Tuesday, March 28, 2017

White Sox going young in center field (and other news)

It's looking as if Jacob May has won the job as the starting center fielder for the White Sox.

Charlie Tilson is still in a walking boot for the next three weeks and may not be back until late May, and the Sox on Monday traded Peter Bourjos to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash considerations.

Subtracting Tilson from the equation, here are the offensive numbers the three contenders for center field have put up in the spring:

May: .339/.361/.525, 2 BB, 12 K, 4 for 5 in stolen bases, 61 plate appearances
Bourjos: .313/.340/.521, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 for 1 in stolen bases, 50 plate appearances
Leury Garcia: .339/.355/.424, 2 BB, 9 K, 2 for 4 in stolen bases, 64 plate appearances

May is the best of the three defensively, and he nosed out the other contenders with his performance at the plate, as well. I can't say I disagree with giving him the chance. He's 25 years old, the team is rebuilding, why not find out what you have with him?

Most of the prospect guys say May is a fourth outfielder, and that might very well be all he is. But you don't know until you give him some big-league time and see how he responds.

However, I was surprised they decided to move Bourjos. He seemed like a good veteran insurance policy at a position where the Sox have painfully little depth. At the very least, I was expecting him to make the club as a fourth outfielder.

Instead, the Sox are apparently going with the cringeworthy Garcia. They like his "versatility," but as I've said before, sure, he plays five positions, but he plays them all poorly, so who cares?

If May does poorly and Tilson doesn't recover from his injury, we could be looking at a starting Sox outfielder of Melky Cabrera, Leury Garcia and Avisail Garcia. That's the kind of defensive lineup that will lose you a lot of games, which might be the goal for this season anyway.

Rodon diagnosed with bursitis

Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon will begin a two-week throwing program after being diagnosed with bursitis (inflammation) in his left bicep tendon, according to a CSN Chicago report.

Rodon will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list.

In his absence, potential stopgap measures for the rotation include right-handers Dylan Covey and (gulp!) Anthony Swarzak.

This is another area where the Sox don't have much depth while they wait for more heralded pitching prospects to become big-league ready.

If Rodon is hurt and Jose Quintana gets traded, it will make what already is shaping up as a difficult season even more challenging.

A.J. Pierzynski
Pierzynski retires, takes broadcasting job

Former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski announced his retirement Tuesday. He will join FOX as a full-time baseball analyst.

Pierzynski will serve as both a color commentator and studio analyst for FOX, while also making regular appearances on FS1's MLB Whiparound.

"With Opening Day right around the corner, this is always a great time of year," Pierzynski said in a statement from FOX Sports. "I’m really looking forward to what should be a very exciting MLB season and to being a part of the FOX Sports team again."

Pierzynski previously worked with FOX during the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 MLB postseasons.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Pierzynski's. Despite his bad reputation with some folks, he's a smart guy and knows the game inside and out. I'm looking forward to hearing his insights on the FOX broadcasts.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Suspicions confirmed: Carlos Rodon isn't 100 percent healthy

Carlos Rodon
White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon has only pitched in one Cactus League game this month. Granted, he pitched well -- he gave up nothing over four innings against the Los Angeles Angels on March 19. But it was hard not to notice the reduced velocity. The fastball, normally 93 to 95, was sitting at 90 to 91.

The Sox have been "taking it slow" with Rodon all spring. They said he suffered from arm fatigue at times last season, and they were looking to keep him healthy and strong for 32 starts in 2017. That talk was a little bit of a red flag for me, but you could at least see the logic -- it's a long spring because of the World Baseball Classic, and then it's a long season. Don't tax a young arm too early.

But then the talk started about Rodon not pitching until the second series of the season. That's when I started to get concerned. If Rodon is healthy, there's no reason for him not to start the second game behind Jose Quintana and then take his regular turn every five games. Why are they being so cautious and pushing back his starts?

Well, here's why: Rodon is going for an MRI on his left bicep after being scratched from his scheduled start Friday. He isn't healthy. The truth finally has been revealed.

