Friday, July 30, 2004

Kendall would be a good fit for struggling Sox

One name that hasn’t been bandied about during this year's trade-deadline buildup like it has been in the past is that of Pirates catcher Jason Kendall.

Almost from the moment Kendall signed a six-year, $60 million contract in November of 2000, the Pirates have been trying to unload him. This albatross is part of the legacy of former Pirates GM Cam Bonifay.

Kendall is obviously overpaid, having signed his deal as player salaries peaked, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a useful player. In fact, he’s a player the White Sox could desperately use.

Kendall is an on-base machine, reaching at a .392 clip this season through Friday’s games. His OBP last year was .399 and his career OBP is .386.

Kendall will hit for decent doubles power, but very little home run power. But it’s not power that Chicago’s lineup is severely lacking. It’s his ability to reach base.

The 30-year-old Pittsburgh receiver could slot nicely at the top of the Sox’ lineup while fixing the hole created behind the plate when Miguel Olivo was sent to Seattle in the Garcia trade.

The downside is that Kendall is owed some hefty change for the next three years ($9.5 million next year, $10.5 million in 2006, $12.5 in 2007, plus about $4.5 in deferred money), but the Sox might be able to swing that deal for four reasons.

The first is that with the boost in attendance, and the likelihood Magglio Ordonez will not make $14 million from the Sox (because his injury kills his market value, or someone else pays him that incredible amount), means the Sox can probably afford it.

The second reason is that the Pirates might be willing to eat some of the salary. It won’t be half the salary, like the Padres insisted the Bucs do when they tried to land Kendall along with Brian Giles last year after the trade deadline, but if it’s a few million each year, that would lessen the financial blow considerably.

The third reason is that because of the big salary, the Sox won’t have to give up big-time prospects like Joe Borchard, Ryan Sweeney or Brian Anderson.

And lastly, the Sox don’t have another catcher in the organization to take over the position for the next three years like Olivo would have done. This would lock in a solid – though overpaid – performer for those three years.

If Kenny Williams isn't already talking to the Pirates, here's hoping he is trying to find some way to inject some sorely needed OBP back into Chicago's lineup.

Still not time for Sox to panic

After the Sox dropped a 5-4 game to the Tigers Friday night, they found themselves still only 4 games behind the Twins, who lost their Friday matchup to Boston 8-2. The Indians beat the Royals 7-6 to climb to within a half game of the Sox.

After losing six straight, these would seem like dire times for Chicago. Compounded with Minnesota going 9-1 its last 10 games, the Sox have lost five games in the standings during that 10-game span.

But it’s still not time to panic.

The last three games in the current Sox skid have all been one-run losses. Given the fluky elements of winning or losing a game by a single run, there’s no reason to throw in the towel.

And there’s no arguing that the last three losses haven’t had a fluky feel. A loss on Wednesday because of poor baserunning. Not many times will two guys get nabbed to lead off an inning. Another on Thursday because of an error late in the game. Jose Valentin, who made the error, usually doesn’t misplay that kind of ball. And then Friday when the winning run was walked in for a walk-off free pass by a usually reliable reliever.

That’s not to say the Sox can continue to play sloppy and expect to walk to a division title. Not with their two most powerful bats on the bench. But this run of bad luck should end soon.

Sox should think twice before jumping at Floyd

As the clock ticks closer to this year’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Sox look like they need some offensive help. Enter the Cliff Floyd rumors.

Some sources are reporting that the Mets are interested in Kris Benson from the Pirates, and will trade Ty Wiggington, plus a couple prospects –- one of which will come from the Sox for Cliff Floyd. That prospect is rumored to be Ryan Sweeney.

I don’t know how likely this deal is, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense for either New York or Chicago. The Mets could use another pitcher, but this deal would take a bat out of their lineup, which they can ill-afford to do without a replacement on hand (which they don’t have). And while Floyd could boost a sagging Sox lineup (he’s hitting .285/.357./.498 through Thursday), his contract runs for another two years a $6.5 million per year.

While moving to U.S. Cellular Field could boost Floyd’s stats even higher, this would probably be a poor investment for the Sox. Here’s a look at some of Floyd’s totals over the past few years.

