White Sox

Williams, Guillen or a deferral of decision-making?

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Williams, Guillen or a deferral of decision-making?

Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011
Posted: 12:14 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
Generals and majors, they're never too far from battlefields so glorious.Out in a world of their own, they'll never come down till once again victorious.Generals and majors always seem so unhappy 'less they got a war.Generals and majors like never before are tired of being actionless.
--Colin Moulding, General and Majors

The 2011 White Sox season has been jammed with contradictions, the latest being the curious demands of manager Ozzie Guillen with regard to his future in Chicago.

For a month now, Guillen has ben pussyfooting over the idea that he deserves more clarity on his future than having a contract for the 2012 season accords. Putting aside the fact that Ozzie has done nothing in 2011 to merit such consideration, hes not even terribly consistent with the demand itself.

It undercuts the urgency of his request when Guillen proves willing, as he said on Tuesday, that immediately after the season he would head with wife Ibis to Spain to watch the end of the bullfighting season in Madrid. So eager is he to see bullfighting -- as he was a year ago, when the White Sox also wrapped up their season sans playoffs -- that he is willing to take his lame duck status overseas with him and address his future upon return.

Doesnt sound all that urgent now, does it?

The season is coming to a very deflating end, and there will be fall guys. Papa Jerry could opt to clean house, disgusted with how his club, All-In, has eluded expectations. But for a family guy like Chairman Reinsdorf, such a clear-cutting is unlikely. But he will be forced to choose between favorite sons Guillen and GM Ken Williams. Or will he?

With the White Sox shaping up to be lucky to finish .500 -- a fair 10 games or so worse than many preseason predictions had them -- both Guillen and Williams have underperformed, to such a degree to warrant firing.

But I am beginning to believe that against all odds, both men may be back for a possible final hurrah in 2012.

Williams will not be fired, and taking into account his full body of work, he doesnt deserve to be. If Guillen is taken at his managerial height, he deserves one more chance as well. But it will fall to Reinsdorf to make the final decision, and this year more than ever, its not an easy one.

What are the cases for and against the retention of both men?

Williams Pros

His track record of turning cans into can-do with a series of smart moves, somehow accomplished without even a smidge of Moneyball magic, is solid: Esteban Loaiza, Jose Contreras, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Matt Thornton among others have come to the White Sox at virtually no cost.

Even in a season where marred by poor personnel decisions, Williams still managed to pluck Phil Humber off of waivers, and all the much-traveled starter has done for the White Sox is post the top average game score of the entire starting staff.

He has stayed out of the personal fray with the Guillen family that marred the 2010 season and infected the White Sox clubhouse.

Williams Cons

His golden touch -- finding diamonds in the rough and making short dollars stretch -- is tarnishing. Dating back to 2008, when he traded for Nick Swisher, then flipped him infamously to the Yankees, cost him prime starter Gio Gonzalez and a season of clubhouse discord courtesy of Dirty 30, who pouted his way into Chicagos last postseason berth. More recently, his All-In approach, a catch phrase he himself coined upon the re-signing of Paul Konerko, has turned into a colossal failure, particularly with the high-stakes waiver claim of Alex Rios and the signing of Adam Dunn.

Dunns acquisition speaks to another weakness of Williams, his love affair with players often past their prime. In the case of Dunn, he dealt Daniel Hudson -- who had faltered briefly with the White Sox but is now leading the Arizona Diamondbacks into the postseason -- in part to put together a package for Dunn, then a first sacker for the Washington Nationals.

At times, the GM has been too absent. Last season, as Ozzie started to crab about his future -- asking that he wanted to know where he stood with the team but denying he wanted the long-term deal he now seems to have settled on -- with the White Sox on the road in Oakland a season ago, Williams should have swooped in to stem the momentum. This season, as controversy began to rage over the whether Dayan Viciedo should be called up, Williams deferred to Guillen despite heavy suspicions he would rather have fielded his 25 best players, regardless of salary or contract. Even in the case of Dunns appendectomy, from which the slugger rushed back and possibly precipitated his seasonlong slump.

Hot GM candidate Rick Hahn -- who as an assistant Williams fully appreciates the wisdom of -- is getting closer and closer to a GM job of his own. Unless theres a DEFCON 1 plan saying if and when Hahn is offered a GM job outright, Williams kicks upstairs and hands over the primary reins, Hahns future complicates that of Williams.

