Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Flowers agree to one-year deals; White Sox have all arbitration-eligible players signed

The White Sox have agreed to contracts with their final two arbitration-eligible players, signing pitcher Jeff Samardzija and catcher Tyler Flowers to one-year deals.

Samardzija, 29, went a combined 7-13 with a 2.99 ERA last season with the Cubs and Oakland Athletics. He was acquired in December to be the No. 2 pitcher in the White Sox rotation behind Chris Sale. Samardzija, who is eligible for free agency next winter, will make $9.8 million in 2015.

Flowers, 28, agreed on a $2.675 million deal. The Sox starting catcher hit .241 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs last season. He figures to be the guy behind the plate again, unless GM Rick Hahn comes up with another move in the 79 days between now and Opening Day.

The Sox previously agreed to contracts with four other arbitration-eligible players. The salaries all came in right around where MLB Trade Rumors expected them to:

Projected salary: $9.5 million
Actual salary: $9.8 million

Projected salary: $2.1 million
Actual salary: $2.675 million

Hector Noesi:
Projected salary: $1.9 million
Actual salary: $1.95 million

Dayan Viciedo:
Projected salary: $4.4 million
Actual salary: $4.4 million

Javy Guerra:
Projected salary: $1.3 million
Actual salary: $937, 500

Nate Jones:
Projected salary: $600,000
Actual salary: $660,000

Total projected salary for these six players: $19.8 million
Actual salary for these six players: $20.4225 million

Friday, January 16, 2015

White Sox avoid arbitration with Javy Guerra, Hector Noesi, Nate Jones

The White Sox avoided arbitration with three right-handed pitchers, agreeing on one-year contracts with Javy Guerra, Hector Noesi and Nate Jones.

Guerra, 29, will make $937,500. He went 2-4 with a 2.91 ERA in 42 relief appearances last season. He figures to work in middle relief again this year.

Noesi, 27, joined the Sox as a waiver claim last May and made 27 starts, going 8-12 with a 4.75 ERA. He agreed on a $1.95 million contract and will enter spring training as the odds-on favorite to claim the fifth starting spot in South Siders' rotation.

Jones, 28, appeared in only two games last season and is coming off back and Tommy John surgery. He will make $660,000 in 2015. The best-case scenario for Jones will be a midseason return.

The White Sox have two remaining arbitration-eligible players, pitcher Jeff Samardzija and catcher Tyler Flowers.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

White Sox will retire Paul Konerko's No. 14 on May 23

There's a conspicuously empty space on the facade where the retired numbers hang at U.S. Cellular Field, a gap between the No. 11 once worn by Luis Aparicio and the No. 16 once worn by Ted Lyons.

You knew the space was left their intentionally, because one day No. 14 would be honored in that spot.

The White Sox will make that official May 23 when they retire the No. 14 jersey of former first baseman Paul Konerko. It's a 3:10 game on a Saturday afternoon against the Minnesota Twins. The first 20,000 fans through the gate will receive a Konerko statue replica.

Fortunately for me, this game is part of my 27-game season-ticket plan. I'll be there early to see Konerko become the 10th former White Sox player to have his number retired.

Konerko, a six-time All-Star, is the franchise leader in total bases (4,010) and ranks second in White Sox history in home runs (432), 16 behind Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas (448). Konerko also ranks third in franchise history in hits (2,292) and doubles (406). He is best remembered for his grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series

I've said before Konerko isn't quite good enough to make baseball's Hall of Fame, but he is clearly among the best players in White Sox history. It's fitting and proper that he's being shown this kind of respect by the White Sox organization.

Consider May 23 circled on my calendar.

White Sox sign Brian Anderson to a minor-league deal

Former White Sox first-round draft pick Brian Anderson hasn't played in a major league game since 2009. Heck, he hasn't played organized ball since a 2012 stint with the Somerset Patriots in the Independent League.

But the 15th overall pick in the 2003 draft is getting one more kick at the can in pro ball. Anderson has signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox, although sources say he will not get an invitation to big-league camp in spring training. His chances of ever playing a major league game at U.S. Cellular Field are a longshot.

