Thursday, November 30, 2006

Angels in Our Outfield?

There has been much hand wringing and kvetching on Chicago sports radio about Ken Williams' rumored intent to trade Joe Crede and Freddy Garcia to the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles, Orange County, and Placentia for Chone (sic) Figgins and Ervin Santana. The general consensus seems to be that the White Sox would be trading an all-world third baseman and a known, top-of-the-rotation starter for a utility guy and a pitching prospect. In other words, everyone is convinced the Sox would be getting taken to the cleaners.

I'm not a huge fan of Figgins, but the groyl is unwarranted. The White Sox win this deal on raw talent, and they'd be getting pieces that better fit the club's needs.

First off, Crede is a good, not great, all-around third baseman. Last year was Crede's best by a wide margin. He had 30 home runs and 96 RBIs. But he also had an on-base percentage of only .323. For his career, Crede's on-base percentage is under .310. He had a WARP of 6.5, nearly twice his previous career high. He contributed more than half that value with his glove. Crede significantly exceeded PECOTA's expectations for him last year, which could represent a break out, or, more likely for a guy who has already turned 28, could represent an outlying career season. PECOTA is projecting WARPs in the 2.0 - 2.5 range over the next few years. Let's split the difference and say Crede is about a WARP 4.5 player.

Meanwhile, Figgins, once overrated, is underrated if viewed solely as a utility guy. Figgins' on-base percentage actually dropped significantly last year, but was still higher than Crede's career high, at .336. For his career, Figgins has a .345 on-base percentage, a nice step up from Crede. Figgins had a WARP of 3.1, considerably lower than in 2005 (which may have been Figgins' career year). Most of Figgins value came with the bat. In fact, Figgins contributed 17 batted runs above replacement (BRAR), and Crede had 21 -- not much of a difference at the plate at all. Figgins underperformed his PECOTA projection slightly last year, but not enough to call his future projections into doubt. PECOTA is projecting WARPs in the 4.0 range over the next couple of years.

So, being optimistic about Crede -- in other words, assuming 2006 wasn't just a fluke -- he's a little better than Figgins, mostly because he plays quality defense at third, while Figgins is an average defender anywhere, but above-average nowhere. Figgins would presumably be replacing Scott Podsednik, who the Sox, in the absence of alternatives, are suddenly contemplating retaining. Pods had a WARP of 1.1 last year, demonstrating equal ineffectiveness with his bat and his glove. That was worse than his PECOTA projection, but even if we split the difference between Pods' craptacular 2006 and his slightly higher future projections, we're talking about a WARP 1.5 guy the next couple of seasons. And due to veteraniness alone, Pods won't be that cheap. On the other hand, Crede would be bottling up Josh Fields. Fields is a bit of an unknown. He is very young, and PECOTA wasn't high on him before last year. But Fields season in 2006 was way beyond expectations. He turned 23 this year, and thus is far more likely to be experiencing a breakout, as opposed to a career year, than the 28 year old Crede. Given how close Figgins is to Crede, Fields wouldn't have to do much to make the combo of Fields and Figgins more valuable than Crede and Podsednik. It's a gamble I'd be in favor of taking in and of itself.

But even beyond Crede for Figgins being worth it, getting Santana for Garcia sweetens the pot. Garcia turned 30 last year, and posted a WARP of 5.3, his second consecutive season of decline. It is also exactly what PECOTA expected him to do. The other thing PECOTA expects him to do, is continue declining, at an ever more rapid rate. PECOTA is projecting Garcia to be about a WARP 3.5 pitcher over the next two years and head downhill from there.

Santana, on the other hand, turned 23 last year. And, he posted a WARP of 4.7. That's right, the pitching prospect was almost as good as the established star in 2006. Garcia was 17-9 with 4.83 runs allowed per nine. Santana was 16-8 with 4.68 runs allowed per nine. Santana drastically outperformed PECOTA's projection for him. Again, we'll play our little game, splitting the difference between PECOTA's future projections, and Santana's unexpected performance. This makes Santana look like a WARP 4.0 guy for the next couple of years, already better than Garcia. Plus, the odds that a 23 year old is experiencing a break out, rather than a career year, are better than with someone Crede's age.

So, the White Sox would get younger and cheaper in the field, likely without sacrificing anything offensively, and bring in a much younger starting pitcher who is already at least as good as the guy they're giving up. Listen, I know Hawk's man-crush on Joe Crede is infectious. We all have a special place for him in our hearts due to his Brooks Robinson impersonation in the World Series. But far from a reason for concern, the Sox' proposed deal with the Angels is one Williams should do in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Miracle Drug

There was nothing ailing the Bulls that back to back games against the New York Knicks couldn't fix. Beating the Knicks gives the Bulls the rare opportunity to improve their record, and their draft position at the same time. High Five! Plus, as bad as the Bulls have been, they'd be in the play-offs if they started today. This is obviously a ridiculous point 15 games into the season, but true nevertheless, largely because the entire Atlantic Division has a .385 winning percentage, or worse. That includes the Knicks, who are now 5-11.

The Bulls started kind of slow once again, but they appeared to take control with a 13-3 run to start the 2nd quarter. That run was triggered by the unusual lineup of Chris Duhon, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, PJ Brown and Malik Allen. Gordon, Brown and Allen appear to have become Skiles' reserves of choice. I still think Thabo Sefolosha has something to offer, but if this veteran group makes Skiles comfortable, and the team continues playing well when the competition improves Friday, then let it be that way.

Anyway, the Knicks had their own run, as all NBA teams do, and the game went back and forth until the 4th quarter. About a minute into the 4th, the Bulls brought Ben Wallace in for Allen, and Kirk Hinrich in for Deng, giving them a three guard line-up of Duhon, Hinrich, Gordon, Brown and Wallace. Featuring a balanced attack led by Duhon, who had 10 4th quarter points (18 overall, all in the second half), the Bulls uncorked a 29-12 run to close the game.

Gordon led the team with 23 points, 10 of which came during the Bulls' 2nd quarter run. He and Duhon were among six Bulls in double figures, including Deng, who had 12. Deng is averaging 18.6 per game, and has hit double figures in every game this season. He is close to becoming the break out, dependable scorer that the Bulls have been looking for.

The New Orleans / Oklahoma City Hornets will provide more of a challenge on Friday. But the rest of the Bulls' near-term schedule includes lots of home games and lots of games against that woeful Atlantic Division. The truth is that with the Circus Trip out of the way, the rest of the Bulls' schedule is pretty easy. Hopefully two games against the Knicks have been medicine enough to cure this team of its losing ways, and allow the Bulls to take advantage of the opportunity that now presents itself.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Grossman v. Griese

Welcome back. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. And, welcome back to where we started the season: Grossman v. Griese -- The Great Debate. I go away for a long weekend and all hell breaks loose on the local sports scene. We'll get to Big Ben and the Headbands, as well as the possible end of Hawk's man-crush on Joe Crede, but first things first.

After Sunday's loss to the Patriots, the argument that Brian Griese should replace Rex Grossman has gained substantial steam. In fact, it produced dueling columns, and a scary freakin' picture of Brirex Griesman in today's Sun-Times. Grossman has turned the ball over 15 times in his last 6 games. But before we anoint Griese, know that he too has thrown 30 picks in his last 20 games. So, who's it gonna be?

The argument for sticking with Grossman goes like this: the Bears' first priority should be to see if Grossman can play through his recent problems. Griese will still be there if he can't. Grossman has a strong arm, quick release, and good agility, which he should use more to his advantage. The ceiling on this kid is still pretty high -- Super Bowl winning high. Griese would be asked not to derail a run to the Super Bowl. Grossman can be asked to contribute to such a run. And, if he can't get his act together, then the Bears can turn to Griese, but they shouldn't rush to do so.

On the other hand, Griese supporters argue that allowing Grossman time to develop made sense before the Bears established themselves as the top team in the NFC. Now, however, the Bears need to do whatever makes the most sense to grab the window of opportunity that is presenting itself right now in a weak NFC. Griese has a reputation as a good decision maker and accurate thrower. And, Grossman has already thrown away his chance, and an inordinate number of footballs. The Bears have a viable alternative, so they should at least explore it. Grossman has gained valuable experience this year, and can remain the team's QB of the future, even if Griese needs to be their QB of the present. Plus, Grosmman has been getting worse as the year has gone on and teams have discovered the recipe to shut him down.

So, who's right? Grossman started the season hot, went through some terrible struggles, but now does seem to be making progress. He rebounded well in the second half of the Giants game. He was off, but minimized damage against the Jets. And, he started well, including some big completions against middle blitzes -- Grossman's nemesis -- against the Patriots. Then, he hurt his hand, his accuracy suffered, and his game went to pot. Grossman's picks against the Pats came when he had time to throw, and threw inaccurately. That's not good, but it's also not what has been plaguing Grossman for much of the year. His track record is that he is accurate when he has time. So, that may have been a one time, injury related, anomaly. I'm not even sure which way this cuts. Is it a good thing that Grossman is getting better against the blitz, and that his problems last Sunday were unrelated to his previous struggles? Or, is it a bad thing that Grossman threw three picks on a day when the opponent wasn't able to turn him into the "Bad Rex" we all fear?

