Baseball

The first roster-fringe player we cover on our 2020 Sox Preview series is Zack Collins. While there is not a guarantee that Collins will make the Opening Day roster, he probably should get a good long look before the Sox decide to burn another option and send him down to AAA for however long, as he has very little left to prove in the minors. In a world without James McCann, Collins would be the obvious backup catcher, but as long as McCann is here Collins’ roster spot is in a bit of doubt. But we will touch on that. Let’s dig in

2019 MLB Stats

27 GP, .186/.307/.349, 3 HR, 12 RBI

-0.3 fWAR, -0.2 bWAR, -0.3 WARP

13.7 BB%, 38.8 K%

.285 wOBA, 77 wRC+ .656 OPS

-4 DRS, -3.1 FRAA

Last Week on Nitro: Collins spent most of 2019 in AAA, where his numbers were infinitely better than that drivel above us. I listed his MLB stats because, as I said in the open, he has almost nothing left to prove in the minors and should be an MLB player moving forward. But don’t let those rough stats from limited action as a rookie scare you off – Collins’ slash line in 88 AAA games was a much more encouraging .282/.403/.548 with 19 HR and 74 RBI, good for a .401 wOBA and 140 wRC+. Among the most encouraging aspects of Collins’ numbers at all levels of the minors and even his short MLB spell is the walk-rate and OBP, as that 13.7% he posted in the bigs last year counts as the lowest that number has been for him at any level of the minors. Collins simply does not chase bad pitching, forcing pitchers to come into the zone where he is a legitimate threat to take them deep on every pitch.

Another reason you can quite easily disregard any concern that could come from looking at those 2019 MLB stats is the way Rick Renteria used Collins when he was first called up. Despite the fact that the Sox had no one on the MLB roster who could serve as a reliable DH, Ricky kept Collins out of the everyday lineup and only had him playing sporadically every 3-to-5 days, and two of his first eight appearances (including his freakin’ MLB debut) came as nothing more than a pinch hitter. Going from an everyday impact bat in the minors to bench piece is a tough situation to be in when you’re also trying to adjust to MLB pitching. Obviously that was still when McCann was one of the Sox best hitters, but it was still poorly handled, in my opinion.

There are a few concerns about Collins’ future in the bigs, but I don’t think his 2019 should lose you any sleep.

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): The best case scenario for Collins in 2020 is that some catcher elsewhere in MLB gets hurt and the Sox are able to trade McCann to fill that void, opening up the roster spot for Collins to walk into. There is a legitimate case to be made that Collins is a better fit for the 2020 Sox’ roster than McCann, anyway. With the presence of Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion, and Yasmani Grandal, all of whom hit lefties extremely well and should never sit when the Sox are facing a lefty, McCann is kinda crowded out of the only lineup where it makes sense to play him consistently. On the flip side, Collins absolutely raked righties throughout his MiLB career and in a perfect world might even feature in a lineup vs RHP over Abreu, although now we are just dreaming.

Regardless of McCann’s presence on the roster, Collins needs to spend significant time at the MLB level in 2020, and the ideal outcome would be that he gets platooned almost exclusively into those lineups vs RHP. That would eliminate a huge weakness from Collins’ game immediately. The walk rate is far from a concern, though you definitely want to see the K-rate come crashing down. He’s never struck out at a rate lower than 24.4% in the minors, but being below 30% is all I ask. Getting him into those RHP lineups on a semi-consistent basis and bringing the K-rate down should allow him to bump that OBP up closer to .350, and if he starts putting the bat on the ball more he is going to hit very hard and very far, so the slugging percentage will be nice as well. No, I don’t give a shit about his batting average.

Lastly, an ideal 2020 sees Collins’ work with his good buddy Grandal behind the plate take him from a downright liability at the backstop to a reliable backup option. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The nightmare outcome for Collins’ 2020 season is that it ends up looking an awful lot like his 2019 did. You don’t need a hell of a lot out of a backup catcher, but when you draft a guy in the first round of the MLB draft because his best position is hitter, you need to see that hitter come through. I don’t think he will ever stop walking, but if he can’t at least make more contact he will never really get to take advantage of all his power, and he will probably need to have at least a .210 average to really let his OBP be any semblance of productive. If 2020 looks like 2019 and he stays below the Mendoza line, the walking will only be worth so much.

I don’t actually think his fielding will get worse, but if he doesn’t improve behind the plate there could be some major problems.

BAH GAWD THAT’S COLLINS’ MUSIC: I think that at some point in the season, McCann will no longer be the primary backup catcher for the White Sox and Collins will take over that mantle, either via McCann getting traded or the Sox just doing the prudent thing from a organizational future standpoint, prioritizing the young controllable player instead of the pending free agent. Collins could also end up being the backup 1B and DH, giving Ricky three different ways to work him into lineups at various times throughout the year and get him more consistent at bats.

In terms of results, I would expect Collins line to wind up more in he realm of a .220/.350/.450 kinda player, as I really believe that even getting above .200 on the average will turn Collins into a damn near elite OBP guy. I still think he will strike out too much – more than the ideal 30% mark I said in best case – and that will prevent him from getting to all of his power, but he should hit 15-20 dingers if he appears in 60+ games. Unless his defense vastly improves, it will bring his WAR metrics down, but I think he can still be worth 1.0 to 1.5 wins in a semi-regular backup role in 2020.

