2019 Chicago White Sox Wrap Up and Offseason Primer

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Well, here we are again, at the end of another losing season. The seventh in a row. But for the first time, I legitimately have a good feeling about the upcoming season. Now, clearly it’s too early to make any definitive predictions, since the postseason hasn’t even begun and no transactions will be made until after the World Series (and maybe even after the winter meetings, if last year is any indication of the future), but I’m going to do my best to gaze into the future based on what I hear and read from team sources and the Chicago press, as well as my own guesses culled from 30 years of following this franchise.

A lot of what I’m going to touch on will be taken directly from the end-of-season press conference with White Sox GM Rick Hahn, who, I assume, knows more about what’s going on within his own team than the fans who watch, so I will take his word about things that he is being, shall we say, “forceful” about. Because he is the man in charge.

Beginning with the coaching staff. I am not expecting much, if any, turnover. However, Hahn did make two statements that caught me off guard. First, he refused to say that the staff would remain intact. Second, he made a point of saying that this staff was built to foster player development. Which I found interesting considering that Don Cooper has been the pitching coach for 17 years and hitting coach Todd Steverson has been in his position since 2014. First base coach Daryl Boston has also been at his spot since 2013. So why these “player development” coaches were in place in 2016, for instance, I don’t know. I do, however, think that is giving Hahn some leeway to make some changes.

I do NOT, however, think that any of the previously mentioned coaches will be going anywhere. I had thought that, conceivably, third base coach Nick Capra could be moved elsewhere (he won’t be fired considering he’s been in the organization for well over 20 years as a coach and manager) to allow Birmingham Barons manager Omar Vizquel to have a spot on the MLB staff and, eventually, replace Rick Renteria. I now realize I was totally off on that because the Sox seem hellbent on allowing Renteria to manage as long as he wants to and Vizquel’s name has already been mentioned for the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates managerial openings. It’s hard to keep a good manager secret.

So, if there is a move, I don’t know where it would be. I can’t imagine the Sox getting rid of Joe McEwing, who I believe has a future as a manager somewhere. Curt Hasler in the bullpen? I mean, the Sox let Bobby Thigpen go and no reason was given.

Now, on to the 2019 roster. There was some amazing growth, with Tim Anderson winning the American League batting title (.335 average) out of nowhere (after hitting a lackluster .240 last season) and Yoan Moncada (.315, 25 home runs, 79 RBI) and rookie Eloy Jimenez (.267, 31 home runs, 79 RBI) showing what they’re capable of doing in a full season.

Joe Abreu (.284, 33 home runs, an American League-leading 123 RBI) had an outstanding season, as did James McCann (.273, 18 home runs, 60 RBI), the two most-veteran players offensively. Both of whom I feel should be locked up with long-term contracts, as McCann will be a free agent following the 2020 season and Abreu will be in a month.

But there were also holes. Second base and right field and designated hitter. Second base seems to already have a superior replacement, with Nick Madrigal (.311, 4 home runs, 55 RBI, 35 stolen bases across three minor league levels) replacing all-glove, no bat Yolmer Sanchez (.252, 2 home runs, 43 RBI), especially with Yolmer about to hit around $6 million in salary for the 2020 season and better players (like Danny Mendick, who hit .282 overall with 19 home runs, 68 RBI and 19 stolen bases across AAA and at the MLB level) available to hold down second base until Madrigal is “ready” to take over in mid-April.

Right field was beyond awful, being manned by Daniel Palka (.107, 2 home runs, 4 RBI), Jon Jay (.267, 0 home runs, 9 RBI), Charlie Tilson (.229, 1 home run, 12 RBI) and Ryan Cordell (.221, 7 home runs, 24 RBI) during the season. An upgrade is badly needed.

Now we start to get into what’s available and what’s likely. Clearly, the biggest available name will be Mookie Betts, even though he’s not a free agent, he is expected to be traded and spend his final season before free agency somewhere other than Boston. That “somewhere” will definitely not be with the White Sox, as the cost in players wouldn’t be worth one season before he would invariably leave as a free agent for a $250 million deal elsewhere. Among free agents, there’s not much available in terms of guys who would “fit” the rebuild, though my choice (Yasiel Puig), does on every level. He hasn’t yet turned 29, he will not be cost-prohibitive, and his numbers (.267, 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 19 stolen bases) dwarf the combined numbers of 2019 Sox right fielders. Adding to that, he made $9.7 million in 2019, so even with a pay bump, he should fit right in. The fact that he would be on a team with a number of other Cuban players will help as well.

Then there are the right fielders I’m not fond of hearing about, including Kole Calhoun (.232, 33 home runs, 74 RBI), whom I believe benefited greatly from the juiced ball, as his previous three season totals in home runs were 19, 19 and 18, respectively, and he’s just about to turn 32. Also rumored regularly are Nick Castellanos (.289, 27 home runs, 73 RBI), Gerardo Parra (.234, 9 home runs, 48 RBI, about to turn 33) and our old buddy Avisail Garcia (.282, 20 home runs, 72 RBI) coming off a one-year deal with the Rays. Another good option in right is Corey Dickerson (.304, 12 home runs, 59 RBI) who played only 78 games in 2019 due to injury but won’t turn 31 until may and has a .286 career batting average.

I keep hearing and reading that potentially the Sox can trade for a right fielder, but this brings up two questions. First, who would they acquire and second, what would they send back in this hypothetical deal? Two things we know about the White Sox minor league system is that it is top heavy (outstanding top prospects and little depth) and injury-prone. And with the lack of depth on the MLB roster, the Sox can’t afford to be sending prospect packages out in trades because this rebuild has been razor thin from the start.

