Chris Davis and PEDs

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The two sides regarding Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis are firmly entrenched. There are those who see his wondrous career jump and comparable players who’ve risen similarly and unexpectedly in recent years as clear-cut evidence that he’s using banned substances to facilitate his newfound stardom. The others present a combination of legalese and chastisement to the skeptics along the lines of, “not everyone is a cheater.”

I’m not accusing Davis of anything nor am I putting forth a defense, but to imply that there shouldn’t be suspicion about any player who experiences this kind of half-season after never having posted anything close to these number in his major league career is ludicrous. On the same token, just because he’s hitting home runs with this frequency doesn’t mean he’s cheating. When a player explodes like this, there will be questions asked as to how he did it and, given the era in which we live where everyone’s suspect, it’s fair for them to be asked. It happened with Jose Bautista and Raul Ibanez in recent years and neither had their names come up in a Biogenesis-type record, neither was caught with anyone who was involved in PED use, and neither failed a test. The talk died down. But realistically, is there any player—one—who would elicit shock and dismay if he was caught having used PEDs? And that includes Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, David Wright and Joe Mauer among the “oh, he’d never do that” brigade of players seen as aboveboard and honest.

Some might be more disappointing than others, might create a splashier headline and bigger scandal, but shock? It’s like the story that Mickey Mantle might have used a corked bat in his career: it ruins the narrative and childhood idol worship of a vast segment of the baseball-watching population and turns into anger and denials based on nothing. I don’t know whether Mantle used a corked bat and nor do you. This is identical to the response to any player being accused of having used PEDs and the public and factions in the media saying, “No way.” You don’t know.

There are reasonable, baseball-related explanations for Davis’s sudden burst into stardom. He’s locked in at the plate; John Kruk discussed his balance and timing in getting behind the ball with all his strength; he posted minor league numbers nearly identical to the ones he’s posting now; and if he was going to use PEDs, he only decided to do it for 2013? What about from between 2008 to 2011 when he showed flashes of talent but struck out so much that he looked like he was on his way to becoming Adam Dunn, wound up back in the minor leagues for long stretches, and the Rangers traded him to the Orioles?

The number of players who’ve stood in front of cameras, congress, baseball executives and law enforcement officials and lied to everyone’s faces is so vast that it is naïve to exonerate any out of hand. There’s no evidence—circumstantial or otherwise—against Davis. Accusing him with an insulting, “he must be juicing,” is wrong, but exonerating him is only slightly less wrong because neither I nor you nor anyone else other than Chris Davis knows whether his first half is due to fulfilling his talent or getting his hands on some high quality, undetectable PEDs.

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MLB Trade Deadline: Questions Surrounding the White Sox Players and the Manager

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Looking at the White Sox, the main thing preventing them from making huge changes at the trading deadline is that, objectively, they don’t have many things that other teams would want. Or at least they don’t have many players that teams are going to give anything worthwhile to get.

Jake Peavy, if he was healthy, would attract interest. He’s not. If Peavy returns from his fractured rib and pitches well, he’ll get through waivers in August due to his $14.5 million contract for 2014, so someone would take him if the White Sox pick up a portion of his contract. It’s unlikely but possible. John Danks is still recovering and finding his groove after shoulder surgery. A potential trade chip, Gavin Floyd, is out for the year with Tommy John surgery. No one’s taking Adam Dunn. Someone would take Alex Rios and they’re going to get an overpay for Jesse Crain. Nothing earth-shattering is coming back for any of these players.

The big question is whether they’ll trade Paul Konerko. They could get something for Konerko, but that opens up another issue: how could they make Konerko the player-manager if they trade him?

No. I’m not kidding.

