Category: Uncategorized

Needs for White Sox Offseason and Grades for How they Addressed Them

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!

White Sox Add Versatile Option in Emilio Bonifacio

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.

Sox Pick Up an Extra Catcher

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.

Dunn Returns to the South Side as an Opponent

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.

DeAza’s Blasts Give Sale and the Sox an Opening Day Win

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.

American League Season Previews and Predictions: AL West

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.

Texas Rangers

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.

Oakland Athletics

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.

Seattle Mariners

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.

Houston Astros

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.

American League Season Previews and Predictions: AL East

With it being opening day, I’m going to take a sneak peek at the other teams in the American League in a series of preview articles. Starting with the team’s best offseason moves, then check out players to watch for in 2014, and finally make a prediction on how every AL team will fair in 2014.  First off will be the American League East.

Boston Red Sox

Best offseason moves:

The day after the Yankees signed Brian McCann, the Red Sox got the next best catcher out there. A.J. Pierzynski brings veteran leadership, excellent knowledge in handling a pitching staff, and won’t cost the Red Sox any offensive production compared to what Jarrod Saltalamacchia produced in 2013 for the Champs. Another attribute Pierzynski brings is a left-handed bat that has the ability to knock the ball off the green monster which could actually help his offensive production. All the above and the fact he’s patient and makes contact often makes him their best move of the offseason. The resigning of first baseman Mike Napoli is a close second for best moves.

Players to watch for:

Starting rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts will be a fun player to watch this year and to follow long term. At 21-years old, Bogaerts was seen as the future of the franchise and one of the reasons behind the team traded Stephen Drew and trading Jose Iglesias to the Tigers at the deadline last season. Projected to struggle some with his batting average, Bogaerts is expected to still put up high teens in home runs, decent run total and RBI totals. Another player to keep an eye on is 25-year old third baseman Will Middlebrooks who looks to get back to his .288 average and 15 home runs of 2012 after a rough 2013 campaign in which he hit .227.

Crash and Burn Predictions – 90 wins, 72 losses, and first place in the AL East

One of the hardest achievements to accomplish in sports is to repeat as champions. The Red Sox have put themselves in a position to do the best they can to. Behind solid pitching, consistent hitters, and a serviceable bullpen makes the Red Sox armed to get through the marathon of a season and make a serious run in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Best offseason move:

Getting starting pitcher David Price resigned this offseason was top priority for the club and their best move. The ace of the staff, Price is coming off a nagging triceps injuring from 2013, but should give the Rays a bounce back, Cy Young caliber performance this season to try to put himself in position for a massive contract next offseason.

Players to watch:

Evan Longoria was healthy for a whole season for the first time since 2010. It will be interesting to see if he can stay healthy a second year in a row, and be the catalyst that leads the Rays to the playoffs for second year in a row. Would that be coincidence if a Longoria healthy season and a Rays playoff appearance happen again?

Crash and Burn Predictions – 87 wins, 75 losses, second place in the AL East, and one of the AL Wild Card slots

The Rays young pitching staff and a healthy Longoria will lead a charge for the American League East crown. Unfortunately I think they’ll come up a few games short of their goal. However, I think the Rays will find a way to sneak their way back into the playoffs through a wild card draw.

New York Yankees

Best offseason moves:

The signing of Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year deal was big for the franchise that is starting to see its top pitchers begin to age. The 25-year old will fill the fourth slot in the rotation to keep the pressure and expectations as minimal as possible. He also provides the Yankees a possible ace to replace C.C. Sabathia down the road if he pans out to be as good as he was in Japan.

Players to watch:

The combination of Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann gives the Yankees major upgrades at their respected positions. If either can produce at least their career averages, it’ll boost the Yankees offensive output immensely. That would especially be the case if Jacoby Ellsbury can stay healthy all year and Mark Teixeira can return to form following his 2013 wrist issues.

Crash and Burn Predictions – 86 wins, 76 losses, and third place in the AL East

Once again the Yankees flexed their wallets in an offseason with the goal of trying to buy their way to a championship. Unfortunately the nearly $204 million they’ll spend on payroll in 2014 won’t get them to the playoffs. Offensive side of the ball will have injuries, the pitching staff below Sabathia will have a below average season, and the bullpen and closer David Robertson will blow the end of several games this season.

Baltimore Orioles

Best offseason move:

Nelson Cruz coming to Baltimore could make waves in the American League East. A career .268 hitter, Cruz has averaged 27 home runs in the last five seasons and will be a nice fit alongside Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and J.J. Hardy. He’ll be trying to show Texas and the rest of baseball that it was wrong of them to not sign him to a bigger contract then what he ended up with in Baltimore.

