Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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

The White Sox's recent trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton netted them seven new players -- all of whom are minor-league prospects. So, it stands to reason the organization's list of top 10 prospects looks far different now than it did at this time last month.

Here's the latest look from Baseball America:

1. Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP
3. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP
4. Zack Collins, C
5. Michael Kopech, RHP
6. Zack Burdi, RHP
7. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF
8. Carson Fulmer, RHP
9. Spencer Adams, RHP
10. Dane Dunning, RHP

Moncada, Kopech and Basabe all were acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the Sale trade. Giolito, Lopez and Dunning all were acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Eaton trade. Collins and Burdi were 2016 Sox draft picks.

That means eight of these 10 players have joined the Sox organization within the past six months. I'm sure this will do a lot for the Sox in terms of where their farm system ranks, although each of the next two seasons likely will feature 90-plus losses on the South Side of Chicago.

It will be interesting to come back to this list in 2019 and see how many of these players panned out.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

White Sox sign pitcher Derek Holland to one-year contract

Derek  Holland
Somebody has to pitch for the 2017 White Sox, right?

One of those somebodies will be veteran left-hander Derek Holland, who agreed Wednesday to a one-year, $6 million contract with the Sox.

Holland, 30, has been plagued by knee and shoulder injuries that have limited him to 38 starts over the past three seasons combined. He went 7-9 with a 4.95 ERA in 22 starts for the Texas Rangers in 2016. He spent July and most of August on the disabled list with shoulder problems, and suffered from reduced fastball velocity when he did pitch. The Rangers declined their $11 million team option on him at the end of the season.

The left-hander's best season came for a pennant-winning Texas team in 2011, when Holland led the league in shutouts with four and went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA. His last good season was his last healthy one -- 2013 -- when he tossed a career-high 213 innings and went 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts.

Holland is looking for a bounce-back year that will rebuild his value when he goes back on the open market next offseason. The Sox might be a good fit for him, because there will be an opportunity to pitch, and there is an opportunity to work with pitching coach Don Cooper, who has had some success in the past with reclamation projects.

For the club, Holland is a good fit because the Sox need veteran stopgaps until some of the younger pitchers in the system -- Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Spencer Adams, etc. -- are ready for a full-time shot in the rotation.

If Holland gets hurt again, or is a bust, oh well, it's only a one-year commitment for the club. If Holland pitches well, contending teams could come calling and the Sox could flip him for younger players at the July trade deadline.

To make room for Holland on the 40-man roster, the Sox designated left-handed reliever Matt Purke for assignment.

I guess that means we won't be hearing this song at the ballpark next season:

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jansen, Turner deals make Dodgers an unlikely trade partner for White Sox

Kenley Jansen
The Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed with free agent closer Kenley Jansen on a five-year, $80 million contract, sources say.

Jansen, 29, recovered 47 saves and posted a 1.83 ERA and a sparkling 0.670 WHIP for the Dodgers in 2016. He struck out 104 and walked only 11 hitters in 68.2 innings.

Sources also indicate the Dodgers are close to a deal to retain free agent third baseman Justin Turner. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports the sides are discussing a four-year deal in the $64 million range.

Turner, 32, had his best year in 2016, hitting .275/.339/.493 with 27 home runs, 34 doubles and 90 RBIs in a career-best 151 games.

How do these moves affect the White Sox? Well, it means the Dodgers are no longer a likely trading partner for the South Siders, because the Dodgers have no need for two of the players the Sox are trying to trade -- closer David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier.

With Jansen's signing, all the major free agent closers are off the board. The New York Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman (5 years, 86.5 million), and the San Francisco Giants picked up Mark Melancon (4 years, $62 million) during the winter meetings last week.

The losers in the Jansen sweepstakes -- notably the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins -- could be potential landing spots for Robertson, who is owed $25 million over the remaining two years of his contract.

Other free agent possibilities for teams shopping for closers include Greg Holland -- who recorded 125 saves from 2013-15 in Kansas City, but did not pitch in 2016 after arm surgery -- and Brad Ziegler, an eight-year veteran with 85 career saves who finished last year in a set-up role with the Boston Red Sox.

If Holland is healthy -- a big if -- his upside is better than Robertson's at this stage, but Robertson's durability makes him less of a risk for teams. Robertson has appeared in at least 60 games for seven consecutive seasons. The same is true for Ziegler -- his stuff isn't as dynamic as a healthy Holland, but he's appeared in 64 games or more for eight consecutive seasons.