Ken Williams was willing to do anything when he was the everyday GM and now that he’s been moved up to executive VP of baseball and Rick Hahn has taken over as GM, Hahn will take his cue from Williams and listen to whatever is floated. The problem they have now is that there’s really not much of anything to do to improve their fortunes in the near future. Williams was serious when he said he considered Konerko as player-manager prior to hiring Robin Ventura and Ventura is not going to be the White Sox manager for much longer. It’s not because they’re going to fire him, but because he took the job as a “let’s see if I enjoy this” test endeavor and he certainly didn’t sign up for a team that’s going to lose 95 games in 2013 and has a few years of retooling ahead of them. There was talk earlier this year that Ventura wasn’t planning on managing for very long and he sort of “aw shucksed” it as a brush off without a fervent denial when he turned down the club’s offer of a contract extension. He might enjoy managing, being around the players and the competition, but he doesn’t need it and that attitude can tend to get on the players’ nerves. He’s signed through next year, but I think it’s iffy that he manages in 2014.

If Ventura leaves and with Konerko a free agent at the end of the year, I could easily see them pulling the trigger and making Konerko the manager if he retires or player-manager if he wants to do it. It would distract from the retool/rebuild, give Konerko experience in handling a media circus and managing for when the White Sox are ready to contend again because, by then, he’ll almost definitely be retired. There hasn’t been a player-manager since Pete Rose and it would be a juicy story to watch and distract the masses as to how bad the White Sox promise to be for the next several years as they move on from this group and reload.

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American League Central—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I recently looked at the AL East, how they’re faring now and their prospects for the future. Now let’s look at the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

There are few baseball executives for whom their statements should be taken at face value, but White Sox GM Ken Williams is one. Because of that, when he says he misspoke about blowing the whole thing up at the conclusion of the 2011 season, then didn’t blow the whole thing up and instead made moves to try and win while getting younger and more flexible, I believe him.

The White Sox success can be chalked up to: manager Robin Ventura’s calm demeanor in stark contrast to the raving lunacy of Ozzie Guillen; Jake Peavy coming back from injury and pitching like a top tier starter; Chris Sale’s development as a starting pitcher; Adam Dunn’s and Alex Rios’s comebacks; and the parity around the American League.

Ventura and Mike Matheny have become a regular “example” that managers don’t need to have managerial experience to be successful. Of course it’s nonsense and taken greatly out of context. Ventura’s done a good job and his cachet as a former All Star player and popular person in Chicago has helped him greatly, but anyone other than Guillen would’ve been taken as a welcome respite from the daily haranguing and controversy that surrounded the former manager’s big mouth and followed him—with disastrous results—to Miami.

As long as Williams is the GM, the White Sox have a chance to be competitive because he has no patience for long rebuilds and makes aggressive maneuvers accordingly.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have been inconsistent in every facet. Their defense, while not being as bad as predicted, still isn’t good; the offense is 7th in the AL in runs scored despite having two MVP candidates Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, plus Austin Jackson having a fantastic year; the bullpen has been shaky; and Justin Verlander has been excellent and is still a Cy Young Award candidate, but has taken enough of a step back from his CYA/MVP of 2011 back to humanity to account for the Tigers fighting for a playoff spot.

There’s been talk that manager Jim Leyland, in the final year of his contract, could be in trouble if the Tigers don’t make the playoffs. It’s silly. Leyland can still handle the egos in that clubhouse and the very last thing the Tigers need to do and, tying in with the concept of a manager with zero experience, is to hire someone young just to make a change.

The Tigers dealt away several prospects including Jacob Turner to get Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, but they’ve held onto Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos. The farm system is not barren and as long as they have Fielder, Cabrera, and Verlander, they’ll be competitive. Changing managers for the sake of it makes zero sense.

Kansas City Royals

It’s ludicrous how those who felt the Royals were going to parlay their loaded farm system into a leap to legitimate contention jump off the train as soon as a rebuild doesn’t adhere to the “plan”. Young players sometimes hit speedbumps on the way up. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still two players around whom to build; Alex Gordon is a solid presence at the plate and in the field; Billy Butler is emerging as an unknown star; and Salvador Perez and several young pitchers got hurt.

