Tuesday, July 9, 2013

It's time for the White Sox to trade Matt Thornton

Let's get right to the point of today's blog entry: There is no way Matt Thornton should be back with the White Sox in 2014.

Thornton is already overpaid this season. He's making $5.5 million. The White Sox hold a $6 million option on him for next year with a $1 million buyout. 

It would be insanity to pick up that option.

Thornton is being paid like a closer, but at this stage of his career, he's nothing more than a situational left-handed reliever. Just check out his lefty-righty slash line for this year:

vs. left-handers: .176/.236/.629
vs. right-handers: .333/.429/.866

Thornton looks like a pitcher who no longer trusts his stuff against right-handed batters. Case in point, Monday night's game against the Cubs. Thornton entered the game in the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie. He retired the left-handed batting Anthony Rizzo, then started picking at the corners of the plate against a pair of right-handed hitters.

It's difficult to walk the free-swinging Alfonso Soriano, but Thornton managed to do it on four pitches. He then fell behind 3-and-1 to switch-batting Dioner Navarro before giving up a single. Then, the left-handed Luis "Boom Boom Valbuena, who inexplicably owns the Sox, punked Thornton for a two-run double that gave the Cubs a 4-2 lead. That ended Thornton's night, and he took the loss as the North Siders went on to an 8-2 victory.

Thornton is 36 years old, and he's been in steady decline over the last four years. His numbers reflect that. Take a look at the statistics below. In particular, pay attention to the rising ERA and declining strikeout rate.

2010: 2.67
2011: 3.32
2012: 3.46
2013: 4.00

Ks per 9 IP
2010: 12.0
2011: 9.5
2012: 7.3
2013: 6.7

2010: 1.005
2011: 1.358
2012: 1.231
2013: 1.296

Hits per 9 IP
2010: 6.1
2011: 9.1
2012: 8.7
2013: 8.3

HR per 9 IP
2010: 0.4
2011: 0.5
2012: 0.6
2013: 1.3

You can see the problem. Thornton doesn't miss as many bats these days. He gives up more hits and home runs than he did in the past. His ERA climbs each year as a result. It's nothing to be ashamed about. It's just reality for an aging pitcher who has made 60 or more appearances for 7 seven straight seasons. Soon, it will become 8 straight seasons.

There's no reason for the White Sox to waste $6 million on this declining pitcher for next season. Thornton is still useful as a situational left-hander, but you can find guys to fill that particular role for much less money.

There are rumors the Boston Red Sox are interested in Thornton's services for the rest of this year. If I'm White Sox GM Rick Hahn, I'm pulling the trigger on that deal.

Thornton's subtraction from the Sox roster will not hurt the team now or in the future. Thornton has done a nice job for the Sox through the years, but his best days are past and it is time for a change -- for both the player and the team.

Friday, July 5, 2013

White Sox call up Josh Phegley; Jordan Danks optioned

The White Sox made two roster moves before embarking on a brief three-game weekend road trip to Tampa Bay.

Catcher Josh Phegley, 25, has been called up from Triple-A Charlotte, while backup catcher Hector Gimenez was designated for assignment.

Phegley, the 38th overall pick in the 2009 draft, was hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs for the Knights. He was chosen to play in the July 14 Futures Game in New York and the July 17 Triple-A All-Star Game. Instead, he'll be the new starting catcher for the White Sox.

This move relegates Tyler Flowers (pictured) to the bench. The Sox had hoped Flowers would fill the shoes of veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers last offseason. Instead, Flowers has struggled both offensively and defensively. He is batting a measly .208 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in 65 games. He also has seven passed balls and has thrown out just 25 percent of baserunners who have attempted to steal against him.

Flowers will probably play a little more frequently than Gimenez as a backup, but it's unlikely he'll be in the lineup anymore than twice a week moving forward. It is possible Phegley will see time at DH on days he's not catching, at least until veteran 1B/DH Paul Konerko comes off the disabled list after the All-Star break.

In a second move, outfielder Jordan Danks was optioned to Charlotte and outfielder Blake Tekotte was recalled. Tekotte, 26, was hitting .249 at Charlotte and is not considered a prospect anymore. Danks was 5-for-37 at the plate in limited playing time with the Sox. What would be the point of this move? The Chicago media asked manager Robin Ventura that question:

“We’re just making a different move,” Ventura said. “It’s nothing he’s done. We’ve got to go give him at-bats. It’s not easy sitting around and expecting to do well with one hit every two weeks. That’s the tough part of the game.”

In other words, the team is getting ready to trade right fielder Alex Rios. Somebody will have to play right field once that happens, and that somebody is Danks. So, he needs to go to Charlotte and chip the rust off his bat in preparation for the opportunity that awaits.