Previous Player Previews

Yasmani Grandal

James McCann

Baseball

James McCann finds himself in a new world of a different kind in 2020: Backup Catcher, staring at the high likelihood of not reaching 100 games played for the first time in his career since his short debut at the end of 2014. McCann’s 2019 was a pleasant surprise, a torrid start helping to see him to setting career highs with 118 GP, 120 hits, 62 R, 26 2B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 30 BB, .273/.328/.460/.789 batting line en route to an All-Star nod and a place in Sox fan’s hearts. What did he get for his breakout? a one year, $5.4M deal and a seat on the bench behind new starting backstop/pitch framer extraordinaire Yasmani Grandal. I feel like James isn’t gonna like the dip in GP heading into certain free agency this winter…

2019 Stats

.273/.328/.460, 18 HR, 60 RBI

2.3 fWAR, 3.8 bWAR, 1.0 WARP

6.3 BB%, 28.8 K%

.333 wOBA, 109 wRC+ .789 OPS

5 DRS, -10.2 FRAA, 11th-percentile framing

Last Week On Nitro: James found himself non-tendered by his previous employers in Detroit in the winter of 2018. He’d just come out of the worst season of his short career (57 wRC+) and the the Tigers decided the continued rebuild could do with any other backstop, allowing the 2nd-year arbitration eligible McCann to sign a one year, $2.5M contract with the rival White Sox. McCann sure did go about rubbing Detroit’s nose in it, scorching out of the gates on his way to an All-Star appearance and the aforementioned career marks all over the stat sheet. McCann’s intangibles were also deeply felt at the Arrow, with quick comfort and bonds with Lucas Giolito and others on the pitching staff helping to create some consistency and positive clubhouse culture from a position with a great deal of turnover for the Pale Hose. This all earned him another one year pact, avoiding his final arbitration chance for a cool $5.4M.

The bright lights would fade, though. McCann turned in a 133 wRC+ through the first 61 games and slowly reverted back towards his norm in the final 55 with a 83 wRC+ mark and stark regressions everywhere but in the power department (9 HR in each segment). Stark regression (sick fake band name) to his BB/K ratios and BABIP contributed to the swift end to the party and erased the thin veneer masking his near-league worst framing skills. Rick Hahn and Co., in somewhat of a shocker, decided not to bank on McCann finding a way back to his first half season glory and inked C Yasmani Grandal to the richest free agent contract in team history. Thanks for the good will and early season stat spikes, here’s about 40% of the playing time and double the pay for your troubles.

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): The good news is we don’t have to try to project what a full McCann follow up might look like on account of having his playing time slashed to pieces. Shortly after the Grandal signing, there were many easily connectable dots to see a fun timeshare to be had between C-1B-DH among those on the roster in the form of McCann, Grandal, Jose Abreu and Zack Collins. McCann likely would have found his way to at least half a season’s worth of games, give or take, or more when you factor in that familiarity with the staff and team already in house. Then Christmas came and Edwin Encarnacion came with it, and any idea of a fun little timeshare with plenty of PT to go around went out the window.

You can safely expect McCann to be more of what he was in Sept/Oct 2019 throughout his reserve role in 2020, and a .250/.315/.460 and a BABIP closer to .300 is a very palatable line to get from your second catcher. Development and the signings of Grandal and EE make relying on McCann’s bat moot, something that even he should be feeling relaxed about, so he can focus on his real deficiencies. The area that McCann can really improve his worth is by becoming something more than literally the bottom of the league in pitch framing.

Those FRAA and 11th-percentile framing ranks are absolutely unacceptable for any team trying to win in the MLB and McCann seemed to realize, whether it was before the Grandal signing or the seconds after it was announced, that he needed to do all he could to improve in this area. He’s taken the steps this offseason to put the time in and work exclusively on his framing, and having a full spring training and season with Grandal will likely help the 31 year old backstop improve his abilities and his market value. Anything he can do to continue to help the development of the young starters and bullpen arms on the pitching staff will help McCann and the team.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: Keeping with the theme here, the Grandal and EE signings and overall development within the organization has shielded the team against having to deal with a “worst case scenario” involving James McCann. The Sox don’t need the McCann from the first 60 games last year, they don’t need him to sway nearly 20 homers and drive in gobs of runs and set career marks across his stat line. They also don’t need to worry about what to do in the event he craters to 2018 57 wRC+ levels because they actually went out and got ahead of that exact potential problem.

Is this really the White Sox we’re talking about?? The absolute worst case scenario is Grandal going down with a serious injury, McCann reverting to his non-tender campaign offense and failing to have any of the offseason framing work pay off. That would be a real fucking Rube Goldberg machine worth of catastrophes to get us anywhere close to that kind of scenario. No, this is a rare occasion where the Sox put themselves in position to deal with some sort of awful chain of events without having the bottom fall completely out.

McCann would pretty much have to pout to Chris Sale/Adam Eaton Drake LaRoche-era levels for us to hit a “worst case scenario” on his season. Progress!

BAH GAWD THAT’S McCANN’S MUSIC!: McCann got his island in the sun moments last summer, and he seems pretty damn pleased with it all. The guy has gotten a bunch of PT, albeit on some pretty atrocious teams, and gotten paid to do so, and he finally might be a part of something special. Would he like to keep playing 110 games/year? Sure. But I bet James McCann is pretty excited to be on a team with playoff aspirations for the first time in his entire career, too.

McCann hasn’t complained or shown any attitude with his change in role, at least not publicly. If he can pitch in a solid OBP and show improvement on his pitch framing he might find himself getting closer to 60+ games. Abreu and EE are going to need days off, Grandal can’t catch 140+. McCann still has plenty to prove for another contract and possibly a shot at a starting gig elsewhere in the future, but he’ll be needed this season with this team. Hopefully he can embrace that and succeed with the at bats and innings he’s given, and if not, well, it’s really just not that big of a deal.

