Sunday, December 29, 2013

Big contract for any pitcher is risky business

The contract Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is going to receive is already giving some people upset stomachs. The size of it might end up being more eye-popping than the $50-60 million contracts teams gave to Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Keep in mind that was before the posting fee was capped at $20 million. The Red Sox and Rangers each coughed up posting fees in excess of $50 million, making the total investment for each pitcher more than $100 million.

It was a big deal when Kevin Brown
became the first $100 million pitcher
in baseball when he signed with the Dodgers.
That big of an investment rarely works out well if you're expecting the player to pitch well over the life of the whole contract. Here are the biggest contracts ever given to pitchers:

Felix Hernandez, Mariners, $175,000,000 (2013-19)
CC Sabathia, Yankees, $161,000,000 (2009-15)
Zack Greinke, Dodgers, $147,000,000 (2013-18)
Cole Hamels, Phillies, $144,000,000 (2013-18)
Johan Santana, Mets, $137,500,000 (2008-13)
Matt Cain, Giants, $127,500,000 (2012-17)
Barry Zito, Giants, $126,000,000 (2007-13)
CC Sabathia, Yankees, $122,000,000 (2012-16)
Mike Hampton, Rockies, $121,000,000 (2001-08)
Cliff Lee, Phillies, $120,000,000 (2011-15)
Yu Darvish, Rangers, $111.700,000 (2012-2017)*
Kevin Brown, Dodgers, $105,000,000 (1999-2005)
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox, $102,111,111 (2007-2012)*
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, $97,500,000 (2014-18)
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs, $91,500,000 (2008-12)
-Source: Cot's Baseball Contracts
*posting fee included with salary

Obviously most of these contracts are newer as teams have been flush with cash and the pay for elite pitchers has gone up. Though maybe it's interesting is that five of the top six contracts ever given out to pitchers weren't signed by free agents, but were extensions for guys with a year or two left before hitting the market.

Of the contracts that have been completed, all of them looked like a disaster at some point. Hampton's looked like one almost as soon as the ink dried in the thin Colorado air. Zito's was almost as bad save for the fact he still soaked up a lot of innings for the Giants over the course of his seven-year deal.

Over the course of Zambrano's extension, he suffered a decrease in either his performance or ability to take the mound each and every year of his new contract. Matsuzaka and Santana each had a few good years at the front ends of their deals before ineffectiveness and/or injuries did them in.

The best contract of all of them in my opinion was Brown's. Baseball's first $100 million arm was good for more than 1,000 innings with a 3.23 ERA over seven years. Brown, who I think has an underrated Hall of Fame case, missed some time with injuries, but still pitched a lot of mostly good innings for his money, only completely losing it the final year when he was 40.

The jury is still out on the other contracts. Cain, Verlander, Hamels and Sabathia each just endured their worst season in years. Greinke was very good, but missed time after breaking a bone in a scuffle with Carlos Quentin. With Hernandez, Lee, Darvish and Wainwright, things are looking so-far-so-good, though only Lee's contract is even close to completion.

The results here seem pretty apparent. If you don't have to spend almost $100 million or more on a pitcher, then don't. The risk is still one that teams are willing to make, especially teams that are close to contention. Should they be?

Possibly. In a way, this is already how teams view the cost of dabbling in free agency. They're willing to get a good value on the front end of a contract in exchange for dead money at the end.

Looking at each of these contracts, none of them really stopped the team paying the checks from doing anything else. Zito didn't keep the Giants from winning two World Series titles. Lee and Hamels aren't the problem with the Phillies' payroll. Even Mike Hampton's contract was eventually carved up and served in digestible bites that teams other than the Rockies helped swallow.

Unless Tanaka pulls a Hampton-Zito, the team that wins the bidding for his services will be getting a good pitcher for at least a few years. So any team with the money might as well bid away.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Masahiro Tanaka: Short-term gain, long-term risk?

Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is going to get an absurd contract from a major league team at some point in January. This much we know.

All 30 teams were notified that the 30-day period to sign the right-hander began at 7 a.m. CST Thursday. Teams have until 4 p.m. on Jan. 24 to attempt to reach an agreement with the 25-year-old pitcher.

If Tanaka and a major league team agree on terms, that franchise is required to pay his Japanese team, the Rakuten Eagles, a posting fee of $20 million.

Rest assured, someone will pay that $20 million, plus probably another $20 million per year over the next six or seven years to sign Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last season.

Whichever team signs Tanaka is going to get an impact pitcher. I have little doubt about that. Yu Darvish, the last big-name Japanese pitcher to come to the United States, has established himself as the Texas Rangers' ace. Tanaka's numbers in Japan are similar to those of Darvish:

Darvish (2005-11): 167 games, 1,281.1 IP, 93-28 W-L, 55 CG, 333 BB, 1,250 Ks
Tanaka (2007-13): 175 games, 1,315 IP, 99-35 W-L, 53 CG, 275 BB, 1,238 Ks

For me, the question about Tanaka is whether he will hold up healthwise over the life of the six- or seven-year contract he's going to get. I know, I know. He's only 25 and should be entering his prime years. But look at that innings total: 1,315 innings through his age 24 season

Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated made this point better than I could. Verducci notes the last pitcher with that many innings at such a young age was Frank Tanana, who piled up similar totals between 1973 and 1978. During that period, Tanana made three All-Star teams. Then, he hurt his shoulder. He went on to pitch another 15 years, but was never quite the same. 

Going back even further, since 1961, Tanana, Larry Dierker and Bert Blyleven are the only three pitchers to have thrown 1,315 major league innings by age 24. So, indeed, Japanese pitchers like Darvish and Tanaka come to the United States with more wear and tear on their arm for their age than their American counterparts.

Darvish is one of the better pitchers in the American League right now. Will he continue to be effective through the life of his six-year contract? Nobody knows. For Tanaka, the issue is much the same. With his outstanding control and arsenal of pitches, he's going to make some team very happy in 2014 and probably 2015, too. But what about 2016 and beyond?

Will Tanaka become the next Hideo Nomo, who was outstanding his first couple years before morphing into a journeyman? Or is he going to be a long-term ace for the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers or some other big-market team? I wish I was smart enough to know, but we'll find out in due time.
























Thursday, December 26, 2013

White Sox have post-holiday clearance items for sale

White Sox GM Rick Hahn has come a long way in reshaping his roster since last year's trade deadline, adding MLB-ready prospects at third base (Matt Davidson), center field (Adam Eaton) and right field (Avisail Garcia), while adding a handful of other potentially useful parts.

