When the new season begins for the Chicago Cubs, there will be some big changes both on the field and in the broadcast booth, as the team moves from WGN Radio to WBBM for the new campaign.
As part of that transition, the team will have a new voice handling pregame and postgame duties on the radio, and that man will be Mark Grote. Before he slides into the chair for the first time, he sat down with us instead and talked about his new job, what he expects from the Cubs this season, and whether or not he thinks the team can win the World Series.
Part two of the conversation can be accessed here.
Windy City Hardball: I have to go with the most obvious question first: what is the interview process like for a job like this? Did you have to pass a Cubs trivia test or anything crazy like that?
Mark Grote: My third gathering with Ron Gleason and Mitch Rosen stands out to me. I was asked to report to Ron’s office for a meeting with about ten minutes advanced notice, and no knowledge of the specific content. I was then sent into a production studio and told to do a few minutes of a Cubs pregame. Improvised. The way I would do it. Anything I wanted.
Beyond that, there was no ‘Cubs trivia test,’ per say. I was asked for my thoughts on the team and its players, and there was a natural flow of Cubs chatter throughout the sessions. The entire interview process was thorough and sincere. It was never interrogation style. Instead, (there was) a genuine curiosity of exactly how I would handle specific scenarios, and my philosophies of what a professional pre and post game should sound like.
WCH: Now that we’ve covered the “who,” let’s move to the “why.” What drew you to this job?
Grote: It sounds a bit flowery, but the Cubs truly drew me to sports and broadcasting in the first place. I was obsessed with the game, the players, and the announcers growing up. Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd, Lou Boudreau, Harry Caray, Steve Stone, Dewayne Statts, and on and on. The broadcasters were just as important to me as what Jerry Martin would do on a typical day.
Beyond that, just from a pure broadcasting standpoint, it was a prime opportunity. The type of position that does not emerge frequently. My current full-time position as an anchor on the “Mully and Hanley” show on 670 the Score is an absolute blast because of the freedom those two allow me on their popular show, but I couldn’t resist making a play for the Cubs job.
WCH: Pat Hughes is making the trip over from WGN to WBBM, and that news has Cubs fans excited. Have you gotten to talk to Pat yet, and how excited are you to work with him?
Grote: Pat Hughes was the first person to call me when it was revealed that I had landed the job. What a thrill. It was funny, I told him, ‘Pat, I am just going to follow your lead, and play whatever role you and Ron Coomer need me to play during the broadcast.’ Pat’s response (in that great, syncopated Pat Hughes voice) was, ‘Oh no Mark. I want you to be YOU. Perhaps if the Cubs are leading the Mets 11-1 in the 7th, you can come on and do an impersonation or two.’
The key thing he told me is that we are going to have fun, and I do fun well. Hughes is an unbelievable play by play man. If you listen to him, you know he doesn’t miss things and that his recall is scary good.
The 2014 season wasn’t exactly kind to Adam Eaton as he spent 32 days total on the disabled list. The same can be said about Avisail Garcia and his 2014 season. Although Eaton was only on the disabled list for two stints totaling 32 days, Garcia was stuck on the list for a majority of four months with a torn labrum in his left shoulder that happened 8 games into the season.
Eaton was exactly what the White Sox needed a lead-off man to be. While he didn’t steal a lot of bases, 15 in 24 attempts, but he had a .362 on base percentage hitting the entire time out of the top spot. He gave the White Sox something they’d been lacking using Alejandro DeAza, a lead-off hitter who’d set the stage for the middle of the batting order. Instead, when DeAza was in the top spot in previous seasons, he would try to strike out attempting to hit home runs and as a result would leave no one on base for Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, or anyone else who’d hit in the heart of the lineup.
The biggest problem Eaton ran into, other than trying to stay healthy by not letting walls beat him up is having the second hitter in the lineup hit a double play eliminating the chance to get the offense rolling. The hitters who spent some time in the second spot combined for a total of 57 double plays throughout the season. That plus the countless number of fielder’s choices supplied throughout the lineup kept the offense sputtering at times when they would finally get runners on base.
