Monday, March 31, 2003

It's opening day and I am just a little surprised at some of the things I see when I look at the White Sox roster. There are three catchers and a guy named stewart, what in the world is going on? I honestly don't have a clue what the Sox plan to do with three catchers. There's also no backup centerfielder, maybe they think Josh Paul picked up some new skills over the winter?

Carrying three catchers is a nothing other than tactical screw up. I also have a feeling the guy who will get the short end of the stick here is Miguel Olivo. That is terrible because he's the best player of the group and the one most in need of plate appearances to develop. If Olivo doesn't get much PT then this is worse than keeping Paul and Sandy Alomar on roster and sending Olivo to Charlotte.

And then there is Josh Stewart. Stewart is interesting in that he is a player who highlights the difference in attributes the Sox look for in right handed and left handed pitchers. The Sox have given lots of opportuinities to left handed pitchers who rely more on guile than velocity and for the most part it has paid off. Mike Sirotka, Jim Parque and Mark Buehrle are all notable examples.

Sox northpaws on the other hand tend to be hard throwing, impress the scouts types. Kip Wells and Jon Garland come to mind. Less scouttastic righties don't get much respect in the Sox organization. Josh Fogg was never taken seriously before being traded. Keith Foulke was never given an opportunity to start despite success in the minors and Ed "I'm the new Foulke" Almonte hasn't been given any opportunity to show hiw stuff in the majors.

I'm not sure if this says anything about Stewart himself. It's hard for me to see him succeeding, especially not immediately. Word is Dan Wright isn't seriously injured but will be out for a bit. I'm looking forward to Wright's return, I believe in him and I think the Sox will need him.

Now the other nasty topic of the day, the Sox season opener. Unfortunately I couldn't watch the game in Wisconsin but the box score doesn't look pretty. The Sox offense simply couldn't put runners on base, managing just five all game. Frank Thomas reached base three times all by himself which is nice to see. Also nice to see is a Joe Crede double. Jose Valentin made an error which is all the more fuel for Chicken Little Sox fans. Mark Buehrle started the season pitching like Mark Buehrle. Tom Gordon began his White Sox career by allowing a run in one inning of work. Hopefully I can listen to most of the Sox game on Wednesday before leaving for class at 2:50. I won't see my first live baseball of the year until Thursday when I check out the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers home opener. Should be exciting Midwest League action. And on Sunday I should be able to take in my first White Sox action of the season. I am definitely looking forward to that.

Andrew Ritchie
Back home! The plan is to update tomorrow with my comments on the Sox roster and how my important questions for spring training looked.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Okay so I lied. I'll make sure to update when I get back with a recap on my six pivotal spring questions for the White Sox and hopefully there will be news about the catching situation. Off to the beaches of Georgia!

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Sorry about a lack of updates, this is my finals week and news hasn't been quite as interesting. I'll have something significant to say before the end of the week and then I'll be on vacation until 3/30.

Monday, March 17, 2003

As you sit in front of your computer reading this Jerry Manuel is determining who the Sox backup catcher will be. Sandy Alomar is officially the starter. Chalk this up as the first screw up of the season for the White Sox. Sandy Alomar just isn't a major league starter anymore. In the last two years he's hit .264/.296/.382 (AVG/OBP/SLG) when the league average has been .266/.335/.426. He doesn't even have anything left behind the plate defensely. The only thing preventing this move from being as benefitial as shooting one's self in the foot is what I said about Alomar being the starter last year: He won't be healthy for long enough for this decision to punish the Sox.

Who the other catcher on the roster is come opening day is a little more interesting than discussing Alomar's mediocrity. The two candidates are Miguel Olivo and Josh Paul. If this was all about talent Olivo would get the call without hesitation or at least he should. However there are a number of other factors. Namely Josh Paul doesn't have any options left. If he is sent down another team could claim him.