Don't forget the bow.
The turnover might not be over as the Sox still have some players that might be more useful to other teams, and could fetch something interesting in return.

Here are the guys who weren't tucked into another team's stocking and will have their price marked down.

Alejandro De Aza (OF)
This is the guy I think the Sox are most likely to trade. De Aza is either a good-hitting, poor-fielding centerfielder, or a poor-hitting, good-fielding left fielder. With the addition of Eaton, De Aza is now in a platoon with Dayan Viciedo in left. De Aza is probably the better player, hitting just as well as Viciedo while also being able to catch the ball, but that he could still slot into left or center gives a team a little more flexibility, and maybe opens up more trade avenues.

Gordon Beckham (2B)
Top infield prospects Marcus Semien was ticketed to play third base until the acquisition of Davidson, but now if the Sox think he's MLB-ready, they might move Beckham to install Semien at second base. Beckham, a former top-10 draft pick, had star potential. Right now he might just be what he's been, which is an OK hitting, good-fielding second baseman. That's not very sexy, but with two years left before free agency and the Sox looking to move him, Beckham might be a more attractive pickup for a 2B-needy team that doesn't like what's left on the free agent market, or the idea of swallowing the huge contracts of other potential trade targets like Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks or Dan Uggla.

Dayan Viciedo (OF/DH)
As noted, he's a worse player than De Aza, and shouldn't be in the outfield. He is younger and cheaper for now, and maybe still has potential if he can improve his hitting against right-handed pitching. While the Sox will listen, I doubt he'll be moved unless another team overpays, especially if he's being counted on to help fellow Cuban Jose Abreu adjust to life in the US.

Alexei Ramirez (SS)
Ramirez is a fine shortstop signed to a reasonable contract (2 years, $20.5 million left, plus an option). He can hit a little and is a good defender. He is better than the top in-house alternative, Leury Garcia, who can't hit even by middle-infielder standards. But if the Sox aren't going to contend, they might want to install Garcia at short where his excellent defense will have the most impact and just give him the at-bats to see if that part of his game can ever become adequate enough to make him a starter. Like Viciedo, the Cuban Ramirez might help with Abreu's integration in the clubhouse, but the Sox might not feel like they need both of them to hang around to make Abreu comfortable. Ramirez can go for the right price.

Adam Dunn (1B/DH)
Dunn has been a disappointment since signing a four-year, $56 million contract. He is in the last year of it, and still hits well against right-handed pitchers. If the White Sox ate a good chunk of his salary, he could be moved to clear room for Viciedo. If that's unlikely, it's because the Sox don't like to pay guys to play for other teams. Plus Viciedo isn't an ideal platoon partner for the re-signed Paul Konerko as they both need help against righties. Still, if a team desperate for a designated hitter or first baseman offered to go halfsies on the remainder of the contract, it's hard to see the Sox saying no.

John Danks (SP)
Danks is another guy who might not go anywhere because the Sox won't eat any money on the contract. He's got three years and $43 million left. That sounds like a lot for a guy that just posted a 4.75 ERA while coming back from shoulder surgery. Those results still weren't that much worse than Jason Vargas' last season, or Phil Hughes', both of whom just got big bucks in free agency, and both have worse track records than pre-surgery Danks. The Sox might not have to eat that much to move him this offseason, but might just wait to give him the chance to pitch this season and prove he's healthier and worth a team taking on a much better chunk of salary.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Surkamp another solid pitching pickup for White Sox

The White Sox added another candidate for their rotation on Monday by claiming left-hander Eric Surkamp off waivers from the Giants.

New White Sox left-hander Eric Surkamp.
Surkamp is coming off a year spent recovering from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of 2012. At two levels last year he started 16 games and finished with just under 87 innings with a 2.80 ERA. That's right in line with his minor-league track record, which in five seasons has seen him throw nearly 500 innings with a 2.84 ERA.

The one thing missing from Surkamp's results on the road back from injury were the strikeouts. He recorded only 7.4/9IP last year after averaging well over 10/9IP before surgery. Though as a soft-throwing lefty, most scouts probably doubted his ability to bring big strikeout numbers with him to the majors.

The sharpest tool in Surkamp's toolbox is his excellent control, as he's issued only 2.5 BB/9 during his rise through the Giants' system. The White Sox love that trait in a pitcher, and it's likely they also love Surkamp's ability to avoid coughing up home runs (only 23 allowed, 0.4/9IP in his career). Though not an extreme groundball pitcher, he does generate a few with his sinker.

Surkamp's limited time with the Giants should inject some skepticism that he can make the transition to the big leagues. In 29 1/3 innings he's been roughed up for three HRs, and has issued more walks (17) than he has strikeouts (13) and has a 7.36 ERA.

Still, as a depth move, there's a lot to like about this. Surkamp already throws a curve, slider and changeup to go with his high-80s fastball. If he can refine any of those offerings, or add a cutter like so many other pitching projects the Sox have taken on over the years, he's got the tools to make it as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Surkamp's services do come at the cost of third baseman Brent Morel, who was removed from the 40-man roster to make room.

There's hardly reason to be sad about Morel's exit. For a brief time there was some hope that he could become a lite version of Joe Crede, with the good glove at third, less power but decent contact at the plate. Back injuries sapped his slender chance to hang in the majors. In about a full season's worth of plate appearances from 2010-2013 he hit .229/.276/.333. In the minors he hit .287/.344/.778.

If Morel, who opened 2011 and 2012 as the Sox's starting third baseman, has any kind of big league future, it will likely be as a utility infielder, though he'll likely have to rediscover some of the power lost in his bat after his back problems to even attain that ceiling.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Twins trying to tackle pitching problems

The Twins were arguably a worse team than the White Sox last season despite finishing a few games ahead in the standings. Minnesota scored 16 more runs than the Sox, but with the help of maybe the worst rotation in baseball, the Twins yielded 65 more runs.

With a lack of pitching prospects in the pipeline, Minnesota has committed most of its resources this offseason to make its rotation less-bad. They gave journeyman Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $49 million contract, invested three years and $24 million in former Yankee Phil Hughes, and brought Mike Pelfrey back for two years and $11 million.

The Twins might not be done yet as they've been linked to free agent Matt Garza. Even if they don't hand out another big contract, they'll likely look at the free agent leftovers come January or February to see if they can add additional depth.

