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!
On a perfect night for baseball, the White Sox invite the wild card leading Oakland Athletics into U.S. Cellular Field for a four game series starting tonight.
Oakland will be sending Sonny Gray to the mound to try to keep the Sox offense under wraps and maintain the two-game cushion in the standings.
Gray’s had a rough go of it as of late. The 24-year old right-hander is 1-4 in his last six games with a high 5.84 ERA as he’s keeps adding onto his career high in innings pitched. In what could be simply tiring, Gray hasn’t been nearly as sharp as he was before August started.
His appearance could be coming at the right time for a White Sox offense that struggled the last three games to score runs for their pitchers who put up solid outings. In the last three the Sox have combined to score two runs while Sale, Quintana, and Carroll held the opposition to seven runs in those games.
Sitting with 63-79 at this point, starters Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and Alejandro DeAza traded away, Paul Konerko dealing with a fractured bone in his left hand, players like Carlos Sanchez, Leury Garcia, Marcus Semien, and Andy Wilkins need to show what they could do on the major league level. Especially second basemen and shortstops Sanchez, Garcia, and Seimen, as the Sox may look into finding a suitor in the off-season to trade Alexei Ramirez.
With White Sox coaches eyeing on who they’ll think about keeping for 2015, Hector Noesi is doing what he can to make up their mind for them. The Sox have seen a different Noesi in the second half of the season. In his last nine starts, Noesi has compiled seven quality starts leading to a 3.90 ERA compared to a 5.36 ERA in the starts previous to that.
The Sox could easily consider Noesi as a fourth or fifth starter of the future if he can show that his recent success isn’t just a fluke and he puts together a few more quality starts to end the season.
Three Strikes to Success
Strike One – Slowing down Josh Donaldson who has been their best overall offensive player in the last 30 games. Donaldson’s put together a .290 average, 12 base-on-balls with 11 RBI in 26 games played. While he’s racked up those numbers of in the last 26, this season Donaldson has their second highest strike out total this season. So make good pitches and give Donaldson much to work with.
Strike Two – Get to Sonny Gray early! With how bad the offense looked against the Indians, the Sox have had the fourth best average since the All-Star break, but are only 21st in runs batted in. The biggest problem the Sox have is getting the runners in when they get on. The Sox have a combined to score just 14% of the runners that have gotten on base. Between not putting the ball into play, grounding into double players, and players making simple running mistakes, the White Sox have issues doing basics to get players around the bases. Against a solid starter who’s having a rough time of it lately, the Sox need to jump on him in the first inning and keep the momentum going throughout the game.
Strike Three – Hold a lead! The Sox bullpen has had a rough year when it comes to keeping the opponent off the scoreboard. The bullpen has the second most lost games (28) in relief in the majors, standing only behind the Colorado Rockies. It’s a major area that’ll need to be addressed in the off-season, but while manager Robin Ventura has some extra pitchers to bring in from the pen, he needs to consider using pitchers like Ronald Belisario a little as possible. Belisario leads the team with eight games lost in relief.
This is a key game in the series for the Sox with Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija lined up to start the next two games against them.
Quick hit news
This game marks Adam Dunn’s first game back at U.S Cellular since the trade from the south side. In his six games with the A’s, Dunn has hit .313 with two home runs and five RBI. If the A’s make the playoffs it’ll mark Dunn’s first experience in the playoffs as the Reds, Diamondbacks, Nationals and White Sox didn’t make it with him on the roster.
According to MLB.com, Paul Konerko might be able to return sometime this week from the fractured bone in his left hand.
Coming into the season, we were looking forward to providing some high-quality analysis of the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, but as it so often does, life gets in the way.
I’ll let David explain the real world stuff that’s been going on in his life lately (hint: it’s awesome news), but as for me, it’s simple: my paying journalism gigs have been ratcheting up in recent weeks. The Chicago Blackhawks are in the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive year. I’m covering the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings for NBC Los Angeles for the second straight season. I also had to cover the Chicago Bears and the run-up to the NFL Draft. Finally, there’s my job where I cover high school sports for a local newspaper.
All of those gigs can take a huge toll on my enthusiasm and my time, but for now, I’m going to try to bounce back more and write up as much about the Cubs as I can. It won’t be an everyday kind of thing, and there may be other times during the year where I miss some time in writing, but I’ll do my best to get back in the swing of things and actually keep this page somewhat updated.