It stinks, because Rodon is a big part of both the present and future for the Sox, and accordingly, they need to make sure they are taking good care of his prized left arm. Shut him down, if need be. Rodon is likely to start the season on the disabled list. Understandably so. Don't let him pitch again until he's good and ready.

Oh, and by the way, Quintana's getting the ball on April 3. Duh.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jose Quintana: Still with the White Sox, but hasn't been named Opening Day starter

Jose Quintana
CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes tweeted Wednesday that the White Sox still have not made a decision on their Opening Day starting pitcher. Manager Rick Renteria wants folks to "give him a few more days."

This is unusual, because if you take a look at the Sox's roster, there is no debate about who should be starting the home opener. Jose Quintana is a proven All-Star left-hander, easily one of the top 20 pitchers in the game, and probably top 15. Then, the Sox have four other guys in the rotation. There is substantial drop-off from Quintana to Carlos Rodon and Miguel Gonzalez, and then another drop-off to James Shields and Derek Holland.

So what's the delay in naming Quintana the starter for the first game? There must be something blowing in the wind on the trade market. The only reason for Renteria to start any other pitcher besides Quintana on April 3 would be because Quintana is no longer on the team.

Jeff Passan, Yahoo's MLB columnist, weighed in on Quintana's situation Wednesday, but there's nothing more to his report than the same things we've been reading from the Sox beat reporters all spring: "White Sox scouts are everywhere. They are willing to deal Quintana, but only for the right price, etc., etc. etc."

The teams mentioned as possible suitors are ones that we've been hearing all along -- the Atlanta Braves, the Houston Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Passan correctly notes the market for front-end pitching is bleak beyond Quintana. He says sources tell him that Milwaukee's Junior Guerra, who enjoyed a breakout season as a 31-year-old rookie (!) in 2016, is the next-best starting pitcher who might be available after Quintana.

And, the market might not be much stronger when we get to the middle of the season. Perhaps Oakland's Sonny Gray gets healthy and rebuilds his value. Perhaps not. Perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays fall out of the race and become more willing to deal Chris Archer. Perhaps not. Even if the Toronto Blue Jays falter, Quintana still would be a more attractive options for a contender than Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano.

The Sox are biding their time, hoping to get the deal they want, and gambling a little bit that Quintana will remain both healthy and effective until they make a move. The club's inability to commit to Quintana as the Opening Day starter makes it clear to me that there's something going on, but somewhat amazingly in this day and age, whatever is going on has been kept under the radar -- even from well-connected national baseball reporters such as Passan.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

White Sox sign Tim Anderson to contract extension

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson has not played in the past few spring games because of "personal reasons."

Turns out he and his agent were busy negotiating a long-term contract with the Sox. I guess that would be a "personal reason," huh?

Anderson on Tuesday agreed to terms on an extension that guarantees him $25 million over the next six years, and could pay him $50.5 million. The deal includes two club options for 2023 and 2024 that total $26.5 million with a $1 million buyout. The two club options cover Anderson's first two years of free agency eligibility.

This is the largest contract ever handed out to a player with less than one year of MLB service time, which demonstrates how much confidence the Sox have in Anderson and how integral he is to their rebuilding plans.

Anderson hit .283/.306/.432 with nine home runs, 30 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 431 plate appearances as a rookie in 2016. He also answered some questions about his defense, producing six Defensive Runs Saved and a 6.3 Ultimate Zone Rating, according to fangraphs.com.

Here is the breakdown of Anderson's salary:

2017: $850,000
2018: $1,000,000
2019: $1,400,000
2020: $4,000,000
2021: $7,250,000
2022: $9,500,000

*If the two club options are activated:

2023: $12,500,000
2024: $14,000,000

Thursday, March 16, 2017

About that second left-hander in the White Sox bullpen ...

Cory Luebke
The White Sox made their second round of spring cuts Wednesday afternoon.

