Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yoenis Cespedes returning to Mets; Edinson Volquez to Marlins; Jon Jay to Cubs

Yoenis Cespedes
Finally, a few free-agent signings to talk about.

The biggest bat on the market is no longer available. Yoenis Cespedes on Tuesday agreed to return to the New York Mets on a four-year, $110 million contract, pending a physical.

This is a good move for both player and team. The contract is worth $27.5 million a year on average, which is the highest ever for an outfielder in MLB history. Cespedes has to be happy with that, and he also has to be pleased by the full no-trade clause included in the deal.

It's a good move for the Mets because the commitment is four years to a 31-year-old player, not five or six years. That's palatable, especially since New York is 106-74 with Cespedes in the lineup and 18-23 without him since the Cuban slugger joined the team in a midseason trade in 2015.

Cespedes finished eighth in the NL MVP balloting in 2016. He hit .280/.354/.530 with 31 home runs, 86 RBIs and 25 doubles.

Volquez to Marlins

The Miami Marlins signed veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez to a two-year deal worth $22 million.

Volquez, 33, had a good season in 2015 for the Kansas City Royals, recording a 3.55 ERA over 200.1 innings and helping the team to its first World Series title in 30 years. But he regressed in 2016, posting a 5.37 ERA while allowing a league-high 113 earned runs.

You can't blame the Royals for moving on. Kansas City has Jason Vargas coming back from arm surgery, and he'll be their No. 4 starter behind Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy. The Royals still have one spot open in their rotation, and I'm sure they believe they can do better than the declining Volquez.

The Marlins? They need pitching help of any sort after the shocking death of Jose Fernandez in late September. They'll be hoping Volquez can return to his 2015 form with a return to the National League.

Jay to Cubs

I'll call it right now: If the Cubs want to repeat as World Series champions in 2017, they need to re-sign center fielder Dexter Fowler, who ignited their offense in 2016 with a .393 on-base percentage, 84 runs scored and 45 extra-base hits in 125 games.

Apparently, the Cubs are thinking of moving on, however, since they signed veteran Jon Jay to a one-year, $8 million deal. Perhaps the Cubs consider Jay a stopgap measure until prospect Albert Almora is ready for a full-time role.

Jay is capable of playing all three outfield spots, and as a left-handed hitter, he hangs in there nicely against left-handed pitching - .288 lifetime vs. righties, .284 vs. lefties. In 2016, Jay hit .311 against lefties and .282 against righties, so the Cubs don't need to platoon him.

This is a player who will do a decent job for the Cubs, but if Fowler leaves as expected, the North Siders will almost certainly have a lesser offensive player batting leadoff next season.

Friday, November 18, 2016

New York Yankees trade catcher Brian McCann to Houston Astros for two prospects

Brian McCann
Cross Brian McCann off your list of available catchers.

The New York Yankees made the first notable trade of the offseason Thursday, sending the veteran to the Houston Astros in exchange for pitching prospects Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman.

McCann, who will be 33 when the 2017 season starts, has two years and $34 million remaining on his contract. The Yankees will send the Astros $11 million -- or $5.5 million a season -- to absorb some of that cost.

The left-handed hitter provided 20 home runs or more in each of his three seasons with the Yankees, but his slash line was a mediocre .235/.313/.418 over that same span. He was, essentially, a league-average hitter, and he was losing playing time in New York to 23-year-old Gary Sanchez, who took the American League by storm with 20 home runs in just 229 plate appearances after an early-August promotion.

Sanchez finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting. He is both the present and the future behind the plate for the Yankees. McCann saw the writing on the wall and agreed to waive his no-trade protection to join the Astros.

From Houston's perspective, the Astros need a catcher because they are likely to lose defensive-minded Jason Castro in free agency. Despite McCann's declining numbers, he still represents a clear offensive upgrade over Castro, who hit .210 with a .684 OPS in 2016.

Houston parts with two live arms in Abreu, 21, and Guzman, 20. Abreu was ranked as the Astros' No. 7 prospect, and Guzman has at times topped 100 mph with his fastball. The Yankees are continuing a trend they started in the middle of last season, trading high-profile, high-priced veterans for prospects. McCann joins Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran on a list of notable players to be dealt out of the Bronx over the past few months.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports is reporting that the Astros are not done. Apparently, Houston is on the verge of signing free-agent outfielder Josh Reddick to a four-year deal worth $52 million.

