Monday, December 13, 2004

Lee To Brewers For Bag Of Balls, Other Less Useful Things

CHICAGO -- (Tribune News Services) The White Sox acquired outfielder Scott Podsednik, the Sporting News 2003 National League Rookie of the Year, right-handed pitcher Luis Vizcaino and a player to be named later from the Brewers in exchange for outfielder Carlos Lee Monday.

For a leadoff man, Posednik sure can't reach base. His .313 OBP is craptastic, he's actually older than Lee and getting inconsistent right-hander with a career ERA over 4.50 doesn't begin to even this deal up to what you'd consider reasonable.

The Sox do save more than $7 million on this deal, so if they can go out and land another pitcher of the Matt Clement- or Odalis Perez-caliber, this won't be too terrible. But as is, this is a horrible deal. Even with the money saved.

Lee probably was a bit overpaid at $8 million per year, but he was terrifically consistent. He posted OPS+ marks of 119, 116 and 123 over the past three years and only in his rookie campaign did he come in below league average (and only barely with a 98). Oh, and he's still younger than the guy the Sox just traded for.

Posednik, meanwhile, was only above average in 2003 when he rode a high batting average (for him at .273) to a 112 OBP+. And despite a MLB-leading 70 stolen bases last year, he'll still have a difficult time stealing first.

Moreover, the Sox were already set in center field with Aaron Rowand coming back after leading the team in OPS. That was while playing great defense. Maybe even better than Posednik, who admittedly is good (way above-average range factors).

But with Rowand already in the fold, the Sox had an option to put a hitter just like this in the leadoff spot in Willie Harris.

Harris, who is younger still (only 26 on this Opening Day), posted a better OBP at .343. And he's also left handed -- same as Posednik.

Overall, this deal just doesn't make any sense for the Sox. They had a guy with the same leadoff abilities, a center fielder and they didn't need another right-hander for the bullpen. The only thing that they get from this is the cash savings... and where that goes, who knows?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Sox add Dye to outfield mix

CHICAGO -- (ESPN NEWS SERVICES) The Chicago White Sox agreed to terms with outfielder Jermaine Dye on Thursday.

The outfielder will sign a two-year, $10.15 million contract that contains a club option for 2007. Dye will be paid $4 million in 2005 and $5 million in 2006 with the club holding an option for 2007 at $6 million (with a buyout of $1.15 million).

For the money, this isn't a bad signing. Dye's .792 OPS at Network Associates Colliseum last year with the A's makes him just better than a league-average hitter. And Dye is a slightly above-average defender in right field.

I think Richard Hidalgo would have been a more exciting signing because he has more upside and is a year younger. But for the money, this isn't a bad signing. Here's what the Sox lineup looks like now:

2B: ????????
SS: Juan Uribe
DH: Frank Thomas
1B: Paul Konerko
LF: Carlos Lee
RF: Jermaine Dye
CF: Aaron Rowand
3B: Joe Crede
C: ?????????

4th OF: Carl Everett
5th OF: Joe Borchard
UT IF: Wilson Valdez
UT: Willie Harris
Backup Catcher: Burke/Davis?

Notice something wrong with this lineup? It's all right-handed. That's a problem I think the Sox need to address. Sliding Everett into the starting lineup probably doesn't fix it. I think we'll see someone traded later this winter.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Hermanson becomes first Sox signing

Dustin Hermanson became the first free agent to sign with the White Sox when he inked a 2-year, $5.5 million contract on Tuesday. The Sox also have a $3.5 million option for 2007.

Thumbs up. But, only slightly. In fact, call it one thumb up, one thumb down.

Of course, even though many are inclined to point to Hermanson’s ERA and say he’s simply the benefactor of a lot of saves, let’s take a look at his peripheral numbers in each role.















Like a lot of minor league pitchers that shift roles, Hermanson’s peripherals looked a little better. Not a lot – mind you sample-size issues apply – but enough to think he’ll be a better reliever than a starter.

And he wasn’t a bad starter. Granted, he was at best a league-average starter, but he wasn’t bad. His ERA+ from his last four years as a starter have been 114, 131, 112 and 104. And even though those years are 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2003, that’s still better than anything Jaret Wright can boast – and he just signed for three years and $23 million.

Now, Hermanson isn’t going to morph into Dennis Eckersley or anything. But he will be a decent swingman, sliding from the bullpen to the fifth starter spot should the Sox fail to land another pitcher. He wouldn’t be a great fifth starter (like Esteban Loaiza two years ago), but as we’ve covered before… getting anything close to league average at that spot will be a huge improvement.

Could the Sox have manufactured a guy like this out of a minor league free agent and saved some money? Sure. They could have, but that’s always a dicey proposition. Especially for a team like the Sox that has a hard time luring free agents, major or minor.

So this hole could have been filled cheaper, or with a better player. But it’s still not a bad move.

Last Look Back: Looking Forward

Here’s a last look back at 2004, which will actually look forward. These are the holes that the Sox had at the end of the season. So, in the spirit of the Christmas season, here’s a shopping list for GM Kenny Williams to take with him to the winter meetings.


Sandy Alomar Jr. has left town, and thankfully he’s taken his .606 OPS with him. Ben Davis .676 isn’t much better, though there’s a glimmer of hope he could still be an OK player if he could get his BA up around .260 and his OPS up to about .320. Jamie Burke (.795 OPS) played well in limited action, but the Sox still need a better option going into the season.

Starting Pitcher

Must have. Must, must, must have. Even if it isn’t a big name, even if it’s someone that can just take the ball every fifth day with just-below-average performance, this is a must have. The Sox’ troubles from the fifth spot have been well documented, but it’s obvious the Sox need someone to slot in behind Garcia/Buehrle/Contreras/Garland. The Pale Hose can’t go another year giving away a game every fifth day… not in such a winnable division.

Second/Third Baseman

Sox could use a veteran in the infield. Not a short stop, but preferably someone that could play third and second base. Call it Joe Crede/Willie Harris insurance. Might as well let the kids play, but come ready with a backup plan. Placido Polanco would be perfect.

Right Field

Unless the Sox are ready to turn the job over to Joe Borchard, with his .249 OBP and .338 slugging percentage, they need another outfielder – especially if they plan on having Carl Everett patch over the hole at DH should Frank Thomas miss the first part of the season.

This could work out though if the Sox don’t trade Paul Konerko this winter. It’s conceivable, should the Big Hurt even miss any time, that Konerko shifts over to DH, Ross Gload tries to replicate his surprising .851 OPS from last season while playing better defense at first, and Everett play as a fourth outfielder, taking over should Borchard bomb out again.

We should mention that Everett would ideally be this team’s fourth outfielder. Period. He can handle center, he can hit, and he wouldn’t have to play every day in that role. Again, ideally, it would be spelling for an OF of Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand and a free agent pickup like Jermaine Dye or Richard Hidalgo.