However with a 5.2 wins above replacement number and a .338 average with runners on base, Eaton was able to come away with last season knowing he’d done his job. It also showed he’d taken the step forward the Sox had hoped he would after they had acquired him in the trade with Arizona. He’ll look to keep his foot forward this season and hopefully he’ll keep his body away from the outfield fences that had him seeing time on the disabled list last season.
Last season was supposed to be the breakout season for Avisail Garcia. He was supposed to take a leap towards becoming the player everyone has projected the 24-year old to be. However one play in April changed the route Garcia’s season would take. He would spend the next four months recovering and rehabbing from a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He finally returned later in August from the DL quicker than some expected and was able to get work in at the major league level in the outfield and at the plate. He would go on to hit just .244 last season in a total of 46 games, but that wasn’t as important as him taking advantage of the playing time on a team that wasn’t going anywhere.
The obvious hope for the White Sox is to get to see Garcia the whole season, especially after he’s lost the extra weight he gained at the end of 2014. Garcia’s been dieting and working out trying to get his speed back to make him once again a projected five-tool player. If the Sox intend to be successful this season and compete for the division and the World Series, it’ll take Garcia being successful from wherever in the lineup Robin Ventura sees him fitting. The most likely spot in that lineup will probably be at number five hitting behind either Adam LaRoche or Jose Abreu.
Other than Emilio Bonifacio who is listed as a back up to all the outfielders, Leury Garcia is also among the list to back up Eaton in centerfield. As a utility fielder in 2014, Garcia only hit .166 in 74 games playing a multitude of positions including one inning in relief during an extra inning game. The 23-year old Garcia needs to come out firing on all cylinders come the February 24th when the Sox position players report and spring training gets going. He’s going to have competition for utility player with the acquisitions of Gordon Beckham, J.B. Shuck, and Emilio Bonifacio. If he does have a mediocre spring, it could be his versatility that keeps him on the 25-man roster coming out of Camelback Ranch.
Non-roster invitee and former Chicago Cub Tony Campana was supposed to be in the mix for a bench role but on February 10th the White Sox twitter account reported that Campana had torn his ACL while training recent to the announcement and would most likely be out for the entire 2015 season.
While the Sox tried to set their roster up with defensive depth in all three positions, it may have come at the cost of offensive depth. The starters shouldn’t have an issue producing runs, but we’ll have to see what combination of bench players Sox management gives themselves heading into the regular season. However, for what we as Sox fans have dealt with over the recent seasons, we’ll take the starting three as is and deal with the lack of offensive depth when it becomes an issue.
For the last two off-seasons, the White Sox have tried to address their left field situation. Unfortunately, the off-season leading into the 2014 season came and went for the club leaving them with both Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro DeAza still on the roster. The goal going in had been to move Viciedo and leave DeAza as the everyday left fielder, but with the start of spring training on them, the time ran out on the move. So they became stuck with both players and decided to use them in a platoon fashion in left field and occasionally at the designated hitter position.
Sox fans are well aware that the plan didn’t work out so well. Viciedo hit a measly .231 for an average and DeAza ended up being traded to Baltimore after hitting a mediocre .243 average.
So that left General Manager Rick Hahn with a decision to make during this off-season. One option was to go with Viciedo again in left field with the hope that he figures out how to hit with better consistency. The other option would be to try to trade him and find someone else on the market. The Sox would end up going with option number two because, with the moves that had been made before and while at the winter meetings, they showed the league that they were going to be serious about building a team to compete this season. The Sox were able to lock in one of the better left fielders off the free agent market.
Switch hitter Melky Cabrera joined the Sox in December on a 3-year, $42 million contract to become the team’s new everyday left fielder. He comes to the south side as a better defender and hitter then the Sox have rolled out there in recent times.