There is no question Grossman is struggling. Maybe the answer to Grossman v. Griese lies in answering the question: how good is Griese? Let's start with a baseline. Before the Pats game, Grossman had completed 57% of his passes for 2133 yards. He had 18 touchdowns, 11 picks, and three lost fumbles. His Defense-Adjusted Points Above Replacement (DPAR), Football Outsiders' stat to measure a player's overall contribution, was 22.7, 16th in the NFL. His Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), which measures a player's contribution per play, was 3.0%, 17th in the NFL. Grossman is neither as good as he's been at his best, nor as bad as he's been at his worst, so let's consider Grossman's 22.7 and 3.0%, both of which are around league average for a starting QB, as a realistic measure of what Grossman can contribute from here on out.

Obviously, Griese hasn't played enough this year to tell us anything, but he does have a fairly lengthy career to analyze. Griese supporters point to his 5-1 record last season with Tampa before getting hurt. But Griese wasn't playing very well in that time. His 2.8 DPAR ranked 31st in the league, and his -9.5% DVOA ranked 30th. He had 1061 yards, seven touchdowns, and eight turnovers. Before anyone points out, "Yeah, but he was winning," so is Grossman. The Bears are 9-2.

So, were Griese's six games last year a rough patch, as we hope Grossman is going through, or indicative of his career? In 2004, also with the Bucs, Griese ranked 13th in DPAR and 11th in DVOA. He threw for 2460 yards, 20 touchdowns, and committed only 12 turnovers. Pretty good. In more limited action in 2003 for the Dolphins, Griese ranked 38th in DPAR and 42nd in DVOA. He threw five touchdowns and turned the ball over 10 times. Pretty terrible. In 2002, Griese was still with Denver, and ranked 15th in DPAR and DVOA. He threw for nearly 3000 yards and 15 touchdowns, but also turned the ball over 15 times. Eh. In 2001, Griese was 25th in DPAR and DVOA. He matched 23 touchdowns with 22 turnovers. Blech.

It's Griese's 2000 season that has his supporters so excited. Griese threw for 2500 yards and 18 touchdowns. He only turned the ball over seven times. His DPAR ranked 5th in the league, but his DVOA was 2nd because he did it playing in fewer games than the guys ahead of him. That's outstanding.

But what does that 2000 season mean? In five seasons since, during which Griese has repeatedly been given the opportunity to match his 2000 efficiency, he never has. Since that time, Griese has been inconsistent. His lows have been dismal, and his highs have been no better than Grossman is playing this year. Yes, he won games last season, but Grossman is winning games this season.

Grossman has struggled of late. But the viable alternative the Bears have is no sure thing. If I believed Griese could play like he played in 2000, then I'd say the Bears should hand him the job today. But the odds are much better than he plays like he played in 2002 or 2004, which is no better than Grossman is playing, or like he played in 2005, 2003, and 2001, which is considerably worse. That kind of mediocrity and risk doesn't inspire me to pull the plug on the guy I'm hoping is my team's QB of the future.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Final Exam

Ok, Sunday's game against New England is not the Bears' final challenge of the regular season, but it's pretty darn close. Along with the Giants game, this is the Bears' toughest challenge of the season (although, in fairness, everyone thought the Seattle game was up there too at the time). New England is among the league's top-10 most efficient offense, defenses and special teams. They're coming off a really strong performance against the Packers, they're disciplined, and their coaches call the kind of varied schemes that seemed destined to confuse Young Rex Grossman. (I've decided after listening to talk radio lately that "Young" has been permanently appended to the beginning of Grossman's name.)

But the Bears are the better team. They have also been maddeningly inconsistent of late, and could lose to anyone at any given time, but if each team plays as well as it can, the Bears win this game. The Patriots do have an advantage when the Bears have the ball. The Bears are a below average offense at this point, and as mentioned, the Packers are ranked 10th in the league in defensive efficiency. The Patriots are especially stifling against the run. Against the pass, the Pats are passable, but they're vulnerable to teams' number-two receivers because they lack depth in the secondary. Lately, the Bears have relied on Thomas Jones and the running game to keep the ball moving. However, the Bears will need to relocate Big Play Rex to score on New England. In the last two weeks, Mark Bradley has emerged as a weapon for the offense. He's caught 64% of the 14 passes thrown his way for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears need a big play from the Grossman to Bradley connection again this week to put points on the board against the Patriots.

The Patriots will be even harder pressed to find offensive traction against the Bears' defense. The Bears have the most efficient defense in the league, and absolutely stifle opposing passing attacks. Tom Brady is Tom Brady, but QUITE FRANKLY, that's not all you need. The Bears only weakness is against true number-one wide receivers. The Patriots don't have one. Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown and Doug Gabriel have all been relatively interchangeable as Brady's targets on the outside, but that kind of spread-the-ball-around attack doesn't work against the Bears' deep secondary. Meanwhile, for all the attention that rookie running back Laurence Maroney gets, the Pats' rushing attack is average at best. Maroney is not especially consistent or efficient. He ranks 29th in overall production adjusted for defense, 28th in efficiency adjusted for defense, and 16th in success rate. In other words, far too often he doesn't get the tough yards a team needs -- four yards on first down, picking up a first down on a third down carry.

The bottom line is that this should be a low scoring game. My guess is that the Bears will get the big play they need from Grossman and Bradley or Bernard Berrian, and enough control of field position to squeak it out 13-10 or so.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Deep Breath

Ok, it's time for fans to slow down and take a deep breath when it comes to the Bulls' slow start. This includes me. I've been quick to jump on Scott Skiles's team during its recent struggles, but with a day since the last Bulls' loss to take a breath, things don't look as bad.

The Bulls are 3-7, with four straight losses on the current road trip. There's no question, that's not pretty. But believe it or not, the Bulls have outscored their opponents for the season. Both the Bulls and their opposition have averaged 101 points per 100 possessions. In other words, if the Bulls could find some consistency, they'd be more like 5-5, which would look a whole lot better. Plus, the recent four losses have come on the road against the Rockets, Mavericks, Spurs, and Lakers, who are 29-13 on the year. The competition has had something to do with the recent slide. The next four games are against Denver, Philly, New York, and New York again, this time back in the clown-free United Center. Those teams are a combined 16-25, counting New York twice because, well, we play them twice. If the Bulls win three of the next four, then we'll know the team remains on the right track.

But to win three of the next four games, and to take advantage of what is really a pretty favorable schedule for the remainder of the year (that's the upside of the annual, early road trip from hell), the Bulls will need to do some things better. Let's start with passing. The Bulls are collecting assists on only 58% of their baskets, while their opponents' baskets are assisted 65% of the time. The Bulls aren't shooting a higher percentage of jump shots than their opponents, but fewer assisted jump shots means fewer open jump shots. As a result the Bulls have a considerably lower effective field goal percentage on jumpers than their opponents. Fix #1: Move the ball better on offense -- drive and kick, rotate it quickly around the perimeter.

Actually, poor shooting has something to do with the Bulls' poor percentage too. On the most open of shots, free throws, the Bulls are making just 69%, compared with 80% for their opponents. The Bulls shoot 1.5 fewer free throws a game than their opponents, but the biggest reason the team is outscored at the line is that the Bulls don't make their free throws, while their opponents do. Fix #2: Make your free throws.

The Bulls have done a good job of pushing the ball this year. They should do it even more. The Bulls take 44% of their shots within 10 seconds of taking possession, as compared to 31% for their opponents. And, the Bulls effective field goal percentage on those shots is .517. Any other time during the shot clock their percentage is under 50%. The Bulls should push at every opportunity. But they also need to be more efficient on the break, which again comes down to ball movement. Opponents have an effective field goal percentage over 60%, and more than 60% of their hoops are assisted, on shots early in the shot clock. The Bulls' lower percentage is, unsurprisingly, accompanied by a much lower percentage of assisted field goals. Fix #3: Get out on the break and run it right.

Either the Bulls still lack a go-to, one-on-0ne player, or their system doesn't give guys the opportunity to succeed in those settings. I think Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni have the chance to be successful in that role, but right now there's no one the Bulls can consistently give the ball to and say, go get us a key basket. So the Bulls need to generate consistent offense in other ways. The Bulls are no more perimeter-dependent than their opponents, but they're not getting comparably good looks from the perimeter. Drive and kick, good perimeter ball movement, making free throws, and getting out on the break and scoring before the opponent's defense is set are all ways the Bulls can improve their offensive efficiency with the guys currently on the team. Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon have good point guard skills. Ben Gordon and Thabo Sefolosha are good ball handlers for two guards. And, Deng is a good passer for a forward. This team can do what it needs to do to succeed as its currently put together. Tonight, as the team moves past the hardest stretch on its schedule, would be a good time to get started.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cubs Emerge From Hibernation

Oh crap, now I have to talk about these guys. As much as I usually, intentionally avoid any discussion of Chicago's minor league baseball franchise, when a local team makes the biggest free agent splash of the off season, I just can't ignore them.

