Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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

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

Here's the latest look from Baseball America:

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

White Sox sign pitcher Derek Holland to one-year contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, December 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

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

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

But not the ever-loyal White Sox.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This trade is not that.

Monday, December 5, 2016

White Sox agree to terms with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

Some thoughts on the new collective bargaining agreement

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

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

A few highlights to note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volquez to Marlins

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

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

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

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

Jay to Cubs

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Some numbers behind Robin Ventura's pitching mismanagement

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jose Abreu opts for arbitration over guaranteed money

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

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

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

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

Baseball America released the list Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2016

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

From Jim Margalus at South Side Sox:

http://www.southsidesox.com/2016/11/3/13506508/ruminations-on-the-cubs-finally-winning-a-world-series

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

Some passages that notable:

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

and

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

and

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

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cubs rough up Indians starter Josh Tomlin, force Game 7 in World Series

Addison Russell
Well, Game 6 of the World Series sure was boring, wasn't it? The Cubs trounced the Cleveland Indians, 9-3, on Tuesday to even the series at 3.

This one was lopsided from the outset. So lopsided that I don't have anything nuanced to say about it. (Not that I ever do.) It was a strong performance by the Cubs, and a poor performance by the Indians. How's that for analysis?

Game 7 is Wednesday night in Cleveland.

You could tell that Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin just did not have it pitching on short rest from the very start of this game. Sure, he retired the first two hitters, but he hung a sloppy 0-2 curve to Kris Bryant, who deposited it in the left-field seats for a 1-0 Chicago lead.

Tomlin then hung a curve to Anthony Rizzo and left a changeup high in the zone to Ben Zobrist. Those two at-bats resulted in singles for the Cubs, and placed runners on first and third. The Indians' defense then failed Tomlin as center fielder Tyler Naquin and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall stood and looked at each other as a lazy fly off the bat of Addison Russell fell in for a "two-run double."

Just like that, it was 3-0 Cubs. The game was essentially over there, but for good measure, the Cubs blew it open with four runs in the third inning

A walk and two singles to load the bases ended Tomlin's night, and Russell cleared 'em off with a grand slam off Cleveland reliever Dan Otero. 7-0. No drama on this night. Jake Arrieta worked 5.2 innings of two-run ball to get the win.

I did think it was interesting that Cubs manager Joe Maddon used Aroldis Chapman in the seventh inning. The Chicago closer entered with two on and two out in a 7-2 game, and finished that inning by inducing a groundout by Francisco Lindor.

Chapman also pitched a scoreless eighth. After the Cubs got two in the ninth on a Rizzo home run, Chapman returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth and walked the leadoff man before departing. He threw 20 pitches and was charged with Cleveland's third and final run, which came across after he left the game in the ninth.

I'm certain Chapman will be available for Game 7. It's all hands on deck in these situations. But it's worth noting that Chapman threw 42 pitches in an eight-out save in Game 5, plus the 20 pitches in Game 6. That's a greater workload for him than usual. Will it matter? We'll see.

You can't really blame Maddon, because you can't win Game 7 if you don't get to Game 7, and I've never faulted a manager for going to his best reliever in a must-win situation. I do think there is some chance fatigue will catch up to Chapman, if he pitches Wednesday -- and I assume he will.

Momentum is on the side of the Cubs at this point. They've won the past two games. This victory in Game 6 was an overwhelming one. The Indians will now be forced to go to their ace, Corey Kluber, on short rest for Game 7. Kluber won Games 1 and 4 for Cleveland in this series, and like Chapman, we also have to wonder how much he has left in the tank. His mound opponent will be Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

Two things that could help the Indians: 1) They are playing at home. Cheering fans don't win games, but all things being equal, you'd rather be at home than on the road in Game 7. And 2) Cleveland's top three relievers -- Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw -- did not appear in Game 6. They will be rested and ready to go. Indians manager Terry Francona could turn the game over to them as early as the fifth inning, if necessary.

So far this series has featured two epic games -- Games 3 and 5. Each team won one. The other four games have been lopsided, with each club taking two one-sided victories. Here's to hoping Game 7 is a close one, and not another snoozer.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Cubs get away with two egregious mental mistakes, stave off elimination in Game 5

Anthony Rizzo
The 2016 Major League Baseball season will continue for at least another day, after the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, on Sunday night at Wrigley Field in Game 5 of the World Series.

Cleveland's lead in the series is cut to 3-2. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.

The Cubs got this win with quality pitching. Jon Lester did what he is paid to do -- pitch well in big games. He limited the Tribe to two runs on four hits over six innings. He struck out five and didn't walk anybody. After a brief relief appearance by Carl Edwards in the seventh, Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman recorded eight outs to pick up the save.

