Gathered the three baseball wisemen here to go over the offseason again. The Sox appear to be done…and so do the Cubs, but in wildly different fashion. How are we all feeling?
So we’re just over a month away from pitchers and catchers, and it feels like the Sox are pretty much done. Everyone feeling their oats?
Air Traffic AJ: It’s pretty hard to look at this off-season and not feel positive about it, especially considering the absolute duds the previous two had been. The Twins signing Donaldson last night in a clear response to Hahn’s moves makes me think the Central may not be as up for grabs as I originally thought. The ceiling of their starting pitching is lower than the Sox staff, however, so it’s gonna be interesting. Most importantly it’s gonna be fun and watchable.
Wes French: Echoing AJ, the Donaldson singing takes some air out of the sails. The White Sox did a lot of work towards becoming a viable AL Central threat, but looking at that Twins lineup leaves you feeling like it’s all a 2nd/3rd place effort even with a lot of the remaining uncertainties becoming positives – How Robert starts, what Kopech gives, how the rotation looks after Giolito/Keuchel/Gio.
AJ: Sam, you’ve been pretty vocal thus far about the off-season the Cubs have had. If the ultimate goal for them is to be under the luxury tax cap this season and it costs them Quintana is there enough pitching to keep them up with the Cards and the newly resurgent Reds?
Sam: Fuck and no.
I’m not wholly in on the Reds yet because I don’t think the lineup is that good as Joey Votto is continuing to decompose. They’ll still beat the Cubs 13 of 19 infuriating times though. The only hope if Q were to be moved is that Lester discovers something that can make him more effective at 36 than 35, but everything is trending the wrong way and he’s not exactly the most flexible guy when it comes to changing what he does. Not only does Chatwood in the rotation make it more volatile, but it robs them of an at least an interesting bullpen weapon. He and Alzolay together would have given the Cubs two possible multi-inning pieces out of there which could have covered for some of the shortness of the rotation. You could easily see Lester continuing to decline, Chatwood being the Pollock painting he’s always been as a starter, and some combination of Alec Mills and other goofuses getting continually rocked without Q.
That said, a Q trade is more palatable than a Bryant one.
Speaking of starters and bullpen switching, is Reynaldo’s future as something of a Hader-type? Come in and fire smoke for two-three innings 50 times a year or so?
AJ: I think Reynaldo has a three month audition window to show he belongs in the rotation. I want to see what his numbers look like with a premier pitch framer like Grandal scoring him a few extra strikes per game. One of Lopez’ biggest issues is nibbling once he gets ahead in counts, and if Grandal can turn some of those nibbles into Ks he could be a viable 4th-5th starter easy. If that’s not in the cards for him, I very easily could see him coming in the 7th and just unleashing devastation for an inning and a third. He’s gotta have that chance to be a starter, however. Rodon coming back healthy is no guarantee, and it’s never a bad thing to have too many young viable starters.
Wes: I think I would already have Lopez ticketed for such a role if i were making those sort of decisions. Alas, I have not been given any kind of say in the matter and I think that they’ll bring him along and keep working with him like he’s a viable starter at least until June this year. If everyone can stay healthy and show signs of success outside of Lopez, Cease/Kopech/Dunning/Lambert/Steiver (at various levels of the org), and Lopez doesn’t show any kind of consistency or improvement I think it needs to be strongly considered. The bullpen is going to need a power arm from somewhere, and the other internal options like Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton, and Jayce Fry aren’t exactly encouraging at this point. It’d be ideal to not have to spend a truckload on the bullpen as this thing starts trending in the right direction and Lopez is the easiest to transition to that type of role, especially being the farthest removed from his debut and having plenty of shots at sticking in the rotation.
AJ: What’s the expectation for David Ross this season? Is he an advanced stats guy, or is he the more media friendly reincarnation of Robin Ventura? I personally think the Cubs could benefit from the use of an opener, especially if Quintana is traded for a pack of Topps cards and a copy of MLB the Show 2014. Also what kind of leash does he get from ownership?