Year AGE OPS Games Played
2000 27 .907 121
2001 28 .968 149
2002 29 .920 146
2003 30 .895 103
2004 31 .855 70 (out of 101)

Before you begin to wonder if playing in Shea Stadium this year and last year are making his overall numbers look bad, I’ll point out that Floyd’s OPS+ -- which takes park factors into account -- for those five years are 130, 150, 152, 143, 146.

The arcing trend suggests that Floyd has hit his peak, and stands to decline further. That’s an important consideration for a team that would have to pick up the last two year of his contract for a total cost of $13 million.

But just as important as the money and level of performance are the health issues that Floyd brings with him. Not once in his career has he played a full schedule, the closest he’s come being 152 games in 1998. That was the only time he’s played as many as 150.

Considering that Floyd has already missed 30 percent of his team’s games this season, and that he’s not getting any younger, could the Sox even count on him to help a lineup already devastated by injuries to its top two hitters?

Now, I don’t think the Sox farm system would be seriously hurt by the loss of Sweeney. He has yet to swing the bat at even the AA level, and like any prospect he probably has as much of a chance at being the next McKay Christiansen as the does of being the next Andy Van Slyke. But Sweeney is highly regarded, and if the Sox deal him for a hitter, it would be nice if they could either get a better hitter, or one without the long-term commitment.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Sox must take advantage of schedule

After running themselves out of a win in what was eventually a 5-4 loss yesterday, the White Sox sat 3 ½ games behind Minnesota in the AL Central standings. So is that reason to panic?

Well, if you’re the overanxious suicidal-type that believes the Twins will sweep the last six head-to-head games this year with the Pale Hose, then yes. Panic. Go ahead and kill yourself.

But if you take a minute to think about how the Sox and the Twins got to where they are in the standings, the future looks far less bleak.

                       Opponent Win %
White Sox         .503
Twins                .471

Minnesota, so far, has had the softest schedule in baseball. In addition to 16 games against the lousy Royals (who are again gunning for a new franchise-worst season) and 15 games against the improved, but hardly good Tigers, the Twins also lucked into a three-game series with Arizona in interleague play.

Though the Twins failed to make headway against the Brewers in their annual home-away series, they still had a better chance to win games than the Sox did against the pitching-rich Cubs.

 So, back to what this means for the Sox in terms of making up the 3 ½ game difference. Here’s the winning percentage for the Sox and Twins for their remaining games.

                       Opponent Win %
White Sox       .464 (64 games)
Twins              .516 (61 games)

The shoe apparently fits the other foot.

Last year the Twins finished off a three-game sweep of the White Sox on Sept. 18 to open a 3 ½ game lead in the division race. Armed with the league’s softest schedule (.471 Opp Win % for the year), Minnesota coasted to the AL Central title with seven games against the near-historically bad Tigers and a pair against a bad Indians team.

This year it’s Chicago that benefits from a front-loaded schedule. With only one more round against the tough AL West teams, and with the Yankees already in their rearview mirror, the White Sox now get 16 game against Detroit, and 15 against the Royals, who have already unloaded their best player.

Meanwhile, the Twins must play six games against the Yankees, plus two series apiece against Texas and Anaheim – both contending teams looking to load up at this weeks trade deadline.
Moreover, the Twinkies play 13 games against Cleveland. Because the Tribe is only 5 ½ game back in the AL Central race, they won’t be unloading players at the deadline. In fact, the Indians might add a player or two if it fits into their long-term plans.

Before we weary Sox followers get too giddy, lets take inventory of the situation.

Even though the White Sox have a definite scheduling advantage in final third of the season, Chicago still has to take care of business. That means a better than an 11-8 record against Detroit, which cost the Sox the playoffs last year. And for sure better than the 11-8 the Sox did against the Royals.

As long as the Sox don’t blow it against the chumps, they’ll be positioned to overtake the Twins.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Catching up: Misc. Sox notes

After being away a few days, just trying to catch up with a throw-away entry.

