News and notes from the Twins interdivision rivals:
Chicago White Sox
- Chicago struggled to find a serviceable leadoff hitter for much of the 2009 season. For the team’s first 34 games, the Sox employed a potpourri of hitters including Dwayne Wise, Jayson Nix, Brent Lillibridge and Chris Getz before settling on the prodigal Scott Podsednik. The 33-year-old Podsednick shored up the spot, hitting .303/.355/.416 in 121 games. Because of his age and free agent status, the White Sox showed interest in acquiring Angels’ leadoff man, Chone Figgins, as Podsednick’s replacement. Figgins, who was on base nearly 40% of his plate appearances (.395 OBP) at the top of a Los Angeles lineup that scored an average of 5.45 runs per game, was looking for a multi-year deal with an average annual value of $10M. Chicago’s GM, Kenny Williams, admitted that his budget does not have the flexibility to accommodate Figgins’s demands. ''We don't have that kind of money,” said Williams. “Sometimes the minor [free-agent deals] are the major ones, in my mind. How many Novembers have you heard that line?''
- In spite of the Sox paying $950,000 to buy right fielder Jermaine Dye out from his $12M contract in 2010, Dye has kept the window open for a possible return. ''First of all, I could come back to the Sox,'' Dye said in a phone interview Tuesday. ''I talked to [White Sox general manager] Kenny [Williams], and negotiations could still go on.” Dye told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Kenny talked to me about the fact that his hands are tied as far as spending money, but ... I could sign for less.'' Dye, who will be 36 at the start of the 2010 season, hit a torrid .302/.375/.567 with 20 HR in the season’s first half before cooling off to a tepid .179/.293/.297 with just one home run after the All Star break. Combine his eroded defensive skills with late season productivity decline and it isn’t any surprise that the Sox were not willing to pay him $12M when he has not encroached that value since 2006 (when he was worth $11.8M according to fangraphs.com).
- When the Sox traded Jim Thome to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the waiver trade deadline, the left-handed Twins killer hoped the door was still open for the lumbering DH’s return. "Everyone knows my feelings toward the White Sox," the Peoria native said to the Chicago Tribune. "I enjoyed it here. It's home." The 39-year-old slugger most comparable to Harmon Killebrew according to B-R.com’s similarity scores, Thome’s experienced four consecutive seasons of power decline, witnessing his slugging percentage drop from .598 to .563 to .503 to just .481 this past season. He may no longer be capable of swatting 40-home runs, yet Thome has shown the ability to get on-base at a 36% percent clip or higher (then again, once on base, Thome is an immoveable object). For a relatively low salary, an AL team can acquire a beer league softball hitter that can coax a walk or too.
- Third baseman Gordon Beckham, who will likely move back to short in 2010, is being touted as potentially claiming the White Sox’s first Rookie of the Year since Ozzie Guillen won the award in 1985. After beginning the season in AA Birmingham, Beckham ascended to Chicago as Josh Fields failed to secure third base. In 103 games, the rookie infielder hit .270/.347/.460 with 17 home runs while driving in 63 runs and scoring 58 more himself.
- The Plain Dealer’s Indians’ columnist, Paul Hoynes, covers some extensive territory, discussing the 2010 roster and some potential moves the club might make while financially strapped. One item of interest is the whereabouts of Grady Sizemore come 2012. Cleveland holds an $8.5M club option on Sizemore, however, given the organization’s penchant for freeing up payroll, a trade in 2010 or 2011. Because the option year can be waived by Sizemore if traded, the motivation may be to move him sooner rather than later. Sizemore is coming off a season in which injuries crusted over his stellar progress, producing the lowest offensive season (111 OPS+) since his rookie year. Cleveland would need a big first-half to pump up his value in order to get a ROI for an MVP-caliber center fielder.
- Hoynes also notes that it is very plausible that the Indians will attempt to move closer Kerry Wood before the 2010 season. Following a solid season in which the righty worked 66.1 innings while striking out 84 and converting 34 saves with the Chicago Cubs, the Indians inked Wood to a two year, $20.5M contract -- with a 2011 vesting option for an additional $11M if he works in 55 games in 2009 or 2010. Since he threw in 58 games in 2009, Wood is Indians property for three seasons at $31.5M – a steep price for a closer on a team struggling to win 75-games making him a perfect candidate to be moved for more inexpensive parts. Part of Wood’s problem in Cleveland was his reluctance to use his slider (just 3.8% versus 22.8% in ’08), instead he used a harder thrown cutter and curveball only to see hitters stop chasing pitches outside of the zone (20.2% in ’09 versus 31.3% in ’08) leading to more walks (from 2.44 in ’08 to 4.58 in ’09). Retuning his assortment might help reestablish the dominance but the dollars owed is a high price for the majority of teams.
