November 22, 2014
Define these, please:
Rebuild. Retool. Reshape.
We’ll hear the terminology as fix-it talk heats up when White Sox general manager Rick Hahn tries to clean up his mess of a 60-92 baseball team this coming offseason.
“Rebuilding” implies a total makeover from top to bottom. The company line that this will be a “reshaping” or “retooling” project implies the Sox aren’t far away from being a contending team again. It suggests that some touching up here, minor fixes there and airbrushing everywhere will make them presentable again. It begs disgruntled season-ticket holders to reconsider and renew.
It’s hard not to look at the pile of rubble that is this team — last in the American League in runs, on-base percentage and OPS (slugging and on-base combined) and second-to-last in homers despite hitting in a homer-friendly ballpark, first in errors and the makers of a Keystone Cops reel of inexcusable baserunning blunders that added yet another in the Sox’ most recent loss Wednesday — and say it doesn’t need to be rebuilt.
The Sox need to win three of their last 10 games to avoid 100 losses. That’s what they’re playing for.
Hahn is holding firm to his only commodity, a core of young pitchers led by All-Star left-hander Chris Sale in the starting rotation and closer Addison Reed and Nate Jones at the back end of the bullpen as reasons not to tear it all down and rebuild from the basement up.
A few improvements via free agency and the trade market could send the Sox to spring training with reasonable expectations of not being an embarrassment for a second consecutive year.
At least one major-league scout who has watched them closely agrees.
“They’re not very good, but one thing I will say is they have enough starting pitching — and a closer — that they’re not that far away if they fill a couple of holes,’’ he said. “If you have starting pitching like they do, there’s always a chance. But that’s what they thought this year, too.
“They have some work to do.’’
They have a lot of work to do.
Promising as the pitching might be with youth and an ace in Sale, the Sox don’t have a bona fide No. 2 starter, and after Reed, Jones and Matt Lindstrom (if his option is picked up), there are important holes to fill in the bullpen. Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton, an All-Star pin on each one’s lapel, are gone.
Of 15 AL teams, the Sox rank ninth with a 1.32 WHIP (walks and hits to innings pitched) and eighth in ERA (3.94). They’re fifth in walks with 481. The numbers have sagged in September, perhaps the byproduct of September call-ups. But those guys are your future.
“They have a number of arm-strength guys who are throwers, just works in progress,’’ the scout said, but they’re in good hands with “one of the best pitching coaches in the game’’ in Don Cooper.
The scout also gives good marks to rookie starter Erik Johnson and said he expects $65 million left-hander John Danks to be better a full season removed from shoulder surgery. But he thinks Danks will be a No. 4 starter at best.
He also said center fielder Alejandro De Aza is a concern defensively and shortstop Alexei Ramirez too often blows the routine play and “loses focus,” and he isn’t sold on rookie catcher Josh Phegley being the long-term answer behind the plate.
“Phegley competes, gives you a hard day’s work and does as well as he can,’’ he said. “I think they need a No. 1-type catcher instead of backups, though.’’
In any language, Hahn has a lot of work to do.