Defensively Cabrera hasn’t had a season where he’s committed more than 4 errors which happens to be half of the total Viciedo had last season by himself. While Viciedo may have a better arm than Cabrera, the Sox and their fans would rather have a player in the outfield that can make smart plays and limit stupid mistakes.
Offensively Cabrera brings much more to the table that fits the White Sox plans better than either DeAza or Viciedo would have. He might not have the power Viciedo had, but he brings versatility with his ability to be a contact hitter. Cabrera struck out only 67 times last season in 621 plate appearances. He only strikes out at an awesome one in ten plate appearances rate compared to Viciedo who struck out every one in five plate appearances.
It seemed like an off-season in which Hahn and Sox management went out looking for free agents that made more contact than the player they were replacing, and that’s just what they got in Melky Cabrera.
The question that’s left for Manager Robin Ventura is where to slot this switch hitting contact hitter in the lineup.
For a player with his hitting ability and with the hitters they’re surrounding him with the best answer would be as the second hitter. The reason being, he makes a lot of contact and hits for a high average with runners on base. Cabrera has a career .311 batting average on balls in play. More importantly with men on base he has a .315 batting average on balls in play. With that production in mind, and if Adam Eaton can reproduce his production from 2014, it would set up the heart of the lineup to improve their RBI chances. The “get them on, get them over, get them in” philosophy will be key at the top of the lineup and will be what makes the Sox successful this season.
Another reason he’d be great behind Eaton is his versatility as a switch hitter. If the Sox run a lineup of Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche, Avisail Garcia out there and could use Conor Gillaspie and Alexei Ramirez after that, it would give the Sox a lefty-righty combination through the seventh spot in the order. That lineup would also feature three .300-plus hitters at the top of it.
To try to find depth at the left field position, the Sox have also signed former Angel and 2013 American League Rookie of the Year candidate J.B. Shuck, former Chicago Cub Emilio Bonifacio, as well as invited prospects Courtney Hawkins, Jared Mitchell, and Michael Taylor to camp this spring.
First, the left-handed hitting J.B. Shuck currently stands as the backup to Melky Cabrera in left, and he’s coming off a miserable year where he hit .145 for an average in 38 games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Cleveland Indians. However, two seasons ago he was in the running for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. That season he hit .293 in 437 at-bats. So, worst case scenario for the team, they could end up stashing Shuck in Triple-A Charolette and let him find his way again since he’s under team control until 2020.
Next on WhiteSox.com’s depth chart for left field is Emilio Bonifacio. The journeyman utility player is all over the depth chart listings. In fact, he’s listed at all the infield positions except first base and every outfield position. Although he is listed at all those positions, Bonifacio has been mentioned to mostly platoon at third and to fill in at shortstop and second when necessary. The Sox are hoping that without injury Bonifacio won’t see much time past the lip of the infield.
The three prospects from the minors, Jared Mitchell, Courtney Hawkins, Michael Taylor are likely non-roster invitees to evaluate how they do against major league pitchers. Taylor did see some time in the pros last September when call-ups were made. He hit .250 for an average in his limited appearance in 2014, but carried a combined average of both pros and the minors of .273.
As long as Melky Cabrera stays healthy throughout the whole 2015 season and doesn’t go down the PED path again, the left field position on defense and in the lineup will be one of the team’s strengths this coming season.
To say the 2014 Chicago White Sox team was disappointing would be a hefty understatement. The point of last season was to retool instead of rebuilding while trying to save money on payroll at the same time. The plan ended up being an ultimate failure and it showed in the fact the stadium looked 90 percent empty during most games. The message from the fans didn’t fall on deaf ears.
There were so many holes left on the White Sox roster heading into this offseason. General Manager Rick Hahn had to find out from Owner Jerry Reinsdorf exactly how much money he had to work with for payroll. Last season the White Sox hovered around $91 million dollars for payroll last season. Reinsdorf told Hahn he could raise the payroll to address the needs of the team.