Baseball

Jose Abreu and the White Sox did what we all thought they were going to do and agreed to a multi-year contract in lieu of the qualifying offer the Cuban first baseman accepted just over a week ago. With his countryman Yasmani Grandal now in the fold too, Abreu’s signing makes things more complicated than the QO reality of a few days ago.

The three-year, $50M pact was met with a mostly collective “sure. cool. whatever.” Not everyone was willing to congratulate Abreu and look ahead in what’s become a pretty active early off-season for the Sox, though. A vocal sect of media and fans are a bit sour on going to a three-year commitment with the streaky 32 year-old slugger when the team had him for one year, seemingly the preferred position from an analytical standpoint.

But this deal isn’t really about analytics, and if you can’t see the intangibles at play you’re really not even trying. Abreu and Jerry Reinsdorf apparently have a pretty great relationship, because his new paper represents the same kind of loyalty that Jerry shows his front office. Abreu has done a lot to keep the Sox relevant through the failed runs earlier in the decade and the subsequent tear down and rebuild they find themselves in at the end of it. Declining wRC+ be damned, Jerry decided he was going to welcome Jose into the family.

So is this going to be the regret that the un-silent minority thinks it is? Are the leadership and RBI binges, Cuban mentor/ambassador qualities all enough to justify the term/dollars? Is it really even that much in dollars? What does it mean for the future at first base and DH, specifically Andrew Vaughn?

First, the doom-and-gloom outlook. Yes, Abreu hasn’t been the same hitter the last two years that he was in his first four stateside. He dealt with many a nagging injury in 2018, but his 116 wRC+ across 2018-19 is more than 20 points worse than his 2014-17 average of 139. Sure, a continued decline is a possibility for a slugger on the fringes of his prime. But the underlying numbers say his 2019 wasn’t as bad as the surface suggests (highest hard-hit rate in his career, 2nd highest barrel rate) and FanGraphs Steamer projections have him at 32/89/.332 for 2020. Another addition to the lineup via RF could help improve/protect Abreu further as he ages.

The 3/$50M price looks a bit rough, again, on the surface, but I don’t need to delve further into how Abreu is the heart of this team, looked up to by many of the young players set to take the Sox to the next level. Eloy said he’s like a father. Yeah, an $18M cheerleader doesn’t look great in 2022, but the dollars here are all more complicated than they appear as well. Abreu will collect on that $50M, but he won’t see the last payment of it until 2026 with $4M in deferred money. Add to that a $5M signing bonus, and the deal is actually $11M/’20, $16M/’21, $14M/’18 for 3/$41. This could’ve definitely been worse in terms of loyalty deals, and as stated Abreu might justify this with his bat regardless.

So where does that bat fit across these next three seasons? This is where it gets interesting. The Sox don’t lack for players that will push Abreu through this deal, especially with Grandal onboard through ’23. Abreu, Grandal, James McCann, Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes look like they’re set to create a timeshare between 1B/DH/C in 2020. 2019 third overall pick Andrew Vaughn looks set to push for work with the big club by the end of 2020 but you can argue they’ve got plenty of cover to keep him in minors regardless, barring injury to at least two of those five; and even that would have to coincide with Vaughn forcing the issue in a major way with his bat. Like with Eloy, Robert, and Nick Madrigal the Sox have shown they’re willing to let the kids marinate. Maybe it’s different if they’re pushing for the playoffs, but that’s a bridge to be crossed when it approaches.

So what of the two years beyond next season? Well, while everyone wants Vaughn, or even Gavin Sheets for that matter, to force the issue we all know nothing is certain. So Vaughn can’t just be expected to be mashing in the MLB by the end of 2020. Given the track record, there are many worse options than having Abreu, with the aforementioned contingent, making up the playing time at first base. This gets real muddy if Eloy can’t stay in the field, but with reports that he’s headed to winterball this week to specifically work on his defense (“his goal is to win a Gold Glove in the MLB” says Hector Gomez) he appears seriously committed to improving that aspect of his game and staying in Left.

Basically, you can’t sort out how to deal with Abreu and his time at 1B/DH and who else is pushing for those ABs until they get there. And the Sox absolutely need him in 2020 at the very least, and at first for the most part. Easing him into more DH time helps the team solve its problems there as well, possibly to the point of moving him there full time by the end of this deal. 30 HR and a 116 wRC+ from the DH position in ’21-22 would be the best DH season Sox fans have seen in…half a decade? longer?

Rick Hahn has also been a pretty complimentary of Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes since the end of the season, going as far as to protect former AAA Rule 5 draftee Mercedes with a 40-man spot after a strong offensive season in Charlotte’s bandbox of a stadium. Collins very well could find himself in another organization if the right(fielder) fit is available via trade. I’d think they look to dangle guys like Collins, Sheets, Blake Rutherford, players they know have tough paths to real roles with this team that could help improve them elsewhere. If you’re banking of using Abreu as a bridge to Vaughn, six years of control on Collins might be better used by another team, but 2020 will also see the addition of a 26th roster spot – conceivably making room for everyone for a year, at least (whether that space is best used for a 1B/DH/C collective is probably a whole other post).

If you want to get crazy maybe Vaughn himself becomes expendable for a Mookie Betts deal, but I’d sooner expect the Bears to win the Super Bowl this season. Vaughn is a part of the plan moving forward, Abreu deal or not. Collins is the guy who just had his path to more at bats immediately affected by the signings last week. Maybe Abreu invited him to the celebration in Miami before he changes teams. It’s the least he could do for making him expendable.