So, in a perfect world, the first move I make (outside of contract extensions for Jose Abreu and James McCann) is a four-year deal for Yasiel Puig to handle right field.

That leaves us with a pretty solid group in the field, with McCann behind the plate, an infield of Abreu at first, Madrigal at second, Anderson at shortstop and Moncada at third, and an outfield of Jimenez in left, Luis Robert (.328, 32 home runs, 92 RBI, 36 stolen bases and 108 runs scored across three minor league levels) in center and Puig in right. That is a group with power, speed and sufficient defensive ability assuming there is some improvement from Anderson and Jimenez and Robert is as advertised.

It’s here I want to bring up Anthony Rendon, who is mentioned pretty regularly as a possible target and it literally makes me angry to hear it. This would be signing a guy just to sign a guy, he doesn’t fit an area of need and there’s no logic to it. And I’m glad I waited until today to write this piece, because just a couple of hours ago I found out that the Washington Nationals had offered Rendon a seven-year contract for $215 million which instantly removes him from consideration because the word in the media is 100% unified that the Chicago White Sox won’t spend $200 million on a player. There may have been an offer to Manny Machado last year that in some way was in the ballpark of over $200 million and conceivably close to $250 million, but that was a once-in-a-lifetime offer. Machado was considered a legitimate franchise player, which Rendon is not. And the fact that signing Rendon would probably lead to Moncada moving back to second base, where he is not as comfortable and removing Madrigal from the equation entirely, makes absolutely no sense in any way. So I’m glad we know that offer is on the table from the Nats.

There is one offensive spot that I haven’t talked about yet, and that’s the DH spot, which was horrible last season, as White Sox designated hitters combined to hit .205 with 17 home runs. As everyone knows, the name that keeps coming up is J.D. Martinez (.304, 36 home runs, 105 RBI), who may opt out of his five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox.

At first, I was completely against this idea. But it’s starting to grow on me. The main reason I held my nose at the idea in the first place was Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche and Yonder Alonso, all of whom were signed to be the full-time DH and promptly fell flat on their faces. But now I’m figuring lighting can only strike in the same spot so many times, right? And Martinez is a better hitter than any of the three previous mistakes.

My big issue here is money. I heard on a recent White Sox Talk podcast that the White Sox should just offer him his current deal. OK, I’m not a genius, but even I know that there’s no point in opting out of a contract just to sign an identical deal. His only reason for opting out would be to improve on the deal he already has. So you can scratch five years at $110 million off and consider that below the going rate. Would the White Sox be willing to go five years and, say, $130 million for a designated hitter? Time will tell. Most people (fans especially) seem to think it’s a done deal, J.D. Martinez will be the White Sox DH on Opening Day. I’m warming up to it, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

The other options among guys who are regular DH’s isn’t exactly anything to get excited over, with Edwin Encarnacion (.244, 34 home runs, 86 RBI and about to turn 37) and Nelson Cruz (.311, 41 home runs, 108 RBI and about to turn 40) as the best of the rest.

While Cruz is an incredible slugger, his age clearly doesn’t fit in with the Sox timetable.

So, my choice here is spend the money, see if J.D. Martinez will sign for five years and $130 million and if not, the Sox may be stuck with a revolving door at DH again, with Abreu and Zack Collins and alternating between the spot, with Collins filling in at first base. I think if this turns out to be the plan, the Sox will need to acquire another catcher or hope that Yermin Mercedes or Seby Zavala can somehow hold down the fort for the season.

With Martinez, the Sox have an incredible lineup, assuming Robert and Madrigal play up to their potential and Moncada and Jimenez continue to improve. I’ll take that lineup against most any in baseball. Without Martinez, they still should score some runs.

But no matter how many runs you score, you still have to give up fewer, which brings us to the pitching staff. And before I even begin, Rick Hahn has said as much (and the press has clearly stated) forget Gerrit Cole, the Sox aren’t signing anyone to a $200 million contract and Scott Boras has already said that $200 million will be the opening bid. So the idea of the White Sox signing the best of the best at any position is a pipe dream.

That does not mean there are not some damn good starting pitchers available. My pick would be Zack Wheeler (11-8, 3.96 ERA, 195 K’s in 195 innings), who won’t turn 30 until May, and due to losing the 2015 and 2016 seasons to injury, he has less wear and tear on his arm (749 career innings) than most pitchers at his age. Other reasonable options include Jake Odorizzi (15-7, 3.51 ERA, 178 K’s in 159 innings) and Alex Wood, who is coming off an injury-plagued season of only seven starts but is only 28 years old and was a 16-game winner (and an All Star) as recently as 2017. Any of the three would be a rotation upgrade over Dylan Covey (6-29 career record, 6.54 career ERA) and the other losers who filled in the rotation last season outside of Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Ivan Nova and Reynaldo Lopez.

With Michael Kopech coming back in 2020, we can basically fill in a rotation spot with him, but Nova (11-12, 4.72 ERA, 114 K’s in 187 innings and lead the American League allowing 225 hits) is a free agent, so his spot will need filling, even if he resigns with the Sox.

I think a rotation of Wheeler, Giolito, Kopech, Lopez and Cease is solid and while it’s not at the level of the offense, I think in a couple of years that it could be outstanding.