Pitchers Chris Beck, Tyler Danish, Brad Goldberg and Giovanni Soto were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte, along with outfielder Willy Garcia. Catcher Alfredo Gonzalez was optioned to Double-A Birmingham. Pitchers Aaron Bummer and Blake Smith were reassigned to minor league camp.

We said at the start of camp that the Sox were looking for a second left-hander in their bullpen to complement Dan Jennings, and it looked as if Soto might be one of the top contenders -- if not the leading contender.

Turns out the Sox don't think that much of Soto. He's been optioned after making only two Cactus League appearances.

So, who is left in the mix for that other left-handed spot? Matt Purke hasn't allowed a run this spring over four appearances and 4.2 innings pitched. Brian Clark is getting an extended look -- he's appeared in seven games and fared reasonably well -- a 2.70 ERA in 6.2 innings. But, Clark has walked four, which is a bit of a red flag.

Jace Fry, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, has worked in six games with a 4.15 ERA in 4.1 innings. But again, four walks -- that's a high total. A surprise contender has emerged in veteran reclamation project Cory Luebke. The 32-year-old has 1.35 ERA in five games and 6.2 innings pitched this spring.

Luebke has struck out five and walked two, and the big key for him is proving he has regained his control. Once upon a time, in 2011, Luebke was a big leaguer. He had a 3.29 ERA in 46 games (17 starts) for the San Diego Padres. But multiple Tommy John surgeries kept him out of the majors from 2013 to 2015.

He resurfaced with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, and he was terrible -- a 9.35 ERA in nine games. He walked 11 in 8.2 innings. To make the Sox, he'll have to continue to avoid walks and show that he isn't susceptible to meltdown-style innings. Luebke has starting experience, so in theory, he could be the second left-hander *and* the long reliever.

Or perhaps the Sox will decide to go with only one left-hander and keep right-hander Michael Ynoa, who is out of options, on the roster.

Under that scenario, the Sox could use right-hander Zach Putnam is certain situations against tough left-handed hitters. Putnam's split-finger pitch tends to be tough on lefties, and when healthy in 2016, he held left-handed hitters to a .546 OPS. (Righties had a .694 OPS).

Knowing that Putnam is an option, perhaps it isn't essential the Sox keep a second left-handed reliever, if they decide they don't want to keep Luebke or give Purke another kick at the can.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lucas Giolito reminds us why he needs more time in Triple-A

Many White Sox fans were excited about the first three starts pitching prospect Lucas Giolito made in the Cactus League, and who can blame them? Giolito allowed only two solo home runs in nine innings across those three outings, and each performance was better than the one preceding it.

Until Tuesday.

In his fourth spring start, Giolito didn't make it out of the first inning in a 7-6 loss to the Seattle Mariners. He recorded only two outs, while allowing four runs on four hits. He had two walks, one that loaded the bases and another on four pitches that forced in a run. His fastball command was terrible, and he did not produce a single swing-and-miss among the 30 pitches he threw. His velocity was down, and he couldn't throw his curve ball for a strike either.

"It’s hard to pinpoint one issue," Giolito told CSNChicago.com. "I didn’t really execute anything I was trying to do today. As a starting pitcher, you want to work efficiently, you want to throw low pitch count innings, work through a game and I threw, what, 30 pitches. Didn’t get out of the first inning. Just didn’t do my job."

The poor outing has caused some to wonder whether Giolito has hit the inevitable dead-arm period that all pitchers experience during spring ball. Possibly, but the more likely scenario is the fact that Giolito is a 22-year-old kid still struggling to find consistency. As much as we'd all like him to be ready for the big leagues, he is not. If you watched the outing Tuesday -- and I did -- it was a prime example of why this prospect needs more time pitching in the minor leagues.

Giolito will be in Triple-A Charlotte when the season begins, and rightfully so.

This is why I get a little confused when my fellow Sox fans tell me they are "excited to watch the kids" this season. Well, if all goes well, maybe a few of these guys will be called up for the second half of the season, or in September when the rosters expand.

But for the most part, if you want to "watch the kids" the Sox have acquired, I'd suggest spending your summer in Charlotte or Birmingham. The Sox would be doing these prospects a disservice if they didn't send them down to the minor leagues.