It was not easy for Chapman. The Indians got the tying run to second base in the seventh inning, and they got the tying run to third in the eighth. Both times, Chapman turned them away. The hard-throwing lefty then worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out Jose Ramirez to close out the game.

The Cubs got three runs in the fourth inning off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer, highlighted by a solo home run from Kris Bryant. Addison Russell had an RBI on an infield single, and David Ross added a sacrifice fly.

That said, I thought the Cubs were fortunate to get away with two egregious mental mistakes that just can't happen at this time of the season. One miscue was made by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth, the other by Chapman in the eighth.

After Bryant's home run tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Rizzo was the next hitter. He put a good swing on a pitch from Bauer and drove it to deep right field. He stood there, watched the ball, admired it, then slowly started to jog toward first base. Too bad the ball wasn't gone. It hit the wall, and Rizzo suddenly had to hustle to get into second base for a double.

The Cubs are fortunate Cleveland right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall made a poor throw back into the infield. Any kind of decent throw to second base and Rizzo would have made an embarrassing out. Rizzo later scored the go-ahead run in that inning on the Russell single, so if he's out at second base two plays earlier, that three-run inning doesn't happen, and it's anybody's guess whether the Cubs are still in the hunt today.

This isn't an isolated incident, either. Throughout these playoffs, we've seen Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler and now Rizzo not hustle out of the box after making contact. That's embarrassing for your team, even if you don't get thrown out, when you're competing for a championship. It's also a poor reflection on manager Joe Maddon. If one guy pulls that crap, it's the player's fault. But when it's a team-wide thing, the manager better do something. The Cubs can't afford that sort of mistake if they hope to win two games in Cleveland. Next time, Chisenhall might make an accurate throw.

Chapman nearly cost himself the lead, too, when he failed to cover first base on a grounder to the right side of the infield by Rajai Davis. Rizzo made a terrific stop on the play, preventing the ball from getting down the right-field line for extra bases. But when he got up to make a feed to first base, Chapman was nowhere to be found and Davis was easily safe.

Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases this season, and he predictably swiped second and third base after Chapman gifted him the infield single. From Day 1 of spring training, pitchers work on getting over to first base on grounders to the right side. For Chapman to fail to get a good break off the mound in that spot is inexcusable. It's inexcusable in any situation, let alone in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, with a one-run lead, in an elimination game with everything at stake. That miscue cost the Cubs three bases. It could have cost the game.

Fortunately for Chapman, he did have his best stuff on the mound, and he got Jason Kipnis to pop out weakly and struck out Francisco Lindor looking to strand Davis at third.

Again, though, that's a mistake the Cubs better not make once they get to Cleveland. I think the Cubs need to play not one but two clean games Tuesday and Wednesday in order to win this series.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Indians push Cubs to the brink with dominant Game 4 win

Corey Kluber
First things first: Can we please stop with the narrative about Cubs pitcher John Lackey being great in the postseason?

Yes, Lackey has had some good playoff moments, such as this game, but he's also gotten his butt kicked in some playoff games, such as this one that is fondly remembered by all White Sox fans.

I keep hearing from both local and national media that Lackey is an awesome playoff pitcher, but frankly, at age 38, it looks like his best days are past. The right-hander has been nothing but mediocre for the Cubs in the postseason. He hasn't worked past the fifth inning in any of his three starts, and he's posted a pedestrian 4.85 ERA in only 13 innings.

Lackey was once again so-so Saturday night, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits over five innings in the Cubs' 7-2 loss to Cleveland in Game 4 of the World Series.

The Indians now enjoy a 3-1 series lead and have three chances to close out the Cubs. Game 5 is Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

Lackey was outpitched by Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who allowed one run on five hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked one, while improving to 4-1 with 0.89 ERA in five postseason starts. Kluber pitched on three days' rest, and will be prepared to pitch again in Game 7 if the Cubs somehow extend this series that far.

Kluber left the mound after the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead, and the Tribe broke the game open moments later in the top of the seventh on a three-run homer by second baseman Jason Kipnis. Cleveland got Lackey out of there after five, then capitalized for four runs off Chicago middle relievers Mike Montgomery, Justin Grimm and Travis Wood.

The Cubs had somewhat of a moral victory in the eighth when Dexter Fowler homered off Andrew Miller, thus proving the Cleveland relief ace is mortal. Miller already has set a record for playoff strikeouts in a single season with 29, and that Fowler homer was the first run he has allowed in 17 postseason innings.

Having a 7-2 lead allowed the Indians to rest closer Cody Allen for a night. Dan Otero closed out the ninth inning with no difficulty.

We can't count the Cubs out of this yet, as they have the edge in the pitching matchup in Game 5. Ace Jon Lester is going for the North Siders, and he'll be opposed by the one Cleveland pitcher who has not been doing his job in these playoffs, right-hander Trevor Bauer.