As starting pitching goes, the name I hear consistently is Dallas Keuchel, and I didn’t like it last year and I don’t like it this year. He’s basically a .500 pitcher now, as he finished 8-8 with the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves and finished 12-11 with the playoff-bound Houston Astros in 2018. He’ll be 32 in January and he’s definitely not a top-of-the-rotation ace anymore, he’s more along the lines of a third or fourth starter, and definitely not worth three years and $60 million. Look how paying that kind of money worked out for the Philadelphia Phillies with Jake Arrieta, who cashed in with a three-year deal for $75 million and has since gone 18-19 with the Phillies, and he’s only a year older than Keuchel.

There’s not much to say about the bullpen, we know Alex Colome will be back in the closer role with Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Bummer representing the best of the rest. I’m hopeful Jimmy Cordero comes back, he was outstanding in 2019 and definitely deserves a spot, along with Evan Marshall. I hope we’ve seen the last of Covey, Ross Detwiler, Jace Fry and Carson Fulmer, as none of them are legit pieces of a playoff team’s pitching staff.

I have heard multiple times that one reliever the White Sox will be in on is Dellin Betances, in spite of the fact that he pitched in a total of one game in 2019 (pitching 2/3 of an inning with 2 K’s) but I’m not sure that’s the smartest move the Sox could make there.

Most of the available free agent relievers are in their mid-30s and probably won’t be around for any kind of long-term run. They’ll be signed and flipped if the Sox fall out of the playoff race in 2020, or replaced from within once the season ends next year.

So, the team I want to see is clear, as I mentioned above. But I am legitimately worried that one of two things could happen that will ruin the offseason, the first being that the Sox, desperate to show they “belong at the big boy table,” will blow their whole wad on Anthony Rendon, who doesn’t fill a need and just upsets the team at two positions and makes a former first-round pick (Madrigal) seem a waste (which rebuilding teams can’t afford to do a lot of) or they are going to play it cozy and we’ll hear “year four” all season and they’ll sign the likes of Drew Smyly for the rotation (4-7, 6.24 ERA, 120 K’s in 114 innings) and Lonnie Chisenhall (didn’t play a single MLB game in 2019) for right field. As a Sox fan, I am conditioned to expect that the team will lowball and try to find players who won’t make much money and probably won’t make much impact and hope to catch lighting in a bottle, as my good friend Paul Scarpelli says. But that rarely works.

So as of now, with the roster in the shape it’s in at this moment, I see a team that should finish 82-80 and probably eight to ten games out of the Wild Card chase. Bring in Wheeler and J.D. Martinez and Yasiel Puig and I think you have a team capable of 88 to 90 wins and a definitive Wild Card contender. This is, of course, barring injuries to any of the main contributors, because the Sox just don’t have the depth to cover a major injury. The fact that Dylan Covey has made 45 starts and made 60 appearances in three years shows just how bad the depth is in this organization. The Yankees can plug and play because they have outstanding talent and outstanding depth, the Sox lack that depth.

I’m excited about the 2020 season and beyond, because even though the White Sox will never compete for top free agents or ever draft exceptionally well, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a player like Luis Robert or Eloy Jimenez or even Yoan Moncada could be an MVP one day, and Giolito, Cease and Kopech could easily develop into consistent contenders for the Cy Young Award. The talent is here, it just needs to be supplemented with quality players who play positions of need. And they need to stay healthy.

I’ll blog again about this around the Winter Meetings, though I do worry that last year’s lack of activity may be an omen of things to come this year, especially with the possibility of a work stoppage looming in 2021, which would be the ultimate slap in the face to any Chicago White Sox fan after what happened during the last work stoppage in 1994. But we’ll worry about that when the time comes, for now, let’s look forward to the 2019-20 offseason.

Thank you for reading. And GO SOX!

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Jason J. Connor’s Chicago White Sox Update: July 18, 2019

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It’s been a while since I’ve given my blog the attention it deserves from a baseball standpoint because I’ve been too busy beating my own head against the wall. That will change from this point forward as I would like to put 100% into my blog and keep my life’s focus on the things that are important to me and forget the nonsense.

As I write this entry, the Chicago White Sox are mired in a seven-game losing streak, and not against what you would call “top flight” competition; a three game sweep at the hands of the Oakland A’s (at 55-41 a good bet to make a Wild Card run but nowhere close to being able to compete with teams like the Twins, Yankees and Astros), followed by a four-game sweep at the hands of the 36-62 Kansas City Royals, one of the three worst teams in baseball and the first time the Sox lost four in a row to KC in 25 years.

Since the All Star Break, the White Sox are 0-7 and have lost nine of their last ten overall.

A lot of things have been said about this team since January, some of which have been hushed up and replaced with different statements, and all of them bother me.

For example, early in the offseason, general manager Rick Hahn announced that this year we expected to see “results.” I assumed that meant in terms of the team’s record or in terms of the team’s play. Either/or. In spite of this current losing streak, the team is still ahead of it’s 2018 pace, but that pace was so horrible (62-100 record to end the season) that anything would be an improvement. There has been obvious improvement by a number of players (Jose Abreu and Lucas Giolito were both all stars and had equaled their output, in terms of home runs and wins, respectively, by mid-season).

But the team remains directionless due to their shortcomings in the manager’s chair.

This team is bound and determined to sink (or swim) with Ricky Renteria managing the team. I think his concept of “managing” is making up a different lineup every day regardless of what works and what doesn’t, and making as many pitching changes as possible. That is all that managing a baseball team requires, and he must be the best at it because the very idea of finding a better manager is spat upon by the front office.

