Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011
By Brett Ballantini
With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through the offseason, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check. Stories broke on Monday about two White Sox players, one speculative but logical (Alexei Ramirezs reported contract extension), the other elementary and borderline sad (Freddy Garcia taking another bite of the Big Apple). Lets take a look at how these latest developments affect the big picture for the White Sox:
Whats the story with Alexei?
Ramirez was already signed for 2011 after opting out of the fourth year of his original, four-year deal, which forced the White Sox to re-sign him at 2.75 million instead of the original payout of 1.1 million. His value to the White Sox being self-evident (per FanGraphs, Ramirez has provided 29.3 million in value in exchange for just 3.6 million in salary in his first three seasons, and even at a more than doubled contract in 2011 he projects to give the White Sox a surplus value of around 12 million), clearly the club would be working on an extension for their prized shortstop. GM Ken Williams told me that very thing back at the start of December, once Adam Dunn was signed, although he acknowledged it could be around spring training by the time something got done.
So this extension is a good deal for the White Sox?
By inking Ramirez to a reported four-year, 32.5 million extension with a 10 million club option in 2016, the team will give itself cost certainty at the most important fielding position on the diamond and will build around a player who will turn just 35 at the end of the 2016 season. Abacus-ing up the quick and dirty numbers, by 2016 the White Sox will have paid 48.8 million over nine seasons (5.4 million per season) to a player who has averaged almost 10 million in value for the team in his first three years. Providing Ramirez can at least reach his average major league season so far in the six to come, the White Sox will have gotten a return of around 200 on the shortstop over the breadth of his career. Many are calling the speculated extension reasonable and fairfrom this angle, it looks like an incredibly team-friendly deal, and another masterstroke from Williams.
As the potential foundation piece of the future White Sox, does Ramirez have the leadership capability to mentor a new generation of White Sox players?
Leadership and such intangibles develop over time, and to be fair, in many ways Ramirez is just getting his feet wet in American culture and within the confines of a clubhouse already rife with veteran leadership. And providing that Gordon Beckham will be his double-play partner over the course of his contract, Ramirez will always be the second course, at least to Bacon, when it comes to overall team leadership. But with a second year under his belt (including Gold Glove-quality defense in 2010, AL managers and coaches!), Ramirezs confidence is growing. The shy import will never fill Ozzie Guillens cleats when it comes to media friendliness and team leadership, but if he commits to the White Sox for what will essentially be the remainder of his career at shortstop, its an indication he is ready to grow a bit into areas hes yet to explore, like leadership, mentoring, and maybe even expanding his English vocabulary.
Have the White Sox ever committed this kind of money to a shortstop?
Is that a rhetorical question? Well, not only have the White Sox not, but few major league teams have ever invested so heavily in a shortstop. From Cots Baseball Contracts via J. Jonah Stankevitzs analysis of the deal at Sox Examiner, just seven teams have plunked more money into a shortstop than the White Sox are in Ramirez: the New York Yankees (Derek Jeter), Colorado Rockies (Troy Tulowitzki), Florida Marlins (Hanley Ramirez), Baltimore Orioles (Miguel Tejada), Los Angeles Dodgers (Rafael Furcal), San Francisco Giants (Edgar Renteria) and Boston Red Sox (Julio Lugo).
So the White Sox have just secured their Tulowitzki or Ramirez for the next six seasons?
Well, not exactly. In terms of comps, Alexei comes only as close as a surname to Hanley, unfortunately. Interestingly, Alexeis most comparable player (per Baseball-Reference) is an infielder named Charlie Neal, who played eight seasons in the majors, much of them with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1959, Neal made his first of three All-Star appearances, won his first and only Gold Glove (at second base), finished eighth in NL MVP voting, and ironically enough stung the 1959 White Sox in the World Series to the tune of two homers, six RBI and a 1.037 OPS.
Will any White Sox player ever have a cooler nickname than the Cuban Missile?
OK, now that Garcia has signed with the Yankees, where does that leave the White Sox in terms of a fifth starter?
Very comfortably, thank you. Listen, were talking about six potential aces among Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Edwin Jackson, Jake Peavy and Chris Sale. As well as Garcia pitched for the White Sox in 2010, he wasnt a world-beater, just a fifth starter who benefited from good enough health to take the mound for 28 starts. That durabilityoften the bane of fifth starterswas what allowed Garcia to give the White Sox a phenomenal return (5.4 million) on what was a gamble of a million-dollar contract.
There were a multitude of reasons why Garcia could not have returned to the White Sox in 2011, from the way Williams bolstered the bullpen for 2011, early reports that Peavy could well occupy that No. 5 slot beginning on Opening Day (the club wouldnt need a fifth starter until April 9, the ninth day of the regular season) and a payroll stretched wafer-thin. The only reason to bring Garcia back, frankly, was sheer sentimentality.
Is it written anywhere that a fifth starter has to stink?
Thats a great point. While its rare these days when even three starters in a rotation are reliable, it seems silly to therefore accept that every fifth day needs to be batting practice, because pitching is so very scarce in baseball today. Think about the multitude of horrors sent out by fifth starters in recent White Sox past, and then feel your blood pressure lower as you envision Peavy andor Sale manning that post in 2011. Talk about Adam Dunn all day long, but the real reason why the White Sox have World Series potential is being six starters deep in a league that struggles to find a single ace in a haystack. On the other hand, some clownish projections have the White Sox with just a middling rotation (worse than the Tigers and Cubbies, really, Matthew Pouliot?), so who knows what lies in store for the Pale Hose.
What are Freddys prospects in Gotham?
Well, it didnt work out too well in 2009, when his tenure with the New York Mets lasted all of three months and exactly zero regular-season games. Garcia really needed the White Sox to be less set with their rotation and overall pitching, because there are few places where such a unique veteran (read: awful spring outings, languid demeanor, stubborn streak) can flourish. Garcia benefited from the immediate care and curating of pitching coach Don Cooper and the support and mentoring of Guillen. In New York, its going to be a Florida free-for-all among the Bartolo Colons, Sergio Mitres, Mark Priors of the rest of the 30-and-up softballers the Yankees have opened their spring training mounds to. Guillen said in January that any team picking up Garcia had better talk to us, meaning that when Garcia is sweating a 20.00 ERA in spring training and looks utterly lost andor disinterested, dont be so quick to judge him. Think the Yankees, who cant even decide who their go-to GM on signings is, did any sort of background check beyond a physical? Like Mick Jagger wrote in the back of a cab some three decades ago, go ahead, bite the Big Appledont mind the maggots; unfortunately, Sweaty Freddy is set up to fail in those dastardly Yankees pinstripes.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.