Need #1 – Finding a designated hitter/back-up first baseman
When Hahn went to work on fixing the roster, one of the first signings he made was on a back-up first baseman and designated hitter. He hooked former Washington National’s first baseman Adam LaRoche to a 2-year, $25 million contract.
LaRoche was the arguably the best first baseman on the market, but he also gives the White Sox a left-handed hitter. The 35-year old brings a career .264 average to a lineup in desperate need of protection in the heart of the lineup for Jose Abreu. While he doesn’t bring a lot of power with him, only averaging 22 home runs a season, in such a hitter friendly ballpark like U.S. Cellular he should be able to reach 20-25 home runs pretty easily.
One concern fans might have with his signing could be that at his age there’s possibility of deterioration of skills. One argument against that mind set is that he improved his average .022 over the previous season and had his second highest WAR of his career with a 2.1.
Another concern that may face the club is the fact LaRoche has had very little experience hitting in the designated hitter position. He holds a career .190 average in 21 at-bats, and as Sox fans remember with Adam Dunn, it could be challenging for a career national league player to get used to being a designated hitter. It’ll be important for Manager Robin Ventura to try to use him as much as possible in that position during spring training to get a jump start on getting him used to not playing the field.
Grade on the move – B
Need #2 – Bullpen bridge work
What ended up actually being the first move of the free agency period for the White Sox, management snagged left-handed reliever Zach Duke with a 3-year, $15 million contract. Duke was a non-roster invitee last season for the Milwaukee Brewer and made the team out of spring training. He would go on to post his third best ERA in his 10-year career with a 2.45. Even though he may be used as a left-handed specialist, Duke did his best damage in the eighth inning of games where he carried a 1.10 ERA in 19 appearances last season during that inning. He showed up 35 times in the seventh inning and posted a 2.70 ERA. Either way, the most important thing is if he’s able to repeat or even come close to what he threw out there last season, he’ll be a huge improvement over pretty much anyone the White Sox rolled out of the pen last season.
The Sox has been busy since the signing of Zach Duke trying to bring in as many relievers they can to try to help improve the pen. At the end of the winter meetings in San Diego, the Sox pulled the string on a trade with Miami for 27-year old, left-handed reliever Dan Jennings.
Jennings is in his third year in the league and has a career 2.43 ERA in 100 innings pitched. An area that needs big improvement in his game is his WHIP. Last season he carried a 1.537 WHIP and for his career 1.460. On the bright side he held a 1.34 ERA last season even though he had such a high WHIP. So if he can manage to keep hitters off base, he could be a big plus in the pen for the next couple seasons since he doesn’t reach free agency until the 2020 season.
This month the Sox have also added former Sox players Jesse Crain and Scott Carroll to the non-roster invitees list for spring training in the hopes to find a spark.
Crain is coming off a biceps tendinitis surgery in 2013 and didn’t throw one pitch in the pros last season for the Astros. So to expect this move to come up aces for the Sox is taking a leap, but he did pitch relatively well for the Sox from 2011-2013. In his two and a half seasons with the south side club, Crain carried a 2.11 ERA for those seasons. If his stuff comes back to the level it was prior to his surgery, Crain could find himself in the setup role for the Sox allowing Duke and the others to be the specialists coming out of the pen.
Scott Carroll was mostly a starter for the team last season and didn’t fair very well in the 19 starts he had. However, he did come out of the pen seven times last season and was much better in the short term use. Out of the pen he carried a 1.99 ERA in 22 innings pitched and hitters’ averages dropped .095 compared to his starts. Carroll could be more successful in limited spurts from the pen. If they could use him as a specialist in the seventh or eighth innings, he could end up being more successful.
The Sox have also invited right-handers J.D. Martin, Nolan Sanburn, Chris Beck, Brad Penny, Shawn Haviland, and the organization’s 7th overall prospect Tyler Danish.