Speaking of the front office, they have a bad habit of dishonesty, which I have touched on before. Friends of mine have argued with me that the rebuild had no timetable and I was quite certain there was a timetable for the White Sox rebuild, and announcer Steve Stone spilled the beans on a recent broadcast (and doubled down this afternoon) about the rebuild being a “five-year plan.” Since it started following the 2016 season, that means the rebuild will last until 2021 and the team is expected to be a World Series contender by 2022. OK, fair enough. They should have just said so in the beginning.

Instead, they put on a show about trying to acquire free agent infielder/superstar Manny Machado, down to trying to acquire him via trade from the Baltimore Orioles before he hit free agency. They traded for his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, and signed one of his best friends, Jon Jay, as a free agent. It turns out this was all a smokescreen. I don’t think they ever had any intention of making a legit offer to Machado. Let me explain.

Over the course of the winter, it was announced at one point the Sox had made Machado an offer of eight years, $175 million. This was quickly hushed up and it was announced that the offer was actually for eight years and $225 million. Either way it fell well short of the deal he signed with the Padres, both in years (10) and total compensation ($300 million). The White Sox weren’t even in the same ballpark with their ridiculous offer.

They tried to save face later on and explained that the deal “could have been” worth $350 million over ten years but that they could not afford $300 million over ten years.

Yes, I don’t get that either, other than the fact that the offer was more than likely eight years at $225 million (after he, no doubt, laughed in their face at the $175 million offer) and there may have been two option years valued at $125 million to make it seem that there was a “real” $350 million offer, but simply declining the “option” years would have left it at what it was at face value, far below the market price for a guy in Machado’s position.

So that was all a farce. They never had any intention of seriously pushing to acquire Machado. I’m not saying they didn’t want him, but they wanted him at their massive discount price, not at the price he ended up getting. And as for his brother-in-law (who has since been released), that was an $8 million mistake that I should have seen coming a mile away, because the White Sox declined to tender a $2 million contract to infielder/DH/pitcher Matt Davidson, and had made a point of not discussing his opportunities to pitch in 2019 because they knew all along he wouldn’t be back.

The next lie the front office laid out was they would not be acquiring anyone who didn’t fit into their vision of the future, yet they signed a 34-year old outfielder who can neither hit home runs or steal bases and is a bit of a liability in the outfield. Jon Jay.

Let’s stop being fanboys for a second and think about what this rebuild has meant to the bottom dollar for ownership. According to recent news, the White Sox are second in MLB in rising attendance, which means more money coming into the franchise. And the MLB roster is loaded down with guys making the minimum or there-about, with the exception of Jose Abreu who is the highest-paid player on the team by far.

The Pittsburgh Pirates taught me about that end of a rebuild, the more young players you have making the minimum, the less payroll you’re spending. Ownership likes that, especially if those young players pan out and more people want to go to the ballpark to watch them play. Then you trade them for other young players, making the minimum, when the players in question hit their salary arbitration years and are scheduled to make more money. In other words, acquire the best talent you can that is young enough to not be making much money. And you can do it in perpetuity and call it a “rebuild.”

After the Machado “chase” fell through, the fanboys started thinking who they could acquire with all that cash the team is suddenly flush with and the first name to come up was Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies, which made zero sense as he plays third base which is where Yoan Moncada is now set and he is supposed to be one of the pillars of the rebuild. I guess you could DH Arenado but he’s one of the best defensive players in baseball so that wouldn’t exactly make any sense, but it was a moot point because he signed a $260 million extension with the Rockies the White Sox couldn’t have even begun to afford, and I’m sure the Rockies got a hometown discount on him anyway.

Then Sox fanboys started dreaming of Washington Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon, the guy who will be at the top of the 2019-20 free agent listings. Who also plays third base and presents the same problems as Arenado, as he is negotiating a long-term deal with the Nats, plays third base and is defensively outstanding, as well as being far out of the White Sox contract comfort zone. So, another senseless waste of time.

The fact is, the White Sox fanboys aren’t interested in needs, they simply want a “Jon Lester acquisition.” This is in reference to Jon Lester being the star player the Chicago Cubs signed that put them over the top of their rebuild and lead them to a World Series title. What Sox fanboys fail to mention here is that (a) Lester was a need, as the Cubs starting rotation wasn’t top-notch without him and (b) he had a history with Cubs general manager Theo Epstein, which made his acquisition a lot less surprising.

If the White Sox are taking this rebuild seriously, they know their “Jon Lester acquisition” also needs to be a starting pitcher. The White Sox could have a killer lineup, but their pitching is suspect, to say the least. Both in the rotation and the bullpen. There are a ton of “what if’s” and very little actual production. The lineup is showing actual production, from James McCann and Jose Abreu to Yoan Moncada to Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez (when they’re healthy) and some of the legit hole-pluggers in the minors (Luis Robert in center field and Nick Madrigal at second base) could be legit superstars.

The lineup is not the problem. The pitching staff in total is the problem.

The only starting pitcher in this organization to win more than 15 games at the MLB level is Ivan Nova, who is a one-season stopgap and who won 16 games for the New York Yankees back in 2011. He hasn’t won more than 12 games in a season since.

Adding to the lack of production is the insane number of injuries White Sox organizational pitchers have endured in the past couple of years. Those injuries not only can ruin a career, but they’re losing valuable time and experience. And that will hurt.

I am all for this rebuild and I got really tired of the 70 to 78 win seasons, year in and year out with no hope for the future. Now there is hope for the future, even if that future is guaranteed to end by 2027 because all the young prospects will be hitting salary arbitration or free agency in that general time frame and at that point, it’s gonna get ugly again. And this is all assuming there’s no work stoppage in 2021.

