BBQ: Sox cuts too tough? Don't make 'em

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BBQ: Sox cuts too tough? Don't make 'em

Sunday, March 27, 2011
Posted: 6:38 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through spring training, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check.Far be it for me to claim responsibility for putting this bug in Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams ear, but the scenario I recommended just two days ago apparently has come to pass after pitcher Jeffrey Marquez was placed on waivers, leaving three remaining roster spots to pitcher Phil Humber, outfielder Lastings Milledge and superutilityman Brent Lillibridge (after Jake Peavy is put on the disabled list).With the roster apparently settled, lets take a look at how all the pieces fit:

Fourteen position players what is this, a coed softball league?

Williams rarely bows to convention, and while breaking camp with 12 pitchers is the traditional mode of operation for teams, he was faced with picking from two pitchers (Humber and Marquez) who didnt seem much to care about making the big club.

On the other hand, Milledge and Lillibridge were scraping like hell to make the cut, somewhat hilariously trying to top one another, often in the space of a single game: Lillibridge leads off with a home run, Milledge throws out a runner at home, Lillibridge makes a diving catch, and so on. The GM is not known for rewarding underachievement and the feistiness of both hitters made the decision to break with just 11 pitchers rather easy.

What happened to Marquez?

Simply put, given the chance to leapfrog Humber onto the roster after the former first-rounder pitched poorly vs. the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, Marquez couldnt seal the deal. Answering mediocrity with mediocrity is no way to convince the GM of your roster worthiness.

Just a couple of days ago I called Marquez the stronger option, with a higher ceiling than Humber, and I stand by that. He bounced back from Saturdays ugly start vs. the Los Angeles Angels with several strikeouts, and his live arm is the thing GMs normally drool over. Marquez is a better fit in the White Soxs power-arm, K-coughing pen, so Im somewhat shocked that Williams was willing to waive Marquez rather than extend the audition.

So whats left of the Nick Swisher trade?

Aside from the knowledge that Swish is no longer allowed to giddily poison the White Sox clubhouse? Nada. Well, Jhonny Nunez is still around, improbably and in spite of choking away his potential as a future White Sox closer.

Anyone who believes Williams is governed by pride and driven to rationalize even his biggest mistakes needs to be reminded that by cutting Marquez, the White Sox are left essentially barren from his two Swisher deals, while Swish continues to play the pesky mascot in Gotham and Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney are starting for the Oakland As.

Is there really room for five outfielders on the roster?

Well, with Mark Teahens continued misadventures in the infield combined with Omar Vizquels continued excellence there, Lillibridge may bring greater value to the White Sox in the infield, as Teahen becomes more exclusively a corner outfielderdesignated hitter.

Make no mistake, Lillibridge presently is little more than a late-game pinch-runner a position in which he can add value to the club. Milledge has much greater potential theyre not nearly equal players, but consider the fact that Williams wanted to bring Andruw Jones back as a fourth outfielder but ran out of money, and recognize that Chicagos commitment to Milledge could well extend beyond a one-year audition.

If (when) right fielder Carlos Quentin is felled by injury, Milledge is the first choice to plug the hole, and if his spring training play is any indication, the White Sox wouldn't lose much with Milledge roaming in right.

Are there X-factors in keeping both hitters?

While its true that Lillibridge is out of options, and cutting him would result in the White Sox losing him (another club would claim him off waivers), Williams has just proven that not to be a deciding factor in his final cuts (by waiving Marquez).

One of Lillibridges strengths, in addition to his defensive flexibility, is his inner strength and character. Hes learned, through trades, injuries, and slumps, to accept a role that could be more modest than hed like. Theres little question Lillibridge would quietly contribute to a winning White Sox season, even if limited to a start every couple of weeks.

Milledge, however, presents more of a character question mark. He has said and done everything perfectly in the clubhouse this spring learning from veterans, knowing his role, even admitting to me midway through Cactus League play that it was a done deal that hed accept a minor-league assignment if offered (as a non-roster player, Milledge could cut ties with the White Sox if cut).

But the outfielder is a polar opposite of Lillibridge on the field, still the player who might high-five fans on his way back to the outfield after a big offensive inning or toss off his helmet well in advance of home plate to finish off a home run.

Such uniqueness can easily be rationalized as spirited play; but what happens if Milledge is thrown out at third on a sacrifice bunt for failing to slide, or gets a bad jump on a fly ball because hes taken a poor at-bat with him to the outfield? Both of those scenarios played out this spring, too.

The My Fair Gentleman process with Milledge is not yet complete, and bringing Lillibridge north with the club helps protect against any sort of behavioral relapse from the 25-year-old, on or off the field.

Doesnt this decision leave the White Sox short of arms?

Yawn. There are two off-days in the first two weeks of the season, with at least one other cancellation possible, as the White Sox dont play in a weather-safe city until the 16th game of the season. And isnt part of the point of bolstering the bullpen to such an outrageous extent (signing Jesse Crain and Will Ohman, pushing projected starter Chris Sale into a setup role) to let the pitchers in the pen pitch?