Players to watch:

Last season was a big step for Ubaldo Jimenez in trying to return to his 2010 form where he had a 19-8 record and a .288 ERA. In Cleveland he had a respectable 13-9 record with a 3.30 ERA last season. If he can manage to stay productive, Jimenez will be a good fit behind Chris Tillman, who had a 16-7 record in 206.1 innings pitched last season.

Crash and Burn Predictions – 78 wins, 86 losses, and fourth place in the AL East

The Orioles have a decent amount of offense in Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, but the pitching will be the reason they will not make the playoffs this season. The strength of their division will always make it hard for the Orioles to compete for the title unless they bump up their spending from the $107 million which would be difficult as a middle market team.

Toronto Blue Jays

Players to watch:

Most everyone on the Blue Jays players hit their career averages last season. It was obviously not good enough in a division that has the champs, Yankees, Orioles, and Rays. I’m going to pick the pitching rotation as the players to watch. Can R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and the rest of the squad get their normal mid-teens in wins and cut down the losses to 7-9? If they could do that and the bullpen can do a good job bridging the innings between the starters and closer Casey Janssen, they’ll have a shot to compete in the middle of the division.

Crash and Burn Predictions – 72 wins, 90 losses, and fifth place in the AL East

Unfortunately I don’t think they have enough to compete with the other four teams in their division and once again be in the cellar. While they have big names on their roster, I think the quality of pitching is the difference between them and the likes of Boston, New York and Tampa. Would you rather have R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle or the likes of John Lester from Boston, C.C. Sabathia in New York, or David Price in Tampa Bay? It’s that difference that’ll leave Toronto selling off players at the trade deadline instead of competing for the divison.

Up next on the preview of the American League will be the AL West! Could the Angels finally live up to expectations? Find out tomorrow!

Sox Hold On After Hot Start Versus Mariners

The White Sox took a trip to bright, sunny Peoria Stadium Monday afternoon to take on Blake Beavan and the Seattle Mariners. The White Sox, who haven’t seen the winning side of games in a week, turned to rookie pitcher Erik Johnson to lead the way for the Sox.

Paul Konerko got the offense started in the second with a single. Dayan Viciedo followed it up with a sharp single to right field which was misplayed by Michael Saunders which allowed Viciedo to advance to third and Konerko to score from first. Alexei Ramirez would follow with a single to left field to score Viciedo. After a Tyler Flowers single, Marcus Semien would crush an inside fastball out to left field for a three run home run. The Sox would take the 5-0 lead.

Johnson would give a couple back in the bottom of the second after he hit Mariners’ designated hitter Stephen Romero with a pitch, and gave up a single to first baseman Logan Morrison. He would give up a single by Dustin Ackley that scored Romero, and then would get Michael Saunders to ground out to Jose Abreu at first which would score Morrison from third making it a 5-2 Sox lead.

Johnson would give up another run in the fifth inning on a Robinson Cano single to right field that scored catcher Mike Zunino cutting the Sox lead down to two.

The Sox’s rookie fourth starter looked solid in his last start of the spring. His fastball looked crisp and located it well. This spring Johnson has given up 12 earned runs in 17 innings. The number skew by the seven runs he gave up to the LA Angels last Wednesday. He should make a good back end starter for the Sox and has the abilities to end up with seven to ten wins and a mid to high three ERA.

The White Sox would add two more runs in the top of the sixth inning off the bat of Paul Konerko when he hit a home run to left center that scored Connor Gillaspie making it 7-3. That would cap the White Sox offense as the Sox would generate only two more hits in the last three innings including a Viciedo one out double in the ninth inning off of Seattle’s closer Danny Farquhar.

Donnie Veal came into the game in the bottom of the seventh. After the first pitch single to Mike Zunino, Veal couldn’t keep the ball in the strike zone. He would fly open with his shoulder in his delivery causing the ball to sail into the left handed batter’s box. After almost hitting the next two hitters and consequently walked them, he would give up bases clearing double to Cano in the seventh inning in relief of Johnson. After the double, Veal would get three straight outs to get out of the seventh.

Manager Robin Ventura would tap Zach Putnam to come in for the save. Putnam is in competition for the last spot in the bullpen with Daniel Webb. He would get the five out save, only giving up one hit in the process. He got the last two of the eighth and the first in the ninth quickly. He’d give up a single to Tyler Smith to center field, but came right back with a fastball that Mariners third baseman D.J. Peterson hit into a double play to end the game.