Relief Pitcher

Shingo Takatsu, Damaso Marte and Cliff Politte are a nice trio, and with Jon Adkins and Neal Cotts back in a lefty-righty long-relief tandem, this isn’t a pressing need. Kenny Williams already landed Kevin Walker, so maybe they’ll stand pat on this front. That wouldn’t be too bad of an option.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Giving Ventura His Due

It’s past due time to recognize former Sox third baseman Robin Ventura. Ventura manned the hot corner for the Sox for nine full seasons and part of another. During his 17 years in Major League baseball, he won six gold gloves in addition to hitting well above average for his position.

After a couple years as a utility player for the Dodgers, part of me hoped he’d sign on for the same role back in Chicago for ‘05 … for old time’s sake and also as veteran insurance in case Joe Crede again plays poorly. His left-handed bat would have also been valuable off the bench for a righty-dominated lineup.Instead of playing out the string or milking a few more years out of his body, Ventura decided earlier this winter to hang ‘em up.

He finished with 294 home runs, a .267 batting average and a very good .367 on-base percentage. His slugging percentage of .444 is also respectable, as is his raw OPS figure of .806. And it’s hard to overstate the great defense, with a career fielding percentage of .958 and a range factor of 2.66, compared to the 2.29 that was the league average during his playing years.

I think it’s a shame that Ventura doesn’t get more credit for being a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. That’s not to say I think he belongs, but to say I think he came a lot closer than most give him credit for.

Here’s a look at how Ventura compared to a number of his contemporaries at third base. To be considered a contemporary, players had to have careers with significant overlap. If that player is still active, that player had to look likely to be nearing the end of their run or already in decline (like Chipper Jones).

(NOTE: For those unfamiliar with this statistic, I’m using OPS+ from because it adjusts for the league and ballpark. No Coors-inflated numbers around here, Vinny Castilla.)





Robin Ventura



Greg Jeffries



Chipper Jones



Ken Caminiti



Todd Zeile



Travis Fryman



Vinny Castilla



Matt Williams



Jeff Cirillo



Bobby Bonilla



T Pendleton



Dave Magadan15


Dean Palmer



As you can see, the only guys that were better with the bat were led-gloved fielders like Chipper Jones and Bobby Bonilla. Both were so bad they were shifted to the outfield. In fact, Bonilla played more innings in the outfield than anywhere else, so it’s hard to believe we’re considering him at third base.

Jones, after his trip to the outfield, is back at third base. And he’s still playing it poorly… though maybe not as poorly as he played left field. And his OPS+ isn’t likely to stay that high, as he’s already begun the decline phase of his career. The Braves are on the hook for three more years of his huge contract, and he’ll probably bounce around as a part-time OF/DH for a few more years afterwards.

In case you’re wondering, Dave Magadan was also a poor fielder.

As for the glove men on this list, I don’t think any of them can match Ventura’s list of accomplishment in the field (the aforementioned gold gloves). And for sure none of them hit as well.

Ken Caminiti is an interesting case because he was as good of a hitter (without looking at the numbers, some might offhand think he was the MUCH BETTER hitter because of his huge 1996 season) and was generally considered a good fielder that made tough plays.

But career-wise, I still don’t see Caminiti coming close to the longevity and consistency Ventura provided for teams for 14 of his 17 seasons. In addition to a slow start, the end of Caminiti’s career was marred by steroid and drug abuse. That’s not supposed to take away from Caminiti, who died tragically this year from a drug overdose at age 41, but to point out that he had a bigger peak season and flamed out at the end.

I think we can safely say Ventura was the best of his generation of third basemen.

I’m still not trying to suggest that the best of each generation of players at each position should be elected to the HOF. Again I’m not advocating Ventura’s HOF candidacy. He doesn’t belong just because he was the best of a weak group, overall, any more than Jack Morris belongs just because he was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s.

But Morris has his supporters. And the only thing I’m really getting at is that Ventura was probably equally as good, if not better given the relative scarcity of third basemen in the HOF. (Ron Santo is still the best candidate among unselected third basemen.)

The 70s and 80s, the period right before Ventura’s career, could generally be considered the golden era of Major League third basemen. There were no fewer than four first-ballot HOFers during that time (Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Paul Molitor and Wade Boggs – though maybe its cheating to consider Molitor at the position).

This could be part of the reason Ventura doesn’t get his dues. If he had played 10 years earlier, he’d have only been the fifth-best third baseman in the game. He’s simply overshadowed by the era preceding him.

But how about the era that follows him? For fun, lets look at the current crop of third basemen and see how Ventura compares to those guys.





Robin Ventura



Scott Rolen



Eric Chavez



A Rodriguez



A. Ramirez



Adrian Beltre



Mike Lowell



Corey Koskie



Edg. Alfonzo



Joe Randa



If Rodriguez stays at the hot corner, which isn’t a certainty at this point, he’s still on track for the HOF, but still has a long way to go to be as good as Mike Schmidt over his career (143 OPS+). He’ll have to avoid a decline to stay ahead of George Brett (135 OPS+). But those guys are probably the two best third basemen to ever play the game.

Adrian Beltre is only 25-years-old, so if he has a few more monster seasons like he had in 2004, he could climb this list, though probably not to the A-Rod/Schmidt/Brett stratosphere. Eric Chavez at 27 could climb, but right now with his problems against left-handed pitching, probably won’t go too much higher. By the end of his career, I would expect him to be a good comp for Ventura (great glove, good hitter).

Scott Rolen could also turn out to be a good comp for the former Sox/Mets/Yankees third baseman. He also has a great glove, and as his bat declines (which he showed no indication of in 2004, but still has a long way to go), he could also fit Ventura’s mold.

Everybody else would have to improve before they decline to be as good as Ventura, and some of them would have to improve by a pretty big margin to stave off the effects decline will have on their statistics.

So what does this say about Ventura? Well, that he was pretty good, and would be among the best two or three third basemen whenever he played, excepting the 70s-80s era that is unmatched in terms of hot-corner talent.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Sox Re-sign Garland For Another Year

CHICAGO -- (AP) The White Sox avoided arbitration with right-hander Jon Garland on Friday, agreeing to a $3.4 million, one-year contract. Garland, who got a $1.1 million raise, was 12-11 with a 4.89 ERA last season, the first winning record of his career. He had a career-high 113 strikeouts, pitched 200 innings for the first time and won 12 games for the third straight season.

Garland is 46-51 with a 4.68 ERA in four-plus seasons with the White Sox. Originally selected by the crosstown Cubs as the 10th pick in the 1997 amateur draft, he was traded to the White Sox a year later.

I've talked before about what the Sox would do with Garland if they faced the possiblity of having to go through arbitration with him. In that scenario, the Sox would have likely been on the hook for close to $5 million. At a dollar figure that high, the Sox might have been better off not tendering him a contract and finding another league-average pitcher.

This agreement is much better.

