The Catbird Speaks 1.23.15: The most exciting list of non-roster invites I have ever seen

Geovany Soto and Jesse Crain's returns to Chicago coupled with actual prospects to watch during Spring Training made Thursday's announcement of non-roster invites probably the most interesting in...well, human history. With pitchers and catchers reporting coming in the next month, The Catbird Seat gang got together to dish about the upcoming season and then insult the Twins a bit.

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Adam LaRoche needs to keep walking

Stashed away in the loathsome wilderness of the National League for all of his 11 years in the majors, Adam LaRoche has been more or less interchangeable in my consciousness with Nate McLouth, Nuke LaLoosh, Chesty LaRue, The Mighty Boosh, and Lyle Overbay. And yet, he's been plugging away as the typical adequate hitting first baseman we theorize about but never pay to watch. He owns a career .263/.340/.472, 113 wRC+ batting line that he's jumped back and forth across like a metronome. 

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TCS Official Registered Idea: Maybe play Alexei Ramirez slightly less

Alexei Ramirez is the owner of one of the more bizarre streaks in sports. He's played 158 games in each of the last four seasons. Not 158 games or more, 158. This is not some slavish devotion to playing every game, it's like his contract extension stuck him with a crappy paid time off plan and he's just stuck.

It actually, by all accounts, is a slavish devotion to playing every game from Ramirez, but they actually managed to nail him down to the bench four times per year. It's an admirable accomplishment, and a testament to his durability for those who generally think of him as the guy who rolls around like he's shot when he gets grazed by a pitch, but at 33 years of age, the Sox would be wise to guard against diminishing returns.

Shortstop is an intensely physically demanding position to defend, as evidenced by our tolerance of a large swath of players who can do nothing else on the diamond except that. Ramirez's intense athleticism and range has made him a valuable asset despite an average or worse bat throughout his career. I would probably kvetch about working a 33-year-old to death if everything was gravy, but all of Ramirez's consistently sterling performances with defensive metrics (UZR, DRS, Runs +/-) ran screaming downward in 2014 while his bat collapsed in the dog days of September (.569 OPS). 

Defensive metrics, especially single seasons of them, are typically regardless as worthless in these parts. I listen to them in the way you listen to drunks when they all start yelling about the same thing at once. Yet even in this case, they could be yelling in confusion. A huge spike in his "out of zone" plays (140, compared to a previous career-high of 78) last season probably nods that metrics are having trouble reading Ramirez now that the Sox are aggressively shifting like never before. Assumptions about Ramirez's performance in cold/hot, beginning/end have been subject to just complete randomness that it's safe to just assume nothing is representative. 

The Sox have never had a need to run Ramirez into the ground, but perhaps removing the specter of an 0-4 with four strikeout day from Leury Garcia will remove any latent hesitancy. The professional bench solutions the Sox have secured gives them flexibility they should enable. Carlos Sanchez has plus-athleticism, if not ideal range and strength for short, but mixed in there throughout his trip through the minors. Even soon-to-be 30-years-old Emilio Bonifacio has over 100 games at the position in his major league career, including a handful in 2014. Between them, there should be enough to give Ramirez three-to-four days off per month, and take his game total down into the 130 territory.

There's no logical reason not to do it and be cautious about preserving a--sadly--aging player--which leads me to believe there's an interpersonal, not logical reason that Ramirez is allowed to serve his inhuman workloads. He's the longest-tenured position player on the club and stripping away points of personal pride might not be the best way to handle him.

But that's Robin's problem! And not something I can speak to as an outsider blogger in the first place. All I can do is lob ideas for improvement at him that might be personally untenable. It's a great position to be in. Wouldn't want to switch.