Sam: We were just talking about this on the podcast. First off with Ross, no one has any idea and if they say they do they’re lying. He’s obviously exactly in tune with how the front office sees the team, but who knows what that means given the restraints. I think they feel like players walked on Maddon a bit or tired of his shtick or both, and Ross definitely commands respect from the vets so you’d think the younger players will follow. I hope/suspect he’ll be a little more advanced in-game than Ventura, but again, no one can be sure.
I’m with you on the opener. The Cubs do have two intriguing, multi-inning possibilities out of the pen in Chatwood and Alzolay. The latter certainly can’t take on a starter’s share of innings this year, if he ever can. They both have electric stuff, though with varying problems with that stuff. You don’t know what you’ll get out of Lester, but if Q were to stick around you’d have three dependable (at least innings-wise) starters and Lester. You could easily have each of Chatwood and Alzolay throw 2-3 innings twice a week to cover for what you don’t get from Lester and a hole at the #5 spot.
But the reality is that they’ll trade.Q merely to save money, slide Chatwood into the rotation where he’s yet to prove he can be, and now both the rotation and pen are short.
Maybe I’ll just get on the Mariners train now and enjoy the fruits in three years.
Wes: Julio Rodriquez is gonna be a monster, we’d all be smart to buy shares now and revel in our intelligence in 2022-23.
I have a feeling the Cubs are gonna struggle to pitch the ball all season long and we’re in for some “fun” 14-10 type games. I think the NL Central is full of flaws, so 84 wins might just do it, but from the way you’ve spoken all winter, Sam, it seems you believe the Cubs could have trouble breaking even that number.
Of course, Yu, Hendricks and Q could all throw 175+ masterful innings and then you just need to survive the Lester clunkers and get to .500 in 5th start spots. Craig Kimbrel being his pre-2019 self would go a long way, too.
AJ: Question for all of us: If Lopez advances in his skills and both Rodon and Kopech come back healthy, what do the Sox do with their rotation?
Wes: Assuming the rest of the staff is healthy/effective, I’d think that Gio G switches to a swing man/relief role that he was very effective in with Milwaukee last season. But you’re still looking at six guys with Giolito, Keuchel, Kopech, Cease, Lopez and Rodon.
They’re going to want to bring Rodon along quite slowly, I’d think, being that he’ll come back in the 2nd half of the season, so he’d probably spot start during some long stretches where a 6th could be introduced to help rest everyone else/be used in longer relief situations to better control his workload and keep his innings as effective as possible. Cease is also going to top out around 160-175 innings, so I’m sure having too many SP options come August wouldn’t be too much of an issue.
This would be a very awesome problem to have.
AJ: I think at the end of the season if Rodon comes back healthy, Lopez advances like we all hope he does, and Kopech comes back in good shape you would have a six-man rotation from August on. You would be able to manage Cease, Kopech and Rodon’s innings as need be as well as give Gio Gonzalez some time as well. If September comes around and the playoffs aren’t an option Dane Dunning could conceivably be thrown into that mix as well. Like Wes said, it’s an excellent problem to have.
Sam, what’s your take on the Sox this year as a Cubs fan (for the time being, at least)?
Sam: I think they’re exciting and am looking forward to watching them but I don’t think they’re a sure thing. Neither do I think the Twins are either, to be fair.
I’m not as high on the Keuchel signing as some. He was regressing last year and his margin for error is so small. The batted ball numbers aren’t encouraging. Which still makes for something of an iffy staff. Giolito is great, but we have no idea what Cease is and it’s all questions from there on out, be it health or development. Wes, you may get your share of 14-10 games on the Southside, too.
That said the Grandal signing seems perfect for them, and even though I think Mazara sucks when Robert and Madrigal are up it’s hard to find a true hole in the lineup. It’s also hard to see anyone regressing, though I guess I could see where Abreu’s age kicks in a bit along with playing the field every day. Maybe TIMMY! can’t keep his BABIP around .400 again, which will really hurt his output because he never walks and still hits too many grounders (though that’s trending the rifht way). But again, this feels more around the edges than the heart of it.
They definitely need Kopech to come back healthy and contribute. You’ll never get me to believe in Rodon and I think his future is a lot like Reynaldo’s in that he’d be a great reliever. He just walks too many guys right now.
All that said, I feel like this will be the most fun season on the Southside in a very long time. And now with no Hawk around, I can watch comfortably!