Baseball

Rick Hahn made it a point to call out Right Field as at or near the top of his shopping list for the 2019 off-season. It was well chronicled how historically awful the White Sox were in 2019 at the position, but if you’re unaware they were on pace for a worst-in-history 54 wRC+ before a couple big games in September saved them from immortality. So what was the solution as the team looks to turn the page on the down years of the rebuild and march toward the post-season? A post-hype, RHP mashing/LHP flailing Nomar Mazara. Hahn is eager to prove his club can unlock the untapped potential of the former mega-hype prospect from Texas…

2019 Stats

.268/.318/.469

6.0 BB% 23.0 K%

19 HR 66 RBI 69 R

.327 wOBA 94 wRC+ 0.5 WAR

-4 DRS

LAST WEEK ON NITRO: Mazara turned in his fourth MLB season in much the same fashion as the three that preceded it – by underwhelming. Nothing if not consistent, Mazara posted another season of mediocre production while crushing RHP to the tune of 13 HR/110 wRC+ in 302 ABs and bowing to the whims of LHP with just 6 HR/55 wRC+ in 127 ABs. Mazara seemingly is what he is at the plate at this point, with 64 of 79 career HR coming off RHP and a career 53 wRC+ against LHP that screams for a platoon. Mazara actually went backward in some ways in 2019 as he turned in the worst K/BB ratio of his career with a career high 23% K rate and 6% BB rate.

Mazara is also mediocre (at best) in the field, turning in a -4 DRS and keeping with a theme of being somewhere between -3 and -6 DRS for his career in RF. Nomar was slowed a bit by left oblique strain that kept him to only 116 games played, the lowest of his four full seasons in the bigs. No real speed to his game, Mazara appears to be a curious choice to end the RF woes all on his own.

TOO SWEET! TOO SWEET! (WHOOP WHOOP): Mazara, still just 25 as of late April, finally taps into the unrealized potential that scouts and industry prospect hounds drooled over as he assaulted the minors en route to Texas in 2016. The former top-25 prospect finally figures out how to crush all pitchers the way he’s been able to against RHP (for sizable stretches), allowing him to set a career high in games played and homers as he goes over 150 and 30 for the first time.

“So, sometimes, you need to lean a little more heavily on your scouts, sometimes need a little more heavily on the analytic side. And there’s some projection, especially with younger players involved.” Hahn is rewarded for acquiring such a young player that just never could seem to put it all together and helping him to realize all that potential. Mazara even turns in a passable RF defensively, aided by Luis Robert covering a nice big chunk of Right Center on a regular basis.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: Mazara is, in fact, a bit worse than what he appears to be. Every once and a while he drives a mistake deep into the Chicago Summer night, but all too often it is he that is the mistake. LHP remains the bane of his existence, exploiting the holes in his swing so harshly that Mazara finds himself in a platoon with Leury Garcia (or Nicky Delmonico??) by June. The K/BB ratio gets even worse as he devolves to a 25%+ K rate and becomes an expensive LH power pinch hitting option off the bench in August and September as the Sox find more a defensively capable replacement at the trade deadline in their quest to reach the first post-season berth in over a decade.

Mazara is then non-tendered in the Winter and drifts through the majors on short term deals with whichever team’s GM convinces himself that his staff can solve this human puzzle. After ‘flirting’ with the top of the market in Mookie Betts and George Springer, Hahn inks Marcell Ozuna to a four-year, $65M deal a year after he probably could’ve had him for 5/70 instead of spending prospect capital on the allure of what Mazara could’ve been.

BAH GAWD, THAT’S MAZARA’S MUSIC!: I tend to think Nomar Mazara is what he is after over 2,000 Major League at bats and he’ll become Hahn’s most regrettable move of the 2019 Winter. Regrettable might not be the right choice of word, considering the cost of Steele Walker(Texas Ranger) probably has a ceiling for essentially what Mazara is right now. This just feels too much like the type of move you make when you’re a year or so out from contention, trying to catch lightening in a bottle and get a few years of cheap-ish quality labor out of a corner OF spot. The problem is that while the Sox may be a year out from REALLY contending, they went ahead and filled basically every other hole they needed to with what amounts to major upgrades, leaving a little more to be desired from the absolute pit that has been Right Field.

