Saturday, August 31, 2013

Do you suppose the Cubs wish they still had Chris Archer? Or Josh Donaldson?

As a matter of philsophy, I usually agree with the idea of trading prospects for proven veterans. After all, you generally know what you're going to get from a veteran player, and as a percentage, the overwhelming majority of prospects are busts.

If you take a look at what the White Sox have done over the last 10 or 15 years, most of former GM Ken Williams' trades have involved dealing future prospects to acquire help for the here and now. When I look at all the young players Williams traded, the only one I wish the Sox still had is Gio Gonzalez.

Strangely enough, the Sox traded him twice. In 2005, they sent him and Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia for Jim Thome (good trade). They reacquired him, along with Gavin Floyd, for Freddy Garcia in 2006 (also a decent trade). Then, they sent him to Oakland in 2008 with Ryan Sweeney and Fautino De Los Santos for Nick Swisher (terrible trade).

The rest of the players Williams traded, I can't say I miss.

Here are two guys the former GM of the Cubs (Jim Hendry) traded that I'll bet the current GM (Jed Hoyer) wishes he still had: Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer and Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson.

Archer, a 24-year-old right-hander, is having a breakout season for the Rays. He's 8-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 17 starts. He's allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of those outings. Pretty impressive for a kid who just joined the rotation on June 1 and is pitching in the rugged AL East. 

The Cubs acquired Archer from Cleveland in the Mark DeRosa deal in 2008, but in 2011, they flipped him to Tampa Bay in an eight-player deal that brought Matt Garza to the North Side of Chicago. Over 2 1/2 seasons, Garza went 21-18 in 60 starts for the Cubs. He, of course, is no longer on the team, having been traded to the Texas Rangers earlier this summer.

Meanwhile, the Rays have a potential ace on their roster. The Cubs are still looking for that guy. Some people in Chicago seem to believe Jeff Samardzija is an ace. I disagree. A 28-year-old with a 4.13 ERA who is blowing 5-0 leads against the woeful Philadelphia Phillies is not an ace. He's a mid-rotation starter on a contender. The Cubs should consider trading him this offseason. He's not going to get any better than he is right now.

Donaldson, a 27-year-old third baseman, is a bit of a forgotten man. Most people haven't noticed his .296 average, 19 home runs and 77 RBIs this season because he plays for Oakland. Most people have probably also forgotten the Cubs selected him 48th overall in the 2007 draft.

In July of 2008, Donaldson, Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton and Eric Patterson were traded to Oakland for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. At the time, Donaldson was the least talked about player of the four the Cubs gave up. Right now, he looks like the best player in that deal. He plays third base, too, and it seems like about half the teams in baseball are looking for someone to fill that position. It took five years, but that acquisition is paying dividends for the A's, who certainly do not miss Harden or Gaudin.

With both Chicago teams out of the pennant race this year, both clubs have traded some veterans for future considerations this summer. A couple years down the line, maybe they'll strike gold in some of these deals. Only time will tell. Most of the time, the team acquiring the veteran wins the trade. But every now and then, you seen a trade like the Archer deal or the Donaldson deal where the team acquiring the prospects prevails.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Jason Kubel is back in the AL Central

The White Sox have five games remaining with the Cleveland Indians this season. I just became less optimistic about their ability to win those games, because the Indians have just acquired notorious Sox killer Jason Kubel from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for cash and a player to be named later.

Sure, Kubel has stunk it up this year, hitting just .220 with 5 home runs in 89 games. But I'm sure he'll be rejuvenated by the mere sight of the White Sox logo. From 2004-11, Kubel tormented Sox pitching as a member of the Minnesota Twins.

Lifetime against the South Siders, he is a .274 hitter with 22 home runs and 76 RBIs in 81 games. He has no more than 12 home runs against any other team in baseball. He has no more than 52 RBIs against any other team. It's almost cartoonish how Kubel has basically made his entire career by hammering Sox pitching. In a way, he's the perfect Twin: great against the White Sox, mediocre against everyone else.

