Monday, January 11, 2016

Who closes in Toronto: Roberto Osuna or Drew Storen?

Drew Storen
There was one interesting deal made over the weekend, with the Washington Nationals trading former closer Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere.

Storen was put in a difficult situation in July. He had 29 saves and a 1.73 ERA to that point in the season, but he lost his closer's job when the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies in a midseason trade. Storen was shifted to an eighth-inning role, where he struggled the rest of the year. His ERA ballooned to 3.44, and he did not record a save the rest of the season.

It was clear one of Storen or Papelbon would be dealt this offseason, and it appears the Nationals have chosen to keep Papelbon -- despite his late-season dugout altercation with NL MVP Bryce Harper.

Now Storen heads to Toronto, where he's once again in an interesting position. The Blue Jays are the defending AL East champs, and they won the division last year with 20-year-old Roberto Osuna closing games. Osuna's 20 saves, 2.58 ERA and 0.919 WHIP are solid, if not impressive, for any reliever who toils in the AL East. That performance is especially good considering Osuna's age and relative inexperience.

Does Osuna deserved to be replaced as closer? I would say not. There's no question the Blue Jays needed to acquire another reliever. Aaron Sanchez's high ceiling was being wasted as a short reliever last year. It's time for Toronto to move Sanchez into the starting rotation and see what he can bring. So, from that perspective, it's a good move for the Jays to add Storen.

But can Storen deal with an eighth-inning role if Osuna pitches better than him and keeps the closer's job? Or will he fall apart mentally like he did in Washington?

Either way, I'm not sold on Storen closing big games. His postseason meltdowns in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against St. Louis and Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS against San Francisco are part of the reason the Nationals have never fulfilled their potential. I suspect that's why the Nationals chose to keep Papelbon, despite the potential clubhouse problem he creates. Even though it's been a while, Papelbon has proven he can close in the postseason. The right-hander is unscored upon in 17 of his 18 career playoff appearances.

As for Revere, he takes the spot in the Washington lineup vacated by Denard Span, who signed with San Francisco last week. The Nationals had been players in the Jason Heyward sweepstakes earlier this offseason, but they were beaten out by the Chicago Cubs.

It didn't seem as though Washington was interested in any of the right-handed power-hitting outfielders on the free-agent market. The Nationals wanted to add a left-handed hitter who can cover center field, and they obviously feel Revere is a more cost-effective option than Span would have been.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Denard Span agrees to terms with Giants; outfield market starts to move

Denard Span
Now that Alex Gordon has re-signed with the Kansas City Royals, maybe we'll see some of the other free-agent outfielders come off the board this weekend. There was more movement Thursday, as the San Francisco Giants agreed to terms on a three-year, $31 million deal with veteran outfielder Denard Span.

Hip surgery limited Span to 61 games last year, but he did hit .302 with a league-leading 184 hits for the Washington Nationals in 2014. If healthy, he's a good fit in San Francisco. He'll bat leadoff and play center field, and the Giants can move the oft-injured Angel Pagan over to left field -- and allow Gregor Blanco to slide into the fourth outfielder role, which is where he belongs. With Hunter Pence in right field, San Francisco appears to be in good shape in the outfield.

Other teams, including the White Sox, Baltimore, Detroit, Texas and L.A. Angels, still could use some outfield help, and there remain plenty of useful players on the market.

Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are the most attractive options for teams seeking an outfielder, but even with Span off the board, there are a few other decent second-tier guys available, including Dexter Fowler, Gerardo Parra and Austin Jackson.

According to a tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Sox have not changed their stance on free-agent outfielders: They aren't willing to go beyond three years on a contract length for any of these guys. We have no way of knowing whether that's true, or just posturing, but it would be my speculation that the Sox aren't going to land Cespedes or Upton if they are unwilling to give at least a fourth year.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza make up surprisingly small 2016 Hall of Fame class

Ken Griffey Jr.
During his 1990s heyday with the Seattle Mariners, Ken Griffey Jr. was perhaps the most complete baseball player I've seen in my lifetime.