How far have the Twins come so far? Here's last year's top five starters by games started and their ERAs, and the projected top five for 2014, with their ages and career ERAs:

Kevin Correia (32) 4.18 (31 GS) Correia (33) (4.49 career)
Pelfrey (29) 5.19 (29 GS) Nolasco (31) 3.70 (4.37 career)
Scott Diamond (26) 5.43 (24 GS) Hughes (28) 5.19 (4.54 career)
Sam Deduno (29) 3.38 (18 GS) Pelfrey (30) (4.48 career)
Pedro Hernandez (24) 6.83 (14 GS) Deduno (30) (4.06 career)

Andrew Albers, Kyle Gibson and Vance Worley each made 10 starts for Minnesota last year with collectively awful results.

Even with $84 million invested, the Twins look like they have to cross their fingers here.

It's conceivable that Nolasco figured something out last year. It's also possible that he and Hughes, who is coming off a rough season by his standards, will both be helped by Target Field, which dampens the bats of left-handed hitters. Both have had a harder time against lefties in their careers. Hughes in particular may have been hurt by the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.

It's also possible that Pelfrey, another year removed from the elbow surgery he had in 2012, will get closer to his career ERA than the mark he posted last year. And the offseason is still young, so maybe they'll find a better option for the fifth spot than Deduno and the others.

That's a lot of stuff that has to break right for the Twins. That's a lot of wish-casting on pitchers who have never been considered above-average, much less elite, and are entering the age at which players exit the prime of their careers.

Give Minnesota credit for attempting to be more competitive. They went out and invested in guys who fit their philosophy of throwing strikes, who might be a good fit in their park, and acquired them the most expedient way possible by dipping into the free agent pool.

I'm still skeptical that this set of gambles will work out in a way that is a net positive for the Twins. Not when they could have done some more bargain shopping. Jake Westbrook and Bronson Arroyo are two guys who also could have been helped by Target Field. Because they are older, and in Westbrook's case coming off an injury, they would have commanded much less money than Nolasco.

Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Garza -- all still free agents -- might not command much more than $50 million, despite having much more impressive resumes, which makes me wonder why the Twins felt the need to strike so early on Nolasco.

With Nolasco, Pelfry, Hughes and Correia locked into four rotation spots, the Twins have less room to take a flier on other rehab, change-of-scenery, journeyman-filler or last-hurrah projects like Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Clayton Richard or Chris Capuano.

A veteran on a shorter deal might also be easier to flip for younger talent at the trade deadline if that's the position the Twins find themselves come July. The current pitching additions won't prevent that.

They will make Minnesota marginally better, and with MLB teams flush with money, none of these contracts will hamstring the team going forward, even if all of them are colossal failures.

Still, I can't help but think the Twins could set themselves up for more long-term value by taking a more creative approach to fixing their pitching.


Friday, December 20, 2013

White Sox set to add relief pitcher Scott Downs

You didn't really think the White Sox would go into the season with Donnie Veal as their primary left-handed reliever, did you?

Certainly not. You knew the Sox would fill that role via free agency, and it appears well-traveled veteran Scott Downs is their guy.

Reports indicate the Sox and Downs have agreed on a one-year contract worth $4 million.

Downs will be slated to earn $3.75 million in 2014. The contract includes a $4.25 million club option for 2015 with a $250,000 buyout.

I've heard a couple people suggest that perhaps Downs will be replacing Addison Reed as the Sox closer. That will not be happening. Downs will be the guy they bring in to face a tough left-handed hitter in the seventh or eighth inning. A quick look at Downs' career splits will show you he is more effective against lefties than righties:

vs. LHP: .219/.287/.318, 2.95 K/BB ratio, .271 BABIP
vs. RHP: .272/.342/.420, 1.77 K/BB ratio, .307 BABIP

Those look like the numbers of a lefty specialist.

Downs is 37 years old and will be 38 by the time the season begins. But, he doesn't seem to have lost his effectiveness. He split time between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves last year, going 4-4 with a 2.49 ERA in 68 appearances.

His hits allowed were a little high last year (45 in 43.1 IP), but he only gave up one home run all season. This is a pitcher with a track record of keeping the ball in the yard, and that's not a bad thing for a guy who is signing up to be a late-inning reliever at U.S. Cellular Field.

This is a reasonable signing by Sox GM Rick Hahn. Downs fills a need, and there's always the possibility he could be traded for a prospect midseason if the team is out of the race.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cubs sign reliever Jose Veras ... will he be closing games in August?

The Cubs have agreed with relief pitcher Jose Veras on a one-year, $4 million contract, according to reports.

The deal reportedly includes a $5.5 million option for 2015, along with incentives.

Without question, Veras, 33, will replace Kevin Gregg as the Cubs closer -- at least at the start of the year. I just wonder if another midseason trade isn't in Veras' future.

Last year, he began the season with the lowly Houston Astros, where he compiled a respectable 2.93 ERA and 19 saves in 42 appearances. Just before the trade deadline, he was sent to the Detroit Tigers for future considerations.

The Tigers hoped Veras would help solidify their bullpen for the playoffs. However, he and everyone else in the Detroit 'pen struggled in an ALCS loss to the Boston Red Sox.

I doubt, however, the rebuilding Cubs are concerned about Veras' playoff performance. I suspect they would like him to perform as he did last year from April to July, so they can flip him to a contender in exchange for minor league talent.

It's a plan we've seen the Cubs execute the last couple years. They've signed pitchers like Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman to team-friendly contracts. They get a decent or good half-season out of them, then trade them in July.

I won't be the least bit surprised if Veras is pitching somewhere other than Chicago when August rolls around.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gavin Floyd turns down Orioles, signs with Braves

Amid the trade talk yesterday, we neglected to mention that former White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd has agreed to terms on a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Atlanta Braves.

According to reports, Floyd will receive $4 million in 2014 with a chance of earning an additional $4.5 million in incentives.

The right-hander went 0-4 with a 5.18 ERA in five starts for the Sox in 2013. He underwent elbow surgery in May to repair tears in his ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon.

The Braves are hoping Floyd will return to the mound in May.

What's interesting about this deal is that Floyd, a Baltimore-area product, turned down a two-year offer from the Orioles that could have been worth as much as $20 million with incentives.

A report in The Baltimore Sun said the Orioles were not interested in giving Floyd a one-year deal because he will not pitch until May, and the club coveted his services for more than one year. Floyd declined the offer because he desires to go back on the free agent market next offseason, presumably believing he could earn a more lucrative contract if he proves he's healthy in 2013.