The talent is still there. As long as they don’t panic, there’s no reason they can’t contend in 2013.

They do need to show improvement for manager Ned Yost to keep his job past next May/June; and GM Dayton Moore will probably get one more managerial hire if Yost has to be replaced, then the onus will be on him.

Cleveland Indians

2012 went completely wrong with 2013 not looking much better. They got off to a good start and were hovering around contention through mid-season until they collapsed completely and, since being 50-50 on July 27th, have gone 10-36. Manny Acta has a contract for next season, but since the Indians don’t have much money to spend and are openly ready to listen to offers for one of their few marketable players Shin-Soo Choo, there’s no point in sending Acta back out there as a lame duck when they have a managerial prospect in the popular former Indians’ hero Sandy Alomar Jr. on the coaching staff.

Closer Chris Perez ripped the organization from top to bottom recently and will presumably be shipped out of town for his candor. Considering that Perez is a slightly better-than-average closer, it’s not his place to be opening his mouth. The Indians are short on foundational talent. Asdrubal Cabrera is a very good player; Carlos Santana doesn’t appear to be an everyday catcher and his skills are less impressive as a first baseman; and their supposed top two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, haven’t pitched well.

The Indians have a long road ahead of them and may have to restart their rebuild.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins were competitive for a decade after a decade of being so terrible that they were a target of contraction. Now instead of being a target, they built Target Field and spent money to try and win in 2010. To that end, they traded away a top prospect Wilson Ramos for a mediocre reliever Matt Capps; they signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka and repeated the Mets’ mistake with Kazuo Matsui, except Nishioka isn’t as talented as Matsui was; and they brought back their old GM Terry Ryan who still hasn’t had the interim label taken from his title.

Ownership has said that they want Ryan to take the job on a permanent basis. We’ll see. If Ryan isn’t fully committed or ownership wants to go in a new direction with an outsider, manager Ron Gardenhire could be in trouble as well.

Offensively, they’ve rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 with Joe Mauer back to being Joe Mauer; a tremendous year from Josh Willingham; and Justin Morneau finally returning to form after his concussion problems.

They’re still severely short in the pitching department and are running into identical issues as the Mets did when they moved into their new park after contending for several years and building a canyon instead of a ballpark. The Mets moved the fences in and started a full-blown rebuild. The Twins have yet to do that, but they’re going to have to infuse the organization with more talent to get back to competitiveness.

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American League Mid-Season Award Winners

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Normally I don’t like doling out awards for half-a-season, but everyone else does it so someone has to do it right when they’re more than likely doing it wrong.

Here’s the American League along with the people I selected in my book before the season started.

MVP

1. Mike Trout, OF—Los Angeles Angels

The Angels recalled him in what appeared to be a desperation maneuver similar to the way the Yankees recalled Robinson Cano in 2005. The difference being no one knew who or what Cano was. That’s including the Yankees since they’d offered him to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez trade a year earlier and the Rangers said no.

Trout was a star-in-waiting and has delivered. It’s no coincidence that the Angels’ ship righted when Trout joined the team and provided what the front office wants with pop and what manager Mike Scioscia wants with speed and defense.

2. Josh Hamilton, OF—Texas Rangers

In May it looked as if Hamilton was going to make a viable (and ironically a presumably clean) run at the “legit” home run record of 61.

No, I don’t advocate an asterisk or blotting out of the Barry Bonds record, but it can be discussed as if the modern records were achieved dubiously. Hamilton’s faded in June and July.

3. David Ortiz, DH—Boston Red Sox

Without him the Red Sox would probably be 4-5 games under .500 and pretty much buried.

4. Robinson Cano, 2B—New York Yankees

Quite simply there is nowhere to pitch to him to consistently get him out. With A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira degenerating into one-dimensional, occasional threats, without Cano and Curtis Granderson the Yankees would be a pedestrian offensive club, if that.