As a team the Sox look like their ready for the regular season. With only days left there are still a couple cuts that need to be made. The White Sox broke camp today after the Cubs game, more information on the cuts coming as soon as they’re announced.

Sox and Quintana Agree to Five-Year Deal

On Monday the White Sox assured themselves of having the second of their top two starting pitchers in their organization for several years. They had already signed Sale at the beginning of last season to a five-year, $65 million contract with two years of team options. That contract locked up the ace of the staff until 2020 when he could become a free agent.

So the White Sox went into this spring wanting to lock up another of their young pitchers for years to come on Monday. The 25-year old, Jose Quintana was rewarded for his 2013 performance with a five year contract of his own.

According to WhiteSox.com, if Quintana is eligible for arbitration after this season, the sum of the guaranteed dollars would be at $26.5 million for the length of the contract. That breaks down into $850,000 this season, a nice bump up to $3.4 million next season, a raise to $5.4 million in 2016, $7 million in 2017 and $8.85 million in 2018. The contract also holds two team options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, at $10.5 million and $11.5 million respectively. There is also a $1 million buy out if the Sox don’t pick up either option on Quintana.

Again according to WhiteSox.com, if Quintana is not eligible for arbitration after this season, the sum of the guaranteed dollars would be $21 million for the length of the contract. This contract breaks down into the same $850,000 this season, $1 million for next season, $3.8 million in 2016, $6 million in 2017 and $8.35 million in 2018. The Sox would still hold the same two options for Quintana as they do in the arbitration eligible contract.

Quintana who posted a 3.51 ERA last season in 200 innings has shown that even without over powering stuff he could still get guys out effectively. He did have six games where he gave up either four or five runs, but for the most part he kept the games in the quality start category. The biggest problem he ran into last season was the lack of a White Sox offense to support him.

Quintana so far during Spring Training has pitched 11 innings and has given up 18 hits and 20 runs in those innings. The worst of his outings is the one against the Oakland A’s in which he never recorded an out and gave up 9 runs.

Rick Hahn said today in an interview about the signing that he took blame for the rough outing because he thinks Quintana may have been concerned over the physical that was pending in the days after the outing for his contract to be finalized.

Sale said of the move to WhiteSox.com, “What he does on the field is secondary to who he is in the clubhouse.” He continued, “How hard he works at pitching but with being a good teammate and I mean, a year ago today, he needed an interpreter and now he’s doing all this on his own. He’s a very hard worker and he’s very dedicated to what he does.”

In a statement about his contract, Quintana said, “That’s a lot of money. But I want to focus on games. The money, my family is happy with that. I talked to them and they’re so happy.” Quintana went on, “I want to say thank you to the Chicago White Sox for this opportunity to be here for a long time. I want to play hard every five days and better this team.”

It’s rare these days to have a team’s management, the player who signed the contract and his teammates all truly happy with the size of deals that’ve been handed out. In this case, everyone’s happy. Now that the stress of the contract negotiations are over, it’ll be interesting to see if Quintana’s rough days were really from the stress or if it’s a sign of things to come. With the faith the Sox put into him, the chances are it’s just from the stress even though he’d never admit there was any to begin with.

Changes to the MLB Rule Book for 2014

In a sport that’s been around since 1869, there haven’t been many changes in the rules of baseball.  The size and weights of bats, uniforms, and stadiums have changed throughout the years but the rules are basically the same.

Major League Baseball and Bud Selig have instituted a couple of new rules during this off-season, one of which could change baseball forever.

With the player’s safety in mind, MLB and MLBPA came to a conclusion last Monday that something had to be done about the violent collisions at home plate.  Collisions like the ones to Buster Posey that broke bones, or the one to Ray Fosse that changed him for the rest of his career.

So their answer to the said issue:  runners must slide into home plate when the catcher doesn’t have possession of the ball.  From the catcher’s point of view, they are not allowed to block home plate without the full possession of the ball.

The rule is named Experimental Rule 7.13.  The purpose of the rule is to increase player safety and try to lower extreme collisions at the plate.  Here are some main points to the new rule

–          The Runner may not run out of a direct line to home plate aimed at initiating contact with anyone covering home.  If they do so the runner could be called out.

–          The Catcher may not block the pathway of a runner scoring unless he has possession of the ball.  If they do so the player runner could be called safe.

–          All of the calls will be based on the umpire’s judgement.

  • Whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate during the play, lowered his shoulder or used his hands, elbows, or arms during his approach to the plate.

–          The runners are not required to slide, and the catchers in possession of the ball can block home plate.  If runners slide and catchers provide a lane to home plate then neither will be called for violating this rule.

