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.

Adam Eaton shakes off bruised forearm, returns to White Sox lineup

Adam Eaton shakes off bruised forearm, returns to White Sox lineup

DETROIT -- He’d already made out the lineup card for Monday, but Robin Ventura wanted to check in on Adam Eaton.

It’s not often Eaton voluntarily leaves a game as he did Sunday.

So even though the preliminary report was that Eaton was cleared, the White Sox manager held a 60-second conversation with his outfielder before the opener of a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers. As he suspected, Eaton, who left in the fifth inning of Sunday’s win with a bruised right forearm, reported he felt fine.

“I was waiting around to see what he felt like, but yesterday he couldn’t grip anything,” Ventura said. “Today it’s good enough for him to play. He’s been able to battle through some stuff, and he can play with pain, so I’m going to let him do it.

“You know it takes a lot for him to come out of a game, and it takes a lot for him to show up the next day and not be in it. There’s very few times he has come in and said he couldn’t go. It would have to be pretty bad for him to not be in there.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Eaton -- who is hitting .276/.359/.412 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs -- joked he normally plays at about 75 percent for most games. He suggested that number dropped by one percent after Taijuan Walker hit him with a pitch and caused swelling in the fourth inning. Eaton stayed in the game until the bottom of the fifth and later had X-rays of his forearm taken, which proved negative. He said he didn’t have much strength in the area on Sunday, but it wasn’t an issue on Monday.

“Nothing broke, nothing major just a lot of swelling,” Eaton said. “I don’t like to leave games at all. It’s no offense to anybody else. But if I’m in the game I want to stay in the game. I don’t want to be Wally Pipp’d. It has always been my mindset and still is. I couldn’t really raise the bat up all that efficiently and we had a healthy Shuck. Let him go up there and compete. I hate coming out of the game, but sometimes you have to. I respect (Ventura) for getting me back in there right away and I guess, trusting in me that I’m all right and good enough to play.”

One reason Eaton pressed to play -- he’s not ready to give in. The leadoff man knows the odds are heavily against the possibility of a White Sox postseason berth. But isn’t ready to concede just yet.

“We’re not out of it until they say we’re out of it,” Eaton said. “There’s been teams down seven or 10 games and the last month of September have won 20 something games and forced a one-game playoff and gotten to the playoffs and been hot at the right time and made a good push. We’re not counting ourselves out and we want to continue to play good baseball.”

Todd Frazier still able to laugh off most embarrassing Little League story ever

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Todd Frazier still able to laugh off most embarrassing Little League story ever

When it comes to hitting homers and driving in runs for the Chicago White Sox in 2016, Todd Frazier is No. 1.

But ask the third baseman for a favorite story about being a baseball player, and he won’t hesitate.

It’s the time he was on the field in a middle of a game---and he went No. 2.

“It was a 10-year-old tournament. Final game. Winner goes to the sectionals. I’m at shortstop,” Frazier explained to CSN Chicago. “I don’t know what I ate. I had the bubble guts all day long. The next thing I knew, I was in trouble.”

Before we get to the dirty details of the Frazier detonation, the original goal of this story was to ask White Sox players about their memories growing up playing baseball.

As the hero of the Toms River East All-Star team that won the 1998 Little League World Series, Frazier probably has enough memories to fill a book.

In the championship game alone, he went 4-for-4 with a leadoff home run. He started that day at shortstop, came on to pitch in relief and threw the game-winning strikeout that gave Toms River a 12-9 victory over Japan for the title.

All the great stories from that magical season have already been told.  This is one from two years earlier that Frazier has been saving for years.

“I s— in my uniform," Frazier said. "I’m not ashamed to admit it."

With quotes like that, I think I speak for every Chicago media member that the White Sox should sign Frazier to a lifetime contract.

And it only gets better.  Or in Frazier’s case, much worse.

“We had a bases loaded jam, and the next thing you know, I couldn’t hold it in,” Frazier recalled. “I didn’t know what to do, to either run off the field or not. So I just let it go, man. Diarrhea all through.”

Frazier’s messy situation came at a terrible time: They were in the final inning of a huge playoff game. Winners move on, losers go home.

Suddenly, Frazier didn’t care about any of that. He needed to go to the nearest bathroom, quickly.

But instead of escaping the field with a victory and his dignity, Frazier’s internal crisis was about to be magnified.

“Coach actually said, ‘Todd, let’s go. It’s your turn to pitch.’ So I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I walk up there gingerly. I get to the mound," he said. "I took one warm-up pitch and that was it. The umpire came out and said, ‘Dude, there’s some kind of stench going on here.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I smelled the same thing when I came out.’ We’re all laughing.”

Not for long.