Danish was the organization’s second round pick in 2013, and could end up in the bullpen as a setup man or closer in the next couple seasons. He has a unique delivery that is in a side arm slot but he still is able to bring his hand more over the top. It’s an extreme angle that has a lot of people a little nervous about him having future arm troubles, but it’s the delivery that could make him a very successful reliever. He is expected to push through the minors quickly and could be up with the big club in 2016 or 2017.
They’ve also invited 2014’s number three overall draft pick Carlos Rodon to spring training. The left-handed pitcher has tons of hype surrounding him and is expected to see pro ball at some point throughout the coming season. The Sox could use him out of the pen in his first season or two like they did with Chris Sale. He jumped his way through the minors in his half season with the organization, but could be held back at the beginning of the year to help delay the clock starting on his service time in the league.
Grade on the moves – C
Need #3 – Fishing for a closer
Through the process of the winter meetings GM Rick Hahn had to keep checking in on how much he would be able to spend on payroll. Things fell in place for the Sox that Hahn was able to give Jerry Reinsdorf a plan that could work but it would require him to spend a little more than what was originally planned. Reinsdorf liked the plan so much that he approved the management team to spend more on payroll.
On the third day of the winter meetings, Hahn and the Sox were able to convince right-handed closer David Robertson to sign with the club. MLB.com quoted Robertson on a conference call talking about the signing with Rick Hahn and the Sox, “I like the moves he’s making with getting [Adam] LaRoche and Zach Duke and the trade for [Jeff] Samardzija. I feel like he’s building a good squad that’s really going to be a competitor next year, and I’m hoping we end up back in the playoffs.”
“Every time we played the White Sox, they were an incredibly tough team to beat. They just grinded it out against us. Obviously, they were on my radar from the beginning and I was glad that I was approached by them and once they – making those extra moves really helped solidify the direction I wanted to go, which was being a Chicago White Sox.”
Robertson put his name to a 4-year, $46 million contract to become the closer for the Sox.
The top player at his position on the market, Robertson brings a career 2.21 ERA in save situations to the club. He saved 39 games last season in 44 attempts for the Yankees last season. He will bring credibility to the position for the Sox which was searching all last season for someone to fill the role after they had traded their young closer Addison Reed to Arizona last offseason.
Grade on the move – A
Need #4 – A quality left fielder
To improve the lineup and the defense, Rick Hahn needed to find someone who could not only hit better and field better than Alejandro DeAza and Dayan Viciedo have in recent seasons. Hahn looked at who was available on the free agency market and was able to get former Yankee Melky Cabrera to ink to a 3-year, $42 million contract.
The switch hitting left fielder’s history says he’s going to be a player that gets on base and doesn’t strike out much. He’s a player that makes contact often and puts the ball in play which is an asset the Sox miss from the lineup year in and year out. Those skills in theory should make him a solid pick for the two holes in the lineup and would allow him to set up the heart of the lineup to have more opportunities to drive in runs. Also with his ability to switch hit he could allow Ventura to set up a left and right combo down the lineup through the heart of it.
The 30-year old also hasn’t had more than four errors in the field during any season, and is half of what the departed Dayan Viciedo put up in 2014 alone. 2015 could end up being one of the best fielding outfields the White Sox have fielded in a while. Cabrera and Eaton offer a wide fielding range, and with the weight loss Garcia has focused on this offseason, the outfield should have fewer gaps in it this season. Its skills the Sox have needed because they play in a division with teams that have massive outfields.
The only concern Sox fans might have is if Cabrera gets caught on PEDs again. If he does it again he would be out for a whole season’s worth of games. It’s a concern, but one would have to assume that Hahn looked into it and flat out asked Cabrera about it. He apparently heard what he needed and the Sox got a much better player than what they’ve had in left field the last several seasons.
Grade on the move – A
Need #5 – Quality starter
Last season the Sox’s fourth and fifth starters were highly questionable. In order to save on payroll the Sox used pitchers like Felipe Paulino, Erik Johnson, Andre Rienzo, and Scott Carroll in those spots and were pretty much complete failures.