Is Danks part of the Sox future plans? I doubt it. He's a backup outfielder in my estimation. But sometimes you need placeholders while you're looking to acquire or develop somebody better.

Welcome to rebuilding, Sox fans. Ain't it fun? 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Homer Bailey's no-hitter is first of 2013 season

The 2012 baseball season equaled an all-time record with seven no-hitters thrown. This year, things are evening out a bit.

We got a little over halfway through the 2013 season before Homer Bailey broke the ice with the first no-hitter of the year Tuesday night.

The Cincinnati Reds right-hander defeated the defending world champion San Francisco Giants 3-0 before a crowd of over 27,000 people at Great American Ball Park.

Bailey retired the first 18 batters before walking Gregor Blanco to lead off the top of the seventh inning.

Blanco would be the only San Francisco player to reach base as Bailey faced just one hitter over the minimum.

Bailey struck out nine and needed a fairly economical 109 pitches to finish the job. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 28 batters he faced.

It was the second no-hitter of Bailey's career. He blanked the Pirates on Sept. 28, 2012, the seventh and final no-hitter of last season. On Tuesday, he became the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan to account for consecutive no-hitters — meaning that no other pitcher threw one between his two.

Ryan pulled that trick back in the mid-70s. As a member of the California Angels, he beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0 on Sept. 28, 1974. Check out the box score on that one. Ryan struck out 15 and walked eight in the victory. He later no-hit the Baltimore Orioles on June 1, 1975. Those were two of Ryan's record seven no-hitters during his 27-year career.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Jim Thome rejoins White Sox (no, not as the designated hitter)

Former White Sox slugger Jim Thome has rejoined the organization as a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn.

Thome hit 612 home runs and drove in nearly 1,700 runs during his 22-year career in Major League Baseball.

“It is nearly impossible to top Jim’s baseball resume with 22 seasons in the game,” Hahn said in a statement.  “When we talked recently about how he could move on to the next stage of his baseball career, an obvious fit was to join this organization, where Jim knows so many people and is immediately comfortable.  He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this role, and we’re excited to see the impact he will have on both our major leaguers and minor leaguers.”

Thome spent four mostly productive seasons on the South Side from 2006-09. During that time, he batted .265 with 134 home runs and 369 RBIs. His game-winning home run off Minnesota's Nick Blackburn in a one-game playoff gave the White Sox the 2008 AL Central Division championship and solidified Thome's place in franchise history.

“Taking on this new role with the White Sox just seemed like a natural next step for me and my family,” Thome said in a statement.  “I am excited about the opportunity to make an impact on a major league organization and to work with people I know and respect, like Jerry Reinsdorf, Ken Williams, Rick, Buddy (Bell) and Robin Ventura.  I don’t think I could ask for a better situation than being in Chicago and with the White Sox.”

Sox fans can only hope Thome can help the organization find some middle-of-the-order hitters who were half as productive as he was.

As is custom, let's welcome Thome back to Chicago:

Cubs trade Scott Feldman to Orioles; Carlos Marmol headed to Dodgers

The Cubs began their much-anticipated midseason trading frenzy Tuesday afternoon with a pair of deals.

First, the North Siders sent pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger to the Baltimore Orioles for starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (pictured), reliever Pedro Strop and international bonus slots No. 3 and No. 4.

In a second move, the Cubs dealt reliever Carlos Marmol  and international signing bonus slot No. 4 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for reliever Matt Guerrier.

I like what the Orioles did here. Baltimore enters Tuesday's play at 47-36. The Orioles have won four in a row and sit just 2 1/2 games back of the Boston Red Sox in the competitive AL East. But, you have to wonder whether Baltimore can stay in the hunt with such poor starting pitching. Orioles starters have a 4.79 ERA this season; that's the third-highest mark in the American League. That's not what you want as a contending team.

Feldman will help. He is having one of his best seasons, having gone 7-6 with a 3.46 ERA in 15 starts with the Cubs. He's been pitching well above his career norms -- his career ERA is 4.66. But even if he crashes back to reality, he provides Baltimore with a more consistent option than Arrieta or any of the other guys who have toiled at the back end of the Orioles rotation. If I'm Baltimore, I'm still looking for another front-line starter to solidify things, but I'm also feeling better about my chances after adding Feldman in exchange for a couple guys who weren't in my plans.

From the Cubs' perspective, I would guess the international bonus slots are what they coveted in this deal. They are probably angling to sign a prospect or two as international free agency opens this week. Certainly, neither Arrieta nor Strop gives fans any reason to get excited.