Anderson, 32, batted .227 with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs over five major league seasons. He wasn't much of a hitter when he was 25 or 26 years old, so I see no reason to believe anything has changed. Frankly, this signing isn't good for much more than a January giggle.

Accordingly, we'll "Welcome Back" Anderson to the White Sox organization with the traditional video we use in these sorts of scenarios:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

White Sox agree with Dayan Viciedo on one-year contract

The White Sox on Monday agreed to a one-year, $4.4 million contract with disappointing outfielder Dayan Viciedo, avoiding arbitration.

This news is about as welcome as a fatal chest wound for many White Sox fans, who have grown tired of Viciedo's wild swings, poor plate discipline and lousy defense in the outfield.

The 25-year-old is coming off his worst season in the major leagues, in which he posted a .231/.281/.405 slash line. All three of those figures are career worsts. Viciedo did total 21 home runs and 58 RBIs, but he also struck out more times (122) than he had hits (121).

It's hard to see how Viciedo fits into the plan for the 2015 White Sox. The outfield is set with Melky Cabrera in left field, Adam Eaton in center and Avisail Garcia in right. There's no room at designated hitter, either, with Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche set to split duties between first base and DH.

Viciedo at this point looks like an overpriced, one-dimensional (to put it charitably) bench player. Accordingly, you would think general manager Rick Hahn will be motivated to try to get Viciedo off his projected 25-man roster.

You also would think the $4.4 million contract would be an impediment to trying to deal Viciedo, but the more I think about it, maybe this will actually help Hahn in his efforts to make a trade. Now that Viciedo's contract for next year is in place, any potential trade partner now knows what the cost will be to acquire this player for the 2015 season. Up until Monday's announcement, any acquiring team would have to worry about Viciedo potentially taking them to arbitration, a process that is notorious for favoring players -- especially when Scott Boras is that player's agent, which is the case with Viciedo.

With cost certainty, maybe it's easier to make a deal. If you're a White Sox fan who wants Viciedo gone, at least you can hope that's the case.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio elected to baseball Hall of Fame

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio were elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The Hall will welcome four new players in the same year for the first time since 1955.

Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz were voted in on their first try, while Biggio was elected on his third attempt after falling just two votes shy last year.

Let's take a look at each of the four 2015 inductees:

Randy Johnson

I wasn't alive when Sandy Koufax was pitching, so Johnson is the best left-handed pitcher I've seen in my lifetime. He won 5 Cy Young Awards and finished second on three other occasions. He totaled 303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts and led his league in strikeouts on nine occasions. Johnson had six seasons of at least 300 strikeouts, and averaged 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings over the course of his career. His .646 career winning percentage is pretty darn good, too. Not too many pitchers have been more dominant.

Pedro Martinez

Here's the most remarkable thing about Martinez: He played from 1992 to 2009, an 18-year period that featured some of the most prolific offensive seasons in the history of the sport. Yet, his career ERA was a sparkling 2.93. The league average ERA during that period was 4.49. That goes to show how great Martinez was. He finished with a 219-100 career record, and he had a dominant six years in the middle of his career that saw him win three Cy Youngs and finish second on two other occasions. He went 23-4 in 1999, but I think his best year was actually 2000. He went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA for the Boston Red Sox. A 1.74 ERA in the American League? During that steroid era? That's one of the better individual seasons I've seen from any player in my lifetime.

John Smoltz

Smoltz had an unparalleled career in my book. He won a Cy Young as a starter, went to the bullpen and led his league in saves, then returned to the starting rotation because that's what his team needed at that time. There aren't a lot of guys who have been great both as a starter and as a closer. Dennis Eckersley comes to mind, but even that isn't a parallel because once Eckersley went to the bullpen he stayed there for the rest of his career. Smoltz eventually returned to starting and continued to pitch effectively. But here's what makes Smoltz a first-ballot Hall of Famer: He went 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA in postseason play. I know the stat people don't like to talk about clutch, but you can't ignore that kind of performance on the game's biggest stages. You're not getting fat on 95-loss teams pitching in October. You're going against the best teams with the best lineups. Smoltz was a guy who was at his best when he went against the best.