5. Mark Trumbo, OF/1B/3B/DH—Los Angeles Angels

The day is going to come when he hits a ball and it never comes down.

Before the season I picked Jose Bautista. He’s having a big power year with 27 homers but his other numbers are down and the Blue Jays are a .500 team.

Cy Young Award

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

He’s leading the Majors in strikeouts, innings pitched and has 5 complete games. For the second straight season the Tigers would be non-contenders without him and in 2012, they haven’t been all that good with him.

2. Chris Sale, LHP—Chicago White Sox

There are seamless transitions to the starting rotation from the bullpen and there’s blossoming into an ace. Sale has done the latter.

3. Jered Weaver, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

He’s 10-1 with a 1.96 ERA.

4. David Price, LHP—Tampa Bay Rays

He’s leading the league in wins and has the ability to dominate every time he goes out to the mound.

5. Jake Peavy, RHP—Chicago White Sox

Peavy is almost—not quite, but almost—back to the dominant pitcher he was in his best years with the Padres. His fastball isn’t as fast and his stressful motion is a constant concern for another injury, but he and Sale have saved the White Sox.

My preseason pick was Price.

Rookie of the Year

1. Mike Trout, OF–Los Angeles Angels

See above.

2. Jarrod Parker, RHP—Oakland Athletics

He has a great hits/innings pitched ratio of 65/85, has 67 strikeouts and only allowed 4 homers.

3. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

Middlebrooks’s emergence expedited the departure (and essentially giving away) of Kevin Youkilis.

4. Jesus Montero, DH/C—Seattle Mariners

He’s struggling in his rookie year, but has 20 extra base hits while learning to catch a good pitching staff.

5. Addison Reed, RHP—Chicago White Sox

His ERA was blown up by one awful game in which he allowed 6 earned runs, but he’s stabilized the White Sox closer’s role and without him they wouldn’t be in first place.

My preseason pick was Montero.

Manager of the Year

1. Robin Ventura—Chicago White Sox

The absence of managing experience at any level made me a skeptic, but his laid back attitude is diametrically opposed to the former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen which has relaxed the clubhouse from its hair-trigger and has notably helped Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

2. Buck Showalter—Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are playing Buckball.

3. Bob Melvin—Oakland Athletics

Having that team with their ballpark issues and influx of youngsters has proven Melvin to be what he always was: a good manager.

4. Joe Girardi—New York Yankees

Girardi’s never gotten the credit he’s deserved. They’ve survived the aforementioned decline of A-Rod and the season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera.

5. Ron Washington—Texas Rangers

No he’s not a strong strategic manager, but the players play hard for him and they win.

My preseason pick was Manny Acta of the Indians.

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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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Round and Round the Majors, 5.10.2012

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Not enough people are paying attention to Nick Swisher’s terrific throw to the plate on B.J Upton’s sacrifice fly to tie the game. Swisher nearly cut Sean Rodriguez down at the plate. It would’ve ended the game.

The focus, naturally, has been on David Robertson blowing the game in the ninth inning. It was his second save chance since replacing Mariano Rivera and the second time in a row in which he’s gotten into immediate trouble. He got through the first one, not so the second.

Robertson was pulled after allowing a 3-run homer to Matt Joyce in the Rays’ eventual 4-1 win. Some fans at Yankee Stadium booed while others showed patience.

Robertson has time to get himself right and comfortable, but that time is finite. The fans, media and organization will give him breathing room, but eventually he has to get the job done.

What I didn’t like was Robertson’s body language. It was as if he was shrugging; a “tra la la, I’ll just do the best I can and if I fail, so be it” reaction as he was removed. If he doesn’t have a sense of urgency, he’d better get one and he’d better get it quick.

After the years of consistency he posted, did anyone really believe that a non-PED case like Adam Dunn had just lost it all in one year?

The combination of the new league, a failing and fractured team and raving maniac for a manager appeared to put Dunn out of sorts in 2011. That’s not defending someone who was paid $12 million for a .569 OPS, but it’s a reason.

