HOUSTON -- J.D. Martinez hit the go-ahead RBI single in the sixth inning and Jose Altuve had a solo homer to give the Houston Astros a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.The loss extends Chicago's losing skid to a season-long eight games.The hit by Martinez was the first for Houston since the first inning, but Justin Maxwell and Carlos Lee both drew two-out walks before it to set up the score.Houston starter J.A. Happ (4-3) allowed five hits and a run in six innings for the win. Closer Brett Myers pitched a perfect ninth for his 11th save.Alfonso Soriano led off the fourth inning with a solo shot to left-center field that tied it at 1-1. The home run marked the first time in four games that Chicago had scored before the ninth inning.
Right field, designated hitter and starting pitching.
The White Sox, despite handing out the richest contract in team history already this offseason, have yet to address any of their previously stated positional needs. (OK, maybe Yasmani Grandal ends up factoring into the solution at DH.)
That's not for lack of trying, though, with the team offering more money to Zack Wheeler than he took to stay on the East Coast and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. They've been linked to Madison Bumgarner since Wheeler made his decision Wednesday.
The White Sox will surely continue to pursue starting-pitching help, but what's going on in their search for a new right fielder? The need is arguably the most critical on the roster and is certainly pressing after a mixture of players combined for some of the worst production in the game there last season. There are options, and supposedly the White Sox are looking at a few of them.
Earlier this week, we heard the White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers were in "preliminary trade talks" surrounding Joc Pederson, who the South Siders reportedly tried to acquire last offseason. Pederson played more left field than right field last year for the NL West champs, but he had a career year at the plate, with new highs in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, hits and RBIs. There's only one year of team control remaining on the 27-year-old's contract, but the White Sox would be getting a big-time upgrade in their lineup — and a left-handed one, at that.
That same report, from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, also mentioned the White Sox expressed interest in Nicholas Castellanos, perhaps the best hitting outfielder on the free-agent market. Castellanos was stellar last season, leading the major leagues with 58 doubles. He was particularly good after being acquired by the Cubs in a midseason trade, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 51 games for the North Siders. Castellanos long terrorized White Sox pitching while with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, and he's the kind of impact bat that would bolster the middle of the lineup. But he comes with defensive questions that Pederson does not — minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, compared to five for Pederson as a right fielder.
The White Sox were reportedly interested in the other top outfielder on the free-agent market, Marcell Ozuna, early in the offseason. A little older than Pederson and Castellanos, he's just a couple years removed from a dominant 2017 campaign, when he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs for the Miami Marlins. Since being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals, Ozuna hit .263/.327/.452 with 52 homers and 177 RBIs in two seasons. He played left field exclusively in his time with the Redbirds.
Now, enter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who White Sox Talk Podcast aficionados will remember from a discussion in mid October. The Japanese import has been posted, and according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, the White Sox are among four interested teams. Tsutsugo was described by reporter Jim Allen as "a quality bat in Japan, but he’s really not the elite bat," which might raise concerns. A left fielder, Tsutsugo brings good on-base skills and slashed an incredible .322/.430/.680 with 44 homers during the 2016 season. But his defense seems to be an issue in left, with Morosi writing "scouts question whether Tsutsugo has the range to be an average defensive left fielder in the majors." If that's a concern at his actual position, might there be even further worries moving him to a different spot in the outfield? Perhaps the White Sox could be eyeing him for that aforementioned vacancy at DH. He's also a lefty, which would bring some balance to the lineup.
But it's a different nugget in Morosi's report on Tsutsugo that should catch White Sox fans' eyes. Morosi added that "the White Sox likely won’t attempt to sign Tsutsugo immediately, while waiting for decisions from free agents Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna."
Now, we already heard the White Sox connected to those two top-of-market players, but their potential interest in Tsutsugo hinging on what Castellanos and Ozuna have to say could illustrate just how seriously they're considering either of those heavy-hitting free agents. Or maybe all three are secondary targets should a trade with the Dodgers fail to materialize (again).
Whether talking about Ozuna or Tsutsugo, it's unlikely the White Sox would do any rearranging in their outfield to keep them in their current positions. They've discussed Eloy Jimenez as a long-term left fielder, talking multiple times about his improving defense out there (where he sparked more than a few grimaces with his play during his rookie season). For those who see what they consider an easy fix by just moving Jimenez to the DH spot and allowing someone else to play left, manager Rick Renteria went as far as saying this summer that "it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball." So don't expect Jimenez to move any time soon.
Like with everything these days, the White Sox seem to have plenty of options to consider. With offseason activity coming a bit faster than it did in recent years, perhaps the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in San Diego, will provide an answer as to which way they'll end up going.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.
With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.
The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.
Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).
2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.
Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).
"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.
"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."
Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.
Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.
Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.
Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.
But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.