Ozzie pros

He has the backing of his team -- for the most part. He is sensitive to player needs and is almost always willing to take the heat instead of dumping additional media questions and pressures on players.

As a manager, he pulls enormous interest to the White Sox, some of it even positive attention.

He bleeds White Sox black.

For all the rightful criticism of Guillens managing, hes proven fairly innovative in juggling his bullpen, choosing appearances occasionally by leverage vs. strict lefty-righty or setup-closer assignments.

Ozzie cons

Evidenced by recently stumping for a long-term deal despite his team being a game over .500 and hugely disappointing, Guillen is coming across as uncharacteristically selfish. His denial that another round of three-ring nonsense over his future would affect his clubhouse -- when Guillen was the first to admit shame over letting the Kenny-Ozzie troubles trickle into the clubhouse in 2010 -- is disingenuous at best.

In big-picture strategy, Guillens inability to supply a single thing he would do differently in 2011 simply sets the White Sox up for similar failures. The manager has given himself low marks -- Z for zero or Zorro, XXX for adults only -- but is unable to suggest a single thing he might do differently if presented with the same roster shortcomings next season.

Guillens lineup management has been atrocious. Long before Williams was finally forced to issue a get out of jail free card to Guillen and tell his manager to field players based on merit or promise, not salary, Guillen continued to supply a steady diet of Dunn and Rios into the lineup, sometimes still batting back-to-back and in the middle of the order. Theres old-school faith, and then theres lunacy, and in 2011 Guillen has too often managed in a style that might at best be called reckless, at worst, unconscious.

Guillens game strategy -- neither his strongest suit nor his weakest in the past -- has been as white-flagged as weve ever seen. Failing to pinch-hit for Omar Vizquel with two outs in the ninth? Leaving Dunn in vs. a lefty, and again pointing to salary as a reason to avoid the decision? Too many indications abound that Guillen has given up on the season, when his modus operandi is to not surrender even with just a single breath left.

Both Williams and Guillen have been curiously asleep at the wheel this season. With a payroll approaching 130 million and proven vets by the bushel, too little was the smarter move than too much tinkering. But in Ozzies eyes, any tinkering this season has proved to be too much, and Williams seemed too eager to sit back and watch it play out. For two guys who bleed for the White Sox and grew up together in the organization to sit on their hands in a pivotal season in franchise history is not just disappointing, but baffling.

But again, the White Sox are for better or worse a family. You can bet they dont let Ozzie traipse off to Madrid without having a clear commitment from him, and making a direct one to him. Guillen is under contract for 2012 and the Pale Hose will expect him to fulfill that commitment with bells on. Its imaginable that some changes are forced onto Ozzie -- the replacement of hitting coach Greg Walker, possibly even the loss of bench coach Joey Cora -- either as a move that forces his hand or brings the team more under executive control.

Williams has every right to be ticked off that his former teammate, who he granted an extension after a horrid 2007 season, a leap of faith if ever there was one, is back stumping for more years and more commitment. And Williams has every reason to look over his shoulder as losses mount and money is lost. Guillen can shake his fist back upstairs for being saddled with undermotivated and underachieving players.

If there is a choice, Williams will be safe -- every opportunity Reinsdorf has had to choose between coaches and GMs in his past (including the Bulls) indicates that the tie goes to the executive suite.

But there wont be a choice made. Reinsdorf will deal not ultimatums but urgency -- everyone, including the White Sox roster -- is getting older. Win now, whatever it takes. Otherwise, the housecleaning that was warranted in 2012 will come in 2013.

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

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

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AP

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

It wasn’t long ago that the question was: “Why isn’t Michael Kopech pitching in the major leagues?”

The question is now firmly: “What’s wrong with Michael Kopech?”

The new script is of course a reflection of how quickly opinions change during a baseball season, when “what have you done for me lately?” tends to drive the conversation more than looking at the entire body of work.

But the body of work doesn’t look too awesome for the White Sox top-ranked pitching prospect these days. He carries a 5.08 ERA through 14 starts with Triple-A Charlotte. But it’s the recent struggles that have folks second guessing whether he’s ready for the big leagues.

The month of June hasn’t gone well for Kopech, who has a 9.00 ERA in four starts this month. That features two especially ugly outings, when he allowed seven runs in two innings and five runs in three outings. But for a guy who’s got blow-em-away stuff, it’s the walks that are of the utmost concern to box-score readers: He’s got 21 of them in 16 innings over his last four starts. That’s compared to 20 strikeouts.