With Ozzie Guillen gone and the expectations for the White Sox as a whole tamped down and for Dunn non-existent, he’s again doing what he does.

He’s striking out—a major league leading 47.

He’s walking—an AL leading 25.

He’s homering—10.

And he’s slugging—a .970 OPS.

This is the guy the White Sox thought they were getting.

  • The Twins’ stability is in question.

That anyone would even speculate on the job security of Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire is madness.

GM Terry Ryan is a different story because he’s still got the “interim” tag attached to his name and, at his age and having come back from an early retirement, he might not have the stomach to do what needs to be done to this current group that’s well on the way to losing 105 games.

It was silly to think that Ryan’s mere presence in the big chair was going to fix what ails the Twins—no starting pitching; a mediocre bullpen; black spots in the lineup; and a compromised former MVP, Justin Morneau.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Twins were considered a netherworld that “couldn’t” win under their self-imposed payroll constraints. They were completely hopeless from 1993-2000. There was no “Twins Way” of operating like there was from 2002-2010.

Their cycle has passed and they need to start over, but you can’t credit Gardenhire as a stabilizing force and natural heir apparent to two-time World Series winner Tom Kelly, then blame him when things go wrong.

Gardenhire is exactly the type of disciplined, no-nonsense, “you’ll perform the proper fundamentals or you won’t play”-type of manager a team like the Twins needs to reboot.

As for a GM, Ryan either has to take the job and commit or let them hire someone else.

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American League Fantasy Sleepers

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These names jumped out at me as I’m working on my book. (See the sidebar. Available soon.)

B.J. Upton, CF—Tampa Bay Rays

Upton is probably one of the most aggravating players in all of baseball to fans, teammates and everyone else. So talented that he can do anything—-anything—on the field, his motivation and hustle are contingent on the day and his mood.

But he’s a free agent at the end of the season and wants to get paid. Expect a big power/stolen base season and a return to the high on base numbers from 2007-2008.

Carlos Villanueva, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He won’t cost anything and was under-the-radar impressive when the Blue Jays put him in the starting rotation last season.

They have starting pitching, but with Kyle Drabek a question to make the team and the limits still being placed on Henderson Alvarez and Brandon Morrow, Villanueva is a veteran they could count on as a starter they don’t have to limit.

As a starter, he was able to use all of his pitches including a changeup. Strangely, he gets his secondary pitches over the plate consistently, but not his fastball.

Jim Johnson, RHP—Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles haven’t specifically said what they’re doing with Johnson. They’ve implied that he’s staying in the bullpen, but the acquisition of Matt Lindstrom frees them to make Johnson a starter where he could be very effective.

Either way, he’s not a “name” closer or guaranteed starter who’d be overly in demand.

Jacob Turner, RHP—Detroit Tigers

As the Tigers proved with Rick Porcello, they don’t let a pitcher’s inexperience dissuade them from sticking him in the rotation.

Turner has far better stuff than Porcello—a good fastball and wicked hard curve. He throws multiple variations on his fastball, has great control and is poised and polished.

Adam Dunn, DH—Chicago White Sox

I have trouble buying that a veteran who hit 40 home runs annually and wasn’t a PED case suddenly lost it all at once.

The not-so-witty line, “Dunn is Done” is a cheap shot and inaccurate.

He was terrible last season to be sure, but he was also unlucky (a .240 BAbip vs a career number of .292).

Dunn still walked 75 times and in comparison to his absurd .159 average, a .292 OBP is pretty good.

The combination of the new league; the expectations and pressure from a big contract; and a raving maniac manager in Ozzie Guillen put Dunn out of his comfort zone. A year in with the White Sox and a more relaxed and understanding manager, Robin Ventura, along with the diminished team-wide expectations will let Dunn be himself—a gentle giant who walks a lot and hits home runs.

Hisanori Takahashi, LHP—Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were kicking the tires on Francisco Cordero and Ryan Madson and it wasn’t to be a set-up man.

