CTL: Are Cubs contenders if they add Josh Beckett?

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CTL: Are Cubs contenders if they add Josh Beckett?

White Sox react to John Danks’ departure

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White Sox react to John Danks’ departure

John Danks has called Chicago his home since 2007. But after nearly 10 years on the South Side, the White Sox have decided to part ways with their longest tenured player.

Danks will be designated for assignment later this week, the team announced Tuesday, ending his time with the White Sox.

“It’s always tough,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You don’t really know what’s out there, but at this point, we’re going in a different direction.”

Entering Tuesday, the White Sox held the best record in the American League at 18-8. Danks started in four of those contests, but all resulted in losses in which he had an ERA of 7.25.

That was enough for the White Sox to make a change.

“It’s just one of those things how we’re doing so well and he didn’t get a win. That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Todd Frazier said. “I’m sure he could’ve came around in his next start or maybe the next one after that. But he’s a bulldog.

“He’s a guy that wants to contribute and he has. He’s done it for years and just cause he hasn’t gotten a win in the first three or four starts that he’s had doesn’t signify what he’s done in the past.”

The success Danks had in the past convinced the White Sox to sign him to a five-year, $65 million contract extension prior to the 2012 season.

Danks struggled to find consistency with his game from 2012-16, going 25-48 with a 4.92 ERA in 97 starts.

His results ultimately proved that he didn’t live up to his contract.

But off the field, the impact he had on his teammates is something you can’t put a price on.

“Everybody loves him, he’s a great teammate, he’s a great pitcher,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “Just going through a tough stretch right now. Part of life, I guess it’s part of him going home, reflecting on things and seeing what he wants to do.”

When Frazier arrived to Chicago during the offseason after being acquired by the Cincinnati Reds, Danks was one of the guys who helped him get acclimated to the Windy City.

“We became real close quick,” Frazier said. “Great guy. We’re about the same age. He came up a lot earlier than me. I know he’s had some really good years. Just one of those guys you really look up to. We’re gonna miss him. I’m especially gonna miss him.

“He kind of taught me a little bit about the Chicago Way. He’s just one of those guys who’s going to be in the back of your mind a little bit every couple days just thinking about how he’s doing.”

In addition, Danks used his experience to mentor young players like 23-year-old starter Carlos Rodon. The two would often hang out most of the time during games, and sometimes away from the diamond.

“It was huge,” Rodon said of Danks’ presence. “A veteran like that, you'd figure a young guy coming here, kind of would ignore him or wouldn't really be around for him. He was different, a different guy. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot of stuff about this game.”

For the White Sox, the clubhouse will be a bit unusual not having that familiar face that’s been around for so many years.

But as the White Sox learned earlier this season, adapting to change is something that comes with the game.

“The game will go on, but our thoughts and prayers go out to him, his wife and his future family,” Adam Eaton said. “Saying goodbye to him was tough for all of us, but like I said it's part of the game. It's sad to see him go.”

Cubs: Jorge Soler, Ryan Kalish and what the outfield picture looks like now

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Cubs: Jorge Soler, Ryan Kalish and what the outfield picture looks like now

PITTSBURGH – More than five hours before first pitch, Jorge Soler took early batting practice on Tuesday afternoon in an empty PNC Park while a group of Cubs coaches watched the young Cuban hitter.

The Cubs unveiled a different outfield look for that night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, trying to jumpstart Soler by batting him second and putting him in left, while keeping Dexter Fowler in center and moving Kris Bryant to right.

The team with the best record in baseball can’t be in scramble mode in the first week of May, but the Cubs are almost burning through the depth they acquired this winter.

Jason Heyward is still dealing with the sore right wrist that’s been bothering him since early April. An MRI on Matt Szczur’s right hamstring revealed a strain that landed him on the disabled list. The Cubs promoted Ryan Kalish – a guy who planned to play independent ball before signing a minor-league deal in March – from Triple-A Iowa.

Manager Joe Maddon has been asked about Soler – who began the day hitting .186 with a .591 OPS – in the context of trading for pitching, losing playing time with the Fowler signing and getting another chance after Kyle Schwarber’s season-ending knee surgery.

So Maddon didn’t feel like looking for a deeper meaning to Soler’s opportunity this time.

“It’s Tuesday, that’s it, I swear,” Maddon said. “Because you got other options to deal with. There’s different ways to look at this. I’m going to continue to try to do my best to keep everybody solvent. That’s the best way I can answer that. George obviously has prodigious power ability, so we’ll see how it plays.

“But I’m not going to make any promises.”

Beyond Bryant’s versatility as an All-Star third baseman, the Cubs also have super-utility guys Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez with the ability to toggle between the infield and the outfield.

It’s a remarkable comeback story for Kalish, another former Boston Red Sox prospect with connections to Theo Epstein’s front office.