- With the Indians set to allow utility man Jamey Carroll to test the free agent market, there are rumblings of Cleveland bringing back fan favorite Omar Vizquel to fill a need as a backup infielder. While the 42-year-old Vizquel might not be able to match Carroll’s positional versatility or ability to get on base, Vizquel has played stellar defense in limited capacity (32.9 UZR/150 in 196.2 innings at short and 56.1 UZR/150 in 101 innings at third in ’09) in spite of his accelerated age. The Indians like the idea of acquiring Vizquel who played in Cleveland during the club’s banner years and have fallen on hard time attendance-wise, slipping to second-lowest attendance in the AL this past season. The veteran infielder has expressed interest in playing only for a contending team, which Cleveland is sure to not be in 2010.
- While the Indians are in the market for a veteran starter to add to the current crop of youth pitching (Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona, David Huff, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco), Terry Pluto does not think the tribe will bring back Carl Pavano because of his desire for a multi-year contract.
- Rumors of the Tigers shopping center fielder Curtis Granderson persists. With the Angels making a strong play for the outfielder, speculative packages includes shortstop prospect Brandon Wood who has had problems finding regular playing time at the major league level. This makes sense as Detroit has little long-term solutions for the shortstop position. Internally, Cale Iorg demonstrated nothing at AA in 2009 to reassure the organization that he is the future. In 491 PA, Iorg hit .222/.274/.336 while striking out 111 times (30.3%). Without payroll flexibility, Detroit’s solution would be to look outside the organization.
- Interestingly enough even though they had a glaring need for a shortstop, the Tigers were never in contention for JJ Hardy from the Brewers. “I was looking specifically for a center fielder or pitching that was low (in) salary and low (in) service time,” Brewers GM Doug Melvin wrote. “I did not see a match so I did not call (the Tigers).”
- Detroit is also rumored to be shopping starting pitcher Edwin Jackson. The 26-year-old Jackson compiled a 7-4 first-half record with a great 2.52 ERA and 97-to-35 K-to-BB ratio. During the second-half, Jackson, a predominately fly ball-oriented pitcher, saw a few more of the balls drift over the outfield walls as opponents slugged .500 off of him with 17 home runs. His completed the second-half with a less impressive 6-5 record and 5.07 ERA. For his third straight season, Jackson lowered his walk rate and incited more swing-and-misses however being arbitration eligible will mean a raise from his 2009 $2.2M salary and that does not coincide with owner Mike Illitch’s budgetary slash edict. Although Jackson’s original organization, the Los Angeles Dodgers, is interested in him, the Brewers have pursued Jackson as well. MLB.com writer Jason Beck believes Milwaukee outfielder Corey Hart might be the right trading chip in this instance.
- Ken Rosenthal wonders out loud if the Tigers should look to trade Miguel Cabrera to the Boston Red Sox for closer Jonathon Papelbon, Mike Lowell and a prospect. In theory, the Tigers would be shipping a 5 WAR player who has a crippling $126M through 2015 left on his contract for two 2 WAR players and an estimated $20M in salary. Obviously, the move addresses two needs for the Tigers but ultimately frees up payroll -- one that reached $129M this past year -- after 2010.
Kansas City Royals
- The Royals wasted little time filling in holes in the lineup, signing free agent utility man Wilson Betemit to a minor league contract. As a role player for the majority of his career, the switch-hitting Betemit shows a high aptitude against right-handed pitchers while hitting left-handed (.791 career OPS) but has not fared as well from the right side of the plate (.637 career OPS). A year ago, Betemit was in the White Sox system as an insurance policy for the fundamentally challenged Josh Fields. Now that the Royals have traded Fields, it is only fitting that they bring in his safety net as well.
- After acquiring second baseman Chris Getz from the White Sox in the Mark Teahen trade, the Royals’ 2009 second baseman, Alberto Callaspo, is viewed as expendable. The switch-hitting middle infielder hit a robust .300/.356/.457 with 41 doubles in over 600 PAs. Some scouts are not confident his numbers are sustainable going forward, mainly because his inflated average has a lot to do with playing in a ballpark with a spacious outfield (.337 home BA vs. .267 road BA), but he is a high-contact hitter with some indications that he can work a walk. The power is most likely a mirage yet Callaspo would give a contending team a strong utility player.
- Royals' GM Dayton Moore has made no indications that Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria or Billy Butler is available, but almost everyone else can be had. Along with the aforementioned Callaspo also available is David Dejesus and Gil Meche however the team is more likely to trade pitchers Brian Bannister or Kyle Davies before moving the previous three.