As previously written, Garland still has potential. And this contract gives the Sox another year to find out. If Garland only manages to give the Sox what he gave them the past four seasons, that's worth it for this price.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Guzman To Expos -- Good News For Sox Fans

WASHINGTON -- (AP) The Expos made their first big splash since the announcement they plan to move to Washington, agreeing Tuesday to a $6.2 million, two-year contract with third baseman Vinny Castilla and a $16.8 million, four-year deal with shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Great news. Just like with Omar Vizquel, someone else swooped in to overpay before the Sox could burden themsleves with a huge contract. Maybe now we can get a pitcher or two.

Sox Still Stumbling With Shortstop Plan

Despite published reports, let’s hope the White Sox aren’t interested in Minnesota shortstop Cristian Guzman. Or at least if they are, that they lose the battle over this shortstop, too.

Last year Guzman hit .274/.309/.384. That’s only slightly better than his career marks of .266/.303/.382. The 26-year-old shortstop has a reputation for being a defensive wizard, but 2004 was really the only year he had an outstanding range factor, and a low error total (10).

A few years back, in 2001, Guzman had what looked like a breakout year. As a 23-year-old, he batted .303 with an OBP of .337 while slugging .477. All three were career highs. He also had a career-high 10 home runs to go along with 14 triples and 28 doubles.

But he followed that with a dismal year with the bat and the glove. His BA dropped off only 20 points to .273, but his OPS slid below .300 (.292) and his slugging fell almost .100 points (to .385). His fielding also tailed off as his range factor was just below average, as it would be in 2003, as well.

Guzman will be 27 on Opening Day 2005. While there’s still a modest amount of potential for him to become a good player, recent returns are not encouraging. He’s the kind of player you don’t mind seeing signed to a near-minimum contract (at least below $1 million, 1-year) or in camp as a non-roster invitee. But he’s not the kind of player you want signed to a contract like the one Omar Vizquel inked with the Giants last week.

It’s hard to understand the mindset of Sox GM Kenny Williams and his desire to run down a shortstop in free agency. He already has Juan Uribe, who proved in Colorado that he has phenomenal range at short, even as a full-time player. And aside from 2002 when he had 27 errors, Uribe has never had more than 11 in a season. That is very reasonable for any starting shortstop, and tremendous when you consider how many balls Uribe gets to.

The only fathomable reason Williams wants a new shortstop is because he thinks Uribe is tremendously valuable in the super-sub role he played last season.

Having a great utility infielder is a big boost to a team. Especially with unreliable players already entrenched at second and third base. However, at what point does shuttling all over the infield begin to effect Uribe’s ability to consolidate the gains he made at the plate last year?

Uribe had by far his best offensive season in 2004. But he still didn’t walk a lot, and his high batting average (.283) inflated his on-base percentage (only .327). As an undisciplined hitter, Uribe could be susceptible to an Alfonso Soriano-like slide in his power numbers if pitchers figure out where they can get him outside of the strike zone.

Probably the best thing for Uribe, and the White Sox, is for Juan to concentrate on playing great defense at short and becoming better hitter like he has the ability to do.

Williams Closes Door on Boras Clients

There’s been a lot of complaining about agent Scott Boras, and a lot of it coming from Sox fans. Kenny Williams’ announcement that he won’t be dealing with Boras, or any of his clients (including Magglio Ordonez), did nothing to assuage the anger loyal fans feel when Boras snatches up their team’s best player, only to price him out of the hometown team’s budget.

To be fair to Boras, it's an agent's job to get the most he can on behalf of the players he represents. He is simply the best at what he does.

Does that necessarily price mid-market teams out of the superstar market? Yes and no, I suppose.

A team with $75 million dollar payroll could afford a $15 million dollar player (Beltre/Ordonez money). They could even afford a $20 million dollar player (Manny Ramriez money) provided they've got enough low-cost, but quality players to surround that single high-paid player.

That's not the Sox, however, mostly because they already have a pretty balanced payroll distribution.

Nobody on the current roster makes more than $10 million. But they do have six players signed for between $5 million and $9 million. Those six players (Lee, Konerko, Thomas, Buehrle, Contreras and Garcia) combine to make $45.5 million in 2005.

After the cost of contract renewals, exercised options and arbitration awards, the Sox are already about at last year's budget of $65 million. And they still have holes to fill at catcher, in the rotation and bullpen, while still wanting to add an outfielder and an infielder.

So for a team with as much money already committed to next year, the Sox are priced out of the market.

There have been other middle market teams that have had payroll room to add a top-tier Boras client. Detroit signing Ivan Rodriguez last year comes to mind. And who thought Texas would land Alex Rodriguez? They were a mid-market team. And that might have worked if the franchise weren't also burdened with the contracts of Chan Ho Park, Rusty Grier and Jay Powell.

It just all demonstrates the risks of signing free agents, in general, to long-term contracts. Signing a superstar player is a big, big, big investment for a team, so GMs have to do their homework before doing it. They need to know if a player is healthy, coming off a career year, or if that player is likely to decline quickly.

GMs that don't do their homework end up with Chan Ho Park.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Renteria Not A Good Fit, Either

I would rather the Sox not sign Renteria for a couple reasons.

The first is that every aspect of Renteria's offensive game fell off a bit last season. His batting average went down (from .330 to .287), and so did his walks (from 65 to 39) and power numbers (61 extra-base hits down to 47). He also struck out more (78 in ’04, up from 58) and stole half as many bases (falling from 34 to 17).

Renteria was still a terrific defensive shortstop, but I don't think you pay a guy $11 million per year because he's good with the glove. If that's all you want from a SS, you might as well sign Pokey Reese for about a million dollars. For that much money, a guy has to hit a little, and I'm not sure Renteria will keep hitting like he did in 02-03.

The second, and maybe more important reason, is that the Sox have Juan Uribe. Uribe hit a lot last year, and he's proven in the past that he's every bit as good as Renteria defensively, if not better. I think it's time the Sox commit to him.

Besides, I'd rather see that money go to a great pitcher, with enough money for an OK pitcher in the No. 5 spot. The Sox have given away so many games the past few years because they've had such bad fifth starters. I think the Sox can make a lot of progress in the standings just by finding a league-average pitcher for that spot (or by finding a guy that would push Garland to that spot).

Valentin: Not Appreciated But Also Not A Good Fit

I've had to endure more bagging on soon-to-be-former White Sox shortstop than I care to recall. If somebody isn't complaining about his error totals, they're remembering some time he struck out in one particular key situation -- thus "remembering" him failing in every key situation. (Nevermind moments like his game-tying home run at Oakland early this year, or many other big, big hits.)

But here are two things about Valentin:

1) The Sox have never used him as the righty-hitting half of a platoon at shortstop, leaving him exposed to left-handed pitching.

Valentin had 139 ABs against lefties last year, and he struck out 56 times in those ABs. His OBP is almost .150 higher against right-handed pitching. But the Sox still ran him out against left-handers, even putting him at the top of the lineup (remember 3 Ks on opening day against Brian Anderson?).