I would like to see the team stay the course but begin by upgrading the coaching staff. The only guy on this staff that doesn’t annoy me is Daryl Boston, the first base coach. Everyone else should be replaced by more competent coaches who can teach these kids how to play instead of “here is our 150th different lineup in 150 games… Go up and try to hit a home run every at-bat… I think I’ll burn through the bullpen tonight and worry about the ramifications of it later” kind of bullshit. Because clearly, that ain’t working.

I would like to see all of the top prospects called up within the next year, not to be optioned back down in a week, but to learn at the MLB level and see if the talent matches the forecast. This will not only help in talent evaluation for the players themselves, but also to see where the holes are that will require future free agent signings or trades.

Jon Jay should follow Yonder Alonso out of town and a young player should be getting evaluated in his place. Is Jon Jay going to be with the White Sox in 2022? For that matter, I would guess he’ll be retired by 2022. His spot on the roster is being taken by a guy who has no future with this team. Send him packing and call up a youngster and see if he, in fact, has a future with this team. And I know fanboys will cry about service time and the fact that the team can’t manipulate it if they call the kids up too early.

Too bad. This isn’t a typical situation like most of the other teams are dealing with. And the White Sox have been smart in locking up their young players with long-term, “cheap” contracts that eliminate the worry about things like service time.

Back in the 1990s and 2000s I can remember Jerry Reinsdorf talking about managers or general managers who could take the team from point A, to point, B to point C, with point C being a championship. I wish he would go back and think about that, because there is no doubt in my mind at all that Ricky Renteria is not gonna take this team to point C.

As I said earlier, this may ultimately come to nothing, if there’s a 2021 work stoppage it may cripple this franchise like it did in 1994, though the current franchise has a lot more depth in the minor leagues than the franchise did in 1994, it still took six years for them to redevelop into a contender (2000 AL Central champions) and 11 years to redevelop into a championship team (2005 World Series champions). I don’t think any of us want to sit through a five-year rebuild and have to wait for 2030 for a championship win.

Right now this team should be talented enough to avoid a four-game sweep by one of the worst teams in baseball but that’s clearly not the case. With a series against a really solid Tampa Bay Rays team coming up this weekend, things don’t look good for the streak being broken any time soon. They say this kind of thing builds character, but how much character does a young team need at this point in it’s development? They need to learn to WIN.

I stick by my projection I made seven months ago, this team will finish the year 72-90. That will mean a long and difficult second half, but it will also mean a ten-game improvement from 2018 and that’s nothing to snicker at. Next season, if Michael Kopech delivers and Dylan Cease develops and Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert turn out to be all they are advertised this will be a .500 team and that would be another ten-game improvement. Then if Carlos Rodon comes back fully in 2021 and Nick Madrigal locks down second base and the Sox get their “Jon Lester acquisition,” another ten-win improvement and you have a team with 90+ wins and probably another AL Central Division championship.

It’s there for the taking, but everything has to work out and a managerial change is absolutely necessary. I have no doubt about that. But it’s gonna take some work besides. Yes, I’m annoyed at the current state of affairs, anyone who is a fan would be annoyed at a seven-game losing streak that is not against the best of the best, but it is hopefully just a blip on the radar and nothing more, and things will continue to improve on a year-by-year basis. The foundation is in place, it just needs to work out all the way down the line.

Thank you for taking the time to read. Peace.

Five Changes I Would Make Immediately As General Manager Of The Chicago White Sox

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I’m going to begin this piece by admitting that there’s a chance I could have been wrong in my preseason prediction that the Chicago White Sox would finish the season with a 72-90 record. Now, granted, it’s not even June yet, but the team is still showing signs of being more than competent at this point in the rebuild, as of today (May 30), the team is 26-29, in third place in the American League Central and two games behind the second-place Cleveland Indians, though 11.5 games behind the division-leading Minnesota Twins. Three games under .500, at this point, would have been a dream scenario.

At the time I made my prediction, I didn’t think 72-90 was out of line at all. That’s a ten-game improvement from 2018. That’s nothing to snicker at. That’s 76-win territory and 76 wins is just five games below .500. I could foresee a consistent ten-game improvement over this and the next couple of years. A 72-90 record in 2019 would be an 82-80 record in 2020 and you’ve got a ballclub over .500. Another ten game improvement in 2021 and you have a 90-72 record and, more than likely, an AL Central Division title.

If the 2019 team is currently on a pace to finish five games under .500, it would seem that this rebuild could be sped up a bit, and there are a few ways to do that.

Here is my five step plan to improving this team right now to finish .500:

Yonder Alonso should be designated for assignment immediately and Jon Jay should as soon as he is healthy. We know there was only one reason these two were signed in the first place, and that was to placate Manny Machado. Well, Manny didn’t sign. As of May 30, Alonso is hitting .172 with six home runs as the regular cleanup hitter for the Sox, while Jay hasn’t seen the field due to injury. The Sox passed on resigning Matt Davidson for less than $3 million to acquire Alonso and his $7 million salary. These two have brought nothing to the table this year and won’t be around next. Let’s expedite the process and send them packing now, which leads to my second point…

Call up Matt Skole or Daniel Palka from AAA Charlotte to replace Alonso. Both players have double digits in home runs and batting averages in the .260 to .270 range, 100 points higher than Alonso. They are both several years younger than Alonso and both left-handed hitters. And Palka can play a laughable outfield while Skole can also double at first or third base. Neither will be an MVP, but either would be an upgrade.