But, the fifth starter!

Double yawn. Even if the clouds break and sun shines brightly on every of those initial bad-weather city games, the White Sox can avoid a fifth starter at least until April 10, in spite of all the automatonic tendencies toward using the unnecessary fifth turn in the rotation directly on April 6. If Peavy isnt ready by April 10, sure, throw Humber out there to take on the Tampa Rays, and keep Tony Pena (or Sale!) warm in the garage in case of catastrophe.
Will Peavy be ready?

He threw off the mound Sunday for the first time in a week. Though his 30 tosses were far from game conditions, all signs are pointing to Peavys shoulder tendinitis as a natural offshoot of the aggressive rehab the pitcher has pursued since surgery last July.

The notion that he will stay behind for extended spring training and throw four rehab starts before stepping on a major league mound this season veers a bit on the conservative side.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that Peavy renders Humber irrelevant by striding to the bump for the first required fifth starter outing, on April 10 (and with just a single postponement to be made up later in the summer, the initial need for a fifth starter pushes back to April 20 at the Rays).

So, still digging this 2011 White Sox team?

Yep.
Not budging from a 93-win prediction and a division title?

Nope.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Dan Hayes discusses Chris Sale incident on The Dan Patrick Show

Dan Hayes discusses Chris Sale incident on The Dan Patrick Show

CSN's White Sox Insider Dan Hayes joined The Dan Patrick Show on Monday to weigh in on the recent Chris Sale incident and what it means for the White Sox and Sale going forward as the Aug. 1 trade deadline approaches. 

The White Sox announced Sunday that Chris Sale is suspended for five days after reportedly being so furious over having to wear the team's 1976 throwback uniforms on Saturday that he cut them up so they couldn't be worn. Sale was scratched from his scheduled start and sent home by the White Sox.

Hayes called the incident "a little bit of a crazy story," saying that the way it all played out "went in an entirely different direction than everybody thought it would." While he didn't have many details regarding what actually took place in the White Sox clubhouse on Saturday, Hayes did say he heard "scissors were not the culprit."  

When asked if this impacts the likelihood of Sale being traded, Hayes was quick to say "I don't see it happening now. It's possible this offseason but right now they want a major league player back amongst the package and it's going to be hard for a team like the Rangers or the Red Sox to give you the star player back during a pennant chase."

However, Hayes didn't completely dismiss the idea of a trade taking place before the Aug. 1 deadline, saying "anything can happen, teams are motivated right now."

Hear what else Hayes had to say about Sale and the White Sox in the video above. 

Retirement suiting former White Sox star Paul Konerko well

Retirement suiting former White Sox star Paul Konerko well

Paul Konerko isn’t returning to manage the White Sox anytime soon, despite the team’s former All-Star first baseman fielding plenty of questions about the possibility. 

For now, the 40-year-old Konerko, who’s in Year 2 of retirement and will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday's Crosstown opener at U.S. Cellular Field, is more concerned with fielding the balls hit or thrown by his seven-year-old son while they’re playing baseball in the park. 

“I was in the park, my kid threw me a ball, a ground ball and I booted it,” Konerko said. “And some guy’s walking by the park and said, ‘you used to get that one, Paulie!’”

Konerko is spending plenty of time with his kids — Nicholas, Owen and Amelia — and is also keeping busy by playing a bit of hockey and working on a few business interests. One of those ventures is a T-shirt Konerko helped design, the proceeds of which go toward raising awareness for Sensory Processing Disorder, which Konerko’s oldest son, Nicholas, was born with. 

Nicholas was born during the White Sox 2005 run to the franchise’s first World Series title in 88 years, and Konerko’s other two children were born while he was still playing in the majors. Because he missed a good chunk of his kids’ childhoods during baseball’s marathon regular season, Konerko doesn’t have a desire to get back into the game until he accomplishes what he wants as a father. 

“I was gone for so long,” Konerko said. “I played for 20 years, and 10 years of that I had kids.” 

So a return to baseball won’t happen for Konerko “Until I feel like I’m satisfied with where they’re in a position where I’ve done everything they want to do and they’re older,” he said. 

Konerko doesn’t have an itch to coach or manage in the majors, too, thanks to his final season with the White Sox.

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During that 2014 campaign, Konerko appeared in 81 games but also got a taste of what it’s like to be a major league coach. That glimpse into the life of a major league manager or assistant coach, and all the commitments, obligations and criticisms that come with it, led Konerko to walk away from the game “scared straight.”

“If I had not come back my last year, there’s a good chance I would’ve played out 2013 and probably got an itch to come back sooner,” Konerko said. “But my last year, I got a really good feeling of what it’s like to be a coach, because I was on the bench a lot, they kind of let me in on some things more, almost like a player-coach situation. And I think it scared me, because it’s not easy.” 

So while some sections of the White Sox fanbase may want Konerko to come back and manage a team that’s “mired in mediocrity,” as general manager Rick Hahn said last week, that’s not something the guy with 439 career home runs is going to consider. 