2) Valentin's defensive contributions are always undervalued because of his high error totals. But just like the fact that Jay Gibbons only has something like 3 carrer errors, the error total doesn't tell the whole defensive story.

Using any other defensive metric, Valentin rates as an above-average defender. His Range Factor last season of 4.58 easily beats the average of 4.12. (For his career he stands at 4.44, with the average at 4.09, so it was not a fluke).

He helped the Sox to the best Zone Rating at SS in the American League (.877 for Chi, vs. .869 for OAK and 8.58 for BAL). And his UZR shows him as actually saving the Sox five runs in the field. In the AL, that's second only to the nine runs Miguel Tejada saved the Orioles.

Now, before I get jumped on for being a one-sided Valentin apologist, let me just say I'm not trying to argue that he's a great player. He has his weaknesses, probably enough of them that his $5 million per year salary was a bit high.

But I am arguing that he is a good player that gets underrated because 1) he's asked to do things he can't do, which makes him look bad and 2) some of his biggest strengths aren't immediately visible.

I hope he's more appreciated whever he lands this offseason. And for the record, I don't think a return to the Sox is in his or the team's best interets. Mainly because his strengths only mildly correlate to the Sox' needs.

They need his left-handed power, but since he can't hit lefties, he's a liablity in the lineup. If the Sox commit to playing Juan Uribe at short, Willie Harris at second and Joe Crede at third (which they should), Valentin only squeezes into the lineup playing for Harris and Crede (occasionally resting Uribe, too).

But the problem with playing Jose in place of Willie or Joe is that all three struggle against left-handed pitching. That means there's not platoon advantage to doing it.

The Sox could still really use a player to fill in at third and second, but probably a lefty-killer like Placido Polanco (.858 OPS vs left, vis .767 vs right last season) would be a better fit.

Not being able to hit lefties means Jose is not an every day player anymore. But he should be a tremendous utility infielder. Just not on the south side of Chicago.

Great News: Vizquel Not Sox Problem

SAN FRANCISCO -- (AP) Free agent shortstop Omar Vizquel has agreed to terms with the San Francisco Giants, the team announced Sunday.

Vizquel agreed to a $12.25 million, three-year contract, a person close to the negotiations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Great news for the Sox. Now they can put Juan Uribe at short, worry more about their real problems and less about their imaginary ones.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Looking Back 2004: What Went Wrong

Here is a second part in a three-part retrospect of the 2004 season.

It’s easy to put a finger on what went wrong for the White Sox in 2004. Injuries, and more injuries. And we’re not talking about ouchies to a fourth outfielder or fifth starter. Or even a setback such as losing a low-key everyday player.

The Sox basically lost the heart of their lineup. And for a team as one-dimensional as the Pale Hose is on offense (power, power power… OBP? What?), the loss of their two best on-base men was devastating.

While that’s not the whole story, it’s a large part of the White Sox failures of last season.

No. 1: No Big Frank

On June 15, when Frank Thomas first suffered an ankle injury that would end his season, he was sporting a .298 batting average, was reaching base at a .462 clip, and was slugging a devastating .639. His OPS of 1.101 led the American League, and had he not been injured and held his rate stats, that figure would have led the AL at the season’s end.

Instead the Big Hurt got hurt. His OPS sunk to .997 (still among the best in the league) before he was forced out of action by a stress fracture. With the injury requiring surgery, the Sox will be lucky to have him back before spring training is over.

It’s no secret that the Sox were a slugging team that didn’t get on base very often. While players like Jose Valentin (.473 slugging percentage) and Juan Uribe (.506 had plenty of pop in their bats, they only reached base at rates of .279 (!) and .327, respectively.

While some would argue that the loss of a certain outfielder (which we’ll address in a minute) was the more significant loss, let’s first point out that Carlos Lee’s team leading .366 OBP was almost a full .100 points off Thomas’s rate before he was hurt.

In a lineup where nobody – not even the guys at the top of the lineup – even approached a .400 OBP, that’s a lot of on-base power for a lineup to lose. Oh, and the huge power to boot.

It’s good to play Earl Weaver baseball, waiting for the three-run home run, but if a long ball is going to plate three runs, guys have to get on base. Mostly, the Sox failed to do this.

At this point, it’s hard to argue that Thomas isn’t the best offensive player that’s ever worn a White Sox uniform. When healthy, he’s still the best player they have. And like seasons past (see 1999 and 2001) as Thomas goes, so does his team.

No. 2: No Magglio

Magglio Ordonez’s injury was the other major Sox setback. He was having a typical season, hitting .292/.351/.485 when he tore his knee. The injury has become the subject of international speculation, as Ordonez went to Vienna for some type of medical procedure. It gets stranger by the day.

But no matter how strange the offseason gets for the player that’s patrolled right field for the Sox since 1998, another typical season from Ordonez would have gone a long way towards keeping the Sox in contention.

No. 3: Fifth Starter Shenanigans

For the second straight year, the Sox suffered through the painful process of auditioning for a fifth starter. The reviews are pretty bleak.

Felix Diaz (6.75 ERA), Jason Grilli (7.40), Jon Rauch (6.23), Arnie Munoz (10.05), Josh Stewart (15.26) and Dan Wright (8.15) combined for 25 starts. The results are pretty obvious by these ERAs.

If the Sox had been able to dig up a league-average pitcher, or acquire someone better than Jon Garland (4.89 ERA), thus bumping him to the No. 5 spot, the Sox could have definitely picked up some games in the standings.

No. 4: Stagnant Youth

Speaking of Jon Garland, he and Joe Crede were supposed to take big steps forward this year. They didn’t.

The now 25-year-old Garland, besides an ERA near five, gave up more than 200 hits and 76 walks. He also gave up 34 home runs, which means his sinker isn’t sinking.

Crede struggled early in 2003, but the Sox stuck with him in part because of his hot corner defense, and in part because of their faith that he’d turn the corner. He rewarded the Sox with a big second half.

The 26-year-old third baseman saw his 2004 campaign begin the same as the previous. However, there was no big second-half turnaround.

Both Garland and Crede are getting too old to be prospects. Crede will turn 27 early next season, and Garland has already been in the big leagues for five season. To boot, the not-so-young right-hander could stand to make close to $5 million in arbitration this winter.

To a lesser degree, Willie Harris and Joe Borchard could be included here. But because of either cost (Garland) or the desire to contend (Crede), it’s the aforementioned players that are making the Sox face tough decisions this offseason.

No. 5: Instead of closing door, door closed on Koch

Before the 2003 season, the Sox traded uber-closer Keith Foulke for Billy Koch, who himself was coming off a 44-save season. But besides the saves Koch has racked up (144 in four seasons), Foulke had been better in every other statistical category.

Koch, probably because of his heavy workload in ’02 (a career-high 97 2/3 innings), struggled with the loss of his velocity. He saved only 10 games before being replaced by Tom Gordon. Koch finished they year with a career-worst 5.77 ERA.

