White Sox

Sox Drawer: Look out for the Indians

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Sox Drawer: Look out for the Indians

Monday, April 18, 2011
Posted: 3:16 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

We interrupt the White Sox recent slide, and current panic on the South Side, to examine a rare phenomenon taking place in the Central Division.

It involves the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, two teams normally buried in the basement of the division along with dust, termites, mothballs, and Perry Como records, that have suddenly sprung into orbit in April, breathing the fresh spring air at the mountain top, looking down on everyone else, sitting in first and second place.

Considering the elevation, weve been waiting for both teams to suffer from altitude sickness. Three weeks into the season, were still waiting.

And in the case of Cleveland, Im afraid its not going to happen. Yes, I said it:

The Cleveland Indians are for real.

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I realize this is the same team the White Sox outscored 14-0 in the first four innings of the season, but look where both teams have gone since.

Sunday, the Tribe, who finished 69-93 last year, beat the Baltimore Orioles to run their record to 11-4. Its their best start since 2002. A win Monday, and itll tie the 1999 squad that began 12-4 and won 97 games.

Cleveland is playing well, Ozzie Guillen observed Sunday. I said that in Cleveland when we left. People laughed at mewhen I say something, people think it's a bunch of crap.

This isnt.

So how and why are the Indians winning?

I can talk about their pitching staff, the youngest in baseball, that is heeding the advice of pitching coach Tim Belcher, by throwing lots and lots of strikes.

Is it that easy?

I can talk about their lights-out bullpen, the comebacks of Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore (who homered and doubled in his first game on Sunday), the defense of new third baseman and Joe Crede look-a-like Jack Hannahan, and the emergence of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

But the real reason for the Indians sudden rise can be traced to another Cabrera, a single player who has the personality of a porcupine, and once upon a time called Chicago home for one brief, but memorable season.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me re-introduce you to Orlando Cabrera.

Say what you will about the former White Sox shortstop, but if there is one thing that Cabrera has proven he can do, and quite possibly better than anyone in the game right now, it is this:

He can win.

Everywhere and anywhere.

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Its a remarkable run that cannot be overlooked.

Lets start with the classic case of 2004. Cabrera gets traded from the Montreal Expos to the Boston Red Sox on July 31. The Red Sox were 56-46 and 8.5 games out of first place. Cabrera arrives, he hits a home run in his very first at-bat, the Red Sox go 42-19, finish the regular season 98-64, and snatch the AL Wildcard.

We all know what happens next. The Red Sox win the World Series, Bostons first in 86 years. History is made.

At the time, it probably seemed like an isolated incident. But the Curious Case of Orlando Cabrera was just beginning.

The next season Cabrera signs as a free agent with the Angels. They win 95 games plus the AL West, but lose to the White Sox in the ALCS.

I guess you cant mess with destiny.

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The Angels average 92 wins in the three years that Cabrera plays there. Theyre competitive every year. Orlando wouldnt have it any other way.

In 2008, Cabrera is traded to the White Sox, who just finished that utterly forgettable season of 2007, when they went 72-90. That White Sox team was just too nice. Had no edge. They needed some fire.

Bring in Cabrera.

He gives the Sox a dependable leadoff hitter, rock solid defense, and a flood of competitive juices that had dried up since the World Series of 2005.

On the field, the Sox win 89 games and the AL Central. But in the clubhouse, Cabrera doesnt win many (or any) friends. He openly criticizes his teammates, calling some of them clowns. On at least two occasions he calls the press box to dispute an error. He rankles everyone along the way, including Ozzie Guillen.

Heres an interview I did with Cabrera in Tampa that season, while Orlando was in the middle of one of his controversies, complaining that Guillen and his teammates didnt have his back.

Long story short, Cabrera was not brought back. But you cant deny the results: the White Sox won with him, and didnt the season after he left.

So in 2009, Orlando signs with the As. Its the one blemish in Cabreras career. The As are a mess. They arent going anywhere. Even O.C. cant save them. But he would soon overcome it. At the trade deadline, Oakland trades him to Minnesota.

Guess what happens next?

READ: Former White Sox third baseman Joe Crede on Ozzie, Morel

After being mired in mediocrity at 52-51, the Twins find their mojo. They go 35-25 the rest of the way, winning the division, beating the Tigers by a game.

What and who was the difference? Cabrera.

But just like the Red Sox, Angels, and White Sox, the Twins choose not to bring him back when his contract ran out. Cabrera would go through the entire winter unsigned. His reputation as a malcontent overshadowing what he and everyone is here to do: to win.

Finally, in February of 2010, just two weeks before spring training is set to begin, he signs with the Cincinnati Reds, a team without a winning record in a decade.

Hes a leader and a winner, said Reds GM Walt Jocketty at the Cabrera press conference. To me that says it all.

And true to form, what do the Reds do in 2010? They win.

They finish 91-71, capturing the NL Central, making their first trip to the post-season in 15 seasons. Cabrera doesnt know of such droughts. It was his 4th straight trip to the playoffs with his 4th different team. No small feat.

After the season, do the Reds decide to bring him back? Of course not. Cincinnati declines his 4 million option, choosing to go with the younger and cheaper Paul Janish instead.

So once again, Cabrera sits through another winter unsigned. Nobody wants him.

Finally on February 10, just nine days before theyre set to report for spring training, the Indians belly up to the bar and sign Cabrera to a one-year, 1 million contract with incentives, and they dont even guarantee him a starting position. Cabrera has to compete for the Indians second base job, a position he had played only 30 times in his major league career, compared with 1,791 games at shortstop.

No matter. Cabrera wins the job. No surprise.