His career accomplishments are many: 630 home runs; 1,836 RBIs; 2,781 hits; 184 stolen bases; a .284 lifetime batting average; a .538 lifetime slugging percentage; the 1997 AL MVP award; 13 All-Star appearances; nine Gold Gloves; seven Silver Slugger awards, etc., etc., etc.

It was a no-brainer for Griffey to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and elected he was on Wednesday, appearing on 437 of 440 ballots. Griffey earned 99.3 percent of the vote, surpassing Tom Seaver's record of 98.84 percent in 1992.

A lot of folks are making a big deal about Griffey's selection not being unanimous, and I understand the dismay to a point. There's no justification for a voter not naming Griffey on his ballot, but when all is said and done, who cares? I doubt there will ever be anyone voted into the Hall unanimously, and at the end of the day, Griffey is taking his rightful place among the game's greats.

For me, it's more bothersome that only two players were elected this year, when there are at least a half-dozen names on the ballot worthy of enshrinement. Mike Piazza, who received 83 percent of the vote, will be the only man joining Griffey in this year's Hall class.

Piazza, a former 62nd round draft pick -- I don't think they have 62 rounds in the draft anymore -- defied the odds by becoming one of the greatest offensive catchers in the game's history. He finished his career with 427 home runs, 396 of them as a catcher. Piazza is a 12-time All-Star who won 10 Silver Slugger awards. He finished with a .308 career batting average and a .545 slugging percentage. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1993. He finished in the top 5 of the MVP balloting five times, including four times in a row from 1993-97.

Congratulations to both of these two great players, but it's surprising some other guys didn't get elected this year. Players need 75 percent of the vote to earn enshrinement.

Here's the list of other guys who fell short:
Edgar Martinez

Jeff Bagwell: 71.6 percent
Tim Raines: 69.8 percent
Trevor Hoffman: 67.3 percent
Curt Schilling: 52.3 percent
Roger Clemens: 45.1 percent
Barry Bonds: 44.3 percent
Edgar Martinez: 43.4 percent
Mike Mussina: 43.0 percent
Alan Trammell: 40.9 percent
Lee Smith: 34.1 percent
Fred McGriff: 20.9 percent
Jeff Kent: 16.6 percent
Larry Walker: 15.5 percent
Mark McGwire: 12.3 percent
Gary Sheffield: 11.6 percent
Billy Wagner: 10.5 percent
Sammy Sosa: 7.0 percent

I'll bet every baseball fan out there can find a few players on that list who they believe should be in the Hall. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there making a case for Bagwell today, but for me, the two guys who deserve more respect than they are getting are Martinez and Kent.

Martinez's 2,247 career hits and 309 career home runs probably aren't good enough for some people, but his career slash line is .312/.418/.515. He's one of only 18 players in the history of baseball to have a career batting average over .300, a career on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500.

Martinez walked (1,283) more times than he struck out (1,202) over his 18-year career. Who does that anymore? And he had a period of dominance, as well, compiling seven seasons with a batting average of .320 or higher. He won AL batting titles in 1992 and 1995.

Why isn't Martinez getting more support? Well, he played for the Seattle Mariners, for one. He'd be enshrined already if he played for the Yankees or the Dodgers. Two, he spent most of his career as a DH, and some whiny purists have yet to accept designated hitter as a legitimate position, even though it's been part of the sport for more than 40 years. It's past time to get over that and put Martinez, one of the most feared hitters in the 1990s, into the Hall.

As for Kent, you would think the most prolific offensive second baseman of the modern era would be able to get at least 20 percent of the ballot, but you'd be wrong.