In an unexpected move, Rick Hahn and Billy Bean were able to pull off a trade in which Hahn would send right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley, first baseman Rangel Ravelo and shortstop Marcus Semien to Oakland for right-handed pitcher Jeff Samardzija and prospect pitcher Michael Ynoa.
It’s a move that lured David Robertson to the club and showed that the White Sox were serious about retooling and were making a commitment to compete in 2015. It also has Sox fans buying tickets again according to Rick Hahn, and because of that they were able to spend more money on payroll for players like Melky Cabrera.
Samardzija grew up a Sox fan in the Valparasio, Indiana area and has said he’s excited about getting the chance to be “home.” The former Cubs ace had a 2.99 combined ERA last season pitching for both the Cubs and A’s. He’ll fit in nicely as the number two pitcher on the team and gives the Sox one of the best top of the rotation combinations in the majors.
According to WhiteSox.com, Samardzija’s agent, Mark Rodgers told MLB Network Radio’s “The Front Office” with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on Sunday that both he and his client would be open to listening to offers if the club would like to throw numbers at them.
“Obviously they really put in a lot of effort this offseason to make that club better,” Rogers said. “And so out of due respect to [White Sox chairman] Mr. [Jerry] Reinsdorf and to [general manager] Rick Hahn, who’s done a heck of a job, and [executive vice president] Kenny Williams, I told those guys, ‘Any time you want to talk, I’ll listen. Jeff and I will certainly talk.”
The Sox have both Chris Sale and Jose Quintana locked up till 2019 and 2020 so it’s possible that they would be able to sign Samardzija to a favorable contract on both sides. It would likely depend on the length of contract Samardzija would want, but until then, the Sox hope that he can continue his success and help carry the team to the playoffs.
Grade on the move – A
Need #6 – Utility players
The trade of Marcus Semien and designating Jordan Danks for assignment opens up holes at utility players for both the infield and outfield. So Rick Hahn needed to find players who were good defenders that would be able to give breaks to the starters but not lose a ton at the plate.
Journeyman Emilio Bonifacio was the perfect example of someone Hahn was looking for. He has the ability to play all infield positions except for first base and has played all the outfield field positions well. He has a .262 career batting average for seven different teams. Thoughts are he may platoon at third base with Conor Gillaspie but will more than likely see some time at shortstop and second base as well.
The Sox were also reached out to another former Cub, Tony Campana for their utility outfield position. The non-roster invitee has a career .249 batting average in 438 at-bats, and will be used as a defensive replacement player unless there’s an injury to the starters.
The latest player that will come to camp is former Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham. Sox management acquired him from free agency on a one-year, $2 million contract and is planning to use him as a utility infielder that will fill in at all the positions in the infield other than first base. He posted a .293 average last season versus left-handed pitchers which is the type of player the Sox were looking to lock in for this season. Unfortunately his history says he’s a career .244 average versus left-handed pitchers. It’ll be interesting to see how Beckham does in his second go around with the club.
Grade on the move – D/D-
This offseason has Sox fans energized again for baseball to start again for the first time in a while. As a fan it’s been fun hearing other fans, tv and radio personalities talking about the Sox making the playoffs. Even though Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections have the Sox falling into third place in the division, it hasn’t put out the flame of Sox fans expectations and excitement!
In the next couple of weeks leading up to the start of the season, we’ll look into each position individually, a preview of each division, and other topics to get you ready and informed for the 2015 season!
In an attempt to add depth at multiple positions with one player in what has already been a busy offseason, the White Sox have added journeyman Emilio Bonifacio with a one-year, $4 million contract.
Bonifacio joins his seventh team in nine seasons. He carries a career .262 batting average and 162 stolen bases in 722 games. More importantly, he gives the Sox a player who has experience playing second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions.
With his addition, it opens up the opportunity for the White Sox to finally decide on what they want to do with Dayan Viciedo. They may also keep Viciedo as a backup outfielder or backup designated hitter while using Bonifacio at second base.