Baseball

2019 Stats

.186/.307/.349

3 HR 12 RBI

13.7 BB% 38.2 K%

.285 wOBA 77 wRC+ .656 OPS

-4 Defensive Runs Saved

 

Tell Me A Story: While not on the same level of anticipation for the likes of Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins’ minor league career was watched very closely this season with the expectation he would be up and making a difference with the big club sooner rather than later. The waiting game ended on the 19th of June when Beef Welington went on the IL with some type of brain damage and Collins’ contract was purchased by the White Sox, officially putting him on the 40-man roster.

The expectation among sportswriters, bloggers, and fans alike was that Collins would be getting ample playing time at catcher, first base and designated hitter. What would the point of him being up at the major league level if not to see what he can do? In Collins’ first full game against the Rangers on the 21st of June, he showed just a taste of what he could do by smoking an Ariel Jurado fastball just right of dead center in Arlington (estimated at 445, no cheapie) for his first ever major league hit and home run.

Unfortunately that would be the only highlight of his first stint in the majors, as he played less than half the time before he was sent back down to Charlotte on July 14th. During that three-week span that he was up, Collins only started in seven of a possible 21 games, losing playing time and at-bats to White Sox legends like AJ Reed and Yonder Alonso. Why did the White Sox call up Collins and start his service time clock to park him on the bench 66% of the time? I honestly have no idea, and I have a sneaking suspicion neither does Rick Hahn or Renteria. Hahn would later claim that they saw something wrong with his approach at the plate and banished him back to AAA to work on it.

Credit where it’s due, after being sent down to Charlotte to work on that nebulous issue Collins began to absolutely rake at the plate. He slashed .281/.403(!)/.951 the rest of his time down there until he was inevitably called back up during roster expansion this past September. After being called back up, Collins got consistent playing time the rest of the month, both behind the plate and at 1B. He started out slowly after his return, but caught his stride the last 12 games of the season, hitting .293 with an .882 OPS and just under half of his hits being the extra base variety.

Behind the plate, Collins seemed to struggle to manage the game effectively. Runners stole bases on him at will, only being caught 11% of the time. He was at least able to keep the ball in front of him, however, only accounting for one passed ball which makes him look like a young Pudge Rodriguez compared to Welington Castillo. Granted he only started 6 games at catcher after being recalled, which again is kind of weird considering the Sox would certainly want to see what he has defensively if he’s going to be in the mix for catching in The Future™.

Contract: Team control next season, arbitration eligible 2023. Base salary is $550,000

Welcome Back or Boot In The Ass: Unless there’s a team out there who tosses an offer Rick Hahn’s way that he absolutely cannot ignore, Collins is coming back to the Sox in 2020 and will most likely be with the big club the entire season.

The main question concerning Collins’ playing time will be answered here shortly in December at the winter meetings. If Hahn is able to secure a player like Yasmani Grandal to play with the White Sox in 2020, Zack Collins’ positional future is gonna be in flux. In that scenario, Collins would most likely be splitting time between first base and designated hitter, with occasional starts behind the dish at catcher.

Even if the Sox don’t land Grandal, Hahn will most likely be shopping for a backup catcher as long term profile for Collins doesn’t show much more than occasionally spelling James McCann full time behind the plate. In a perfect world, the Sox sign Grandal and create a rotating conga line between 1B, DH and C for Grandal, Collins and Jose Abreu (who is almost certainly a lock to return.)

If Collins is able to progress at even half the rate Yoan Moncada or Eloy Jimenez has, the Sox will have themselves the kind of player who can get on base at an excellent clip (I don’t expect him to have a +.400 OPB again, but even .370 isn’t out of the question) and occasionally hit for power from the left side of the plate. Guys like that don’t grow on trees, and with some advancement in skill it will be worth the Sox time to try and find a spot in the lineup for him, wherever that may end up being.

Baseball

2019 Stats

.209/.267/.417

12 HR 41 RBI

6.4 BB% 29.5 K%

.287 wOBA 78 wRC+ .684 OPS

-10 Defensive Runs Saved (ouch)

 

Tell Me A Story: Ahhh Beef Welington. The latest in the long line of White Sox free agent signings that made me go “I like it!” and ended with “give this asshole to Elon Musk and let him fire him to the moon.” Almost immediately his two-year, $15 million dollar contract proved to be a ginormous mistake when he was busted for PEDs in May of 2018. This resulted in an 80-game suspension that lasted till the middle of September, after which he hit a very pedestrian .241/.293/.478.

Castillo said he was going to double down on his efforts over the winter to make sure the Sox got their money’s worth out of him. Undeterred, Rick Hahn came up with a Plan B in the form of James McCann, which turned out to be a very wise move indeed. Castillo came out of the gate in April sputtering, only managing to hit .204 while McCann blasted everything thrown at him. It wasn’t long after where Castillo began to lose more and more playing time to McCann, essentially relegated to being Reynaldo Lopez’ personal catcher before long.

Castillo was brought aboard the team strictly for his ability to hit for power, which while not ending up as Yonder Alonso-levels of shitty, was still not what the Sox thought they’d be getting when they signed him to the deal. In 2017 with the Orioles he hit .282 with 20 home runs with a 25% K-rate. With the Sox, his K-rate spiked to 29% and he only managed to hit 12 bombs. His career line drive rate of 21% was merely wishful thinking in 2019 as it fell to a career low 16.5%. His hard hit rate also dropped about 6% during his tenure with the Sox. I’m not going to say the lack of PEDs in his system resulted in this power dip, but I’m also not not saying it.

His defense became an issue as well. In the past, Castillo was a bat-first defender but had posted a few years with a positive DRS score, most recently in 2017 with the Diamondbacks when he was a +3. In the month of September in 2018 he managed a -6, and then in 2019 it all fell apart. Any ball in the dirt or above his shoulders was going to the backstop, and he made the entire thing look like he was being attacked by a swarm of bees.