Now I wouldn't worry about another team taking Paul because he's as replaceable as they come but the Sox like him. It's hard for me to see the Sox not keeping Paul on the 25 man roster if they think they could lose him. Manuel has said that he'd consider keeping both Paul and Olivo but I don't see how that's possible. Realistically at the moment there are four guys left in camp who don't know their future. The following players have won jobs:

Sandy Alomar
Frank Thomas
Paul Konerko
D'Angelo Jimenez
Jose Valentin
Joe Crede
Carlos Lee
Aaron Rowand
Magglio Ordonez
Brian Daubach
Armando Rios
Tony Graffanino

Mark Buehrle
Bartolo Colon
Jon Garland
Dan Wright
Esteban Loaiza
Billy Koch
Damaso Marte
Gary Glover
Tom Gordon
Rick White
Kelly Wunsch

That's twenty three men. The guys left not guarenteed a job are Paul, Olivo, Willie Harris and Aaron Miles. If the Sox were to keep three catchers not only would it be pointless strategically but Harris couldn't make the team. Harris is the only player capable of backing up Rowand in center, so he should make the team. Aaron Miles has been mentioned as having a chance to make the team but he can only make the team if Harris is sent to the minors. Once again, that's not likely.

With Harris on the roster, one spot is left for another catcher. The problem here is Alomar's health. Alomar is doomed to break down and when that happens the Sox will need another catcher on the roster. I think the Sox want to keep Olivo but will only do so if they feel like they can sneak Paul through waivers. Jerry Manuel said the club is saving the decision for the 11th hour. I think Kenny Williams will spend the time between then and now examining other teams' catching situations to determine if there is interest in Paul. If the Sox determine they can likely sneak Paul through waivers they'll go ahead and send him to AAA. If there is a team out there looking for a backup catcher, Olivo is going to have a chance to check out the Charlotte night life.

Andrew Ritchie
Hot news out of Sox camp. Examination of Dan Wright has shown he has no ligament damage. This is good and bad. Wright DOES have bone chips irritating him and says he'll be pitching in pain. I have to wonder why the Sox aren't sending Wright under the knife for a minor surgery to remove the bone chips. There is a chance that Wright will alter his mechanics because he's pitching with an injury and end up hurting something else. Not to mention the effect it could have on his performance. Most pitchers only miss 4-6 weeks after the removal of bone chips. That is about as long as I determined the Sox could reasonably afford to miss Wright. I've got an email out there asking Will Carroll what he thinks of this one.

Over the weekend Manuel also confirmed that Aaron Rowand is the Sox starting centerfielder. This is ranks up there with the sun rising this morning among predictable things.

Andrew Ritchie

Thursday, March 13, 2003

I actually didn't expect to have material to write about everyday but thats the case. It's nice to have news to write about, I just wish more of it was good.

Dan Wright will be throwing on Saturday. Unfortunately there's no new Under the Knife report @ Baseball Prospectus so I don't know what the expert on such matters has to say about this. Right now the Sox actually seem happy with their candidates for the fifth spot in a Wright-less rotation. Those would be Jon Rauch, Josh Stewart and Gil Heredia. I cringe as I read those names and I want to say "at least they aren't considering Gary Glover" but Glover is probably just as good as any of those three.

I've talked a lot about Rauch. His health is one of the critical spring training questions and unfortunately Rauch has been about as healhy as Tiny Tim. Don't take the fact that the Sox are considering him for the fifth spot as a sign he's healthy. They happily gave Rauch the fifth spot in the rotation last year when he was clearly less than 90% and hadn't pitched competitively in a good 8 months.

I still see no reason to take Josh Stewart seriously, think Mike Bertotti. Notice even Bertotti got six career starts so my over/under of three for Stewart's number of career starts was probably too conservative. Gil Heredia really shouldn't be taken seriously either. He's 37 and didn't pitch in the major leagues at all in 2002 because of arm surgery. Heredia was last seen with the A's in 2001 where he sported a 5.58 ERA in 109.2 IP. He also allowed 27 homers in that span pitching half his games at the Al Davis' Reconfigurable Hole in Oakland, which is a good pitchers park. Heredia doesn't belong in anyone's major league rotation.