This is not Mazara’s fault, and maybe he does have something left to show us. I think it’s foolish to think he’ll give anything more than a .260/.315/.450 line and a wRC+ around 90 overall, and it’d have been a good idea to have a platoon to hit LHP and realize his best usage. Maybe that’s the real plan, that this is the way Garcia gets at bats after he’s moved off 2B for Madrigal in May or so. Garcia did turn in a 110 wRC+ in 183 ABs against LHP in 2019…so a combined 110 wRC+ between the two would be nearly 40 points higher than 2019 amalgamation of shit that was White Sox Right Fielders.

We’d all happily take that, especially if it’s part of a playoff formula.

 

 

Baseball

Here’s another player who fits the Sox needs almost too perfectly, so getting my hopes up that they sign him is basically folly. Let’s talk about him anyways because it’s snowing outside and what else are we gonna do on a Monday morning?

We’ve gone over ad nauseam about the pathetic output the Sox have gotten out of the RF spot the past few years, but here’s one more stat to hammer that point home: In the past 3 seasons, the White Sox are 29th out of 30 for production out of the RF spot in the major leagues.

They’ve accumulated a whopping 1.3 WAR from RF in those three years, and if Daniel Palka wasn’t playing out of his mind in 2018 this number would probably be negative. In comparison, the teams the Sox are chasing in the Central have gotten 6.9 (nice) and 12.0 respectively (Indians and Twins).

Marcell Ozuna, come on down!

Why Him?: Mostly because he’s young(ish) and hits with pop from a premium position of need for the White Sox. Last season was something of a down year for Ozuna, having a .241/.378/.472 slash line with a 110 wRC+ and 2.6 WAR. He also a +2 DRS for the Cards last season, though he split time in left and right field.

So for a right fielder those aren’t the greatest numbers in the world but even with his down season he still hit 29 bombs in a pretty cavernous Busch Stadium. He’s also only 2 years removed from a .312/.376/.548 season where he hit 37 dingers and drove in 134. In addition, he also won a gold glove that season to go along with his AS Game appearance and Silver Slugger Award.

Honestly, if he were to split the difference between last season and his 2017 one those stats alone would be enough to merit a very hard look by the Sox front office. A .275/.370/.495 line would mark the best production for the White Sox RF position since Jermaine Dye was gunning runners down from out there.

He’s also entering his age 29 season, so it’s not like the regression monster will becoming for him anytime soon. Moving from Busch stadium to The Down Arrow should also help his power numbers. With only 330 to the Sox bullpen in left as opposed to the 338 in Busch you would think that’s worth another few home runs. In short, the Sox should rectify their mistake of not attempting to trade/fleece the Marlins a few years ago by signing him to a 5 year deal.

Why Not Him?: There’s always the question of cost, as Ozuna will likely be the most expensive outfielder available on the market this winter. On top of that, the Cardinals extended him a qualifying offer last week, so any attempt to sign him will cost the Sox a draft pick (though that shouldn’t matter in the slightest, but it’s Rick Hahn).

He’s also not amazing in the outfield, but the Sox are going to have to decide if they’d rather hit the shit out of the ball or have a gold glove caliber outfield because unless you’re the Astros you can’t have both. A +25 career DRS score and a +4.7 career UZR/150 rating isn’t bad, and it’s certainly an upgrade over what the Sox had been trotting out there. Having a fully armed and operational Luis Robert patrolling center field would help as well.

Also, his facial hair is very confusing to me. What is going on here?

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend?: Fangraphs has Ozuna getting a four year deal for at total of around $70 million with an AAV of about $17.5. Assuming the Sox are always swimming upstream in the free agent market due to the ever-present cheapness of their owner I would think a 4 year deal at $19 million per season would be around his asking price.

He’s also not represented by Scott Boras, so there’s another point in the Sox favor as we all know the long an contentious history between him and Jerry Reinsdorf. The Cardinals are said to be interested in bringing Osuna back, which could potentially create a bidding war for his services though this could just be conjecture dropped by his agency to up his price.

With not much OF help available in the free agency pool in 2021 (other than Mookie Betts, and if you think the Sox will be in on signing him, I’ve got a wall in Colorado to sell and build for you) and not much in the way of assistance coming from the farm system anytime soon it would seem that Ozuna is the best option for the Sox via the open market. I’m not really interested in Nick Castellanos (even though Wes did a pretty good job of selling him to me) as he’s not an OF long term and the Sox have plenty of first baseman. Yasiel Puig could be an option, but I don’t think him and Renteria are gonna get along very well. That leaves us with Marcell, and you can do a ton worse if he’s your right fielder for the foreseeable future.