If the Dodgers settle up with Turner, we know Frazier won't be traded to Los Angeles, but where might he go?

How about San Francisco? At the end of last season, the Giants were counting on Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie at third base. It turns out Gillaspie had some big hits for the Giants during the postseason, but as all Sox fans know, Gillaspie is best utilized as a left-handed bench bat, not as an everyday third baseman. Frazier is an upgrade over Nunez or Gillaspie.

Boston also would be a possibility. The Red Sox traded third baseman Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire the eighth-inning reliever they needed in Tyler Thornburg. People have been saying that opens the door for Pablo Sandoval to be the Boston third baseman in 2017. OK, I suppose, but do the Red Sox really want to count on 140 to 150 games from Sandoval in a season where they are trying to win a championship? I'm skeptical.

Lastly, don't count out St. Louis. The Cardinals showed they are serious about making a push in 2017 with their five-year, $82 million commitment to center fielder Dexter Fowler. But they still appear to be a bat short. Some of the big free agent hitters out there -- notably Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo -- are DH types who are more suitable to the American League. Frazier, in contrast, can actually play his position well, and he represents a potential upgrade both offensive and defensively over Jhonny Peralta. Frazier has only one year left on his contract, so the risk would be minimal for St. Louis.

The best available free agent third baseman right now? It's Luis Valbuena. Teams would rather have Frazier, I'm sure.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

White Sox trade outfielder Adam Eaton to Nationals for 3 pitching prospects

Jason Bauman (left) and Adam Eaton at SoxFest 2016.
A day after the White Sox traded their ace pitcher, they dealt the guy who was their best position player in 2016 for three pitching prospects.

Adam Eaton is now the center fielder for the Washington Nationals. In exchange, the Sox have acquired right-handed pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

It's no secret that I did not care for the Chris Sale trade that was made Tuesday, but now that the Sox have committed to a rebuild, they have to go all in on it. You can't just trade Sale and keep the rest of the band together, because that is a path to certain failure. So, against that backdrop, it makes sense to deal Eaton, although it's difficult to see him leave after the fine 2016 season he produced.

Eaton hit .284/.362/.428 in 2016, with 29 doubles, nine triples, 14 home runs, 14 stolen bases, 91 runs scored and 18 outfield assists in 157 games. He was a American League Gold Glove finalist in right field, even though deficiencies with the Sox roster forced him to play 48 games in center field.

There's no question Eaton is a good fit for the Nationals. He's an established leadoff hitter. His presence in center field will allow Washington to move Trea Turner back to his natural position at shortstop, and he helps balance out the lineup. The Nationals have two elite left-handed hitters in Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. While Eaton is not at the level of those two, he's another quality lefty bat.

Not to mention, Eaton has a team-friendly contract -- five years remaining at the bargain rate of $38 million over the life of the deal. Maybe that's why the Sox were able to get Washington's top three pitching prospects in this trade.

Giolito, 22, is the top-ranked pitching prospect in the game, and the No. 3-rated prospect overall. The former first-round draft pick pitched at three levels in the minors last year, recording 116 strikeouts in 115.1 innings to go along with a 2.97 ERA. He received a late-season promotion to Washington, where he appeared in six games (four starts). He went 0-1 with 6.75 ERA in 21.1 innings.

Lopez, 22, is the No. 38-ranked prospect in baseball, and the No. 3-rated prospect in the Nationals' system. He worked in 11 games (six starts) for Washington last season, going 5-3 with a 4.91 ERA. He was good enough to make the Nationals' postseason roster, and from a White Sox perspective, hey, he's probably already better than James Shields.

Dunning, 21, is a little bit more of a project. He was the Nationals' first-round draft pick and No. 29 overall in 2016. He was the No. 6-rated prospect in the Washington system. He got seven starts in at Low-A Auburn and went 3-2 with a 2.14 ERA.

I never get excited about trading established players for prospects because prospect rankings are just that -- rankings. They mean nothing on the field, and we don't know what these guys are going to do until they get an opportunity.

That said, I somehow feel as if the Sox got a better deal for Eaton than they got for Sale. Maybe it's just because I'm looking at Giolito and Lopez and seeing two guys who could potentially contribute from Day 1 in 2017, whereas the four guys in the Sale deal all look as if they are going to need some more minor-league time.