The Sox were in the bottom 3rd of the league in allowing passed balls with 13. A whopping nine of them were attributed to Castillo. When you consider the fact that he was only the primary catcher in less than a quarter of the games the Sox played, that’s pretty fucking terrible.

Contract: Team option for 2020 at $8 million dollars with a $500,000 buyout, which the Sox will exercise.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Big ole boot in the ass for this one. The Sox will exercise the $500,000 buyout for Castillo’s last year and send him on down the road like sad Bruce Banner in the Hulk TV show. With Zack Collins and James McCann available for catching duties and the looming possibility of Yasmani Grandal being available it makes zero sense to keep Big Beef Welington around. I’d say it’s been fun, but that would only be true if I were comparing it to the time Yonder Alonso spent here. Hard pass on both.

Previous Sox Reviews

James McCann

 

 

Baseball

2019 Stats

.273/.328/.461

18HR, 60 RBI

6.3 BB% 28.8 K%

.333 wOBA 109 wRC+ .789 OPS

5.0 Defensive Runs Saved

Tell Me A Story: Well lets kick this thing off with the best thing Rick Hahn did during the off-season, which was sign James McCann to a 1-year deal at a value of $2.5 million dollars (with an additional year of arbitration control for the White Sox). When this move was initially announced during the winter meetings back in December, I was supremely disappointed as Yasmani Grandal was still just sitting out there, like Fry’s dog in the Jurassic Bark episode of Futurama waiting for someone to sign him. Up to that point Grandal had better stats in pretty much every category available to us including the all-important framing ones. At the end of the season? Well Grandal still outperformed him in most categories except defensively where he was a -1.6 DRS, but the differences between the two were not the chasm I assumed they would be at the start of the season.

McCann started out the first half of the season pretty gangbusters, as he pelted opposing pitchers to the tune of .317/.374/.883 with 9 dingers through the end of June. This performance earned him his first ever All-Star nomination and the rave reviews of his teammates. You all know what happened next, however. After the All Star game McCann’s stats went plummeting off a cliff, resulting in a .224/.273/.667 line through the end of August. At this point folks began to question whether or not McCann was the real deal (and rightly so). He was able to lock things in again in September, however, and brought things back to a more respectable .242/.324/.763 to close out the campaign.

Whether or not McCann was pressing during July and August to justify his All Star selection we will never know, but one interesting thing popped up to me. McCann has been given a lot of credit to the turnaround of one Lucas Giolito this season. When I looked at their game logs for the first half of the season when McCann was raking at the plate, Giolito was doing the same on the mound. Then after the All Star break ended and McCann dove into his swoon at the plate, Giolito similarly fell off as well, though not to the extent that McCann did. It may be coincidence but it’s definitely worth noting.

Either way, Giolito credits James McCann for a good portion of his turnaround this season, and it’s certainly hard to deny the results. Giolito was an absolute mess by any measure last season, and turned into the Must See TV Ace Of The Future™ this season that we all know and love. Stuff like that can’t be discounted in the slightest. Defensively, McCann was above average this year in every category compared to most of his past seasons except for runners gunned down attempting to steal. He was 5th in the AL with 17 catches, which was a low for him. The Sox were 3rd best in the AL catching category with McCann behind the dish, which is a marked improvement from the previous half decade.

CONTRACT: One year of arbitration left, then unrestricted free agent in 2021. Would expect a raise of about 1.5 million this off season if the Sox tender him (They Will)

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Unless the Sox think that Zack Collins is the catcher of The Future™ and will be able to play 100+ games behind the dish (they don’t), then expect the Sox to tender him this off-season and then work out a long term deal with him shortly thereafter. Doing so would not hinder you from offering up a contract to Yasmani Grandal if you so desired.

Bringing in Grandal could create a rotating quadfecta at 1B and C, with Abreu, Collins, McCann and Grandal each taking time at C/1B/DH as the year goes along (Abreu won’t catch obviously). Even if they don’t get Grandal, McCann has proven enough this year to deserve another look behind the plate as the primary catcher. With Beef Wellington gone this winter the Sox will need a catcher to spell McCann if they don’t think Collins can play that many games back there.

I would think a 4 year deal at 4.5 million each would most likely be enough to buy McCann out of his last year of arbitration and keep him working with the young Sox pitching staff for seasons to come. With Michael Kopech returning from Tommy John surgery very soon and Carlos Rodon/Dane Dunning shortly thereafter, having a calming presence behind the plate goes a long way towards solidifying the rotation.

The other option would be to tender him, then flip him for whatever you could get at the winter meetings if you think you need to sell high on him or that this year was a fluke. With the progress Giolito made this year, I think this is very unlikely. The Sox got the most production out of the catcher position since Carlton Fisk hung up his cleats, and I don’t think they’re likely to give that away, which is totally fine with me. Besides, it would be really hard to replicate the FAR (Fashion Against Replacement) he brought to the clubhouse this year.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Indians 11, White Sox 3

Game 2 Box Score: White Sox 6, Indians 5

Game 3 Box Score: Indians 8, White Sox 6

Game 4 Box Score: White Sox 7, Indians 1

I’m not sure how many moments Sox fans have gotten this season that they can point to and say to themselves or anyone around (Sox fans rarely need an audience to perform), “That’s what it will look like very soon.” There were a few early in the season, but the year’s middle portion and toward the current end have mostly been filled with injuries or dips in performance or wonder if some players would ever put it together. It’s been a whole lot more rush-hour traffic than most were hoping, that’s for sure.