Thrust into this pressure situation as a relief pitcher who ironically had already relieved himself, with the fate of his team resting in both his pitching hand and his soiled underwear, the proverbial s— was about to hit the fan.

“First pitch, the guy hits a bases clearing triple (to win the game). I was elated. Everybody else was crying,” Frazier said. “I run to the Porta John. My dad is laughing at me.”

Cackling as his son raced to the facilities after a heart-breaking little league game speaks to the offbeat sense of humor embedded in the Frazier DNA.

And yet, this ludicrous moment was almost topped by what happened next.

“I had to ask my dad if he had an extra pair of clothing. Lo and behold, I’m wearing my 6-foot-8 dad’s jeans going home.”

Little Frazier was about 5-feet at the time.

‘I’m like, ‘Dad, let’s get out of here. Let’s not even shake hands. I don’t care about the (second place) trophy. Let’s get out of here.”

It might come as a surprise, but Frazier is not the first baseball player to pollute his baseball pants during a game. A well known major leaguer who will remain nameless said he once did it during an actual major league game.

It’s so embarrassing, who would let the world know about it, especially in today’s age of athletes being so guarded with the media, trying to control the message (and bowels), in the attempt to hide their imperfections?

Clearly not Todd Frazier. We applaud him for it.

“It’s a classic,” he said laughing.  “Now it’s out of the bag, so we’ll see what happens."

In the 20 years since that fateful day, Frazier has made sure this never happens again.

“I’ve always had a bottle of Pepto (Bismol) with me just in case. We've even got them inside the clubhouse here, so I'm good to go.”

Carlos Rodon, White Sox shut down Mariners in series finale

Carlos Rodon, White Sox shut down Mariners in series finale

Carlos Rodon continued his best stretch of the season on Sunday afternoon.

The White Sox pitcher earned his fifth consecutive quality start in the team's 4-1 win over the Seattle Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field.

Rodon had another impressive day, finishing the game with six innings pitched while allowing one run on five hits and one walk. He also struck out six.

In his last five starts, Rodon is 3-0 and has allowed only six runs (five earned) while tacking on 26 strikeouts. He lowered his season ERA to 3.91.

"Carlos is really evolving. As he goes along he just seems to be getting better, there's more confidence there," manager Robin Ventura said. "He's learning a lot about himself as well, going through these. He gets extended somewhat, he's in there for a while, he's seeing these guys the third time around, which is good for him.

"He has the stuff to be able to do that and continue to do that, really. The future's really bright for him."

Though four runs were scored, it was mostly a quiet night for the White Sox offense, which finished the game with five hits. The team had two hits in the first seven innings and the remaining three came in the eighth.

The White Sox opened the scoring in the fourth inning with a single by Justin Morneau, which scored two.

Adam Eaton left the game in the fifth inning with a bruised right forearm after the White Sox outfielder was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning. X-rays were negative and he remains day-to-day. J.B. Shuck replaced him in center field.

"He got hit in the forearm and he couldn't hold on to the bat," Ventura said. "As of right now, he's just day to day."

The Mariners got on the board in the sixth thanks to a solo homer by Robinson Cano, his 30th of the year, to cut the lead in half.

On his 100th pitch of the day, Rodon was removed in the seventh after allowing back-to-back singles to lead off the inning.

"As a competitor, I want to be in that situation," Rodon said. "I didn’t want to come out. But when you’ve got a manager who has done it for awhile, he knows the game of baseball, he knows what he’s doing, obviously it worked out there. You put your trust in him and leave it to your teammates, let them do it.

"You’re up 2-1, you want a quick inning, you want another hold in that seventh. Didn’t really want to dip into the pen that early. I’ve been trying to stay in the game longer. Just a little frustrated. I want to be competitive, I still want to be out there. But hats off to my teammates once again for digging me out."

The White Sox bullpen shut down the Mariners the rest of the way in the final three innings. Chris Beck, Dan Jennings and Nate Jones combined for two scoreless innings.

In the eighth, Melky Cabrera legged out an RBI triple for the White Sox to pull ahead, 3-1. An RBI single from Jose Abreu, who was hit by a pitch twice, made it 4-1.

David Robertson closed out the ninth and earned his 33rd save of the season, which ranks third in the American League.

The White Sox are 63-66 on the season and have won six of their last eight. As it stands, the White Sox are 7.5 games out of a wild card spot and 10.5 behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians.

The White Sox picked the perfect time to heat up if there's any shot of them playing October baseball, with 27 of their last 33 games being against division opponents. 

"Anything’s possible," Morneau said. "It’ll take a lot but we do it one day at a time one game at a time. If we kind of prepare the way we need to prepare and go out there and do everything we can to win that day. If you look at the big picture it seems pretty overwhelming, but if you go out there and just try and do what you can everyday I think we’re still alive.

"We kind of control our own destiny."