The Cubs made a big splash, but is it a good move? The quick answer is that Alfonso Soriano is what the team needed – a high powered outfield bat. Jay Mariotti is certainly excited. Of course, Mariotti isn't exactly on the cutting edge of performance analysis. He correctly identified Soriano as a good power hitting outfielder. But Mariotti is dead wrong in his belief that the Cubs are suddenly a much better team. And he's dead wrong in his belief that now was the right time for the Cubs to overspend on Soriano.
Soriano hits with power. He had 46 homers last year, and has been around 40 a season much of his career. But he's really not cut out to be a leadoff hitter. He has a career .280 batting average and .325 on-base percentage. Last year was better, but how much of Soriano's new found on-base skills are real, and how much a product of teams pitching around him? Soriano drew 13 extra intentional walks last year -- inflating his on-base percentage -- but he also drew 21 extra unintentional walks. So, his on-base percentage probably won’t regress all the way to the .310 level it was at in ’05, but he’s also not likely to remain around .350, as he was in ’06.
Beyond the fact that Soriano is ill-suited to a lead off role, the biggest problem with this deal is his age. This deal isn't two years too long, as Mariotti speculates, it's six years too long. Soriano turned 30 last year, which actually means he’s already on the downslope of his career in all likelihood. Baseball Prospectus hasn’t updated PECOTA yet, and Soriano’s figures to see an upswing because he outperformed his 90th percentile projection last year, but based on last year’s PECOTA, Soriano looked like he’d be worth about $15 million over the next five years, rather than the $85 million the Cubs will pay him, never mind the additional $51 million they’ll pay him for his 36, 37, and 38 year-old seasons.
Plus, the Cubs aren't at a level where they're ready to take advantage of adding a player like Soriano. Even at last year’s level, Soriano is worth about 4 more wins than Murton, Jones, or Pierre in whichever outfield spot he takes over. Given that the Cubs have done little else to make the team any better (don't be fooled by Mark DeRosa's hot spring, after June he returned to the utility infielder level he's played at for the rest of his career), that means a jump from 66 wins to 70 wins. Not exactly the economic sweet spot where its worth paying a premium for a guy who can put you over the top and get you into the playoffs.
Soriano's a good player. The Cubs need more of those. But the Cubs just burned a huge chunk of the budget on one player who won't put them over the top. And they'll still be burning a big chunk of each season's annual budget on him long after he's stopped being a good player. Soriano's signing may or may not help the team next year as much as several astute mid-level signings would have, and in the long term, the Cubs' big splash will do the club more harm than good.

Friday, November 17, 2006

There's Something Familiar About This Place

The Bears go on the road this week to the Meadowlands, where they will take on the New York Jets. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say they stay on the road at the Meadowlands, as this will be the Bears' second consecutive game there. Week one went quite well against the Giants. Week two should as well. (I could point out here that the Redskins completed the Meadowlands sweep back in the 90's, but since I've read that 543 times this week, I'm guessing all of you know it already, as well).

The Jets are 5-4 this year, and are coming off a huge win over the New England Patriots. In fact, the Jets trail the Pats in their division by a single game. This is shocking for a team that nothing was expected from before the year started. But the truth is that the Jets haven't played that well. Prior to the New England game, the Jets had played terribly for a team with a .500 record. In fact, they've played more like the team they were expected to be, than a 5-4 playoff contender. Yes, in other words, THE JETS ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE! (That's never going to get old). They're just wearing a disguise as a winning team.

The Jets offense has been average this year, and it should be mentioned, just slightly better than the Bears. They're balanced, in that they're pretty much league average in both the running and passing games. Chad Pennington has bounced back fairly well from his injuries. He's completed 63% of his passes for 1628 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's also turned the ball over 10 times. His favorite target is Laverneous Coles, who he has targeted 87 times, but his best receiver has been Jericho Cotchery. Cotchery has caught 67% of the 61 passes thrown his way for 531 yards and 4 touchdowns. The running game has been led by youngster Leon Washington, who has 432 yards on 95 runs, as well as two touchdowns. He is both efficient and consistent, but hasn't been used enough this year. In fact, Kevan Barlow has gotten more carries this season, though he is neither as consistent nor as efficient as Washington.

It's on defense where the Jets aren't nearly the team their record indicates. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA ranking, the Jets are the second worst defensive team in football, better only than the San Francisco 49ers. They're bad against the pass, and the worst team in football against the run by a pretty big margin. The way to attack the Jets through the air is by attacking their secondary with multiple wide receivers. The Jets struggle against wide outs 1,2, 3, or 4. So, it's nice that the Bears should have their full complement of receivers for the first time this year. Also, the Jets defensive line gives up a full .3 yards more per carry in Adjusted Line Yards than the next worst line in football. Thomas Jones brought his hard hat and lunch pail (hooray cheesy cliches!) to the Meadowlands last week, and he'll need it again this time around.

The bottom line is that the Bears' defense always limits opposing offenses, and the Jets defense shouldn't pose too much of a barrier for Chicago. If the Bears' coaches don't outsmart themselves, then they should be able to move the ball without putting too much pressure on Rex Grossman in a road game, and the Bears should cruise to a fairly easy win. Of course, the way the last few weeks have gone, that means the Bears will be run off the field. But I really don't see that happening this time around. Let's say Bears 23, Jets 14.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

That Fragile, Selfish All-Star

J.D. Drew is perhaps the most controversial player on this year's free agent market. He is also perhaps the best player on this year's free agent market, and the White Sox should make every effort to acquire him. Ever since he refused to sign with Philadelphia, Drew has been viewed as something of a troublemaker. Furthermore, since 1999, he's essentially alternated injury-shortened seasons with seasons free of any major injury. Thus, he has a reputation as being somewhat fragile.

But he's also very, very good. This year, while playing 146 games, Drew had a .393 on-base percentage and hit 20 home runs. He also played an outstanding right field. There's no question he could translate that success to the other corner, and limited exposure in center over Drew's career has suggested that he could play a league-average center field as well.

In other words, this is a player that could replace Brian Anderson or Scott Podsednik, depending on who else the Sox acquire. He could bat first, second, third, or sixth in the line-up. Last year he was worth 7.3 runs wins above a replacement level player (WARP). Podsednik had a WARP of 1.1. Even with his superb defense, Anderson's WARP was only 2.1. In other words, replace Podsednik at the top of the order, and in left field, with Drew, and you could reasonably expect the Sox to win 95 games or so (they played like an 89 win team this year as is). Ninety-five wins puts the White Sox in the playoffs.

Not only would making the playoffs be great for fans, its a financial windfall for a team. Not only are the playoff games worth money, but they mean more television and ticket revenue for seasons to come. So, financially, it makes sense for the Sox to invest a lot of money in a player who could put them over the hump and into the playoffs. And, Drew is just that guy. Given that Drew turned down 3 years, $33 million with the Dodgers, he figures to cost more than $11 million a year. But for a contender, especially one with a hole in the outfield, he could easily be worth that much as well.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bull Crap

Last night the Bulls unveiled a new line-up to start their annual trip to the west coast, motivated as always by an overwhelming fear of clowns. As the circus takes over the United Center for the month of November, Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni take over for Ben Gordon and PJ Brown in the Bulls' starting line-up.

It didn't help. The Bulls came out flat, the Mavericks jumped on them, the Bulls never got all the way back. Popcorn Machine's gameflows for last night aren't up yet (everyone ok over there today?), but I can tell you that much without seeing the exact numbers. The Bulls trailed by six points after one quarter. They were never closer than that at the end of any frame.

I understand Scott Skiles' decision to shake up the starting line-up. PJ Brown is moderately useless. The team scores less and gives up more when he's on the court. The team rebounds a little better, but gives up an effective field goal percentage a full six points higher. That translates to an extra point and a half every 100 possessions. Coupled with four points less offensively per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and well, the Bulls are better off giving the minutes to Nocioni.

Ben Gordon too has been struggling. Thus far this season the offense has actually been better, on a per possession basis, when he's not in the game. Gordon will go through hot spells, as he did against Milwaukee, where that is obviously not the case, but this stat goes to show that when Gordon's shot is off, he brings little to the floor. That's one reason he's better suited to a reserve role. He can come in aggressive from the outset. If his shot is on, the Bulls can ride him. If his shot is off, he can quickly return to the bench. Another reason not to play Gordon when his shot is off is his atrocious defense. The Bulls give up a whopping 12 points more per 100 possessions when Gordon is on the floor.

Skiles gave Gordon's starting job to Duhon, the only candidate considered apparently. Duhon has been better than Gordon for the most part. Last night, however, he went 1 for 6 from the floor, and against Sacramento, Duhon was the single biggest reason the Bulls lost. The Bulls outscore opponents by more than seven points per 100 possessions with Duhon on the court. That's about five points better than when he's not out there. Mostly, that because the offense runs more efficiently with Duhon in the game. Seven out of 10 Bulls' field goals are assisted with Duhon in the game, far better than when he's sitting.

But Duhon is not the Bulls' only option to play when Gordon's shot is off. Last night, Skiles barely used Thabo Sefolosha, apparently because Skiles has concluded that his rookies aren't ready to help the team right now. Meanwhile, Duhon was doing nothing in 20-plus minutes of action. The Bulls outscore opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions when Sefolosha is on the floor. Defensively, the Bulls hold opponents to 15 points less per 100 possessions when Sefolosha is out there than when he's sitting. That's a profound impact on the team's defense. Sefolosha is unpolished offensively, although he has a respectable effective field goal percentage of nearly 45%. But he brings more to the floor other than scoring than either Duhon or Gordon. Rather than essentially putting Sefolosha on ice, Skiles should have been considering using him as a starter.