The last three games of this series will definitely be one that’s marked, as even in the loss the Sox offense was carried by those who will do so in the future and beyond, and only a circus catch kept them from taking all three of those games. There were enough glimpses around for a whole vision, and that has to feel good.

Let’s run it through.

-We can start with Eloy Jimenez, who had eight hits over the four games, laced some outs that could have been hits on another day, and had one of those games he wins by himself on Tuesday. The kinds of games there will be tons more of, is the hope. A big portion of Eloy’s hits, and even hard contact, were made on sliders this series. That can go one of two ways. One is that at least a couple were mistakes, but you can make a shit ton of money hammering mistakes and fastballs anyway. What it doesn’t portend is whether Eloy can lay off the sliders that do bite off the outside of the zone and into the dirt. Or you could argue that he has been laying off of those of late, forcing breaking pitches closer to the zone, where they don’t have to miss by much to stay in the zone, and this is what you get. It’s still a work, but you can see what will happen when he forces pitchers to the zone. It’s got a lot of volume to it.

Dylan Cease missed out on only his third quality start of the season with the aid of the pen, but it was still a big step forward from what we’ve seen. Cease way upped the use of this change at the expense of fastballs, throwing 18 of them which was the most in any start this season. That generated 12 ground-balls, which you can’t complain about. And the big thing is two walks.

-Of course, Cease struck out 11 but was overshadowed by Reynaldo Lopez, who also struck out 11 today while only giving up one hit. And the Tribe weren’t anywhere near him all day, as his slider was barking and yakking all over them. Lopez got 10 whiffs on the 24 sliders he threw, and no solid contact on any of the others. And only three walks for Reynaldo, who when he stays near the zone can be unhittable. And all of this came in a series against a team that needed these games, which might be most encouraging, even if Cleveland is a touch beat up.

Zack Collins was on base six times in the last three games, and most ever AB was battling. The Sox might focus too much on the Ks, but he gets on base and the rest of this season should probably be spent giving him most of the starts at first or DH to see if he can take that on next season. The Sox still have an OBP problem, one they’ve had for a decade or more now, and there aren’t too many candidates to fix that. Collins is one.

Pretty good stuff from Erie-side.

Baseball

At the trade deadline, there were only whispers amongst the Sox forest (the trees are lovely but unappreciated) about testing the market for Jose Abreu. Part of the problem was that pretty much everyone knew that the market wouldn’t be all that deep for a free agent-to-be who very well might only be a DH and not that many teams are looking for a 1st baseman anyway. Especially one that is on his second season of what might be a decline.

The thing is, all those reasons are ones that the White Sox might have to heavily think about letting Jose Abreu walk after the season. Though that won’t exactly be an easy sell to fans who are very furrow-browed about last offseason and this season. Still, the case for keeping Abreu seems more emotional than reasoned.

No question Abreu was about the only reason to watch the Sox during some lost seasons. The fact that he was the best player on a bad team for many years always endears a player to fans, as Abreu never really has played a game that mattered in the long run. No team Abreu has been on has finished above 4th, and the only reason this one will is because the Royals and Tigers have decided to have a pillow fight in a dumpster all year.

In addition, the theme the team itself keeps beating, and a lot of fans, is that he’s a great mentor/spirit guide for Yoan Moncada and soon-to-be Luis Robert. That’s not to be completely dismissed, as veteran leadership and shared experience can be valuable for young players. It doesn’t always work, but it can be a big boost.

Still, these aren’t very baseball-heavy reasons, and the Sox can’t ignore that Abreu has declined from a 134 wRC+ to a 114 to a 103 this year, along with an OBP that has dipped 20 points each of the last two years.

And this is the crux. The Sox have an on-base problem. It’s hard to gauge when exactly the Sox think they can make a run at a playoff spot or the Central itself. Rose-colored views say next season, but that would involve full recoveries from Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon and for both to have success in the majors we’ve never seen. It would also require a huge leap from Dylan Cease, which seems an ask at this point, as well as Reynaldo Lopez. Of course, a Gerrit Cole signing could help with a big portion of that, but let’s not go nuts.

And even with all that, it’s a bad Sox offense now and projecting out needs some help. You can count on Moncada to get on base at a decent clip. You’d like to think that Eloy Jimenez will greatly improve on his .297 OBP next year, but pinning on hope is what gets a team into trouble. James McCann is hardly a given when considering his last six weeks or two months. Is Tim Anderson going to keep running a .370 BABIP while not hitting the ball terrible hard? Robert will definitely help, but then again it was thought Eloy would walk right in and drill holes to the Earth’s core and that hasn’t happened yet. To put rookie production in ink is again, misguided. Beyond that…yeesh.

The Sox have an OBP-heavy guy in Zack Collins, who already looks like is being transitioned from catcher to 1b/DH…except the Sox have like four of those guys already. And they may need another spot between 1B and DH for one of them as well.

There aren’t a lot of upgrades in free agency. Anthony Rendon is a name you will hear, and he solves a good portion, except he would have to be moved to first (which he’s never played) or they’d have to find a new spot for Moncada again. Seeing as how this one went so well at third, it might be best to leave that one alone for now. J.D. Martinez, if he opts out, certainly would be big game hunting, but he’s DH only which means keeping Abreu at 1st full-time, which isn’t going to help anyone.

The big exam for the Sox is whether they think this is Abreu’s decline or something that can be arrested. The strikeout numbers going up certainly aren’t encouraging, but the contact-types haven’t dropped off a cliff. He’s been a touch unlucky this season, but nowhere near shaking-a-fist-at-the-gods unlucky. This will be his second straight sub-.800 OPS season, and can you really take that from either first or DH?

