Tuesday, December 12, 2017

New York Yankees win offseason with acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton

Giancarlo Stanton
The first day of the winter meetings Monday was described as "quiet" -- except, of course, for the reigning National League MVP getting traded.

The New York Yankees acquired outfielder Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins in exchange for second baseman Starlin Castro and two prospects, right-handed pitcher Jorge Guzman and infielder Jose Devers.

Stanton hit 59 home runs for the Marlins in 2017, and he's going from a pitchers' park in Miami to a hitters' paradise at Yankee Stadium. He joins a lineup that already features Aaron Judge, who hit 52 homers last season, and Gary Sanchez, who hit 33 home runs last season.

Yeah, that's some formidable right-handed power there, and you can expect the pundits to tab New York as the favorite to win the American League East in 2018, if not the favorite to win the World Series.

There's no question the Yankees just won the offseason in this trade. There is no possible acquisition that any other team can make that would be bigger than acquiring a league MVP who is coming off a 59-homer season.

But let me tap the brakes on any effort to crown the Yankees now. Remember, the Boston Red Sox won the offseason a year ago at this time with the acquisition of left-handed ace Chris Sale. And although Sale did win 17 games for Boston, and although the Red Sox did win the AL East, they were eliminated from the postseason in the first round by the eventual world champion Houston Astros.

One big, splashy offseason move does not guarantee a championship the following season by any means. There still are questions with the Yankees. Do we think Aaron Boone is going to win a World Series in his first year as a major league manager? I'm not a fan of Joe Girardi, and I don't care that the Yankees let him go, but I'm not convinced Boone is an upgrade.

Will Stanton stay healthy? He was healthy in 2017, all right, but that was only the second time in the past five years that he's appeared in 120 or more games. And will he be as effective if he's asked to DH more frequently? It wouldn't be the first time we've seen an accomplished NL slugger struggle to adjust to a new role.

The other thing I wonder about the Yankees: Can they win a title with Sanchez behind the plate? For all his offensive skill, Sanchez is brutal at one of the most important defensive positions on the field -- if not the most important. I think it's hard to win a world championship with a poor defensive catcher, and Sanchez is that. He had a league-high 16 passed balls last year, to go along with 13 errors. That's terrible.

The Yankees are concerned about Sanchez, too, and I think that's one reason they hired former major league catcher Josh Bard to be Boone's bench coach.

It remains to be seen what this Stanton move will mean, if anything, for the Red Sox. Will they make a big move before these winter meetings are over? 'Tis the season to stay tuned to the MLB Network ...

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Catching up on a few other White Sox roster moves

Jake Petricka
A few other White Sox roster moves to note from the past week:

Relief pitchers Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam and Al Alburquerque, along with utility man Alen Hanson, were not tendered contracts for the 2018 season.

The Sox also avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year contract with relief pitcher Danny Farquhar.

The lesson here? It pays to be healthy. Petricka appeared in only 36 games over the past two seasons (27 in 2017), while Putnam pitched in only 32 games over the past two years (7 in 2017). Both men generally have been useful when available, but if you're not available, what good are you?

No surprise to see the Sox move on from Alburquerque, who was signed a minor-league deal in August. He made 10 appearances in a September call-up, and while he posted a 1.13 ERA in those outings, he only has one effective pitch -- a slider -- and the Sox evidently didn't see enough to believe he can be a useful stopgap in 2018.

They apparently did see enough from Farquhar, who is healthy and posted a 4.20 ERA in 52 appearances combined between the Tampa Bay Rays and Sox last season. Farquhar's fastball-changeup combination makes him a useful piece against left-handed hitters, who slashed a paltry .185/.317/.222 against him in 2017.

As long as manager Rick Renteria is aware of Farquhar's reverse splits -- and I'm sure he is -- the veteran right-hander can help.

Hanson did not distinguish himself in 69 games with the Sox in 2017. He slashed .231/.276/.651 in 175 plate appearances, hitting four homers, driving in 10 runs and stealing nine bases.

Nothing special there, and Hanson is redundant on the roster with the likes of Leury Garcia, Yolmer Sanchez and Tyler Saladino. A team only needs so many utility players, and clearly, Hanson is the odd man out.

With these moves, the Sox's 40-man roster sits at 36.

Monday, December 4, 2017

White Sox sign catcher Welington Castillo to two-year contract

Welington Castillo
Most White Sox fans seemed content with the catching platoon of Kevan Smith and Omar Narvaez going into the 2018 season.

After all, both players performed reasonably well in their first full season in the big leagues in 2017.