The optimist in me says that with no good candidate to take Wright's spot the Sox expect him to be healthy but the Sox certainly went into last season without enough starting pitching. This year I can't even campaign for Keith Foulke to move to the starting rotation anymore. I really need to find another hopeless cause like that. Right now I'm liking the trade Paul Konerko for a lefthanded bat or maybe even another starter cause. I like it, it's a good idea and it's pretty hopeless.

Cliff Brumbaugh made his exit from big league camp in the last set of cuts, it's covered in the article I linked to above. Cliff is a guy who would could get some plate appearances if Paul Konerko is actually traded. This probably means the Sox are sufficiently impressed with Armando Rios and Brian Daubach to keep them both which is a good move. It's still unfortunate that Brumbaugh didn't get more of a shot. While he can't play middle infield he'd make a better bench player than Aaron Miles who is still in the running for a job.

The fascination in Miles has to be a product of his Southern League MVP but realistically Miles wouldn't make a good bench player. Second base is the only position he can play and he is still a defensive liability there. Miles isn't flexible and his bat isn't anything special. It will be a waste of a roster spot to bring Miles north.

To conclude today's notes, Aaron Rowand is supposed to make his first start in centerfield today. Rowand has been exclusively DHing due to a biking injury he suffered in the off season. It's good to see Rowand healthy but if he is 100% or close to it there is no chance we see Joe Borchard with the big league club. I can't imagine the Sox making it to the All-Star break without calling up Borchard so Rowand not quite being healthy enough to play center would just speed up inevitable.

Andrew Ritchie

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

There's a lot to talk about today. Dan Wright still isn't feeling great but at least there is talk of him getting back on the mound. Although Will Carroll is reporting that Wright may have a major injury because Wright's elbow is still bothering him, several days after his last start. I'm sufficiently worried and Carroll doesn't yet have a specific diagnosis. When I emailed Carroll he neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of Tommy John surgery. As I pointed out yesterday, this would be a good time for the White Sox to make a move.

Making a move is exactly what the Twins did today, roping in Kenny Rogers. I now really want to know who the Twins have penciled it their rotation. If the Rogers signing pushes Johan Santana out the starting rotation I'm happy. As I talked about yesterday, Rogers is more likely to be a catastrophy than pitch like he did last year. An added bonus is that Rogers was offered arbitration by the Rangers so the Twins will lose their first round draft pick to Texas. This was pointed out to me by a friend on the White Sox Interactive message boads.

Right now it looks as if the Twins are keeping their most effective hitter and pitcher from last year out of the lineup. That's Bobby Kielty and Johan Santana. Kielty led the Twins with a 890 OPS last year, 31 points better than the next best on the team. While that was in a part time role and he isn't likely to be quite that good next year, he's been an on base machine at every level of the minors. Now Kielty has major league success to go with minor league pedigree and Ron Gardenhire still isnt' considering Kielty for a starting role.

Keeping your best hitter on the bench and your best starting pitcher in the pen is the kind of mismanagement that kept the Sox from being more competitive in the last couple years. I'm definitely talking about the nearly 900 plate appearances the Sox wasted on Royce Clayton while caging Joe Crede in AAA and forcing Jose Valentin out of position. Roster management mistakes are costly.

Finally, still on the subject of roster management. Jerry Manuel announced he plans to bring 11 relievers north with the Sox. I think this is a good call. In the past Manuel has carried 12 relievers with one guy being a young arm in the back of the pen never getting work and losing development time. Acknowledging this wasn't the right way to do things is good work and an extra bat on the bench will help with lineup flexibility.

Andrew Ritchie

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

I'm becoming worried about the White Sox pitching depth, or lack there of. I've already talked about Wright's injury but reports out of Arizona on Jon Rauch aren't looking good. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus reported Rauch has nothing this spring and his performance backs that up. It's not a smart move to pay a lot of attention to spring numbers but when people are saying you aren't healthy getting shelled on the mound isn't exactly silver lining.