But I fear Skiles has become too set in his ways to consider such a move, and I know its heresy, but the Bulls look like a badly coached team right now. Duhon has become a crutch for Skiles. And, by discussing the need to "get the veterans comfortable," and questioning whether the rookies are ready to contribute, Skiles deflects attention from his own recent shortcomings. In his column about why the Celtics should fire Doc Rivers, Bill Simmons identified a number of quotes that coaches and players from poorly coached teams fall back on. They included: "We just need to sustain that intensity for four quarters," "We need to play the kind of defense we're capable of playing," "We can take big leads, now we need to learn how to keep them," "We're a young team, so we're still learning how to bring the same consistency every night," "We have to start getting stops," and , "We need to learn how to execute down the stretch." How many of these lines have you heard regarding the Bulls over the last two seasons now? Just this year Skiles has discussed the Bulls inability to maintain intensity for a full game, a lack of defensive effort, the team's youth, and inconsistency from game to game. The Bulls crush Miami, then fall on their faces against Orlando. They blew a huge lead to the Kings. They lost focus, and needed a huge 4th quarter effort to salvage a game against Indiana. Last night, the Bulls never adjusted to the Mavs' pick and pop offense. These are the things a poorly coached team does.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope the Bulls will gradually gel as a team, and emerge as the power some are predicting them to be. If I'm right, and Skiles is part of the problem, the organization will be slow to realize it because Skiles has a lot of capital stored up as the guy who finally returned the Bulls to respectability after they wandered around the post-MJ wasteland for too long. So, if I'm right, this is going to be a long frustrating season of slipping sideways instead of moving forward.

A Giant Win

The sports writing regulation requiring puns on the word "Giants" continues through the end of the week. Yesterday was a busy day at work, and I didn't get to post, so I'll double up today. Later, I'll talk about the Bulls, the circus trip, and the new line-up. But first, your NFC leading Chicago Bears.

In the end, it looks like the Bears handled one of their toughest conference foes fairly easily. Anyone who watched the game knows that's not the case. With about three minutes left in the 1st half, I said to Mrs. Appeal, "The Bears are lucky; if the Giants weren't playing like crap they'd be down 28-3." A couple of minutes later the Bears entered the locker room down 13-10. From that point on I had no doubt they would win the game.

The Bears' defense played great, especially in the second half. But the truth is that after the opening drive of the game, the Bears didn't give up much until Tiki Barber broke his one long run of the 2nd half. They thoroughly throttled Eli Manning, and shut down Plexiglass Burress (very clever, I know). "They probably covered me two or three times," Burress told the New York Daily News, referring to passes deflected by the corners. "Other than that, it was their front seven. Their front seven got after it. Eli was trying to get the ball to his receivers, but we weren't even out of our breaks." In other words, it took so long for Burress to get open that Manning didn't have time to wait for him. Great job, Plaxico.

In fact, the Bears reclaimed the top rating on the defensive side of the ball in Football Outsiders' DVOA. They have the top ranked pass defense, and are ninth against the run. The run defense is a bit of a concern, but looked better after the first drive. The announcers attributed it to Barber's thumb injury, but I think the insertion of Chris Harris for Todd Johnson in the defensive backfield played a role as well.

As for the offense, Rex Grossman bounced back from a pretty terrible start to post a pretty darn good game. If he can keep playing well for the next two weeks, then he'll have me convinced that he's ready to lead a team through the play-offs. Thomas Jones worked hard, but wasn't especially productive or efficient. Still, one play may have changed the game and the season, when he converted the longest third down picked up on the ground this decade. Moments later Mark Bradley was standing in the endzone, and the Bears were on their way.

Finally, the play everyone is talking about. Devin Hester's 108 yard field goal return touchdown was brilliant. Putting him back there with essentially the punt return unit, instead of trying to block a kick that was never going to be made, was a great coaching call. Bothering to call a return, the same that has worked for touchdowns on two punts already this year, was also a little step that made a huge difference. Calling the return to the Bears' sideline, so that clueless Giants' players wandering off the field would be as far as possible from the play -- that was simply genius. Special teams were bound to be an advantage for the Bears in this game -- I just doubt anyone had that in mind.

Anyway, big win for the Bears. Same place, different time next week.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Final Sox Roundtable

This is the final part of the roundtable discussion on the White Sox. It is also the Fan Club's 100th post. Yippee. Anyway, it'll be a busy week here with free agency getting going, the Bears coming off a big win, and the Bulls leaving for the fabled Circus Trip. We kick it off though with Part Three of the Hot Stove Roundtable:
The final episode of our Trilogy: Kenny's quest for more rings

I linked to the Elias Sports Bureau's Free Agent Compensation Ratings last week, but I didn't even think to look at where Alomar and Riske ranked. I just assumed that they were worthless and wouldn't be offered arbitration. That's not the case, however, as Keith pointed out in the comments section, Riske is a Type A free agent. My question to you: What should the Sox do with Riske?

Tom: You can find a pitcher just like Riske for less than $2.5 million.  Sure, it's not much, but it's $2.5 million that can go towards Joe Crede's salary.

Keith: I'd offer him arbitration.  Afterall, Wayne Krivsky could always use another reliever, right?  He'll willingly throw 2 years, $4 million at Riske...

But seriously, I think that offering Riske arbitration is a pretty small risk (no pun intended).  If he accepts, it'd be easy to trade him as he'd be making what, $2.5 million?  And, you might get lucky and have a team sign him.  The Sox could always use an extra high draft pick.

Jeeves: I agree. Worst case scenario we get stuck with an OK arm in the 'pen. Unless we make some extravagant move, we shouldn't have the need to pinch pennies, so paying him $2.5 mil won't be that big of a deal.

James: But $2.5 million for a non-closer/ non-setup guy? Yeah, my budget screams for that. Then again, I think his salary will decline if he accepts the arbitration, and how often does that happen? (I read that note at MLB Trade Rumors that a lot of teams are offering two and three year deals to relievers not titled closer more often, and in the fickle and fragile world of middle relief -- anyone that's not a closer -- I'm not sure why that's a smart thing.)

Do you play russian roulette here hoping that another team signs him and take the salary hit if they don't? I didn't realize the MLB was governed by NASDAQ and CBOE rules of trade? Or maybe I'm just naive.

Criminal Appeal: I agree that it makes no sense to spend big money on relievers, especially one's who pitch limited innings in generally low-leverage situations.  Having said that, if the Sox could turn Riske into a draft pick I'd just about wet myself with excitement.  I guess it's a risk/reqrd analysis.  Is the market for middle relievers strong enough that you trust someone else to pay to take Riske off our hands in this scenario?  It may be with all the talk about the Jamie Walkers and Justin Speiers of the world.

Jim: I'm amazed that David F. Riske has produced the toughest question so far.  Everybody has good points.

If the way he ended the season was any indication (only three of his last 10 outings were scoreless), I wouldn't offer it to him, unless the Sox had a strong feeling he'd reject it.  

$2.5 million doesn't mean a lot for position players, but it can make a difference in a bullpen.  A difference-maker Riske ain't.  I'd keep that money stored away for the deadline next year, when the Sox are only buying half a season of relief if they're in need of bullpen help.

Cheat: I'm glad you guys came up with the $2.5M number on your own. When I originally wrote the question, I sort of answered it myself using $2.5M as my guesstimated arbitration award. Either we're all really smart, or well, let's not talk about the alternative.

As for what I would do: I'd offer him arbitration. If for no other reason than some team will be willing to guarantee him multiple years on the free agent market. He's not going to get that here. So from Riske's point of view, he'd be deciding between 2.5 for a year on the southside or something like 4-5M over two years somewhere else. Most players will take the latter.

Trades: Name your three biggest targets, and try to come up with three trades you can see the Sox making. (those don't necessarily have to be for your three top targets.)

Criminal Appeal: As has been mentioned, Kenny Williams tends to come at the trade block from unforeseen directions.  Plus, there is always far more smoke than fire in trade rumors.  Still, the Sox need to add a left fielder, and probably a short stop or center fielder, so that they're not lugging around dead weight at more than one position next season.  My guess is that they'll shop for value on the free agent market at one position, trade to fill one position, and let the kids battle it out at one position (or let Uribe sit tight if the remaining position is SS).  So, where might that trade fit in?  I think three of the most intriguing names are Michael Young, Carl Crawford and Coco Crisp (I'm considering A-Rod a pipe dream and hoping to be shocked at this point).

Young is coming off a season in which his on-base percentage was over .350, he hit 14 homeruns, and he played an outstanding defensive shortstop.  The defense is an improvement for him, but the other numbers were right around Baseball Prospectus's projection for him.  Plus, he's 29 years old.  So, he seems like a safe bet to repeat his established production for the next few years.

Crawford hit 18 homeruns this season and posted an on-base percentage just under .350.  He plays a below average defense in left field.  He outperformed his mean projection in somewhere in the range of the 75th to 90th percentile.  Right now Young is the better player, but Crawford is 24 and getting better.

Crisp is the most interesting case because of his injury problems this year.  He was limited to about 100 games and his on-base percentage dipped to .317.  Offensively, Crisp under-performed his 10th percentile projection this year.  He's an average CF, and played excellent defense in LF in 2005, when he was out there regularly.  In all likelihood, he is both undervalued, and going to bounce back if healthy.  He's 26, which means he's probably full developed and will never be much better than he was in 2005.  But a .350 on-base percentage, 15 home runs and great LF defense would be a welcome addition.

I guess that of these three guys, my first preference would be Young.  However, if the Sox can get Crisp at a discount because of his struggles in 2006, then that's an opportunity that I wouldn't pass on.  Whoever the Sox acquire, we know the bargaining chips:  a starting pitcher (Garcia or Buehrle) plus a prospect (hopefully not Fields).  I'd give up those two assets for any of the above.


