Feb 27, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Chicago White Sox.
The Big Question: Can the White Sox rebuild the league’s worst lineup on the fly?
Chicago went from 85 wins in 2012 to 63 wins last year for the White Sox’s worst season since 1970. Their pitching got worse, but it was nothing compared to the offense falling off a cliff by going from fourth in the league with 748 runs to dead last with 598 runs. It was ugly.
Instead of stocking up on prospects with an eye toward several years down the road general manager Rick Hahn has instead tried to rebuild the lineup in the short and long term, acquiring MLB-ready young talent in Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, and Avisail Garcia. In doing so he traded away a young closer in Addison Reed and a young mid-rotation starter in Hector Santiago, and the White Sox previously parted with Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Jesse Crain, and Matt Thornton in the middle of last season. Toss in Paul Konerko fading into a part-time role and this is a very different lineup than the .680 OPS crew, but will the results be much different?
Not so long ago Eaton looked like one of the best leadoff prospects in baseball, Abreu has immense upside after putting up monster numbers as a slugger in Cuba, and both Davidson and Garcia have the potential to be solid contributors offensively. But for the White Sox’s lineup to go from horrible to respectable immediately they need just about everything to click and holdover bats Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, and Tyler Flowers have disappointed after once showing promise as youngsters themselves.
Chicago’s offense can’t help but be better in 2014, but the White Sox don’t look capable of making the leap into contention and the success or failure of the season depends largely on Abreu living up to the hype and 2-3 other young bats emerging as long-term regulars (plus Chris Sale staying healthy and remaining one of the elite starters in the league, of course). If they can accomplish those things and win 70-something games Hahn and company should be pretty happy with the offseason moves.
What else is going on?
- Thanks to a misleadingly poor win-loss record last season it’s possible that a lot of people don’t realize just how amazing Sale has been as a starter. Among all MLB starting pitchers since 2012–when he moved into the rotation–Sale ranks ninth in ERA and third in ERA+, which adjusts for ballparks and leagues. He’s also fifth in strikeout rate, fourth in K/BB ratio, and ninth in opponents’ OPS. He’s one of the best 5-10 pitchers in baseball and he’s still just 25 years old.
- Much is being made about the decision to trade away a 24-year-old closer coming off a 40-save season, but Reed wasn’t all that great once you get past the save total. He has a 4.17 career ERA, is more fly-ball prone that is ideal in the ninth-inning role, and has mediocre control. And while he’s piled up plenty of saves his actual save conversion rate of 85 percent is nothing special. The wisdom of the trade obviously depends on whether Davidson proves to be a valuable regular, but the idea of cashing in Reed was a smart one. Closers are made, not born, and Nate Jones or Matt Lindstrom likely can handle the job without much dropoff.
- Exactly how good can Abreu be? Projecting foreign players is always tough, but Fan Graphs’ reliable ZiPS system pegs Abreu as a .273 hitter with 26 homers and an .858 OPS as a rookie. To put that in some context, an .858 OPS would have ranked sixth among MLB first basemen last season, one spot behind Freddie Freeman. If the White Sox get that, they should be thrilled with their $68 million investment. (The bad news? Abreu is the only White Sox hitter projected by ZiPS to be above average.)
- Overshadowed by the young, MLB-ready bats brought into the mix is that the White Sox also already had a very good infield prospect in Marcus Semien. Last season between Double-A and Triple-A he hit .284 with 19 homers, 24 steals, more walks (98) than strikeouts (90), and an .880 OPS, including a studly .401 on-base percentage at age 22. Semien getting on base and Abreu knocking him in could be a very nice combo for a long time, perhaps as soon as midseason.
Prediction: Better–and a whole lot more interesting–but still nowhere near good. Fifth place, AL Central.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
And no, it’s not a piece of memorabilia. It’s a brand new glove, never used by a major leaguer.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT
Undercurrent: A man with a blog attacks another man with a blog for being a blogger. Nothing worse than a self-hating blogger.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
It looked like the Mariners might give Nick Franklin an extended opportunity to earn playing time in their outfield following Logan Morrison’s hamstring injury, but one day after Franklin started in the outfield for the first time in his professional career he’s headed back to Triple-A.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
I’m sure this will change everyone’s mind about the DH and end all argument on the matter.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Daisuke Matsuzaka has made three relief appearances for the Mets since shifting to the bullpen and he’s been not terrible in them with one run allowed and seven strikeouts in 4.1 innings, so naturally manager Terry Collins is now talking him up as a potential closer.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT
Don’t ask me. I’m so biased it’s not even funny. He’s a dreamboat. But someone less biased than me takes a look.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT
“No restrictions.” You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:07 AM EDT
The next time someone tells you how bad and wrong cheating in baseball is, remember how inconsistently baseball treats cheaters of various stripes.
Apr 24, 2014, 7:14 AM EDT
Michael. Hey, Michael. You got a little, um . . . no, the other side. Yeah, good. You got it.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright was pulled at 79 pitches on Tuesday at Citi Field after taking an off step while trying to track down a high-chopper on the infield. He was then diagnosed with a hyperextended right knee, but it sounds like a rather minor injury.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT
As first reported by Los Angeles Times beat writer Dylan Hernandez, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has been cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday night with the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the California League.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
Yankees starter Michael Pineda was very clearly using pine tar to get a better grip on his pitches during an April 10 start against the rival Red Sox. He tried it again in his start Wednesday night at a blistery Fenway Park and got caught red-handed.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
On May 21, the Angels will give away a bobblehead commemorating Albert Pujols’ 500th career home run, which he hit Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT
Tracy McGrady is going to try pitching in an independent baseball league after wrapping up his 15-year NBA career last August.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
According to beat writer Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Diamondbacks left fielder Mark Trumbo has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Trumbo is headed back to Phoenix, Arizona to have the foot examined by a specialist so that the D’Backs can get a better idea of the injury’s severity.
Apr 23, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
Another sad chapter in Josh Johnson’s injury wrecked career, as the right-hander will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery without ever throwing a regular season pitch for the Padres.
Apr 23, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT
Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels is off the disabled list and will make his season debut tonight against the Dodgers after sitting out the first three weeks with biceps tendinitis.
Apr 23, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Albert Pujols entered baseball’s history books after belting his 500th home run, but with seven years remaining on his deal in Los Angeles, HBT’s Craig Calcaterra wonders how high of a level Pujols must continue to play at in order to call his deal a success.
Apr 23, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
Sammy Sosa hit 293 homers at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs are trying to make people forget that happened.
Apr 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Matt Harrison will come off the disabled list and start Sunday for the Rangers, seeing his first big-league game action in more than a year following multiple back surgeries and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
- Pineda and pine tar: baseball is, once again, sending mixed signals about cheating 90
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 56
- Clayton Kershaw cleared to begin rehab assignment on Friday at High-A Rancho Cucamonga 2
- Michael Pineda ejected in second inning for pine tar on neck, facing a 10-game suspension 150
- Mark Trumbo diagnosed with stress fracture in foot 11
- Josh Lueke is a rapist. How often does that bear repeating? (200)
- Benches clear in Pittsburgh after the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez bat flips a third-inning triple (183)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (169)
- Michael Pineda ejected in second inning for pine tar on neck, facing a 10-game suspension (150)
- Chipper Jones chimed in on the Carlos Gomez incident (111)