Ventura, Matheny share first-year manager connection

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Ventura, Matheny share first-year manager connection

The White Sox hired Robin Ventura on Oct. 6, much to the surprise of pundits, fans, players -- pretty much everyone around baseball except the White Sox brass. Ventura had never managed a game at any professional level before, and even he wasn't sold on the opportunity when it was offered. There was plenty of head-scratching on that fall day -- this is the guy who's going to replace Ozzie Guillen?

It's June 12 and the White Sox are in first place, albeit by just a half-game heading into Tuesday's action. But first place is first place, and it's somewhere few expected the White Sox to be at any point this year.

The Cardinals hired Mike Matheny, who similarly had never managed at any professional level, on Nov. 14. While Ventura's hire was met with questions and confusion, Matheny's hire was met with a lesser level of head-scratching and more praise.

"So I told Mike when the White Sox hired me everyone was like, 'Oh my gosh, you've got to be kidding me,'" Ventura told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of a text exchange with Matheny. "I took all the arrows for him. When Mike got hired it was like, 'Oh, that's a smart move. Ex-catcher. He's been in the organization.' Sheesh."

St. Louis got off to a roaring start, winning 20 of their first 31 games. But since hitting that high water mark of nine games over .500 on May 9, the Cardinals are 11-19 with their only series wins coming against San Diego and Houston.

Losing Lance Berkman has been a major blow, although the Cardinals' lineup only has one regular (Tyler GreenDaniel Descalso) with a below-average OPS. It's been St. Louis' pitching that has failed them -- the Cardinals' offense has scored five or more runs in eight of their last 19 losses.

The good news for Matheny and the Cardinals is that the NL Central is weak this year, as evidenced by Pittsburgh waking up on Tuesday in first place. Baseball Prospectus still gives the Cardinals a 63 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

The White Sox have a 59 percent chance of making the playoffs by the same measure. If both make it, it'd represent a pretty incredible success story for two true first-time managers.

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

Brett Lawrie and Avisail Garcia will both return to the White Sox in 2017.

The team announced it reached deals with both players shortly before Friday’s 7 p.m. CST nontender deadline. Lawrie will earn $3.5 million next season and Garcia received a one-year deal for $3 million.

The club didn’t tender a contract to right-handed pitcher Blake Smith, which leaves its 40-man roster at 38.

Acquired last December for a pair of minor leaguers, Lawrie hit .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles and 36 RBIs in 94 games before he suffered a season-ending injury.

Lawrie produced 0.9 f-WAR when he suffered what then-manager Robin Ventura described a “tricky” injury on July 21. Despite numerous tests and a lengthy rehab, Lawrie never returned to the field and was frustrated by the experience. Last month, Lawrie tweeted that he believes the cause of his injury was wearing orthotics for the first time in his career.

He was projected to earn $5.1 million, according to MLBTraderumors.com and earned $4.125 million in 2016.

Garcia hit .245/.307/.385 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 453 plate appearances over 120 games. The projected salary for Garcia, arb-eligible for the first time, was $3.4 million.

The team also offered contracts to Miguel Gonzalez and Todd Frazier, who are eligible for free agency in 2018, first baseman Jose Abreu and relievers Dan Jennings, Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka, among others.

The White Sox have until mid-January to reach an agreement with their arbitration-eligible players. If they haven’t, both sides submit figures for arbitration cases, which are then heard throughout February.

White Sox announcer Jason Benetti cracks Crain's 40 under 40

White Sox announcer Jason Benetti cracks Crain's 40 under 40

Crain's Chicago Business released its latest 40 under 40 project and White Sox announcer Jason Benetti made this year's list.

The 33-year-old just finished his first season with the White Sox as play-by-play announcer, working the home games at U.S. Cellular Field (before it was renamed Guaranteed Rate Field last month) alongside Steve Stone as longtime broadcaster Hawk Harrelson saw his workload reduced to mostly road games.

Benetti quickly became a fan favorite among Chicagoans on CSN and other networks in 2016 and his cerebral palsy became more of a backstory, with his work alongside Stone and his affable sense of humor taking center stage instead.

Among other topics, Benetti discussed how he approaches his job of broadcasting for the team he grew up rooting for:

Law school taught me that there are always two sides of the argument. I see it from the Sox prism, but I can’t believe in my heart of hearts that, if the Sox lose, the world’s over anymore. That first game, I was like, “All right, it’s just a game.” And then Avi Garcia hits a homer late in the game against the Indians and I call it like I would call it with a little more. And as the ball cleared the fence, when it was rolling around, I got a slight tear in my eye. And I was like, “What’s that?”

Check out the entire interview with Benetti and the full list at ChicagoBusiness.com.