Baseball

I was hoping when I wrote up the analysis of what could be done with the lineup after Eloy went down with a torn pectoral muscle back in March that it would be the last time I would have to do such a thing. What a fool I was.

Last night, the worst case scenario was confirmed by Rick Hahn about the status of Luis Robert going forward this season after he went down like he was shot beating out an infield single in the loss to Cleveland on Sunday. Diagnosed with a grade 3 strain of his hip flexor (an odd way of saying he completely tore the entire tendon from the hip bone), Robert will not even begin to work on any baseball activities for 12-16 weeks, let alone be on a rehab assignment. Even on the most optimistic of timelines, he wouldn’t be back on the field before late September at best.

In reality however, the greater concern for him will be his range of motion and overall mobility going forward. The player that immediately came to my mind when I heard the diagnosis was Bo Jackson. While not the same injury (Jackson had his hip dislocated while being tackled from behind, which resulted in damage to the blood supply to his entire hip and caused avascular necrosis), the fears of a reduced level of athleticism for him is real. There are two body parts in baseball that when injured are almost impossible to play through. The back is one and the hips are the other. Everything he does is either powered by or enabled by motion through the hips. If they aren’t returned to full functionality with healing and rehab this could be career-altering.

So first and foremost is hoping that Luis can come back completely healthy and mobile. After we take that into consideration, now we ponder the second half of this equation: What do the Sox do from here and how can they plug that ginormous hole left behind?

As it stands, the White Sox have 1.5 functioning outfielders on their roster. I only count Billy Hamilton as .5 of one, because until he can hit above a .225 average (something he hasn’t been able to do since 2018) he’s nothing more than a defensive replacement for whichever 1st baseman LaRussa currently has in left field. Also, calling Adam Eaton a functioning OF is being fairly generous, as he’s gone into a tailspin at the plate since the 3rd week of April. Adam Engel is also at least 3 weeks away, as he’s had a setback in recovering from his hamstring strain with zero guarantee he wouldn’t turn around and hurt it again with the way he plays. Leury Garcia can play a decent center field, but you also need him to fill in when Moncada, Anderson and Madrigal need a breather. So internal options are limited/nonexistent.

Down in the minor leagues, the closest thing to a major league ready prospect (and I use that term as loose as Robert’s hip muscles currently are) is Micker Adolfo, who’s only spent 90 plate appearances above single A ball, and slashed .205/.337/.632 at AA Birmingham. Unless he’s hiding some superpowers that he’s yet to make apparent, he’s not the answer at all. Yoelqui Cespedes has yet to take an at bat on North American soil, so hoping he could step in is futile as well.

The free agent pool outside of Yasil Puig is drier than the Sahara, and at this point if Puig remains unsigned there’s probably a damn good reason for it. This leaves the Sox one viable option, and that’s the trade market.

Unfortunately for the Sox, everyone on the planet now knows they’re in the market for outfield help so the asking price automatically goes up. In addition to that, the trade market in early May is notoriously slow, and for good reason. Really no teams have been eliminated this early, and the ones that are realistic about their chances probably don’t have much that the Sox would want anyways, or they’re smart enough to try and wait until the deadline where they could conceivably start a bidding war for whoever’s services they’re selling. This is why I’m not going to include Kris Bryant on this list, as if the Cubs have two functioning neurons left they know the asking price can be tripled at the deadline for him. All that being said, here’s the more realistic possibilities for Rick Hahn to pursue:

 

Joey Gallo – Rangers

.234/.410/.351 3HR/11 RBI/130 wRC+

The first one here also makes the most sense, and probably should’ve happened at the exact same time Rick Hahn traded for Lance Lynn. While Gallo has only hit 3 home runs thus far, his .410 OBP would slide right into the middle of a Sox lineup that leads the AL in the category. The power hasn’t shown up yet, but some of that could be attributed to pitchers refusing to give him anything to hit due to zero protection in a moribund Rangers lineup. Gallo has 2 years of team control after this one, and being that they’re the higher end of the arbitration years they could be pretty expensive, thus lowering the asking price. In addition, keeping him around in 2022 and 23 solves the RF problem if/when Luis returns to the height of his powers.

