White Sox

Magic front office cleans house; Is Howard next?

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Magic front office cleans house; Is Howard next?

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- For months the Orlando Magic have been trudging through the aftermath of a preseason trade request by Dwight Howard that sapped the life out of the franchise as internal team issues quickly affected the product on the floor. Now after easily one of the most tumultuous seasons in their history, they made the first in what promises to be a huge offseason shake-up The Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday and agreed to part ways with general manager Otis Smith, severing ties with two of the architects of one of the most successful runs in franchise history. Smith and Van Gundy's relationship with Howard was the centerpiece of drama the team faced all season and following their second straight first-round playoff exit, CEO Alex Martins said the shift was warranted. "It's time for a new leadership and a new approach," Martins said at a news conference to discuss the moves. "We simply came to the decision that we were not on the right track," Martins wouldn't go into many specifics about what he is looking for in replacements, saying only that he and ownership want to fill the general manager post by June's NBA draft. He said he would sit down with ownership on Tuesday to begin ironing out the details of both searches. Phone and text messages left with Van Gundy and Smith by The Associated Press were not immediately returned. Orlando went 37-29 in the regular season but was eliminated in five games by Indiana after a rash of late-season injuries that included back surgery for Howard. Orlando went 5-12 without him. Martins said those consecutive first-round playoff exits were "simply not good enough." In early April, Van Gundy claimed top-ranking team officials had told him that Howard had asked management to fire Van Gundy as a condition of the center signing a long-term contract beyond 2013. Howard denied it. Martins addressed that dispute directly, saying "At no time during that time did Dwight ask me to have Stan fired." With a relationship with Smith dating back to the Magic's inaugural season when Smith was a player and a five-year relationship with Van Gundy, Martins also called Monday "the most difficult day of my career." Both Smith and Van Gundy are under contract through next season and both of their contracts will be honored. The current assistant coaching staff has also been offered the opportunity to stay on for now. Van Gundy coached the Magic for five seasons. He finished with a 259-135 record, going 31-28 in the playoffs. Smith departs after six years. He was the architect of Magic teams that made it to the playoffs in each of those seasons, winning the Eastern Conference championship in 2009. But he also made several questionable moves, including trades for Vince Carter and Gilbert Arenas that failed to work out long-term. The day after the Magic's season ended with the loss to the Pacers, Smith said that he would need a few days to even decide whether he wanted to return to that position following the tough year, setting it as a "50-50" chance. Van Gundy said at the time he wanted to return and was hoping that the ultimate decision would be about performance solely. "When you're talking a professional relationship, what matters -- at least to me -- is the results," Van Gundy said. "I don't care if it's a business relationship where two people at work are driving a business to make money, or if it's a sports relationship, where the object is to win games." But both also have acknowledged that this lockout-shortened season was trying for everyone involved. "This season, and we've been digesting it all year, has been the longest, shortest season that we've had," Smith said. "But it's something that you have to go through. Most sports franchises at some time go through a little bit of uncertainty and this is our time." Martins said that ideally the Magic's next coach will have a championship pedigree, though acknowledged that the search wouldn't exclude assistants or others who have experience. He said the same was true for the general manager position. Martins was effusive in his praise as Van Gundy as a "great strategic coach," but acknowledged that one of the factors they want to see in a new coach is someone who is great at building relationships with players. "Strategically we may not be able to find anyone better," he said. Howard often commented about Van Gundy's grumpy demeanor on the floor, saying it was at times counterproductive for the team. This past summer Smith met with Van Gundy and he left that meeting pledging to make improvements. It included him meeting with a Stanford University psychology professor for advice on how to be a better leader. And it seemed to work, with Van Gundy incurring just one technical during the shortened regular-season, a low during his Magic tenure. But it wasn't enough to save his job. Now the attention shifts to Howard, who remains in Los Angeles recovering from his surgery. Martins said team officials continue to be in dialogue with the all-star, but hasn't yet gotten an answer on whether he would like to stay beyond next season when his contract expires. After a season spent in limbo before Howard finally opted into the final year of his deal, Martins has said the team won't repeat the same ordeal. That at least leaves open the possibility the Magic could trade him at some point should Howard not agree to sign long-term. "I think the decision is on Dwight now," Martins said. "Dwight needs to decide where his future lies."

Why would the White Sox make a trade for Nomar Mazara?

Why would the White Sox make a trade for Nomar Mazara?

SAN DIEGO — After a deathly silent first day of the Winter Meetings, the White Sox finally created a little buzz on Day 2. A little.

Not any buzz that they’ll admit to, of course, Rick Hahn spending a second straight media session with nothing to announce, talking about how he’s unable to handicap whether the White Sox will make a move this week in Southern California.

But the buzz hit the internet shortly before Hahn spoke Tuesday afternoon, a rumor that the South Siders were once again trying to acquire right fielder Nomar Mazara from the Texas Rangers.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard the White Sox linked to the 24-year-old. They were supposedly interested at the trade deadline in July. And just like they’ve reportedly started trade talks with the Los Angeles Dodgers in another effort to bring Joc Pederson to the South Side, they’ve similarly circled back to the Rangers and Mazara.

“He's obviously a powerful man, 6-4, I think, 6-5. He looks like he's seven-foot every time I see him in the box,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said, asked about Mazara during his media session Tuesday. “Runs extremely well for a big guy. Can defend. Good arm. Brings a lot of qualities to the plate. Can pop one in the seats as quickly as anybody. I think he's done it against us a number of times, but he can play right field well.”

Indeed he can “pop one in the seats,” as Renteria well knows. Mazara hit three homers in two days off Reynaldo Lopez and Odrisamer Despaigne back in June, including one that traveled 505 feet.