But the Sox, through faith or stubbornness stuck with him. They were rewarded (or rather punished) with a 5.40 ERA in just more than 23 innings. It sure wasn’t worth the $6,375,000 the Sox paid.

But it wasn’t until June that the Sox dumped Koch and handed the job over to Shingo Takatsu, who would go on to finish second in the Rookie of the Year balloting after posing a 2.31 ERA and saving 19 games.

It’s good to have faith in your players. But it’s bad to stick with them past the point at which they’ve proven they can’t do anything to help your cause.

No. 6: The Scott Schoeneweis Experiment

Giving Schott Schoeneweis a spot in the 2004 wasn’t an entirely bad idea. He had been a full-time starter with the Angels in 2000 and 2001 with close to league-average results. And after a couple years of coming out of the bullpen, Schoeney was striking out close to a batter per inning and was ready to resume work in somebody’s rotation.

It even looked like it was working, as Schoeneweis was 5-2 with a 3.64 ERA after the first two months of the season. If not for a tough-luck loss to Javier Vasquez, he’d have been 6-1.

But working deep into the count undid the experiment. It took the left-hander more than 17 pitches per inning. His 3.84 pitchers per plate appearance was a high total, and his 1.58 Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched mean that he was throwing his 3.84 to a lot of batters. He also wasn’t working deep into games.

For a elbow unaccustomed to the workload of a starter, better pitch efficiency could have saved Schoneweis. But instead, he was put on the DL with inflation of the critical joint. His ERA wound up at 5.59. And the Sox had another gaping hole in their rotation.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Looking Back 2004: What Went Right

With the season over and enough time elapsed to lend perspective to the ups and downs of the 2004 season, here is the first look back at the most recent campaign.

Before we remember the failures of the 2004 season, lets accentuate the positive by looking back at the things that went right. These developments will be listed in order of importance to the franchise, both for the present and the future.

No. 1: Rowand’s Breakout Season

Before the 2004 season, Aaron Rowand was a bit player that spent his time either being shuffled between all three outfield spots, or between Chicago and Charlotte. After the Sox tried to go with Kenny Lofton in center in 2002, and a shoulder injury caused by an offseason dirt bike accident cost Rowand a clean shot at the job in 2003, the 26-year-old outfielder faced a make-or-break season in ’04.

Rowand responded by leading the Sox in OPS (.910 for him, against .894 for Paul Konerko and .891 for Carlos Lee) while playing underrated defense in center field.

The defense may be the best part. Rowand finished fourth among AL centerfielders in Range Factor, ahead of defensive luminary Torii Hunter. His only weakness was the six errors that dragged his fielding percentage down to .980. But Rowand helps make up for that with eight outfield assists, trailing only Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay in the AL.

Rowand might not be able to keep all of the gains he made at the plate this year. His .310/.361/.544 line was bolstered by the high batting average, and not supported by many walks (only 30). But Rowand did take one for the team pretty often with 10 HBP. As Craig Biggio has demonstrating, getting hit is a repeatable skill, and one that isn’t new for Rowand (23 in 1069 career ABs, including the 10 in 487 last year). He’s also ok on the basepaths, swiping 17 bags in 22 attempts.

Basically, as long as his defense doesn’t slide, Rowand will be a valuable piece for the Sox for the next few years. At worst, he’s a better-than-average player in center for a while. The upside is he could go on to have a very Steve Finley-like career.

No. 2: Uribe for Miles

While it was a favorite pastime of second guessers in White Sox chat rooms to point to the high batting average Aaron Miles was putting up at mile-high altitude, there’s no doubt Juan Uribe did more than enough to declare the Sox winners of this deal.

Uribe had an .833 OPS, compared to .697 for Miles. While the player the Sox sent away had a better batting average (.293 to .266), which led to a very slight edge in OPB (.329 to .327), the player they got back was so much better at slugging the ball (.506 to .368) he buried Miles in overall performance.

Among all Major League second basemen, Uribe had the fourth-best OBP (.833), trailing Mark Loretta, Jeff Kent and Ray Durham. That made Uribe tops in the AL by a .016 margin over Mark Bellhorn.

Unlike Bellhorn, however, Urbe is a terrific defender. Not just at second base, but also at third and short, where he also saw plenty of time. He more than ably filled the utility role vacated by Tony Graffanino, and gives the Sox a lot of flexibility.

That flexibility will be important this offseason, as big decisions at second, third and shortstop loom for the Sox. With Uribe able to play all three positions well, while being able to hit, means he can step into whatever hole the Sox are unable to fill internally or on the free agent market. That means GM Kenny Williams can (hopefully) make free agent decisions based on talent, and not based on a pressing need on the field.

No. 3: Cheap Relief Help

Last year the Sox signed Shingo Takatsu and Cliff Pollitte to little fanfare and minimal, even bleak, expectations. Despite combining to make only slightly more than $1.5 million, the pair also combined for 20 saves and 98 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings.

Takatsu had all but one of those saves, and with a 2.31 ERA, finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting after taking over for the ineffective Billy Koch a few months into the season.

Both are back and due to make less than a combined $4 million in 2005, still making them a bargain. With Damaso Marte, the Sox have an effective trio with which they can match young arms like Neal Cotts, Jon Adkins and Felix Diaz, or they could sign a big-time reliever (Troy Percival) and push everyone back to a lesser role. Either way, fans should feel comfortable going into next season.

No. 4: Garcia Opts to Stay Put

After giving up a boatload of talent for Seattle’s No. 1 starter in a midseason deal, keeping Freddy Garcia in Chicago was important if for no other reason than to protect the fragile psyches of Sox fans.

Three years for $27 million is not excessive, and may even be less than the 29-year-old would have commanded on the open market.

Though his 4.46 ERA for the Windy City is a letdown after the 3.20 ERA he posted in spacious Safeco Field, career-wise he’s been every bit as good as pitchers like Matt Morris and Kevin Millwood, both of whom, incidentally, have made much more money than Garcia.

All three of those pitchers are the same age, born within a year of each other, so it lends itself to easy comparisons. That’s pretty scary for the Sox, since Millwood and Morris both fell of the table last year. But Garcia’s 184 strikeouts far exceed the totals of the other two in 2004. That means Garcia seems like a better bet going forward.

Garcia isn’t a dominator like Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling or Pedro Martinez in their prime. But not many pitchers are. Garcia can be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for most teams, which is something the Sox needed last year at the trade deadline, and something they’ll need in 2004.

5. Konerko Rebounds

After a dismal 2003 where he posted a line of .234/.305/.399, forgettable numbers for a shortstop, Sox first baseman rebounded with a .277.359/.535 line in 2004, while finishing with second in the AL with 41 home runs.

For those that hadn’t given up on Paulie, 2004 wasn’t a complete surprise. In fact, it was pretty much the same thing he had done in 2001 and 2002. Hopefully, Konerko showed everyone that his lousy 2003 season was just a blip on the radar screen.

