Buh-Buh-Baseball – What’s New, Year?

cubs_sox_2018

by Tom DeMichael

Despite Chicago’s frigid temps and friendly hobos (blowing and drifting snow,) we can take solace that pitchers and catchers will be reporting in about six weeks. As such, we should take a look at what’s happening north and south of Madison Ave…baseball-wise.

Winter Meetings – Much Ado About Nothing?

Of course, it’s hard to say the Yankees’ (being those Damn Yankees!) trade for big-bopper Giancarlo Stanton was “nothing.” And the feeding frenzy over the Angels’ eventual signing of Japanese phenom pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani wasn’t just a load of day-old sushi, either.

But, as far as the White Sox were concerned, all the late-meeting talk swirling about their interest in getting top 3B Manny Machado from the Orioles (for only one year) was just that – nothing. The Giants sounded like they were trying to get OF Avisail Garcia, but that never panned out (yet?)

The Sox and Rick Hahn are clearly focused on building a great team from the ground up, so trades aren’t necessarily needed right now. They’ve planted the seeds of young talent and are patiently waiting for their bumper crop. And, signing veteran C Welington Castillo to a multi-year deal was a very smart move – young pitchers thrive with an experienced receiver behind the plate.

On the other hand (and other side of town,) the Cubs fixed the leaking pipes of their pitching staff by adding a solid back-of-the-rotation starter (Rockies’ RHP Tyler Chatwood,) plus signing three bullpen pros. RHP Brandon Morrow was a pain-in-the-patoot in the post-season, showing up in every game of the Cubs-Dodgers playoffs – but now he’s with the Northsiders. With 2017 closer Wade Davis signing with the Rockies, Morrow will have every chance to fill that role.

Former Tiger/Blue Jay LHP Drew Smyly has started mostly, but figure he’ll come out of the pen with a solid 3.5 to 1 BB/K ratio (and a question mark after Tommy John surgery.) Well-traveled RHP Steve Cishek – strictly a reliever – brings a lifetime ERA of 2.73 with him. Young-ish LHP Dario Alvarez is a reliever, signed as a free agent (with lots of question marks in his bag of tricks.)

Perhaps as notable was the granting of free agency to former closer RHP Hector Rondon. Having lost some effectiveness (and, perhaps, confidence,) with the Cubs, it was best for all involved that he get a fresh start, signing with the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros.

What Happens Next?

History tells us that a lot can still occur before the middle of February. As of right now, the Sox’ infield is thisclose to being set, with Abreu at 1B, Yoan Moncada at 2B, and Tim Anderson at SS. The hot corner of 3B is still up in the air – Manny Machado would fit nicely, but what would he cost? (Along with being a free agent at the end of the year…) For now, the triumvirate of Yolmer Sanchez, Tyler Saladino, and Matt Davidson will suffice.

In the outfield, Garcia still patrols RF (for now,) while CF Adam Engel will have to boost his 2017 AVG of .166 to stick around. Charlie Tilson will try to return from a stress fracture in his ankle to challenge Engel. Eloy Jimenez just turned 21, so he’s being allowed to properly ripen in the sun of the minor leagues. LF will be a mix-n-match process.

As for White Sox starters, it’s not easy to get excited about RHP James Shields. Once a solid hurler, he’s won a total of nine games in two seasons with the Sox. Fortunately, there’s hope further down the line, with youngsters like Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer, and others needing time to develop. LHP Carlos Rodon is recovering from shoulder surgery and may start later in the year.

The bullpen may need an overhaul, as many of the current hurlers there are 30 years and up. Plus, there’s no closer to speak of.

Will the team make the post-season in 2018? Not likely, but they’re not that far off. I’d save my money for 2019 or 2020 – then the sparks are gonna fly.

At Sheffield and Addison, there are fewer question marks – but some do remain. LF/C Kyle Schwarber showed up at the December meetings appearing to be at least 20 pounds lighter. Does that make the slugger more fit for the leadoff spot than he was last year? Not really. He’s a three- to six-position hitter, although he could be a high on-base threat. Still, let’s hope Father Joe keeps him out of the top spot.

While the aforementioned Chatwood addresses the retirement (?) of John Lackey, a hole remains at the top of the rotation. Two years ago, resigning free agent Jake Arrieta would have been a no-brainer. But the slight and slow decline in his overall stats (and fastball speed) makes giving the man a long-term contract doubtful. Many would say that signing Yu Darvish makes sense (ignoring his 2017 post-season shortcomings,) but he’s only five months younger than Jake.

Although Willson Contreras is the goods behind the plate, a solid backup is needed. Victor Caratini is somewhat of a cipher right now, so it might make sense to bring back Alex Avila.

The outfield is loaded – it’s a good bet that someone will go. It might be Happ, it might be Almora, it might be Schwarber (I like ’em all, but I also can do the math.) A trade with one of those fellows included could bring a 3 or 4 starter, plus more bullpen help and/or a backup catcher.

Stay tuned in 2018…more to come.

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