Give Floyd full marks for betting on himself. This is a gamble on his part. There aren't too many pitchers coming off major elbow surgery that would turn down a multiyear offer.

Monday, December 16, 2013

White Sox trade Addison Reed to Arizona for Matt Davidson

The White Sox rebuilding efforts continued Monday as the team traded closer Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks for third baseman Matt Davidson.

Davidson, 22, appeared in 31 games at the big-league level last year. He spent most of the season at Triple-A Reno, where his numbers were good. He posted a .280/.350/.481 slash line with 17 home runs and 74 RBIs. He was a Pacific Coast League midseason All-Star and was named MVP of the Futures Game in New York after hitting a go-ahead, two-run home run for the United States.

One question mark with Davidson is his defense. His fielding percentage sits at just .925 during his minor league career. That's not particularly good, but Sox fans might remember that Robin Ventura wasn't exactly Gold Glove material when he first came to the major leagues. As a 21-year-old third baseman in Double A, Ventura's fielding percentage was .930, not much better than Davidson's. Through hard work, Ventura became an elite defensive player. While I would never forecast that for Davidson, he will have an opportunity to improve his craft defensively if he listens to his new manager.

I like this move by White Sox manager Rick Hahn, who continues to add major league ready youngsters to his roster. Davidson has a chance to open the season as the everyday third baseman. If he does, he'll join Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia in a lineup that is getting younger and more athletic with each passing week. For my money, this is how you rebuild a team.

Sure, losing Reed hurts. He had 40 saves on a bad team in 2013. He's only 24 years old, so he still has some upside. He will help an Arizona team that is trying to position itself to win next year. The Sox, in contrast, are not likely to contend in 2014, so it doesn't matter much who their closer is. Maybe Nate Jones wins that job, or perhaps Daniel Webb takes the next step in his development and earns the position.

Either way, if you're the White Sox right now, a potential everyday third baseman is a much bigger priority than a closer. That's why Hahn made this swap. I agree with the reasoning.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Boone -- er -- Boom times for reliever market?

As if the dump truck full of money the Mariners drove to Robinson Cano's door wasn't evidence that MLB teams are flush with cash, take a look at what left-handed reliever Boone Logan just got.

Smile, Boone! You're rich!
If you only paid attention to Logan when he was on the White Sox, you might not have noticed he's been better since since those days of getting battered around U.S. Cellular Field. In fact, after pitching to a career 5.27 ERA and a staggering 1.69 WHIP with the Sox and Braves, Logan has had a 3.38 ERA over 176 innings with the Yankees the last four years.

That's why the Colorado Rockies have decided to give him a three-year, $16.5 million contract.

That's a lot of coin for a guy who you only really want to see face left-handed hitters (.243/.312/.378 career), and rarely face right-handers (.297/.397/.475). That's if the 1.6 HR/9 he allowed -- way above his career norm -- was just a blip, and not a reversion to his homer-happy results with the Sox. Baseball humidor or no, that won't play well in Colorado.

 Logan just got more money than Javier Lopez got from the Giants (3 years/$13 million), and Lopez was maybe better (2.38 ERA the last three years vs. 3.51 ERA for Logan, though Logan did work in the AL and was charged with facing left-handers that benefited from the Yankees' home park).

With a lot of relief pitchers left to sign, it's really too early to say yet if the market is going a little crazy. I don't think it's too early to say the Rockies probably overpaid for what Logan will be able to do for them.

More Cubs/Sox Rule 5 Draft Fun!

The word "fun" really deserves any derisive quotation marks you would throw around it. At least when talking about the Rule 5 Draft results for both Chicago teams.

Too be fair, it's been tougher to mine talent from this draft since MLB changed the rules for who is eligible before the 2006 draft. Organizations now get another full season to decide if a guy might be Johan Santana (taken by the Marlins from the Astros in 1999, then immediately traded to the Twins) or Andrew Sisco (taken by the Royals from the Cubs in 2004, a year later traded to the White Sox, perhaps soon toiling in an independent league near you!).

The idea of transforming under-appreciated, or maybe under-developed talent remains tantalizing, even if the pool of talent is diminished. And maybe you must be an optimist to think players unloved enough by their current organization to be left of the 40-man roster can be useful for your big league team the entire season.

So what was have the White Sox and Cubs hoped for then gotten from the Rule 5 Draft in recent years?

The Cubs have taken many more chances on guys in the draft. That's probably partly because the Cubs have had more "rebuilding" rosters, and because for some reason the Sox didn't look at guys like Andy Gonzalez, Lance Broadway, Jack Egbert or Donny Lucy and think, "Huh, maybe we could do better?"

Results since the rule changes:

Angel Sanchez (2012): Taken by the White Sox from the Angels.
An Optimist Might Have Thought: "Here's a middle infield with a slick glove, maybe he can make enough contact to be as good as Alcides Escobar!"
How He Worked Out: Sanchez appeared in one game and went hitless in both plate appearances. He got hurt, went on a rehab assignment to the minors, and was offered back to the Angels when the rehab was over. The Angels said no thanks, so he went back to Charlotte. Then the White Sox said no thanks when they released him.
Impact For Sox: Meh. He might have been better than Andy Gonzalez. That still probably makes him less good than an ideal utility infielder.

Hector Rondon (2012): Taken by the Cubs from the Indians.
An Optimist Might Have Thought: "Here's a right-hander who strikes guys out and doesn't walk many guys! He could be a setup man or closer!"
How He Worked Out: Rondon did stick with the Cubs last season, though with a low-90s fastball, he wasn't able to keep his strikeouts quite as high, or the walk totals quite as low as he did in the lower levels of the minors.
Impact For Cubs: That Rondon might be part of the closer discussion for the Northsiders next year says more about the Cubs bullpen than Rondon's ability. He is still around, and still back-end bullpen filler until he can start getting more pitches past big league hitters.

Lendy Castillo (2011): Taken by the Cubs from the Phillies.
An Optimist Might Have Thought: "Here's another solid bullpen piece! He doesn't walk many guys, give up many hits or home runs!"
How He Worked Out: During his 16-inning stint with the Cubs, Castillo walked or gave up a hit to almost half the batters he faced. He wasn't returned to the Phillies, but he continued to get battered around in the minors, his walks and home-runs allowed both rocketing upward.
Impact For Cubs: The hit Castillo gave up to pitcher Mark Buehrle could make it onto a Buehrle career retrospective DVD. Maybe if it's a box set.