6. Same As Always for Lee, Buherle

Over the last three seasons, Carlos Lee has had OPS+ marks of 119, 116 and 123. His home run totals have been 26, 31 and 31, while his double totals have been 26, 35 and 37.

Over the last four seasons, Mark Buehrle has posted ERA+ marks of 140, 129, 108 and 126. As for innings, he’s thrown 221 1/3, 239, 230 1/3 and an AL-leading 245 1/3. While none of the following years were as good as his 2001 season, Buehrle did strike out a career-high 165 last year, and he’s averaged 136 strikeouts over those four seasons.

Those numbers don’t make either Lee or Buehrle dominant players at their respective positions. Lee isn’t exactly an unstoppable force in the lineup, and Buehrle is pretty far from a No. 1 pitcher.

But still, the numbers also don’t lie. Both players have been incredibly consistent and consistently above average. And consistency was something the Sox desperately needed last year as they battled through failed youth projects and devastating injuries.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Where Have I Been? Why No Updates

Because, frankly, there hasn't been much to talk about.

Sure, there were lots of callups playing for spots on next year's teams, but commenting on their progress from game-to-game is a flawed analytical approach because of things like small sample sizes, etc.

But now that the season is over, and we've got more numbers to work with, we'll take a look at some of them.

In the next few days, we'll also do a rundown of what went right and wrong for the Sox in 2004.

Sadly, the offseason has been the most exciting time for Sox fans for the past three seasons. This season, that won't change. Nonetheless, we'll revel in examining the failures of the past and the promise of the future.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Jekyll and Hyde?

While trolling a White Sox chat room, I saw an interesting suggestion: The White Sox are a “Jekyll-and-Hyde” team because after scoring a ton of runs one game, the offense goes in the tank the next.

This is undoubtedly the product of the Pale Hose beating the Angels 13-6 on Saturday and losing to that same Anaheim team the next night 11-0.

For fun, I thought I’d see if this is true: if the Sox are particularly inept at scoring runs in games following offensive explosions.

First, let me explain that my operational definition of an offensive explosion is 10+ runs in a game. The Sox have scored in double figures 21 times this year.

Game After: 5.2 runs per game
Season Avg: 5.35 runs per game

Not much of a difference there. The runs scored after 10+ offensive nights is marginally lower than the season average, but after you consider that it’s those 10+ games that are the statistical outliers that bring the season average up, it makes sense that taking those games out of the mix would lower the average.

So the Sox are not a Jekyll and Hyde team. It only seems that way to Sox fans when they’re losing.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Garland finds himself pitching for spot in '05 rotation

After Sunday’s 9-0 drubbing by the Indians, it became apparent that Jon Garland is giving the Sox more questions than answers.

The 24-year-old right-hander was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. A former first-round pick with the Cubs in 1997, the Sox acquired him at the trade deadline the following year for reliever Matt Karchner.

Though that deal was lambasted as foolish for the Cubs and then-GM Ed Lynch from the moment the ink dried on the paperwork, two things should be noted. The first is that the Cubs have twice made the playoffs since: in 1998, the same year of the trade, and again in 2003.

Though Karchner wasn’t around for the second playoff run, and his alleged contributions to the first were suspect at best, they Cubs seem to be fine without Garland.

The other thing of importance, of course, is that even if Garland were with the Cubs still, he wouldn’t be able to crack their starting rotation. Not behind Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement and Greg Maddux.

Obviously, if Garland were in the Cubs plans, they probably wouldn’t still have those other five guys. So let me point out, I’m not trying to re-write history.

What the Sox need to do as they author their future, is to decide whether Garland will be a part of it.

Garland raced through the minors with the Sox, getting a call in June of 2000 as Kip Wells struggled as the fifth starter. Garland didn’t do much better that season, as the Sox felt they also needed to try Rocky Biddle, Sean Lowe, Lorenzo Barcelo, and even brought in the ghastly corpse of Ken Hill to start a game.

To be fair, Barcelo and Biddle were legitimate prospects at the time. The Sox also gave a then-21-year-old Mark Buherle five starts that season. But Garland, despite an ERA under 3.00 at Charlotte early that season, wasn’t ready and was getting what amounted to on-the-job training.

This is what Garland has done since…

2001 35 16 3.69 6-7 4.69 1.11 117
2002 33 33 4.58 12-12 5.23 1.35 192.2
2003 32 32 4.51 12-13 5.27 1.46 191.2
2004 27 27 4.91 9-10 4.60 1.50 176

Garland, despite epitomizing the phrase “league average,” has been very reliable in terms of health and giving the Sox lots of innings. That’s always a plus for a pitcher that’s been in the majors since turning 20.

However, other than improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio, Garland hasn’t really progressed in any category since his mid-2000 call-up.

He does have the stuff, mixing a low-90s fastball with a sinker that’s forever being compared to the pitch Kevin Brown has used to chew through the majors for most of his career.

But Brown, in his good years, always had higher strikeout rates. For his career he’s struck out 6.63 per nine innings, compared to 4.98 for Garland.

Of course, Brown also didn’t pitch a full season in the majors until he was 24. Garland is pitching in his fourth full season and won’t turn 25 until September 27 of this year. So Garland could still put it together and have a very good Kevin Brown-type career.

Then again, he could be the next Jeff Suppan, where the Royals thought with a little more command he could be the next Greg Maddux. Though the Garland-to-Brown comparisons aren’t as laughable as that, it illustrates the point.

Next year, really for the first time, money comes into the picture for the Sox and their decision about whether to keep Garland. The righty will go to arbitration, and because of his innings and modest double-digit win totals (surely he’ll win one more this year) in each of the past three years, he’ll definitely get a raise from the current $2.3 million he’s making this season to the $4-5 million range for next year.

Now that is a lot of money to pay for fourth or fifth starter. Which is what the other guys in front of Garland, and his production to date, dictate his role to be.

Chicago might be inclined to pay that much because it could be potentially embarrassing for Garland to shovel off somewhere for the league minimum and have a great season, or two, or three… or a great career.

But the Sox also have to think about what they could do with that money. They could gamble on Garland, which with his strikeout rates doesn’t look like a great bet so far, or they could use the money they’d save on Garland and Jose Valentin ($5 million this year) and sign a proven pitcher like Matt Clement.

When Garland was young and cheap, it was a no-brainer. But now that he’s expensive, it muddies the picture. And if the Sox had shown a little restraint back in 2000, it might not be an issue now.

But it is, and that means Garland is auditioning for his own job next season. And he’s going to have to do better than he did on Sunday if he’s going to hang on to it.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Sox wisely scratch Garcia from Friday start

Give the Sox some credit for not being delusional about their postseason chances.

Chicago and Cleveland both enter tonight’s game eight games back of the Twins. Less than a month ago, it looked like both teams would try to battle to the wire with Minnesota.

What a difference a month makes.

