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.