Patience is required, from the organization and fans alike.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

White Sox outfielder Charlie Tilson will start the season on the DL

Peter Bourjos
I've been saying it all spring: I get the feeling that Peter Bourjos is going to be the Opening Day center fielder for the White Sox. And I get the feeling that position is going to be the biggest problem for the Sox in 2017.

The player Sox brass wanted to win the job, Charlie Tilson, has been sidelined since Feb. 19 with a stress reaction in his right foot. The injury wasn't initially thought to be serious, but a follow-up MRI on Monday revealed swelling. Tilson will miss at least the next three weeks, and that means he will be on the 15-day disabled list when the season starts April 3.

That makes the veteran Bourjos the top candidate for center field, even though he is in camp as a nonroster invitee. The Sox have two spots open on their 40-man roster, and it appears that one of them is his to lose at this point.

Bourjos, 29, hit .251/.292/.389 in 383 plate appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies last year. He can handle center field defensively, but there's a reason he's on a minor-league deal: He's not a good hitter; his career on-base percentage is .300, and his OBP has hovered in the .290s for each of the past three seasons.

To his credit, Bourjos has had a good spring; he's 10-for 27, which pencils out to a .370 batting average. It should come as no surprise, however, that he has yet to draw a walk. But right now, he looks as if he's the best option for the position as a veteran stopgap.

Other options in camp include a pair of 25-year-olds -- Jacob May and Adam Engel. Both are good enough defensively to play center field, but both have uneven offensive track records.

May has had the better spring, posting a .333/.375/.433 slash line in 32 plate appearances. Engel has struggled to .130/.310/.130 in 30 plate appearances.

Engel hit .242/.298/.369 in 161 plate appearances at Triple-A Charlotte last year, while May hit .266/.309/.352 in 321 trips to the plate.

Based upon last season and what we've seen so far in camp, May seems the better bet to win a roster spot than Engel. But, there still are three weeks until Opening Day, and things can change.

Monday, March 13, 2017

White Sox score 14 runs in ninth inning to beat Dodgers

Leury Garcia
Let's be honest: Most spring training games are not worth much analysis. However, it gets your attention when a team scores 14 runs in one inning.

While most of the world was sleeping late Sunday night, the White Sox entered the ninth inning trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1. They ended up winning the game, 15-5, after one of the most bizarre half-innings I've ever heard on the radio. (The game was not televised.)

The Sox batted around twice -- sending 18 men to the plate -- and scored 14 runs on only seven hits. A few highlights:

  • Luis Alexander Basabe, an outfielder who was acquired in the Chris Sale deal, had a two-run single to put the Sox ahead, 5-3.
  • Yoan Moncada, the team's top prospect, had a two-run double. Previously in the game, he had struck out in four consecutive plate appearances.
  • Longtime minor-leaguer Jason Bourgeois had five RBIs in the inning. He had a two-run single in his first AB of the rally, and he capped the Sox's scoring with a three-run homer. 
  • The Dodgers committed four errors, walked three men and hit two batters. So, the Sox were gifted nine baserunners, in addition to the seven hits they had.
The Dodgers probably could not have done any worse in that inning if they had just gone out there and lit themselves on fire. Sure, it was a collection of Double-A and Triple-A players on the field, but no professional team should be giving up that many runs in one inning.

That rally capped an interesting Sunday for the Sox, who also lost, 10-8, to the Texas Rangers in the other half of a split-squad day. In that game, the Sox scored all eight of their runs in the sixth inning.

So, to recap, the Sox had 18 offensive innings Sunday. They scored 23 runs, but they did it in the most bizarre fashion possible -- a 14-run inning, an 8-run inning, an inning with a single run scored, plus 15 innings with no runs at all.

I have to admit, I'm getting a little worried that Leury Garcia is going to make the team. He's got a slash line of .419/.500/.919 in 30 spring plate appearances. He had four hits against Texas on Sunday. But he also made two egregious mistakes on the basepaths, and at shortstop, he butchered a rundown play that allowed the Rangers to score a gift run.