Team brass, however, saw it differently. The Sox on Friday signed catcher Welington Castillo to a two-year deal worth $15 million.

He isn't coming here to be the backup.

Castillo, 30, will receive $7.25 million in both 2018 and 2019. The Sox hold an $8 million option for 2020 with a $500,000 buyout.

The eight-year veteran is coming off the best season of his career. He hit .282/.323/.490 with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs in 96 games with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017. The 20 homers represent a career high, but Castillo has reached double figures in home runs for four straight seasons, so it's not unreasonable to expect him to hit 15 to 20 homers again next season.

Castillo also has worked with manager Rick Renteria before, having been a member of the Cubs in 2014. The Sox are hoping Castillo will represent a defensive upgrade over the Smith/Narvaez combo, as well. He has a history of blocking and throwing well, and last year, he threw out 49 percent of runners who attempted to steal against him (24 of 49).

His 7.4 fielding runs above average in 2017 represent a significant upgrade over both Smith (-7.7 fielding runs) and Narvaez (-10.7 fielding runs). Castillo was considered a below average framer until last year, so the hope is maybe he has mastered that skill and can steal a few strikes for what is expected to be a younger pitching staff.

Certainly, Castillo should provide a better offensive presence. Smith and Narvaez combined for only six home runs last season, and neither man is considered the long-term solution at the position. Castillo is here to bridge a gap for two years, because the Sox's best catching prospect (Zack Collins) isn't expected until 2019 under even the best-case scenario.

If Collins is ready to be an everyday catcher by the 2020 season, then the Sox can simply buy Castillo out. Or, if Collins does not develop, the club can pick up Castillo's option and still be in reasonable shape at an important defensive position for a year in which many people project the Sox to be ready to contend.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

White Sox add Eloy Jimenez, four others to 40-man roster

Eloy Jimenez
The White Sox on Monday added five prospects to their 40-man roster ahead of the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft.

Among them, of course, is Eloy Jimenez, the prized outfield prospect the Sox acquired in the Jose Quintana deal. The other four additions are first baseman Casey Gillaspie, pitcher Ian Clarkin and outfielders Micker Adolfo and Luis Alexander Basabe.

To make room on the roster, the Sox outrighted right-handed pitchers Chris Beck and Tyler Danish.

I say good riddance to Beck. I'm not a fan; he always reminded me of Mike MacDougal, and he had the 6.40 ERA over 65 innings with the Sox in 2017 to prove it. I won't rehash why I can't stand Beck, because I've made those points before, so I might as well just provide a link.

Danish struggled as a starter in Triple-A Charlotte this year, and he was in a car crash right at the end of the season that injured his non-throwing shoulder. He seems to be slipping down the organizational depth chart more and more with each passing day.

The Sox's roster is now at 39 players. It's a little bit surprising that neither left-handed pitcher Jordan Guerrero nor infield Jake Peter were added to the roster. Both are midtier prospects that are close to major-league ready, and both could be enticing to teams looking to raid some of the Sox's organizational depth in the Rule 5 draft.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

White Sox acquire hard-throwing right-hander Thyago Vieira

Worried about the White Sox bullpen? Of course you are. What Sox fan isn't?

It's anybody's guess which pitchers will make up the team's relief corps in 2018, but general manager Rick Hahn made a move Thursday that could pay dividends as soon as next season.

The Sox acquired right-hander Thyago Vieira from Seattle in exchange for $500,000 in international signing bonus pool money.

Vieira, 24, made one appearance with the Mariners last year and retired all three batters he faced with one strikeout Aug. 14 against the Baltimore Orioles.

He went 2-4 with a 4.00 ERA, four saves and 46 strikeouts in 41 appearances and 54 innings between Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma in 2017. He limited right-handed hitters to a .194 average. Vieira also was selected to compete for the World Team at the All-Star Futures Game last summer.

While this pitcher's numbers might not be eye-popping, his stuff is. He has an 80-grade fastball that consistently sits between 97 and 100 mph, and tops out at 102. His second-best pitch is a 55-grade curve that showed improvement the second half of last season.

Vieira was ranked as the eighth-best prospect in the Seattle farm system. The Sox's farm system is deeper, so Vieira is now checking in as their 20th-rated prospect.

If Sox pitching coach Don Cooper can harness Vieira's control -- he's walked 4.6 men per nine innings in his minor league career -- this is a potential high-leverage reliever that the Sox acquired for nothing more than cash considerations.

Why, you ask, would Seattle be willing to give up one of its top-10 prospects and receive no players in return?

Well, the Mariners are going to make a run at signing Japanese free agent Shohei Ohtani. The additional international pool money aids them in that quest.