Fan reaction was not kind to the idea of the White Sox getting Mazara to plug their hole in right field, a likely result of expectations that the team would be in on the biggest available names this winter, such as free-agent outfielders Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna. Pederson, after a career year in which he blasted 36 home runs, would probably sate an appetite for a big splash.

Instead, we’re talking about Mazara. And fans are trying to figure out why.

No, he’s not splashy. In four big league seasons, he’s got a .261/.320/.435 slash line, 79 home runs and 308 RBIs. Playing in just 116 games in 2019, he hit .268/.318/.469 with 19 homers — breaking a streak of exactly 20 long balls in each of his first three seasons — and 66 RBIs. Those aren’t elite numbers.

With a supposedly aggressive approach and money to spend, why is Mazara the target instead of someone like Castellanos? That’s a good question, and one with some potential answers, however unsatisfying to the critics they might be.

Left-handed bat

The right-field vacancy has been, throughout the offseason, the team’s best opportunity to add some left-handed hitting to an overly right-handed lineup. While Hahn has said numerous times, Tuesday included, that the White Sox aren’t going to let handedness be the be all, end all in their search for new hitters, he’s also said that in an ideal world, he’d be able to add some left-handed balance to the lineup.

He did that when he signed Yasmani Grandal to the richest contract in club history. Grandal’s a switch-hitter, giving the White Sox a pair of those, Grandal joining Yoan Moncada. But the remainder of the lineup, both current and projected, is right-handed: Jose Abreu, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. That leaves two spots, right field and DH, as the only opportunities to find more balance. The White Sox might move forward with a rotation at DH including Grandal, Abreu, James McCann (a righty) and Zack Collins (a lefty), leaving right field as the only spot, perhaps, to add a left-handed bat of some significance.

“It’s an ideal. There’s certain fits that exist within the trade market. There’s certain fits that exist within the free-agent market still,” Hahn said. “We are not going to sell out to handedness. If we can find a premium right-handed bat that fits that makes more sense than a left-handed option, that’s the route we will go.”

Lesser of the defensive evils?

Hahn has also said that, ideally, whichever player the White Sox add to fill the hole in right would be a good defender. That one’s perfectly easy to understand. While the White Sox have no intention to move Eloy Jimenez out of left field, believing he showed some big-time improvement as his rookie season went along, he’s still a work in progress out there. Some have jumped to the conclusion that he’s already best suited for DH. I’d suggest waiting a little longer than just one injury-interrupted rookie season before declaring him unserviceable in left. Luis Robert, another rebuilding cornerstone, earns rave reviews for his defensive work in center, but he’ll be getting his first taste of the big leagues in 2020.

Well, Mazara isn’t exactly a Gold Glover in the making, it seems. He had minus-four Defensive Runs Saved last season, not a good number. But other options are worse.

Castellanos has a poor defensive reputation, one backed up by the numbers: He had minus-nine DRS in 2019. Seemingly no one at the Winter Meetings has a good thing to say about Ozuna’s defense, either, and he exclusively played left field during his two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Adding either to the outfield mix on the South Side would create unwanted defensive headaches. Could their offensive profiles, particularly that of Castellanos, overcome those defensive reps? Absolutely, but also at a high price point.

Mazara has a reputation as a (perhaps only slightly) better defender and certainly as an athletic player. And the White Sox wouldn’t have to give him tens of millions of dollars to put up such woeful defensive numbers.

“We like, generally, to have athletic players who are capable of contributing beyond just one dimension of their game,” Hahn said. “For example, not just being able to beat you with the bat, but perhaps with their legs and perhaps with their defense. That's the ideal.

“That isn't always the case. There are certain positions where that's a little less the case, and you make due with it and so be it because of how special they may be in another area of contribution.

“Eventually at some point we're going to see Luis Robert running around center field. Certainly with surrounding him with guys that are similarly athletic -- perhaps not on par with that, because he's a bit of a freak -- has some appeal. It's not essential, but yeah, ideally, that would look nice.”

Diamond in the rough?

The White Sox say they’re moving into the next phase of their rebuilding project, and that would seemingly be a phase in which they don’t have to go digging for buried diamonds that might turn their careers around in a new setting. But that’s what Mazara could be.

And Hahn said he likes the idea of adding that kind of player.

“That's where you really can make your hay,” Hahn said. “That's where, if you can find something that's undervalued and you can get it better and you have tangible reasons for believing you can get this guy better, that's a real opportunity.”

Maybe eyes are rolling because Hahn wasn’t similarly glowing about the opportunity to break the bank on someone at the top of the free-agent market, but that’s not a bad desire. Every team wants to find buy-low gems that could blossom into key contributors. Heck, the Cubs made one a centerpiece of their rebuilding project with a 2013 trade that brought Jake Arrieta to the North Side.

That’s hardly suggesting that the White Sox would get the steal of the century in a deal for Mazara. But there’s a reason he was such a highly touted prospect once upon a time. He’s still just 24 years old, and perhaps that old change-of-scenery chestnut actually makes some sense. The Rangers might be willing to sell low due to their projected outfield alignment or due to tiring of waiting for Mazara to live up the hype. And the White Sox could at least take advantage.

———

Are there reasons to be skeptical? Of course. Mazara’s offensive numbers have not been overly impressive. His defense is not what one would call “great.”

But he does address some needs, and perhaps most importantly, he’d be a big upgrade.

Mazara would not be a big-splash type of acquisition, but he’s way better than what the White Sox have in right field at the moment, which is nothing. They do not have an everyday right fielder, and we saw in 2019 how unproductive a parade of ineffective options can be.

Mazara had a .786 OPS in 2019. White Sox right fielders had a .565 OPS.

“Nowhere to go but up” is not a reasoning that fires up a fan base. But it’s also true for the White Sox when it comes their right-field situation.

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Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.