Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians

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

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey (33) delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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We’re back to a full slate of games on Tuesday night. The game to watch tonight, especially if you’re a fan of mismatches, is Braves-Mets. The Mets easily handled the Braves on Monday night, winning 4-1. The club blasted three home runs in the first inning off of Mike Foltynewicz, which is nearly as many homers as the Braves have hit all season (five). The Mets went on cruise control from there. Bartolo Colon finished with seven strikeouts over eight shutout innings. Jeurys Familia gave up a run but was able to reach the finish line.

The Braves are now 6-19, a game ahead of the Astros and Twins for the worst record in baseball. It’s not particularly shocking since the Braves have embraced tanking in their final year at Turner Field. How low can they go? The Atlanta record for losses in a season is 106 by the 1988 club. The 1935 Boston Braves went 38-115. The Braves’ current .240 winning percentage would rank as the worst in franchise history — including Atlanta, Boston, and Milwaukee — if the season were to end today.

Tuesday’s pitching match-up features Matt Wisler for the Braves and Matt Harvey for the Mets. The two will square off at 7:10 PM EDT at Citi Field tonight.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 6:10 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Jon Niese), 7:05 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Luis Severino) @ Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Martin Perez) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Marco Estrada), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Patrick Corbin) @ Miami Marlins (Justin Nicolino), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Scott Kazmir) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Matt Moore), 7:10 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Jeff Samardzija) @ Cincinnati Reds (Jon Moscot), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Steven Wright) @ Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana), 8:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Nick Tropeano) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Junior Guerra), 8:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Alex Meyer) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Aaron Nola) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 8:15 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark) @ Kansas City Royals (Chris Young), 8:15 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma) @ Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray), 10:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Eddie Butler) @ San Diego Padres (Andrew Cashner), 10:10 PM EDT

Bryce Harper signs the largest endorsement deal in MLB history

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper pumps his fist as he takes a curtain call after he hit a grand slam during the third  inning of an baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Thursday, April 14, 2016, in Washington. This was Harper's 100th home run of his career. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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I figure it’s not that hard to sign the largest endorsement deal in baseball history. In the NBA? Sure. Those deals are insane. But in baseball? Man, we still have major leaguers doing quickie, video taped ads for local car dealerships and sandwich shops and stuff. It would mildly surprise me if I saw a third starter for a .500 team spinning and flipping one of those signs on a street corner near a new apartment complex some day, but I wouldn’t be utterly shocked. It’s just a different set of economics. You can’t really wear baseball shoes out around town. Cleats tend to scuff up the woodwork.

But Bryce Harper is different. He was barely in the league a year before I saw his giant underwear-clad butt in a big glossy ad while walking through the unmentionables department at Macy’s and his Under Armour ads are all over the place. Probably the closest thing we’ve seen to NBA-style shoe exposure in MLB, though it doesn’t quite compare.

It may one day, though: he has reportedly signed a 10-year extension with Under Armour that is believed to be the largest endorsement deal in history for a baseball player. Terms aren’t being disclosed, but they’re claiming that so it’s probably at least plausible.

Baseball players will still never be the kind of product-pushers other athletes are, but Harper is probably the closest thing it’ll get for a while. At the very least he can be the second or third banana in one of those commercials in which stars from various sports do things like shave, drink sports drinks and, I dunno, flex their quads while wearing compression gear. He can be Garfunkel to Steph Curry’s Simon. Or something.

Major League Baseball may cancel the upcoming Puerto Rico series due to Zika concerns

FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2016, file photo, Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae sit in a petri dish at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. Even before the Zika virus reached crisis levels early this year, Brazil had trouble maintaining routine eradication efforts. An Associated Press investigation found that cities and states in Brazil’s northeast ran out of larvicide for several months last year. The Aedes aegypti mosquito are a vector for the spread of Zika virus. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
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Last month we wrote about how the Pirates and the Marlins are scheduled to play a series in Puerto Rico at the end of May. And how, due to an outbreak of Zika on the island, Pirates and Marlins players have voiced serious concerns. For, among other reasons, Zika precautions are such that those exposed should not engage in procreative sex for several months due to birth defects concerns and baseball players are at an age when doing stuff like having kids is a pretty important thing.

This afternoon Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reports that, while the official line is that the series will still be played, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation are telling him that it’s on “the brink of cancellation.”

It’s understandable though, as Passan notes, it makes politics — both baseball politics and regular politics — with Puerto Rico kind of uncomfortable. And then there’s the concern that Zika could spread to Florida and is already in other countries, which means that the Pirates-Marlins thing is something of a case of first impression which could set precedents beyond just baseball.

That’s understandable, but it’s also a set of concerns that are above the pay grade of baseball players. Personally, it’s hard to blame them for being wary. And this seems like some reasonable wariness, not hysteria.

 

Tigers activate James McCann

Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann blows a bubble while warming up during a spring training baseball workout, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Lakeland, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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The Tigers have activated catcher James McCann from the 15-day disabled list. He’s been out since April 11 with a sprained ankle.

Whether he has a position is an open question. In his absence Jarrod Saltalamacchia has put up a .947 OPS. That’s weighted somewhat heavily by slugging and some fluky power, but he’s done a good job. At the very least it will cause Brad Ausmus to ease McCann back into the lineup more slowly, possibly in a split role as opposed to a backup/starter relationship.