Keys to 2013: Chicago White Sox

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Starting Pitching Key: Jake Peavy

Peavy has been an anomaly since he got to the majors. Looking at his mechanics, it was a matter of time before the all-out, all-the-time delivery blew out his elbow or shoulder. He stayed remarkably healthy for the first six full seasons of his big league career. In 2010, he suffered from an injury—a torn lat muscle in his back—that was unheard of for a pitcher. No one knew whether he’d come back at all, let alone pitch effectively. He was mediocre in 2011, but in 2012, he threw 219 innings and had a hard-luck record of 11-12 when he conceivably could’ve won 18 games. He appeared to have lessened his intensity with every single pitch last season which could translate into better durability as he ages.

Relief Pitching Key: Addison Reed

The White Sox are not in a position where they’ll have a great deal of margin for error and if their closer blows games they need to win, it could send them into a spiral.

Reed has occasional meltdowns where he surrenders crooked numbers. For the most part, however, he was reliable in 2012 in his first season as the White Sox closer.

Offensive Key: Tyler Flowers

Flowers has put up big offensive numbers in the minors with great plate discipline. In the big leagues, in 317 plate appearances, he has a slash line of .205/.307/.388. Is he a 4-A player who’s too good for Triple A but not good enough to be an everyday Major League player? Or was he waiting for an opportunity to come into camp knowing he was the frontrunner to catch the majority of the time? Much of the basis for  Flowers being the heir apparent to A.J. Pierzynski as the White Sox starting catcher is that they don’t have anyone else, but players have gotten opportunities and thrived for far worse reasons than that. He’s getting his chance and he has to hit from the get-go.

Defensive Key: Flowers

Not only does he have to hit, but he’s got to handle the pitching staff from behind the plate as well. Pierzynski didn’t throw particularly well, but he was a veteran the pitchers would listen to in the trenches. Flowers doesn’t have that luxury and the pressure on him is exponential in needing to hit, be competent defensively, and keep the pitchers comfortable and happy. With veteran pitchers, that’s not always easy. He has to be tough, but not overly difficult and he can’t let them bully him. It’s a fine line he has to tread and he needs to do it on his own.

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Berkman A Great Signing For The Rangers On All Levels (If He’s Healthy)

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Lance Berkman is a great signing with limited risk for the Rangers. Let’s take a look at why.

He’s can still hit

Berkman, even at age 37, can still hit the ball out of the park and walks a lot. In his down years, Berkman’s on base percentage was consistently 120 points above his batting average. Last season, he missed a chunk of the season with knee surgery, but in 2011 he signed with the Cardinals, agreeing to play the outfield and losing the requisite weight to make it possible. His defense, while not good, was reasonable and he caught all the balls he could reach. Offensively, for the eventual World Series champions, Berkman was a low-priced and excellent bookend for the other Cardinals power bats Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. For the Rangers, he’ll benefit from their friendly hitters’ park and wind up being a superior acquisition than trading the assets to get a Justin Upton, as well as a more cost-effective option than overpaying as the Red Sox did for Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino.

The knee problem and durability

Berkman has had issues with both knees in his career. For most players, this would be viewed as significant, but without this knowledge and looking at his annual tally of games played combined with consistent power and production, few would know he was ever injured at all.

Every season from the time he became a fulltime big leaguer in 2001 until 2011, he played in at least 145 games in eight of those seasons; the years he didn’t were 2005 (132 games), 2009 (136 games), and 2010 (122 games).

Can he be expected to play every single day in 2013? Probably not. But the Rangers should expect 125-135 with 25 homers and a .380+ OBP.

The Rangers needs

The talk of Berkman only being effective as a left-handed hitter is silly, but righty power wasn’t a glaring need for the Rangers with Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler in their lineup. Berkman’s nowhere near as good batting righty as he is lefty, but with the loss of Josh Hamilton, the Rangers main need offensively was power from the left side of the plate. They solved that problem by signing A.J. Pierzynski and Berkman. They’ve also excised Michael Young from the lineup. Given how bad Young was last season, pretty much anything would’ve been a suitable replacement or an improvement.

