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GM Rick Hahn says White Sox poised to make jump

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GM Rick Hahn says White Sox poised to make jump

CHICAGO (AP) White Sox general manager Rick Hahn figured the first question would be about catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The last one caught him off guard.

As Friday's Q and A session with fans was wrapping up, a familiar figure stepped to the microphone and let this one rip: ``Do you think you're going to do a better or worse job than the last guy?'' Ken Williams asked as the crowd laughed.

``That's not fair, he had a better support staff,'' Hahn said.

Hahn is no longer in a supporting role. He's standing right there in the spotlight as the White Sox try to make a jump in the AL Central, even though they've made no flashy additions this offseason.

They even lost a link to their 2005 championship team.

Still, Hahn sees a squad in good shape after finishing second to Detroit last season, even if the White Sox don't look much different this year. Besides re-signing Jake Peavy and parting ways with Pierzynski, the biggest move during the offseason was Hahn getting promoted from assistant general manager to GM and Williams being bumped up to executive vice president.

Otherwise, there were no dramatic changes to the roster. There's a perception that this was a rather slow offseason for Chicago, and Hahn understands that.

It doesn't necessarily mean he agrees.

``Fundamentally, all of us in my department are fans,'' he said. ``We understand the reaction to a move or a lack of a move. Perfect example is the decision not to bring back A.J. All of us react to that on a fan level. All the guys from `05 hold a special place in our heart. ... All those guys will always have a special spot for each of us - not to mention a guy like A.J. who was with us for eight years and had a tremendous amount of success.

``All of us, I think, have that fan reaction when he winds up somewhere else,'' Hahn continued. ``Ultimately, though, it's on us to do what we feel is best in terms of maximizing wins over a longer period of time than responding emotionally or sentimentally. Yeah, it's something that we're aware of, but it's not going to be something that ultimately drives decision making, as much as what we feel is going to maximize our wins.''

He praised Pierzynski and said parting with the veteran catcher was tough but necessary if the White Sox were going to make a jump in the division. That's something Hahn believes they are in position to do after winning 85 games and spending 117 days in first place last season.

It won't be easy with Victor Martinez returning for the Tigers after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury, and Torii Hunter now in Detroit's outfield.

The White Sox can counter with a deep rotation that includes Peavy, who re-signed for $29 million over two years. Chris Sale is coming off a 17-win season and last year's opening-day starter, John Danks, is poised to return from left shoulder surgery.

Chicago also thinks Tyler Flowers is ready to take over for Pierzynski. That's one reason the 36-year-old catcher is now in Texas. He signed a $7.5 million, one-year contract with the Rangers after hitting 27 homers with 77 RBIs last season, both career highs.

Other reasons Hahn cited were the need to retain Peavy and to fill holes at third base and in the bullpen.

The White Sox addressed that need in the infield by signing Jeff Keppinger and brought in Matt Lindstrom to help in relief, a move they announced on Friday.

Splashy moves? Hardly.

But Hahn insisted they were moves that needed to be made. Throw in the organization's faith in Flowers, a solid defensive catcher, and Pierzynski was sort of the odd man out.

The question is, can Flowers hit? He batted just .213 in 52 games last season.

Another issue: The lineup is loaded with righties, one notable exception being Adam Dunn, particularly now that Pierzynski is gone.

Hahn said the White Sox are interested in adding a left-handed hitter if it's ``the right fit.''

``We're not going to make a move just because it looks good in January to say we addressed a perceived need,'' Hahn said.

Paul Konerko's future is also in question.

The veteran slugger enters his 15th season in Chicago and 17th in the majors with a contract set to expire after this year. As much as he would love to finish his career in Chicago, he's also seen the club part with mainstays such as Pierzynski and Mark Buehrle in recent years.

``There are so many moving parts to it all,'' Konerko said. ``You can't handicap or gauge how it's going to go. I don't know what's going to happen, how I'm going to feel seven months from now. There are a lot of heavy thoughts there. The main thing is just trying to go out and have a good season.''

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It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

Whenever a player has a career year in the last year of his contract, there is always some trepidation the next season. Was he really worth all those years or all that money that come with his new deal or did he just cash in on one great season?

John Carlson got the big contract and now is silencing all the doubters with his outstanding play.

Carlson scored his fifth goal of the season Monday as he chipped in a great feed from Jakub Vrana past Vancouver Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson (see above).

He later assisted on Evgeny Kuznetsov's goal in the second period giving him his fifth multi-point game of the year.

