White Sox

Ballantini: Active first day for Sox GM Williams

293725.jpg

Ballantini: Active first day for Sox GM Williams

Monday, December 6, 2010
7:10 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. It was just a matter of a weekend after his triumphant signing of slugger Adam Dunn, but ebullience begat fatigue for Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams on Monday evening.

After a couple of monosyllabic responses to questions about retaining Paul Konerko (Nope. Yep.) set a tone of dread for the day, Williams did correct perceptions and acknowledge that the bloom is off the pre-Winter Meetings rose.

Maybe its just because its been a long day, but there is no reason to feel like Konerko is staying or going, Williams said. Todays talks were just an initial conversation that we had, which leads to other conversations.

As you might imagine, the GMs session was relatively brief. The blow-by-blow:

Konerko

Williams laughed off the idea that Konerko might have come to terms with the White Sox before the meetings even officially began.

It just doesnt happen that way, Williams said. Certainly not in conversation No. 1, day one. Absolutely not.

Williams said that more talks were scheduled with Greg Landis, Konerkos agent, and was frank in assessing that Konerko might have to settle for less money than he originally anticipated.

Its a market that has numerous first basemen in it, Williams said. Konerko is coming off a great year, but teams have options, so I dont know that he will get to the salary level maybe he originally hoped for. ButIm surprised all the time. Ive been surprised in the last few days at some deals, so well see.

Otherwise, Williams was expectedly cloaked in his remarks about Konerko, the player hes unabashedly declared as the final big-ticket item on his wish list:

Im not going to take you through a blow-by-blow of our private conversations.
Im not optimistic or pessimistic, just going through the dialogue.
Im not leaning one way or the other on how I feel.
We always have a contingency plan.
Its business as usual at the Winter Meetings. Its 20 hours a day of dialogue with teams and agents, and so forth. You just go through it.
Conversations have to take place and representatives have to go back to him.
Its just a process.
Ive learned not to get too up or too down.

But as patient as hes attempting to be with Konerko (other people call me impatient, but Im patient, to a pointI recognize Konerko is a special case and I need to be even more patient than I think I usually am), the time frame is finite.

Theres a fine line, when you do risk losing your plan B and C in favor of trying to be as patient as you can with your plan A, Williams said. We will wait as long as we can, because Ive pretty much said on the record that Konerko is the guy we want.

Tough Bacon

Prior to Williams session, a rumor inflamed the Twitterverse, identifying the White Sox as the runner-up in the Adrian Gonzalez sweepstakesincluding the news that Gordon Beckham was the centerpiece of the proposal.

Williams was initially coy about the rumor, saying, I cant really talk about it. All I can say is that its always been business as usual for us. We try to go after impact players every year. But Im not going to get into the particulars of those types of things.

Later, Williams again underscored Beckhams untouchable status within the organization, praising the second sacker even in light of a sophomore year marked by slumps and injuries.

Im more confident in Beckham now that he has gone through some struggles as a big leaguer and come out of it on the other side, he said. Its just unfortunate that he had the hand injuryhe was having quite a second half. That Chicago tough I talk about? He showed a little bit of it in doing what he did through injuries.

Bullpen Notes

Williams forecasted the news that J.J. Putz apparently signed with Arizona to become the Diamondbacks closer, saying, We wanted him back, but Putz is headed elsewhere.

As for the recently non-tendered Bobby Jenks, Williams remained open to a return by his five-year closer, with logical hesitation: Hes new to the market, and hes got to flesh some things out before he gets back to us.

With holes in the pen (just Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos, and possibly Chris Sale and Tony Pena project as holdovers in 2011), Williams knows he needs at least one recognizable addition in the trenches.

A trade is quite possibly the way we might have to go because weve taken ourselves toor beyondour payroll limits, he said. I might have to get a little creative with tradesbut I dont think a reliever is going to come at these meetings for us. That will be after.

Future Prospects

Williams has never met a deal he didnt want to strike instantaneously, so forgive his fatigue for today.

The priority was to get as much done as we could, as quickly as we could, said the GM without remorse or rancor. Then see if I could get some sleep.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

1019_matt_davidson.jpg
USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

1019_marwin_gonzalez.jpg
USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.