The White Sox have around 45 days left till pitchers and catchers report, so there’s still plenty of time for them to work out how they will work out their options after adding this versatile option.
A few days after trading Josh Phegley to the Oakland Athletics, the Sox pick up another catcher off the free agent market. A journeyman catch, George Kottaras has been with seven teams in seven seasons and now will be with his eighth according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Kottaras agreed to a minor league contract with the team and will be the fourth catcher appearing at spring training. Tyler Flowers and his backup, Adrian Nieto are already on the 40-man roster from 2014, but the Sox also claimed Rob Brantly off waivers from Miami and now have Kottaras, all to fight for the two spots on the 25-man rotation.
Kottaras brings some power, draws walks, but does strike out often. His strikes outs to walks ratio is almost two to one. Last season he played for three teams and had 14 strikes outs in 25 at-bats. If he’s on the roster going into the season, it’ll be as a body to be able to give Flowers a day off and occasionally provide a good at-bat.
If someone wanted to see the power of a fan base not showing up to games at a record pace to make management notice it, one would have to look no further than the south side of Chicago. The White Sox organization have taken the message to heart and have done a massive amount of wheeling and dealing to fix chinks in the lineup, rotation and bullpen.
The Sox didn’t take long to get to work as they turned their attention to the black hole they had in 2014, the bullpen. The bullpen was responsible for 32 losses in relief, most in Major League Baseball. It shouldn’t be too shocking to most considering their ERA in the eighth and ninth innings were 5.42 and 4.74 respectively. So how do you fix a bullpen that was amazingly horrendous?
The Sox started with signing Zach Duke to a 3-year, $15 million contract in the middle of November. Duke’s coming off one of his better seasons of his career playing for Milwaukee as a non-roster invitee in 2014. The Sox were desperate to get Duke off the free agent market with how dreadful their left-handed relievers were last season. If Duke were to carry an ERA near his career average of 4.46 out of the pen, he still would be almost a whole run better than the combined ERA of 5.21 from Eric Surkamp and Donnie Veal of 2014. The former Brewer however has had an under 2.50 ERA in two and a half of the last three seasons. So the hope is he’d continue the trend and help solidify a rough spot for the Sox last season.
After they filled the first glaring hole in the bullpen the Sox looked to replace the retiring Paul Konerko and the traded Adam Dunn at designated hitter and backup first baseman. Former Washington National Adam LaRoche put his name to a two-years, $25 million contract to help fill the void in the lineup. LaRoche holds a .264 batting average and has hit 20 or more home runs in four of the last five seasons. If the Sox were to hit him third, in front of Jose Abreu, LaRoche’s numbers could be even better with the more hitter friendly pitches he’d see with protection like that. It could be similar to the benefit Alexei Ramirez had in 2014. He may not hit as many home runs as Dunn and Konerko have had in the past but especially compared to 2014, he’d provide more offense in the way of his batting average being near .040 higher than Dunn and .060 higher than Konerko.
Once the MLB winter meetings came about last week, the Sox offseason was thought of as being just ok since they filled a couple holes. General Manager Rick Hahn saw an opportunity very few people saw coming from them, the chance to get an ace-like pitcher to slide behind Chris Sale in the rotation and they pulled it off. The Sox sent infielder Marcus Semien, catcher Josh Phegley, right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, and first baseman Rangel Ravelo to the Oakland Athletics for former Cub Jeff Samardzija and fellow right-hander Michael Ynoa.
The Northern Indiana native, who grew up a Sox fan, gets the opportunity to give the Sox one of the best top of the rotation duos in baseball. His 2.99 combined ERA with his time on the north side and on the west coast in 2014 is what Rick Hahn and the Sox are hoping to be a fix to the carousel of starters in the bottom of the rotation. Pending any surprises coming out of next spring, the Sox should be able to trot out a lefty, righty combination throughout their rotation.
