White Sox

Pedro Martinez is back with the Boston Red Sox

691696.jpg

Pedro Martinez is back with the Boston Red Sox

From Comcast SportsNetBOSTON (AP) -- Former Boston manager Terry Francona gave Pedro Martinez a big hug along with some advice to help him in his new job as a special assistant to the Red Sox general manager."Now he's going to have to be on time," Francona needled his former pitcher on Thursday when the two were reunited at the annual dinner of the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.A three-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star who spent seven seasons in Boston, Martinez returned to the city where he had his best years. His role is still undefined -- he has the same title as former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek -- but Martinez said he would be willing to help with the pitchers, work in the minor leagues and generally be a friend to GM Ben Cherington."Varitek, Pedro -- they are the Red Sox," said Francona, the current Cleveland Indians manager who received the prestigious Judge Emil Fuchs Award, named after the former Boston Braves owner, for long and meritorious service to baseball.Other award winners included:--Miguel Cabrera, the Ted Williams Award as baseball's best hitter.--Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles, major league manager of the year.--Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals, major league executive of the year.--R.A. Dickey, the Tony Conigliaro Award for fighting through adversity.--Dustin Pedroia, the Thomas A. Yawkey Award for Red Sox most valuable player.--Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox pitcher of the year.--Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox rookie of the year.--Cody Ross, the Tommy McCarthy Good Guy Award.--Mike Aviles, the Jackie Jensen Award for spirit and desire.Martinez spent his first day back on the Boston masthead at a lunch with Cherington, new Red Sox manager John Farrell, CEO Larry Lucchino and Boston Mayor Tom Menino and some civic leaders. Martinez said Menino had been welcoming to him when he first arrived in Boston in 1998 and once again was forthcoming with advice about where to live and what to do in the city."Menino was a friend to me," Martinez said.Martinez was acquired from the salary-dumping Montreal Expos after the 1997 season, a few months before he would be awarded his first Cy Young. He instantly became the ace of the Red Sox staff, the biggest character in a colorful clubhouse and a key part of the team that won the 2004 World Series to end the franchise's 86-year title drought.Martinez said his experience with the team during that era can help players who are trying to recover from last season's last-place finish."There was something missing, in the clubhouse, the players, around Fenway. This offseason, they realized that they lost something," Martinez said, noting that the addition of Farrell as manager and players such as Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli. "We have the right group of people. These guys coming in have great, great character."Martinez, who's now 41, went 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA in Boston. His .760 winning percentage is the best in franchise history, and he ranks third with 1,683 in strikeouts and sixth with 117 wins in a Red Sox uniform. He is also the franchise's all-time leader with 80 postseason strikeouts; in the 1999 All-Star game at Fenway Park, he struck out the first four batters he faced.In an 18-year major league career with the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies, Martinez went 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strikeouts. He has a career .687 winning percentage, and he led the majors in ERA five times, including 1997 when he had a 1.90 ERA with Montreal."I am thrilled to be returning to this organization and to the city I love," Martinez said. "It is an honor to be back with the Red Sox and help in any way I can. I am grateful to our leaders; I believe in them, and I thank them for allowing me to return to the field and help us win again."My heart will always live in Boston."Also Thursday, the Red Sox signed left-hander Craig Breslow to a two-year contract with a club option for 2015. Breslow had been eligible for salary arbitration. Breslow went 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 63 appearances for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Twenty of the 23 appearances the Yale graduate made in Boston were scoreless.

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

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.

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

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.