  1. Coco Crisp.  I think the Sox really admire his game, and he's the typical Sox target.  Very good defensive left fielder, likes to run -- and while his OBP dropped as he battled nagging injuries, he stole 22 of 26 bases, by far the best percentage of his career.

    Who they'd give up:  Freddy Garcia.  Though I'd hope to get some sort of prospect back as well, given the situation Boston's in.

  2. Chone Figgins.  He seems like he's going to be pushed out eventually with this new wave of players coming in.  He has the speed Ozzie likes, and can play a few positions decently.

    Who they'd give up:  I have no clue.  The Angels could use some high-OBP guys, and the Sox don't have a wealth of those in the minors.

  3. Jeff DaVanon:  My thinking is: If Brady Clark, why not DaVanon?  DaVanon's cheaper, younger, more versatile, and just as likely to be pushed out of the AZ outfield picture.  I'm not sure how much he'll cost -- from what I can tell, he'll be in the $900,000 - $1,000,000 range.  He's coming off ankle surgery, which could depress his value.  AZ may not want to part with him since Eric Byrnes needs to get out first, but I'd try for DaVanon before thinking about Clark.

    Who they'd give up:  Arizona could use pitching.  Heath Phillips-caliber plus another body?

Vince: I don't know if this is the least bit likely, but I want to throw the idea out if we're talking about huge, smack-your-forehead trades that Kenny Williams could make. Vernon Wells. The Jays are interested in moving him because he doesn't want to stay in Toronto beyond the end of his contract, which ends in 2007. Wells will be eligible for free agency after the upcoming season.

The upsides are that Wells is a tremendous player on both sides of the ball, a replacement for Podsednik (albeit, one who would play center field) and a huge addition to the offense that offsets regression from players such as Dye and Crede or, in the case of Crede, if he gets traded. Another upside is that it allows the Sox to let Brian Anderson and Ryan Sweeney split left field.

The risks are that the Sox would have to give up a lot of talent to get Wells with the uncertainty of whether they would have him for more than one year, and another potential long-term contract if the Sox were able to re-sign him.

I agree that the Sox are targeting Michael Young. I think they will be better off without Young, unless they somehow convinced him to play second base. I worry about Young's defense, although I think he scored better on Chris Dial's Zone Rating-related metric this year.

A third big trade target? I highly, highly doubt it, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like the deal, but I'll say ... Dontrelle Willis.

Keith: I'm sorry to Vince, but I'm going to have to snatch his idea in my trade thoughts.  

The first trade I see is the obvious move of a starting pitcher.  With Contreras' no trade clause, moving Garcia makes the most sense.  I've been preaching it for the past two months, so why stop now?  Garcia + Cintron (completing the Mets' secondbase platoon) for Aaron Heilman + Lastings Milledge.  

The Sox then send a package centered around Milledge to Toronto for Vernon Wells.  Since question six seems geared towards these hypothetical trades, I'll say Milledge + Fields + Broadway for Wells.  The Sox would empty out the farm system, but, as in most cases (/aside:  damn Vazquez/Young trade), Williams gets back the best player.  Wells is in his prime, and if he comes close to matching his production from last season, is a top twenty player in all of baseball.  

It doesn't solve the "problem" of not having a leadoff hitter, but you could easily slip Wells into the two spot and slide Iguchi to leadoff.

BTW -- I think Terrero will end up as the 4th OFer, for better or for worse.

James: Will the Sox try the Milwaukee well again and pursue a very cheap Brady Clark? Or how about former trading partner Arizona and Gold Glover Orlando Hudson? Would KW try and justify the pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow, A-Rod? Or will Michael Young be shipped our way for the enigma that is Freddy Garcia?

Let me ask this: was Jim Thome on any of our radars last off-season? Well, he wasn't on mine; that trade was a complete shock. But the Javy Vazquez trade wasn't as much of a shock cuz KW had made no secret of his desire for him. The point is...expect something from KW. He's never been shy about trading youth for talent or potential for experience. And yet we all heard about him casing Mark Prior last year. What is certain is that KW has an eye for underappreciated and undervalued talent, and he will bring someone in.

This question, though, was about specific trades, and I have to pose at least one serious scenario, so here it is...

The big trade, if it happens, will be trading from a position of strength (starting pitching). Either Garcia, McCarthy or Vazquez will be traded (Buehrle is the only lefty starter the Sox will count on) along with either Sweeney, Fields, Broadway or Owens for Ichiro (doubtful but intriguing), Mike Cameron (a decent fit) or Coco Crisp (if healthy). I really think KW's focus is lead-off hitter/left fielder with OBP and defense in mind.  

Tom: Of the names I've heard thrown around the one that really makes my mouth water is easily Michael Young.  I would LOVE to see that guy in a White Sox uniform.   He can field, he can hit, and he's as clutch as anybody in the Majors in big situations.

Carl Crawford is another guy who I like, my only question is how much we would have to give up for him.  The price would be high to get him, and how much we would have to pay him to get him to stay here would be large so I fear it may cost us somebody else.

I don't really like Coco Crisp that much.  He tends to kill the White Sox, and suck against everybody else.  So if he was on the Sox he would suck full time.

I will make it clear that I do NOT want A-Rod.  It's nothing against his ability as a baseball player, I just hate the guy, and would feel horrible if I had to root for him.

I wouldn't mind seeing Mike Cameron back in a White Sox uniform either.

Jeeves: Most of the trades I've heard about and mulled over have been said already, so there's no point in me repeating them, but I did come across a trade proposal by some blogger (I can't remember from where)as I was surfing the net a couple weeks ago... Freddy Garcia to the Padres for Scott Linebrink and Mike Cameron. I'm not quite familiar enough with the Padres to comment on whether or not they would be likely to make such a trade, but it would plug up two holes for us.

Cheat: Elsewhere I had proposed a swap of Scott Podsednik for Yorvit Torrealba based on the rumors that the Rockies were interested in Dave Roberts and Sarge Jr. But just now after looking through the '06 Rockies roster, I discovered that they've already got a bunch of crappy light-hitting speed guys who play CF poorly. They don't need Podsednik when they've got Cory Sullivan, Choo Freeman, and Ryan Spilborghs. They've probably got a Nook Logan in there somewhere too.

Come to think of it, didn't Logan end the year with the Nationals, who are about to lose one outfielder to free agency? The Nationals don't have much of anything in their minor league system, and Bowden's not the sharpest tool in the shed; maybe he'll part with Ryan Church, whose respectability has been wasted by spending far too much time in New Orleans. Church would fit perfectly into the role that Rob Mackowiak was forced into last season. That doesn't fix our problem hitting lefties, and probably means Rob is our full-time LFer or on his way out of town via trade.

Before even reading Keith's response, I had the same idea with the exception of targeting Carl Crawford instead of Wells. I have bad memories of trading for Blue Jays named Wells, even if we did "win" that trade.

I think the conundrum then becomes which would you prefer; Garcia for Crisp, or the package for Garcia plus some of our top prospects flipped for Wells/Crawford?

I wasn't really able to find a fit for Podsednik, who I think we all acknowledge will be gone, but I suspect he's coveted by a few teams supposedly in the market for a leadoff hitter. Can you guys come up with anything that will work for both sides?

This concludes the White Sox Bloggers of the Roundtable. I'd like to thank the other Sox bloggers -- and Keith -- for their participation.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Part 2 of the White Sox Roundtable

Part 2 of 64

My input in MLBTradeRumors top 50 free agents list resulted in the Sox being shut out in their predictions. I couldn't see the Sox being the top bidder for anyone on that list. Is there anyone on that list who you think the Sox will be pursuing heavily?

Criminal Appeal: I could see, and would definately like to see, the Sox take a serious run at Dave Roberts.  He can play an adequate CF, or above average LF, gets on base, and should come cheaper than some other options.  I think he'd be a great fit.

Jeeves: I could definitely see us going after Dave Roberts. He'll be affordable (a plus in KW's eyes) and he's speedy and can steal bases (a plus in Ozzie's eye). He won't be the solution for the foreseeable future, but he's an upgrade over our current situation.

Keith: Dave Roberts: I don't think Kenny Williams really wants Pierre or Matthews, but I'd also bet that Ozzie is pressuring him to get some type of "speedster" in here to leadoff.  Roberts is acceptable in that he won't get the money that Pierre or Matthews will get, but he can be a nice one or two year stop gap.  Then again, it goes against Kenny's MO to just go for the stop-gap and not necessarily the best solution out there, which is why I have absolutely no idea who will be the White Sox' starting left-fielder in 2007.

Who I think the Sox will pursue differs heavily from who I want the Sox to pursue: Moises Alou.  The guy will be 40 next season, but he can still rake.  The reason I really want Alou is because of his numbers vs lefties.  Over his career, his OPS against lefties (.952) is almost 100 points higher than his OPS vs righties.  Albeit in a fairly small sample size (~175 ABs), his OPS the past two seasons vs lefties is north of 1.100.  I also like Alou because I think you can get him at a pretty good price for one year, allowing Sweeney to develop and take over in 2008.  I know that signing Alou wouldn't solve the leadoff hitter problem, but frankly, I don't really care.  I'll take the 35+ homers that a healthy Alou could provide over the 40 stolen bases from the typical leadoff hitter.

Vince: I think a good reason not to sign Alou is defense. He was pretty poor playing right field last year (-12 runs/150 games according to Chris Dial's version of Zone Rating). Another good reason is that he adds another old player to the roster, and old players bring injury risks.