Lefties Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks should anchor the first, third and fifth starts while Samardzija and Hector Noesi take on the second and fourth day starts. The wild card in that plan could be the Sox’s first round pick from 2014, lefty Carlos Rodon.
The Sox started Rodon in Winston-Salem at A level baseball and quickly elevated him to triple-A Charlotte after he posted a 1.86 ERA in 4 games. Rodon’s 2014 season went 24.2 innings with 38 strikes outs and a 2.92 total ERA. If he lives up to the hype and shows the same level of skill in the majors as he did this past season in the minors, the Sox could be looking at having one of the best rotations in baseball. Several White Sox management members have said that Rodon will start the season in the minors and then possibly come up later in the year if he continues his success. We’ll have to wait till spring training to see if Rodon forces their hand with an outstanding spring and makes the team out of Arizona.
Even if Rodon doesn’t make it to Chicago in the spring, the rotation will be solid as is. The front spots are covered by a Cy Young runner up and former Cubs’ ace. Quintana will get his usual amount of quality starts and hopefully some offense to go with it for wins. Danks and Noesi will have their rough games but should be serviceable in a majority of their starts. It’ll be exciting for fans to come out and see this staff do its thing on a daily basis especially compared to what they witnessed last season.
A day after Samardzija was acquired; the Sox stole another hot target off the free agent market with former Yankee, David Robertson. The right-handed closer signed with the club for 4 years, $46 million.
A quote from Robertson in the Chicago Sun-Times gives a glimpse into what he was thinking leading up to his signing and it also says exactly what Sox fans and baseball analysts are thinking as well of the busy offseason.
“First of all, I think the White Sox have a great club,” he said. “I love the city of Chicago, and I love what [general manager] Rick Hahn has been doing this offseason. I like the moves he’s making with getting LaRoche and Duke and the trade for Samardzija, I feel like he’s building a competitor next year, and I’m hoping we end up back in the playoffs.”
As a life-long Sox fan, I completely agree with every word!
All that being said Rick Hahn still wasn’t done tweaking the roster. He sent pitcher Andre Rienzo to the Miami Marlins in return for relief pitcher Dan Jennings. The third year south paw has a 2.43 ERA in his career with 100.0 innings pitched. The only concern to be had in this trade seems to be Jennings WHIP. His walks and hits per innings pitched has been over 1.500 for two of his three seasons in South Beach. In both of those seasons however he carried an under 2.00 ERA as well. So while he may let them on, he seems to keep them from scoring.
That brings up to the latest signing in Melky Cabrera. The right-handed hitting outfielder inked his name to a three-year deal with the White Sox for $45 million. With this deal it shows that the talk for the last couple weeks has been Seattle’s interest in Dayan Viciedo for their outfield was getting serious. Viciedo has three years left of team control before he hits free agency which makes him a favorable piece to move. Unfortunately with the deal the Mariners pulled off yesterday with the Cubs for a 32-year old Justin Ruggiano may have put any Viciedo deal to the northwest on hold. The move for Melky though was simply to improve upon the lack of production from the third spot in the outfield and to have back to back hitters at the top of the lineup that get on base and make contact on a consistent basis.
The traded Alejandro DeAza and Viciedo combined to hit for a .236 batting average last season. Cabrera comes to the team off a season he hit .301 and only 67 strike outs in 568 at-bats. Rick Hahn said yesterday on the Waddle and Silvy show on ESPN 1000AM that he liked what Cabrera brought to the team and he would be a nice piece in the second spot of the lineup.
There’s a breeze of fresh air coming through the Sox’s fan base. With 2014 so awful the Sox attendance last season was the in the bottom third of the league. There were games where there were maybe 1,000 people in the stands for the first few innings. It had to have embarrassed the front office daily. Now that they’ve shown they will spend money on quality players to turn things around, Rick Hahn’s said in interviews that the fan base has responded at the box office. 2015 will be different in Chicago for sure. As a fan I’m excited to see what’s to come!