Thursday, February 23, 2017

White Sox to retire Mark Buehrle's No. 56

White Sox players celebrate Mark Buehrle's perfect game in 2009.
The White Sox on Thursday announced that they will retire Mark Buehrle's No. 56 jersey in a ceremony June 24 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Buehrle spent 12 seasons with the Sox and collected 161 of his 214 career victories with the South Siders.

The former 38th-round draft pick made four All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, tossed two no-hitters -- including a perfect game -- and was a key member of the Sox's World Series-winning rotation in 2005.

"Mark Buehrle is one of the most accomplished pitchers in franchise history," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "Mark carried himself with class and professionalism throughout his career, and his popularity with staff, teammates and Sox fans is very well deserved. Although a very humble person, he certainly showed a flair for the dramatic on the mound, from a no-hitter to an unforgettable perfect game to a World Series title. A standout on the field and a standup teammate in the clubhouse, it is our honor to retire Mark Buehrle’s No. 56 and to welcome him into the legendary class of all-time White Sox greats."

Buehrle is one of my all-time favorite Sox players. His jersey hangs in my closet. There are so many good memories of his career that it's hard to pick a favorite, but I'll do it anyway.

I've been to hundreds of Sox games in my 40 years on the planet, but I've only seen one no-hitter in person. It was Buehrle's, on April 18, 2007, against the Texas Rangers. He faced the minimum 27 batters in the 6-0 win. He walked only one -- Sammy Sosa -- and he promptly picked Sosa off first base.

I saved my ticket stub from that game and all the clippings from the newspaper the following morning. Those materials are now framed and hung on a wall in my living room. It's a game I'll never forget the rest of my life.

Buehrle provided so many other great moments for the Sox and their fans -- getting the save in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series after pitching seven innings as the starter in Game 2; the 12-strikeout performance against the Seattle Mariners in a game that lasted only 1 hour, 39 minutes; the one-hitter against Tampa Bay in his first full season as a starter; the famous flip-between-the-legs play on Opening Day 2010 -- I could go on like this for hours.

But instead, let's just celebrate Buehrle's career by watching all the outs from his 27-up, 27-down masterpiece against Tampa Bay on July 23, 2009. This is a clinic in how to pitch. Only six of the 27 outs were strikeouts, but just notice the weak contact on most of the other 21 outs. Aside from the spectacular catch by Dewayne Wise in the top of the ninth inning, it's just routine play after routine play for Sox fielders. Enjoy:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

David Robertson trade rumors begin anew

David Robertson
The rumors about a potential trade in which the White Sox would send closer David Robertson to the Washington Nationals just won't go away.

The Nationals need a closer, having lost Mark Melancon to the San Francisco Giants in free agency over the offseason. Washington has yet to sign or trade for a suitable replacement, so Robertson does make some sense for them. (I personally think Shawn Kelley might be a better option for the Nationals than a post-peak Robertson, but shhhhh, don't tell them that.)

Reports indicate the Nationals have agreed on a two-year, $21 million deal with catcher Matt Wieters. That move has rekindled the Robertson discussions, because Washington now has three catchers, and the Sox have a hole at that position.

Is anyone prepared to argue that the Sox are set with the catching tandem of Omar Narvaez and Geovany Soto? Nope, me neither. They could use another guy there, because Narvaez only has 34 games of big-league experience, and the 34-year-old Soto comes with health concerns.

The Sox need a catcher. The Nationals have one to deal. The Nationals need a closer. The Sox have one to deal. Yes, you can see the potential fit.

But here's my question: Would either of the two catchers Washington has to deal be a fit for the Sox? With the addition of Wieters, one of Derek Norris or Jose Lobaton needs to go.

Let's cross Lobaton off the list immediately. He's a 32-year-old journeyman. He's been a backup for six of the seven seasons he's been in the majors, including the past three. Acquiring him would be like acquiring a somewhat healthier, somewhat younger version of Soto. That's a waste of time.

What about Norris? This Sporting News report suggests the Sox might "demand" the Nationals include him in any deal for Robertson.


Norris is 28, so he's got a few more years left in him than players such as Soto and Lobaton. And he's closer to the top of the list than the bottom when it comes to pitch framing. That said, why would the Sox "demand" a five-year veteran who hit .186 last season be included in a deal for Robertson?

The Sox's stated goal is to stockpile young talent. They are specifically looking to trade veteran assets for younger players. Granted, the declining Robertson is not a good enough trade piece to fetch an elite prospect from another organization, but if he is dealt, I would prefer to see a younger player with some upside coming back to the Sox. If such a trade is not available at the moment, that's fine. Keep Robertson for now. Hopefully he has a good first half, and maybe his value is higher in July.