Mason Tobin (2010): Taken by the Cubs from the Angels, sold to the Rangers.
An Optimist Might Have Thought: "The Cubs make a few bucks! We can apply it to payroll!"
How He Worked Out: He hasn't worked out for anyone.
Impact For Cubs: Whatever the Cubs made probably went to Alfonso Soriano's contract.

Mike Parisi (2009): Taken by the Cubs from the Cardinals.
An Optimist Might Have Thought: "Here's a guy with a little big league experience!"
How He Worked Out: Parisi's experience with the Cardinals was getting blown up for for an ERA over 8.00 for a couple months and 23 innings the year before. It remains his only experience.
Impact For Cubs: Zip.

Jim Henderson (2006): Taken by Cubs from the Nationals.
An Optimist Might Have Thought: "Here's a guy who really turned the corner in the minors last year after converting from starting to relieving!"
How He Worked Out: Henderson needed more work, but did toil a couple more years for the Cubs in the minors before they released him.
Impact For Cubs: None until the Brewers picked him up. Now he sports a career 2.98 ERA for them with 31 saves -- including seven against the Cubs.

Josh Hamilton (2006): Taken by Cubs from Rays, sold to the Reds.
An Optimist Might Have Thought: "Something for nothing!"
How He Worked Out: The Cubs got basically nothing for 2010 AL MVP.
Impact For Cubs: Fortunately the Reds also didn't think much of Hamilton, shipping him to the Rangers for what they hoped was pitching help. At least Cubs fans didn't have to see much of Hamilton while wondering what would have happened if they'd just kept him instead of signing Soriano.

Scott Boras recently criticized the Cubs ... were his comments fair?

We can all agree the Cubs stink at the major league level right now. They've lost 91 games or more in each of the last three seasons.

Given the circumstances, you would think the Cubs would be at least somewhat active this offseason --especially since we're talking about a big-market team that presumably has money to spend.

But, the Cubs have been fairly quiet so far. Their only free-agent acquisitions have been backup catcher George Kottaras and situational left-hander Wesley Wright. On Thursday, the Cubs traded outfielder Brian Bogusevic to the Miami Marlins for outfielder Justin Ruggiano. Bogusevic was one of three left-handed hitting outfielders on the roster (Ryan Sweeney and Nate Schierholtz are the others). The Cubs made the swap for purposes of balancing things out with the right-handed hitting Ruggiano. A sensible move, but hardly one that figures to make a major impact on the Cubs' 2014 fortunes.

The rebuilding process on the North Side is dragging on at a glacial pace. Barring some unforeseen moves in the coming months, the Cubs seem to be tracking toward another 90- to 95-loss campaign next summer.

High-profile agent Scott Boras (pictured), for one, has had enough of the Cubs' methodical ways. Boras criticized the organization at the winter meetings this week, calling the North Side rebuilding plan an "all-day sucker."

“It (a lollipop) takes a long time to dissolve,” Boras said. “The idea is it's going to take some time for them to reach the resolve to say they are going to compete on all fronts.”

Boras went on to say the Cubs are acting like a small-market team.

“It’s just with major-market teams you see a little bit different approach,” he said. “This is more of a customary small-market approach, if you will. … The Cubs have the capacity to sign any player they want at any time. The question is whether it fits their plan and it's good business.”

Obviously, the Cubs don't feel that big spending this year fits their plan. Here are the questions I would pose: Are Boras' comments fair? Has this Cubs rebuilding plan dragged on for long enough? Isn't it time for this regime to start producing at least marginally better results at the major league level?

I agree with Boras, in part, and disagree with him, in part.

I think this year's free-agent crop is weak. I don't blame the Cubs for taking a pass on giving seven years and $150 million to Jacoby Ellsbury, and if I were them, I wouldn't give untold millions to Boras client Shin-Soo Choo either. The Cubs' choice to not spend big bucks in free agency this year is smart and prudent in my book.

What I don't understand is why the Cubs haven't been more active in the trade market. They have prospects to deal, and there's a front-end starter in his prime (David Price) actively being shopped. But I've heard and read little about the Cubs being involved in those discussions. Why not? The Cubs have the dollars to sign a guy like Price to a long-term deal if they acquired him. They seem lukewarm to the idea, for whatever reason.

It's also a little strange that Jeff Samardzija is still on the team, but hasn't signed a contract extension. I think the Cubs should either sign him or deal him this offseason. I'd trade him. The Cubs could fill two or three holes by unloading Samardzija. They might even be able to get a major league ready prospect in the deal, as opposed to the Class A types and reclamation projects they've acquired in some of the other trades they've made involving pitchers.


Boras, of course, wants the Cubs to spend big in free agency. They won't, and nor should they. In that respect, I disagree with Boras. But I do agree with his point that it's kinda silly for the Cubs to just sit on the lousy roster they have now and resign themselves to another season of misery. With the talent they've accumulated in their minor leagues, plus having a movable asset in Samardzija, I think there are some possibilities for them in the trade market that would allow them to improve their team both now and for the long haul.

Why should the Cubs intentionally field another 95-loss roster in 2014? Enough is enough. It's time to at least show some incremental progress. How many more times do fans have to hear about how good Jorge Soler is supposedly going to be in five years?

I've always said, if a GM is waiting for prospects, he's waiting to get himself fired. It's time for the Cubs to add some legitimate major league talent to their roster. On that point, Boras is correct.

Sox Take, Cubs Give In Rule 5 Draft

Thursday's Rule 5 Draft had a little bit for fans of both Chicago teams with the White Sox selecting catcher Adrian Nieto from the Nationals, while the Cubs lost Marcos Mateo to the Diamondbacks.

Nieto is a switch-hitting 24-year-old who in six seasons hasn't yet played above A ball. A 50-game suspension for a positive PED test no doubt hindered some of his development. In the minors he's batted .254/.346/.386, including .285/.375/.449 last year in the Class A Carolina League.

Like most Rule 5 picks, Nieto is maybe a longshot to hang around. He must stay with the White Sox on the 25-man roster all year or be offered back to the Nationals. Factors working in his favor are that he's coming off his strongest season, one in which Sox scouts think him improved throughout. And besides relievers, catchers have perhaps the best chance of sticking in a backup role. So long as Nieto is solid enough defensively, the offensive bar for a backup catcher is easily cleared.