Call up Zack Collins and designate Welington Castillo for assignment. We have a legit All Star catcher in James McCann who should be getting the bulk of the work behind the plate. Castillo is a has-been whose best days are behind him. This is the time that Collins, the Sox catcher of the future, should be in Chicago, learning as a backup and getting two or three starts per week, while learning the intricacies of the position from one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and one of the best handlers of pitchers as well. These are things a kid like Collins could be learning up close right now.

Call up Carson Fulmer and Dylan Cease from AAA Charlotte. Fulmer needs to be a long reliever and spot starter at the Major League level. That’s his future, if he remains in the organization, so he should be doing it NOW. Cease has breezed through the minors and needs to be working at the MLB level. The whole point of the rebuild was to acquire the young players to compete, so those young players should be learning at the highest level. What you do in AAA doesn’t make any difference in the long run.

Replace the coaching staff. While it may seem strange to make a change like that when the team is trending upward, it also happens with every rebuild. Two recent examples being the Houston Astros (in 2014 they fired Bo Porter after a 72-90 season and replaced him with A.J. Hinch, who lead them to an 86-76 record in 2015 and a World Series title in 2017 with a 101-61 record) and the Chicago Cubs (who fired Rick Renteria after a 73-89 season and replaced him with Joe Maddon, who lead them to a 97-65 record in 2015 and a World Series title in 2016 with a 103-58 record). Now would be a good time to allow Omar Vizquel to take over as manager and hire his own staff.

A lot of these moves are no-brainers. This would allow the youngsters to learn at the highest level, under a manager who was also learning. Do you want to wait until you’re on the cusp of contending to make these moves? Or do you want to allow everyone to learn while they are in a position to make mistakes and learn from them?

There is a lot of talent on this team. James McCann, Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez make a solid foundation to build upon. Add Skole and Palka and Collins and Fulmer and Cease to that group and it gets a lot better. What’s to be accomplished by keeping placeholders in the lineup?

I want to see this rebuild work and I want this team to win. I think this is the best way to achieve that at this point in the rebuild. And none of my ideas are completely ridiculous, like signing major free agents to contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These are legitimate, common-sense changes that could make a huge difference.

Thank you for reading, and GO SOX!

Talkin’ Baseball #2 (February 27, 2019)

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While doing this series, I’m trying to avoid overloading with so much White Sox coverage but considering the topic, I have very little choice right now.

I’m going to have to talk about Manny Machado again.

Not because I want to, but because that seems to be the only thing the Chicago media can focus on. Not Machado, necessarily, but the fact that the White Sox made him an offer and that seems to be tantamount to actually accomplishing something.

I don’t get it. As the old saying goes, “trying is not doing.”

That’s great that the White Sox offered Machado a $250 million deal that could have reached $350 million with various options and incentives. And the Chicago media cannot let that go, it’s like the team just exploded onto the scene because they made an offer in free agency.

I mean, I could have called Machado’s agent and offered him $150 to just stay home for the year. As absurd as that sounds, I could still boast that I had “made an offer.” Would that get me a seat at the big boy table? I doubt it. And making an offer doesn’t have any tangible value.

I preach this a lot, because I lived through it and watched it unfold. In the early 1990s, the Yankees wanted to buy themselves a World Series. They were willing to outspend everybody. They made a mega offer to Barry Bonds, more than he received from the Giants, but he turned it down. They made a mega offer to Greg Maddux, more than he received from the Braves, but he turned it down. Players just didn’t want to play for the Yankees back then. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a dark time for the organization and even overpaying didn’t get them the players that they wanted.

That’s the Chicago White Sox right now. This team is a perennial loser. They haven’t had a winning record since 2012. There is no guarantee they’ll have a winning record anytime soon. Most players want to play for teams that have a chance of winning, because the money will be there one way or another. The White Sox are the laughingstock of baseball, on a number of fronts.

And what bothers me is the fact that some in the media, and a lot of fans, have the audacity to laugh at the San Diego Padres. Really? The Padres are selling the same bill of goods as the White Sox, “yeah, we suck now, but we have a great farm system!” The only difference being that the Padres had a better record in 2018 than the White Sox and the Padres’ minor league system is ranked higher.

I’m not laughing and see nothing there to laugh about.

So the White Sox were basically willing to max out at $250 million for Manny Machado. So the thinking, after he signed with the Padres, turned to Nolan Arenado, scheduled to hit free agency next offseason. He’s older than Machado and definitely takes advantage of the thin air in Colorado (Arenado has a career .320 batting average at home and .263 on the road). Arenado may be defensively superior to Machado but not by a considerable margin. In fact, had Machado played third base exclusively his entire career, it may be a lot closer than you think to compare them from a defensive standpoint.

The point is, Arenado is basically not as good a player, overall, as Manny Machado, and I don’t think anyone would argue that point, especially with Arenado’s inflated numbers playing in Colorado. And Arenado still got a larger contract than the White Sox were willing to offer Machado.

Not only did Machado get $50 million more than the White Sox offered, but Arenado got $10 million more despite being older and just not as good. Let that sink in for a minute.

But the Chicago media doesn’t want to touch that. Oh, the fan blogs do, and they take it to the other extreme, but I prefer to stay in the middle. Yes, the White Sox will sign free agents, eventually. It won’t be Mike Trout or Chris Sale or J.D. Martinez but it may be someone like Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (though he is rumored to be open to a contract extension with the Nats, which would be the same fly-in-the-ointment as the Arenado extension has turned into for the White Sox.