They’ve lost guaranteed production because Hamilton’s not there, but in the long-term the money and risk they saved (and that was taken up by their division rival Angels) gives them financial and logistic freedoms they wouldn’t have had if they were saddled with the landmine-laden albatross of Hamilton.

They’ll need Mike Olt to produce in his shift to the outfield, but their lineup as it stands will hit enough for them to contend.

Money

One year at $11 million for Berkman compared with Mike Napoli’s (still uncompleted) $39 million contract with the Red Sox is a no-brainer advantage for the Rangers. They saved $6 million in dumping Young (paying $10 million toward his contract when he was traded to the Phillies), have the Hamilton allocation of around $20-25 million annually to play with, and signed Pierzynski for $7.5 million.

Tallying it up, the annual payout of $40-45 million vs. the $24 million they’re spending with these new players and the contribution to Young’s deal, it’s a significant savings for the Rangers and they’re still around a 90+ win team with room to operate from now to mid-season to make other additions.

The bottom line

A few weeks ago, as the Rangers lost out on Zack Greinke, Hamilton, Napoli and refused to surrender the package the Diamondbacks were demanding for Upton, there was panic stricken fear that the Rangers window was closed and they needed to rebuild. Instead, circumstance has smiled on them and they’ve filled their holes in a far less expensive fashion, altered their clubhouse to an edgier place and are still a legitimate playoff contender.

That edginess could be viewed as dangerous, but the Rangers core had been together for so long that perhaps the feisty personalities of Pierzynski and Berkman will liven the place up.

The key with Berkman is that troublesome knee. If he’s physically unable to perform, it was still worth the risk considering the Rangers limited options.

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Rejecting the Yankees

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It’s not a fundamental problem that the Yankees are having trouble signing players who, in years past, would have taken less money amid knowledge that they’ll also receive less playing time to try and get a playoff/World Series share, bolster their value a bit, and go elsewhere. Nobody is going to be lamenting Jeff Keppinger signing with the White Sox or Eric Chavez going to the Diamondbacks based on what kinds of players they are in the view of the Yankees—backups and utility players. Chavez can’t be counted on to do what the Yankees were probably going to need him to do and play 4-5 times a week until Alex Rodriguez gets back. Keppinger, in spite of a broken leg suffered at home, received a 3-year, $12 million deal and deserves to play semi-regularly—something that wouldn’t happen with the Yankees once A-Rod is back; Chavez received 1-year, $3 million from the Diamondbacks. But all of this is beside the point. The point is that players are suddenly rejecting the Yankees when the Yankees want them; the Yankees are—rightfully—shying away from overpaying for mediocre backups or players who they have valued at a certain level and chosen not to surpass that number as they did when they let Russell Martin leave for the Pirates.

Chavez is injury prone and Keppinger has a broken leg and both selected deals with other clubs instead of the Yankees. That leaves the Yankees scrounging for a warm body to replace A-Rod and possibly a proven, veteran catcher. Now what? Are they seriously entertaining Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski? The Youkilis talk has the tone of the propaganda arm of the Yankees dictatorship—the YES Network—dropping a pebble into the water to gauge the fans’ reaction to accepting and trusting an enemy defector.

Even thinking about courting players the ilk and reputation of Youkilis and Pierzynski presents the conundrum of the Yankees still pushing the ridiculous concept of “dignity” and “class”. It would take a few days for Youkilis to start tossing his helmet, walking the plate in the first inning looking like Pigpen from Peanuts; or Pierzynski nearly starting a brawl because of his obnoxiousness with opposing batters, umpires, and everyone else before someone from the organization said to one or both, “That’s not the way we play and act here,” spurring both players to reply, “Well what the hell’d you bring me here for?”