Maybe the Indians needed to acquire another Sox killer since Ryan Raburn recently went on the DL with a strained Achilles. For those of you who are not familiar with Raburn's work, he has 16 of his 69 lifetime home runs against the Sox to go along with 61 of his 257 career RBIs. Raburn has no more than 11 home runs or 23 RBIs against any other opponent (Kansas City). It's ridiculous.

Maybe the Tribe should acquire Lew Ford while they are at it. It would probably guarantee them another win or two over the Sox before the year is over.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chris Sale strikes out 12 Houston hitters, quiet concerns -- for now

White Sox ace Chris Sale had his worst outing of the season -- and perhaps the worst performance of his career -- last Friday against the Texas Rangers.

He gave up eight runs over seven innings. Four different Texas batters hit home runs. Naturally, that caused a great deal of alarm among the meathead division of the Sox fan base. "Shut down Sale! He's tired!" they cried. It seems like every time Sale has a bad outing, it's a sign of impending doom. Some people are just paranoid that Sale is an injury waiting to happen.

My thoughts on this matter are simple: You can't predict the future. You never know when a pitcher might get hurt. Every pitcher in baseball at times takes the ball while feeling less than 100 percent physically. That's the nature of the game. I would take a guess that most guys around baseball are feeling a little tired these days. It's late August. It's hot outside. These are the dog days. But so what? If a guy is healthy, he should pitch. If he's not healthy, he should take a seat. It's really no more complicated than that.

And right now, there's no sign that Sale is laboring physically. His stuff looks sharp. He was dominant Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. He struck out seven of the first 10 Houston Astros he faced and finished with 12 Ks over eight innings in a 6-1 White Sox winner. I know it's just the Astros, but anyone who watched this game saw Sale at his very best. The fastball was in the mid- to high-90s. The breaking ball was biting. The changeup was well-located, except for one mistake to Chris Carter in the seventh inning. It was just the kind of bounce-back outing you would expect from an ace pitcher.

Sale does not look tired to me. Sure, he could get injured his next start for all I know. There's a risk of injury every single time a player takes the field. You accept that as part of the sport. What is the point in coddling guys? That said, you have to be smart and reasonable. The Sox are out of the race and have been for two months. They don't need to be leaving their starters out there for 120 and 130 pitches an outing trying to win these late-season games. That goes for Sale and everybody else on the pitching staff.

But as long as Sale is feeling good and throwing well, there's no reason he shouldn't take the five or six scheduled starts he should get between now and the end of the season.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Who will the White Sox recall Sept. 1?

It's the last week of August, and no doubt baseball fans around the country are wondering just who will be recalled from the minors to play for their favorite teams when the rosters expand Sept. 1.

I don't expect the White Sox to go crazy and call up 10 players or anything like that. The majority of their major-league ready prospects (Avisail Garcia, Josh Phegley, Andre Rienzo, Jake Petricka and Leury Garcia) are already on the 25-man roster.

But, the Sox do have three holes on their 40-man roster.  They could create a fourth spot later this week if they transfer relief pitcher Brian Omogrosso from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL. That means we will see at least four players recalled, and maybe as many as seven. Here are some guys that Southpaw (pictured) might be cheering for by the time the next homestand rolls around:

1. Erik Johnson, RHP: The 23-year-old is a combined 11-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 23 starts at Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. He is 3-1 with a 1.79 ERA in nine starts since his promotion to Charlotte. The Sox will keep a careful watch on Johnson because he has thrown a career-high 135 innings this season. But he is a candidate for the 2014 starting rotation, so the team is going to want him to get his feet wet at the big-league level this year.

2. Daniel Webb, RHP: A 24-year-old potential closer, Webb hasn't allowed an earned run at Charlotte in over a month. He has struck out 36 batters in 24.1 innings since his promotion to Triple-A. Walks remain an issue -- he has 17 of them in those same 24.1 innings. But, Webb could be a bullpen piece for the Sox as soon as next season if he can refine his control just a little bit more.

3. Charlie Leesman, LHP: He's already on the 40-man roster, having started one game for the Sox earlier this month. At age 26, he's probably not considered a prospect anymore, but he might be handy as the 11th or 12th man on a pitching staff in the future. Look for Leesman to get a start or two in September as the Sox seek to lighten the workload of some of the young pitchers who have been in the big-league rotation all season.

