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2016 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 2016 season. Next up: The Chicago White Sox.

White Sox fans have gotten used to busy offseasons. They have yet to become acquainted with those busy offseasons bearing any real competitive fruit. So you can forgive them if they’re a tad skeptical of the changes made on the south side this past winter.

This year the Sox identified catcher, second base, shortstop and third base as prime reasons for their disappointing 2015 finish and plugged those holes with Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, Brett Lawrie, Jimmy Rollins and Todd Frazier, respectively. Austin Jackson was added late in the offseason for center field. Frazier is a HUGE upgrade and will pair nicely with Jose Abreu in the middle of the order. Lawrie will likewise be an offensive improvement at second base. There were some questions about his defense — he’s played much more third than second over the course of his career — but he’s looked solid there this spring. He has been a decent offensive performer in the past, but he has still not met the high expectations many have had for him. It’s hard to believe that Jimmy Rollins has anything left in the tank.

There are still a lot of question marks. Avila and Navarro are no spring chickens and neither is exactly a plus option at the plate, even if they prove to be a solid receiving corps (which, to be honest, is not something they should really be expected to be based on recent performance). Melky Cabrera, one of last season’s imports, underperformed in 2015. Can he return to the form he showed in Toronto? Adam LaRoche famously retired a few weeks ago, but that should probably be considered addition by subtraction. Unless of course there is a leadership void created by the loss of a 14-year-old boy. We’re on year five of waiting for Avisail Garcia to fulfill expectations.

Did the White Sox improve their offense and defense in the offseason? I think it’s fair to say they did. Did they improve it enough given how bad they were in 2015? Eh, doesn’t feel like it.

Pitching-wise things obviously start with Chris Sale and he’s outstanding. Jose Quintana is quietly one of the better number two starters in baseball, even if no one ever really acknowledges it. Carlos Rodon‘s rookie campaign was promising and he has nice potential, though he’s likely going to struggle with control and the adjustment to two new catchers who have bad pitch framing numbers. John Danks and Mat Latos aren’t the sort of horses you’d bet on to do that much at this point. At best you get some innings eaten, but that’s certainly not a guarantee with Latos.

Like a lot of teams the back end of the pen looks OK. Here it’s Dave Robertson and Nate Jones. The rest is an uninspiring mix of guys who disappointed last year. Eh, bullpens are like that. There’s not reason, though, to think this will be a great group.

Sorry, I’m just pessimistic about the White Sox overall. Beyond the Frazier addition I’m not enamored with the White Sox’ offseason moves and feel like they were exercises in bringing in name brand players as opposed to useful, improved ones. I think a lineup needs more than 2-3 reliable bats and a rotation needs more than two sure thing pitchers. Finally, while I am not the sort to read TOO much into team chemistry stuff, the fact that the White Sox clubhouse nearly tore itself apart over the presence and then absence of a 14-year-old boy is . . . troubling. All of this, I think, adds up to another disappointing year on the south side.

Prediction: fifth place, A.L. Central.

Max Scherzer: ‘There’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions’

Max Scherzer
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MLBPA player representative Max Scherzer sent out a short statement late Wednesday night regarding the ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. On Tuesday, ownership proposed a “sliding scale” salary structure on top of the prorated pay cuts the players already agreed to back in March. The union rejected the proposal, with many worrying that it would drive a wedge in the union’s constituency.

Scherzer is one of eight players on the MLBPA executive subcommittee along with Andrew Miller, Daniel Murphy, Elvis Andrus, Cory Gearrin, Chris Iannetta, James Paxton, and Collin McHugh.

Scherzer’s statement:

After discussing the latest developments with the rest of the players there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions. We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received. I’m glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB’s economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.

Indeed, aside from the Braves, every other teams’ books are closed, so there has been no way to fact-check any of the owners’ claims. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, for example, recently said that 70 percent of the Cubs’ revenues come from “gameday operations” (ticket sales, concessions, etc.). But it went unsubstantiated because the Cubs’ books are closed. The league has only acknowledged some of the union’s many requests for documentation. Without supporting evidence, Ricketts’ claim, like countless others from team executives, can only be taken as an attempt to manipulate public sentiment.

Early Thursday morning, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the MLBPA plans to offer a counter-proposal to MLB in which the union would suggest a season of more than 100 games and fully guaranteed prorated salaries. It seems like the two sides are quite far apart, so it may take longer than expected for them to reach an agreement.