Craig Biggio

Isn't it interesting that it took three years for Biggio and his 3,060 career hits to get elected to the Hall? It used to be that 3,000 hits was one of those magic numbers that made you a first-ballot lock. Not anymore. A couple other notable numbers about Biggio: He had 668 doubles, more than any other right-handed hitter in the history of the game. He also had 51 doubles and 50 stolen bases during the 1998 season, becoming the only player to have 50 doubles or more and 50 steals or more in the same year. Why did it take so long for him to get in? Well, I don't know. Some people think Jeff Bagwell, Biggio's longtime teammate in Houston, is a steroids guy, so perhaps Biggio is guilty by association in the minds of some.

This four-man class comes on the heels of last year's three-man class that included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

All seven men who have been elected the last two years are worthy choices, but here's my takeaway: I find it interesting that five of the seven most recent inductees are pitchers. There are several notable hitters on the ballot, including Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Edgar Martinez, who have strong cases and are still on the outside looking in.

The steroids era didn't seem to change voter behavior in terms of pitchers. The great ones, for the most part, are still promptly getting elected to the Hall. Hitters? Not so much. Guys who would have been slam dunks in the past are having to wait now. Biggio is a prime example of that. He's not thought of as a steroids guy, but he still had to wait a couple years because the magical offensive numbers -- 3,000 hits, 500 home runs -- aren't as meaningful as they used to be.

Part of this preference for pitchers, of course, can be explained by the quality of pitchers that have come onto the ballot the past couple years. Maddux, Johnson and Martinez are the short list of the game's all-time greats. Glavine and Smoltz also are easy picks. There won't be an elite starting pitcher coming on the ballot as a first-timer next year.

We'll see if that allows for some of these hitters who are waiting their turn to finally have their day, or if the cloud of the steroid era still looms large.

Monday, January 5, 2015

White Sox sign Emilio Bonifacio to one-year contract

The White Sox have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with veteran utilityman Emilio Bonifacio, sources say.

According to reports, Bonifacio will make $3 million in 2015. The deal includes a $4 million club option for 2016 with a $1 million buyout.

Bonifacio posted a .259/.305/.345 slash line with three home runs, 24 RBIs and 26 stolen bases last season for the Cubs and the Atlanta Braves. The eight-year veteran played six different positions at different points in 2014 -- all three outfield positions and every infield position except first base.

This pickup makes sense for the Sox for a few different reasons. First, Bonifacio is an upgrade as a utility player over Leury Garcia, who was pathetic last year. Garcia hit .166 with a .192 on-base percentage in 74 games in 2014. He also struck out 48 times in 145 at-bats.

It won't take much for Bonifacio to be an improvement over Garcia's laughably poor numbers. Bonifacio is a .262 lifetime hitter. If he hits close to that level, as he did last year, the Sox will be happy with the signing.

In addition, the switch-hitting Bonifacio hits left-handed pitching much better than he hits right-handed pitching. This is key, because the Sox have been searching for someone to platoon with Conor Gillaspie at third base. Gillaspie hits righties well, but struggles against lefties.

Bonifacio's career numbers against left-handed pitching suggest he can be a reasonable complement to Gillaspie:

Career vs. LHP: .291/.341/.380
Career vs. RHP: .250/.311/.326

In 2014, Bonifacio's platoon splits were even more drastic. In fact, he destroyed left-handed pitching last year:

2014 vs. LHP: .365/.411/.548
2014 vs. RHP: .221/.266/.272

Bonifacio has played 141 career games at third base. Expect that figure to go up once he joins the Sox. You'll see him at third base against left-handed starters.

You'll also see Bonifacio as a pinch runner late in games. He has 164 career steals in his eight seasons, so he figures to be the speed guy off the bench.

Lastly, Bonifacio has played more games at second base in his career (196) than at any other infield position. The Sox intend for a couple of rookies (Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson) to compete for the starting job at that spot. But what if both fall flat on their faces? Now, the Sox have a player in Bonifacio who can serve as an insurance policy in case that happens.

For multiple reasons, this signing makes good sense for the Sox.