I feel like I should have talked about pitching depth before. It's clearly a problem and it's something I saw a couple weeks ago but chose to be optimistic about it rather than realistic. Right now the Sox have four healthy major league starters. They could use at least one more. If the Sox are willing to spend some money the top candidates to join the team would be Kenny Rogers and Chuck Finley.

Rogers is the name most associated with the White Sox. In fact the Sox had open talks with Rogers before the start of spring training. Rogers spent last year with the Rangers and surprised a lot of people by going 13-8 with an ERA+ of 128. It was his best season since his 144 ERA+ with Oakland in 1998. Rogers will be 38 next year and most pitchers just don't have it anymore at 38. A little velocity gone, a little sharpness on the breaking ball lost, it all adds up. What Rogers has lost shows up in his strikeouts and home runs allowed.

I compared Rogers' 2000-02 seasons to his 1997-99 seasons. By comparison, in the more recent three year period his strikeout rate has dropped and his home runs allowed rate has gone up. Among pitchers qualifying for the ERA title last year, only Kirk Rueter had a lower K-rate than Rogers. In the last few years the bottom couple on that list have seen terrible follow up seasons. It was Omar Olivares and Scott Erickson in 1999, Brian Anderson and Steve Trachsel in 2000 and Jimmy Anderson and Steve Sparks in 2001. Accross the board those guys saw a drop in their IP and a rise in ERA. In other words Rogers got a lot of help from his defense and all signs point to him running out of gas faster than the neighborhood soccer mom's Landcruiser.

On the other hand I think Chuck Finley has some upside. Finley doesn't have the same red flags as Rogers. Despite pushing 40, in the last three years Chuck Finley is 15th among major league starters in K-rate between Mike Mussina and Pedro Astacio. It's been prven guys with good strikeout rates last long and are successful. By more subjective means, Finley still has good stuff. He can still hit the low 90s with his fastball and has the same nasty splitter he always had.

The one worry spot with Finley is his poor performance in 2001. For the most part it can be related to injuries. Fortunately the problem was stiffness in his neck rather than any arm issues and there was no reoccurance of the problem last year. If Finley joined the Sox rotation he'd have a good chance of out pitching Jon Garland and Dan Wright; whereas Kenny Rogers is at best an expensive #4 or #5 starter.

The other and less expensive option would be to find AAA veteran who has performed well but hasn't much gotten major league opportunity. I'd say a guy like this would perform comparable to Rogers but at the league minimum. My favorite option among that bunch is knuckle baller Jared Fernandez. He's been with the Reds organization for a while. Over the last two years he's gotten 63 big league innings with the Reds and held his own with a 4.44 ERA. Fernandez signed a minor league deal with the Astros and has an outside shot at their fifth starter job. I'm sure something could be worked out to bring him to the White Sox.

Another option is Angels pitcher Mickey Callaway. Callaway has a career AAA ERA of 3.70 and had a 4.19 ERA in six starts for the Angels last year. At best Callaway is 7th or 8th on the Angels starting pitching depth chart. For a bit more than it would take to get a guy like Fernandez or Callaway the Sox could go after Jason Johnson of the Orioles. Johnson is a usefully average major league starter who has been mentioned in trade rumors before. Any prospect the Sox could offer the Orioles would help the O's barren minor league system.

Really there are numerous options and I've only explored a handful. I'm hoping Kenny Williams pursues one of them because it looks like the White Sox might not have enough healthy starters for the season. Here's hoping whatever Kenny does, he doesn't overpay.

Andrew Ritchie

Monday, March 10, 2003

So there is news out of White Sox camp and because this is spring, news means bad news. Dan Wright missed a start with elbow soreness. Tommy John surgery looms in most people's minds when elbow problems arise. TJ surgery typically requires about a year to return to competition but even longer before effectiveness returns. Nate Silver and Will Carroll's work, which I referenced in my March 6 entry, leads me to believe TJ surgery is unlikely.

Wright is past the age where pitchers typically require major arm surgery. Thats the good news. The bad news is if it's not a major injury it could be something that will hinder Wright even if it doesn't keep him out the lineup. My worry is the Sox may rush Wright back to the mound before he's healthy. Although Chicago Tribune writer Phil Rogers said in chat, Wright may start the season on the DL.