The Astros had a disappointing 2016 in which they finished 84-78, in third place in the AL West. They came into the year with much higher expectations after winning the AL wild card game in 2015 and pushing the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals to five games in the ALDS. Clearly, they are adding veterans to try to push their way back into the postseason next year.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Some numbers behind Robin Ventura's pitching mismanagement

Robin Ventura
The gripes are all too familiar. We made them routinely for all the years Robin Ventura was managing the White Sox.

He left his starting pitchers in too long, and once he did go to the bullpen, he misused his relievers. He'd use the same reliever three, four days in a row, sometimes even five days out of six. (Remember Addison Reed in August 2013?) He'd used five relievers to get three outs in the seventh or eighth inning, and he was a slave to "handedness"  -- always needing to bring in a left-handed pitcher every time the opponent sent a left-handed batter to the plate.

With that in mind, an article that appeared on South Side Sox this morning interested me, because it pulled out some notes on the Sox from the 2017 Bill James Handbook. These numbers were cited in the article, and they confirmed what we suspected about Ventura all along:

  • The White Sox were one of three teams to use three different relievers 20 times on consecutive days. Those three relievers, not surprisingly, were David Robertson, Nate Jones and Dan Jennings. I complained about the overuse of Robertson and Jones at different points during the season. The Sox would have been the only team with four such relievers had they not traded Zach Duke midseason. The left-hander had 17 appearances on zero days' rest with the Sox, plus nine more such appearances once he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Is it any surprise Duke had Tommy John surgery and miss the 2017 season? 
  • Ventura led the American League by using relievers on consecutive days 128 times, and no other manager was even close. James also noted that Ventura led the league in "slow hooks" for the fourth consecutive year and "long outings" for a second.
Indeed, it's not an accident that Ventura presided over four straight losing seasons. We all know the front office shares in the blame, but the manager exacerbated the problems by not properly handling the pitching staff. Should we be stunned the Sox bullpen had injury problems this year? Of course not. Should we be stunned that some pitchers, most notably Robertson and Matt Albers, got worse the second half of the year? Of course not.

The question is whether anything will change in 2017, with bench coach Rick Renteria now elevated to manager, and Don Cooper still entrenched as the Sox pitching coach. These are the same guys who were Ventura's top lieutenants in 2016. Are they smart enough to see that this was a problem?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jose Abreu opts for arbitration over guaranteed money

Jose Abreu
White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu on Monday decided to opt out of the three years remaining on his contract, instead choosing to go year-by-year with the organization in arbitration.

Abreu, who will turn 30 in January, was scheduled to make $34 million over the next three years, including $10.5 million in 2017. He remains under team control through the 2019 season, but he stands to make more money through the arbitration process if he continues to produce to career norms over the next few seasons.

The Cuba native is a lifetime .299 hitter, and has totaled at least 25 home runs and at least 100 RBIs in each of his first three big-league seasons.

For what it's worth, MLB Trade Rumors is estimating Abreu will receive a $12 million salary next season through the arbitration process.

The analysis in the article is lengthy, but the conclusion strikes me as being fairly reasonable. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Baseball America's list of top-10 White Sox prospects

There were few positives to come out of the 2016 season for the White Sox, but the organization's June draft class is one thing that stands out as a feather in the cap for the current regime.

It always takes three or four years to know for sure how good a draft class really is, but it's worth noting that half of Baseball America's list of top-10 White Sox prospects is made up of players who were drafted by the organization this past June.

Baseball America released the list Monday.

Catcher Zack Collins, the Sox's No. 1 draft pick out of the University of Miami in 2016, is ranked No. 1 on the list. The left-handed hitter has plus power, and posted an .885 OPS in 120 ABs at Class A Winston-Salem this year. According to the Baseball America report, scouts are encouraged by Collins' improving defense behind the plate, but we all know he was drafted for his bat.

Relief pitcher Zack Burdi ranks second on the list. The Downers Grove South graduate was selected with the 26th overall pick in the draft, and reached Triple-A Charlotte by the end of last season. He posted a 2.25 ERA in nine appearances for the Knights. Look for him in the Sox bullpen sometime during the 2017 season.

Other 2016 draftees to make the top-10 list include pitcher Alec Hansen (No. 5), outfielder Jameson Fisher (No. 8) and outfielder Alex Call (No. 9).

