White Sox

BBQ: Time for White Sox to transition into 2012

532976.jpg

BBQ: Time for White Sox to transition into 2012

Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011
Posted: 9:56 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
With just 23 games remaining and eight games back, manager Ozzie Guillen and GM Ken Williams might not want to admit it, but the Chicago White Sox are playing for second place this September, rather than challenging the first-place Detroit Tigers.

But as never is the case, theres much more to play for than just first runner-up in the AL Centralthe Pale Hose have a number of issues to resolve as they point toward a 2012 season where they hope All-In will play like more than a catch phrase.

How different will the 2012 White Sox look?

Honestly, not much. Going All-In for 2011 largely pulls 2012 along with it, as the White Sox have little salary to shedChicago is already committed to an 89 million payroll, and thats for just 11 players. Letting Mark Buehrle and Juan Pierre leave could push the payroll down a spot from this years, but truly, All-In was a two-year commitment.
But didnt owner Jerry Reinsdorf lose a ton of money this year?

The White Sox will certainly fall well short of the 2.6-2.8 million fans the Chairman felt he needed to draw to break even on the season, given 128 million payroll, the biggest in White Sox history.

But All-In wasnt just born from Williams desire to spend money or Reinsdorfs to waste itthe owners thinking is that with time not getting any shorter, its time to commit to a World Series contender more strongly than ever. So you shouldnt hear much handwringing or poormouthing from the executive suite at U.S. Cellular Field.

Who could be dealt, to improve the team, trim payroll, or both?

Theres no deal that will do both; any payroll trim will come at the cost of young talent inserted as a sweetener or in a straight dump by cutting a player, which is ulikely to happen on Reinsdorfs watch.

The closest area of expendability comes in right field, where Carlos Quentin will see a significant raise on his 5.5 million salary in his final year of arbitration. Dayan Viciedo is ready to supplant CQ in right field, but theres nothing that says the two sluggers couldnt both occupy corner spots next season.

Big-ticket items like Jake Peavy (17 million), Adam Dunn (14 million) and Alex Rios (12.5 million) are untradeable, unless the White Sox want to eat half of any of those contracts or wedge a prime prospect into the deal. And they dont have enough prime prospects for wedging.
Who has the inside track for No. 5?

One of the interesting battles shaping up in September involves Phil Humber and Zach Stewarts fight for the fifth spot in the 2012 rotation. But that presupposes a number of things.

One, the White Sox would be smart to re-up Buehrle for whatever contract length he desires. Every season of his recent four-year, 56 million deal hes given the White Sox more value than hes been paid in salary.

Two, presuming Matt Thornton returns, Chris Sale is ticketed for the starting rotation, destined to flabbergast far more batters with his changeup as a starter than a reliever.

But if it came down to Humber battling Stewart, spring training efforts pending, Humber has earned the spot. He was the most dominant starter for the White Sox in the first half of 2010, and while wholly speculative, it wasnt until the team decided he needed to be skipped in the rotation in July that trouble started brewingin his first 15 starts, Humber sported an amazing 60.5 game score, while over his last seven, hes fallen to 43.7.

Who closes?

The closers job is absolutely Sergio Santos to lose. Yes, the first-timer has had a few notable flameouts and sports an .848 (28-for-33 save percentage, lower than that of Bobby Jenkss .871 (27-for-31) in 2010. But Santos has peripherals that put even Jenks, an experienced closer, to shame, including just 8.3 percent of inherited runners scoring (13 percent for Jenks) and 1.80 average leverage (pressure) faced (1.737 for Jenks).

And even if Sale doesnt join the starting rotation, theres little evidence he should supplant Santos as the teams closer. The leftys save percentage is mere points higher (.857 in just seven chances) and his inherited runners scoring (22.6 percent) and first batter average (.122 for Santos, .292 for Sale) is far superior.
Dayan Viciedo is ready to start every day in 2012, but will he be replacing Carlos Quentinin right field or can the two sluggers occupy both corner outfield spots? (US PRESSWIRE)
If anything, Santos has faltered most when inserted in traditional closing roles, like starting the ninth. The young fella thrives on high-leverage pitching, where there is less time to think and more to simply erase the hopes of batters. Something for the Chicago brain trust to grow on for 2012.

Which kids can play?

As the White Sox continue to attempt challenging for a Central crown in 2012 with a mix of veterans and young guns, the second half of the season, and September in particular, has been telling for the White Sox.

Tyler Flowers, Alejandro De Aza, and Viciedo all appear to be ready to contribute solidly to Chicago in 2012, if not as starters, as key contributors. Of the young players with the White Sox all season, Brent Morel has leapfrogged Gordon Beckham offensively, but both are slinging leathersomething that would have overshadowed their offensive woes had players like Dunn and Rios performed to expectations in 2011.

There may not be a fountain of youth on the White Sox, but theres a trickle, and if all things are equal with the teams vets, theres a wave of complimentary players who can aid a pennant push in 2012.
Does 2012 promise hope, or horror?

As usual, it depends on your perspective. From a sheer talent standpoint, there is tons of room for optimism.

But from a shifting-on-the-fly managerial standpointand that goes for field managing and general managing alikethere is reason for despondency. Because the same solutions that could be found in 2012the De Azas, Humbers and Viciedos of the clubwere solutions available in 2011 to rescue a lost season, as well.

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