BEHOLD, A WORTHY NOTE:


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The post-Scherzer AL Central roundtable

I always dreamed that a post like this would be written about Justin Verlander, after he had been sent off to slaughter a distant alien race on behalf of all humanity, but the wrath of God Detroit starting pitcher has left the division, and it’s that homer-prone fastball-slider guy with platoon issues from a few years back. Max Scherzer has signed with Washington for all the money in the world. Detroit still boasts David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and a possibly resilient Verlander, but have now lost two of their three-most productive arms from last season with Rick Porcello already off to Boston.

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The Old John Danks and the New

I have been operating under the assumption that since his shoulder injury in 2012, John Danks is - essentially - a replacement level player moving forward until proven otherwise. This article is inspired by the fact that reader Dean challenged this assumption in one of his comments. Rightfully so - my assumption is largely based on the fact that Danks' velocity has been down, I have perceived his stuff not to be as sharp, and...well, he has posted an ERA of 4.75 and 4.74 in the last two years.

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About that rotation problem...

It’s pitching depth week at The Catbird Seat! In consecutive days you’ve had Ethan and Nick explaining the problem that is the White Sox rotational depth. To keep with the trend, let’s continue addressing, but let’s also use a different approach. Though the Sox rotation is certainly not strong front to back, it is not ill equipped to enter a season representing a playoff hopeful team.

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The Rotation Is A Problem

A starting rotation of Sale-Samardzija-Quintana-Danks-Noesi is rather hilarious in its division between strengths and weaknesses. Pros: Sale, Samardzija, Quintana. Cons: Danks, Noesi. Given that the team didn't give up too many future resources this offseason - a second and third round pick for Melky and David Robertson, and the useful, cost-controlled fringe starters / bench players surrendered in exchange for Samardzija - normally I would say they can just keep riding out the upswing and roll with what they have. But, their main acquisition this offseason - Shark - will only be here for 2015, and it doesn't make sense to add him and other guys like Melky, Robertson, LaRoche, Duke, etc. etc. only to hamstring your chances at competing by leaning heavily on Danks and Noesi.

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Examining pitching depth for next season

In 2013, the White Sox were really, really bad. There were seemingly very few bright spots. Surprising as it me be, however, the White Sox were second in MLB in pitching (Baseball-Reference) WAR (which goes to show how incredibly bad they were offensively and defensively, seeing as they finished with the third-worst record in baseball). After the loss of Jake Peavy and Hector Santiago, however, the back end of the White Sox pitching staff sputtered, and the team fell to 20th in MLB in pitching bWAR, despite their top two starters combining for the third best bWAR for any pair of rotation-mates in baseball. As it turns out, the combination of John Danks, Hector Noesi, Scott Carroll, and the worst bullpen in baseball do not combine for a good pitching staff.

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Professional bench solutions

I knew I was supposed to strongly approve of the Emilio Bonifacio signing when it was originally announced, but I had a hard time getting particularly excited for it. A light-hitting utility man most prominently featured in center field and second base, and mostly anticipated to provide veteran stability to the latter, Bonifacio carries a slappy .262/.319/.341 career line after fluttering down from a hot start to a .259/.305/.345 season in 2014.

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Change comes slow to Hall of Fame voting

The Baseball Writers Association of America did not undergo any sort of massive sea change in their voter base from last year. The voting process, which reduced the candidacy window from 15 qualified years on the ballot to 10, did not inspire some great urgency in the nation, and thus we got a fairly similar retelling of persistent Hall of Fame voting issues. Uber-dominant titans of the steroid-era strangely ignored (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, and to a lesser degree, Sammy Sosa*), borderline cases with strong career narratives slide in without issue (John Smoltz, Craig Biggio), while equal candidates with vague PED suspicion slog their way through slowly (Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza), and we're just sort of thankful that super-obvious first ballot guys don't get screwed up (Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson). And why the hell can't Curt Schilling get a foothold?

