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.