We'll see if the season ends Sunday, or if there will be a Game 6 on Tuesday in Cleveland.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cody Allen closes out dramatic ninth inning for Cleveland in Game 3

Cody Allen
Saw an interesting stat today: The Cleveland Indians are 23-0 when relief pitchers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller pitch in the same game.

I always say the longer a streak goes in baseball, the more likely it is to end. The Cubs had a chance to end that streak Friday night, but Allen slammed the door on them, striking out Javier Baez with two outs and two runners in scoring position to preserve a 1-0 Cleveland victory in Game 3 of the World Series.

With the win, the Indians hold a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Saturday night at Wrigley Field.

Even if you don't care about either of these two teams, the ninth inning of Game 3 was as dramatic as it gets in a non-elimination game.

Cleveland scored the lone run on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Coco Crisp. The combination of Josh Tomlin, Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen had combined to keep the Cubs off the board through eight innings.

Allen, the Cleveland closer, struck out Kris Bryant on a nasty curve to end the bottom of the eighth inning, but he found himself in immediate peril after giving up a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo in the ninth.

With Chris Coghlan running for Rizzo, Allen bounced back to get the first out on another good curve that caused Ben Zobrist to swing and miss. Coghlan advanced to second on a weak groundout by Willson Contreras, which set up the drama of having the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth.

Jason Heyward came to the plate for the Cubs with the game hanging in the balance, causing audible groans throughout the Chicago area. The $184 million man is 2 for 31 this postseason, and he's probably the last player the Cubs wanted up in that situation. Heck, they've got some pitchers who have been swinging the bat better than Heyward.

This time, the Cubs lucked out when Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli booted what should have been a routine grounder off Heyward's bat. Suddenly, the Cubs had first and third and the much more dangerous Baez at the plate.

Heyward stole second and got into scoring position representing the winning run, and Baez jumped ahead in the count, 2-1. It was set up for the Cubs to possibly steal this game, but that's when Allen got tough.

The Cleveland reliever went back to his curve on 2-1. It broke hard and down in the dirt, and Baez could not check his swing. Strike two.

Gutsy pitch, because remember the tying run is on third base. If Indians catcher Yan Gomes doesn't block the ball, the game is tied. Gomes made the block. Cleveland got the strike, and Allen had succeeded in changing Baez's eye level.

With two strikes, Baez had to be thinking about that curve ball. After all, Allen had recorded three outs to that point -- all on curve balls. So what did Allen do? He pitched Baez backward. He went away from his preferred out pitch. He probably figured Baez would be protecting against the low breaking ball, so he threw a high fastball, above the hands. And he blew it right past Baez. Swinging strike three. Game over.

Brilliant pitching and a dramatic end to a great baseball game between the two top teams in the sport this year. Who says a 1-0 game is boring? Not me.

Adam Eaton a Gold Glove finalist, and other assorted White Sox news

Adam Eaton
Catching up on a few White Sox notes from the past few days:

1. Right fielder Adam Eaton has been named a finalist for the American League Gold Glove Award. Eaton led major-league outfielders with 18 assists and was second to Boston's Mookie Betts with 22 defensive runs saved.

Eaton is trying to become the first Sox player to win a Gold Glove since pitcher Jake Peavy won the honor in 2012. The last Sox position player to win a Gold Glove was third baseman Robin Ventura in 1998.

Eaton was a finalist for the award as a center fielder in 2014. The other finalists among right fielders this year are Betts and Houston's George Springer.

Consider Betts the favorite, since he also had a big offensive season (yeah, I know it shouldn't matter, but it does) and plays in Boston.

2. No surprise: Pitcher James Shields will opt in for the final two years of his contract, according to reports.

Shields, who will turn 35 in December, is coming off a terrible season in which he posted a 6-19 record with a 5.85 ERA. After being traded to the American League, his ERA swelled to 6.77 in 22 starts with the Sox, during which he went 4-12.

The right-hander is owed $21 million for each of the next two seasons, although the San Diego Padres are on the hook for $11 million in both 2017 and 2018. That means the Sox will play Shields $10 million next year and the year after that.

There is a $16 million club option for 2019 on Shields, with a $2 million buyout, if he somehow manages to hold his roster spot for that long. The Sox would be on the hook for the buyout.

Great trade, huh?

3. The Sox claimed outfielder Rymer Liriano off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Liriano, 25, was once a top-100 prospect in the San Diego system, but his skills have never translated to the big-league level.

He made it to the bigs with the Padres in 2014, but couldn't stick, hitting .220 with a .555 OPS in 121 plate appearances in 38 games.

Liriano missed the entire 2016 season after being struck in the face by pitched ball in spring training. The move brings the Sox's 40-man roster back up to 40 players, but this acquisition is for nothing more than organizational depth.