Chicago White Sox

He Gone: Sox risk big in non-tendering Jenks

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He Gone: Sox risk big in non-tendering Jenks

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
3:01 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

To no ones surprise, on Thursday the Chicago White Sox non-tendered closer Bobby Jenks, ending his South Side career just 29 saves short of the Bobby Thigpens franchise record.

All signs pointed to todays move, as Jenkss rising salary, declining conditioning, and sour attitude were all supporting evidence of the decision.

Jenks didnt get along well with manager Ozzie Guillen, who doesnt mask the fact that he believes Jenks doesnt take his job seriously (conditioning) andor exaggerates injury to miss time. And in speaking for a half-hour with pitching coach Don Cooper on Wednesday, Coopclearly still appreciative of his fireballing protgdidnt bring up Jenkss name once.

But most importantly are the thoughts of the man who offers the contracts, and GM Ken Williams was pointed in his remarks about Jenks in his final address of the 2010 season: Jenkss return is something we have to evaluate strongly, because Ive been disappointed on a number of levelsand there are certain things that Im not going to talk about right now.

So between the lines and emblazoned on the marquee, the writing on Jenks was there: He gone.

However, cutting Jenks loose without a true backup plan could spell doom for the White Sox. The offseason attention is being paid to the return of Paul Konerko or the acquisition of Adam Dunn, but breaking camp with the dominoes still scattered after Jenkss dismissal would be catastrophic.

Did Jenks have a down 2010, arguably his worst yet in the majors? Absolutely. Via arbitration, he has become far too expensive, and as a player hes turned increasingly fragile and relatively unreliable. But unless there is a serious problem with Jenks that both the reliever and the team have kept well sequestered, hes due for a major bounce-back. Jenkss price for 2011 will still be high, but the cost of selling him off low (in his career arc, at least) could be a terrible mistake.

The case for Jenks is already made rather handily by my colleague J. Jonah Stankevitz, but the summary is that of all the serious factors listed above that can be used as reasons not to keep Jenks on board, the burly fireman was more a victim of bad luck and a corresponding lack of confidence than anything.

Take Jenkss batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In 2010, hitters safetied at a .368 clip vs. Jenks, which was a far higher rate than any other season in his career (his career average BABIP is more than 60 points less, at .306). So more balls were falling in on Jenkssomething he could not control.

Bad luck isnt entirely new to Jenks. In his first two seasons batters posted a BABIP of around .340 against him. However, those were Jenkss salad days, when even a superstar like Jeff Bagwell would soil his shorts over not just the Jenks heater, but a curveball that made vendors selling popcorn jump back and spill.

Jenks has lost confidence in his deathly yakker, and must regain it to become an elite closer again. He threw it just 7.4 of the time in 2010, the lowest of his careerand often replacing it is his most hittable pitch, the slider.

And its not as if Jenks has lost his stuff, with a sweet K rate (10.42 K9, second best of his career). His Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP, essentially an ERA-type figure taking fielders out of the equation) was as good as any in his career, at just 2.52. And his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, which must be high to ensure success in a microwave like U.S. Cellular Field, was a career-best 2.80, indicating that Jenks, for all his woes, is keeping the ball down and mastering the ability to pitch in his tricky home park.

So a strong case can be made that Jenks is due for a strong, if not stellar, bounce-back season. Sabermeister Bill James envisions (not entirely because of but largely due to better luck, a BABIP trimmed to .307) a 32-save season and a 3.12 ERA.

But theres an equally-important reason why Jenks, sans a doable Plan B involving a player outside the organization, needs to return: the domino effect.

Talking with Cooper yesterday left no indication, as many (including me) have speculated, that Sergio Santos will get much of a sniff at closing in just his second major-league year. Coop talked of Santos repeating and improving on his great 2010, but in a context that pointed to another season setting up.

