14 August 2009

Alex Rios.. and speculating about Hideki Matsui, et al

I'm thrilled that the White Sox acquired Alex Rios. FanGraphs has covered the fact that Rios is still producing the same batted ball data as last year. UZR regularly fluctuates, but it would appear he's still about +10 defensively at CF. Even if both his bat and his glove have declined to a lower level, he's still a very productive centerfielder, and his bat is decent for a corner outfielder. Thus, he is exactly what the White Sox needed moving forward. I see this primarily as a move for 2010 and beyond. He's a bit pricey, but not prohibitively so, and the contract could turn out to have great value. Yes, it's a gamble. But it's a great move, however it turns out.

Kenny Williams has several choices to make. Next year, he'll need a DH and a corner outfielder (or another centerfielder...). He could choose to bolster the infield as well. I'm not sure if they're willing to move Ramirez to the outfield, and I'm not sure if that would be a good idea. How much can Alexei refine his game in the middle infield? His bat looks good there, but can he become more consistent. I'd like to think he can, but maybe the fact that he hasn't tasted the minors is hurting him. He would probably get more defensive coaching in AAA. That just means the White Sox need to coach him aggressively during the season and the spring. Winter ball might be a good option, to keep him ready heading into his apparently customary weak start while working on the glove.

The obvious question marks as far as returning are Thome, Dye, and Podsednik. I think he'll bring back one or two of them, but not all three. The cases for each:

Cons: He's old and getting older. Thus, decline is to be expected. He can't play any position on the field, meaning that he's a permanent DH. Even so, he needs days off. He's fragile. He's slow. And his high OBP is more and more based solely on walks. While he's been (slightly) more productive this year than last, both of these years have seen a drop-off from his ~.400 wOBA production before that. If he has last year's slow start and then hits his stride like this year, his production will be lower yet. If his bat produces less, then people might start pitching to him more. If he can't punish them, there go his walks. And many people have argued that his walks aren't that valuable when his speed and the team's propensity for grounding into double plays leaves him LOB so often.
Pros: He is still an above average offensive weapon. He has patience, and he can come through with the (very) big hit. Plus, he's a left-handed power bat. Bring back Dye instead, and the heart of your order is Quentin-Dye-Konerko-Beckham-Rios... all righties. While the platoon advantage isn't everything, you'd like to give the opposing manager a reason to use up more relievers, and you'd especially like to not always be at a disadvantage because everyone uses right-handed pitchers. He also might come back for a HUGE discount, since the market for aging, DH-only, three-true-outcomes sluggers hasn't been all that wild lately.

Pros: He is still a very good bat. He can hit in the heart of the order. He can play the outfield if you need him to, where he still has a plus arm. He's younger than Thome. He wants to stay in Chicago. And despite some aches and pains, he's really quite durable.
Cons: Another RH bat in the middle of the order. He can't play a good right field. And he might be pricey.

Pros: When healthy, he's a spark at the top of the order, the only natural leadoff hitter the White Sox have. He gets on base at a brilliant pace, plays with the heads of pitchers, steals bases, runs the bases, and even lays down bunts. He can handle CF, though he probably belongs in LF. With him, the White Sox offense seems to reach a different level.
Cons: When healthy. So far, it would appear that his new conditioning program* is paying dividends. But his history is not in his favor. Can he stay healthy all year long? With Quentin already an injury question mark in the outfield, can we afford to keep two corner outfielders who might not be around all year? And can Podsednik keep up this production next year? Will his stutter steps, swinging bunts, and speed be able to continue confounding pitchers next year? The cons are that you don't know if you have what you think you have.

*He talked about this program on 670-AM the Score in Chicago right around the time he was called up. He explained that in the past his conditioning has been all-around and general. Apparently, his new trainer had him emphasizing the leg muscles that he relies on for his running game. The idea is that by strengthening and conditioning the RIGHT muscles instead of his body as a whole, he will better prepare himself to run all out day in and day out. It seems to be working, but it's hard to say if it will work long-term or if he's on a lucky health streak.

Other options
Chone Figgins should be available, and he can play the infield or the outfield. He could replace Podsednik at the top of the order and hit from both sides of the plate. He could replace Getz or Podsednik defensively, or he can take 3B if other players shift (Beckham to SS, Ramirez to 2B, LF, or CF). He would give Ozzie speed, defense, and versatility. However, there might be some competition for his services, so he could get more expensive than he should be.

Hideki Matsui
I mentioned him in the blog title. This is today's speclation, and it's not that serious. Matsui could be another option to fill the DH spot. He's four years younger than Thome, and his skill set is similar. Right now, Thome produces more, but that could easily change by next year. What Matsui provides is a left-handed power bat to balance the order; a DH who could play a little OF if we need him to, or he could probably at least adjust to some time at 1B; and hopefully a cheap option, at that. According to MLBTradeRumors today, the Yankees like Matsui but don't think they'll pursue him this offseason. Now, the Yankees don't want him because he can't really play the OF any more, but he can still play the field more than Thome. I'm really just throwing a name out there to represent the idea that we bring in a DH. A lineup like this:

LF Podsednik
3B Beckham
RF Quentin
1B Konerko
DH Matsui
CF Rios
C Pierzynski
SS Ramirez
2B Getz

It could work. Thome can fill the same spot. I'll look into who else might be available. Russell Branyan might be. The only problem with bringing back Dye is the right-handed-ness of the lineup, but he's probably the most consistent option. And he can really play the field if you have to make him.

Okay, I'm looking them up now.
Nick Johnson, who has less power but a high OBP, a left-handed bat, and the ability to play 1B. He can probably handle a little corner OF, but it might not be a good idea.

Carlos Delgado, who's Thome a few years ago. We don't know how much of his bat is left, but it might be a lot. Especially in the Cell.

Adam LaRoche. This one would probably be a Konerko-to-DH move. LaRoche isn't the best bat, but he's pretty good. Another lefty.

Abreu. Vlad. Geoff Jenkins (has he retired?). Hank Blalock. Austin Kearns. Aubrey Huff. Garret Anderson. Matt Holliday... Jason Bay...

Looking forward to the rest of the season, the postseason, the offseason, and next season, all at once!!

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