The Indians lost nine straight games, and the Sox have been scuffling ever since Frank Thomas exited the lineup with a season-ending foot injury. Both teams are under .500. Now all that’s left is the ugly battle for the pride of finishing second in the craptastic AL Central.

But pride does come before the fall, as something biblical would remind us, and when nominal Sox ace Freddy Garcia felt a twinge in his forearm, the Pale Hose thought better than to let him go out and risk further injury.

Unlike the NFL, there’s no value in losing and getting a higher draft pick: So many first-rounders in baseball’s amateur draft are busts, you’re really only gaining the privilege of shelling out a bigger bonus.

Keeping the anchor of next year’s rotation healthy is a must. Protecting your recent 3-year, $27-million dollar investment is a necessity. Finishing ahead of the Indians, who will struggle to finish .500, well, it just isn’t.

Mark Buherle 4.02 ERA
Freddy Garcia 4.79 ERA
Jose Contreras 3.98 ERA

Those are your top three starting pitchers in ’05. Add in good free agent with the money that would have gone to Magglio Ordonez (it would probably take less than $14 million to lure Matt Clement to the south side), and maybe keep Jon Garland at the back of the rotation, and that’s not too bad. Especially when the Twins are throwing Carlos Silva and Terry Mullholland out there.

Better to take the lumps now than wait until next season to worry about who would fill Garcia’s spot.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Sad season over for sad Sox fans

I generally stay away from emotional posts because reading the feeling-laden posts that dominate other blogs, I believe they don’t offer any genuine insight.

That said, there’s no escaping it today. If the Sox lose, they’ll fall below .500 and could slide to eight games back in the standings. The season is over.

Instead of worrying about calculating postseason odds or down-the-stretch match-ups, I’ll be spending the rest of the year focusing on what shape the Sox roster will take next year.

Some players that will be playing for jobs next year…

Ben Davis
Jon Garland
Jose Valentin
Ross Gload
Carl Everett
Timo Perez

The performance of these guys down the stretch will in part determine if they’ll be wearing Sox uniforms next year.

Here’s to next year.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Sox need to make up games by beating the weakings

Last night’s 11-8 loss to Detroit, with none other than nominal ace Freddy Garcia on the hill, looks like it could be the beginning of the end.

With Minnesota keeping its five-game lead with a win against the Yankees, the Sox are looking at having to win or split every series from now until the end of the season if they want to win the AL Central.

Even that could be optimistic, because it assumes Minnesota will play .500 ball the rest of the way, and that Cleveland doesn’t match the Sox game-for-game.

Chicago does have two things going for it. The first is that Minnesota will play a tough schedule, with most of their games against the Royals and Tigers already a thing of the past.

The second advantage is that while the Sox finish the season by playing eight games against Kansas City and three against Detroit, Cleveland and Minnesota will face off against each other in seven of their last 10 games.

Still, if the Sox even want to stay alive in the last two weeks of the season, they’ll probably need to climb to within three games the division leader by Sept. 23. That could happen with the Sox playing a lot of lousy teams down the stretch.

But that could be a tall order when a team like Detroit is kicking around your ace.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Sox claim injured Escobar on waivers from Tribe

The White Sox claimed 25-year-old outfielder Alex Escobar on waivers Tuesday. Escobar, out for the year with a broken foot, obviously won’t be helping the Sox much this season.

Escobar was once the top prospect in the Mets’ minor league system before being traded to Cleveland as part of the Roberto Alomar deal. Returning from a knee injury that cost him all of the 2002 season, Escobar hit .251/.296/.472 at AAA Buffalo and .273/.324/.444 in 28 games with the big club last year.

Although Escobar was hitting only .211/.318/.309 in 46 games and 152 at-bats for the Indians this season, and has missed almost half of his previous six seasons to injuries, this is probably a good pick-up for the Sox.

Escobar can hit for power, still has a good arm and can still play all three outfield positions. That means he can at least good fourth outfielder, which means he can put Timo Perez out of work. (That's a good thing.)

But that’s the least of what Escobar can do. Though his superstar potential probably evaporated after his knee injury and before he went to Cleveland, Escobar could still have a late-starting Jose Cruz Jr. type of career. Here is a look at what Cruz has done.

Age Batting Line
23 .248/.315/.499
24 .253/.354/.403
25 .241/.358/.433
26 .242/.323/.466
27 .274/.326/.530
28 .245/.317/.438
29 .250/.366/.414

Cruz at age 23, 27 and 28 has a similar profile to what Escobar has done with the Indians – higher slugging percentages (but nothing unreal) and lower batting and on-base averages. Cruz has also had seasons where he’s gotten on base more, which he’s doing again this year with a .237/.351/.439.

Looking at Escobar’s numbers this year, with an OBP more than 100 points better than his batting average, makes you think he could have some years like Cruz at age 24, 25, 26, 29 and 30.

Of course, Escobar will have to stay healthy to make that happen. So far, that’s been a problem.

But in terms of qualifying the risk against the potential payoff, the Sox really can’t lose.

If Escobar gets hurt again, or just plain sucks rocks, all it cost Chicago was the price of a waiver claim and maybe a temporary spot on the 40-man roster.

If Escobar does grow up into the next Jose Cruz Jr., well, that’s not a superstar, but that’s a solid player the Sox don’t have to spend big bucks on through free agency or give up big prospects for should the need arise. (It did, after all, come up at this year’s trade deadline that the Sox were looking at Cruz…)

It's hard not to see how this is a smart move.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Alomar deal makes little sense for struggling Sox

The Sox had some more déjà vu all over again when they picked up Roberto Alomar. After getting on base at a .382 clip and slugging .473 with Arizona in 38 games and 110 at-bats, the thinking was that he would give the lineup someone that could get on base and spell the slumping Joe Crede at third base.

Well, Alomar has played seven games since coming back to the South side, and his line of .125/.120/.250 (a BA higher than his OBP for crissakes!!! Take a walk, maybe!!!) is looking pretty shabby.

For all of us armchair GMs out there, no degree of clairvoyance should have been necessary to see this kind of s*** would hit the fan.

Here are Alomar’s numbers the last three years

2001 .336 .415 .541
2002 .266 .331 .376
2003 .258 .333 .349

This is what you would call falling off the cliff. And lest you think I’ve forgotten about Alomar’s defense, let me point out that I am thinking about it –- and how it’s also gotten progressively worse.

Give Indians GM Mark Shapiro credit for knowing when to jump ship on the USS Robbie. After three incredible years in Cleveland, Shapiro shipped Alomar and his $8-million-a-year salary for Matt Lawton and Alex Escobar.

Granted, Escobar was released by the Tribe just last week after a foot injury ended his year, capping two and a half injury-marred seasons. But Escobar was still a top prospect at the time. Shapiro also loses points for deciding to overpay Lawton (four years, more than $25 million dollars), but Lawton is currently part of a good Cleveland offense that could power its way to a division title.

But back to Alomar.