On the final year of his deal in 2017-18, Carlson was brilliant with 15 goals, 53 assists and 68 points, all of which were career highs.

It’s rare to see a bonafide No. 1 defenseman hit the open market, meaning there would have been plenty of teams lining up to pay him the big bucks. The Caps never let it get that far and they re-signed Carlson to an eight-year deal worth $64 million before free agency opened. His $8 million cap hit ties him for second among all defensemen.

That’s a whole lot of money to spend on a player whose previous career high was 55 points. Carlson would not have been the first player to regress in the first year after signing a big deal and he certainly would not be the last.

For now, however, he looks like he is worth every penny.

Carlson’s 68 points last season led all defensemen and he looks like he’s on pace to shatter those numbers. His goal Monday was his 11th point on the season. It took him 15 goals to reach that mark last season and 43 games to reach five goals.

Despite a career year, Carlson was not invited to the All-Star Game, he was not a finalist for the Norris Trophy and he was not named a first or second-team All-Star at season’s end. At his current rate of play, however, he will be impossible to ignore. 

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2018 Nationals Position Review: The Nats have a clear need at catcher​​​​​​​

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2018 Nationals Position Review: The Nats have a clear need at catcher​​​​​​​

One of the Nationals' biggest offseason needs is clearly at the catcher position, where they have no obvious starter under contract and no top prospect waiting in the wings.

Matt Wieters, Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino all saw time in the starting lineup in 2018, but all three failed to contribute in anything more than a few flashes. Severino started strong but was ineffective at the plate after the spring ended. Wieters finished the season strong but missed two months with an injury. Kieboom was good but never great.

Before we look ahead at the future of the position and whether the Nats will address their need with a trade or through free agency, let's look back at the 2018 season that was for Nationals backstops.

2018 Nationals Position Review: Catchers

Matt Wieters

Age: 32
2018 salary: $10.5 million
2018 stats: .251/.315/.410, 76 G, 271 PA, 235 AB, 56 H, 24 R, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 8 2B, 0 3B, 30 BB, 45 SO, 86 OPS+, bWAR 0.6

Wieters was always a short-term fix for the Nationals catcher, but this year he didn't exactly provide the production needed to even serve that purpose. His numbers were a bit better than 2017, his first year in Washington, but Wieters battled injuries, missing two months from mid-May to mid-July with a hamstring strain. 

To Wieters' credit, he finished the season strong. From July 23 to his final game on Sept. 29, Wieters carried a .353 on-base percentage with a .763 OPS. His defense was a mixed bag, but he did rank 10th in MLB in caught stealing percentage (min. 40 GP).

Wieters is expected to be gone this winter and where he goes next will be interesting. He can probably still get another starting catcher job, but not for a good team. Meanwhile, the Nats will go out hoping to find someone much better and younger than Wieters to move forward with.

Spencer Kieboom

Age: 27
2018 salary: Pre-Arb Eligible
2018 stats: .232/.322/.320, 52 G, 143 PA, 125 AB, 29 H, 16 R, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 5 2B, 0 3B, 16 BB, 28 SO, 71 OPS+, bWAR 0.4

Kieboom got the call in May when Wieters went down and got his first extended stint in the majors. He made his debut in 2016, but had just one plate appearance before going back down and then staying in the minors for all of 2017.

Kieboom did a serviceable job considering the circumstances. His caught stealing percentage was fourth in the majors. And offensively, he had some moments. He had seven multi-hit games and had a few stretches where he drew walks in bunches. 

The question for Kieboom is whether he did enough to keep a roster spot next season. He's under team control until 2024, but clearly, the team will seek upgrades at his position. 

Pedro Severino

Age: 25
2018 salary: Pre-Arb Eligible
2018 stats: .168/.254/.247, 70 G, 213 PA, 190 AB, 32 H, 14 R, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 9 2B, 0 3B, 1 SB, 18 BB, 47 SO, 34 OPS+, bWAR -1.1

Severino had played for the Nats in brief stints each of the past three seasons, but like Kieboom he got his first real run in the major leagues this season. He began the year as the backup catcher but was optioned down when Wieters returned in July because Kieboom essentially took his job. Severino then returned in September when rosters expanded.

Severino continued to show flashes this season with his defense and speed on the basepaths relative to his position. But he just didn't get it done at the plate. He couldn't hit for average or power and he doesn't get on-base consistently enough.

Since Kieboom passed him on the depth chart, and given the Nats are likely to add talent at catcher, it's unlikely Severino will enter next season as anything more than Triple-A depth.

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