James:Unfortunately, Alou is the kinda guy KW just might pursue if his first, second and third choices are unavailable especially cuz he'll essentially be a rental player for one season until Sweeney is ready.

This will mean more leadoff for Iguchi and possibly BA, and those are ideas I can't live with. Don't be surprised to see Pods back for one more season if KW can't get his man to replace him.  

Cheat: Iguchi leading off: I think that was Keith's point. He has a skill set better equipped for the lead off spot than any other player on the Sox 40-man roster. He works deep counts, is fast enough, and gets on base at a reasonable clip. I also don't understand the rush to get a sub-20 HR guy into an "rbi slot" in the lineup.

Jeeves: I think we'll make a run at Gary Matthews Jr, but ultimately he'll be priced out of the range we're willing to pay.

Personally, I think this is a good thing. I'm really unsure as to whether or not he'll put up such good numbers again next year. His numbers, across the board, are significantly better, and I don't know if it's a one year aberration or a sign of things to come. Plus, he's somehow parlayed his leaping, wall scaling catch into a reputation as a great fielder. He's decent, but not earth-shatteringly good. Zone rating actually has ranked him pretty low; he's ranked as one of the lowest of regular center fielders. And as Keith said, we need to keep a good D behind our pitchers to give them the best possible shot at rebounding.

James: I, too, think Matthews will price himself out of the White Sox price range which means Soriano will be somewhere near Mars when it comes to the Sox and money. And that's too bad; Soriano has an offensive skill set every team would die for. I'm not really that sold on Matthews, anyways. He's in his 30's already, and he's just had his career year. Regression will happen, and while left field would seem a better fit for his defensive skill set, I'm not sure he'd be willing to move.

Lets remember that Kenny Williams likes to pick up under the radar FA's with less value and more upside, so I can see him pursing a David Dellucci (I cqan't believe he's 32 alrady). I have a feeling that Dave Roberts may be a Pods-clone in the making with the weak arm and an uncertain CFer (will BA be okay?) Would you want Roberts patrolling CF?

I don't think there'll be much FA hunting from KW, instead I expect him to more actively pursue trades to fix his position holes.

Tom: I think Juan Pierre and Dave Roberts are two very distinct possibilities.

Jim: This looks to be a trade year for KW, though you could say that about every year.  Given the shape and state of the market, I don't think the "big" names like Carlos Lee are going to get what they're looking for, but I think the mid-level guys are going to get a nice boost.

If David Dellucci were right-handed, he'd be ideal.  Same with Frank Catalanotto.  I think Dave Roberts is pushing harder for the Sox than the other way around -- it's a team that'd make him look good, even if he declines.

If only the Sox could commit to the idea of Ross Gload as a left fielder and give him playing time there in winter and spring, Craig Wilson would be a hell of an idea.  He plays a decent first, a bad outfield (like Carl Everett, from what I've seen), and can crush lefties.  

It'd be a great move in MVP 2005, anyway.

I probably should have asked this prior to the Free Agent question... KW and the local Sox beat reporters have been very quiet on the Sox budget for '07. I know one national online columnists keeps writing that the Sox are looking to drop payroll, which I think we all can agree is bunk. But the question is Where does the 2007 budget wind up? Is Kenny being quiet because they're ready to really step to the next level of spending thanks to a boatload of sellouts, creative marketing deals, and a new section of high price seating, or is Jerry looking to line the pockets of the investors with their newfound revenue streams? I guess what I'm really asking is Kenny going to surprise us with a big free agent signing or blockbuster trade?

Jeeves: I don't see the Sox making a big splash in the free agency markert. Zito, Soriano, CLee, and Matsuzaka are all going to cost far too much money. Outside of them, there aren't really any desireable, young free agents for us to pick up, and Kenny isn't the type to spend money just for the sake of spending money.

It's conceivable that KW would pick someone up via trade but I can't think of anyone with such a large salary that it would be an issue. We've all heard the A-Rod rumors, but I think it's doubtful that we'll get him.

Keith: I think that Kenny will be allowed to spend a number right around $105 million.  I would like to think that the "cap" is a little closer to $110, but $105 is plenty.  Whether or not Kenny decides to use that or not is the obvious question, and honestly, I have no idea what to expect this winter.

My strongest convictions this winter are that Freddy Garcia will be traded, and that Juan Uribe will be our starting SS.

James: I really don't see a change in organizational philosophy, i.e., spending low for FA's, splash big with trades, coming anytime soon. KW's recent big spending has been more to retain his own FA's, not sign new ones.

That being said, in order to remain even at the status quo in on-the-field performance the payroll will almost certainly increase, and if Cashman were to ask the right price, KW would take A-Rod in a heartbeat.

The White Sox revenue pool will continue to grow next season so expect the Sox to remain in the thick of things. (If the Sox are competitive next season, expect a much more active KW around the trade deadline.)

So, yes, expect the salary budget to increase this season but mostly thru trades and resigning our own (Joe Crede extension after arbitration, maybe Mark Buehrle?) FA's.  

Tom: I don't think we'll increase the payroll too much, if at all.

I don't expect any kind of big name free agent signing, but I'm fully expecting KW to make some kind of trade.   Whether it's a blockbuster or not, I don't know.  I assume it would be large, cuz if KW has showed us anything it's that he likes to make the big move in the offseason rather than in July.

Criminal Appeal: Anyone have a copy of Baseball Between the Numbers lying around?  My recollection is that the financial windfall from a World Series win lingers for five years or so, which would indicate that the Sox should be able to keep spending among the upper tier of teams.  This organization has always been willing to use a fair portion of its resources to put the best possible product on the field.  The decisions aren't always perfect, but the commitment has been there.

Jim: I don't see what Kenny or the Sox have to gain by disclosing the budget this year, no matter what happens.  Last year, given that the Sox were going to re-sign Paul Konerko for a big deal and had arbitration for Jon Garland, it was a given that payroll was going to shoot up.  I don't think they were hurting negotiation leverage any.

Crede's the only incumbent question mark in terms of this year's payroll, so they're better off saying less.  Still, with the amount of roster spots up for grabs in 2008, they have to be really careful about what they do this year, for a team not needing any real face lift.  I don't see any drastic changes with regards to money, maybe $105-110M.

Vince: I think the budget will go up a bit more. I think that the 2006 budget, effectively, was about $95 million or so, counting the money the Sox received as part of the Thome and Vázquez trades. I haven't heard anything to suggest that season-ticket renewals fell off. I agree with the point above that the Reinsdorf ownership group has generally been willing to use revenue increases to boost payroll. I think $105 million, if the Sox find players worth spending it on, is about right.

Cheat: I was really trying to get somebody to drop the name Mark Mulder.

  • He's a local boy, grew up a Sox fan.

  • His reduced effectiveness the last two seasons can be traced directly to the injury in his throwing shoulder for which he underwent surgery in September. The injury altered his throwing motion and resulted in a decrease in velocity.

  • He's expressed interest in working with "a great pitching coach," though he was referring to Leo Mazzone when he said that.

  • Mulder fits Kenny's recent acquisitions of (possibly) undervalued above-average starters. (see: Garcia, Contreras, Vazquez, and even Hernandez)

  • Most importantly, he's not represented by Scott Boras.

I haven't seen the Sox connected to Mulder, but I think they're in the mix. The only question is will one of the other 8 teams who've expressed early interest go crazy with a long-term guaranteed deal.

Jim: After Javier Vazquez, could the Sox afford to take another so-so NL pitcher as a reclamation project?

I like Mulder -- he and Buehrle were awesome in 2003, when they pitched three sub-two-hour games.  If this were 2004 or '05, he'd be great.  2007?  Pass.

Cheat: I don't have a good handle on what Mulder will command in this market given his current status. I'd offer him 2/$15M guaranteed (structured $5M in '07, 10M in '08), with a $15M third-year option. That'd be the Sox standard 3/$30M deal, though a little more creative because of the circumstances. But will there be a team out there willing to top that offer? Probably.

Only 17 more parts remaining. Stay tuned for the exciting discussion of the Detrimental Perez Theory.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Giant Showdown

Sorry, but I've read so many puns off the word "Giants" in the local papers over the past few days that I decided it must be required by statute that any discussion of this game include such a pun in its title. It is interesting that everyone wants to call this game the Bears' first real challenge of the year. These are the same people who insist, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that Minnesota is a good team. The Bears beat them on the road. And, lest we forget, everyone thought the Seahawks, with Matt Hasselbeck, were for real before the Bears dismantled them. Shocking, I know, that the sports media would overlook inconsistencies in its own arguments.

Having said that, the Giants are the best team the Bears have played so far this season. And they face off in the Meadowlands, which anecdotally at least, is a very tough place to play. Their offense is almost as good as the Bears' vaunted defense. And the Giants' much maligned defense is better than the Bears' offense, which is now below league average efficiency on the year. In fact, the Bears' greatest advantage in a close game could be its special teams, which despite Devin Hester's troubles holding onto the ball last week, remain the best in the league.

Both teams are without weapons because of injuries. The Bears will be missing Bernard Berrian in all likelihood, while the Giants' Amani Toomer is out for the year. The Giants are fifth in the league against the pass. They do a great job against second and third wideouts, as well as against running backs. They're not as strong against number one wideouts and tightends. The Bears are number two against the pass overall, but they too are most vulnerable to number one wide receivers and tightends.