After killing the Mets, as well as fantasy baseball teams numbering close to a million, with a putrid line in 2002, Alomar was again scuffling with a .262/.336/.357 line when Williams picked him up in June for a package of quasi-prospects that included former first-round pick Royce Ring.

Alomar didn’t hit any better in Chicago, hitting .262/.336/.357 in the last 67 games. Not only did he prove he was washed up on the Sox dime, but after the season demanded more money that the $3 million per year the Sox offered to pay.

Turns out that would have been good money. Instead Alomar went to Arizona for about a million bucks. Much to the benefit of the Sox, now not saddled with rich contract for a guy that’s finished.

In any event, the theory that Alomar just needed the cliched "change-of-scenery" was also proven false.

So why the rehash?

Beats me. Though I am no supporter of Kelly Dransfeldt, who currently toils for the Sox’ AAA team (.264 with 5 HR, 15 doubles and 14 walks in 250+ ABs there) it’s hard to imagine him being much worse than Alomar. And if you need a utility infielder, at least Dransfeldt plays shortstop… more credibly than Alomar is playing any position these days.

Alomar, a switch hitter, can bat lefty (Dransfeldt is strictly a righty), and the Sox could use more balance on the left side of the plate. But if you suck from both sides of the plate, what does it matter?

So I guess there is no rhyme or reason to this deal, other than the whole “shake-up-a-struggling team” mentality. I guess I just thought a shake-up would mean making a real improvement instead of just making a lot of noise.

If there is a bright side to this, it's that Chicago didn't have to give up much of real value. Because right now, Alomar is pretty worthless.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Williams gambling on Contreras to be cornerstone

Almost two weeks ago, the White Sox traded one struggling 32-year-old pitcher for another struggling 32-year-old pitcher. Esteban Loaiza, the hurler they gave up, will be a free agent at the end of the year. Jose Contreras, is signed for two more years at about $8 million per.

Sox GM Kenny Williams paid lip service to the notion that this deal will help the Sox now and in the future, so lets take a look.

The Here And Now…

Loaiza 5.01 91 1.45 152.2
Contreras 5.17 94 1.34 109.2

This includes a pair of starts for each pitcher with his new respective team. Contreras is walking more guys, but with his strikeout rate he’s making Loaiza look like Kirk Rueter. And lack of strikeouts is probably why Loaiza has given up 170 hits this year.

Loaiza and Contreras are both giving up the gopherball (allowing 26 and 23 HRs, respectively). With U.S. Cellular Field playing like Coors Field-lite, the extra walks could really hurt Contreras. But for Loaiza, letting hitters put the ball in play could be a bad idea in front of a porous Yankee defense. Their numbers going forward could be a wash.

So who is better right now? Well, there’s not really much of a difference.

The Next Two Months…

Contreras, so far, is making Kenny Williams look pretty bright. He’s won both of his starts, has a 1.93 ERA and has struck out 12 against only two walks. Loaiza, meanwhile, has been tapped for 10 runs (9 earned) in a win and a loss for the Yankees. He’s struck out eight and walked five.

The difference isn’t really in the competition either. Contreras got to feast on the Royals’ AAA team, but still managed to shut down the high-scoring Indians. Loaiza was touched for five runs by both the A’s and the Blue Jays.

Conventional analysts have mentioned that Contreras seems to feast off bad teams while getting crushed by good teams. I don’t see any evidence of that, but if there’s any truth to it, then watch out. The Sox get to see a lot of Royals and Tigers between now and the end of the season.

Loazia, for his part, has pretty much sucked against everyone since mid-June, and was every bit as inconsistent as the Cuban before that. We’ve already looked at Esteban’s numbers, so we won’t rehash it again. But Loaiza was lucky to have an ERA under 5.00.

Who makes the biggest impact for his new team is probably not an answerable question. It depends on which Contreras shows up and how much mileage is left in Loaiza’s arm. They could pitch the same and Contreras could have better numbers due to weaker competition.

Next Year And Beyond…

The money in this deal works like this: The Sox will pay Loaiza for the rest of this season and the Yankees will do the same for Contreras, with the Cuban due $8 million in 2005 and $9 million in 2006. The Yankees will kick in $1 million each year. Loaiza will be a free agent at the end of this year.

The newspapers (the Sun Times and the Tribune) reported that in free agency, Loaiza is looking for a deal that will pay him similar money to what Contreras is making. I doubt that, since he’s spent the last two months getting his ass kicked around, but let’s play along.

Who would you rather have locked in for the next two years as $7.5 million per year (the real cost to the Sox for taking Contreras)?

Well, with the K-rates being what they are (7.71/9 IP for Contreras and 5.81 for Loaiza), Contreras is probably the better bet to pitch well the next couple of years. You can factor in intangible stuff if you like, but with the notion that Contreras will pitch better out of the New York spotlight, his being reunited with his family and also getting to face weaker competition, the Cuban wins that battle, too.

But that brings us to a different question: Why would you want either of these guys for that kind of money?

Loaiza’s big 2003 season is looking more and more like a fluke. His back around his career numbers this year, but on top of that the velocity on his pitches is down. That means Loaiza could be hurt or overworked. His arm could fall off at any minute. He’s definitely not worth that money.

But with Contreras’ spotty record, it’s hard to say he’s worth it either. In just more than 180 career innings, he has a 4.43 ERA with 166 strikeouts and 77 walks. Decent, but not great. And not worth $8 million a year.

Admittedly, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story. It was the White Sox scouts that thought Loaiza would be a good pickup, despite middling numbers. A cut fastball later, Esteban turned in a great season for the Sox. Contreras could be another guy that needs a change of scenery to help get adjusted to pitching in the major leagues.

Nonetheless, when you go on the word of your scouts, you’re taking a gamble. And for the Sox, this will be an expensive gamble. Not just in terms of dollars, but also in opportunity cost.
Handing over $8 million to Contreras means there’s less money in the budget to resign Magglio Ordonez, if Williams feels inclined to do so. It also means less money that could be used to sign a free agent pitcher that could potentially be better than Contreras. After all, how much more than that will Matt Clement be able to get in free agency? And he’s a guy that scouts and performance analysts can both love.

This move could signal the end of Ordonez’ run in Chicago (not necessarily a bad thing). Or it could mean Carlos Lee will find a new home in the offseason (again, not necessarily bad). But bringing Contreras onboard means Williams can’t keep all his pieces and add payroll. And depending on how tight the purse strings are this winter, he might have to dump without getting much back in return.

Williams has never been afraid to gamble. Right now he’s gambling that Contreras will be able to help the Sox stay in the pennant chase, and help the team over the next two years.

He’d better have a good idea what he’s doing by rolling the dice on this deal, because if it backfires, it could keep the Sox from contending with resurgent Tiger and Indians teams, as well as the perennially loaded Twins, for the next two years. If the Sox don’t look to contend, they’ll probably have to rebuild. And that rebuilding could start with a new GM.