More walks than strikeouts is never a good thing, and it’s been a glaring bugaboo for White Sox pitchers at the major league level all season. Kopech wasn’t having that problem when this season started out. He struck out 68 batters and walked only 25 over his first 10 starts. But things have changed.

With director of player development Chris Getz on the horn Thursday to talk about all of the promotions throughout the minor league system, he was asked about Kopech and pointed to Wednesday’s outing, which lasted only five innings and featured four more walks. But Kopech only allowed two earned runs, and Getz called it a good outing.

“Last night I was really happy with what he was able to do, and that’s really in comparison looking at his last probably four outings or so,” Getz said. “He did have a little bit of a hiccup, getting a little erratic. He was getting a little quick in his delivery, his lower half wasn’t picking up with his upper half. The command of his pitches was not there.

“But last night, although the line is not the best line that we’ve seen of Michael this year, it was still a very good outing. He was in the zone, commanding the fastball. His body was under control. He threw some good breaking pitches, a couple of good changeups. He was back to being the competitor we are accustomed to. We are hoping to build off of this outing. I know he’s feeling good about where he’s at from last night and we’ll just kind of go from there.”

It’s important to note, of course, that the White Sox are often looking for things that can’t be read in a box score. So when we see a lot of walks or a lot of hits or a small amount of strikeouts, that doesn’t tell the whole story nor does it count as everything the decision makers in the organization are looking at.

Still, this is development and growth in action — and perhaps a sign that the White Sox have been right in not yet deeming Kopech ready for the majors. Kopech perhaps needs the time at Triple-A to work through these issues rather than be thrown into a big league fire.

As for how these struggles will affect his timeline, that remains to be seen. The White Sox aren’t ruling anything out, not promising that he’ll be on the South Side before the end of this season but certainly not ruling it out either.

“If he builds off of what he did last night, commanding his fastball, his breaking pitches continue to kind of define themselves, I think we’ve got a chance to see him,” Getz said. “He’s going to find his way to the big leagues. He’s going to be an impact frontline type starter. I’m very confident in that.

“Now just like a lot of great players, sometimes it’s a meandering path. And to say that he’s gone off track is not fair because it’s only been a couple of outings. I think he’s in a really good spot. If he builds off of this, I don’t think it’s unfair to think he’ll be up here at some point.”

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Rick Hahn’s been saying it all year: The good ones have a way of forcing the issue.

Consider Dylan Cease one of the good ones.

The pitcher acquired alongside top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez in last summer’s crosstown trade with the Cubs was one of the more than a dozen players promoted within the White Sox farm system Thursday. He put up stellar numbers during the first half with Class A Winston-Salem and because of it is on his way to Double-A Birmingham.

While many rebuild-loving fans could’ve forecasted Jimenez’s rapid journey through the organization, Cease’s acceleration is one that even the White Sox are considering a “pleasant surprise.”

“There’s definitely been some pleasant surprises,” Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, said Thursday. “For one, I think Dylan Cease was a guy, heading into the season, his first full year with us, the focus was: every fifth day, a full season’s worth of innings. He’s more or less forced our hand.

“He's really come on, he’s pitching with four pitches, four plus pitches, he’s commanding the ball, very mature kid. And he’s certainly ready for the next challenge at Double-A.”

Cease turned in a 2.89 ERA in his 13 starts with Winston-Salem, striking out 82 batters in 71.2 innings. Considering he made just 25 starts above Rookie ball during his time in the Cubs’ organization, the dominance in his first taste of High A is quite the positive for the White Sox.

The team’s starting rotation of the future is a mighty crowded one, with roughly a dozen different guys competing for those spots: current big leaguers Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito; Triple-A arms Michael Kopech, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams; Double-A hurlers Cease, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning; and Class A pitchers Lincoln Henzman and Blake Battenfield, both of whom earned their own promotions Thursday.

There’s a lot of time before the White Sox have to settle on which five will make up that future starting staff. But Cease could be doing the work of making a name for himself, something that hasn’t been easy to do. With all the love he’s getting, he’s still the organization’s fourth-ranked pitching prospect. Heck, thanks to Jimenez, he wasn’t the top-ranked guy in his own trade.

But Cease is getting attention now, and if he keeps pitching like this, he could keep forcing the White Sox hand.