 

Charlie Blackmon – Rockies

.198/.323/.632 1 HR/12 RBI/67 wRC+

The option that would cost the Sox not much in terms of prospects and moreso just money (and therefore the least likely to happen) would be Blackmon. While Blackmon has gotten off to a terrible start as evidenced above, he has an all-star pedigree backing him up. Just last year he slashed .303/.356/.804 so the ability is still there, and as Nolan Arenado is proving this year the splits away from the space station environment that is Coors Field isn’t what it used to be. With him still having 2 years left on his deal and earning $21 million in 2022 it wouldn’t take much more than a willingness to eat his salary to pry him loose from a Rockies team that’s hell-bent on a rebuild.

 

Starling Marte – Marlins

.310/.414/.897 2 HR/8 RBI/141 wRC+

The tastiest option on this list is also the most problematic. Marte is in the final year of his deal with the Marlins and has already said he wants to test the free agent waters in 2022, making his trade from the Fish very likely. The only issue is that he’s currently sitting on the IL with a fractured rib, and is not likely to return to action until the first week of June at the earliest. Despite that, it probably wouldn’t affect the asking price much since the Fish would realistically get him back long before the trade deadline with plenty of time to build his value back up. The cost for this 4-5 month rental will be the steepest out of all of these, and probably the most pie-in-the-sky. That being said, if you want an impact player than can not only hit but play the position vacated by Luis Robert then Marte fits the bill perfectly.

 

The question then remains what (if anything) Rick Hahn is willing to give up. With the threat of a lost season in 2022 due to a labor stoppage most likely spearheaded by the skinflint owner of the White Sox, are we willing to wait around 2 years to see this team at the height of their powers?

As it stands now, the Sox have enough pitching and hitting to easily keep them  in the mix with Minnesota and Cleveland. With Eloy projected to return to the team before the playoffs begin, there’s no reason to think that they couldn’t snag a Wild Card spot bare minimum. Hahn can talk about “windows of contention” all he likes, but the fact of the matter is that the Sox traded a starting pitcher in Dane Dunning (who fits that window perfectly) for one year for Lance Lynn. He’s pushed some of his chips in now, and in my opinion it’s time to toss the rest in. I don’t want to wait until 2023 when he has the excuse of a Giolito extension to not add again.

No more waiting, Get it done.

 

 

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: Cubs 64-57   Pirates 50-70

GAMETIMES: Friday 6:05, Saturday 12:35, Sunday (In Williamsport) 6:10

TV: WGN Friday, ABC 7 Saturday, ESPN Sunday (oh boy)

THE ALREADY DEAD: Bucs Dugout

I can’t decide if it’s better that the Cubs get right back at it tonight at whatever the fuck that was in Philly or if they should have to stew on it for a day, like a child sent to his room. The fear is that whatever hangover/malaise/soul-death is emanating from those three games carries over and the Cubs continue to play like the undead. Which still might be enough against this outfit, as the Pirates have called it a season but keep showing up because it’s mandated. Fuck, both of these teams feel like they’re here this weekend merely because they have to be.

This series takes place in two locations, as Sunday night they’ll decamp for Williamsport to add to The Little League World Series, which in no way has gotten creepy and weird tanks to television and sponsor money. It also could be considered child abuse to make kids watch the Pirates right now.

Because this team is a bloated carcass being poked with a stick some kids found. They’ve gone 11-27 over the past six weeks, put up a 4-18 stretch after the break and clearly just want things to be over. They’re fighting with each other and their coaches. When they’re not doing that they’re fighting with other teams. Or they’re throwing at people, leading to the aforementioned bullshit. In the middle, they suck at actual baseball. Or at least they suck at pitching it.

The offense has been somewhat ok over the last month. Bryan Reynolds and Starling Marte have hit over .330 in that span. Josh Bell has cooled off but can still pop here and there. The rest of the infield is a major issue, as Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, and Adam Frazier are basically taking cardboard up to bat right now. Get through the outfielders and Bell, and this team can’t really hurt you.

The pitching staff is where the fun starts. With Jameson Taillon now down for good and for next year as well, there’s just no frontline starter here. They are “guys” at best, with Chris Archer decomposing in front of everyone’s eyes. The Cubs will see Musgrove, Brault, and Keller, the latter of which has some eye-popping numbers at AAA but is far from the finished product. Brault is just back from the IL and has been getting turned into pudding since. There are no monsters here.

It’s even better in the pen, where everyone hates Felipe Vasquez because he’s actually good and the rest are Kingston coal bags. Michael Feliz has been all right over the past month, but the rest of the crew have hitters sprinting to the plate. And apparently Kyle Crick and Keone Kela are raging assholes that have the rest of the team unable to wait to get to their offseason homes. A very healthy outfit here.