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White Sox Sign Emilio Bonifacio

Yesterday marked 21 days since the White Sox made a MLB transaction, which inspired me to work on an article assessing potential depth signings to improve the team. Perhaps the player I focused most on was INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, who reportedly signed with the Sox today for one year/ $3 million with a club option for $4 million and a $1 million buyout. Of course, this signing forced me to scrap last night's post.

Seeing as the article was not published, I cannot take credit for giving Rick Hahn the idea to sign Bonifacio, unless he has access to the TCS drafts folder and made the decisionbased on that access. This said, it is a shrewd move by Hahn to fix one of the last major holes in this White Sox squad: depth.

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Trade Rumor: Ben Zobrist to Chicago.

A few weeks ago I briefly mused on Twitter that if Ben Zobrist is on the market, the White Sox should make an attempt to add him. Then, at the end of December, the Rays signed Asdrubal Cabrera which lead to the inference that Zobrist was going to be traded, and possibly to the White Sox. Zobrist is owed $7.5 million for 2015, what will be his age-35 season, after which he will be a free agent. Primarily a second baseman, Zobrist is famous for his versatility, playing all three outfield spots and even some shortstop last year. His offensive profile is also of the Little Bit Of Everything variety, being a switch hitter with doubles power, decent average, and walks. With the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, and Zach Duke, the White Sox are clearly trying to compete in 2015. Zobrist would address a position of weakness while providing depth virtually everywhere on the diamond. Should they do it?

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What is Avisail?

If you're looking for a reason why the White Sox are not being immediately crowned as the conquering heroes of the AL Central after their OFFSEASON CHAMPIONSHIP, look no further than vaunted prospect Avisail Garcia. While the Sox have been pushing Garcia as a foundational since his arrival, the projection systems that push around tepid win expectations anticipate Garcia as a complete zero, or at the very best, below-average.

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Where we stand

Rick Hahn is an ever-present character in all White Sox dealings. He's looming not far from the foreground in every offseason story; it feels unnecessary to dedicate our entire focus to him above the actual players coming in. To do so, would be a furthering of the ever-present cult of the executive, where our fascination and praise has diverted from world-class athletes and their craft. Instead of admiring the works of art, or even the artists, we ogle the work of the curator and then take some bizarre fascination in the operating budget they had to secure the priceless. No thoughts of watching Melky Cabrera popping singles all over the yard, just contemplation of 2 WAR for three years for $42 million. Is it worth the investment for a famous tycoon?

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So Who's Going To Sign Scherzer?

In the offseason after the 2013 season, we saw two Scott Boras clients - Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales - turn down qualifying offers and play hardball for a long term contract for big dollars, only to have it blow up in their face. Each wound up taking a 1-year deal worth less than the QO after the season started, and then posted abysmal numbers. Boras made himself the biggest agent in sports in part because he knew that if he stuck by his demands for his players, one team would blink and come up with the money. But with these two players, the strategy didn't work out at all. Jon Lester has signed with the Cubs for 6-years, $155 million, while the number being floated as Scherzer's demand was $200 million. Is anybody actually going to come close to that number?

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Hopefully one of these White Sox catchers will be playable

A week after the Padres lured Derek Norris' revered bat out of Oakland, this isn't the best time to feel rosy about the White Sox seasonal arrangement of below-average and whiff-prone catchers, but they are here. There are many of them, which is the best feature of this group.

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Surely someone can be tricked into Dayan Viciedo

Some other club will just come along and rescue the Sox from their self-made hell. But what team wants Dayan Viciedo in "a greater role?" Well, this is probably a very bad team. Let's find them. Let's only search the AL, though, because proposing a team needs Dayan Viciedo is bad enough, let's not wish a full season of defense on these clubs too.

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I don't think excited Sox fans paid for Melky Cabrera

At this point, picking at the explained logic of some of the White Sox moves in this beloved and lauded off-season is akin to pull the best man aside during the reception to give him "notes" on his speech, but the White Sox continue to support my theory that I would be much less critical of the mythology behind their finances if they just never discussed them at all.

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