As for the Sox, count Vieira among the young pitchers who will contend for a roster spot when camp opens in the spring.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Jose Abreu trade? Never say never, but it's unlikely

Jose Abreu
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has been asked about the possibility of making another big-splash trade this offseason, which would involve dealing either Jose Abreu or Avisail Garcia.

Predictably, Hahn didn't rule out anything:

“It has to be in play,” Hahn said to reporters. “Everything is in play. Even a couple of years ago when we come to these meetings, there would be all these Chris Sale rumors. The reason for that was we had to keep our options open. There are simply no untouchables. We have to fully vet and understand our players and make an appropriate decision about what is best for the long-term health of the organization.”

Indeed, the Sox are the organization that traded Chris Sale, and if Sale can be dealt, then anyone can be dealt.

But there a few reasons why I think Abreu is likely to remain with the Sox. First and foremost, if a team needs a first baseman, that's one position where there are some reasonable free agent options: Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso.

Wouldn't a club rather sign one of those guys than deal elite prospects to the Sox in exchange for Abreu? I'm thinking yes.

Also, Abreu will be 31 years old when spring training opens. He hasn't shown signs of slowing down, but the free agent first basemen are either younger than him, or in the same age range. Not sure how many clubs in the current marketplace are going to be willing to give up top-50 prospects for a slugger who plays a corner position.

And from Hahn's perspective, if the market doesn't yield top-50 prospects for Abreu, there isn't any incentive to move.

And then there's this:

“His leadership, his role in the clubhouse, the way he plays the game, the example he sets for everyone is important,” Hahn said of Abreu. “It's something that quite frankly may well tilt it so that we value him more than anyone else in the game because we've had the privilege of having him in our clubhouse and know the value that he adds and others are just speculating on that part. Every team in baseball is able to put a value on him based on what he does between the lines. We increase that value to us based on what he does in the clubhouse.”

Somebody has to be the veteran clubhouse presence during the rebuild. That guy is Abreu. In addition to being a good hitter, Abreu brings intangible value, and he's the sort who just might be more valuable to the Sox on the roster than he would be in a trade.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

My favorite memory from Roy Halladay's career

Roy Halladay
The baseball world was shocked and saddened by the news that former All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay died Tuesday when his private plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Halladay, 40, left fans with quite a few memories from his brilliant career. He won the Cy Young award in both leagues. He pitched a perfect game, then fired a no-hitter in the playoffs that same season for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Those are all great accomplishments, but when I think of Halladay, the first thing that comes to mind is a game that I attended July 28, 2007, at U.S. Cellular Field.

What a duel it was that night between Halladay, who was then the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays, and White Sox All-Star Mark Buehrle. The game lasted only two hours, seven minutes, as two of the best in the game at that time put on a pitching clinic.

Buehrle earned the 2-0 win, as he scattered eight hits over eight shutout innings. Despite taking the loss, Halladay fired a 126-pitch complete game. He gave up 10 hits, but most of them did no damage whatsoever.

The lone exception? A two-run homer by Jerry Owens in the bottom of the seventh inning, which scored Danny Richar, who had singled one pitch earlier.

That home run turned out to be the only one of Owens' career in 540 plate appearances. Of all people to produce the game-winning runs against the great Halladay, it was the combination of Owens and Richar.

Owens hooked an inside cutter from Halladay down the right-field line, barely fair and just over the wall 335 feet from home plate. That's the beauty of baseball -- you sometimes see things you never expect to see.

What a great game that was.

And that wasn't the only time Halladay and Buehrle hooked up for a classic duel during the 2007 season. They also pitched against each other in Toronto on May 31. That game took only one hour, 50 minutes to play. The final score of that game also was 2-0, but Halladay got the upper hand with seven shutout innings, while Buehrle took a complete-game loss.

That was the same day Sox great Frank Thomas, then with the Blue Jays, homered off his good friend and former teammate Buehrle.

While we all can enjoy the occasional 13-12 slugfest, for me, there's something great about watching two star-caliber pitchers lock up in a low-scoring game. In those types of games, you never know which pitch is going to be the one that decides the game, and you never who the hero is going to be.

Sometimes it's Frank Thomas, a Hall of Famer, and sometimes it's Jerry Owens, a player long forgotten by most people.

When I think of Roy Halladay, I'm first going to think of that pitchers' duel in July 2007. Even though he was the opponent of my favorite team, it was a joy to watch him compete.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

This year's free agent class is not real strong

Eric Hosmer
The games are over and baseball withdrawal is setting in, so it's time to start talking about free agency.