Which should make it the perfect tonic for the Cubs, who haven’t won a road series since there was snow on the ground. If they can’t get it together, no matter the morale, against this collection of fuckwits and dipshits for at least two wins, you can give up hope. The Pirates are begging for it to be over and would just like you to help them along to the back of the barn where they can be put out of their misery.

The Cubs should get Brandon Kintzler back this weekend, and Craig Kimbrel shouldn’t be far behind. It won’t feel good, but take all three from this roadkill and it’s a .500 road trip and you can at least argue it’s a starting point. Otherwise, what the fuck are we even doing here?

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Pirates 5-3   Cubs 2-7

GAMETIMES: Monday 1:20, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:05

TV: ABC Monday, WGN Wednesday, NBCSN Chicago Thursday

THE CONFLUENCE: Bucs Dugout

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Jameson Taillon vs. Jon Lester

Jordan Lyles vs. Yu Darvish

Joe Musgrove vs. Jose Quintana

Probable Pirates Lineup

Adam Frazier – 2B

Starling Marter – CF

Francisco Cervelli – C

Josh Bell – 1B

Piece Of Shit – 3B

Melky Cabrera – RF

JB Shuck – LF

Erik Gonzalez – SS

(note: the Bucs haven’t faced a lefty this year so not sure how that will change. Frazier and Shuck likely come out for Kevin Newman and Pablo Reyes). 

Cubs Lineup

Ben Zobrist – RF

Kris Bryant – 3B

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Willson Contreras – C

Daniel Descalso – 2B

Jason Heyward – CF

Well, this should be quite the atmosphere, no? Not only is it the first time Cubs fans will congregate since Tom Ricketts sat on the front office’s hands for them, as well as bitched about the money they don’t have while opening up exclusive clubs left and right in Wrigley, but the Cubs decided to put extra hot sauce on this one by biffing their opening road trip to the tune of a 2-7 record. Usually Opening Day is one big hug. This one is going to have some grinding teeth.

Then again, there’s always grinding teeth when the Pirates are involved, as they can’t seem to shake their hold-me-back ways. They kicked it off this season when Chris Archer filled his diaper yesterday after Derek Dietrich stared at a home run, one that landed somewhere near Harrisburg, so Archer threw behind him. The Pirates got put in their place of course when Yasiel Puig wanted to fight them all and no one had the tires to take him up on the offer. Then again, would you?

It seems the Bucs are always a tightly-wound bunch placing chips on their own shoulders. It’s an organization that is always Sean Rodriguez beating up a cooler, making a big show of doing nothing. And that’s what the Pirates do, nothing. Their owner can’t be bothered to augment what should be a pretty good team, and he hasn’t in five seasons now. They collect their revenue sharing, put just enough of a product out there where you squint and see a contender with one or two moves that never come. And then we do it all over again the next season.

Because this team could be good. It throws a hell of a starting staff at you, with budding star Taillon, Archer, Trevor Williams, and Musgrove (part of the Gerrit Cole deal). It’s not the best rotation, but it isn’t far off, and it comes with a lot of angry fastballs. Some of them aren’t even at hitters!

The pen hasn’t started the year sending hearts aflutter. Felipe Vasquez is always a real problem, but no one else there has been able to find the plate (it can happen to others, people). If you’re bringing out Francisco Liriano from the bullpen, you’ve pretty much admitted you’re ready for an adventure every day. They strike a lot of people out (everyone does but the Cubs), but they don’t get there easily.

The lineup is very boom-or-bust right now, though getting six games in against whatever the Reds are tossing out there certainly is a help. Adam Frazier, Josh Bell, and old friend Melky Cabrera are crushin’ fools left and right so far on the nascent season. Marte, Cervelli, and Kang are wandering lost in the woods. Let’s just be relieved there’s no Christian Yelich here.

The Cubs will be lucky to get two of these in, as Wednesday night’s forecast looks especially gross. Probably should move that one up to the off-day tomorrow, but I also can’t remember when a game was actually moved up a day. After seeing two division winners last week, the Cubs get 12 games against teams that aren’t supposed to be anything more than middling. Maybe they can get healthy that way.

Albert Almora seems to have already lost his starting job in center, as Heyward has moved over the past couple days to accommodate Descalso at second. Is that where Ian Happ will go eventually? Who knows? Maybe Joe Maddon is just riding the Heyward wave. They don’t last long so you have to.

Enough of this happy horseshit. Time to get the season back on track.