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.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:22 AM EDT
Goods news Sunday morning in Cardinals camp. According to beat writer Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, outfielder Peter Bourjos is back in the starting lineup for Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Nationals after sitting out for seven days with tightness in his right hamstring. Bourjos dealt with chronic leg problems during his…
Mar 9, 2014, 10:37 AM EDT
Evan Drellich has an in-depth feature in the Houston Chronicle about the Astros’ built-from-scratch private online database, which is now being used by the entire baseball operations department to improve scouting, communicating, and decision-making. It’s called “Ground Control,” a play on the Astros’ name. The Indians have a similar database called “DiamondView,” the Red Sox call…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Matt Kemp has begun running at full speed and participating in daily outfield drills in Dodgers camp, and he could soon be cleared to become a regular in the club’s Cactus League starting lineups. “We’re seeing him take fly balls, getting jumps,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick on Saturday. ”He’s swinging the bat good.…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT
Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu has just two hits in his first 13 Cactus League at-bats, but one was a double and the other was a home run, and he continues to draw rave reviews in White Sox camp for the patience he’s showing at the plate. Abreu has yet to strike out through five Cactus…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT
Over his 15-year career, Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano has logged time at five of the eight non-pitcher positions on the diamond. The only three positions he hasn’t played are catcher, first base and right field. He might make it six this season. ESPN’s Andrew Marchand reports that manager Joe Girardi has kicked around the idea…
Mar 8, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Outfielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla had miserable 2013 campaigns for the Braves, finishing with a .557 and .671 OPS, respectively. Both players finished with batting averages well under the Mendoza Line with 150-plus strikeouts. It was ugly. As the Braves flipped the calendar over to 2014, there was a sense of optimism…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
Yesterday, Brewers starter Kyle Lohse criticized the qualifying offer system. Lohse rejected a $13.3 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals after the 2012 season, hoping to get a lucrative deal in free agency. He ended up jobless well into march until the Brewers jumped in and signed him to a three-year, $33 million deal. This…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Many are anxious to see how the new instant replay system will affect the way baseball is played. They may have to wait a week. According to the Associated Press, replay won’t be available when the Dodgers and Diamondbacks open the regular season in Australia. Standard replay, for home run and boundary calls, will be…
Mar 8, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT
The Phillies had the fourth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball last season at 4.19, according to FanGraphs. Don’t tell that to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who thinks the Phillies will have a top-five bullpen in 2014. Via CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury: “I will be very, very surprised if this is not a much better bullpen this year,”…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Edwin Jackson gave up three runs on four hits in his start against the Indians on Friday, but that wasn’t the shocking part of what happened. Unbeknownst to manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Chris Bosio, Jackson threw all fastballs in his outing — 50 of them. Via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat: “I think maybe, as…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton has been sidelined for the past week and a half after straining his left calf during a baserunning drill, but he’s getting closer to making his spring debut. According to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, Hamilton is scheduled to take batting practice on the field tomorrow. If all goes well, Angels…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
You may recall that the Marlins were reportedly “outraged” at the Red Sox for sending a substandard lineup to Thursday’s Grapefruit League game at Roger Dean Stadium. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has since apologized for the incident, but owner John Henry thinks the Marlins should issue an apology of their own: They should…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
UPDATE: While recent reports have indicated that Ervin Santana is looking to find a team as soon as possible, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reports that the free agent right-hander has not set a deadline and is prepared to wait “days” before signing with a club. The wait continues. 1:15 p.m. ET: More intrigue. Enrique Rojas…
Mar 8, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
Doug Fister gave the Nationals and their fans a bit of a scare yesterday when he was scratched from a Grapefruit League start due to a sore elbow, but an MRI showed that he’s only dealing with inflammation. Fister told Andrew Simon of MLB.com today that he’s not worried about the situation. “It’s typical inflammation,…
Mar 8, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
Zack Greinke has already been ruled out as an option to pitch against the Diamondbacks in Australia after straining his right calf last week, but he took an important step in the right direction today. According to J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group, Greinke threw 35 pitches in a simulated game against a…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
Shane Victorino gave up switch-hitting down the stretch last season and Red Sox manager John Farrell told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe today that the veteran outfielder is considering hitting exclusively from the right side of the plate this season. Nothing is official yet, but this would be a positive development for the Red…
Mar 8, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
What does Josh Donaldson get after finishing fourth in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting last season? The major league minimum salary. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Athletics have renewed Donaldson’s contract at $500,000 for 2014. It’s a modest raise from the $492,500 he made last year, which was just above the…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT
The Royals gave Wade Davis a chance to win a rotation spot this spring even after he struggled as a starter last season, but Royals manager Ned Yost told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star this morning that the 28-year-old right-hander is out of the fifth starter competition and will pitch out of the…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
We heard yesterday that the Cardinals and infielder Matt Carpenter were in talks about a long-term contract extension and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports this morning that the deal is done. The Cardinals will hold a press conference later this morning to formally announce the agreement. Per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports,…
Mar 8, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT
Dogged by shoulder issues, Michael Pineda has yet to throw a regular season pitch for the Yankees since being acquired from the Mariners two offseasons ago, but he showed a glimpse of his old form last night. Making his spring debut, Pineda tossed two scoreless innings in a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers. Topping…
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