I doubt Rick Hahn is done dealing yet. There are rumors that Jose Quintana and Todd Frazier could be on the move soon, too. We shall see ...

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

White Sox make underwhelming trade of Chris Sale to the Red Sox

Chris Sale
Four consecutive losing seasons -- and five losing seasons out of seven -- would lead to front office changes in most organizations around baseball.

But not the ever-loyal White Sox.

General manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams are still here, and despite total failure in recent years, they are being allowed to embark on a long-term rebuilding project.

They started that process Tuesday by trading ace pitcher Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for infielder Yoan Moncada, pitcher Michael Kopech, pitcher Victor Diaz and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe.

In other words, the Sox did exactly what I hoped they wouldn't do -- trade the best pitcher in the American League, the crown jewel of the organization, the face of the franchise, for a package of ifs and maybes.

Make no mistake about it, the Red Sox made a great trade. Consider these facts:

  • Sale is a five-time All-Star. 
  • He's placed in the top six in the AL Cy Young voting for five consecutive years, and he probably would have won the award twice by now if he had been pitching for a good team. 
  • Sale's 3.04 ERA over the past five seasons is the lowest of any American Leaguer with at least 500 innings pitched during that same period.
  • Sale was 6-0 with a 1.55 ERA and 0.82 WHIP against Boston's AL East rivals -- New York, Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay -- in 2016.
  • With the acquisition of Sale, Boston's odds of winning the 2017 World Series went from 10-1 to 5-1 in the blink of an eye. 
  • Sale is under team control for three more years, at the bargain rate of $38 million for the life of his contract.
So, that's what Boston got today.

What did the White Sox get? Your opinion is as good as mine.

Moncada is the No. 1 ranked prospect in all of baseball, so there's that. He's a switch-hitter, but it's unclear whether he'll be a second baseman, a third baseman or a center fielder moving forward. He hit .294/.407/.511 with 15 home runs, 62 RBIs and 45 stolen bases over a combined 491 plate appearances in High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2016.

He went 4 for 19 in eight games in a cup of tea with Boston at the end of the season, and those are the only ABs he's had above Double A so far.

Kopech, 20, has a 100 mph fastball and a temper to match. He sidelined himself for three months last year after breaking his hand in a fight with a teammate. He pitched only 56.1 innings in 2016, going 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in two stops in A-ball. He had 86 strikeouts, but also 33 walks. He is not close to the major leagues.

The same is true for Diaz, 22, who has never pitched above A-ball. He went 2-5 with a 3.88 ERA and 10 saves in 37 games at that level in 2016.

Basabe, 20, also has never played above A-ball. He played at two Class A levels in 2016, playing 110 games and hitting .264/.328/.452 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs.

Bottom line: Moncada is the only one of these four guys we're going to see in the major leagues in the next two years. Kopech is a good prospect, but with his control problems, he's got some work to do.

The other two guys, well, they are long shots.

If you feel like this is an underwhelming return for the best pitcher in the league, you're not alone. I was hoping for a MLB-ready position player, plus two other legit prospects.

This trade is not that.

Monday, December 5, 2016

White Sox agree to terms with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

Brett Lawrie
The White Sox on Friday announced that they have agreed to contract terms with second baseman Brett Lawrie and outfielder Avisail Garcia.

Lawrie is back on a one-year contract worth $3.5 million, while Garcia received a one-year deal worth $3 million.

Both of these signings caused consternation among Sox fans, many of whom assumed both Lawrie and Garcia would be non-tendered. For me, it's a mixed bag. I'm OK with bringing back Lawrie, but I was ready to give up on Garcia.

Lawrie, 26, hit .248 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles and 36 RBIs in 94 games with the Sox in 2016. He did not play after July 21 because of some sort of hamstring/quad/knee injury that nobody ever seemed to fully explain.

That's the main gripe I have with Lawrie: He's always hurt. He's still a young man, but he's only played more than 100 games once in the past three seasons. And, only once has he played more than 125 games in a season during his five years in the bigs.

There's always something going on injury-wise with Lawrie. You just can't count on him. That said, $3.5 million isn't a lot of money in today's baseball, and at least Lawrie is good enough to be an everyday player when he is healthy.

The same cannot be said for Garcia, who qualifies as a perennial disappointment. The 25-year-old hit .245 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs in 120 games for the Sox in 2016. Garcia also has battled injuries, but now that he has 1,551 MLB plate appearances under his belt, it seems foolish to think he is ever going to break out the way the Sox and their fans hoped when he was first acquired in 2013.