Of Kent's 377 home runs, 351 came as a second baseman. That's an all-time record. There's also the 2,461 career hits, the .290/.356/.500 career slash, the 560 doubles, four Silver Sluggers, five All-Star appearances and the 2000 NL MVP award. And, Kent was at his best on the postseason stage -- nine home runs in 49 career playoff games, including three home runs during the 2002 World Series.

The case against Kent? Well, his defense was average at best, and he was a jerk. But those factors didn't stop voters from putting Jim Rice in the Hall. I feel comfortable arguing that both Martinez and Kent were better players than Rice, and some other guys who have been inducted, as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Alex Gordon agrees to four-year deal with Kansas City Royals

The defending champion Kansas City Royals moved Wednesday to retain a piece of their title-winning core, signing left fielder Alex Gordon to a four-year deal worth $72 million.

Gordon, 32, has spent his entire career with the Kansas City organization after being drafted No. 2 overall in 2005. Since his breakout campaign in 2011, he's posted a .281/.359/.450 slash line, won four Gold Gloves and been credited with 94 defensive runs saved -- second most among major league outfielders (Jason Heyward) during that time.

The White Sox reportedly were interested in Gordon, but according to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal, the South Siders were not willing to give Gordon a fourth year on a contract.

It's unclear at this point whether Gordon was the Sox's "Plan A" in the outfield, or if he was a "Plan B" option. The team has been linked to free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. It remains to be seen whether the Sox would be willing to give Cespedes, who is two years younger than Gordon, a four- or five-year deal.

As for the Royals, this move solidifies their status as favorites to defend their World Series title in 2016. Kansas City had four key free agents going into this offseason -- Gordon, Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist and Ryan Madson. The Royals retained only one of the four, but they kept the most important one in Gordon.

Kansas City has already replaced Madson with the earlier signing of Joakim Soria, and while Cueto and Zobrist are key losses, people have to remember those guys were nothing more than midseason acquisitions in 2015. The Royals were in first place and had the best record in the league long before they traded for Cueto and Zobrist. Those two were never core members of the team. Gordon was and is a key piece to their puzzle.

With Gordon making $18 million a year, it will be harder for the Royals to keep long-term other key players such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis, all four of whom will hit free agency after the 2017 season.

But that's a problem for two years from now. With this move, the Royals are acting to keep their core together for as long as possible, and there is every reason to believe they will continue to be in the championship discussion for the next two years.

That's an issue for the White Sox and the rest of the AL Central.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

USA Today publishes organizational report on White Sox

Carlos Rodon
If you live in Chicago or the surrounding area, it can be hard to find accurate, useful analysis of the White Sox organization. Most of the local media members are obsessed with the Bears and Cubs, and listening to them talk, it sometimes seems like they haven't watched a Sox game in two or three years.

They simply don't care about White Sox baseball. They dismiss the team as irrelevant, and while it may be irrelevant to them, it's still very much a passion for many of us fans. If you're a diehard Sox fan, it's far more useful to seek the national perspective on the team than to listen to the local talking heads. The national writers tend to be more knowledgeable, in spite of the fact that they have 30 teams to cover, and they tend to be more fair, as well.

That's why I look forward to reading articles about the Sox from national publications such as USA Today's Sports Weekly, which recently published its organizational report on the Sox. Not that any of this should be taken as gospel. Like anything else, I agree with some things in the article and disagree with others, but it's just nice to read a perspective that is outside the usual local talking points.

A few things that caught my attention from this article:

1. They expect the White Sox starting rotation to be better in 2016 than it was last year. It's an interesting thought, because the Sox rotation ranked No. 4 in the majors in WAR, according to In fact, the Sox rotation was the best in the American League a year ago, according to those rankings. The writer of this article sees the departure of Jeff Samardzija to the San Francisco Giants as addition by subtraction, and there's no question Samardzija had a poor year last season. While I share the author's confidence in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana -- and I also expect Carlos Rodon to take the next step forward in his development -- I think Erik Johnson is a question mark as a replacement for Samardzija. Sure, Johnson won International League pitcher of the year honors at Triple-A Charlotte last year, and he showed well in six big-league starts at the end of the year. But Samardzija's team-leading 214.1 innings have to be covered by somebody. Johnson won't do that alone; he has only 86.1 big-league innings under his belt to this point. I question whether the Sox have built enough depth at this point to cover back-of-the-rotation starts.