This isn't as bad as it might seem. A fifth starter will only be needed three times in the first month of the season. Let's say the White Sox lose Wright, who is expected to be the fourth starter, for the first month. It means they would open the season with a starting four of Mark Buehrle, Bartolo Colon, Jon Garland and Esteban Loaiza. Unfortunately Gary Glover is the top candidate for picking up the three starts not covered by the top four. Still Gary Glover starting three games tops(?) isn't a bad sacrifice for having a healthy Dan Wright. Loaiza picks up Wright's starts and realistically Loaiza isn't any worse of a pitcher.

Losing Dan Wright short term isn't going to kill the White Sox. It's most important that whatever is going on with Wright's arm, he doesn't pitch again until he's healthy. This will prevent further damage and make the team better over the long haul.

Andrew Ritchie

Saturday, March 08, 2003

News out of Twins camp is that starter Eric Milton will miss more time than intially expected after knee surgery. While this seems like it might be a break for the White Sox (albeit an unfortunate one) it could be a curse as much as a blessing. Milton's injury opens the door for Johan Santana to start for the Twins. Santana is extremely effective on the mound. Last year the only pitcher with at least 10 starts and a higher strikeout rate than Santana was Randy Johnson. Santana sported a spectacular 2.99 ERA including going 7-4 3.13 as a starter with 89 strikeouts in 74.2 innings. Santana isn't exactly a guy you're glad to see in your division rival's rotation.

While it doesn't look like the Twins rotation is going to take a hit by losing Milton their bullpen sure will. Santana was going to be a valuable member of the Twins pen. Last season the Twins pen got the help of more than it's share of career years. Eddie Guardado's ERA was .58 runs better than his previous career best, La Troy Hawkins was 1.26 runs better and J.C. Romero's 1.89 ERA sticks out in his career line like Louis Farrakhan at a clan rally, it was a ridiculous 4.34 runs better than his past best. In addition, Tony Fiore pitched more than fifteen major league innings for the first time in his career, at age 30. Santana pitched just 13 games out of the pen last year and would have been a big help this season. Surely Santana will help the team more in the rotation but it looks like the Twins may have to address improving their bullpen at some point this season. They haven't even brought in any small name arms to assure their releif pitching will be as reliable as last season.

Andrew Ritchie

Thursday, March 06, 2003

In Joe Sheehan's Newsletter a couple times he played GM for a day for a team. Today I'm going to do that with the White Sox.

The first issue the average Sox fan will bring up is the starting rotation. Sure the Sox have Bartolo Colon now, but who is going to be the fifth starter? Call me crazy but I'm not worried about the fifth starter. Jerry Manuel and Kenny Williams seem determined to minimize the number of starts made by the fifth guy. The new plan is to skip the fifth guy to get the ball in the hands of Mark Buehrle and Colon as much as possible. Thats a good plan. Some combination of the fifth starter candidates will capably handle 25-30 starts. Plus if you make it to the playoffs you use four pitchers, maybe three.

The Sox also have the capability to score a lot of runs. The team is especially deep at the corners and the middle infield. The one problem with the lineup is the best hitters are all right handed. The Sox core of Paul Konerko, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and Frank Thomas could produce the AL MVP but imagine when the opposition brings in a reliever like Jeff Nelson or even Chad Bradford. This lineup reminds me of the late 90's Houston Astros teams who were also heavily righthanded and scored lots of runs. Unfortunately they were obliterated in the postseason.

The White Sox need a bat who doesn't use righty as the lead hand. And it would help if the guy can play centerfield. The first players who come to mind are Brian Giles and Carlos Beltran. Giles is awesome, right now he's the second most dangerous weapon in the NL after some guy named Bonds. Giles has hit .308/.428/.601 (AVG/OBP/SLG) over the last three seasons. One issue with Giles is he isn't a real centerfielder. Putting him in center will make a defenseive hole and put him in a situation where he's more likely to be injured. The other problem is when the Sox inquired about Giles the Pirates asked for Mark Buehrle. Let's call a trade for Giles unlikely.

