2013 Preview: Chicago White Sox

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Today: the Chicago White Sox.

The Big Question: Will the White Sox again exceed low expectations?

Last year at this time the White Sox were coming off a disappointing 79-win season and had lost Mark Buehrle to free agency, fired Ozzie Guillen and replaced him with a manager totally lacking in experience at any level, and further retooled by trading Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos. Expectations were so low that Las Vegas set their over/under win total at 75 and many people wondered why the front office stopped short of a full-scale rebuild.

And then they won 85 games.

This offseason Chicago re-signed Jake Peavy to a favorable contract but again shed talent, as A.J. Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers, and Francisco Liriano walked via free agency and the biggest additions were Jeff Keppinger and Matt Lindstrom. And so expectations remain low, with Las Vegas setting the over/under at 80 wins. I think they’ll beat that total, not because the White Sox are a particularly great team but because they’re clearly a decent team and the unbalanced schedule means someone in the AL Central besides the Tigers is going to finish above .500.

There are plenty of potential stumbling blocks for the White Sox emerging as that team, of course. Tyler Flowers has a very difficult task replacing A.J. Pierzynski’s production and durability behind the plate. Counting on Peavy to stay healthy in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-2007 is iffy and the rotation has other health question marks in John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Robin Ventura needs to get some kind of offensive help from the Keppinger, Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez infield trio so the lineup doesn’t lean so heavily on Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Alex Rios.

Because of all that the White Sox making a legitimate run at the AL Central title deep into the season looks unlikely, but unless the rotation falls apart because of injuries it’s also hard for me to imagine Chicago not finishing above .500. And yet if they do beat Las Vegas’ preseason expectations again it would be the White Sox’s first time with back-to-back winning seasons since 2005-2006.

What else is going on?

• For all the talk of teams making mistakes by shifting dominant young relievers to the rotation only to see them struggle and/or get hurt Chris Sale did exactly that for the White Sox last season and it couldn’t have gone better. At age 23 he was among the AL’s top five in wins, ERA, WHIP, opponents’ batting average, and strikeout rate, throwing 192 innings with a 3.05 ERA and 192/51 K/BB ratio before signing a long-term contract that could keep him in Chicago through 2019. Sale holding up physically in Year 2 as a starter might be the biggest key to the White Sox’s season.

• Dayan Viciedo showed a lot of power at age 23, smacking 25 homers in his first full season, but his overall production was lacking for a corner outfielder who isn’t a plus defensively. He hit just .255 with a measly .300 on-base percentage, striking out 120 times in 147 games while drawing a pathetic 20 walks in 543 trips to the plate. Despite playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark Viciedo’s all-around offensive contribution was below average among MLB left fielders even without factoring in his defense. Viciedo is obviously not without long-term potential, but power vastly overstated his 2012 value.

• Addison Reed posted a 4.75 ERA that suggests he wasn’t very effective as a 23-year-old rookie closer, but he allowed 21 percent of his total runs in one May appearance. In his other 61 games Reed threw 55 innings with a 3.75 ERA and 53/15 K/BB ratio while converting 88 percent of his save chances. He also averaged 94.6 miles per hour with his fastball. As a fly-ball pitcher in a power-inflating ballpark Reed will always be walking on relatively thin ice, but the White Sox have the ninth inning figured out for the foreseeable future.

• Dunn had a bounceback season after a miserable 2011, boosting his OPS by 231 points. That’s an amazing turnaround and it’s also amazing that he managed an .800 OPS while hitting just .204. In fact, while leading the league in both strikeouts (222) and walks (105) and ranking fifth in homers (41) he had the highest OPS of all time for someone with a sub-.220 batting average. By comparison, 25 players last season hit .280 or higher and posted a lower OPS than Dunn. It might not always be pretty, but production is production.

Prediction: Second place, American League Central

Dave Stewart says Diamondbacks’ early success is proof he was good as GM

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After the completion of the 2016 regular season, the Diamondbacks fired then-GM Dave Stewart and then-manager Chip Hale. Stewart acted as GM for two seasons. His most controversial move occurred in December 2015 when he acquired pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Gabe Speier in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte and prospects Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair. After his firing, Stewart blamed his superiors for the trade and said his gut was telling him not to make the trade.