For now, I hope you’ll settle for a few assorted thoughts that I have about the Cubs through their first 38 games of the season (and I’ll expound more on these thoughts when I release my First Quarter Report Card this weekend).
-Before the season started, I said that I didn’t think that Jeff Samardzija was worth the ace-money that he was going to be seeking, and so far, I’ve been proven completely wrong. In seven starts, Samardzija has a WAR of 2.3, a WHIP of 1.05, and an ERA of 1.45. Despite that success, he has an 0-3 record so far this season, and I wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to punch out a couple of Gatorade coolers in a fit of Zambrano-esque rage.
Granted, a great stretch of starts doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m wrong about how much money to pay him, but I still remain convinced that his best chance at success remains elsewhere. The Cubs are doing a good job of getting the most out of him now, and they are making progress in terms of their rebuilding project, but they won’t be good enough soon enough to warrant Samardzija sticking around. His value is shooting ever higher, and the return the team could get in a trade for him could be the final piece to the puzzle for the club.
-Speaking of pitchers I made predictions about before the season, Jason Hammel has been proving me right when I called him this year’s version of Scott Feldman or Paul Maholm. In seven starts, he has a 4-1 record, a WAR of 1.7, and a WHIP of 0.86. He is still mixing his pitches as well as he was during spring training, and if he can keep doing that, then the team should get an even better return than they did in the Feldman deal, when they got Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.
-Last season, both Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo struggled in a big way, leading some to question whether or not the two hotshot youngsters were going to flame out before the Cubs’ rebuild could be completed. They’re definitely answering those questions well, with Castro batting .279 with five home runs and 19 RBI in 154 at-bats. Rizzo has slugged seven home runs and driven in 21 runs, and he’s already got 27 walks, which puts his OBP at nearly .400 (and his OPS at a very impressive .860).
The teammates are only a quarter of the way through the season, but their adjustments at the plate have already produced some serious results. Castro is making much better contact than he was for most of last season, and Rizzo seems to have a more consistent approach too. If they can keep that up, then Rick Renteria has to be given a good deal of credit for resurrecting them.
Opening day is one of the most beloved days of the year on the calendar. It is the time of the year where every Major League team and fan base have hope of making it to the World Series.
The White Sox entered the game Monday with the hope that the retooling effort they put in during the offseason will pay off throughout the 2014 campaign and beyond.
Monday’s season opener saw the Chris Sale and the Sox take on Ricky Nolasco and the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.
Sale was wildly effective during the first couple innings. No matter whether it was nerves, the chill, or something else he looked tight. He faced the minimum through two innings despite giving up a hit in the top of the second.
The Twins would get to Sale for two Runs in the third starting with a lead-off base on balls to Twins right fielder Oswaldo Arcia. That would be followed by a single to left field by Aaron Hicks, then they were moved into scoring position by shortstop Pedro Florimon on a bunt back to Sale. Two hitters later, Kurt Suzuki roped a two out single to left, scoring both Arcia and Hicks.
Sale would give up one more run in the eighth after being taken out of the game with one out and having already a given up a double by Hicks to left field. Reliever Ronald Belisario would come into the game and give up a rope single to left off of the bat of Suzuki, scoring Hicks. Sale closed the day with 7.1 innings pitched, three runs on five hits, and had eight strike outs to go with one walk.
The offense showed signs of how good it could be this year if every thing falls their way.
Sox center fielder Adam Eaton tried making sure the season got off to a good start with a shot right back up the middle to start off the season for the new look offense. Unfortunately, last year’s issue showed up in the next batter when Marcus Semien grounded into a five, four, three double play.
The Sox offense got started again in the second when Jose Abreu smashed a fastball that was on the edge of the left hand batters box to right field. The ball one hopped the fence so fast that all Arcia could do was jump and hope he could get it some how. The ball would bounce away from Arcia allowing Abreu to turn the hit into a double. Adam Dunn would follow with a full count walk in a solid at-bat, but he would be erased by a Avisail Garcia double play. Alejandro DeAza would come up next, and would start his season off with a bang. DeAza turned around a slider that hung in inner half for a two run home run that would score Abreu.
The Sox would add two more runs in the third on a RBI single to left by Jose Abreu, and an RBI sacrifice fly by Adam Dunn. Dunn’s sacrifice fly started out a normal pop out to the shortstop but drift all the way to the tarp in foul territory due to the strong winds blowing across the field. Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon drifted with the ball and made a sliding catch going away from home plate which allowed Sox third baseman Connor Gillaspie to score from third.
