White Sox

Was the price right for Soler?

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Was the price right for Soler?

Jorge Soler hasn't seen one pitch in professional baseball. He hasn't fielded one fly ball, taken one round of BP. He hasn't even put on a uniform in America yet.

So how does a guy like that earn 30 million?

Simple: That's what the market was.

"Soler's deal is kind of like on an island by itself," Baseball America's Jim Callis said when he joined David Kaplan on WGN Radio Monday night. "He was the last big-time international free agent who's not going to be subject to the new bonus rules. Going forward, if you're under 21 or 22, 2.9 million is the max. In the future, there's going to be a sliding scale. If you're a better team, you're going to have less than 2.9 million.

"It was a case where you had a lot of the big guns -- the Yankees included -- where they figured 'you know what, this is the last time we're going to be able to go all in on one of these guys.'

"It's just the cost of doing business. If you wanted Jorge Soler, it's going to cost 30 million. If you want Cubs' 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora, it's going to cost 3 million. Last year, with the different draft system, the Cubs spent a franchise-record 12 million."

Soler had until July 2 to sign a deal without any limit to spending by the new CBA. Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes signed a four-year deal worth 36 million last winter with the Oakland Athletics. The Cubs were reportedly in on Cespedes and OK with the money, but they wanted more years on the contract.

Soler's nine-year deal accomplished that. Plus, it just makes more sense, as he's only 20 and still a few years away from the big leagues. Cespedes, meanwhile, is 26 and already starring for the A's.

"Individually, you look at some of these bonuses and they seem kind of crazy,' Callis said. "But the flip side of it is, a lot of these guys -- and Soler is included -- you're not just signing the guy. You're signing the guy and getting his rights for six years in the major leagues before he can go anywhere and become a free agent.

"I think a lot of time, it's easy to look when these guys fail and be like 'oh this guy got 2 million and didn't pan out, that's a terrible investment.' But when you do hit on a guy...I'll use Albert Almora as an example. If he's as good as he's supposed to be, he's probably going to be worth -- conservatively -- 60 or 70 million to the Cubs in the first six years of his career and they'll probably play him something around 20 million in salary over that span.

"It's more of a case when you hit, the return of investment on these guys is huge and it more than makes up for the guys who fail. But when you pay a guy a lot of money and he fails or he doesn't get out of Double-A or something, that really sticks in your crawl. But overall, I think the return of investment on these guys is worth it."

Soler instantly becomes one of the Cubs' top prospects, if not the No. 1 guy, and one of the best position player prospects in the game. Of course, not every promising young player hits, and there are many stories of Cuban players failing to live up to their hype.

But Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts saw their man and they went for it. When he was with the Red Sox, Theo was reportedly very upset when the Yankees outbid his squad for the services of Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras. The new Cubs president of baseball operations wasn't going to let the same thing happen this time around.

"I don't think it's any surprise," Callis said. "You look at what Theo did in Boston and what Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod did in Boston and then in San Diego. There's no surprise that these guys are going to be aggressive in player development. It's a shame, really, that the league changed the rules and you can't be as aggressive as you want to be.

"But if fans weren't convinced that Tom Ricketts was in this to win it, he spent 12 million on last year's draft and was very aggressive internationally and then goes and spends 30 million on Soler. You can't ask for much more of a commitment from your owner. If you're a fan, you want to see your owner spending money on your team. And Ricketts has done that.

"Yes, the big-league team is terrible right now and they're going through a down phase, but he's shown that they're going to do whatever it takes to get the top talent available."

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."