The D-Backs are now led by new GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo. The club had a relatively quiet offseason, as its biggest acquisitions were Taijuan Walker and Fernando Rodney. Defying expectations, though, the Diamondbacks enter Tuesday night’s action with a 13-8 record, just a game and a half behind the first-place Rockies. Stewart spoke to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports and said that the D’Backs’ success shows that he knew what he was doing all along.

This means a lot to me because this is the same team, or very close to the one that I put on the field. So basically all of those guys and baseball analysts who said I didn’t know what I was doing, it showed I knew exactly what I was doing.

Everybody was just beat up and not living up to expectations. So all of a sudden, it’s my fault. Well, it’s not my fault. I couldn’t prevent injuries or jump in their bodies to make them pitch better in the starting rotation. We put the right people on the field. So I don’t think anybody should be surprised how well those kids are playing. They’re healthy now. I knew this was going to happen.

Everyone should have seen it coming.

Not to rain on Stewart’s parade, but the Diamondbacks are five games over .500 in a relatively tiny 21-game sample size. Had his team valued analytics during his tenure, he might have known that. Additionally, few of the players performing well for the team right now are players Stewart himself was responsible for bringing to Arizona. Furthermore, the team’s success doesn’t retroactively justify what he gave up for Miller nor does it justify practically giving away Touki Toussaint and signing a 32-year-old Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract.

During and after his tumultuous tenure with the D-Backs, Stewart has appeared very insecure. When he was fired, he quipped, “Quite frankly, I’ve got better things to do.” He appeared on MLB Network Radio in February to deflect any blame directed at him for the team’s failure. And then there’s his most recent quotes in which he heaps praise on himself for the team’s success.

Stewart was an All-Star starter who finished in the top-three in AL Cy Young Award voting three times in his career. He’s understandably competitive and has probably built up a very strong distaste for failure. Sometimes, though, one has to make peace with the fact that things didn’t go one’s way. Stewart simply appears to be tilting at windmills to protect his ego.

Derek Jeter-Jeb Bush reportedly in agreement to purchase the Marlins

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UPDATE: In the wake of the earlier reports now come multiple reports that, yes, Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush are in agreement to purchase the Miami Marlins. No one in the know is commenting officially, however.

A purchase price is not yet known, though it is expected to be, at a minimum, $1.4 billion, which was the sale price of the Mariners last year. Reports are that Jeter and Bush are still seeking funding sources, but that rival groups have dropped out and that Jeff Loria and the Jeter-Bush team have a handshake agreement.

There are, as we have seen in recent years, a few hurdles to get over, primarily the finalization of funding. But at the moment it appears as if Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush are going to be the next owners of the Miami Marlins.

2:44 PM: There are a couple of confusing and potentially conflicting reports swirling about the Miami Marlins sale right now.

When last we heard, there were two high-profile groups with reported interest. One run by Hall of Famer Derek Jeter and politician Jeb Bush. The other run by Hall of Famer Tom Glavine and . . . son of politician, Tagg Romney.

Today Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg reported that the Jeter-Bush group has “won the auction” for the team. Mike Ozanian of Forbes reported earlier in the day, however, that they haven’t “won” anything. They merely remain the last group standing and that they have submitted a “non-binding indication of interest,” which, as the name suggests, means very little formally. They’re still seeking funding sources. Ozanian reports that the Glavine-Romney team is out.

That’s all a bit confusing, but given how team sales tend to go — slowly, with pretty established and plugged-in sports business types deliberately reporting the progress of negotiations — Ozanian’s report feels a bit more credible. Either way, I’d say it’s way, way too early to photoshop a Marlins cap on old pictures of Derek Jeter just yet.

UPDATE: Then there’s this:

Which does make it sound more official, but leaves open the question of whether Jeter and Bush have the money together.