It might work against Nieto that the Sox haven't settled on a starting catcher. With the uncertainty that Tyler Flowers' struggles last year were really injury-related, or that Josh Phegley can make adjustments to bring his offense up to snuff, the Sox might have to play a mix-and-match game behind the plate that would make it hard to carry a backup who can only be counted on to have a solid glove. They certainly don't have room on the roster to carry three catchers.

The Cubs, meanwhile, said goodbye to Mateo, who threw just over 44 innings as a reliever for the team from 2010-2011, but was eligible for the draft since being left off the team's 40-man roster. Since then the now 29-year-old suffered an elbow injury, surgery, and spent last year working his way back.

Mateo turned in a fine 1.74 ERA across three levels of the team's minor league system, but in only 31 innings and with diminished strikeout numbers, the Cubs felt comfortable letting another team try to work out his walk and home run problems from the back end of their bullpen.

My bet would be that even if the Cubs don't see Mateo offered back to them this season, they won't terribly miss the right-hander.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Major League Baseball plans to ban collisions at home plate

Rare is the case where I don't have a strong opinion on one of the hot-button topics in Major League Baseball. However, I have to admit I don't care if the league bans collisions at home plate.

The issue is back in the news after the league on Wednesday announced it intends to ban such plays by 2015 at the latest. Details of the new rules still need to be sorted out, but the owners are scheduled to vote on the changes at their Jan. 16 meeting. The players' union also would have to approve the changes for the rules to take effect in 2014.

How might those rules work? According to ESPN.com:

1. Catchers will not be allowed to block home plate.

2. Runners will not be permitted to target the catchers.

3. The question of whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher will be reviewable, with an immediate remedy available to the umpires.

4. Catchers or runners who violate the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action.

The main reason I don't have a strong opinion on this is because I don't perceive injuries on home-plate collisions to be a major problem in the sport. Yes, San Francisco catcher Buster Posey suffered a season-ending leg injury on a such a play in May 2011. It was horrible to watch, and losing Posey ruined the Giants' season. However, Posey returned in 2012 and helped lead San Francisco to its second World Series title in three years.

I'm trying to think of another major injury that has happened recently on a collision at home plate, and I'm drawing a blank. I know the league is concerned about concussions. Former players in football and hockey have sued the NFL and the NHL, respectively, over concussion-related health issues. I'm sure Major League Baseball wants to protect itself from such a lawsuit, and that's probably among the reasons it is moving forward with this change.

If the league and the players decide the change the rules, that's fine. These plays at the plate don't happen all that often -- maybe two or three times per team during a 162-game season.

I'm just interested to see how it's going to work. I don't care that they're taking collisions out of the game. I don't need those to enjoy the sport. But depending on how the rules are written, this is likely going to add some tough judgment calls for umpires. We'll see if they can apply the new rules fairly and consistently, if the changes are approved as expected.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thanks Uribe for the memories, no thanks for a White Sox return

Somehow, despite the White Sox openly rolling with the rebuilding label (ok, I'm sorry, retooling), the team has been linked to free agent Juan Uribe.

Juan Uribe.
Sox fans remember Uribe as the slick-fielding shortstop who was part of a championship team in 2005, who had a terrific offensive year when he first arrived in 2004, who lost his job in 2008 when the Sox acquired Orlando Cabrera and Alexei Ramirez, but still helped save the day for the playoff-bound Sox by filling in at third base when Joe Crede was lost to injury.

Since then Uribe had a couple nice season with Giants before signing a three-year deal with Dodgers. He's coming off a season in Los Angeles in which he hit .278/.331/.438 and played very good defense at third base.

You do have to hand it to Uribe, if you had asked me eight years ago which member of the 2005 Sox would have the best 2013 performance, he might not have been in my first 10 guesses. (Neal Cotts wouldn't have been either!).

Presumably, Uribe would fill the third base hole on the Sox roster, at least as an option instead internal choices of Conor Gillaspie or Marcus Semien.

Except here's the thing. Here are two guys and what they've done the last three seasons:

Player A: .237/.295/.360
Player B: .284/.316/.376

Ok, in this Rob Neyer-patented shell game, Uribe is obviously Player A. Despite a very nice 2013, Uribe wasn't very good during his three years with the Dodgers. That he had a .322 batting average on balls in play -- not an outrageous figure, but certainly well above his career .282 mark -- means Uribe was almost certainly a little lucky to produce as fine of an offensive year as he did last season.

Player B is Jeff Keppinger, who is last year's attempt to paper over the hole at third base with a utility infielder. That was obviously a disaster, though at least a modestly priced one.

The rationale for bringing Keppinger aboard was different a year ago, and I largely agreed with it. The Sox were coming off a season in which they led their division most of the year, were hoping to be good enough to contend, but not so good that a huge investment in third base seemed terribly prudent. So they signed Keppinger for a reasonable 3-year, $12 million deal figuring that if a better option sprang up, they'd have an overpaid utility infielder.

The problem is that Keppinger, like just about everyone on the Sox last year, hit much worse than expected. He didn't fill the hole at third base, and presently looks like he doesn't even have a place on the roster now that Leury Garcia is here. In Garcia, the Sox have a guy who even with limited offensive potential, can probably hit as well as Keppinger last year, but has a fantastic glove all over the field.

With the pretense of being a contender cast to the side, it makes much more sense to see if Gillaspie can take a step forward, or Semien can take a step up, than it does to mess around with another year of Keppinger, or two or three years with a Uribe reunion.

I get that guys from championship teams are remembered fondly. I even understood the desire by many to bring catcher A.J. Pierzynski back -- that's a position where the Sox have another black hole instead of production, and unlike third base, the alternatives there seem even less credible.

Still, it's time to give up the ghosts of past glory. While Uribe returning to the team he helped to a title might make for a good puff piece during spring training, the reality is that he's just not a good fit for the Sox. It's time for Sox fans to just collectively, please, let it go.

White Sox turn surplus into starting centerfielder

The White Sox resolved their logjam of starting pitchers by dealing one on Tuesday.

The Sox sent Hector Santiago and a player-to-be-named (probably Brandon Jacobs) as part of a three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Angels, receiving Adam Eaton.

The 25-year-old left-handed outfielder has been highly touted coming through Arizona's farm system since being drafted in the 19th round of the 2010 draft. After a successful cup of coffee with the D'Backs in 2012 in which he hit .259/.382/.412 over 103 plate appearances, last season was derailed for Eaton when a torn UCL in his throwing arm sidelined him July. He ended up batting .252/.314/.360.