The Indians lose the first two games of the season to the White Sox. They look completely overmatched. They seem destined to be destitute once again. But in the third game, with the Sox leading 1-0 in the 6th, Cabrera drills a two-run homer off John Danks, giving the Indians their first lead of the season.

The Tribe dugout explodes. Everyones jacked. They add two more runs in the 7th, three more in the 8th, they end up blowing out the Sox 7-1, and proceed to win seven more games in a row after that, including a sweep of the Red Sox.

The Orlando Cabrera factor strikes again.

He wont bat .300. He wont hit 20 home runs. Hell probably piss off half, if not all of his teammates along the way, but he will get the most out of himself and his team. And they will win. Its what he does.

I think we have what it takes, Cabrera said on Sunday.

To do what?

To win, he said. I dont like to compete. I like to win.

And so far, no team has won more games in the American League than the Indians.

Are they going to win 90 games and the division? I wont go that far. But theyre going to be there all season, being a pain in the rear for everyone, thanks to their maniacal leader.

Charlie Sheen says he knows all about winning. Forget about it. Hes a fraud. You want a winner? Its Orlando Cabrera. The Indians have him. By the end of the year, youre going to be sick of him. Maybe the Indians too.

But I promise you this: Theyll win. I guarantee it.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Eloy Jimenez has high praise for Luis Robert: 'He's going to be the next Mike Trout'

Eloy Jimenez has high praise for Luis Robert: 'He's going to be the next Mike Trout'

Last spring, Michael Kopech said Eloy Jimenez was the Babe Ruth of this generation. Jimenez returned the favor by calling Kopech this generation's Nolan Ryan.

Well, start blocking out a wing of the Hall of Fame for members of the 2020 White Sox, because we've got another comp for the ages.

Obviously, everyone's very excited to see Luis Robert hit the major leagues. Jimenez is cranking that excitement up to 11.

"Some people are going to call me crazy," he said Friday before SoxFest kicked off at McCormick Place, "but he’s going to be the next Mike Trout.

"He has five tools, and he plays hard like Mike Trout."

Well then.

Trout has long been considered the best baseball player on the planet, someone who's putting up hall of Fame numbers on an annual basis to the extent that folks wonder if he's the best to ever play.

Should Robert come anywhere close to that, White Sox fans will be quite pleased.

Certainly the praise is not entirely unwarranted, with Robert boasting a full toolbox of baseball skills. He's fresh off a 2019 campaign that saw him set the minor leagues on fire: a .328/.376/.624 slash line to go along with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 108 runs scored, 31 doubles and 36 stolen bases. Along the way he sent highlight after highlight back to his adoring public on the South Side, clips of him blasting balls into the Charlotte sky, making eye-popping catches and using his blazing speed to great effect.

The defensive skill ought to be especially intriguing to Jimenez, who's going to play next to Robert in the White Sox outfield. But while Jimenez's defensive improvement will continue to be a big focus in 2020, so will Robert's range in center field. Jimenez has a plan, though, if Robert tries to steal away any of his fly balls.

"I’m going to draw a line," Jimenez said with a smile. "If he goes over the line, I’m going to punch him. It’s going to be like that this year."

It was just the minor leagues, of course, but those descriptions aren't terribly dissimilar from the ones frequently assigned to Trout out in Anaheim.

You likely won't hear Rick Hahn or Rick Renteria comparing Robert to the best player in the game, not wanting to put too much pressure on the 22-year-old. Jimenez knows as well as anyone how difficult the transition to the majors can be, even for the most talented athletes in the world. He set the minors ablaze in 2018, only to experience growing pains as opposing pitchers attacked him like a proven veteran.

So seeing something similar from Robert would not be surprising.

"Last year, I was a little bit anxious," Jimenez said, "and I know he’s going to be, too.

"The first year of your contract, you play on Opening Day, it’s going to be a little bit tough for him, too. It’s not going to be (tough) just for him, it’s for anybody who makes the Opening Day roster. It’s a little bit tough because it’s different pitching, it’s different stuff and the pitchers are a lot better at this level.

"He’s going to need someone. But he’s got (Jose) Abreu, he’s got (Yoan) Moncada and he’s got me. So he’s going to be good."

One of the biggest differences between Jimenez's ascent to the major leagues and Robert's is that Robert is joining a White Sox team with playoff expectations. Between the young core that broke out in such a big way last season and all the newcomers Hahn's front office brought in this winter, the White Sox look ready to vault into contention mode. Robert's arrival is a factor in those expectations, too, so while it might seem like the spotlight can be lured away by other players, Jimenez said it will be tough for Robert to adjust to the big leagues in relative obscurity.

"When you have five tools," he said, "everybody’s going to have their eyes on you."

Well put.

If he truly is the next Trout, then he'll never lose that spotlight. Though playing alongside the next Ruth and the next Ryan, a couple fellow future Hall of Famers, ought to help.

That might sound a little crazy, as Jimenez well knows. But he's sticking to that comp.

"You will see."

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Dallas Keuchel apologizes and details Astros' sign-stealing controversy

Dallas Keuchel apologizes and details Astros' sign-stealing controversy

Dallas Keuchel met with media ahead of this weekend's SoxFest, and was asked about the recent sign-stealing scandal that's dominated the offseason. 

Keuchel was drafted by Houston in the 7th round of the 2009 Draft, and spent the first seven seasons of his career there. While with the Astros, Keuchel was one of the best pitchers in baseball, posting a 3.72 FIP and a 12.2% K-BB ratio during his time there. 

He was also apart of the 2017 team that now faces intense scrutiny for their use of technology in stealing signs during the World Series. While players have not faced punishment yet for the scandal, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were both suspended for a year without pay by MLB and then subsequently fired by the Astros. 

Keuchel signed a 3-year, $55 million contract with the White Sox back in late December.