It’s entirely possible that the attraction to the Yankees is finally being seen for what it was: that they won and either paid more money than other clubs or helped a player increase his value when he moves on. With the rising number of players rejecting the Yankees from the major stars like Cliff Lee to players like Chavez, Keppinger, and Martin, could it be that the allure of pinstripes wasn’t a desire to be part of some phantom storyline of superiority and that it was purely a business decision? That the continued whispers throughout baseball about the fan/media treatment of players turning over-the-line abusive has grown louder and louder with a happy-go-lucky player like Nick Swisher being most open and upset about it, other players are going to be reluctant to walk into that situation especially when its prospects of contention in the next two years are looking increasingly dim?

The Yankees didn’t lose out because Keppinger and Chavez chose to go elsewhere, but it’s not the individual players that should cause consternation among Yankees fans. It’s that the cracks in the foundation are now more than just cracks and these players would prefer to be far away from it when it disintegrates completely.

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Are The White Sox For Real?

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The White Sox are 27-22, have won 6 straight, are ½ game out of first place and are one of the bigger surprises in baseball. They made wholesale changes this past winter and hired a neophyte manager, Robin Ventura. They put forth the pretense of a rebuilding project when they dealt away Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos and it didn’t appear that the White Sox were expecting to contend in 2012. GM Ken Williams vacillated on his statements implying that he was clearing out the house. He kept veteran A.J. Pierzynski; signed lefty John Danks to a contract extension after fielding trade offers for him; and resisted inquiries on Gavin Floyd.

They didn’t define what they were doing in the off-season and as a result, we don’t know what they are in-season.

Are they a .500 team? Are they a contender? Are they “open for business” either way as Williams said last Fall?

I don’t think they know. I think they’re waiting to see where they are by July before committing one way or the other.

Jake Peavy is having a brilliant comeback season after an injury-ravaged tenure as a White Sox. He has a contract option for 2013 at $22 million with a $4 million buyout. The White Sox could opt to keep him for 2013, trade him at the deadline or in the winter or simply decline the option.

Adam Dunn has reverted into being Adam Dunn with home runs, walks and strikeouts after a rough transition and profoundly bad luck in 2011.

Their defense has been surprisingly good following years of neglect by the front office.

They might be better than predicted.

But contenders?

That’s still up in the air.

Is Paul Konerko going to hit .380? To have an on base percentage of nearly .470? Konerko’s a fine hitter and leader and is making a strong Hall of Fame case with his late-career production, but he’ll be back down to a .295/.370/.520 slash line with 30-35 homers by the time the season’s over. That won’t make up for the dead spots in the lineup they’re carrying at second and third base.

It comes down to what’s real. Is this (.224/.282/.364 with 5 homers) the real Gordon Beckham or is he the hitter he was as a rookie in 2009 when he was a budding star? Given that he’s been rapidly declining since 2010, I’d say this is it.

Will Peavy keep up his work? Will Pierzynski spend the whole season batting above .300? Can Chris Sale maintain his stamina and excellence that resulted in 15 strikeouts last night after being a reliever in his first two big league seasons? What will Danks contribute when he returns from a shoulder injury?

They’re on their second closer in Addison Reed after Hector Santiago flunked out of the role. There were even a brief several days when it was said that Sale was moving back to the bullpen.

We don’t know what they are. They don’t know what they are.

There are teams like the Yankees and Angels for whom we can study history and the backs of the bubblegum cards and reasonably extrapolate that for their name players, the struggles and successes of the present won’t continue into the future. Then there are teams like the White Sox for whom the current results are unsustainable.

Williams is always aggressive, but whether he’s aggressive to add or subtract will depend on how his team is playing at that moment. They’re not particularly good, but they’re not particularly bad either. It’s the undefined teams that have to come to that determination regardless of fan/media demands. It’s not as simple as it looks. Williams is fond of making bold moves that generally ignoring conventional wisdom. In the case of the 2012 White Sox, the bold move might be to stand pat. They don’t have many prospects to deal and the veteran players they’d like to dump could help them more as White Sox than they would as trade bait.

It’s not easy, but it’s smarter to stay where they are and hope they maintain their unlikely spurt into contention.

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