The Sox would add one more in the sixth on another DeAza line drive home run to the right field bullpen.
Matt Lindstrom, who was named the closer on opening day by manager Robin Ventura and called upon in the ninth to shut the door on the Twins. Even though he did give up a one out double to designated hitter Chris Colabello, Lindstrom was able to close out the Twins and preserve the 5-3 victory.
After a day off on Tuesday, the White Sox will return for another matinee on Wednesday against the Twins. The Sox will send right-handed pitcher Felipe Paulino against fellow right-hander Kevin Correia for the Twins. The game is a 1:10pm start in Chicago.
The Chicago Cubs know a thing or two about situations that never seem to end (just look at their 106 year World Series title drought), and the situation surrounding the financing of renovations at Wrigley Field is starting to feel similarly intractable.
First the team wanted to get public financing to help the project along, but the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago balked at the proposal. Then the team said that they would finance the deal themselves, provided that the city ease restrictions on advertising and the number of night games that the team is able to host. The rooftop owners threw a fit about that and threatened legal action.
Now, the Ricketts family is unloading the latest salvo in their attempts to get the Wrigley renovations (and the increased revenue that would go along with them) moving again. According to a slew of reports on Thursday, it was revealed that the family is interested in selling minority shares in the team to help raise capital for the projects.
According to Comcast Sportsnet, the move would not be unprecedented, as just about every big league team (including the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants) have a large group of investors that own stakes in the teams. The Ricketts aren’t interested in giving up majority ownership status in the franchise, and even though they are still in a bit of a bind because of the complicated deal that enabled them to finalize the sale with Sam Zell and the Tribune Company back in 2009, they are still confident in their forecasts for how the team is doing financially.
According to Forbes Magazine, the Cubs are currently the fifth most valuable franchise in baseball, with a value of $1.2 billion. Despite that valuation, the Cubs are forced to act like a mid-market team with limited resources because of the restrictions their deal with Zell has put them under. They aren’t allowed to spend money for the on-field product that they don’t already have in the coffers, and with a new TV deal and the Wrigley renovations still things that aren’t producing money yet, the team is having a tough time freeing up fresh cash to speed along a rebuilding process that has some fans agitated and wanting to see more progress.
At any rate, this saga is still far from over, and while we are still a ways away from finding out who these new minority owners will be, the hope around the team is that this will finally grease the wheels enough to get things moving on the project.
When the Chicago Cubs hired Rick Renteria to be the team’s manager, the book on him was that he was a guy that was going to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity, and would mentor the younger players on the roster and to help them to rebound after a largely disappointing 2013 season.
In the first three games of his tenure with the team, however, Renteria has also begun to develop another reputation, which is that he has a tendency to overmanage at times.
In a continuation of the series of American League division preview, we’re going to skip over to the American League West.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Best Offseason Move:
Even though he was under their control for several more seasons, the Angels signed arguably the best player in baseball this past week to a six-year deal at $144.5 million. It locks up the 23-year old, who is one of the league’s best in average, homeruns and steals bases until he enters his true prime as long as he stays healthy and at the price they agreed to it’s a win for both sides.
Adding David Freese via trade from the St. Louis Cardinals could be a plus for the Angels. It could give the Angels another .280-.295 average hitter in an offense that is already stacked, as long as his back issues don’t return from last season.
Player to watch:
2013 was a short season for 34-year old Albert Pujols. A foot injury hampered the former three-time MVP and got him shut down in July. Two seasons removed from signing a 10-year, $240 million dollar contract there’s lot of speculation as to whether Pujols can produce even a decent season in the eight years that remain. If his foot is healthy he could still put up a .270-.285 average and 25-30 home runs. If he’s unhealthy, his season could end very similar to 2013.
Crash and Burn Predictions – 90 wins, 72 losses, and first place in the AL West
Pujols will hit at least .272 with 28 home runs this season and the Angels will see the playoffs. The team has a solid lineup from top to bottom, filled with players who should fill the roles their assigned, health dependent. With Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson leading a staff of young pitchers, the Angels offense will need to stay consistent and healthy all year. The Angels will make the playoffs this season as the AL West champ.