This year's crop of free agents, honestly, is uninspiring. Most fans are looking ahead to next fall, when big names such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Dallas Keuchel are scheduled to hit the open market. Some teams, in fact, might not be active in free agency this year because they intend to save money to get involved in next offseason's bonanza.

But in the meantime, we have this offseason to talk about, and a good chunk of the key free agents come from the Kansas City Royals. First baseman Eric Hosmer, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas and shortstop Alcides Escobar all are available.

Need pitching? The best starting pitchers available include World Series goat Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and CC Sabathia. Wade Davis is the top closer on the market. The next-best reliever after that probably is Los Angeles Dodgers setup man Brandon Morrow.

Other hitters on the market include outfielders J.D. Martinez and Jay Bruce and catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

The other intrigue this winter involves Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. The slugger is owed $275 million over the final 10 years of his contract, and it's unclear at this point whether new ownership in Miami will seek to trade him.

If Stanton is traded, that likely will be a bigger impact move than any free agent signing this offseason.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Houston Astros win 2017 World Series with 5-1 victory over Los Angeles Dodgers

George Springer
The Houston Astros lost 111 games in 2013. Four years later, they are the best team in baseball.

The Astros completed their climb from the bottom of the pit to the top of the mountain Wednesday with a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series.

This World Series was one of the most dramatic in a long time, but somewhat surprisingly, Game 7 might have been the only "boring" game of the bunch. The Astros roughed up Los Angeles starter Yu Darvish, scoring five runs in the first two innings. There was never a point where you felt as though the Dodgers could overcome the early 5-0 deficit.

The MVP vote was a foregone conclusion. Leadoff hitter George Springer was right in the middle of everything Houston did offensively in Game 7. His double started a two-run rally in the first inning, and his two-run homer in the second inning capped a three-run rally that made it 5-0.

Springer homered for the fourth consecutive game, tying a World Series record. He hit five home runs total in the series. That also ties a record. Springer posted a .379/.471/1.000 slash line for the series with 11 hits -- eight for extra bases -- and eight runs scored.

Yes, that's a clear MVP-worthy performance.

If we were to pick a LVP (Least Valuable Player) off the Dodgers roster, it would have to be Darvish. The midseason acquisition let Los Angeles down big time, failing to make it out of the second inning in both of his World Series starts.

In Game 7, Darvish lasted only 1.2 innings, allowing five runs (four earned). In Game 3, he lasted only 1.2 innings, allowing four earned runs. Final line: 0-2 with a 21.60 ERA.

The Dodgers acquired Darvish with the idea that he would be a "second ace" behind Clayton Kershaw. That just didn't work out.

Houston, meanwhile, navigated Game 7 by using five different pitchers, most of whom are not household names. Starter Lance McCullers hit four batters and allowed three hits in his 2.1 innings, but he managed to keep the Dodgers off the board.

Brad Peacock tossed two scoreless innings, and Francisco Liriano and Chris Devenski each retired the only hitter that they faced. That left the final four innings to right-hander Charlie Morton, who allowed a run in the sixth but shut the door in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Morton struck out four and allowed only two hits to earn the victory. The 33-year-old journeyman was a free agent coming off surgery last offseason. Any team could have had him, but not many teams wanted him. And how could they? Morton entered 2017 with a career 46-71 record with a 4.54 ERA.

The Astros took a chance on revitalizing Morton's career, and it came up aces. He made 25 starts during the regular season and went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA. On Wednesday night, he recorded the 12 biggest outs of his 10-year career in the majors with a performance that likely will never be forgotten in Houston.

When a team wins a championship, its season is usually characterized by not only big performances from core stars (Springer), but also unexpected contributions from players who are perceived as being on the margins (Morton).

The Astros got what they needed when they needed it, and I think they surprised a lot of people by vanquishing the big-money, 104-win Dodgers.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dodgers stick with their plan, force Game 7

Rich Hill
For the second year in a row and third time in four years, the World Series is going seven games.

The Los Angeles Dodgers forced a decisive game Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 6.

Game 7 is Wednesday night. Yu Darvish gets the start for Los Angeles. Lance McCullers will be on the mound for Houston.

Give the Dodgers credit: They are smarter than me, and they stuck with the plan that has made them successful throughout the season and playoffs. They don't like to allow their starters to go through a lineup more than two times, and they are standing by that belief. I thought they needed six innings from starter Rich Hill to win Game 6. They didn't. I was wrong.

Hill was effective, giving them 4.2 innings of one-run ball, but when he got in trouble in the fifth, manager Dave Roberts quickly went to the bullpen.