2. The author doesn't think much of the Sox's bullpen, an area that has gone mostly unaddressed this offseason. Sox relievers logged a league-low 441.2 innings last year. I attribute that to the Sox having a strong rotation, plus manager Robin Ventura's tendency to stay with his starters too long. The writer of the article agrees that figure speaks to the quality of the Sox rotation, but also says a lack of bullpen depth perhaps handcuffed Ventura last season. Contrary to local beliefs, the author notes that David Robertson delivered in the closer's role, but the arms behind him were described as merely "serviceable." We'll see if Nate Jones can stay healthy and lock down the eighth inning for the Sox in 2016. If he can, that makes a big difference.

3. The prospects list is remarkably similar to the one provided by Baseball America, with shortstop Tim Anderson, RHP Carson Fulmer, RHP Spencer Adams and 3B Trey Michalczewski making up the consensus top four. The only variance is the inclusion of RHP Tyler Danish at No. 5. Danish was No. 6 on the Baseball America list, so there isn't much disagreement on who the top Sox prospects are. It's worth noting the author thinks Fulmer is close to contributing in Chicago. I expect Fulmer to remain the minors for all of 2016, but we'll see. You still hear some people saying Fulmer projects as a reliever, and this article alludes to that possibility. I don't think that's going to happen. Fulmer has three pitches and never showed any sort of stamina problem during his college days. For me, he stands a good shot of cracking the Sox rotation early in 2017.

Tim Anderson leads Baseball America's list of top White Sox prospects

Baseball America updated its list of top 10 White Sox prospects Monday, and it comes as no surprise that shortstop Tim Anderson occupies the No. 1 spot.

Anderson, the Sox's 2013 first-round draft pick, made major strides both offensively and defensively while playing with the Double-A Birmingham Barons in 2015. He posted a .312/.350/.429 slash line with five home runs, 46 RBIs and 49 stolen bases in 125 games.

Anderson is expected to start the season in Triple-A Charlotte, and could be in line to make his major-league debut sometime in the 2016 season.

Second on the list is last year's first-round draft pick, right-hander Carson Fulmer. The Vanderbilt product threw 26 minor-league innings in 2015 and struck out 26 while compiling a 2.08 ERA. The Sox have a history of fast-tracking first-round college pitchers (Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon) to the big leagues, but fans should not expect to see Fulmer on the South Side in 2016. He's a fine prospect, but not quite as advanced at this stage of his career as Sale and Rodon were.

Right-handed pitcher Spencer Adams ranks third. One thing I like about the 6-foot-3 Adams is he throws strikes. He split 2015 between Single-A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. In 24 combined starts and 129.1 innings, Adams went 12-5 with a 2.99 ERA. He fanned 96 and walked just 18.

Twenty-year-old third base prospect Trey Michalczewski checks in at No. 4. Michalczewski posted a .259/.295/.366 slash with seven home runs and 75 RBIs in 127 games at Winston-Salem last year. The kid is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, so the Sox are hoping he develops into a player with extra-base pop.

Jacob May is No. 5. The speedy outfielder swiped 37 bags in 98 games at Birmingham last year, but he's just a punch-and-judy hitter at this point, as evidenced by his .275/.329/.334 slash line.

Rounding at the top 10 are right-handed pitcher Tyler Danish, outfielder Adam Engel, left-handed pitcher Jordan Guerrero, outfielder Courtney Hawkins and first baseman Corey Zangari.

Engel is probably the most notable of those five names. He played his way onto the list by winning the MVP of the Arizona Fall League this year.