I think the White Sox took a great deal of care in constructing the rebuild so there is at least the possibility of having a homegrown or acquired minor league prospect at every position going forward. It’s entirely possible that by 2021, the Sox could feature Seby Zavala at catcher, an infield of Gavin Sheets, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada and an outfield of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Blake Rutherford, with Micker Adolfo or Zack Collins handling DH duties and a rotation of Carlos Rodon, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, with any number of other guys filling in the bullpen (Alec Hansen, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Guerrero, Dane Dunning, Jace Fry, Thyago Vieira, Connor Walsh, Aaron bummer, etc) with Zack Burdi closing. And I think that is not only a worst-case scenario, but a recipe for disaster.

Rick Hahn himself has said he expects only one out of every four prospects to be a MLB regular. I just listed 24 players in the previous paragraph. That means that of those 24, six could become legit MLB contributors. So we figure Jimenez and Cease are the closest things we have to “guarantees.” Madrigal and Robert look solid early in their careers and certainly Kopech and Lopez have had some level of MLB success. In other words, chances are you can take everyone else on that list and scratch them off.

I know there are fans out there that think every one of those guys is going to develop into a superstar; when the end of season awards are announced, it will be a list of 10 White Sox players for AL MVP, the whole starting rotation will finish one through five in AL Cy Young balloting, etc. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. We have already watched Giolito and Fulmer and Moncada struggle mightily at the MLB level, none of the three looked ready but were rushed to The Show for some unknown reason.

The point of that is, you have to acquire some outside, established help. You can’t build a team 100% from prospects and compete. It’s not only impossible, it’s ridiculous.

The White Sox didn’t sign Machado or Harper or Arenado and they’re not going to sign Trout or Sale. So the Chicago media can stop trying to pretend that the White Sox are big players on the free agent stage. But they can supplement what they have and fill holes that prospects can’t fill, so the fans who think the White Sox are completely incapable can stop being ridiculous as well. It’s not all or nothing.

One last thing I want to touch on is the talk of a strike in 2021, which was a hot topic when the top free agents were unsigned. At the time, I kind of understood where the players were coming from, MLB is raking in money, hand over fist, and the players have a right to the biggest share of that pie. Manny Machado just signed a $300 million contract. Nolan Arenado signed a $260 million contract. Bryce Harper will make more than either of them. So the players grievance has suddenly become hollow.

And if Harper signs with the Phillies and it’s more than the $325 million contract that Giancarlo Stanton is currently playing for, that’s gonna make the players look even more ridiculous for even considering a work stoppage. The money is out there, players are just overvaluing themselves. Craig Kimbrel thinks he deserves $100 million to pitch 3 outs a game? The market says no, take the best offer you can get (probably six years at $85 million) and be happy with it. Dallas Keuchel thinks he’s worth a six-year contract? No, you’re on the down side of your career and nothing is going to change that. Take a three-year deal for $45 million and be happy with it. Guys are getting more than they’re worth, statistically.

Hell, Bryce Harper hit .249 last year. For most guys going into free agency, that would be bad news. But for some reason Harper is considered a generational talent. Though I don’t know why.

He only hit seven points higher than Yolmer Sanchez. Yes, I know, the home runs and the walks, but the fact remains, he’s not infallible or miles ahead of anyone else in the game. He’s just “good.”

The numbers are out of control, and I think a player’s strike would be pretty stupid, given the money the players who have signed are getting compared to five years or a decade ago.

And that’s my opinion on everything. Thank you for reading, and God bless.

Talkin’ Baseball, January 22, 2019 (#1)

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Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a running blog series, “Talkin’ Baseball with Jason J. Connor.” Before I jump in, I’m going to kind of explain how I came to be writing this series. I’ve been a baseball fan since 1988, so we’re talking over 30 years. I like to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable on the subject. I also took two years of Journalism classes in high school because, at the time, my dream was to be a sports writer.

I guess this is as close as I’ll come to that dream. But I’ll take it.

While I have been encouraged a lot to do this, I wanted to wait until now and have my first entry cover the 2019 Hall Of Fame inductees. Anyone who knows me knows I am a White Sox fan to the core, but I don’t want this blog to be only about the White Sox. But, naturally, since the White Sox are the only team I follow intently, that’s where 85% of my coverage is going to go. But I want to leave that 15% wiggle room for other important developments.

So, with that, let’s jump right in.

THE 2019 BASEBALL HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES

The BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) released the results of balloting for the 2019 class earlier this evening. I had planned on watching it live but had a lot going on, I brought the feed up on my phone only to be hit in the face with commercials, and the first sound to come out of my phone was an ominous voice saying “indigestion and gas?”

I closed the screen and figured that was a bad omen and I’d wait to read the results.

When I read the results a little while ago, I was not at all surprised with three of the inductees and pleasantly surprised with the fourth. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, Phillies and Blue Jays starter, the late Roy Halladay, Mariners DH Edgar Martinez and Orioles and Yankees starter Mike Mussina all made the cut. Congratulations to the class of 2019.

Rivera, one of the greatest closers in the history of the game and the best I have ever seen, was elected on the strength of being named on 100% of the ballots cast, the first player in the history of the sport with that distinction. As great as Rivera was (an MLB record 652 saves and a career ERA of 2.21, and that’s over 1,115 career games), it’s hard to imagine that Ken Griffey, Jr., Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken, Jr. and even Babe Ruth failed to receive a 100%. For years it was rumored that the old guard in the BBWAA didn’t think anyone deserved to be named on 100% of the ballots so someone would leave the “head of the class” off their ballot just to keep anyone from receiving 100%. Apparently that has now changed.