Get it done, Rick.

 

 

Baseball

Yesterday we went over the putrid recent history of what the Sox have tried to trot out at RF. I’ve save another 300 or so words and remind you that it’s a BIG NEED.

Nicholas Castellanos has been discussed, and there’s no doubt they’ll be linked with Marcell Ozuna, Kole Calhoun, etc, etc in free agency. But Rick Hahn hasn’t been shy in the past to add to his roster via trade when the opportunities on the free market aren’t to his liking (which is seemingly always since 2015). Could Hahn and KW go to an old trading partner to fill the gaping void in their outfield?

Enter the spiralling Pittsburgh Pirates and Starling Marte. The Buccos had a dreadful second half in 2019 to finish dead last in the NL Central at 69-93, claimed to be keeping manager Clint  Hurdle only to fire him a day after the season, then bounced long time GM Neil Huntington (seemingly out of nowhere) while he was conducting the search for the new manager.

Sure sounds like another rebuild coming in the Steel City, and whoa, hey, they happen to have an affordable OF vet still in his prime (kinda) that makes below market value. Make the call, Rick.

Why Him? Starling Marte is about as steady and rounded as they come, a 31 year old OF with at least 3.0 WAR in six of seven seasons he’s played dating back to 2013. Marte is in the 20/20 club for HR/SB the last two years, and has over 20 steals in seven straight seasons, going over 30 all but twice. So he’s got pop, he can run, and while he doesn’t take many walks he also only strikes out in about 18% of PAs and hasn’t been under .312 BABIP in the last three seasons. Marte could slot in pretty much anywhere in the top half of the Sox lineup and greatly improve this team.

Best of all? unlike his freely available counterparts on the open market, he’s a savvy fielder. Marte has won multiple gold gloves and while he’s had a bit of a decline in the field in 2019 in Center, he’d be able to move over to RF while Engel handles CF until Luis Robert debuts in May. If they wanted/needed him to cover CF he’s also got that versatility. No matter how you look at it, Marte improves the defense.

His contract is another plus, as he’s going to earn an affordable $11.5M this season, with another team option at $12.5M next year ($1M buyout). Castellanos and Ozuna are likely to get something for 4-5 years and around $14M-$18M per year. Marte represents a more valuable commitment, 2 years at $24M and the opportunity to qualify him an offer after that for an arguably similar/better player.

You know Jerry loves him a smaller number, every time.

Why Not Him? That one year he didn’t reach 3.0 WAR was because he was suspended for 80 games for PEDs. He claimed it was an accident, of course, but there remains the threat that he could get that second strike and be banned for a full 162 next time. Probably not too concerning, but it’s there.

2019 also saw Marte’s worst defensive season, by far. He went from 5.2 dWAR in 2018 to -5.7 dWAR in 2019, which on the surface looks pretty damn concerning. He’s clearly still got the speed, though, and based on the the JUMP stat (this is a real thing, I promise) that tracks how well OFs read and react to fly balls he was ranked ninth best in the league. Marte has a strong case for positive regression in 2020 in the field, and I’m willing to chalk this up to the Pirates being weird and playing their OF real shallow because they’re idiots. Fight me. At worst he likely needs to be moved off CF and to a corner, which the Sox can accommodate.

There really isn’t issue on the offensive side, but if we’re picking nits his low walk rate would mean that any kind of decline with the bat would be a sharp one. There isn’t any indicator that will happen, but stranger things and all that. You also might appreciate more than ~20 HR from your RF. He’s right handed, so this doesn’t check off the LH impact bat, but if they fucking sign Grandal already everyone can worry less about handedness.

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend? Herein lies the biggest problem with the idea of Marte – the Pirates don’t need to deal him, and the latest word is they aren’t looking to. Huntington no longer being in charge is also a bummer, as he’s probably out of a job for all the horrific trades he’s been on the wrong side of lately (Ivan Nova notwithstanding).