I would be disappointed in a Robertson-for-Norris deal. If a trade such as that happens, it would suggest the Sox were just trying to get out from underneath the $25 million Robertson is owed over the next two years. Personally, I'd rather keep Robertson than see him traded for nothing more than salary relief and another mediocre veteran.

The modest, short-term upgrade at catcher isn't worth it to me. Bring some young talent back in the trade, or don't bother.

Monday, February 20, 2017

White Sox outfielder Charlie Tilson is injured -- again

White Sox outfielder Charlie Tilson will miss the next 10 days because of a stress reaction in his right foot, according to reports.

Tilson is the leading candidate to be the team's starting center fielder, but his hold on that job is tenuous at best. A torn left hamstring on Aug. 2 ended Tilson's 2016 season prematurely, and probably the most important thing for him this spring is proving that he's 100 percent healthy.

Although this injury is being termed "minor," no injury is really minor for a young player who is trying to hold down a roster spot and establish himself at the big-league level.

“It started very minimal, and I tried to work through it a little bit, and by the time I addressed [trainer] Herm [Schneider], thankfully I caught it before it was anything that would keep me out for too long,” Tilson said. “It’s a minor thing, and it will give my other leg a chance to get stronger in the meantime, and hopefully we’ll turn this negative into a positive.”

Center field is not a position where the Sox are blessed with great depth. Well, they do have options, but none of them seem as though they are good options.

If Tilson continues to be plagued by injuries, veteran minor-league free agent Peter Bourjos likely becomes the front-runner to be the Opening Day center fielder. Bourjos is the kind of player who would only start on a bad, rebuilding team, which, of course, is what the Sox are expected to be.

Other internal options would include prospects Adam Engel and Jacob May, neither of whom has played in the major leagues.

Ideally, Tilson gets it together health-wise, and the Sox are able to take an extended look at what he can do this spring.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Jimmy Rollins says White Sox clubhouse was in 'disarray' last year

Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy Rollins doesn't collect paychecks from the White Sox anymore, which affords him the opportunity to speak honestly about his time on the South Side of Chicago.

Here's a link. Listen for yourself.

Rollins is asked about the bizarre tale of Adam LaRoche, who retired in spring training last year after Sox management decided his teenage son would no longer be allowed in the clubhouse.

The incident divided the team and led to high-profile players such as Chris Sale and Adam Eaton clashing with the front office.

"It was a clubhouse in disarray after that point," Rollins says on the video. "Although we did great (at the start of the season). It’s always a little players versus the front office, but I think just because of the way it was handled -- a lot of the guys that were outspoken are no longer there. They’re in better places if you ask me, but they’re no longer there."

Rollins also used the word "chaos" to describe the situation in Chicago, which gets to the point of why some of us aren't as optimistic about the rebuilding plan that is underway with the Sox. The same front office that was in place during last year's "chaos" and "disarray" is the same front office being entrusted with the future of the organization.

Does that make you comfortable? I'd be more comfortable if the failures of last season had resulted in a change in leadership beyond just the manager's office.

Rollins correctly notes that the outspoken players -- Sale and Eaton -- are no longer with the Sox. Isn't it interesting that they still are the only two key players from last season to be traded? The good soldiers who keep their mouths shut and just play ball -- Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Jose Quintana -- they all are still here.

I'm not going to argue that there is any conspiracy at work here. I think the Sox would deal Quintana tomorrow if the right offer came up.

That said, I don't think it's a coincidence that Sale and Eaton were the first established veterans to be told to pack their bags as part of the rebuilding plan.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Alex Reyes, the best pitching prospect in baseball, is out for the year

Just yesterday, we noted that Baseball Prospectus ranked St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Alex Reyes the top prospect in all of baseball.

Today, one day after the beginning of spring training, Reyes is heading to the operating table with a ruptured ligament in his right elbow. He will have Tommy John surgery and miss the 2017 season.

The 22-year-old was 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 games (5 starts) with the Cardinals last season. He struck out 52 batters in 46 big-league innings.

Reyes was expected to compete for the fifth spot in the St. Louis rotation, and some were thinking he would be a candidate for National League Rookie of the Year.

The Cardinals had high hopes for Reyes, and obviously, this is not the sort of news any team wants early in camp. However, St. Louis has a rotation that is mostly set -- Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake and Lance Lynn are penciled in for the first four spots.

The Reyes injury leaves Michael Wacha as the leading candidate for the fifth spot. Wacha dealt with shoulder issues in 2016 and went 7-7 with a 5.09 ERA. The Cardinals need him to bounce back, because their other fifth-spot options are not great -- 23-year-old Luke Weaver, who struggled in eight starts last year, and former closer Trevor Rosenthal.