Going to Kansas City for Carlos Beltran seems a lot more reasonable. Beltran is a great defensive centerfielder and over the last two seasons he's hit .289/.354/.504. If thats not enough he is one of the best basestealers in the game and is 66 for 74 stealing bases over the same time span. He's also just 26. Beltran is the best young centerfielder this side of Andruw Jones.

Also KC GM Allard Baird isn't exactly the cock of the walk when it comes to making big deals. Baird has consistently found himself on the sucker end of deals. Fortunately he doesn't have much choice when it comes to dealing Beltran because Scott Boras has asked for a huge contract extension that Baird hasn't been willing to ante up.

So who do the White Sox give up for Carlos Beltran? Joe Borchard and Kris Honel. If you don't know Borchard well you should scroll down to my analysis of Sox positioned players. And Honel may be the Sox best pitching prospect. It might look a little crazy that I'm willing to give up the Sox best batting and pitching prospects but if it ever makes sense, it makes sense right now.

Borchard is definitely a great prospect that I'd love to keep but he's streched out in center field. He'll need to move to a corner at some point and right now our corners are filled. It's easier to find a good corner outfielder than a good centerfielder so when Borchard does move he'll lose some of his value. Carlos Beltran will fill the gap in center and make Borchard an extra piece.

Kris Honel is about as good a prospect you can be when you are 20 years old and not yet in AA. Nonetheless because he's 20 and not yet in AA makes him more likely to flame out than become a star despite his talent. Right now he's very likely to suffer a major arm injury in the next few years. Check out Will Carroll and Nate Silver's work on pitcher injuries. Numerous reports say Honel has lost velocity since high school. Let's just say that doesn't make him look like less of an injury risk. Even if he remains healthy he's at least two years away from the majors and that's assuming he doesn't spend a full year at each level of the minors. It'll be a while before Honel has a chance to be an impact White Sox pitcher.

I'm becoming more and more convinced this season is the White Sox best chance at winning the World Series in the next three. Colon will likely leave after this year. Frank Thomas isn't getting any younger. Carlos Lee and Paul Konerko are at the age you can expect their best seasons and Magglio Ordonez is still close to that age. In other words, the offensive core is as good as it's going to get and the rotation is likely to take a big hit after this year. Even the bullpen looks good. Now is the time to bring in someone like Beltran.

The major issue is whether the Sox can lock up Beltran long term. If they can it's a great deal. If they can't I think they should still explore an option like Carlos Lee, Honel and Corwin Malone for Beltran. Or possibly something involving Paul Konerko. The Royals do have Mike Sweeney but he can opt out of his contract after this season. There are a plethora of options. The Sox should make a serious bid to bring Carlos Beltran to Chicago.

Andrew Ritchie

Monday, March 03, 2003

I was going to write about White Sox roster composition but I decided that I'd save that for later in the spring when I'll have a better idea of who is healthy and who isn't. It's hard to scratch up good topics to write about in the spring. There isn't much going on. When the games start at noon and the players have 2:00 pm tee times, things can't be taken too seriously. That's not to say spring training is useless. You can learn some things about a team, so I came up with a list of important questions for White Sox spring training:

1. Is Jon Rauch healthy?
2. Who will be the fifth starter? (really ties into #1)
3. Who will be in the bullpen?
4. When will Joe Borchard be in the majors?
5. How do Brian Daubach and/or Armando Rios fit into the mix?
6. Is Aaron Rowand healthy?

I think this is a good breakdown of what Sox fans and analysts are waiting to learn. Along the way we'll see tons of fluff pieces and clubhouse chemistry stories in the local papers. This year the Sox definitely have a lot fewer questions than last year. And that's a good thing. It's a terrible idea to come into a season thinking one month of exhibition games will affect your club significantly.

Next time I'm hoping for a little more in depth content. I may take a look at the Sox best opposition for the division crown, the Minnesota Twins.

Andrew Ritchie