Springtime Storylines: Can anyone on the White Sox hit the ball over the fence?

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White Sox logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Ozzie Guillen Show


The
big question: Can anyone hit the ball over the fence?

This is a pretty punchless lineup for a team that plays in the most homer friendly park in baseball. Their two biggest power threats from last year are (a) unemployed; and (b) searching for at bats in Minnesota. No, I don’t suppose it would have been all that life-affirming to make further commitments to a 36 year-old Jermaine Dye and a 39 year-old Jim Thome, but the fact is that the ChiSox’s two most fearsome (such as it is) bats from 2009 are absent by the team’s choice. By the way, notice that no one says “ChiSox” anymore? You used to see that all the time.

So what do they have? Paul Konerko, in the last year of his contract. He still has some pop in his bat, but if he’s the best hitter on your team you ain’t winning the pennant. Carlos Quentin should be healthy this year. If he returns to 2008 form he is a guy who could anchor a winner, but he’s no guarantee. Between Alexis Rios and Andruw Jones you’re dealing with approximately 39.8 cubic liters of wasted promise but it’s possible that one of them will have a nice season. Beyond that it’s Mark Teahen, Juan Pierre, and A.J. Pierzynski, none of whom are particularly menacing with a bat in their hands. That leaves Gordon Beckam. He’s the one position player on this team that is remotely interesting. But again, he’s not a considerable power threat. This is a team that can be pitched to.

The White Sox were 19th in runs scored last year. They could easily be worse this year. I know Ozzie Guillen likes to talk about stolen bases and the hit and run and small ball and all of that fun stuff he used to do back in the 80s, but the teams that come into U.S. Cellular Field are going to be rattling it off the bleachers. The White Sox will not be. This should be a cause for concern. 

So what else is going on?

  • The offense is pretty flaccid, but the rotation is top notch. Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia are a nice group of arms. The Sox trailed only Seattle in team ERA last year and having Peavy around for more than three starts gives Chicago one of the best rotations in baseball.
  • Bobby Jenks is supposedly in the best shape of his life, having quit drinking and lost 25 pounds. He’d better be, given that the Sox went out and got J.J. Putz, who could step in if Jenks falters and becomes hittable like he was last year.
  • Ozzie Guillen is more or less immune from heat over his antics, his tweeting and his tendency to shoot off at the mouth from time to time, but he could be under some pressure this year all the same. Why? Because this seems more like the team he wanted than the team Kenny Williams wanted. Back at the Winter Meetings Ozzie was adamant that he not be tied down with a dedicated DH. Williams listened, passed on bringing back Thome or Dye and now there’s a decent chance that Mark Kotsay and Omar Vizquel will be getting at bats from the DH slot. Juan Pierre was clearly a Guillen priority. He’s moving Gordon Beckam to second base just as he was getting used to third (and after being drafted as a shortstop).  I don’t think Ozzie’s  job is in jeopardy or anything, but if the team doesn’t produce, Guillen is probably due a lot of the heat for it. How he reacts to the heat could put his job in jeopardy of course, because anything is possible with Ozzie.

So how
are they gonna do?

I worry about this offense. I worry that there are too many guys — Jones, Pierre, and Rios come to mind — who could be utter black holes, thereby sinking what is already a foundering offensive ship. A good rotation can hide a bad offense, but I think the Twins and the Tigers have fewer question marks than the Sox, and I don’t like their chances of hanging in it all year.

Prediction: Third
place, AL Central. 

Jose Bautista: “I haven’t had to” pay for a meal in Toronto since famous bat flip

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista flips his bat after hitting a three-run home run against the Texas Rangers during the seventh inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Division Series, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Arguably the most memorable moment of the 2015 season came in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Blue Jays and Rangers. The game was tied 3-3, but the Jays were threatening with runners on the corners and two outs. Jose Bautista launched a 1-1 Sam Dyson fastball for a no-doubt tie-breaking three-run home run that would send the Jays into the ALCS to face the eventual world champion Royals.

Bautista didn’t immediately run to first base after hitting the home run. He admired it, looked at Dyson, and then flipped his bat triumphantly. As far as bat flips go, it was a 10 out of 10. Yasiel Puig was proud.

The six-time All-Star admitted “I haven’t had to” pay for a meal in Toronto since that moment in the ALDS, as Jonah Birenbaum notes for The Score. Bautista also served as the assistant coach for musician Drake at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. As Drew noted earlier, Bautista had a pretty nice view at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as well.

The Jays are hopeful to sign Bautista, 35, to a multi-year extension. In six seasons since breaking out with the club in 2010, he has hit .268/.390/.555 with 227 home runs and 582 RBI in 3,604 plate appearances. No one has hit more home runs since the start of the 2010 season, as Miguel Cabrera is the closest at 199. And only Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, and Albert Pujols have driven in more runs in that span of time. It’s easy to see why, despite his age, the Jays want to keep Bautista around a little while longer.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.