If Jordan Walden is suffering from shellshock after the way his massive gack against the Athletics late in the season essentially eliminated the Angels from contention, they might have to pull him from the closer’s role sooner rather than later.

Manager Mike Scioscia is loyal to his players and doesn’t make changes like this until he absolutely has to, but the Angels can’t afford to mess around with the money they spent this off-season and the competition they’re facing for a playoff spot.

Takahashi can do anything—start, set-up, close—and is fearless.

Worst case, if your league counts “holds”, he’ll accumulate those for you.

Fautino De Los Santos, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Don’t ask me what the A’s are planning this year because as the trades of their starting rotation and closer and signing Yoenis Cespedes signing prove, they’re flinging stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Although Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour are on the roster, they might be willing to look at a younger, inexperienced closer at some point. Fuentes is hot and cold and Balfour has never been a full time closer.

De Los Santos has an upper-90s fastball and as the season rolls on, it’s likely that both Fuentes and Balfour will be traded. They’ll need someone to rack up the saves and De Los Santos is as good a choice as any.

Kila Ka’aihue, 1B—Oakland Athletics

His minor league on base/power numbers are absurd and the A’s first base situation is muddled at best.

The Royals kindasorta gave Ka’aihue a chance for the first month of 2011, but abandoned him when he got off to a bad start. The A’s have nothing to lose by playing him for at least the first half of the season and, if nothing else, he’ll walk and get on base.

Hector Noesi, RHP—Seattle Mariners

Noesi doesn’t give up a lot of home runs and has good control. These attributes will be magnified pitching in the big ballpark in Seattle and with the Mariners good defense. He also strikes out around a hitter per inning, so that all adds up to a good statistical season if you’re not counting wins.

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Are the White Sox Rebuilding or Not?

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White Sox GM Kenny Williams uttered the unutterable word after the club’s disappointing 2011 season ended and manager Ozzie Guillen had been traded to the Marlins when he said, “rebuilding”.

After following the win-now edict and acting accordingly by relying on veterans and mostly ignoring the farm system as anything other than a means for immediate help or to trade for veteran players, they hired a neophyte manager in Robin Ventura; traded closer Sergio Santos; and allowed veterans Mark Buehrle, Ramon Castro and Juan Pierre to depart via free agency.

But Williams’s actions don’t imply a full-blown teardown.

Such is the case as he signed lefty starter John Danks—about whom he was listening to trade proposals—to a 5-year, $65 million contract extension precluding his free agency after next season and locking him up for four years hence.

Danks is a good pitcher and if he maintains his performance from the past 5 years, he’ll be a bargain in comparison to what he would’ve gotten as a free agent.

But I don’t understand the dual messages the White Sox are sending.

Are they rebuilding or not?

If they are rebuilding while trying to remain competitive, wouldn’t they have been better off signing Buehrle to a contract similar to what he got from the Marlins and trading Danks for 2-3 prospects? Buehrle presumably would’ve given a discount to the White Sox to stay and Danks is a very marketable arm.

So which is it?

If the White Sox were in the American or National League East or the AL West, I’d say they should start over, but they’re not. The AL Central doesn’t have a dominant team and any team can win it in 2012.

So many things went wrong for the White Sox over the past two seasons, perhaps the managerial change from the controversial and loud Guillen to the calm and respected Ventura, plus a tweak here and there, places them right back in the thick of things.

Given the immovable nature of some of their contracts—Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy especially—what sense did it make to give these mixed signals of their planned course?

There are plenty of “ifs” involved with their 2012 club.

If Chris Sale transitions well to the starting rotation…

If Philip Humber can continue pitching as well as he did in 2011…

If Peavy can return to some semblance of his Padres form…

If Dunn hits better than a moderately threatening starting pitcher who doubled as an outfielder in college…

If, if, if…

But there’s enough talent to contend in that parity-laden division—all the teams have flaws—and with that in mind, what the White Sox are currently doing doesn’t make much sense at all.