Tying this news back to the White Sox, every time some team has a pitching injury this spring, my reaction is going to be the same: "Hmmmm ... might this team be interested in Jose Quintana?"

So, would the Cardinals be interested in Quintana? Yeah, of course, who wouldn't? However, the Cardinals are not the type of organization that makes knee-jerk moves. They like to fill spots from within, and it seems unlikely they would want to send all their high-level prospects to the Sox for Quintana, even though the fit might be good on paper.

Unless, of course, one of their veterans at the top of the rotation gets hurt. Then they might start to feel desperate.

This situation illustrates the fact that Sox general manager Rick Hahn isn't necessarily wrong for holding on to Quintana going into the season. The market might heat up for him as we go along, because injuries and underperformance might cause certain clubs who think they have enough pitching right now to realize they don't.

Wait long enough, and you might have 10 suitors for Quintana instead of three or four. The gamble in that is the possibility that Quintana himself could get injured. But if Quintana stays healthy, and pitches like he usually does in the first half, there's an opportunity to create a bidding war among clubs at the July trade deadline.

There are potential risks and potential rewards in any strategy. The injury to Reyes is just the latest reminder of how important it is for teams to stockpile pitching.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Baseball Prospectus releases Top 101 prospects list; six White Sox included

As White Sox pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Arizona, today, any optimism surrounding the team has to do with the future and the Sox's much-improved farm system.

Baseball Prospectus on Monday released its list of Top 101 prospects, and the Sox have six players listed. That's significant, because I can't remember the Sox ever having more than two or three players named.

Here's how BP lines 'em up:

5. Yoan Moncada, INF
10. Lucas Giolito, RHP
30. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP
36. Michael Kopech, RHP
89. Zack Collins, C
97. Alec Hansen, RHP

In case you're interested but too lazy to click the link, the four guys ranked ahead of Moncada are St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Alex Reyes, Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford.

Moncada ranked second (behind Benintendi) in Baseball America's Top 100, which was released Friday. BA was not as high on Giolito, however, ranking him 25th. The publication liked Collins better, ranking him 56th. Lopez (31st) and Kopech (32nd) were in similar territory on BA's list, which did not include Hansen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

MLB proposes changes to strike zone, intentional walks

Major League Baseball has made a formal proposal to the players union seeking changes to intentional walks and the strike zone, according to an ESPN report.

The changes are designed to increase the amount of offense in the game and (get ready to groan) "improve the pace of play."

Am I the only one annoyed that people still are bitching about pace of play in baseball? The Super Bowl took three hours, 47 minutes to play this past Sunday night, yet nobody seemed to care. Why does it matter if baseball games take three hours to play?

I'm a baseball fan. I want more baseball, not less baseball, so sue me.

End rant, now back to the topic. Here are the details on the proposed rule changes, as reported by ESPN's Jayson Stark:
  • MLB's proposal would raise the lower part of the strike zone to the top of the hitter's knees. Since 1996, the bottom of the zone has been defined as "the hollow beneath the kneecap." But data shows that umpires have been increasingly calling strikes on so many pitches below the knees that, if umpires enforce the redefined strike zone, it would effectively raise the zone by an estimated 2 inches.
  • The change in the intentional-walk rule would end the long-standing practice of requiring the pitcher to toss four soft pitches outside the strike zone. Instead, a team could just signify it wants to issue an intentional walk, and the hitter would be sent directly to first base.
I don't understand how or why the intentional-walk rule is under scrutiny from these "pace of play" people. There were 932 intentional walks issued in 2016, which will pencil out to one every 47 innings or so. That means there was an intentional walk issued in about one out of every five games.

Intentional walks are a small part of the game. They aren't causing games to run longer. Most baseball games don't have any intentional walks issued at all. Why are we even talking about this? Who cares? I'm for the status quo unless someone can convince me there's a reason for a change. I see no reason for a change. Make the pitcher and the catcher execute the intentional walk. That's part of baseball.

Raising the strike zone? I'm a little more open to that discussion. I don't care about pace of play -- at all -- but I would be in favor of more balls being put in play. I don't necessarily need to see more run-scoring, but it would be more exciting if fewer at-bats resulted in strikeouts.

My question is, would raising the zone achieve that aim? Stark's report indicates that perhaps there would be more hitters' counts if pitchers weren't getting so many strike calls at the bottom of the zone. Theoretically, more hitters' counts means more pitches to hit, more well-struck balls and more offense.

OK, fine, experiment with it in the minor leagues, then report the results back to me and I'll consider it. But I'm only going to be in favor if it makes the game more exciting. I'm not amenable to making rule changes just to make the games go by faster.

I still haven't figured out why baseball is the only sport routinely criticized for "taking too long." Football games can last four hours and nobody says a thing about it. It's ridiculous to me.