesday night, but his perfect game was lost when Colorado's Corey Dickerson reached on a two-base error by shortstop Hanley Ramirez leading off the seventh inning. Ramirez fielded Dickerson's slow bouncer but threw wide of first base for the error.

A couple batters later, rookie third baseman Miguel Rojas made a nice play behind the bag and a long throw to first to retire Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki to keep the no-hitter intact. The Dodgers replaced Ramirez at shortstop with rookie Carlos Triunfel to start the eighth inning. Probably a smart move, but Kershaw had no difficulty retiring the side 1-2-3 in either of the last two innings

Kershaw's no-hitter is the second one thrown in the major leagues this season. Teammate Josh Beckett tossed one in a 6-0 win at Philadelphia on May 25

The 2014 Dodgers became the 16th team in major league history to throw more than one no-hitter in a single season. They are only the fifth team to accomplish the feat since 1972, when Burt Hooton and Milt Pappas threw no-hitters in the same season for the Cubs.

Just in case you were wondering, the 2012 Seattle Mariners were the last team to throw two no-hitters in a season. Kevin Millwood combined with five relievers to throw a no-hitter against the Dodgers on June 8 of that year. About two months later, on Aug. 15,  Felix Hernandez tossed a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. 

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. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teams should be more willing to include opt-out clauses

A prominent feature of both of the massive contracts given to pitchers this month is an opt-out clause.

Left-handed Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw accepted the richest contract ever given to a pitcher, but can choose to become a free agent after five years. Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka was guaranteeed $155 million by the Yankees, but can similarly tear up the rest of his deal after four seasons to hit the market again.

At first blush, this might seem like an awful deal for teams willing to climb on the hook for millions of dollars six or seven years down the road. If either player suffers a career-ending injury this year, their teams will still have to pay them millions of dollars for years after. If they pitch well and the free agent market keeps yielding huge contracts, either guy could opt out for a richer deal than what they have in hand, denying the Dodgers or Yankees the opportunity to collect value on the back end of these risky contracts.

That's the wrong way to look at the opt-out.

To the first fear I'll just say that if you're not offering a player like Kershaw or Tanaka six or seven guaranteed years, you're not really in the game as far as bidding for their services. Opt-out or no, they'll get those years guaranteed when they reach the open market. And opt-out or no, if a player gets hurt in Year 1 of a long contract, the team that signed the player is left holding the bag.

As for getting value on the back end of a huge contract, I have a hard time believing any team that signed a player to deal longer than five years expects to be getting a good value beyond that point. Perhaps Tanaka is an exception, because he's hitting the market as a 25-year-old, but these days teams enter into these massive contracts expecting to be overpaying for what the player is by the end of the deal.

Teams do that because they get a good value on the front end. If Tanaka pitches like an ace for the Yankees, they will be very happy to have paid him just under $90 million for four years, plus a posting fee that doesn't count against the luxury tax.

They might be unhappy to have to negotiate a new deal in four years, one that might be in excess of $200 million if Tanaka lives up to some expectations. But if there's that much money still rolling into baseball to spur that kind of salary growth for players, the Yankees are surely a team that can afford to retain Tanaka if they desire. Or if at that point the Yankees decide to spread their financial risk out a different way than on the right arm of a pitcher entering his 30s, they can do that, too.

In other words, if everything goes as planned, the Yankees have the opportunity to say goodbye to Tanaka when, theoretically, his best days will be behind him.

Where teams have been burned by opt-out clauses hasn't been by including them in the original contract. It's been by signing the player once the clause has been exercised.

White Sox fans around in the 90s can probably remember Albert Belle receiving a clause that allowed him to opt out if he wasn't among baseball's highest-paid players. When salaries escalated quickly in the late 90s, Belle took advantage of that clause to leave the Sox two years into a five-year, $55 million deal that once made him baseball's top-earning player.

Did the Sox regret losing Belle's services? Not after seeing him sign a new five-year, $65 million deal with the Orioles. Belle gave Baltimore one good year, then one poor year before degenerative osteoarthritis in his hip ended his career, though not his steady stream of paychecks.

If the Yankees need a reminder of what second-time buyer's remorse looks like, they just have to look at their payroll right now. After giving CC Sabathia seven-year, $161 million contract with an opt-out after three years, they saw the left-hander exercise that clause. Instead of being satisfied with three years and 705 innings of a 3.18 ERA and a 59-23 record, they chose to give Sabathia a five-year, $122 contract that has yielded a 29-19 record with a pedestrian 4.09 ERA through the first two years.

