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

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. 

Report: Barry Bonds under consideration to be the Marlins hitting coach

Barry Bonds

This shouldn’t cause any controversy, lead to a lot of people saying dumb things or provide fodder for jokes at all. Nope, none whatsoever:

In what promises to be a bombshell move, if executed, all-time great slugger Barry Bonds is under consideration to become Marlins hitting coach.

Team higherups have quietly been discussing this possibility for weeks.

That’s Jon Heyman, who reminds us that Bonds has worked with the Giants in the spring in recent years. And who, no matter what else you can say about him, was one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. Also worth remembering that despite his controversial past, that greatness came not just from physical gifts, naturally or artificially bestowed. It came from his approach, preparation and strategy at the plate. No one can teach a hitter to hit like Barry Bonds, but you’d think that hitters could be taught to try to approach an at bat the way Barry Bonds would. And who better to do it than Barry Bonds?

That is, if Bonds is willing to drop his seemingly ideal retired life in San Francisco, move to Miami and work for Jeff Loria for nine months a year. Which, eh, who knows? But the possibility of it is pretty fascinating to think about.

Yadier Molina’s new backup: Cardinals sign Brayan Pena to two-year deal

Brayan Pena Reds
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Veteran catcher Brayan Pena has agreed to a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cardinals, who’re investing much more than usual in their backup for Yadier Molina.

After bouncing around for a decade without getting even 250 plate appearances in a season Pena signed with the Reds and topped 350 plate appearances in both 2014 and 2015. His production didn’t improve any, as Pena hit .263 with five homers and a .652 OPS in 223 games as a regular.

Pena’s best skill is rarely striking out, which enables him to hit for a decent batting average, but he has very little power and swings at everything. He struggled to control the running game this season at age 33, but has a decent throw-out rate for his career.

Making a multi-year commitment to Pena suggests the Cardinals are no longer counting on Molina being the same type of workhorse behind the plate, which certainly makes sense given his age and injury history. Pena will replace Tony Cruz, who’s been Molina’s understudy since 2011 while hitting just .220 with five homers and a .572 OPS in 259 games.

While we wait for free agent signings: Andrew McCutchen stars in a one-act play

Andrew McCutchen
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It’s a pretty slow offseason so far. We’ve had a couple of minor signings. I guess Jordan Zimmermann is sort of a big deal. But it’s a lot more quiet so far this year than it was this time last year. I suppose there’s no real rhyme nor reason for it. Baseball offseason is long, there is no salary cap and thus there’s no rush to do things too quickly.

So, while we wait, here’s Andrew McCutchen doing his best to kill time until spring training starts:

Red Sox sign outfielder Chris Young

Chris Young Getty

Veteran outfielder Chris Young thrived in a platoon role for the Yankees this past season and now he’s headed to the rival Red Sox to fill a similar role, signing a multi-year deal with Boston according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.

Young was once an everyday center fielder for the Diamondbacks, making the All-Star team in 2010 at age 26, but for the past 3-4 years he’s gotten 300-350 plate appearances in a part-time role facing mostly left-handed pitching. He hit .252 with 14 homers and a .773 OPS for the Yankees, but prior to that failed to top a .700 OPS in 2013 or 2014.

Given the Red Sox’s outfield depth–Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Brock Holt even with Hanley Ramirez back in the infield–Young is unlikely to work his way into everyday playing time at age 32, but he should get another 300 or so plate appearances while also providing a veteran fallback option. And it’s possible his arrival clears the way for a trade.