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Quick Thoughts: ChiSox Bullpen, Jenks, Wood, Astros, Dodgers, Yankees

December 16, 2010

Some quick thoughts on this week’s non Cliff Lee related happenings …

  • With their signing of Jesse Crain to a three year, $12 Million contract a number of people (most notably ESPN’s Buster Olney) have been speculating that the Chicago White Sox are finished with their bullpen adjustments and they will enter the 2011 season using one of Chris Sale, Sergio Santos, or Matt Thornton as their closer. Here’s the thing though, the White Sox lost two big parts of their bullpen from last season when the traded Scott Linebrink to Atlanta and non-tendered Bobby Jenks. I suppose that Crain essentially fills the role that Linebrink had filled but does Sale really fit into their bullpen plans? First and foremost, he was the team’s first round draft pick last June and was principally a starter through college. His work with the team’s bullpen last summer was partly due to an agreement the team made with him when he signed so quickly after the draft and an effort to use him as a left handed option while the team tried to reach the postseason. From what I understood at the time, the longterm plan was always to keep him as a starter. In addition, with Jake Peavy likely not ready to start the season and the constant rumors that the team has been shopping one of their starters (i.e. Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson) wouldn’t they need Sale in the rotation to begin the season, filling one of those gaps? I see the appeal to installing him in the closer’s role because he seems to have the potential to develop into another Billy Wagner, but doesn’t this waste some of his potential by not allowing him to remain a starter?
  • Speaking of Jenks, it was widely expected that he would seek out an open closing role as he searched for his new team this winter. Yet, we learned today that he has agreed to a two year, $12 Million deal to join the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox, of course, already have have an established closer in Jonathan Papelbon and a player many believe to be his heir apparent in Daniel Bard. Papelbon will be earning a big salary in his final year or arbitration (likely in the neighborhood of $11 Million) and has seemingly fallen out of favor in Boston. However, between the high salary and his struggles this past season – career highs in losses (7), blown saves (8), and ERA (3.90) – there is little market for him unless Boston would be willing to pay the bulk of his salary. Jenks ultimately will be paired with Bard in a setup role but has reportedly been told he’ll get the opportunity to close should Papelbon eventually be traded. If Jenks have bounce back after two rough seasons in Chicago this could prove to be a great deal for the Red Sox and would certainly continue what has been a great offseason.
  • In other relief pitching news, Kerry Wood is returning to where it all started after agreeing to a one year, $1.5 Million deal to pitch for the Chicago Cubs next season. That is not a typo, he really agreed to a deal for a paltry $1.5 Million (I say paltry because let’s face it, by comparison to the other deals being handed out this winter that is a steal for the Cubs.). The kicker to the story is the fact that Wood was rumored to be looking for a deal in the neighborhood of two years, $12 Million (which seems to be a common figure for relievers this winter). Wood struggled early on last year and eventually lost the closer’s job in Cleveland which led to the trade that sent him to the Yankees. In New York he pitched well in 26 innings of work, posting a 0.69 ERA, 10.7 K/9, but a 6.2 BB/9. The Yankees were one team with some measure of interest in bringing him back and he apparently also had an offer from the White Sox before deciding to return to the Cubs, where his career began. Wood will setup for Carlos Marmol, giving the Cubs a duo that strikes a lot of batters out but also walks a lot.
  • A few weeks ago it was formally announced that longtime owner Drayton McLane was finally selling the Houston Astros after years of speculation and the stern suggestions of Houston beat writers (I’m looking at you Richard Justice). The funny thing here, nobody seems to have noticed. There have been no stories about the team being on the market and no speculation about who could potentially be a buyer. Mark Cuban was asked about his interest and his response was simply “No, I don’t intend to make an offer. If the Dodgers go on sale at some point then maybe I’ll reconsider but I’m not interested in owning the Astros.” Now, I can understand Cuban’s position (and can’t blame him) but how is it that a team goes on sale with such little notice?
  • Since I’m on the topic, Olney also wrote earlier today that he thinks one of the best things that Major League Baseball did this past season was allowing the Texas Rangers the flexibility to make moves from a financial standpoint because those moves increased the value of the franchise before it was finally sold in August. He continued to state that we could see a similar situation develop in Los Angeles considering the current financial situation that the Dodgers’ owners face after the very public divorce of the McCourts. Olney’s final point is that ultimately we may see the other owners step in and encourage Frank McCourt to sell the team because it would be in the best interest of baseball. Los Angeles is one of the biggest markets in the country and there should be a team there that can maintain some degree of competitiveness to represent (and take full advantage of) that market. Olney has a point but I don’t believe the process will go quite as smoothly as he thinks it will.
  • In the aftermath of the Yankees missing out on Lee there has been speculation that they’ll make a strong push for a number of the top starting pitchers that might be available. However, most of the speculation just doesn’t seem warranted considering the players in question just simply aren’t available. Sure, the Yankees (and any other team) would like to acquire Felix Hernandez from the Seattle Mariners but the fact remains that the Mariners have absolutely zero reason to deal their franchise player. He just won his first Cy Young Award after signing a huge extension prior to last season. They’ve also been linked to Carlos Zambrano, Josh Johnson, and others. Now I understand much of this is the mistaken perception that the Yankees can go out and get nearly anybody they want. The problem here is not only the incorrectness of that perception, but the thought that the teams that control these players would be willing to simply sell them off to the highest bidder. Sure, the Yankees need a starter or two but these unfounded and illogical rumors don’t do anyone any good.
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