Eaton probably owes his low draft position to his modest stature (he is only 5-foot-8), but the results speak for themselves: In 1,560 minor-league plate appearances Eaton has slashed a .348/.450/.501 line, and has mostly answered questions about his ability to stick in centerfield.

That batting average isn't likely to carry over to the American League, but Eaton still has the offensive tools to be a very good leadoff hitter.

This is a big get for a White Sox team that probably wasn't going to stretch Avisail Garcia in center, and has apparently moved on from the idea of Alejandro De Aza playing there regularly. The Sox are now set to deal either De Aza, or incumbent left fielder Dayan Viciedo. If they don't like the offers for either player, De Aza probably becomes a fourth outfielder and Viciedo likely loses playing time against right-handed pitchers, against whom he's only managed to hit .242/.287/.388 so far in his big league career (vs. .322/.357/.551 against lefties).

As far as the players the Sox gave up, Santiago was a fun player to watch, and a fun player to root for, but despite the huge strikeout numbers (8.7 K/9), he still hasn't managed to get his walks under control (4.5 BB/9), and is too often victimized by home runs (17 allowed last year in 149 innings).

Santiago was not likely to repeat his 3.56 ERA from last year with those factors working against him. It's also an open question if he can handle a starter's workload as last year he wore down noticibly as the season progressed, partially evidenced by his declining K rate each month from May on (10.0 in May, 9.9 in June, 9.5 in July, 6.7 in August and 4.7 in September).

That's not to say Santiago can't improve, the same way Quintana did in a second season spent primarily as a starter. But Santiago was still the rotation's weakest link, making him the most expendable piece the Sox could give up in trade.

Jacobs, an outfielder that came over from the Red Sox in the Matt Thornton trade, only batted .237/.291/.327 at Charlotte after his arrival. The 23-year-old will be eligible to be taken in this week's Rule V draft, though probably won't be selected.

Cubs did well at bottom of pitching market

It's easy to roll your eyes and think of Edwin Jackson when talking about the Cubs' big free agent pitching additions last year. Kyuji Fujikawa's contract might not inspire the same belly laughs as Jackson's pact, but it probably gets a guffaw.

Despite those big misses higher up on the free agent food chain, the Cubs actually did pretty well in cobbling together reclamation projects.

Scott Feldman was the obvious winner in the retread lottery. For a modest one-year, $6 million deal after an injury-stunted year in 2012, the Cubs got 91 good innings (3.46 ERA) before spinning him for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

Strop showed a marked improvement in his command once arriving at Wrigley Field, and might be a solid addition to the Cubs' bullpen. Arrieta posted only a superficially good ERA (3.66), but at least gives the team a low-cost option for the back end of the rotation, or maybe another bullpen piece if shift to relieving can help him harness his control problems and home run tendencies.

The other retreads the Cubs tried out didn't pan out nearly as well. Scott Baker (1 year, $5 million), who had done plenty of good work with the Twins, never got healthy enough to contribute. Carlos Villanueva (2 years, $10 million) did what he's always done, which is pitch well enough as a low-leverage reliever, not so well as a starter. Dontrelle Willis was sent packing after spring training.

If you think one out of four on those kind of projects is a bad rate of return, you're wrong. Especially for a team like the Cubs, which didn't block any real prospects from their rotation by doling out innings, or waste any staggering amount of money.

(To help put the money in perspective, the money givein to Feldman, Baker, Villanueva and Willis was less than what the $16.8 million paid to Carlos Marmol the last two seasons.)

It's all worth considering as the Cubs haven't been linked in rumors to many big free agents this winter, but have been linked to a few names like free agent Joba Chamberlain, and trade targets like Nationals pitchers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.

Once the dust settles, with the Cubs still looking to fill out a rotation and closer spot, there will probably be other names. And why not? For a team with job openings that doesn't want to commit another colossal contract blunder, taking a chance on a player that's fallen on hard times can be a cost-effective way to build value for an organization that sorely needs to do just that.

Monday, December 9, 2013

White Sox sign pitcher Felipe Paulino

Shrieks of horror were reverberating throughout the South Side Monday night as the White Sox have added an ex-Kansas City Royals pitcher to their roster.

For many fans, the scars from Andrew Sisco, Mike MacDougal and Horacio Ramirez run deep, so we can only hope Felipe Paulino fares better as a member of the Pale Hose.

Paulino, 30, and the Sox agreed on a one-year deal worth $1.75 million on Monday. The contract includes a $4 million team option for the 2015 season.

The right-hander made seven starts for the Royals in 2012, going 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA. He missed all of 2013 after undergoing elbow surgery. His lifetime statistics pretty much stink: 13-32 with a 4.93 ERA in 93 career games, 61 of them starts.

This is nothing more than a depth move. The Sox are saying Paulino will be given a shot to make the starting rotation. Assuming no trades are made, he'll be competing with Erik Johnson and Andre Rienzo for the No. 5 starting job.

More than likely, he ends up as the long man on the pitching staff, perhaps getting a spot start during a doubleheader or joining the starting rotation if somebody else gets injured.

I hope everyone enjoyed my reference to Sisco. With any luck, that will be the last time we ever mention that bum on this blog.

Headley not worth Quintana for White Sox

Most rumors that pop up around baseball's Winter Meetings aren't worth paying too much attention. Especially this one that Dan Hayes at CSN Chicago reports: The White Sox are interested in Chase Headley, but not for Jose Quintana.

Hayes does a good job of shooting this one down almost immediately after he presents it, pointing out Headley is a free agent after next season, while Quintana won't be a free agent until after 2018.

It's worth remembering for a minute how good Quintana is. The left-hander just tossed 200 innings with a 3.51 ERA. He did that during a sophomore season where he saw in increased workload (only 136 1/3 innings as a rookie), improved his K-rate (5.3 to 7.4 K/9), his walk rate (2.8 to 2.5 BB/9) and kept his home runs allowed in check (0.9 HR/9 in 2012, 1.0 HR/9 allowed last year).

Among left-handed starters in the American League, only teammate Chris Sale (3.07), the Rays' David Price (3.33) and the Rangers' Derek Holland (3.42) sported better ERAs. If you measure by a statistic like ERA+ that tries to account for Quintana's offense-friendly home ballpark, his adjusted figure of 122 is still way behind Sale (140), but surpasses Price (114) and Holland (120).

Or by a stat that tries to measure pitcher success independent of fielding like FIP, Quintana (3.86) still finishes near Holland (3.44), and a bit farther from Price (3.03) and Sale (3.17), if you can believe any White Sox pitcher was aided to a better ERA by the team's awful defense last year.