Having said that, Rivera is beyond deserving and is, in fact, deserving of the “100%.” It just baffles me that no one before him has ever earned that distinction.

Halladay was named on 85.4% of the ballots. Considered one of the last true “workhorses” in baseball, he lead the league in innings pitched four times in his 16-year career, and lead the league in complete games seven times. I do, however, take issue with his being elected, especially his first time on the ballot. Halladay was killed in an airplane crash on November 7, 2017, and I think his passing played a very large role in his induction.

Halladay won 203 games, with a 3.38 career ERA, and a very solid 64.3 WAR. But his numbers across the board don’t scream “Hall Of Famer” to me. The 203 wins are solid, but Mark Buehrle won 214 games for the White Sox, and I doubt he’ll ever see the Hall Of Fame unless he buys a ticket to get in. His 3.38 ERA is nothing to get excited over. He did win two Cy Young awards but so has Corey Kluber and I don’t see him as a Hall Of Fame pitcher.

He also comes up short in some of the “sexy” pitching stats. Halladay was never a big strikeout pitcher, in fact, his career high (220) in 2011 is pedestrian even by today’s standards, when pitchers work far fewer innings. The one area Halladay did excel was in his control, after a difficult first season (79 walks in 149 innings) he would settle down and despite a massive uptick in innings pitched, his walk totals never exceeded 62 for the rest of his career, and generally settled in the 30’s or 40’s. In spite of that, I still see Halladay as a “Hall Of Very Good” type pitcher, who will be remembered for his playoff no-hitter, his perfect game and his untimely death more than his actual across-the-board career.

Also clocking in at 85.4% is Edgar Martinez, who has had the drum beaten for him for the last few years. And my one major sore point in this year’s class. I absolutely do not think Edgar Martinez is a Hall Of Fame player. I watched his entire career, and I saw a guy who was a good, professional hitter. But Hall Of Fame-worthy? No way. To put his career numbers into perspective, he played four fewer seasons than fellow inductee Harold Baines (and one of the seasons Baines played before Martinez was in the Majors was a strike season) but finished his career with nearly 80 fewer home runs and nearly 400 fewer RBI.

Two guys who played the same position most of their careers: DH.

And for a guy who was a “professional hitter,” and not just a “slugger,” Martinez finished his career with 2,247 career hits, far below the old threshold for induction of 3,000. Martinez won two batting titles (and retired with an outstanding .312 career batting average) but considering that 95% of his statistical output came during what’s known as the “Steroid Era,” it really has to make one wonder. From 1990 to 1992, Martinez hit a total of 43 home runs in 1,559 at bats. From 1998 to 2000, he hit 90 home runs in 1,614 at bats. Sounds fishy to me.

I just don’t see anything special about Edgar Martinez across the board.

Finally, we have Mike Mussina, who was named on 76.7% of the ballots. I think Mussina should have been in years ago. Mussina won 270 games (compared to Halladay’s 203 in two more seasons) and compiled 2,813 career strikeouts (nearly 700 more than Halladay) in addition to winning seven Gold Gloves. Mussina also had control just as solid as Halladay, never walking more than 69 batters in a season (in 243 innings in 1996) and usually settling in the 40’s in 200+ innings. I can honestly say that Mike Mussina was one of the best pitchers I have ever watched and was one of the players I would tune in to watch specifically.

Absolutely, 100% deserving and deserved better than 77%, to be honest.

SOX STUFF

This will be where I will tackle Chicago White Sox stuff, thus the name “Sox Stuff.”

Tonight I’m going to tackle the latest White Sox rumor, the rumored flirtation with the Los Angeles Dodgers regarding outfielder Joc Pederson and bringing him to the South Side.

Let’s first look at the White Sox outfield as it stands right now. I am going to assume they’ll be starting some combination of Adam Engel, Daniel Palka and Jon Jay, with Nicky Delmonico and Leury Garcia riding the pine. That group, in total, combined for 48 home runs last year, with Palka contributing over 56% of that total (27) by himself. Engel, Jay and Garcia are not home run hitters and never will be. Delmonico is a guy who, in a perfect world, could probably top out at 15 or 16 and I doubt Palka will come close to 27 again once pitchers figure him out.

Pederson has hit 20+ home runs three of the past four seasons. There’s a track record there. Yeah, he won’t hit for a high average but he has massively reduced his strikeouts in recent seasons and has a quality glove. This is a move I would make in a heartbeat.

This is a move I would make with even more haste given the White Sox lack of production at third base, which is traditionally a power position that’s being manned by Yolmer Sanchez, who topped out last season with a .242 batting average and eight home runs. With it looking increasingly obvious that the White Sox will not be bringing in prized free agent Manny Machado and lesser third baseman Mike Moustakas still available, it would make sense to strike while the iron is hot. And since Moose can probably find a better option than the White Sox (as Machado apparently will do), the Sox need to get power wherever they can.  If you can’t get that 20+ home run production at third, why not get it in the outfield?  And the Dodgers seem keen to move him, so the cost (rumored to be Carson Fulmer and a couple of prospects) is not prohibitive, especially when none of the Sox players mentioned have any production to speak of at the MLB level.  This is a move I would make all day, every day.

I’m just as tired of the Machado/Harper chase as everyone else, and since there hasn’t been any news in days, there’s really nothing to say. Neither will be with the White Sox.

Well, that about wraps it up for my first “Talkin’ Baseball” entry and we’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to tie myself down to a rigid schedule with this, I’d rather wait until there’s something legitimate to talk about and then post, rather than just posting for the sake of posting.

Thank you for reading. Peace.

and GO SOX!