Best offseason move:
Any time a team can add a power bat to its roster it’s a plus, especially when he can hit 35-40 home runs while holding a .280-.300 batting average. That is what the Rangers got when they acquired Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Ian Kinsler. Fielder adds protection in the lineup for Alex Rios and Adrian Beltre. It’ll be fun to see if Fielder’s power numbers get a boost from hitting in the heat of Texas.
Player to watch:
After a few dreadful years with the White Sox, Alex Rios put together back to back solid seasons. While his home run total was down a little last season, he also had the green light on the base paths more often ending the season with 42 stolen bases. With Beltre and Fielder in the lineup, Rios should see more favorable pitches in his at bats. He’ll definitely be a key offensive and defensive player for the Rangers.
Crash and burn prediction – 86 wins, 76 losses, second in the AL West, and claiming the second wild card
A rough start to the schedule will require the Rangers offense to be hot from the first pitch on Monday. Injuries to the pitching staff could pose problems with teams like the Rays, Red Sox, A’s, and Angels in the first month of the season. Once most of their players get healthy, and if the offense can carry them through that rough stretch, the Rangers will claw back and get themselves into the playoffs.
Best offseason move:
After back to back 50-plus save seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, the acquisition of reliever Jim Johnson by the A’s gives them a solid ninth inning guy. The only concerns about Johnson is his higher WHIP stat in 2013, and the slightly questionable infield defense behind him since he throws sinkers for ground outs.
Players to watch:
Last season starting pitcher Scott Kazmir had his first healthy season since 2010 with Cleveland. He was brought on to be the second or third starter for the club, and has the hope he could at least replicate his 2013 performance if not improve on it some.
After a break out 2013 season, third baseman Josh Donaldson will be a fun watch this season. He hit .301 with 24 home runs in one of the hardest stadiums for power in baseball, the Oakland Coliseum. Keep an eye on this 28-year old as he continues to figure out his swing, and is one of the keys to Oakland’s young offense.
Crash and burn prediction – 80 wins, 82 losses, and third in the AL West
Billy Bean has done it again. Somehow he manages to find young talent or cheaper players he could build a contender with. Unfortunately this season he and the A’s will run into an Angels team that will find their legs early and start to pull away from the A’s in the division. The A’s will also have trouble keeping up with a more powerful Texas team, once they’re healthy and the weather warms up.
Best offseason move:
The first of the insanely large contracts dealt this offseason went to former Yankee Robinson Cano. The fact the Yankee’s wouldn’t give him a 10-year contract should’ve been a red flag with the way they’ve thrown money around, but Seattle was desperate for an offensive star. 31-year old Cano has hit above .300 in average for each of the last three seasons and 27-plus home runs in that same time. While he probably won’t be worth the contract in the back half of it, this season he should provide a strong bat the Mariners lacked even if he’s hitting in Safco Field.
Players to watch:
The Mariners pitching staff dealt with a lack of run support in 2013. Felix Hernandez was one who hurt the most from lack of offensive output. With a 3.04 ERA, Hernandez finished the season barely above .500. He’s going to improve from that 12-10 mark with a boost from the offseason. The injuries to starters Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker could hurt how the Mariners start this season.
Crash and burn predictions – 78 wins, 84 losses, and fourth in the AL West
The first seven of the eight series are against AL West teams for the Mariners which means a fast start is very important for them. Injuries in the pitching staff and the fact Cano and Corey Hart are the only for sure bats in the lineup so it’ll be important for everyone else to step up to their potential to try to hang in the division.
Best offseason moves:
The Astros have built their squad with mostly all young players. In fact, they only have six who have more than four years of Major League experience. Three of those players came to the team this offseason. Chad Qualls and Jesse Crain came to the team via free agency to give the Astros a couple veterans to anchor the young bullpen. Scott Feldman also signed with the team through free agency as their ace of the staff.
Players to watch:
On the offensive side Houston was able to grab Dexter Folwer from Colorado to give the lineup a lift. The question is, “Can he adjust from being away from Colorado because his struggles on the road last season?”.
It’ll be interesting to see if all the young players the Astros have acquired over their dismal recent history will take a step forward and at least improve some from last season.
Crash and burn prediction – 60 wins, 102 losses, and fifth in the AL West
The bars are raised even higher this season by the four teams ahead of them in their division, and while the Astros will be more competitive game to game they’ll again have a 100-loss season.