Still, there is history between these clubs and any remaining scouts are likely familiar with what the Sox have to peddle. Say Reynaldo Lopez straight up, or if that’s too rich for you maybe a package of Blake Rutherford and Dane Dunning. This shouldn’t cost any of the top youths, and if they ask for Jonathan Stiever I’m helping to pack his bags. The Sox won’t be the only interested party, so they can’t really afford to posture on middle tier prospects if the Pirates get serious about making a deal.

In an offseason with little to get excited about for free agent OFs, Marte represents the Sox best option available – if he actually is, you know, available.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cardinals 20-11   Cubs 16-12

GAMETIMES: Friday 1:20, Saturday 3:05, Sunday 6:05

TV: NBCSN Friday, WGN Saturday, ESPN Sunday (Oh boy)

GROSS: Viva El Birdos

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Jack Flaherty vs. Kyle Hendricks

Michael Wacha vs. Yu Darvish

Adam Wainwright vs. Jose Quintana

PROBABLE CARDINALS LINEUP

Matt Carpenter – 3B

Paul Goldschmidt – 1B

Paul DeJong – SS

Marcel Ozuna – LF

Jose Martinez – RF

Yadier Molina – C

Kolten Wong – 2B

Harrison Bader – CF

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Daniel Descalso – 2B

Kris Bryant – 3B

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Willson Contreras – C

Ben Zobrist – RF

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Jason Heyward – CF

 

And now to it. The first invasion of the unwashed and illiterate from West East St. Louis, as the Cubs and Cardinals test out each other for the first time at the top of the Central Division. The Cardinals loaded up with Paul Goldschmidt this winter, and while the Brewers may crow about last season, it was the Cubs the Cardinals had in mind for what they had to overhaul. And even with the horrific start, the season’s first month has borne that out.

The Cardinals are baseball’s hottest team at the moment, winning eight of their last 10. Goldy has been the juice to the offense the Cards hoped, as they’re second in runs, third in OBP, and fourth in wOBA. But he’s not doing it alone. Paul DeJong is slugging nearly .600 and playing excellently in the field which is the real upset. Marcell Ozuna has been the player the Cards thought they were trading for last year. Even Dexter Fowler has returned from the dead, or being a sleeper spy, and his managing a 133 wRC+. Goldschmidt is Goldschmidt, and he’ll be in the top-10 of the MVP picture because that’s just a thing that he does.

How much of this is real? Fowler’s .407 BABIP would suggest that’s mirage. DeJong is getting serious rub of the green as well so far. But Wong, Goldy, Ozuna, and even Harrison Bader are probably doing this most if not all the season. The wooden spoon in the lineup so far is former stalwart Matt Carpenter, who has made starting slowly something of a signature move at this point. Then he’ll hit 25 homers June-August before going back into the toilet (really anywhere in STL) for the season’s last month. Also he’s a performance art piece at third.

The rotation though might be as big of a problem as the offense is a force. Flaherty is striking out over 10 hitters per nine, but he can’t seem to keep the ball in the park and he doesn’t get a ton of grounders. His HR/FB rate won’t stay at near 25% all season but seeing as how half the contact he’s giving up has been of the hard variety, this could be a problem all season. Especially if everything is in the air. Adam Wainwright is a million years old and is having some of the same control problems he did last year as he can’t miss bats the way he used to. Michael Wacha is also in need of a GPS, and seems destined to always break your heart (or entertain you endlessly, if you hate the Cardinals like most of the world). Last year’s hero Miles Mikolas can’t get anyone out and is giving up twice the homers he did last year, at least at that pace. Sometimes when you don’t miss bats this is what happens. There’s some asshole named Dakota taking starts. This will be an issue for the Cards all season, even if Mikolas straightens out.

The pen has been able to bail them out. Jordan Hicks is finally more than just a ridiculous fastball that people still hit anyway. John Gant has a 0.90 ERA. Something named John Brebbia has also been a weapon. There are two other guys averaging more than 10Ks per nine innings, and neither of them is Andrew Miller. Miller has been better of late but has spent most of the year spraying deliveries around like an Uzi. Perhaps it was a good idea to not hand him a multi-year deal after he showed decline and injury problems last year.

For the Cubs, they’ll need Hendricks to find it again and Darvish to build on the last four innings of his last outing, otherwise the Cards can sprint out in games in a hurry. Hendricks’s first inning problems against Goldschmidt today isn’t exactly settling the stomach. But the Cubs should also get some runs off this outfit.

A sweep puts the Cubs in first. Just sayin’…