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!
In a Friday afternoon matchup versus the crosstown rival Cubs, John Danks took on the challenge of trying to stop the White Sox streak of bad pitching performances.
After a couple of days of White Sox pitching getting crushed, Danks looked solid while taking the loss. Danks was decently efficient in his pitches, throwing 66 percent of them for strikes. Unfortunately for him, Luis Valbuena took one of his pitches deep in the top of the fourth for a three run home run to give the North Siders a 4-0 lead. Danks would end up leaving at the end of the fifth inning and finished with a stat line of four runs on six hits and two strike outs.
Danks has had a pretty efficient spring which is always good. He’s doing so by locating his pitches well, especially cut fastball pitch that he’s been working on which was very flat last season.
In an interview with WhiteSox.com, Danks had this to say, “I felt real good. I was able to throw all my pitches and I felt good about where I’m at.” Danks continued, “Obviously, there are a couple I would like to have back, but the goal today was not to walk anybody and I did that. I feel like I got my command better than what it has been and still got some good stuff on the ball.”
It would be helpful for the White Sox can go to battle with three efficient lefties at the top of their pitching rotation. Most teams have trouble finding and keeping two left-hand pitchers to fill out their rotations. The Sox are hoping that Danks could give them something substantial back on the three years at $14.25 million per year investment they have in him.
Luis Valbuena struck again in the seventh off of Scott Downs to make it 5-0. The Cubs would go on to add two more on a wild pitch in the seventh and a single in the ninth.
The Sox hitters seemed baffled by the Cubs pitching staff. Abreu, Dunn and Garcia had one hit each which was all the offense the White Sox could manage to produce.
The only note for the offensive side of the ball was catcher Tyler Flowers leaving the game in the bottom of the sixth after swinging at a pitch from Cubs reliever Alberto Cabrera with leg cramps. He would be replaced by pitch hitter Jaime Pedroza in the at-bat and by Adrian Nieto behind the plate on defense.
Next on the block was a split squad against the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants on Saturday.
Today marks the week anniversary of the start of spring training games for the White Sox. After today’s win at the Cincinnati Reds, the Sox have 3 wins, 4 losses, and a tie for a record.
While the Sox are still trying to win games, even this early in spring training, getting ready for the regular season is most important. An example of that is pitchers that are working on pitch location, arm strength, or even learning a new pitch. John Danks is currently trying to hone in on creating a solid cut fastball.
“We actually worked on throwing it to both sides of the plate, and that was effective.” Dank’s told ChicagoWhiteSox.com. “It was around the zone, had a sharp break on it. That’s where I expected to be at this point. Keep on improving, but I’m really pleased with how it was so far.”
This is what spring training is all about. Danks had major issues last season controlling his pitches, especially with his cutter. His cutter last season lacked the snap that his cutter had before the surgery. He came to camp wanting to work on making his cutter more efficient and have more bite. He showed off his work in his game against the Mariners, where he went scoreless through three innings and had two strike outs.
Danks is trying to solidify his stuff as he’s vying for the second spot in the rotation against Jose Quintana. No matter which guy is second or third in the rotation, it gives the White Sox three left-handed people at the top of their rotation which is pretty rare throughout the league.
Jose Abreu is using his time in spring training to become accustomed to major league pitching. Abreu crushed his first home run of the spring Thursday against the Royals. He’s shown his natural power even in fly outs on pitches out of the zone when he muscles them to within feet of the warning track in the outfield. Abreu only has two hits in 10 at-bats in the spring, one home run and one double. The good news is that he’s making contact in every at-bat as he has no strike outs so far.
Another bright spot so far of the off-season is center fielder, Adam Eaton. The left-hander has had an excellent start to camp. In the four games he’s played in, Eaton has gone five for nine with a walk and a stolen base. If Eaton, who went one for one today in the game against Cincinnati, continues to have a hot bat through the spring, it may open up the possibility of the Sox trading Alejandro DeAza.