And of course there's the defamed Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees inherited the opt-out Rodriguez had built into his then-richest-ever-for-baseball $252 million contract he signed with the Rangers. After trading for Rodriguez -- with the Rangers picking up part of the tab -- the Yankees got a .303/.403/.573 batting line with 173 home runs from the shortstop-turned-third baseman over four seasons.

When Rodriguez opted out, the Yankees weren't happy with the house money they could have left the casino with in their pockets. So instead they signed him to a new record-setting deal, 10 years and $275 million. For that money they've gotten an often-injured player with a diminished .279/.369/.498 line who instead of collecting career milestones on the way to the Hall of Fame is instead sitting out this upcoming season as part of a cloud of steroid scandal that's rendered his once-incredible career meaningless to most fans.

For me, the moral of the story isn't that including the opt-out automatically makes things peachy for teams. It didn't make it that way with Vernon Wells' contract.

To state the obvious, signing any player to a massive contract involves risk for the team agreeing to the pact. No matter the player, no matter the team.

Something just as obvious is that signing the same player three or four years later to a massive contract is just that much riskier. So is crossing your fingers and hoping the next three or four years of a massive megadeal go as well as the first three or four.

Short of simply offering free agents higher annual salaries for fewer years, the willingness to include an opt-out clause might be the best chance for teams to avoid the years of these free agent contracts when they become an albatross.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Clayton Kershaw expected to make more than entire Atlanta pitching staff

I pulled this nugget out of the Jan. 27 edition of Sports Illustrated:

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will make an average of $30.7 million annually over the life of the seven-year contract he just signed.

By way of comparison, the Atlanta Braves' 12-man pitching staff is expected to make $27 million combined in 2014.

I know you've probably heard or read statistics like that before. People are quite fond of pointing out that Alex Rodriguez makes more than the entire Houston Astros' roster, for example.

But here's the thing: The Astros aren't even trying to win right now. They stink. They had the worst record in the league last year at  51-111. I tend to dismiss the Astros as a Triple-A team, so of course they are making Triple-A salaries.

The Braves, in contrast, won the NL East with 96 wins in 2013. Not only that, they led all of baseball with a 3.18 team ERA. Atlanta has a very good pitching staff that happens to be inexpensive as well.

It's hard to say Kershaw doesn't deserve his money. He's won two of the last three Cy Young Awards in the National League. He's the best left-handed starter in baseball.

But, the Braves example shows you don't necessarily have to throw around millions upon millions of dollars to build a successful pitching staff, or a successful team. Keep that in mind when people try to tell you the New York Yankees are a lock for the 2014 World Series after they spent almost half a billion dollars this offseason on free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Yankees have won the offseason for sure, but there is no special prize handed to the team that spends the most money or collects the most big-name players.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clayton Kershaw to get record-setting deal; David Price also signs

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the new richest man in baseball -- at least for now.

According to reports, the left-hander agreed Wednesday to a seven-year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers.

Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young Award winner in the National League, becomes the first player with a $30 million average annual salary.

Previously, the most lucrative deal for a pitcher was the one the Detroit Tigers gave Justin Verlander, $180 million over seven years.

In other pitching news, 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price avoided arbitration by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $14 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. The contract is the richest one in Tampa Bay franchise history. Price, who is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, has been the subject of trade speculation. Since he did not sign a long-term deal with the Rays, I would expect that speculation to continue in the coming days and months.

After seeing the dollars these guys are commanding, it's comforting for me as a White Sox fan to know the team has its All-Star left-hander, Chris Sale, under control through 2019. Sale's five-year, $32.5 million deal with team options for 2018 and 2019 is a tremendous bargain in this marketplace.

I'll be interested to see what the Kershaw contract means for international free agent Masahiro Tanaka. No, Tanaka is not going to command $30 million a year, but the Dodgers have reportedly been major players in that sweepstakes. Are they still major players after committing such a large dollar figure to Kershaw? Or is it now a given that Tanaka is going to the New York Yankees, who are the team most in need of a top-flight starting pitcher?

After Tanaka signs, we should see the other dominoes start to fall among the free-agent starting pitchers. All the major free-agent position players have already signed. Meanwhile, you've still got three high-profile starting pitchers still on the market in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. Look for those three players to be consolation prizes for the teams that lose out on Tanaka.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Masahiro Tanaka: Short-term gain, long-term risk?

Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is going to get an absurd contract from a major league team at some point in January. This much we know.

All 30 teams were notified that the 30-day period to sign the right-hander began at 7 a.m. CST Thursday. Teams have until 4 p.m. on Jan. 24 to attempt to reach an agreement with the 25-year-old pitcher.

If Tanaka and a major league team agree on terms, that franchise is required to pay his Japanese team, the Rakuten Eagles, a posting fee of $20 million.

Rest assured, someone will pay that $20 million, plus probably another $20 million per year over the next six or seven years to sign Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last season.

Whichever team signs Tanaka is going to get an impact pitcher. I have little doubt about that. Yu Darvish, the last big-name Japanese pitcher to come to the United States, has established himself as the Texas Rangers' ace. Tanaka's numbers in Japan are similar to those of Darvish:

Darvish (2005-11): 167 games, 1,281.1 IP, 93-28 W-L, 55 CG, 333 BB, 1,250 Ks
Tanaka (2007-13): 175 games, 1,315 IP, 99-35 W-L, 53 CG, 275 BB, 1,238 Ks

For me, the question about Tanaka is whether he will hold up healthwise over the life of the six- or seven-year contract he's going to get. I know, I know. He's only 25 and should be entering his prime years. But look at that innings total: 1,315 innings through his age 24 season

Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated made this point better than I could. Verducci notes the last pitcher with that many innings at such a young age was Frank Tanana, who piled up similar totals between 1973 and 1978. During that period, Tanana made three All-Star teams. Then, he hurt his shoulder. He went on to pitch another 15 years, but was never quite the same. 

Going back even further, since 1961, Tanana, Larry Dierker and Bert Blyleven are the only three pitchers to have thrown 1,315 major league innings by age 24. So, indeed, Japanese pitchers like Darvish and Tanaka come to the United States with more wear and tear on their arm for their age than their American counterparts.

Darvish is one of the better pitchers in the American League right now. Will he continue to be effective through the life of his six-year contract? Nobody knows. For Tanaka, the issue is much the same. With his outstanding control and arsenal of pitches, he's going to make some team very happy in 2014 and probably 2015, too. But what about 2016 and beyond?

Will Tanaka become the next Hideo Nomo, who was outstanding his first couple years before morphing into a journeyman? Or is he going to be a long-term ace for the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers or some other big-market team? I wish I was smart enough to know, but we'll find out in due time.
























Thursday, December 5, 2013

White Sox, Cubs add relievers

Content to fill out the back of their rosters -- perhaps because neither team anticipates any other major roster-reshaping moves -- the White Sox and Cubs have both added relievers on one-year contracts.

The Sox signed Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal. He was non-tendered by the Dodgers earlier this week. Because he has so little service time, the 30-year-old right-hander will be under Sox control beyond this season if they want to take him to arbitration.

Belisario brings speed (not that kind) with his mid-90s stuff, but the Sox probably most value his ability to keep the ball in the park. In his MLB career spanning 265 innings, all with the Dodgers, he's given up only 16 home runs. Without eye-popping strikeout numbers (6.5 K/9 last year) or exceptional control (3.7 BB/9), it will be critical he keeps getting the ground balls. His 1.57 GB/FB ratio is what drives his 3.29 career ERA.

Meanwhile, the Cubs signed left-hander Wesley Wright to a one-year, $1.45 million contract. Another non-tendered player, the Cubs will control him next offseason if he meets expectations as a lefty-beating reliever. The 28-year-old has a career 4.37 ERA. While he does rack up the strikeouts (9.2 K/9 last year), he's often been beaten by the long ball (1.3 HR/9 in his career).

Wright just completed a season split between the Rays and Astros with a 3.69 ERA over 53 1/3 innings. The lefty reliever role seems to suit him as he's held same-handed hitters to a .231/.313/.342 line, compared to the .266/.356/.500 line right-handed batters have tagged him for in his career.

While neither of these moves seems terribly exciting, both the Sox and Cubs probably both got marginally better by aggressively courting players non-tendered by their former teams. In the case of Belisario, the Sox agreed to pay more than what MLB Trade Rumors estimated the player probably would have made in arbitration had the Dodgers decided to go that route to retain his services.

Now it remains to be seen if either player can be part of a surprising season for either team, or at least become and asset worth retaining or flipping at next year's trade deadline.