With Jose Valentin hitting .183/.255/.366 against left-handers this year, it was surprising to see him batting second in the lineup against one of the better left-handers in the league right now -– Johan Santana.

Valentin didn’t light it up or anything. He went 0-for-4 in Tuesday’s 7-3 loss to the Twins. But that he only struck out once against Minnesota’s power lefty was a surprise. After all, the Royals’ Brian Anderson did sit him down three times on opening day. Anderson isn’t the same pitcher as Santana.

For the second straight night, the Sox disappointed a sellout crowd, but the fact that so many fans were out at the Cell, even on the two half-priced days, is pretty encouraging.

What’s more, the Sox averaged well over 30,000 fans over the weekend when the Tigers came to town. The Cell might not be sold out tonight with the tickets being sold for full price, but I still expect more than 30,000 to show up as the Sox try to hold off the sweep.

Neal Cotts has been terrible lately. Actually he’s been terrible most of the year. He’s walking a lot of guys, giving up home runs and generally getting smacked around. He’s not even pitching very often, which makes you wonder if Chicago has him in its plans, and if those plans include him going back to the rotation ever.

If the Sox need a token lefty in the bullpen to get knocked around, surely Kelly Wunsch can handle that task. Chicago would be better off either having Cotts pitch every fifth day at Charlotte to help prepare him to step into a real major-league role, or using him as a piece of trade bait to land another bat of its weakened lineup.

 Carlos Lee, always a streaky hitter, cranked out two bombs tonight –- one against Santana in the seventh inning and another against Joe Roa in the ninth. The Sox will have to hope this current hot streak, where Lee is hitting .381/.438/.881 since the All-Star break, can last until the offense can sort itself out.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Crede looking for another big second half

Not only did Joe Crede deliver in last night’s 7-6 win against the Tigers, he looked good doing it.

In the seventh inning with the bases laded with no outs, Crede found himself looking at a 0-2 count against Detroit starter Jason Johnson. After battling back to a 3-2 count, Crede punched the ball over the infield and down the line in right field for a double, scoring two runs to cut the White Sox deficit to 6-4.

Later in the ninth inning, after the Sox had tied the game at 6-all, Crede stood in against Tigers closer Ugueth Urbina and was quickly down in the count 0-2. Crede again fought back to a 3-2 count before drilling a game-winning home run to left field.

It was the second at-bat against Urbina that was more impressive.

Not only is Urbina a tougher pitcher in that situation than a tiring Johnson was in the seventh, but Crede also had to lay off pitches that were very, very close to the strike zone. He did lay off, they were called balls and he worked the count back in his favor. Despite Uribina’s more deceptive delivery.

Is this a sign that Joe “Fear” Crede has turned the corner?

Well, Joe did put up a big second half last year. Here are last year’s numbers…

Pre All-Star Break       .225/.277/.348
Post All-Star Break     .308/.349/.543

That came after coming up after the All-Star Break in 2002 and posting a line of .285/.311/515.

Crede hit .329/.418/.600 in June before slumping to .224/.268/.318 this month. His season totals as of today are .243/.298/.428. Joe could improve the two latter batting lines over the next week.

It’s now fashionable to look at a player’s walk rate to see if he’s finally arrived as a hitter. But Crede has never drawn many walks, averaging a free pass only once every 18 plate appearances. (To give you an idea how few that is, Frank Thomas in his career has walked every 5.84 PAs.)

In good and bad times with the bat, Crede still draws walks at about the same rate.

That isn’t a problem, though, as long as Crede can keep in mind the most fundamental element of hitting: getting your pitch to hit.

If Joe can paste the baseball to the tune of a +.500 slugging percentage, he can be a very valuable player for the Sox, especially considering his stellar glovework at the hot corner. He won’t have the benefit of walks to boost his on-base percentage, but a .500 slugging average combined with a modest .300-.320 on-base percentage can push his overall OPS to over .800, making him better-than-league-average hitter.

So long as his batting eye keeps him from swinging at junk.

Watching Crede sit back and wait for his pitch, not once, but twice, was an encouraging sign that hopefully bodes well for the Sox and their third baseman.