With Eaton’s emergence, there have been rumors that the White Sox would consider trading either Dayan Viciedo or Alejandro DeAza. Both players right now are going to be splitting playing time in left field throughout the season. Both also are at the end of the minor league options, but it’s DeAza that has only one more year of arbitration left of control. The Sox already have a back-up in the outfield, Jordan Danks. So it leaves Alejandro DeAza the odd man out.
In fact, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN in Minnesota, there are people in the Twins’ front office who are big fans of DeAza. It’d be a little odd for the Twins to go after DeAza since they have a plethora of young outfield talent in their organization. The Tigers may be a better fit for DeAza since they lost Andy Dirks for about three months. He’d be in another backup or platoon situation but would likely be Torii Hunter’s replacement if he leaves via free agency in 2015. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Orioles, Mariners, and Pirates may also be a few teams that could use an upgrade in the outfield.
Tomorrow the Sox take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at Camelback Ranch. Jose Quintana’s first pitch will be at 1:05 pm MST as he faces off Brandon McCarthy.
In part one of the 2014 story lines articles, I discussed some of the story lines that hover over the offense this season. The pitch staff has some story lines of their own.
The first of these story lines is “What two other pitchers will man the starting rotation along with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks?” Baseball Prospectus has listed Erik Johnson as their top prospect in the White Sox organization. He and the newly acquired Felipe Paulino have an edge in getting the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. The Sox are looking for Andre Rienzo to show more consistency in his command before they’d give him a shot at the bottom of the rotation. If he doesn’t show signs of better command, he’ll probably end up starting the year in triple A.
The 24 year-old Johnson had three years of pitching experience between the minors and majors. In his two years of pitching in the minors, he pitched 234.1 innings and had a solid 2.21 ERA (Earned Run Average). He won 18 games and lost 8 of them. He briefly spent time in the rotation last September when he was called up. He pitched in 5 games and went 3-2 in those games. In the games he pitched in, Johnson gave up 16 runs, but only 10 of those were earned. The defense didn’t help the rookie out any. It will be interesting to see what Johnson could do with a better defense.
Felipe Paulino, who was signed from free agency in a 1 year deal, is expected to take one of the two places in the rotation. The former Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals player has a career 4.93 ERA and a 13-32 record. In a year, the Sox are trying to compete and retool; his signing was for him to fill in the last spot of the rotation. On the other hand, it could also give pitching coach Don Cooper a chance to show his stuff, and turn around a player’s fortune.
Another story line that’ll hang about in 2014, “Who’s going to be the next closer?” It is hard to believe the Sox didn’t have a plan for Nate Jones to become the next closer since they traded Addison Reed. They had control of Reed till 2018, so they had to have thoughts that Jones was a solid enough pitcher in his first two seasons to make Reed expendable. He holds a 12-5 record with a 3.31 ERA, which was somewhat inflated last season as mentioned in my previous article on his current injury.
There is some competition for the role with the Sox signing former closer Mitchell Boggs, veteran Matt Lindstrom and others on the roster who could also step into the role when needed. “Will Jones get the role?”, and “Can he hold on to the role the whole season?” could be a couple of questions that will be answered as the season moved on.
There is also some question as to whether John Danks will ever be able to get back to a 200+ inning pitcher, with a sub four ERA. He hasn’t lived up to taking over the ace position for Mark Buehrle. With Chris Sale in firm control of that, he can focus on getting back to pitching as a number two or three. Between ’08 and ’10, Danks carried a sub four ERA with double-digit wins. The Sox are hoping that with another year recovered from the injury he’ll bounce back from his 4-14 season last year, especially since they’re paying him $14.25 million each of the next three years.
In this day and age, where people are so caught up the story lines that run reality television and such. Each new baseball season can also bring with it story lines that can keep people drawn to it. Now we wait for baseball’s season premiere to see how the stories will unfold!