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The Carlos Beltran Free Agency Profile

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Name: Carlos Beltran


Position: Right Field; Designated Hitter(?).

Vital Statistics:

Age-34; he’ll turn 35 in April.

Height-6’1″

Weight-215.

Bats: Both.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 2nd round of the 1995 MLB Draft. Traded to the Houston Astros in June, 2004. Signed as a free agent with the New York Mets in January, 2005. Traded to the San Francisco Giants in July, 2011.

Agent: Dan Lozano.

Might he return to the Giants? Yes.

Teams that could use and pay him: New York Yankees; Toronto Blue Jays; Boston Red Sox; Baltimore Orioles; Detroit Tigers; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Los Angeles Angels; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; Atlanta Braves; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; St. Louis Cardinals; Chicago Cubs; San Francisco Giants; Los Angeles Dodgers; Colorado Rockies.

Positives:

Beltran comes to play every single day; he hits for power, average and gets on base; he can steal a few bases when necessary; he’s a solid defensive right fielder.

In spite of the repeated whining and reminders of that one pitch from Adam Wainwright in which Beltran watched a curveball break in for strike 3 to end the 2006 NLCS, Beltran is a clutch player who’s come up big in the post-season repeatedly.

I’ve said it again and again: Babe Ruth himself wouldn’t have hit that pitch and even had Beltran swung, he had zero chance of hitting it or fouling it off. Get over it.

Beltran’s stunning decision to part ways with Scott Boras will put forth the sense that he’s not going to be a hard-liner when it comes to a new contract and isn’t looking to receive a “Boras Contract” in which the agent asks for something insane that only a few teams are capable of providing.

He can handle the big city and the spotlight as long as he’s not the center of attention.

Negatives:

His surgically repaired knee held up in 2011, but it has to be in the back of any club’s mind when they sign Beltran that it could be a major issue at some point during the contract.

Is he or is he not willing to DH?

If he’s willing to DH, his options will be extended to a large chunk of the American League; if he’s not, then he’s limited to the National League and will hamper his ability to maximize his dollars. Beltran preferred to go to a National League team when the Mets were trying to trade him. Does he want to stay in the NL? Or is he flexible? Would he even think about playing some first base?

He’s a quiet, background player who doesn’t want to be the out-front leader.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $70 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $48 million.

Teams that might give it to him: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Tigers, Royals; Twins; Angels; Rangers; Mariners; Phillies; Braves; Nationals; Cardinals; Cubs, Giants.

Beltran was one of the few players by whom Boras appeared to do entirely right.

Boras followed his desires by offering his services to the Yankees for less money than what the Mets offered; he got a clause inserted into the Mets contract that Beltran could not be offered arbitration, making him more attractive to prospective suitors due to the lack of draft pick compensation; and he got him paid.

Yet Beltran and Boras parted ways in advance of Beltran’s free agency and the player switched to Dan Lozano.

Who can speculate what it means?

Beltran must, must, must be open to DHing at least part of the time if he wants to get a contract of longer than 2-years.

Regardless of how desperate a club is to add his bat, his steadfast refusal to DH would hinder him terribly; and it’s a self-serving exercise in playing the outfield and running the risk of missing time and playing in 110-120 games when he could play in 150 games.

DHing isn’t for everyone—ask Adam Dunn—but this is a matter of exponentially increasing his ability to stay in the lineup as opposed to insisting on playing the outfield.

He has to do it.

The Red Sox could use Beltran’s quiet professionalism; the Yankees could use his switch-hitting power; he’d be a terrific acquisition for the Blue Jays; and the Cardinals could slot Beltran into right field if they lose Albert Pujols.

The Giants have spent freely on keeping middle relievers Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt and there’s been talk that they’ll be willing to trade Matt Cain for a bat. (I don’t think they’re trading Cain.) The easiest thing for the Giants would be to try and keep Beltran if they feel he can play the outfield on a 3-year deal.

