Monday, January 30, 2017

Rick Renteria impresses with answers to fan questions at SoxFest

Rick Renteria (center)
I went to SoxFest this past weekend without much enthusiasm toward the rebuilding project that is just beginning on the South Side of Chicago.

Guess what? I'm still not excited, but after listening to new White Sox manager Rick Renteria talk this weekend, I feel a little better knowing he will be the man leading the team through a 2017 season that is almost certainly going to be trying and ugly at times.

Renteria has been talking all week about doing things the "White Sox Way," so I stood up in the seminar room Friday night and asked him to elaborate on what the "White Sox Way" is, and to provide me with some examples of the things he wants to do differently than what we've seen in the past.

First, Renteria praised me for asking a good question, then he gave a detailed, specific and thoughtful response. He talked about the need for players to play with maximum effort  -- back up bases, run hard out of the batter's box, etc. He talked about how it was his responsibility to hold players accountable for actions they take or don't take on the field. He talked about the importance of improving in several small but key areas, a better two-strike approach at the plate, better base running, understanding situations in the field, hitting the ball the other way when the situation calls for it -- all things that seemed to be lacking during the Robin Ventura Era.

The paragraph above is just a Cliff Notes version. Renteria spoke for about five minutes after I asked my question, and he gave similarly detailed responses to other questions posed by fans. It was a welcome change from previous SoxFests.

Some other highlights from the seminar room:

1. General manager Rick Hahn said repeatedly that all the prospects acquired in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades are expected to start the season in the minor leagues. He added that the Sox still are actively looking to make more moves before the season begins, with the goal of stockpiling as much young talent as possible. Hahn noted that a deal fell apart for him on Christmas Eve, so yeah, all that Jose Quintana-to-the-Yankees stuff around the holidays probably had some validity to it. It just didn't happen.

2. A fan astutely asked Hahn whether he would try to include the declining and overpriced James Shields in a deal with one of his assets. How would that work? Say Hahn wants to trade Quintana. He could go to a team and say, "You guys want Quintana? Well, you gotta take Shields and his high salary as well." Under such a scenario, the Sox would get less return in prospects for Quintana, but they would be off the hook for Shields' bad contract. Hahn said he would not do that under any circumstance, because his goal is to acquire top young talent, and throwing a liability such as Shields into a trade would defeat that purpose. I was happy to hear Hahn say that. We won't have a repeat of the Mark Teahen situation with Shields.

3. Both Friday night and Saturday morning, fans asked Hahn and Renteria about the role sabermetrics play in decision-making. Renteria said there was no shortage of information for he and his coaches to digest, but I was most impressed when he noted that numbers represent outcomes, and while they can be instructive, it's important to stay ahead of the curve by looking at more than just the past. Renteria noted that he has to trust his eyes and his gut, as well, beyond just absorbing the numbers, and there needs to be an understanding of what individual players can and cannot do in certain situations. Good answer.

In summary, Renteria's words, of course, are merely that. He has to produce results on the field, as well, but he gave the die-hard fans at SoxFest reason to believe he might be the right man for the job.

That's no small statement coming from me, because I was skeptical when Renteria was hired, and critical of Sox management for not conducting a more thorough search.

And, hell, I'm still skeptical, but I'm at least a little more open to the direction they are going based upon what I heard from the new manager over the weekend.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Former White Sox outfielder Tim Raines, two others inducted into Hall of Fame

Tim Raines with the Sox in 1995
Congratulations go out to former White Sox outfielder and coach Tim Raines, who was one of three people elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

Raines, a six-time All-Star who ranks among the best leadoff hitters in the history of baseball, received support on 86.0 percent of the 442 ballots cast in his 10th and final year of Hall eligibility. He easily cleared the 75 percent threshold required for induction.

The switch-hitter finished with 808 career stolen bases, including a 90-steal season in 1983 as a member of the Montreal Expos. He also won a batting title with Montreal in 1986, hitting .334

Raines will no doubt go into the Hall wearing an Expos cap, but he was a productive player for the Sox from 1991-95. In those five seasons, he posted a .283/.375/.407 slash line with a combined 50 home runs, 98 doubles, 28 triples, 143 stolen bases and 277 RBIs.

His best individual season with the Sox came in 1993. He hit .306/.401/.480 with 16 home runs, 54 RBIs and 21 steals and was the left fielder and leadoff hitter for the AL West Division champions.

Raines will be joined in the Class of 2017 by former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell and catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who played 21 years with six different teams, most notably with the Texas Rangers.

Bagwell received 86.2 percent of the vote, while Rodriguez received 76 percent of ballots in his first year eligible for induction.

There were two narrow misses. Relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman (74 percent) and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero (71.7 percent) are trending toward probable induction in 2018.

As Sox fans, we should probably get used to seeing former Sox players going into the Hall wearing a different cap than the Silver and Black. Last year, Ken Griffey Jr. went into the Hall as a Seattle Mariner. This year, Raines goes in as an Expo. Next year, Jim Thome's name appears on the ballot for the first time, and his 612 career home runs (134 with the Sox) will be hard for voters to ignore. However, he'll be going to the Hall as a Cleveland Indian.