I'm getting a little tired of hearing about Garcia's "versatility" being an asset. Sure, he plays multiple positions, but he plays them all poorly, so who cares? And, yes, he has speed, but he makes dumb outs on the bases, so who cares?

We know that Garcia feasts on Triple-A pitching -- he hit .313 at Charlotte in 2016 -- and that's what he's doing in this spring camp. Here's to hoping the Sox are not fooled. This is a player who makes mental mistake after mental mistake and does not belong on the roster. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

White Sox release infielder Brett Lawrie

Brett Lawrie
In a surprise move Friday, the White Sox requested waivers on infielder Brett Lawrie for the purpose of granting him his unconditional release.

Lawrie, who signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million in December, was projected to be the team's starting second baseman. However, he hasn't played in a game since last July 21 because of a mysterious left leg injury that was reportedly caused by the use of orthotics.

The 27-year-old did not appear in any of the Sox's first seven spring training games this past week after informing the team Feb. 24 that he still wasn't feeling 100 percent ready to play.

Lawrie hit .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs in 384 plate appearances last season, and played serviceable defense, but the Sox have other options at second base and apparently decided that they don't have the patience to wait around to see if Lawrie gets healthy.

 Most likely, Tyler Saladino is going to be the Opening Day second baseman. Saladino hit .282/.315/.409 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs in 319 plate appearances last season. The offensive numbers are similar to Lawrie's, and just about everyone agrees that Saladino is the superior defensive player. The Sox have other utility infield options with Yolmer Sanchez and Leury Garcia, and most people think top prospect Yoan Moncada is going to be called up to be the Sox's second baseman by midseason anyway.

The front office must believe that some combination of Saladino/Sanchez/Garcia can hold down second base until Moncada is ready, and it's hard to argue with that thinking.

Cutting ties with Lawrie now also saves the Sox a bit of money. Arbitration contracts are not guaranteed until Opening Day. The Sox are only on the hook for 30 days' termination pay, or about one-sixth of Lawrie's salary. That's about $574,000.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The White Sox's big pitching prospects have all made their first spring starts ...

As of Wednesday morning, the White Sox have played five spring training games. They've gone 2-2-1, and each of the four big pitching prospects in the organization has made one start.

Here are the results for each man:

Carson Fulmer: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K 
Lucas Giolito: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR 
Reynaldo Lopez: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HR 
Michael Kopech: 1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR

Isn't it interesting that the guy who is ranked the lowest on the prospect lists and is getting the least amount of hype did the best?

Fulmer started Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers and struck three consecutive batters out swinging in his two scoreless innings.

It's foolish to draw any sort of conclusion on anybody from one spring start, but Fulmer's performance was at least enough to remind people that, hey, he's still around. And he might be closer to making the major leagues than the three newcomers to the organization that were acquired this offseason.

Giolito faced the Cubs and gave up a solo home run to Addison Russell on a four-seam fastball that wasn't very well located. He was somewhat fortunate to escape damage in the first inning, when a diving stop by second baseman Yoan Moncada produced a 4-6-3 double play that helped Giolito work out of a first-and-second, no-outs jam. The Cubs had seven of their nine regulars in the lineup, and Giolito was able to avoid getting lit up and post a respectable line -- so at least there's that.

Kopech and Lopez did get lit up, which stinks, but isn't necessarily a sign of bad things to come. Kopech was on the verge of getting out of the first inning with only one run allowed, but he made a bad mistake on an 0-2 pitch, giving up a 3-run homer to Seattle's Mitch Haniger. Tough start. We'll see how the 20-year-old responds next time out.

Lopez? Well, now we know he's a true White Sox. He gave up a two-run homer to Ryan Raburn in his outing against the Cincinnati Reds. As we've noted before, Raburn has basically built a career out of beating up on Sox pitching. I'll probably throw a party the day Raburn retires.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

White Sox to retire Mark Buehrle's No. 56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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