Kalish struggled to stay healthy at Fenway Park and eventually recovered from cervical fusion surgery – performed by the same doctor who did the neck procedure for Peyton Manning – to make the Opening Day roster for Rick Renteria’s Cubs in 2014.

Kalish spent last year hanging out in Southern California, thinking about life after baseball and watching old buddies like Anthony Rizzo perform in the playoffs.

“I needed to keep trying,” Kalish said. “There were points where people were saying (stuff), even close friends wondering like: ‘Hey, maybe it’s time to move on?’ But I just couldn’t have that.

“I was going (to independent ball) if this didn’t come. The crazy part is that season hasn’t even started yet. It starts in like two weeks. But with all this developing, it just puts it all in perspective. It makes me appreciate what I have.”

The Cubs don’t want to rush Albert Almora from Iowa, even though they know their 2012 first-round pick could play above-average defense in The Show right now. Almora just turned 22, isn’t on the 40-man roster yet and has spent about a month on the Triple-A level.

Until this setback, Szczur had maximized his opportunity after the Cubs ruled out Shane Victorino (calf) for the Opening Day roster. Victorino is still working into game shape at the team’s Arizona complex and getting closer to joining the Triple-A club.

Szczur, who’s out of minor-league options, went from a bubble player to a key contributor, hitting .367 with two homers and 10 RBI in 34 plate appearances and becoming a late-game defensive replacement for Soler.

“It’s always bad timing,” Szczur said.

White Sox: For John Danks, shoulder surgery was a mixed bag

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White Sox: For John Danks, shoulder surgery was a mixed bag

The success rate for baseball players returning from shoulder surgery is awfully low, no matter what your definition of success is. 

Some never make it back to the major leagues. Others do, but for abbreviated stints before they’re forced out of the game. Some, like John Danks, return, but aren’t as effective as they were before going under the knife. 

Last year, FiveThirtyEight.com ran the numbers and found that only 67 percent of players who underwent a shoulder procedure returned to the major leagues (the rate for Tommy John surgery is 80 percent). For those pitchers who did return, they averaged 134 fewer innings per season than they did pre-surgery. 

With that in mind, Danks is somewhat of an outlier. From his return to the mound in 2013 until being designated for assignment by the White Sox this week, Danks threw 532 innings in 88 starts, and actually threw more innings in 2014 and 2015 than he did in 2011, his last full year in the majors before his August 2012 surgery. 

“The mere fact he got back on that mound and contributed to us over the last couple of years is a testament to his makeup, his strength and his character,” general manager Rick Hahn said. 

But no matter how hard Danks worked, and no matter how many adjustments he implemented, the results never returned to their pre-surgery levels. From 2008-2011, Danks looked like one of baseball’s more promising up-and-coming starters, posting a 3.77 ERA over 778 2/3 innings. It’s why the White Sox rewarded him with a five-year, $65 million extension in December of 2011. 

In those 532 innings since his surgery, though, Danks had a 4.84 ERA and allowed more home runs (88) than he did from 2008-2011 (80). 

“He never pointed fingers, he never blamed anyone other than himself,” ace left-hander Chris Sale said. “He was a man about it, he was a professional about it. A lot of people get stuck on the stats and the stuff. Some people don’t come back from the surgery he had.

“Not only did he come back from it, but he pitched with it at the highest level of baseball you can possibly be at.”

Danks’ average fastball velocity dropped from 91.6 mph in 2011 to the upper 80’s from 2013-2015, then plummeted to 87.1 mph in his four starts this season. That’s the most direct effect of Danks’ Aug. 6, 2012 surgery to repair a capsular tear and minor debridements of the rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder. 

Consider this: In Game 163 against the Minnesota Twins in 2008 — arguably the highlight of Danks’ career — the fastest pitch he threw was 95.5 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net. In his final start with the White Sox April 28 against the Baltimore Orioles, the hardest fastball he threw was 90.5 mph. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that after the shoulder surgery, he was a different guy,” Hahn said, “and that’s certainly zero fault of John Danks. He did everything in his power to fight back. And really, given the extent of the surgery, I sincerely mean it is impressive how much he was able to contribute after the surgery. 

“The fact that he even got back to the big-league level and the fact that he was able from time to time to put us in position to win ballgames, that’s a huge testament to his work ethic and his competitive spirit. There’s zero doubt in my mind the shoulder surgery changed who he was as a pitcher.”

Danks was able to push through over three years with the White Sox post-surgery, but he never could figure out how to reverse those consistently sub-optimal results. 

But as everyone within the White Sox organization will remind you, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. 

“As far as work ethic and just guts, he had all of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That was never a question. He’s always been able to do that and there’s a lot of respect for him in the clubhouse for all the things that he did and one of them’s coming back from an injury and trying to gut through it.”