On Monday, we began a look at how the White Sox were progressing toward their pre-season goals. The rebuilding goals they had at the beginning of the year, not these new goals that have been retroactively applied upon discovering this team was not entirely awful in its own right.
Way later than originally promised, we will look into the progress of the White Sox core. With Chris Sale and Jose Quintana being the only established, young, above-average contributors on long-term contracts, they were pretty much it for this category, and their main responsibility was not getting hurt or do something to indicate that long-term investment in them was a huge mistake.
Everyone got through his first disabled list stint without too much weeping. Despite the injury popping up in his throwing elbow, Sale managed to return after a month's absence without needing surgery and with no traces of diminished effectiveness upon his return. Whether or not a career-high pitch count in an April start spurred on his elbow strain probably would have become an incredible source of speculative debate if the problem had festered.
Now with 10 post-DL stint starts in the books, during which time Sale's had a 2.00 ERA and struck out 73 batters in 67.1 innings, walking nine, we can discuss the other development: he's massively improved. For the third-straight season, Sale has bettered his control, his mastery of his stuff, and even his efficiency. After establishing himself as a clear No. 1 starter in 2012 and 2013, Sale's ERA+ has vaulted from the 135-140 range to 193. If not for missing a month with injury, the Cy Young buzz would be very real, as he leads the league in ERA.
Sale has not only gotten better than he was when the Sox made their investment, he's way out beyond where even his peak should be.
Quintana's progress as a pitcher has been just as constant as Sale's, though far more methodical. But considering how little regard there was for Quintana's ability to develop and thrive in the majors, even as recently as Spring of 2013, it's just as amazing.
He's going deeper into games, has not a spot of injury concern to him while his velocity has spiked the more he's worked, and he currently has a career-best 3.24 ERA. He might be pitching even better than that. Even if Quintana were just replicating his previous numbers, rather than striking out hitters at a rate 50% higher than his rookie season, this year would represent an important step forward just because of his methods.
A well-located fastball is always the best pitch in baseball, but it was nearly the only reliable one for Quintana for a while. Now, two years after making his break as a one-pitch pitcher, he prominently uses a wipeout curve and a changeup, which were wholly nonexistent previously. The results have been undeniably positive, but also a little inconsistent. Quintana slips out of his approach and release point for stretches, has marred a few otherwise idyllic outings with these rough patches, and still is just one tier down from being an All-Star.
The Sox bet big on Quintana based on their own internal evaluations over a market that was skeptical of him, and now have a legit No. 2 for $4.5 million per year for four more seasons after this one.
Does he fit here? Tim Anderson--though currently injured--is looking good in High-A and the new dream to end Ramirez's chokehold on the starting shortstop role. But with Marcus Semien struggling while playing 74 different positions rather than flying through the system and barking for MLB at-bats, and Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson more likely to slide toward the right side of the infield, Ramirez is still the unquestioned best shortstop in the organization--hell, maybe the league.
He's a somewhat scary player to latch onto, since he'll be 33 in September and has slumped away his entire hot offensive start, pushing aside any idea that he's made a big career-extending adjustment. But if the Sox are thinking about making noise in 2015 rather than cashing out trade chits as much as possible now, they might just wind up letting Ramirez play out his deal.
Well, now that I've gotten fully silly...
The man has a 169 wRC+ against right-handed pitching!
He's not very good at much else--especially not hitting lefties--but even if Gillaspie is not a traditional member of "the core," he's a hard person for the Sox to just trade away. Between some of Matt Davidson's Triple-A struggles, Dayan Viciedo's lack of progress, and neither Adam Dunn nor Paul Konerko being under contract next season, there are plate appearances to be had in the Sox corner infield positions.
Whether it's playing just passable defense at third or platooning his bat where it's needed, anything close to Gillaspie's current production still has some value to a Sox team short on big bats arriving imminently.
That said, his inability to play a position completely full-time and lack of pedigree to place confidence in this performance level continuing, means the Sox should avoid committing to Gillaspie past a year-to-year basis. That kind of player is not really part of the core.
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