Garcia is a poor defensive outfielder -- so poor, in fact, that he started more games at designated hitter (61) than he did in the outfield (51) last season. He's also a poor base runner, so to justify his place on the roster, Garcia needs to hit.

But he never has hit, as evidenced by his lifetime .695 OPS. The Sox have already said "maybe next year" with regard to Garcia three times. At some point, you just have to admit that it isn't working out and move on.

For some reason, the Sox are sticking with Garcia one more time. At least with Lawrie, there is some versatility there. As it stands today, he is the Sox's second baseman. But if the team decides to rebuild, Todd Frazier could be traded for younger players, and Lawrie could be a one-year stopgap at third base.

Garcia is a stopgap for nothing, and it's hard to see what purpose he has.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Some thoughts on the new collective bargaining agreement

It's Dec. 2, and Major League Baseball still is open for business.

Owners and the players union reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement four hours before Thursday's midnight deadline, thus averting a potential lockout just days before the winter meetings are scheduled to begin.

A few highlights to note:

Perhaps the most significant change for fans is the fact that the All-Star game no longer "counts." Home-field advantage in the World Series will be awarded to the team with the better regular-season record, not the team that wins the pennant in the league that won the Midsummer Classic.

I have mixed emotions about this change. I agree that home-field advantage should have not been decided by the results of an exhibition game. However, I would like to see the results of interleague play determine home-field advantage in the World Series. There were 300 interleague games played during the 2016 regular season. Don't you think that's a big enough sample size to determine which was the stronger league? (For the record, the American League went 165-135.)

I'd be willing to bet the 94-win, AL champion Cleveland Indians would have won 100 games playing in the National League. In this year's World Series, we saw an injury-depleted Cleveland team push the 103-win, NL champion Cubs to the brink. Chicago was the better team, but not by much, needing extra innings in Game 7 to finally emerge victorious.

Why shouldn't the league that proves itself to be stronger from top to bottom -- this year it was the AL -- over 300 interleague games get home-field advantage for the World Series? I can't think of a reason not to do it that way. That said, I do find giving home-field to the team with the best record far more palatable than having the All-Star Game determine it.

The minimum stay on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10 days. Good change. I'm guessing there are a lot of injuries that take 10 days -- but not 15 -- to heal, and this will make it a little easier to determine the best course of action when a player suffers a relatively minor injury.

The season will last 187 days, instead of 183, starting in 2018. This will allow the players a few more off-days. Opening Day will take place midweek, also starting in 2018, to accommodate the extra days.

The rules have been changed on qualifying offers. A player can't receive it more than once. Teams that lose a free agent who rejects a qualifying offer will still get a draft pick. The pick will depend on the team's market size. This part is clear as mud, so I'll explain it as best I can:

For most teams, that pick would be a sandwich pick immediately after the competitive balance picks that are awarded after the second round. However, if that team comes from the 15 smallest markets and is receiving revenue sharing money, and it loses a free agent who signs a contract worth at least $50 million, that pick would follow the first round. And if the team losing that player is over the luxury tax threshold, the pick would follow the fourth round.

Got it? Me neither. We'll see how it works in practice.

There is no international draft, but spending will be capped. Reports indicate each team will be able to spend $5 million to $6 million a year on international free agents.

Luxury tax thresholds jump from $189 million in the last agreement that ended in 2016, to $195 million in 2017; $197 million in 2018; $206 million in 2019; $209 million in 2020, and; $210 million in 2021.

There will be no 26th man added to the roster, and there were no changes to the September call-up rules. Any player on the 40-man roster still can be recalled when rosters expand in September. This is the part that is most disappointing to me as fan. Why are we playing by one set of rules from April to August, then a completely different set of rules in September, when the pennant races are at their hottest? Makes no sense. Rosters should be set at 25 for all 162 games, or set them at 26. I don't care either way, but it should be consistent.

On the bright side, the deal is done. Labor peace is ensured through 2021 as a result of this five-year agreement. That means baseball will have 27 years of no lockouts and no strikes. Maybe the sport as a whole learned its lesson after the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

Now, we don't have to spend the rest of the offseason talking solely about labor negotiations. The hot stove discussion that arises during the winter meetings, of course, is far more intriguing.