4. Marcus Semien, IF: Here's a guy who really wasn't on the radar this year until he tore up Double-A to the tune of a .290 average, 21 doubles, 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases. I hesitate to put him on this list because he's struggled a bit since his promotion to Charlotte (.238, 8 doubles, 4 home runs, 1 stolen base), but he can play all over the infield and the Sox are looking for a third baseman for next year. They might call Semien up to see how he reacts in September. I suspect this is a player who will need to start 2014 in Triple-A, however.

Those are the four guys who we haven't seen much of yet that we might be getting a look at in September. The Sox will almost certainly recall another catcher, Hector Gimenez if he is healthy, or Bryan Anderson. Blake Tekotte, Deunte Heath, Brent Morel and Simon Castro are other players we saw earlier this year that could potentially get a recall, although I'm sure Sox fans won't be all that excited to see them again.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ryan Braun and a few other random Friday thoughts

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun finally admitted Thursday that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his 2011 MVP season.

Apologies from disgraced athletes are nothing new, and I can't say I have anything to offer on the matter that hasn't already been written dozens of times before.

But you know who owes me an apology? The idiot Brewers fans who sat behind me at U.S. Cellular Field on June 23, 2012. Not that Braun could hear me, but I yelled insults at him and booed him the entire game as the White Sox defeated Milwaukee, 8-6, that night.

These Brewers fans seemed offended by my conduct, and on multiple occasions made snide remarks toward me and claimed that Braun "was right" for appealing his positive drug test after the 2011 season. Ha ha, whatever.

I guess some fans will defend the indefensible when it comes to players on their own teams. I think we all should be smarter than that. No matter which team is your favorite, understand that at some point you have cheered for a player that was using performance-enhancing drugs. That's just the sad reality we live in as baseball fans.

Six straight saves for Addison Reed

They say you can't win 'em all. Well, you can't lose 'em all either, and over 162 games, even struggling teams will have a winning streak at some point.

That where the White Sox are right now. They aren't very good, but they have won six games in a row after defeating the Kansas City Royals 4-3 in 12 innings Thursday night.

In an unusual twist, closer Addison Reed has earned a save in each of those six victories. The Sox did have an off day on Monday, so Reed has not pitched six consecutive days. Still, it's fairly remarkable to pitch six out of seven days and be effective every time.

The last closer to save six consecutive games for his team? Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003.

Reed has been a bright spot in a dismal season for the Sox. He has 34 saves and five wins, meaning he has played a role in 75 percent of the Sox' 52 victories this year. He'd get my vote for team MVP.

Mike Olt is playing really bad

Coming into the 2013 season, third baseman Mike Olt was the second-ranked prospect in the Texas Rangers system. I don't think he'll be rated so highly going into 2014.

Olt has hit just .185 at Triple-A this year, and the Rangers gave up on him, sending him to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. The Cubs could use some help at third base -- journeyman Donnie Murphy has been getting playing time at that position recently.

I think when the Cubs acquired Olt, they had designs on calling him up in September for a late-season look at the hot corner. Doesn't look like that would be wise.

Olt has played 28 games at Triple-A Iowa since joining the Cubs organization. He has gone 12-for-99 with two home runs and four RBIs. That would be a .121 batting average, to go along with a .194 on-base percentage and .222 slugging percentage.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

When it comes to the Cubs, Chicago media lose perspective quickly

Right-hander Jake Arrieta struggled Wednesday night in his third start with the Cubs. He lasted just four innings, allowing six earned runs on five hits. He was fortunate to escape with a no-decision as the Washington Nationals thumped Chicago, 11-6.

What significance should we place on Arrieta's poor showing? Well, virtually none. Nobody should put much stock in four or five starts, let alone just one outing.

But when I saw Arrieta struggling, I couldn't help but think of the ludicrous column ESPN's Bruce Levine wrote less than a week ago, which opined that the Cubs "may have found the next staff ace" in the 27-year-old right-hander.

Really, Bruce? Really?