Yes, Moncada, Robert, and maybe one or two others might be ruffled if Abreu moves on, but they’re also not going anywhere. It’s a business, after all, and the Sox can at least position themselves to hint at a wildcard spot next year before their assault to the summit in the following years. Abreu will be 33 next year (“33”?), and as this might be his last chance at a big contract you wonder if he’ll be happy to settle for just a one- or two-year deal. Then again, given how the free agent market has been, he might have little choice.

It might just be that Abreu comes cheap enough and for short-term enough that it won’t cost the Sox much to keep him, and save the emotional fallout, even if he transitions into a platoon or rotational player in those two spots. But at some point the Sox have hard choices to make, and Abreu is one of them whether they like it or not.

Baseball

With the trade deadline gone and the White Sox well on their way to another top-10 draft pick, it’s not a secret that the remainder of this season means next to nothing for the big league club. The obvious catch is that it is still important that Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and (to a slightly lesser extent) Dylan Cease perform well moving forward. But outside of those six and a few bullpen arms, there is almost no one on the big league roster who should be considered a lock to be here next year, and even Lopez could be stretch in that regard. You could probably bet your house on Jose Abreu being here, but his performance this year casts some doubt on how worthy he really is of the extension he’s going to get. But I digress.

Looking even beyond next season, there is definitely no one presently on the team, aside from the aforementioned names, that belongs on any sort of Sox roster that is designed with contention in mind. Yolmer Sanchez looked at one point like a potentially useful utility guy for a winning team, but has been awful this year, currently the 59th-worst hitter in baseball according to FanGraphs wRC+. Ryan Cordell and Adam Engel are both near-automatic outs at the plate but solid defensively, so they might be 4th-outfielder types, but neither should be handed a roster spot automatically. James McCann is seemingly regressing to what he once was. The rest of the rotation sucks.

The team is not good. You get it.

Despite Rick Hahn’s stated plans to gather a “critical mass” of prospects, the Sox passed on the chance to add prospect depth to the organization at the deadline. They’ll tell us they kept Alex Colome because they want to compete next year, but really they just couldn’t get what they wanted for him because his peripheral numbers are unfavorable. They likely did keep Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry with contention on the mind, which is understandable but potentially misguided. But with all three still here and likely (though not guaranteed) to be on the 2020 Sox, it is clear that Hahn and company at least have a pipe dream of having a strong team next year.

And if they really do want to be in the thick of things in 2020, it’s time to start building that team now.

I wrote earlier this year that the White Sox should keep their foot on the accelerator when it comes to Luis Robert‘s war path rise through the minor leagues. By promoting him to AAA after just 56 games in AA, they showed that they are willing to do that, at least to the highest minor league level. But at this point, being in Charlotte just a waste of Robert’s time. He’s 18 games into his tenure there and has a .351/.420/.714 slash line with six homers and a 178 wRC+. And hitting the bouncy ball in a sandbox park like Charlotte has, it’s only going to get more superhuman. Robert is simply too tools-y and talented to be challenged at all by minor league pitching.

In the same vein, Nick Madrigal just made his AAA debut on Thursday, but any time spent there is as useful to him as Brent Seabrook is to the Blackhawks – the team thinks it will help, but really it will do nothing for you. Madrigal had solid but uninspiring numbers in High-A but really came on strong in AA, sporting a .341/.400/.451 line with a 152 wRC+ in a Birmingham stadium that suppresses offense like the ’85 Bears. Seriously, go look at the numbers on some of the Birmingham Barons players and you will truly appreciate that line from Madrigal. Getting the bump to AAA is nice and all, but with 70-hit tool that has led to a 2.8% K-rate in the minors and a Joey Votto-esque feel for the strike zone, Madrigal is also simply not going to struggle in AAA. In fact, given that he now gets to hit the same bouncy ball in that same Charlotte launch pad as Robert, his power numbers might see an uptick as well.

And if the Sox are really serious about contending in 2020, Robert and Madrigal need to not only be starting at center field and second base, respectively, but also hitting near at the top of the order. For that to happen, they need to be ready for MLB pitching from the moment they make an MLB lineup. And quite frankly, if that isn’t until mid-April, they likely will not be. Look no further than Eloy’s harsh two-month adjustment period, or Yoan Moncada‘s rough 2018 season as evidence. These guys are too good for the minors but will be seeing a caliber of pitching they almost never even dreamed of in the bigs, so the adjustments could admittedly be harsh. For the Sox to have any shot at the postseason, Robert and Madrigal will likely need to be effective in an MLB lineup as soon as possible, and Opening Day would be preferable.

Which is why getting them to Chicago needs to be done immediately. And I know what you’re going to say – the extra year of control is more valuable. 7 > 6 after all. But in reality, getting them to Chicago immediately would still give the Sox essentially seven years of control of these players. The only way you don’t get that seventh year is if you wait until September or Opening Day to get them here.

And you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t care about Jerry Reinsdorf’s 2027 books after the way the Machado/Harper pursuits turned out. Yes, I’m still bitter.

Finding those guys spots on this roster is easy. I already told you that Yolmer sucks, so DFA him (Sox are out of options, so minor assignments are not possible) and replace him with Madrigal. I’m tired of Cordell, so get Robert in here for him. You’re instantly better, and far, far more interesting.

There’s more they can do here, as well. Welington Castillo is expensive and terrible, and his only purpose in being here until even July 31 was to build potential trade value, and he didn’t do that. Ditch him and bring Zack Collins back, especially since you already started his service clock with no plans to actually use him. Ryan Goins has been pretty good, but the other shoe is going to drop for him soon and you know he won’t be here when you’re good, so just cut the losses there and bring up someone who might, like Danny Mendick.