Surprisingly, if each team's passing attack is reduced to one wideout and one tightend -- by injuries and defensive strengths -- that favors the Bears. I was shocked when I looked at Football Outsiders' stats, but so far this year, Muhsin Muhammad has been better than Plaxico Burress, and Desmond Clark has been better than Jeremy Shockey. Don't let name recognition fool you. Muhammad has caught 55% of the 62 passes directed his way for 443 yards and three touchdowns. Burress has caught 55% of the 56 passes directed his way for 510 yards and five touchdowns. Neither guy has been a true number one -- in fact, Toomer was outperforming Burress -- but because the Bears use him more, and on more high leverage plays, Muhammad is closer to being a number one than Burress. Similarly, Clark has outperformed Shockey. Clark has caught 60% of the 48 passes sent his way for 429 yards and three touchdowns. Shockey has caught 61% of the 51 passes sent his way for 306 yards and five touchdowns. Given the nature of the two defenses, neither team loses as much as you'd think without its second wideout, and the Bears are at least as well equipped to attack the Giants' defense as vice-versa.

Furthermore, conventional wisdom is that the Bears' Achilles heal is Rex Grossman's tendency to turn the ball over against pressure. Defensive injuries could have more of an impact than the offensive losses. The Giants are only 12th in the league in adjusted sack rate to begin with, and they're missing both starting defensive ends. Overall, the Bears' offensive line has been able to protect Grossman, and they should be able to again on Sunday.

Similarly, the Giants' greatest strength is Tiki Barber, who has been the best running back in football this year. He has 172 runs for 834 yards. He also has caught 76% of the 42 passes thrown his way for 282 yards. While the Bears do a great job of taking away passes to the running back, it will be interesting to see if that remains a strength if Brian Urlacher is slowed by his toe. And, the Bears have seemed more vulnerable to the run since Mike Brown went down.

We're looking at a pretty even match-up here. The injuries should balance out. The losses on the offensive side shouldn't have too much of an impact; the losses on the defensive side could undermine both squads more than many are anticipating. In a close game, special teams can make a difference, and the Bears have an advantage. Neither team offers much in the kick return game, but the Bears could really pin the Giants deep with their top ranked kick coverage unit. Also, both teams are average in punt coverage, but the Bears could get some short fields with their top ranked punt return unit. Finally, if the game comes down to a late field goal battle, the Bears' have had the best field goal kicker in the business this year. The Giants have been below average.

The Giants have been pretty consistent this year. We know what we're going to get. The Bears on the other hand have the second biggest performance variance of any team in the league. Play like they did against Arizona, Miami, or even the Vikings, and the Bears get beaten. Play like they did in their other five games, and the Bears win. I'm guessing the Bears play one of their better games, and win a close one.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sox Bloggers Roundtable

In preparation for baseball's hot stove season, Cheat over at South Side Sox came up with the idea of hosting a White Sox Roundtable discussion. Joining Cheat are Jim from The Sox Machine, Vince from Exile in Wrigleyville, Keith (our only non-blogger), James and Jeeves from ChiSox Blog, Tom Fornelli from Foul Balls, and myself, from right here at Ron Karkovice Fan Club.

The discussion ended up being just a tad over 600,000 words, or somewhere in that neighborhood (wow, we're freaking verbose -- we probably write these blogs because otherwise our wives and girlfriends would get sick of hearing our voices), so we're going to break it up into a few parts. Let's call this Part 1 of 24: "Laying the Groundwork." Cheat is asking the questions below, everone else is identified when he speaks:

Before the 83-win Cardinals won the 2006 World Series, I had taken to calling the '06 White Sox "90-win Failures." I think the Cards' title might have taken some of the sting off the season, for me at least. How did you react to seeing a number of playoff teams with gaping holes playing in October? Has the fickle nature of post-season changed your view at all? Or did you never consider missing the playoffs a failure?

Jeeves: For me, the Cardinals triumph actually furthered my frustrations with the Sox season, but it didn't make it any less or any more of a failure in my eyes.

As the season wore on, I clung to the belief that as long as the Sox somehow slipped into the playoffs, they would be able to do some damage and make a legitimate run at the title. I will admit that outright homer-ism did fuel this belief, to an extent, but looking back at some of the prior World Series participants from the Wild Card era fed this feeling as well.

After all, the Sox did sputter in the second half before sweeping away Cleveland's hopes and running through the playoffs in '05. Then there's the '04 Wild Card Red Sox miraculous come back from an 0-3 deficit in the ALCS, plus the Wild Card Marlins from '03 and the Wild Card Angels from '02. I'm not trying to spark a debate about whether or not it's important to finish the regular season strongly or whether or not the best team always wins, but I do think the MLB playoffs are the biggest crapshoot of all the major sports. No matter how bad your team looks on paper, if you make it to the post-season there's a decent chance you could take the title.

The Cardinals only reinforced this idea with their win. All the pundits, talking heads, anda good number of bloggers dismissed the Cards, but they came through and won it all. All the while, all I could think, is that could have been our boys out there.

Now by all means, I don't count this season as a complete failure. Our goal coming into the season was to repeat as Champs, so in that respect we failed, but we did have a pretty solid season. This is the first time since the Go-Go Sox of '63,'64 and '65 that we've had back-to-back 90 win seasons. Some of our players regressed to their career means, but we still put together a good run. If we can improve on this performance, next year; we just may have another banner to raise. So in my opinion, the season wasn't a complete fiasco, but it wasn't satisfactory either.

James: If recent World Series winners tell us anything, it's that anyone can win in October as long as the pitching is solid. Four of the last seven WS were wild card entrants, but those WC teams had some solid pitching.

How the St. Louis Cardinals won with a pitching staff full of more holes than a wheel of Swiss cheese is a mystery to me. And that exacerbates the failure of the White Sox 90-win season even more so.

Obviously the whole team is to blame, but the lion's share of the failure lay squarely at the feet of the White Sox pitching staff, a clearly superior staff to that of the Cardinals. Were someone to play a seven-game series on paper between the White Sox and Cardinals, eight out of the ten sheets would have the White Sox winning.

How does it not feel like salt in the wound that a team with Jeff Weaver (a modern day Jack McDowell -- overrated) leading them won?

Keith: I'm dissappointed in the simple sense that this team didn't make the playoffs when it was built to precisely do that.

But unfortunately, it's not that simple. Looking within the context of this division, you had a team who had the best pitching in baseball and the best defense in baseball. You had another team that, for around three months (give or take), had arguably the two best lefties -- some could make a case to change "lefties" to "starting pitchers" -- pitching two out of every five days. That same team had two MVP candidates in Mauer and Morneau.

Looking back at it, the Sox had (in my mind) three starters who pitched a fair chunk of the season injured, in Garcia, Contreras, and probably even Buehrle. The last name might be pure speculation on my part, but when Buehrle's fastball is topping out at 86 MPH, something is wrong. Whether or not the situation of handling these "injured" pitchers was handled appropriately is another topic within itself.

It wasn't all gloom, though. Jermaine Dye put together one of the best offensive seasons in a Sox uniform that I have personally seen in my short lifetime. Joe Crede finally had the year we Sox fans have all been waiting for.

So, in the context of everything, I'm not as disappointed as one might think a White Sox fan should be. Going strictly on intangibles and the senses, this 2006 team just didn't have the "feel" of the 2005 group.

Jim: It was a failure in the dictionary sense of the word. I thought they would get into the playoffs, the Sox thought they would get into the playoffs, and they didn't. That's a failure.

But as far as the emotions tied to failure -- anger, disappointment, frustration -- those didn't surface on the radar in anything more than a fleeting state. They were outplayed by worthier teams. It's not like an AL East team feasted on three bottom-feeders to beat them out for a playoff spot.

The Tigers and Twins had to play the same schedule as the Sox, and the Sox had a bigger hole than either team -- having nobody on the pitching staff, rotation or bullpen, on whom they could rely. That wasn't a problem of planning or even usage, but getting the job done. Sometimes that doesn't happen. We move on.

Vince: I considered it a failure that the White Sox did not make the playoffs, but only a small failure. Considering where the franchise as a whole is now compared with two or especially three years ago, the 2006 White Sox have to be considered a qualified success. The Sox were legitimate contenders for nearly the entire season, reinforcing what they accomplished in 2005. Off the field, the Sox are more successful than they have been in years, with ticket sales and TV ratings up significantly. The playoffs, and specifically the success of the Cardinals, didn't change my thinking about the 2006 White Sox.

Tom: For me it pissed me off a little more. I didn't like seeing a team with so many flaws win a World Series, but at the same time I wasn't that surprised.

I think it just went to show how bad the National League was this year. Sure the Cardinals won the World Series, but they just got "hot" at the right time, and ran into Detroit when they were at their worst. Had the Cardinals been in the AL they would have been a 4th place team in the AL East and Central, while finishing 3rd in the West.

Heading into this off-season, what do you see as the Sox' 'gaping holes?'

Jeeves: The things that most people point to that need fixin' are the pitching, the outfield, shortstop, middle relief, and the lack of a lead off hitter. You must admit, that's a pretty long laundry list of things to improve. We may have holes at all of those positions, but I wouldn't necessarily say that all of them are gaping. The two things I would most like to see addressed are the outfield and the pitching.