Hansen, a second-round pick, dominated in the Rookie League at Great Falls. He struck out 48 and allowed only 11 hits in 30.2 innings pitched. He was promoted to Class A Kannapolis, where he fanned 11 in 11 innings while posting a 2.45 ERA.

Fisher, a fourth-round pick, also had success at Great Falls. He hit .342 with a .923 OPS in 187 at-bats spanning 50 games. He collected 18 extra-base hits and 13 stolen bases, although he was caught stealing seven times.

Call, a third-round pick, was nothing if not consistent. He hit .308 in 27 games at Great Falls before earning a promotion to Kannapolis, where he hit, well, .308 in 46 games. He had a combined .839 OPS between the two stops.

Other players mentioned on the top-10 list are people we've discussed before: pitcher Carson Fulmer (No. 3), pitcher Spencer Adams (No. 4), pitcher Jordan Stephens (No. 6), third baseman Trey Michalczewski (No. 7) and second baseman Jake Peter (No. 10).

The Baseball America article notes the Sox face major obstacles to contention, one of them being a lack of depth in their farm system. However, they do acknowledge the farm system "received a much-needed face-lift" with the 2016 June draft.

If the 2017 season goes as poorly as 2016 did at the big-league level, at least we'll have this new group of prospects to track, even if only Burdi and Collins are likely to arrive on the South Side sometime in the next two years.

Friday, November 4, 2016

White Sox decline option on Matt Albers, among other roster moves

So long, Matt Albers. We'll always have this photo of me with your jersey at SoxFest.

The first day after the conclusion of the World Series often brings a flurry of minor roster moves around the league, and the White Sox made a handful on Thursday.

Most notably, they declined a $3 million option on Albers for the 2017 season, instead exercising a $250,000 buyout.

Albers, 33, went 2-6 with a 6.31 ERA in 58 appearances this year. He was unscored upon in April, but was absolutely terrible for the rest of the season. Now, he's a free agent, and it wouldn't surprise me if he's spent his last day in the big leagues.

The Sox also reinstated third baseman Matt Davidson (broken foot) and relief pitcher Jake Petricka (hip surgery) from the 60-day disabled list. Outfielder J.B. Shuck was outrighted to Triple-A Charlotte, and relief pitcher Daniel Webb was given his release.

Somewhat strangely, the article on the moves indicates the Sox's 40-man roster now sits at 37 players. By my count, the Sox added two players to the roster (Davidson and Petricka), while subtracting three (Albers, Shuck and Webb).

That should mean the roster is at 39 players ... hmmmm ...

Worth noting: The Sox have a five-day window to negotiate exclusively with potential free agents Alex Avila and Justin Morneau. Perhaps the team has already decided they have no interest in talking to those two players, and their names will be officially subtracted from the 40-man roster when they become free agents in five days. That would take the roster count down to 37.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Here's a great article about the Cubs winning the World Series from a Sox fan's perspective

From Jim Margalus at South Side Sox:

I can't say it better, so I'm not going to try.

Some passages that notable:

"We saw it with Boston -- the easy underdog story is gone, replaced by obnoxious bandwagoners who take over road stadiums, celebrities glomming on to cash in, and a media that recycles the same fawning coverage. The Wrigley scene that fatigues even the ambivalent White Sox fan is going national. Good luck containing that. Even Bill Murray might not be immune from it."


"But those are great problems for a franchise to have. They’re better than the White Sox’ problems -- a franchise that’s perpetually stuck between competing and rebuilding. This year hurt more than most, as they ruined the concept of a hot start for the foreseeable future, then finished it by hiring another manager without an interview process and giving their stadium a worse name."


"Here in New York, baseball fans ask me if the relationship between the Sox and Cubs is akin to the Mets and Yankees. I tell them it’s worse for the underdog in Chicago, because at least Mets fans understand why the Yankees get top billing, what with the 27 titles. The Cubs grew in popularity by failing, which makes it all the more aggravating.

"Now, the Cubs now have a legitimate accomplishment to celebrate, which makes the imbalance understandable. Perhaps that'd be a positive development if it didn't wipe out the last vestige of South Side bragging rights that packed a punch (I don't think the Crosstown Cup counts anymore, gang). The Sox might have a higher percentage of "real" fans and a less nauseating scene, but that rings hollow. Sports are entertainment above all else, and one side of town is making it look way more fun than the other, and not just by drinking."
Well done, Mr. Margalus.