The remainder of this season is neigh-worthless, with the wins and losses meaning absolutely nothing for this club. Quite frankly, I hope they lose more than they win and move up in the draft. But the process can still prove to be worthwhile, especially if the Sox put it to good use by getting their top-end prospects to the bigs now. Let them take their lumps for six or more weeks, give them an offseason to make the necessary adjustments, and head into 2020 with a group of confident young players and a Opening Day lineup that actually looks respectable, rather than one that is full of two-week placeholders for your real talent.

Baseball

   VS.

 

RECORDS:  A’s 50-41  White Sox 42-44

Game Times: Friday 9:05/Saturday & Sunday 3:05

TV:  Friday & Saturday NBCSN/Sunday WGN

Still Bashin’ Bros: Athletics Nation

PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Game 1: Mike Fiers vs. Chevy Nova

Game 2: Chris Bassit vs. TBD (Probably Dylan Cease)

Game 3: Brett Anderson vs. Reynaldo Lopez

 

PROBABLE A’S LINEUP:

1. Marcus Seimen – SS

2. Robbie Grossman – LF

3. Matt Olson – 1B

4. Khris Davis – DH

5. Matt Chapman – 3B

6. Josh Phegley – C

7. Ramon Laureano – CF

8. Mark Canha – RF

9. Franklin Barreto – 2B

 

PROBABLE WHITE SOX LINEUP

1. Leury Garcia – SS

2. Yoan Moncada – 3B

3. Jose Abreu – 1B

4. James McCann – C

5. Eloy Jimenez – LF

6. Jon Jay – RF

7. Yolmer Sanchez – 2B

8. Ryan Cordell – CF

9. Zack Collins (hopefully)- DH

 

 

So now begins the back nine of what can be considered a fairly successful first half for the White Sox, despite the sub .500 record.  There are a couple of storylines that bear watching, mostly the usage of the younger members of the Sox roster from here on out.  Kicking off the 2nd half is a series against the Oakland A’s, a team with playoff aspirations and the record to back it up.  They’re currently locked in a battle with the 2 Texas based teams, jockeying for position in the AL west.  The smart money is on the Astros to sew it up on the back 9, and the regression monster finally coming for the surprising Rangers.  This leaves Team Moneyball to take their standard spot as the other AL wild card team, destined to be smoked by Tampa Bay or Boston.

The A’s have made it this far mostly living off their surprising starting pitching, anchored by Mike Fiers and the surprising Frankie Montas, though I guess it’s not THAT surprising since he just got popped with an 80 game suspension for performance enhancers.  Fiers actually has been one of the better AL starters since May, tossing a No-No earlier.  He currently sports a respectable 3.87 ERA, with a 1.10 WHIP.  He doesn’t strike many people out, but he keeps the ball in the yard, especially at the canyon-esque Coliseum he calls home.  He’s also a giant dickhead, and is probably upset he’s missing out on a chance to throw at Tim Anderson’s head.  Brett Anderson and Chris Bassit have also been solid, even if most A’s fans couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup.  Their bullpen is also lights out, and is set to eclipse the 6.0 WAR they put up last season during their surprising wild card run.  Fangraphs currently has them as the most successful pen in the majors so far this season.  Closer Blake Treinen has for the time being lost his spot to Liam Hendricks due to a rotater cuff strain, but should resume the gig now that he’s off the IL.  He wasn’t exactly lights out before the strain, however, posting a 4.17 ERA and blowing 4 saves.  His slider, which had been his out pitch in previous years, has been ditched for a new cut fastball.  Apparently it’s not cutting enough, because it’s being hit harder than any other of his offerings.

The A’s hitters, while not the murderer’s row offered up by the Dodgers or the Twins (ugh.  Really?), can still hurt you top to bottom.  They currently sit right in the top third of the league in hitting according to Fangraphs, and the team BABIP actually shows they’ve been the victim of some bad luck thus far.  Matt Chapman leads the way again, building off his impressive breakout season last year.  He’s already knocked out 21 dingers thus far, and maintains an .887 OBPS, which is exactly the type of player that gives Billy Beane night sweats.  Khris Davis, though hampered by some injuries so far, continues to provide pop in the heart of the lineup.  Old Friend Marcus Seimen continues to provide much improved D up the middle, and has added a little pop to his game, slugging .105 above his career average.  Even though Timmy has SS locked down for the future, this trade still stings seeing what Seimen has turned into.

As for the Sox, while it was fun seeing Giolito, McCann and Abreu in the All Star game (despite Jose going GIDP in his only at bat) it’s time to get back to doing what they do best: sit just below .500 while playing entertaining baseball for most of the time.  With no starter officially listed for Saturday yet, one would have to assume it would be start #2 for Dylan Cease.  If not, I guess we get to see more of Hoss Detwiler, though Covey may be available as well.  I’d much rather Covey slot into long relief, as it seems to be his destiny on this club.  Nova gets the start tonight, and it will be interesting to see if he can build on the little streak he had for himself before the break.  With 2 of the 3 A’s starters set to be RHP, this would be a good time to give Zack Collins a few starts either behind the dish or at 1B to give Jose a breather.  Will it happen?  With Palka being sent back down, you’d think so but we shall see.   Having a few extra days off will probably help a few of the Sox starters, as nagging injuries to Leury and Yoan could’ve used the extra time.

While the Sox -71 run differential screams 2nd half regression, some of that could be mitigated by having more than 2/5ths of an actual MLB starting rotation.  Either way, I’m hopeful for the future (and a Luis Robert September callup) and excited to see what the trade deadline and the 2nd half brings to the team.  Time to crank it up, fire it up.

Let’s Go Sox!