Plus, he actually does already have coaching duties right now. 

“I’m the assistant coach on my kid’s seven-year-old team,” Konerko said. “Trying to work toward the head coaching job.”

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since the fist of Michael Barrett famously hit the face of A.J. Pierzynski, creating one of the most legendary moments in the Windy City Series between the White Sox and Cubs. 

The punch lasted only one second, but speaking with the man who was on the receiving end of that punch, Pierzynski knows he'll be hearing about it for the rest of his life.

"It's just one of those things that happens," Pierzynski said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Hey, you got to be remembered for something."

Fans won't let him forget it, even if some have forgotten what actually happened that day—which might also include Pierzynski. More on that in a moment.

First to the play that started it all. It occurred on May 20, 2006. While scoring a run on a sacrifice fly on a ball hit to shallow left field, Pierzynski knocked over Barrett at home plate. The White Sox catcher then moved towards the Cubs backstop to retrieve his helmet. 

If it was anybody else, nothing would have happened. This story you're reading would never have been written.

But this was Pierzynski, one of the most hated players in baseball, the notorious monkey in the middle of everything.

This Sox was about to get socked.

"I went up to get my helmet. He grabbed me and said, 'I didn't have the ball (bleep)," recalled Pierzynski. Barrett threw a right hook that hit Pierzynski square in the left cheek, producing an image that has been permanently burned into the minds of Cubs and White Sox fans.

Or so we thought.

A decade later, Pierzynski says he frequently comes across people who have somehow forgotten what actually occurred.

"What's happened now is most people don't remember what really happened. They just know Barrett and I got into a fight," Pierzynski said. "Most people actually think that I hit him. People (say to me) 'Remember that time you punched Barrett and knocked him down?' So, it's kind of funny how it's kind of changed over the years."

But still, many people do remember the punch quite well, especially Cubs fans who relish in heckling Pierzynski whenever he comes to town, like earlier this month when his Braves played the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“They’ll say things like, ‘Michael Barrett's coming. Look out!’ And I'll be like, 'Yeah, whatever,'" Pierzynski said. “Or they’ll yell ‘Hey, you suck! Or I hate you!’ Then it’s like, ‘Okay, great. Welcome to the club.’” 

The White Sox won the game that day 7-0, but Cubs fans have had a victory of sorts ever since—the memory of Barrett pelting their White Sox nemesis, a guy who pestered them for years.

But even Pierzynski himself seems to remember the play differently than everyone else. His account of what occurred will probably get under the skin of Cubs fans.

What else would you expect from A.J.?

"He didn't really hit me though, that's the thing," said Pierzynski. "He kind of just pushed me. It was weird, because he grabbed me and we were so close. It wasn't like (Rougned) Odor when he hit (Jose) Bautista where he wound up. I mean, it was so close that he just kind of pushed me off balance. 

"And (third base coach Chris) Speier grabbed me right away and then like 10 guys from the White Sox jumped on top of him. And poor (Cubs outfielder John) Mabry who was my hitting coach in St. Louis. I know we were laughing about it when I was in St. Louis. I think he ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and he had nothing to do with it."

Call it a punch, call it a push, most athletes who take a hit like that would be so humiliated they’d never want to talk about it again.

Not Pierzynski.

“I literally laugh about it. It’s funny to me,” Pierzynski said. “Now my kids are of the age to use the internet, so now that’s like the first picture that always comes up, and they’re like, ‘Why did you get in the fight with the guy?’ I tell them the story and they have to explain it to their friends. It’s just one of those things that happens in your life. Hey, at least it happened on national TV and gives people something to talk about.”

Six weeks after the fight, Barrett sought out Pierzynski at Wrigley Field before the White Sox and Cubs resumed the Crosstown Series on the North Side. The two shook hands, made amends and the feud was over.

But the two have not spoken to each other since.

“I haven’t seen him,” Pierzynski said. “I mean, we played a little bit, but I haven’t seen him off the field.”

What would you say to him?

“I don’t know. ‘Hey, how you doing?’ I don’t even know what he does anymore.”

Barrett is currently the minor league catching coordinator for the Washington Nationals. Attempts to interview him for this story were unsuccessful.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

At 39, Pierzynski isn’t sure how much longer he’ll play. He already has enough baseball memories to fill multiple lifetimes. But his recollections of those classic White Sox-Cubs games will never fade.

“I played in Yankees-Red Sox, I played in Dodgers-Giants, Cardinals-Cubs, nothing matched the intensity," he said. "Maybe it was because I was on the White Sox and there was such a dislike for the other team, not only in the fan base, but also kind of the organization. It’s just kind of there. 

"It just brought out the best. It always seemed like it brought out the best in both teams. It was always the one game you circled, and it was like, ‘Okay, we’re playing the Cubs coming up in a week. Everyone be ready.’”

Pierzynski was always ready—maybe not for Barrett’s fist—but the face that took the beating that day gave us all a knockout Cubs-White Sox moment, one we will never forget.