Friday, January 13, 2017

White Sox avoid arbitration with Todd Frazier, Dan Jennings, Jake Petricka

Todd Frazier
The White Sox on Friday avoided arbitration with three players, agreeing to one-year contracts with third baseman Todd Frazier and relief pitchers Dan Jennings and Jake Petricka.

Frazier's deal is worth $12 million. He is coming off a season where he led the team in home runs (40) and stolen bases (15) despite a disappointing .225/.302/.464 slash line. He also ranked second on the Sox with 98 RBIs.

Coming into the offseason, Frazier, 30, was a good bet to be traded before Opening Day -- and maybe he still will be. However, there have been few rumors involving Frazier, and there still are several right-handed power-hitting free agents who remain unsigned (Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista). Until those guys come off the market, there might not be much interest in Frazier -- especially since he is coming off a down season in terms of batting average.

He could eventually be traded for prospects as part of the rebuilding plan. Or maybe he won't be. Essentially, he's the Sox's third baseman until he's not. (How's that for insight?)

Jennings, 29, is coming off one of his better seasons -- a career-high 64 appearances with a 4-3 record and 2.08 ERA. His contract will pay him $1.4 million.

Petricka, 28, appeared in only nine games in 2016 before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. His deal is worth $825,000.

Although the Sox are rebuilding, they might enter the 2017 season with a bullpen that looks very similar to the one from last year. Closer David Robertson, set-up man Nate Jones, Jennings, Petricka and Zach Putnam all remain on the roster.

The only two guys gone from last season are Matt Albers, who was too ineffective to be retained, and Zach Duke, who was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in July.

Right now, the projected bullpen includes the five guys listed above, plus Tommy Kahnle. After that, the Sox still need a second left-hander to go along with Jennings. As it stands, the next-best left-handed option in the organization is 25-year-old Giovanni Soto, a waiver pickup who last pitched in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 2015.

Given that Robertson, Petricka and Putnam are all coming off surgery, we might not see too many changes in the bullpen this offseason -- just because the Sox need to hold onto as much veteran depth as possible to get through 2017. One thing a rebuilding team does not want is for prospects to be forced into big-league duty prematurely because of injuries to veteran stopgaps.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Catching up on recent minor White Sox moves

Geovany Soto
It's been a quiet offseason since the White Sox announced their intention to rebuild with early-December trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. I've been busy at work and with the holidays, so I haven't had much time to remark on the generally unremarkable roster moves that have been made over the past month.

But for the sake of catching up, here's some of the stuff the Sox have done recently:

1. Signed veteran catcher Geovany Soto to a minor-league deal

There's no question the Sox needed to add a catcher. The oft-injured Alex Avila has gone back to Detroit after the Sox (rightfully) showed no interest in retaining him. That left 24-year-old Omar Narvaez as the most experienced catcher in the organization, and that's not saying much -- Narvaez has only 117 plate appearances in the major leagues.

So, the Sox went back to a guy they already know in Soto. He was here in 2015, caught 78 games and posted a .219/.301/.406 slash line. He signed with the Los Angeles Angels for the 2016 season, but knee injuries limited him to 26 games and 86 plate appearances. He did hit .269 with five doubles and four homers in those plate appearances, so there's that.

Soto will turn 34 years old next week, and it's a stretch to think he'll be healthy the whole season. But, that's why he's on a minor-league deal. There isn't much risk for the Sox with this signing.

2. Signed 3B/OF Cody Asche to a minor-league deal

Here's another move that doesn't stir the soul, but we make note of it because Asche has managed to appear in 371 major-league games and make 1,287 major-league plate appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies over the past four years.

Asche hit .240/.298/.385 with a combined 31 home runs over those four seasons, which means he isn't providing enough power for a defensively challenged corner infielder/corner outfielder. Understandably, Philadelphia non-tendered him, and now here he is with the Sox as a minor-league free agent signing.

Hooray for organizational filler.

3. Claimed outfielder Willy Garcia off waivers from Pittsburgh and designated Jason Coats for assignment

Basically, the Sox added someone else's busted prospect while letting go of one of their own. Garcia, 24, is younger than Coats, who will turn 27 by the time the season starts.

Garcia is a corner outfielder who has spent the past season and a half at Triple-A Indianapolis. In 129 games and 499 plate appearances last year, he hit .245/.293/.366 with six home runs and 43 RBIs. He did have 30 doubles, which suggests he at least has warning track power, but warning track power at the Triple-A level probably isn't all that exciting.

Coats is out of the organization. He was recently claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays. I was getting annoyed by Sox fans who believed Coats should be given a starting job at the big-league level for the 2017 season.

Yes, I know it's a rebuilding year, but that doesn't mean starting jobs should be handed to career minor-leaguers who have no future with the Sox.

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.