I'll start with the outfield, because I believe that we'll have to look outside the organization to solve our problems. We are weak defensively and offensively in left, and we are weak offensively in center. I won't address specifically what we should do to solve the problem, because I'm sure that's fodder for another question (correct me if I'm wrong Cheat), but I will say Pods has to go. I think between Anderson, Sweeney, Mackowiak (only if he's in left), Pablo, and Jerry Owens, we could cover one of the outfield spots, but I would like to see a savvy (i.e. don't panic and overpay) move to plug into the other spot.

The pitching is where things get hairy. It ultimately needs to be addressed, but the question is how and to what extent. Do we shake up the rotation or do we see if our starters return to form and pitch more like the '05 staff? If we do shake things up, who gets shipped out? Those are tough questions to answer. It seems like either way we go, we could plausibly come out smelling like roses or come out regretting our decision.

Our starters weren't terrible; they were just terribly inconsistent. Any change in the rotation would require the jettisoning of one of our starters, as I highly doubt any of them would move into the `pen. When it comes down to the `pen, I think KW can solve that problem much as he has in the past with Jenks, Thornton, MacDougal, Cotts of '05, et al.

So, to make a long circuitous answer more direct, the biggest holes in my mind are left and center field and the pitching, although, the pitching has the potential to straighten itself out.

James: My White Sox gaping holes, in order of importance...

  1. Relief pitching...Anyone who knows me knows I was pretty hard on Mark Buehrle last season, but as the numbers bear out, he typically goes thru some sort of slide from time to time, so it wasn't completely unexpected. What really came as a shock was the regression of Neal Cotts. The poster boy for the failures of the Sox relief staff not only lost his location but his confidence as well. Maybe the ball started rolling with the injury to Cliff Politte, maybe going into the regular season with a rookie left-handed LOOGY was a sign of bigger troubles. Whatever the case, outside of Matt Thornton, should White Sox fans trust anyone in the bullpen? And even they had their shaky moments down the stretch. Jenks is a balky back away from seeing a Freudian-like specialist, and I doubt torque-armed Mike MacDougal will ever make it through any season without a stint on the injured list.

  2. Leadoff Hitter...Pods mental meltdown at the plate leads the list of position player failures for 2006, and I'm sure KW is fast pursuing an alternative to the take-strike-one, swing-at-strike-two, take-strike-three king.

  3. Injury List...I know this is more subjective than anything, but lets be frank, in 2005, outside of the Big Hurt (pun intended), the team was very very healthy. Fast forward to 2006; 3 out of the 5 starters had ailments, we lost Politte and Nelson for the season. Pods had hammy issues to start the season; JD, Joe Crede, Tad Iguchi and Jim Thome all had ailments at the end of the season -- ailments I contend were of more than the usual "long season" variety. A return to good health would go a long way toward the White Sox success in 2007.

Keith: In order of importance (and a couple of general comments at the end):

  • Starting pitching. Unfortunately, I really don't think this is something that Kenny Williams can fix from the outside. Outside of moving someone like Garcia and plugging in McCarthy (which, in itself, most likely won't be an upgrade, as McCarthy certainly isn't a lock to give the Sox 215 innings of a 4.50 ERA, which is what Garcia gave the 2006 team), I doubt there is a whole lot that can be done. I've said this a lot, and I'll continue to stress it all throughout the winter: The 2007 rotation is going to be built on hope. Hope that the 2006 Mark Buehrle was nothing more than an abberation. Hope that Jose Contreras can stay healthy. Hope that Brandon McCarthy is the pitcher he was down the 2005 stretch, not the pitcher who came out of the bullpen in 2006.

  • Left field. This was the position that provided the least to the 2006 teams. At least with the other highly berated positions such as centerfield and shortstop, you had strong-to-superb defense coming from those spots. Scott Podsednik provided absolutely nothing to the 2006 White Sox, and he (arguably) even held them back. I know the metrics say that Podsednik was a good left-fielder, but after watching him night in, night out for the past two years, I can't really say that Podsednik is anything more than average. Kenny Williams cannot go into 2007 with Podsednik as his starting left-fielder. So how does he fix the spot? I'm looking forward to that part of the conversation, as my ideas on how to fix the hole in left have ran everywhere from Carl Crawford to Ryan Sweeney.

  • Relief pitching. I don't really see this as a huge problem. I believe the backend of the White Sox bullpen is as good as you will find in all of baseball, with three similar-but-still-different styles in Jenks, MacDougal, and Thorton. I think Charlie Haeger has all but locked up the "mop-up" spot in the 2007 bullpen, leaving two spots (in a six man bullpen). I think it's reasonable to guess that one of Neal Cotts or Boone Logan will take one of those two spots as a LOOGY, leaving one spot. Again, this is a spot that the Sox could go a number of different ways. They could go via free agency (Justin Speier and Kerry Wood are the two names I've liked); they could go via the international market (Japanese pitchers have seemingly excelled in bullpen spots across MLB. At the very least, they seem to have a one year 'grace' period, ala Shingo in 2004). They could also delve into their very own farm system, as Oneli Perez stormed through the ranks last year and will make some impression on the 2007 White Sox (big or small).

  • For the record, I don't view SS or CF as holes. I still feel the main objective this offseason should be to improve the pitching, and an indirect way of helping the pitching is by making sure you have eight damn good defenders working with your pitcher. Thus, any upgrades offensively to SS and CF are most likely (there are exceptions) to come with a downgrade to the defense and ultimately a downgrade to the pitching.

  • I also don't see "leadoff hitter" as a spot that needs to be addressed. I feel that the Sox have a perfectly acceptable leadoff man already on the roster in Tadahito Iguchi. I also don't think that Williams should be limited in his LF search. By that I mean that he shouldn't just be looking for that slap hitting LFer who will steal 35 bases. I'll expound on this later, but I think that one of the best options for LF available in the free agent market that doesn't necessarily fit into the leadoff hitter or number two hitter mold is Moises Alou.

Criminal Appeal: I actually don't think the White Sox have any gaping holes. Keep in mind, this team was within a margin wholly attributable to luck from having the same record as it did in 2005. The 2006 Sox had a third order expected record of 89-73 according to Baseball Prospectus. Their 2005 expected record was 91-71. In other words, the 2006 White Sox were a health dose of luck from being right back in the play-offs.

To the extent, the Sox were not quite as good in 2005 as they were in 2006, the fall off is entirely attributable to the pitching. The Sox scored more runs, more consistently in 2006 than the previous year.

I'm not sure how to fix the pitching, and, as someone mentioned, I'm sure specific remedies for specific problems are sure to be future topics. I suppose inserting McCarthy and hoping for the best is the most likely step. For what it's worth, I think Buehrle is the guy we can trade for whom we might get fair value. I'm also pessimistic that Buehrle will ever be the pitcher he was before 2006.

I'm less worried about the bullpen, QUITE FRANKLY (those words must always be shouted at the top of the speaker's lungs). I think Jenks, Thornton and MacDougall will be just fine at the back end. So, I'd hate to see the Sox use resources for the pen that could be better spent elsewhere.

As I mentioned, I'm also pretty happy with the offense. However, in a division with four legitimate contenders, you have to aim high. Since it's hard to fix your starting rotation through free agency, I'd love to see the Sox invest even more on offense. I guess it's obvious that shortstop, left and center field are the team's holes. Uribe was below replacement level offensiveley, Podsednik is essentially worthless at this point and Brian Anderson plays a great defensive centerfield, but is essentially worthless with the bat. It may be unrealistic to expect Dye, Thome and Konerko to repeat their production from 2006. They aren't kids. So, it's risky to carry a couple of dead bats in the line-up, even at short and center. Still, Pods is the worst of the group, and plays a position that should be an offensive spot. However many of these guys are replaced, at least one of the new guys must be a high percentage on-base guy. That means Dave Roberts, not Juan Pierre (also, Matthews had a great year, but it came out of nowhere, and he's a poor fielder; I'd rather spend less and get Roberts). I also wouldn't mind if the Mike Young rumors are true.

Overall, this team's remaining window is a small one. While none of their holes are gaping, I wouldn't be afraid to trade prospects to fill what holes there are. A couple of moves and a little luck, and the 2007 White Sox could be right back where the '05 edition was.

Vince:With the benefit of getting to read the previous comments, I think the only gaping hole is left field. Scott Podsednik may bounce back somewhat in 2007, but it is going to have to be with another team. I can't see the Sox giving him another chance, and I don't think that they should. At his best, Podsednik is only a marginally useful left fielder, and I don't think his body can handle the pounding of the steal attempts any longer. I'll refrain for now in suggesting his replacement.

I think most of the rest of the gaping holes are in the form of whether certain players -- Mark Buehrle, Neal Cotts, Juan Uribe -- can return to previous levels of performance.

Tom: I think getting a leadoff hitter would be huge. Yes, the pitching is important, but a large reason this team failed in 2006 was Scott Podsednik.

Why did the Sox have to rely on the long ball tactics this season compared to last?

Cuz nobody else got on base besides Dye, Konerko, Thome, and Crede.

As far as the pitching, I'm not sure I would consider our starting rotation to have any gaping holes. I think what we all felt as fans as to how horrible the starters were this year was directly related to how great they were in 2005. Sure, Buehrle fucking sucked, but I have confidence he'll get better again next season. After Freddy developed that splitter in September, I do NOT want to see him traded now. I can deal with moving Vazquez and Mark, but for all the shit we give Freddy, we seem to forget he won 17 games this year.

Also I'd like to see some competent middle relief, and I don't mean David Riske.