Basically in Quintana, the Sox have one of the better left-handed starters in the AL. That's easy to forget because in Sale, the Sox have the best left-handed starter in the league. And Quintana did seemingly come out of nowhere with the Sox acquiring him as a minor league free agent after he washed out of the Mets and Yankees organizations.

Quintana having never thrown more than just over 100 innings during any season in the minors might have been a cause for concern. At this point, I don't think it is -- not after throwing more than 380 combined innings the last two years.

And lets not forget that the last 336 1/3 of those frames all came in the big leagues, where Quintana has shown the last two seasons that he can make adjustments and thrive.

Given that, it's hard not to think Quintana would garner more in trade than a free agent third baseman going into his walk year.

In fact, given the five years of cheap team control remaining on Quintana's contract, the Sox should be aiming for something similar to what the Rays will seek for Price this winter while their lefty has only two years of team control before free agency.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Free agent shocker: Robinson Cano snubs Yankees, agrees to terms with Mariners

Pat yourself on the back if you thought the Seattle Mariners would be the team to land the most sought-after free agent this offseason.

I didn't see this one coming: Robinson Cano has snubbed the New York Yankees and agreed to a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners. The contract reportedly includes a full no-trade clause.

As expected, the Yankees have been on a spending spree after missing the playoffs in 2013. They signed catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract. They also gave center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million over seven years. I just assumed they would open up the pocketbook and retain Cano, too.

They were denied because the Mariners, of all teams, blew them out of the water by making Cano an offer he couldn't refuse. The Yankees reportedly did not want to invest more than $175 million on Cano. If that's the case, then Seattle beat New York's best offer by $65 million.

I don't know that this signing makes the Mariners immediate contenders in the AL West, but it surely weakens the Yankees' quest to get back in the mix in the AL East. Not matter how you spin it, they aren't as good without their cornerstone second baseman and No. 3 hitter.

I never thought Cano would play in a smaller city. When he hired Jay Z at his agent, I assumed it was because he wanted more opportunities to market himself, perhaps even in a realm outside of baseball. Typically, a player wants to be in New York or Los Angeles to pursue those kinds of possibilities.

Instead, Cano is going to Seattle. I'm stunned.

Curtis Granderson signs with Mets

Free agent outfielder Curtis Granderson and the New York Mets have agreed to a four-year deal worth $60 million, reports say.

Earlier this offseason, there were rumors that the White Sox were interested in Granderson. For those years and those dollars, I'm glad the South Siders took a pass -- if indeed they were interested.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

White Sox, Cubs add relievers

Content to fill out the back of their rosters -- perhaps because neither team anticipates any other major roster-reshaping moves -- the White Sox and Cubs have both added relievers on one-year contracts.

The Sox signed Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal. He was non-tendered by the Dodgers earlier this week. Because he has so little service time, the 30-year-old right-hander will be under Sox control beyond this season if they want to take him to arbitration.

Belisario brings speed (not that kind) with his mid-90s stuff, but the Sox probably most value his ability to keep the ball in the park. In his MLB career spanning 265 innings, all with the Dodgers, he's given up only 16 home runs. Without eye-popping strikeout numbers (6.5 K/9 last year) or exceptional control (3.7 BB/9), it will be critical he keeps getting the ground balls. His 1.57 GB/FB ratio is what drives his 3.29 career ERA.

Meanwhile, the Cubs signed left-hander Wesley Wright to a one-year, $1.45 million contract. Another non-tendered player, the Cubs will control him next offseason if he meets expectations as a lefty-beating reliever. The 28-year-old has a career 4.37 ERA. While he does rack up the strikeouts (9.2 K/9 last year), he's often been beaten by the long ball (1.3 HR/9 in his career).

Wright just completed a season split between the Rays and Astros with a 3.69 ERA over 53 1/3 innings. The lefty reliever role seems to suit him as he's held same-handed hitters to a .231/.313/.342 line, compared to the .266/.356/.500 line right-handed batters have tagged him for in his career.

While neither of these moves seems terribly exciting, both the Sox and Cubs probably both got marginally better by aggressively courting players non-tendered by their former teams. In the case of Belisario, the Sox agreed to pay more than what MLB Trade Rumors estimated the player probably would have made in arbitration had the Dodgers decided to go that route to retain his services.

Now it remains to be seen if either player can be part of a surprising season for either team, or at least become and asset worth retaining or flipping at next year's trade deadline.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paul Konerko re-signs with the White Sox ... for cheap

It turns out Paul Konerko really does want to play one more season with the White Sox.

One of the faces of the franchise over the last decade on Wednesday agreed to a one-year deal to return to the South Side. This is definitely a team-friendly contract. Konerko is used to making eight figures, but he's coming back for just $2.5 million, and $1 million of that is deferred to 2021.

The six-time All-Star batted just .244 with a career-low slugging percentage of .355 in 2013. There probably wasn't a full-time first baseman's job available for him on the open market. Konerko has said he would only accept a part-time role with the Sox, and that is what he will get for 2014.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see a DH platoon between Konerko and Adam Dunn next season.

Despite his 2013 struggles, Konerko still hit lefties at a decent clip last year:

vs. LHP: .313/.398/.525 with 5 home runs and 16 RBIs in 99 at-bats.

Against righties, he was not good:

vs. RHP: .226/.290/.310 with 7 home runs and 38 RBIs in 368 at-bats.

That makes him a natural platoon fit with Dunn, who hit righties much better than lefties in 2013:

vs RHP: .226/.327/.459 with 28 home runs and 64 RBIs in 403 at-bats.
vs. LHP: .197/.296/385 with 6 home runs and 22 RBIs in 142 at-bats.

Hopefully, the Sox will be smart enough to use Konerko and Dunn in this fashion. Barring an injury to Jose Abreu, neither man figures to see much time at first base.

The best thing to come from this signing is it will allow Konerko to have one more year in the sun and have a proper sendoff before he retires.

The negative is it limits roster flexibility for manager Robin Ventura. He's going to have a DH (either Konerko or Dunn) on his bench every day. One of the other four bench spots will be taken up by a backup catcher. That means your other two bench players better have the ability to play multiple positions. If the Sox can find a reserve who can play both the infield and the outfield, all the better. I figure Leury Garcia might be the player they have in mind for that role.

In any case, Konerko is back for one more year as a fan and clubhouse favorite. If used properly, he may still have a little left to give the White Sox.