I didn't think Brandon Morrow had anything left in the tank after his poor performance in Game 5, but he got the biggest out of the game in the top of the fifth inning. He entered with the Dodgers trailing, 1-0. The Astros had the bases loaded with two outs, and Game 5 hero Alex Bregman was at the plate.

Morrow retired Bregman on a routine grounder to shortstop to keep it a one-run game, and the right-hander went on to record the first two outs of the sixth inning, as well.

The Dodgers broke through with two runs in the bottom of the sixth off Justin Verlander, highlighted by an RBI double by Chris Taylor and a sacrifice fly by Corey Seager. They added a third run in the seventh when Joc Pederson homered off Joe Musgrove.

This time, the Los Angeles bullpen was up to the task of protecting a lead, and much to my surprise, the Dodgers used Kenley Jansen for a six-out save. Jansen retired every batter he faced the final two innings, with three strikeouts, and he needed only 19 pitches to get the job done.

I figured Jansen would be good for only three outs in Game 6, but with that efficiency, he worked two innings with ease. It could be key that he kept his pitch count low in closing out Tuesday's game, in the likely event he'll be needed in the late innings of Game 7.

We'll see what Darvish can provide for the Dodgers. He was terrible in Game 3, getting knocked out in the second inning. The leash will be short in Game 7, of course, but that's especially true knowing Clayton Kershaw should be available to relieve at some point.

As for the Astros, they missed a big chance to close it out with their best guy on the mound in Game 6. Now, they'll have to piece the pitching together in Game 7, starting with McCullers. Will we see Dallas Keuchel in relief in Game 7? Probably.

Would Verlander come back for an inning after throwing 93 pitches Tuesday? Doubt it, but you never know. Charlie Morton, Houston's Game 4 starter, might be called upon to work in relief as well.

I'm guessing the Astros are going to need a big offensive night in order to win. In Houston's three victories in this series, it has scored 25 runs. In its three losses, it has scored four runs.

The Dodgers have won two 3-1 games in this series. They have had the advantage in the pitchers' duels. The Astros are at an advantage when the game becomes a slugfest.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Game 6 of the World Series ... a couple of key questions

Justin Verlander
The Los Angeles Dodgers are at home, facing a must-win situation Tuesday in Game 6 of the 2017 World Series. The Houston Astros lead the series, 3-2, and have two chances to capture the first championship in franchise history, but they'll have to do it on the road.

It would be hard for Game 6 to top the drama of Game 5, but here's a couple of key questions -- one for each team -- going into this game.

For Houston .... who closes?

The Astros have it set up just the way they want it. Their best pitcher, Justin Verlander, is on the mound with a chance to secure a title. Both bullpens are taxed, so it's a huge advantage for Houston to have this right-hander on its side. Verlander is the only starting pitcher to complete a game in these playoffs.

Can Verlander go all nine innings in Game 6? Well, maybe, but that's a lot to ask. And what happens if Verlander gets through seven or eight innings with a lead, but doesn't have enough left in the tank to finish?

Where do the Astros turn when their two best relievers during the season -- Ken Giles and Chris Devenski -- have blown multi-run leads during this series and generally have been arsonists?

How about Lance McCullers? Sure, he's slated to start Game 7, if necessary. But if you're Houston manager A.J. Hinch, and you have a lead late in Game 6, perhaps you push your chips to the center of the table, go to your best option and try to close it out right then and there.

For me, the next-best option after Verlander is McCullers.

For Los Angeles ... how long can Rich Hill go?

Hill started Game 2 for the Dodgers, and he was effective. He allowed only one run over four innings, but he was given a quick hook. Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts just wanted Hill to get through the Houston batting order twice before turning it over to the bullpen, which had been dominant up until that point in the postseason.

That backfired on Roberts in Game 2. Dodgers relievers coughed up six runs in a 7-6 loss, and Houston has been proving over and over again since that it can score against the Los Angeles bullpen.

As we've noted, Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow have been used a lot. They probably cannot be counted upon for multiple innings in this game, even though it is a must-win for the Dodgers.

It's imperative that Hill pitch effectively into the sixth inning, and perhaps he needs to get through the sixth inning for the Dodgers to win.

Based on what I've seen, Roberts needs to stay away from Morrow in this game. Kenta Maeda and Tony Watson seem to be the best bets to form a bridge from Hill to Jansen. And, yes, despite Jansen's diminished effectiveness, I think the Dodgers should go to him in a closing situation. He's still their best option, but they probably shouldn't ask him for more than three outs.

If Los Angeles can get through this Game 6, then maybe it can go Yu Darvish to Morrow to Jansen in a Game 7 situation.