I understand Arrieta had been great in his previous start. He fired seven shutout innings of two-hit ball against a good-hitting St. Louis team on Aug. 16. And it is true Arrieta has a power arm and swing-and-miss stuff.

However, Levine should ask a Baltimore fan sometime about Arrieta's future as "a potential ace." That narrative is nothing new. The Orioles thought so much of Arrieta they made him their Opening Day starter in 2012. Arrieta won his start that day. Also in 2012, Arrieta threw eight shutout innings against the Yankees. He had another outing where he struck out nine Pittsburgh Pirates in seven innings. Alas, those were his only three wins in 18 starts. By the All-Star break, Arrieta had been removed from the rotation.

That's right: In a matter of three months, Arrieta went from presumed staff ace to the Baltimore bullpen. This is a pitcher who has never been a consistent performer. He's a tease; he wows you with great stuff. At times, he can dominate a lineup. Other times, he infuriates you by getting knocked out in the third or fourth inning. He can't be trusted. Why do you think the Orioles were willing to trade him to the Cubs, Bruce? I guarantee you it wasn't because they didn't like his 96 mph fastball.

You see, once a guy gets to be 27 years old, he's no longer a prospect. It's time to put up or shut up. Arrieta never put up in a Baltimore uniform, so they sent him packing. Potential doesn't mean anything for a pitcher of that age. It's all about results now.

I get the sneaking suspicion that Levine and others think Arrieta is still a prospect. He is not. Some members of the Chicago media need to get their heads out of the clouds when it comes to analyzing the Cubs. Let's call Arrieta what he is: a reclamation project.

He had multiple opportunities with the Orioles. He threw them all away. Will the change of scenery help him? Maybe. Matt Thornton was a busted prospect when the White Sox acquired him from the Seattle Mariners in 2006, and he became a valuable bullpen piece on the South Side for years. Sometimes, a reclamation project gets redeemed, but it's always a flip of the coin with these kind of guys.

I know this is a strange concept for some writers, but let's see how Arrieta responds the rest of the year. The Cubs are going to give him a look down the stretch, and why not? If he fails again, he's not hurting anything. But right now, he shouldn't even be penciled into the Cubs' 2014 rotation, let alone be a candidate for the title of "staff ace." 

In my world, the Cubs should be happy if Arrieta becomes a useful back-of-the-rotation starter.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Miguel Cabrera has 40 and 120 -- with a quarter of a season left

If Miguel Cabrera played for a team that wasn't in the American League Central, I would really like him. Come to think of it, the only reason I dislike him is because he plays for the Detroit Tigers -- a hated rival of the White Sox.

The guy is just an awesome hitter, and as a fan of baseball, I respect just how good Cabrera is at his craft. The reigning Triple Crown winner slugged his 40th home run of the season Sunday in the Tigers' 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. Cabrera also had an RBI single in the game, lifting his season RBI total to 120.

Cabrera, who leads the American League with a .360 batting average, became just the third player since 1921 to have at least 40 homers and 120 RBIs while batting .350 or better through 116 games. The other two names on that list are Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.

As baseball fans, I think the Steroid Era made us all feel like 40 home runs and 120 RBIs in one season isn't much of an accomplishment anymore. In recent weeks, I've heard two different radio commentators in Chicago opine about how one day Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is going to "hit 40 home runs and drive in 120 runs every year."

Really? Even if Rizzo develops into an All-Star hitter, he isn't going to do that. I don't think people respect just how hard it is to put up 40 and 120 in a single year.

For Cabrera, as great as he is, this is only the second time he's had 40 and 120 in the same season. Frank Thomas accomplished the feat just three times in his brilliant 19-year career. Albert Pujols, who preceded Cabrera as the best hitter in the game, has done it four times. Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, who is beloved by statheads as an OPS machine, has never totaled 40 and 120 in the same season.

Even noted steroid cheats Alex Rodriguez (six times), Sammy Sosa (four times) and Barry Bonds (three times) didn't hit 40 homers and drive in 120 every year.

Those are difficult plateaus to reach, and that makes what Cabrera is doing this year all the more impressive. At the rate he's going, 50 home runs and 150 RBIs are well within his reach.