J.J. Putz could return to the South Side, re-inked with a promise to get a chance to close. But he would be wise to refuse that option, given his relative success last year in a lower-pressure role vs. his awful work as a substitute closer. While unstoppable as a fireman in 2006 and 2007 for the Seattle Mariners, Putz has battled to just a .588 save percentage over his last three seasons, including just .429 last year in seven chances.

That leaves lefty All-Star Matt Thornton as the likely closer in 2011. Great, right? Thornton was all but unhittable in 2010 and has been building a case to close for years now.

But shifting the only viable lefty in the pen to closer is the capper of a terrible domino effect. Santos could well be left as the only proven bullpen short manand hes been proven for just a single season. There are no obvious reinforcements in the minors, and the sole promising lefty in the pen, Erick Threets, went down with a torn ligament in his elbow in August and was non-tendered along with Jenks on Thursday.

An argument can be made that Jenks himself, with his self-immolating series vs. the Minnesota Twins to open the 2010s second half, started the clock ticking toward his demise. Believe me, as a diehard following the team daily, it was tempting to measure the what-me closers neck for the guillotine. But imagine Jenks being lost for the season in spring training, and the train wreck of a pen that would have been unleashed on fans from April on. Like it or not, even in Jenkss worst year, he was the linchpin of the pen.

The speculative 2011 White Sox bullpen sans Jenks lists Thornton as closer and Santos as his setup man, Scott Linebrink in a mop-up role and possibly a returning Tony Pena in long reliefand theres not a supporting lefty arm within hollering distance.

Chris Sale certainly could be the answer, even as the teams closer. But Sale was drafted to pitch a solid innings load, as a starter. Inasmuch as hes the sixth-man in a five-man rotation right now, the White Soxs best chance to improve via trades would come in swapping a proven armsay, the revitalized wing of Edwin Jackson. And regardless, injuries will occur (no one knows if Jake Peavy will be ready in April) and Sale cannot be expected to start the season in short relief and stretch out to sub in the rotation on the fly.

As for Jenkss cost becoming prohibitive, well, if the White Sox valued him properlyespecially in light of the Threets injury, which ironically may have set the dominoes falling months agochances are a deal lowering his salary, but adding years, could have been secured. Ensure Jenks is your top-salaried reliever (say 5.6 million to top, ack, Linebrink) for two or three seasons, and the White Sox would have seen a return on the investmentin five full seasons, Jenks gave 31.1 million in value to the White Sox per FanGraphs, an average of 6.2 million per season.

At the moment, speculative perceptions and hazy projections have run Jenks out of town. Who replaces him, and how can the 2011 possibly be as strong as it was in 2010?

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

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Yoan Moncada wrapped up his first Crosstown Series — in front of the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere he’ll experience in, likely, a while — with an 0-4 showing in the White Sox 6-3 loss to the Cubs on Thursday. 

The 22-year-old had mixed results facing the defending World Series champions, striking out four times in five at-bats on Monday and hitting his first career home run off Jake Arrieta on Wednesday. His final numbers for these four Crosstown games: 17 plate appearances, two hits, two walks, two runs, eight strikeouts and one hit by pitch. 

Moncada is off to a slow start in his second stint in the majors, but he’s drawing plenty of walks (12.5 percent) and probably has been victimized by some bad luck (a .118 batting average on balls in play which, to say the least, is exceedingly low). 

Manager Rick Renteria, though, likes Moncada’s even-keeled demeanor and his ability to handle the ups and downs of the day-to-day grind of the regular season. 

“What he’s going to be able to do is minimize how much he gets wrapped up in frustration, as opposed to taking the at-bat, the last at-bat, going through pitch by pitch and trying to figure out what it was he wrapped in his approach,” Renteria said. “Younger players usually get very, very frustrated and lose that moment to gain some knowledge. Failure is not in and of itself a bad thing. It’s actually something that can produce a lot of positives. The thing is to try to get them to understand as quickly as possible so they can take those moments and gain information. 

