Sox Drawer: A Winter Meetings Blog

76286.jpg

Sox Drawer: A Winter Meetings Blog

Monday, December 7th

5:48 pm

Sitting down with Ozzie Guillen today, I asked the Sox manager the one thing his team needs more than anything else. His answer?

A leadoff hitter.

Are you going to find one?

"That's Kenny's job," Ozzie said. "That's why they pay him the big money."

Unfortunately, the Sox GM doesn't have the kind of money needed to sign a Chone Figgins (I'm frankly tired of typing Figgins name. I think I'm just going to start calling him "the free agent the Sox have coveted for years and will never, ever get. Period.) So Williams is going to have to be creative if he's hoping to give his manager the kind of table-setter Ozzie would love to have.

In fact, when I asked Kenny what's tougher to find, a leadoff hitter or frontline starter ...his first answer was:

"It's harder to find a good manager. I'm still working on that."

Ozzie was in the room, but on the phone, so I don't think he heard the joke.

But then Williams said, "There aren't any more Rickey Hendersons. You have to draft them and develop them. Hopefully we're on the path as far as that's concerned."

The Sox are still having dialogue with Scott Podsednik's agent, but Williams didn't sound too optimistic about bringing Pods back. At least, not right now.

"I don't feel anything one way or another about it. We made no secret earlier on in this offseason that we felt there was a place of Pods," Williams said. We made overtures to that affect but he wanted to test the market and that's his right and we respect that."

The biggest surprise may have come when I asked Kenny if he hadn't traded for Jake Peavy, would he be involved in the trade market for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay.

Kenny produced a wide grin and said, "no comment."

Dave Van Dyck then followed up, asking if the Sox were interested in Halladay.

Kenny's answer..."no comment."

Hmmmmmm.

3:12 pm

Ozzie met with the media a short time ago. Among the highlights:

If Kenny can't find a leadoff hitter, he reiterated that Gordon Beckham can bat in the 1 spot. I later asked Ozzie if he'd consider using Alex Rios, who has led off in the past with Toronto. Ozzie said yes, but he'd have to hit a lot better than he did with the Sox last year.

Asked if the Sox are the best team on paper in the AL Central, Ozzie said, "I have the best 5 starters."

He added, "I think we can take a little bit advantage of Detroit because I think we play with more fears when we're facing Polanco. A lot of people talk about Cabrera and Magglio and Inge, and to me Polanco, he's hurt our ball club a lot. Right now we look pretty good. We're waiting to see September where we are, but right now in the paper all five starters are pretty solid. If something happened to one of those guys, we've got a couple backups we've never had. Now we do."

Freddy Garcia will come to spring training as the 5th starter, not with a pen, but a pencil.

Said Ozzie, "It should be Freddy Garcia. It's not going to be, but it should. I think (Daniel) Hudson is a candidate. He did a tremendous job. I think the way I look at it...Freddy has to stay in shape and stay strong. Before he was a tremendous pitcher, and now what we're doing right now, he knows every winter he's got to work hard because the problems he had in the past."

We also sat down with Ozzie for an interview that will run tomorrow. Kenny Williams was one of the last GM to arrive here. Not sure if that's a sign of things to come this week. Maybe he got stuck in a snowstorm on I-65. He speaks to the media in 10 minutes. Gotta run!

1:23 pm

A quiet start so far. That is unless you include the Pirates signing free agent pitcher...and one of my favorite names of MLB.....Vinnie Chulk. He pitched 12 innings last year for the Indians. If Vinnie and I shared the same last name, I would be Chuck Chulk.

I just saw Ozzie Guillen in the hotel lobby. He'll be speaking with the media in about a half hour. Kenny will talk at 3:30 central. Crickets so far.

10:29 am

It's a wintry morning in America's heartland. Fitting that we're on our way to baseball's Winter Meetings.

Last year, they were held in the posh Bellagio Hotel in sunny Las Vegas. This year, we're headed for that vacation wonderland....Indianapolis.

Darn, I forgot to bring my bathing suit.

You never know what will happen, or not happen at this annual get-together. Kenny Williams said on Friday that he expects to be busier after the meetings. However, put 30 general managers in the same hotel for 4 days, and who knows.

The Sox need help in the bullpen, another outfielder, and a lead-off hitter...if they can find one.

The free agent market has been stagnant so far. Expect that to continue for a bit. In the meantime, it seems like many teams have come to Indy to deal. We'll see how it all shakes out.

We'll be talking with both Kenny and Ozzie this afternoon. I'll be giving updates here in the Sox Drawer throughout the day. And feel free to ask me a question regarding what the Sox are doing or not doing. I'll try to answer as many as of them as I can throughout the week.

We just arrived in Indianapolis. The outside temperature, a balmy 28 degrees. Sunblock anyone?

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.

Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.

That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.

Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.

This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?

“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”

[RELATED: Dax McCarty tweets thank you to Red Bull fans]

Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.

“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”

So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.

“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”

Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.

Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.

Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.

“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”

The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.

“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”