The Rangers were very interested in Beltran but since he didn’t want to DH and made that clear, the Mets sent him to the Giants. Texas would be a great spot for him.

Would I sign Beltran? I like Beltran, but wouldn’t spend that amount of money for the number of years he’s going to want on a player with his knee issues.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that does pay him? If it’s a NL team, it’s a safe bet that they’re going to regret it. If it’s an AL team, he’s more likely to produce and stay in the lineup.

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The Prince Fielder Free Agency Profile

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Name: Prince Fielder.

Position: First base.

Vital Statistics: Age-28; Height-5’11”; Listed Weight-275; Actual weight-more than 275; Drafted in the 1st round (7th pick) by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2002 MLB Draft.

Agent: Scott Boras.

Chances of returning to the Brewers: None whatsoever.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; New York Yankees; Toronto Blue Jays; Baltimore Orioles; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners; Washington Nationals; Florida Marlins; Chicago Cubs; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives:

He has massive power and patience; a fiery competitor; he’s intense and hits or walks in the clutch.

Fielder will hit his home runs wherever he goes and draws plenty of walks. For a power hitter in today’s game, he doesn’t strike out that much—135 a year is reasonable in comparison to the likes of Ryan Howard.

His intensity and on-field confrontational nature is a dual-edged sword; it indicates a simmering anger, but it fuels him.

Put him in a batting order with a good hitter in front and major protection behind him and he’d put up bigger numbers than he did in Milwaukee.

Negatives:

His weight—listed at 275—hasn’t been as much of an issue as it would be with a player who actually has to move. He’s supposedly a vegan, which I find very strange. Mike Tyson was over 300 lbs, became a vegan and slimmed down to fighting trim; Fielder became a vegan and got bigger.

For a player who relies on speed or attributes related to his size, it would be a problem; Fielder doesn’t. Stress on his knees will be a concern if he gets heavier and a fat contract can contribute to a fat player getting fatter, but Fielder will always hit his homers and walk. A club has to and will accept this when signing him.

Can he DH? Is he willing to DH? It’s not as easy as it sounds. While he’s a better hitter than Adam Dunn, Dunn couldn’t adjust to DHing or the American League and was a disaster with the White Sox—no one could’ve anticipated it.

It’s a super-small sample and I’m not dissecting it for pitchers, ballparks and other factors, but Fielder is 18 for 78 in his career as a DH with 3 homers and a .295 on base percentage. It’s not something to ignore.

Fielder won’t want to DH regularly and his defense is bad and going to get worse. He catches the balls he can get to; he’s quicker than he looks, but he’s not, nor will he ever be, a good defensive first baseman.

What he’ll want: 8-years, $190 million.

What he’ll get: 6-years, $148 million guaranteed with an easy option to raise it to 7-years, $173 million.

There will be a player opt-out mid-stream and a guarantee the team that signs him won’t offer arbitration at the contract’s conclusion so he won’t cost a compensatory draft pick (if that rule is still in existence).

Teams that might give it to him: Orioles, Blue Jays, Mariners, Rangers, Cubs.

I’m not predicting where he’s going to go; nor will I do so with other free agents aside from the most obvious ones like Albert Pujols—the obvious ones tend to stay where they are or have ties to a particular club pursuing them.

If you look at the predictions for Jayson Werth a year ago, no one had him going to the Nationals; most “mainstream insiders” had him signing with the Angels, Red Sox, Giants or Yankees and they were all wrong.

Cliff Lee was just about guaranteed to be a Yankee and no one considered the Phillies.

Werth wound up with the Nationals for $126 million—an amount of cash that aghast the industry.

Lee went back to the team with which he was comfortable, the Phillies, for less money than the Yankees offered.

Would I sign Fielder if I were a GM? No.

Will it be a “bad” signing for the club that does pay him? No. He’ll produce as long as they know what they’re getting and put him in the right circumstances.

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