“That’s why his even-keeled approach and even-keeled attitude (will help). He’s got fire. It’s not that he doesn’t care. That’s where people — for a lot of players who are calm or even-keeled, they have fire, they have desire, but they know how to compartmentalize and separate those things and try to gain something from every moment, positive or negative.”

Moncada already took that clear-eyed approach to self-evaluation in the minor leagues, and said that hasn’t changed now that he’s at baseball’s highest level. 

“I’m just keeping the same routine that I was using in the minors,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “And the whole year, I’m just keeping with the things that have been giving me results.”

There’s not much of a common thread between Moncada’s brief call-up with the Boston Red Sox last September and his first few games with the White Sox. Moncada was overmatched in his 2016 debut, striking out 12 times in 20 plate appearances and only drawing one walk. He had four hits, though, so his way-too-small-sample-size BABIP was .571. 

Moncada looks like a different player this year, carrying over his strong Triple-A walk rate (13.6 percent) to his nascent tenure with the White Sox. Eventually, the hits are likely to start falling as long as he doesn’t get out of the approach that got him here — and made him baseball’s biggest prospect in the process. 

“He’s been doing all the work that he has to do to adjust to this level,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “He’s been doing his same routine from Triple-A and I think that’s something good because you have to stick with the things that are giving you good results.” 

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

Nearly eight months into their rebuild, the White Sox have accrued an eye-popping amount of young talent. The franchise continues to receive kudos even in trading a pair of relievers this week to add depth to what might be the best farm system in baseball.

But having the best farm system -- the White Sox have eight of MLBPipeline.com’s top 100 prospects -- won’t mean much until it’s realized.

Well versed on the subject having experienced it on his own, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo acknowledged before Thursday’s 6-3 win over the White Sox just how uncertain the rebuilding process can be. In Rizzo’s eyes, it wasn’t just talent that got the Cubs over the hump, it was timing, too.

“It happened fast, but it could have went the other way, too,” Rizzo said. “We’re lucky with how everything turned out. Plus, a lot of hard work has gone into it.”

[MORE: Aaron Bummer on what it's like to get called up to the majors]

Similar to Yoan Moncada’s arrival last week, Rizzo was the first [hyped prospect to be promoted] after Theo Epstein’s plan went into place. Acquired the previous winter from San Diego, Rizzo reached the majors midway through the 2012 season with the Cubs only a few months into their rebuild. The three-time All-Star didn’t know it at the time, but he was the first new face the Cubs would introduce to their audience. While Rizzo often [was aware of skepticism of Epstein’s plan], he said he never felt the same pressure from fans. Rizzo also said he can understand why not all the Cubs faithful were on board.

“I think I was naïve and happy to be back in the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “You’ve just got to focus on playing baseball and not worry about everything else that you can’t control.

“I didn’t feel (pressure) at all. I know people were calling for the upper front office’s jobs. But they had a plan and they had a vision and they preached it the entire time.”

“As a fan I can understand why you get upset because you want to win. As a fan of football or whatever sport, if my team doesn’t win, I get mad. But obviously they knew what they were doing.”

So far the White Sox fan base has been mostly supportive of Rick Hahn’s efforts and embraced the idea of building through the farm system. But not everyone is on board with a 25-man roster teardown that appears to have the club hurtling toward its first 100-loss season since 1970.

This week’s Crosstown series is a reminder there are tough times ahead for the White Sox.

The Cubs lost a combined 197 games in 2012 and 2013 and 89 games in 2014. The second half of the 2017 season could be extremely difficult for a White Sox club that has traded Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings all since December.

Rizzo thinks the way the Cubs handled those difficulties played into their success in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s life,” Rizzo said. “There are tough times in anything. There are going to be good times and bad times so it’s all about how you approach it and how you handle it.

“We always knew the potential we had, it was just a matter of going out and doing it. Ball’s bouncing your way, calls going your way and staying together.”