Ballantini: Different directions for Alexei and Freddy

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Ballantini: Different directions for Alexei and Freddy

Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011
2:10 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

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?

Probably not.

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.

Cubs and White Sox release lineups for Game 1 of Crosstown Classic

Cubs and White Sox release lineups for Game 1 of Crosstown Classic

It's about that time again: the Crosstown Classic.

The Cubs (51-46) and White Sox (38-57) released their lineups ahead of Monday's series opener at Wrigley Field.

Here's how Joe Maddon's Cubs will line up behind Kyle Hendricks, who's back after missing nearly two months.

CUBS

1. Jason Heyward - RF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Willson Contreras - C
5. Kyle Schwarber - LF
6. Ben Zobrist - 2B
7. Jon Jay - CF
8. Javy Baez - SS
9. Kyle Hendricks - P

Rick Renteria has a different look of things as well, as top prospect Yoan Moncada has moved to the No. 2 spot. Melky Cabrera is also back in the lineup after leaving Sunday's game early.

WHITE SOX

1. Melky Cabrera - LF
2. Yoan Moncada - 2B
3. Jose Abreu - 1B
4. Avisail Garcia - RF
5. Matt Davidson - 3B
6. Tim Anderson - SS
7. Adam Engel - CF
8. Kevan Smith - C
9. Miguel Gonzalez - P

A reminder that Crosstown coverage begins at 12 p.m. with White Sox Pregame Live on CSN and streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports app.

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anthony Swarzak held a high-leverage audition for a potential contender on Sunday long before the Kansas City Royals walked off the White Sox.

The nonroster invitee to big league camp continued a stellar campaign as he took over in a critical spot midgame and helped the White Sox escape with the lead. The White Sox bullpen ultimately relinquished the lead and Brandon Moss sent them to their ninth straight loss — Kansas City won 5-4 — with an RBI double in the ninth inning.

But Swarzak continues to thrive in the opportunities handed to him and could make for an interesting trade chip before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

“He’s been excellent,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s become for us, with (Nate Jones) going down and (Jake Petricka) going down he’s actually become a fireman. He’s come in in some of the highest-leverage situations we could possibly get. And then we use him for multiple innings.”

A free agent after the season, Swarzak has 50 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 47 innings for the White Sox this season. He also has only allowed nine of 33 inherited runners to score (27.2 percent), including two on Sunday. The American League average for inherited runners scoring entering Sunday was 30 percent, according to baseball-reference.com.

All this has come in a season where Swarzak went to camp with the White Sox with no certainty of making the 25-man roster. The right-hander not only thrived in camp, he came out strong in April with 19 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season. Combined with early injuries to Jones and Zach Putnam, Swarzak’s performance helped him climb the totem pole in the White Sox bullpen from the outset. His stature has grown even more of late with the injury to Petricka as well as the trades of Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson.

“As far personal expectations, I’m right where I want to be,” Swarzak said. “More to accomplish for this year, absolutely. But I like what I’ve done so far and I like the opportunity that I have to accomplish even more.

“That’s the situation we all work so hard. That’s the situation we want and it’s why we all work so hard in the offseason in general is for situations like that.”

Swarzak took over for starter Derek Holland in the fifth inning with the White Sox ahead 4-3 and runners on the corners. He threw three straight sliders to Jorge Bonifacio and struck him out to strand the pair.

“It was huge, what he did coming in right there,” Holland said.

As significant as it was, it only held off the Royals for the time being. And as much as Swarzak has enjoyed things on a personal level, it isn’t making what the thinned-out White Sox roster is experiencing any easier to handle.

“Everything going on around here right now is pretty hard to swallow,” Swarzak said. “We’re going out there losing 8-0, 6-0, we’re up 6-0 and we end up losing. We lost a 1-0 game against the Dodgers and the next night we lose 10-1. We’re kind of losing all types of ways right now, which is really hard to swallow because as a bullpen guy we take pride in holding the lead and right now it seems like we’re not getting it done at all, any aspect of it, as a group.”

With eight more shopping days left before the deadline, chances are high that Swarzak may not be part of the current group much longer. He has already seen the departures of Robertson and Kahnle and knows his impending free agency could result in a trade elsewhere. But the veteran reliever is doing his best to keep his focus on the mound.

“It all comes back to quality pitches and getting guys out,” Swarzak said. “If you’re getting guys out, you’re going to get some attention from the league and if you’re not they’re going to close the book on you. It’s very straight forward for a pitcher, for a major league baseball player in general: Do better. Get it done and you’re going to play for a long time and you’re going to have the success that goes along with getting it done. That’s really all I’m worried about is continuing to make good pitches and hopefully get the results I’m looking for.”