–          Coaches will be able to use replay to challenge the calls based on Rule 7.13

So basically they’re trying to ban the collisions at home plate and yet didn’t at the same time.  In theory the collision should never happen again; especially since by the time the runner should start his slide, and the catcher has possession of the ball, the runner would likely be out by a decent distance.  If both players just try to time it right, then you could run into breaking the rule and the play being called in favor of the other team.  This rule could give way to players being extremely creative on how they slide into home trying to avoid the catchers sweeping tag.

The other rule change and most significant is the institution of replay and coaches challenges.

Since its debut August 28, 2008, replay has been utilized 130 times.  Up until now the only calls that were able to be replayed were homeruns or fair and foul calls.  That has now been officially changed and opened up to any call that does not involve the strike zone during an at-bat.

MLB owners, MLB Players Association, and the umpires union have agreed to the expansion of replay.  The new replay rules will include reviews plays such as:

–          Force plays (except for a fielder’s touching of second base on a double play otherwise known as the neighborhood play for safety reasons)

–          Tag plays (includes steals and pickoffs)

–          Trap plays in the outfield only

–          Batter being hit by a pitch

–          Timing play (whether a runner scores before the last out of that inning)

–          Touching a base (requires an appeal)

–          Runner passing other runners on the base paths)

–          Record keeping (hitters counts, outs, score, and subs)

The replay reviews that are not changing include:

–          Home runs

–          Ground rule doubles

–          Fan interference

–          Stadium boundary calls (such as fielder going into the stands)

–          Fair or Foul balls in the outfield only

As a fan of the sport, I’m hoping that these new replays make the game a better product by fixing such obvious blunders like the blown first base call in the Armando Galarraga botched perfect game.  Here’s the way the review process will happen via MLB.com:

INITIATION OF INSTANT REPLAY

  • Field managers may initiate replay review on one reviewable play per game by verbally indicating his intention to challenge, in a timely manner, to the Crew Chief. Guidelines will be established to determine whether a challenge is timely.
  • The manager may request that the umpire review multiple portions of the same play, but he must specify exactly which portions of the play he is challenging.
  • If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game. No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game.
  • Once the manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call. In that circumstance, the Crew Chief is not obligated to invoke instant replay if requested by the manager.
  • Home run calls that are currently subject to instant replay review will continue to be reviewed at the Crew Chief’s discretion. Managers may request that an Umpire review a home run call, but managers cannot challenge home run calls.

REVIEW PROCESS

  • Once instant replay review is invoked (either by the Manager or the Crew Chief), the Crew Chief will signal to the official scorer that the play is under review.
  • The Crew Chief and at least one other umpire will then move to a designated communication location near home plate, where they will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center in New York.
  • Major League Umpires will be staffed as Replay Officials at the Replay Command Center, located at MLB Advanced Media headquarters, for all Major League games.
  • The Replay Command Center will have direct access to video from most cameras in the ballpark in real-time, regardless of whether they are shown on the live broadcast.
  • The Replay Official will look at the video feeds and determine if there is clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call on the field. If the Replay Official overturns a call on the field, he will also use his judgment to determine where to appropriately place runners if the play had been called correctly on the field.
  • The umpires on the field will not have a monitor to review the play and they will not leave the field at any time.
  • The Replay Official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call.
  • On-Field personnel may not argue with the decision of the Replay Official.

CLUB ACCESS TO VIDEO

  • To determine whether to challenge a play, personnel in the dugout will be permitted to communicate with a video specialist in the Clubhouse who has access to the same video that is available to Replay Officials. This communication will occur via the dugout phone.
  • Both the home and visiting Clubs will have standardized technology to ensure each Club has equal access to all video.
  • No monitors or additional electronic equipment will be permitted in the dugout.

SCOREBOARD REPLAYS

  • Clubs will now have the right to show replays of all close plays on its ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed.

 

If the system works properly, it should help to avoid managers coming on to the field, and getting into screaming matches with umpires.  Also with the introduction of the central replay hub in New York, it should allow these replays to go pretty quick.  Similar to the way the NHL handles replays expect the ump still has to make the call not the replay officials.

Over the last couple years we’ve seen officials blow some major calls in games throughout all of sports.  It was important for baseball to set up a system to handle such calls like the “Jeffery Maier game” of 1996, and the blown fair or foul call from the second game of the Yankees and Twins 2009 ALDS.  Now that they have it’ll be interesting to see how it’s implemented on a game by game basis, whether it works the way the league would like, and how successful the new system will be.