Arrieta went 1-2 with a 7.23 ERA in five starts with Baltimore this season. The hard-throwing right-hander owns a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts) over parts of four seasons with the Orioles. Arrieta was once considered a top prospect, but now he's nothing more than a 27-year-old reclamation project who will spend some time in Triple-A Iowa.

Strop, 28, had solid overall numbers in 2012 -- a 2.44 ERA in 70 appearances as Baltimore's primary setup man. A closer look reveals he actually had an outstanding first four months, followed by some horrific struggles down the stretch. From April through July of last season, Strop compiled a 1.34 ERA. In August and September, his ERA was 5.12.

It has only gotten worse for the right-hander in 2013. He is 0-3 with a 7.25 ERA in 29 relief appearances. He's been battling back problems throughout the season. Recently, he complained about the home fans booing him off the mound in Baltimore. 

Both Arrieta and Strop seem to be on the fast track to nowhere. The best the Cubs can hope for is a change of scenery getting both back on track.

Speaking of the need for a change of scenery, Marmol is finally out of Chicago. The 30-year-old headcase was 2-4 with a 5.86 ERA in 31 relief appearances before the Cubs designated him for assignment on June 25. Marmol is owed more than $5 million on his $9.8 million contract for this season, and the Cubs will send some cash to the Dodgers for doing them the favor of taking Marmol off their hands. In return, the Cubs get the 34-year-old Guerrier, who is 2-3 with a 4.80 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in 34 relief appearances this year.

Guerrier will not be part of the solution on the North Side, but hey, he's not as bad as Marmol and he'll eat up some innings in middle relief. That's probably the best thing you can say about his acquisition.

Monday, July 1, 2013

If Dr. Seuss described the 2013 White Sox....

This poem comes courtesy of longtime White Sox fan Tom Braxton. Well done, my friend:

The park was too big. The crowd was too small.
And there we sat watching some White Sox baseball.
The players tried to hit, but they could not connect.
It was not a hit, just a swing that they checked.

“The White Sox are bad,” I said to my friend.
“I wonder if ever this season will end.”
We only could sit there, my friend there with me,
As they went down in order, strikes one, two, and three.

The Sox cannot hit, at least not hits they need,
Like with runners on base or to build up a lead.
They also can’t catch, at least not very well.
Hey, there’s a pop fly! And whoops, it just fell.

Still we just sat, my friend there with me.
And again down in order, strikes one, two, and three.
“You know they will lose,” I said with a sigh.
“This game’s almost over. I’ll see you. Bye-bye.”

Then there was a BANG! I said, “What was that?”
A sudden loud sound had come off of a bat!
We looked and we saw him step out on the dirt.
We looked and we saw him! It’s Frank, The Big Hurt!

“What’s wrong with you two?” he asked with a shout.
“The White Sox are playing. They’ll win it, no doubt!”
We tried to explain that we had no more fun.
“You think that we’re kidding? Just watch Adam Dunn!”

“Or maybe Ramirez will drop a ground ball,
“And then we’ll see Flowers pass one to the wall.
“Eight years since the Series, it’s 2013.
“And Frank, this might be just the worst that we’ve seen.”

He gave us a smile. He started to talk.
“I think you should listen to my friend The Hawk.
“You know what he told me?” he asked with a grin.
“All that they need is some new will to win!”

“And that’s what we’ll do!” he said with a smile.
“We’ll make something fresh out of this steaming pile!”
“So come with me now, and say it with me,
“TWTW is what sets us free!”

My friend and I sat there just watching Big Frank.
But what could he do? There’s De Aza, there’s Tank,
There’s Paulie’s sore back and there’s Peavy’s few wins.
And Beckham thinks fielders are big bowling pins.

Big Hurt would not quit. He had much more to say.
“I know that you know I watch this every day.
“I watch them make errors. I watch them pop out.
“I know what is wrong here. I know it, no doubt!”

“It’s not in their workouts. It’s not in their food.
“What these fellows need is some new attitude.
“I’ve got that, I know that, and now they will too.
“Come with me and help me – yes, I mean you.”

But we could just sit there without much to say.
We knew that he meant well but there just was no way.
“Frank,” we said, “thank you for all your good cheer.
“We thank you for hitting them out every year.

“But this year is over. We know that it’s shot.
“We hoped for the best, but here’s what we’ve got.
“Quick! Rick Hahn is coming. Go talk to him. Run!
“Tell him that the Yankees might take Adam Dunn.”

“You really should do it. We know that you care.
“There aren’t any trades. Our cupboard is bare.”
And Frank said, “Good-bye, then. Just follow your game.
“Come see me next year at the big Hall of Fame!”

The game sputtered on with the Sox looking bad.
And I got to thinking what great players we’d had.
We only could sit there, my friend there with me
As they went down in order, strikes one, two, and three.