The Humble NRI and Comparative Grief 101

Pablo Ozuna? Yup. I invoke thee, Pablo Ozuna, to wield the Staff of Cork and Kerry. Photo from MLB.

A Joke that isn’t really a Joke: Expect an unexpected 2021 contributor.

I started the most recent episode of Sox In The Basement with a joke, declaring it “Nick Williams Day” in honor of the Sox signing the former Phillies OF to a minor league deal and a see ya in AZ. I got a rise out of Chris but suggesting that Williams was the new DH, and after the cursory Chris chuckle and get the f out was over we launched into the serious business of comparing Kyle Lewis and Luis Robert.

I wasn’t kidding completely though. I knew what his reaction would be, but in all seriousness I see the Williams signing as a possible DH now being brought to camp. Williams has had success in the majors as a left handed OF with some pop. His minors stats are good, .288 with an OPS of .821. His majors stats aren’t as good, .254 with a .733 OPS but that includes a horrid 2019 campaign after a good to average 2017-2018 run. What happened in 2019? For one thing Bryce Harper took his job. Williams was left to share time with Corey Dickerson, Odubel Herrera, Jay Bruce and Andrew McCutchen who opened the door a bit by getting hurt. Other than going from everyday guy to part-timer I have no idea what happened and neither the time nor inclination to find out. Dude’s a minor leaguer and an NRI (non-roster invitee).

But he follows a long line of guys who were also NRIs and contributed to White Sox teams in big ways. Take a look at Pablo up there. Breathe in the memories of a guy popping a gum bubble before laying down a walk-off bunt, exemplifying the grinder rules. Recall the joy as he pinch ran for A.J. after our pesty catcher stole first base, with Pablo stealing second and scoring the game winner on a Joe Crede double. Pablo…was a minor league signing having washed out in 2004 with the Rockies, and took his NRI status in spring training and played his way onto a championship team and, more importantly, into our hearts. Chris Widger also did that in 2005 but to a lesser extent. He played his way into a lymph node at best.

Among others that have followed this route recently, to mixed and mostly bad results: Dewayne Wise, Matt Skole, Geo Soto, Cody Asche, Ryan Goins and a handful of pitchers like Ross Detwiler, Evan Marshall and Anthony Swarzak. This is also ignoring when a prospect that isn’t on the 40-man makes the team, which happens and is frankly what Andrew Vaughn would be doing if he’s the opening day DH.

However, sometimes the NRI is equivocal to an under the radar minor league deal. Enter names like: Daniel Bennett Palka. In November 2017 he was claimed off waivers to no fanfare, really being AAA depth. Sitting behind the major league OF consisting of Avi Garcia, Adam Engel and the immortal Nicky Delmonico, Palka was also had Ryan Cordell, Trayce Thompson and Charlie Tilson hanging around. He hit his way into an April callup and Palka ended up with 27 homers and an OPS+ of 110 as a rookie and more than a few Sox fans thought he’d be the DH going forward.

So don’t sleep on the minor league signings and NRIs that are bound to start popping up in the coming weeks. One of them could be important. I just don’t know that it’ll be Nick Williams. I just hope its more Pablo Ozuna, and less Cody Asche.

An apology (of sorts) to Rick Hahn, Part 2: WTF is this pitching market?

Aren’t we Sox fans all just a bit annoyed at Rick Hahn saying the team is on the floor? He’s not going out and getting a DH and a number 4 starter? Really? The DH thing is somewhat unforgivable based on the hitters still sitting out there, but the SP4 is maybe a market problem rather than tight purse strings by Jerry.

Last week I noted that Cory Kluber was a good fit for the Sox at the right price, citing his injury history and noting that he might garner a discount contract as he hasn’t really pitched since 2018. He signed with the Yankees for $11 million guaranteed, which if he regains form is great. If he’s hurt again or he finds that how he used to pitch no longer works because his stuff doesn’t do the same things, he’s a waste. But at $11 million, is that the Yankees taking a flyer or paying for him to be their #2-#3 starter?

Kluber’s deal slots between 1-year and $8 million for Robbie Ray, who pitched the past two years and poorly at that, and 1-year and $15 million for Charlie Morton, who has been ace-esque until an up and down 2020. Kluber’s deal matched Drew Smyly, who signed for 1 year and $11 million and hasn’t been good for 5-6 years. Other guys getting guaranteed money: Alex Wood, who was also last good in 2018 before injuries, 1-year $3million; Matt Andriese who has never been all that good, 1-year $2.1 million; Michael Wacha, who’s good seasons seem like outliers, also 1-year $3million; Anthony “Disco” Desclafani, who was pretty good in 2019 and decent in other years, 1-year $6 million; José Ureña, who has as many diacritical marks in his name as he has decent seasons in the majors, 1-year, $3.25 million. Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman are each on 1-year, $18.9 million deals and expected to be a big part of their respective staffs even though both have been very up and down in their careers. Mike Minor, who was best as a reliever years ago, inexplicably has the only multi year deal and will earn $7 million from the Royals in 2021, and $10 million in 2022.

So to keep tally:

  • For $15 million or better you can get an aging #2 or a decent starter with a spotty history. Bandname: Charlie and Friends.
  • For $11 million or better you can get a former ace coming off major injuries or a lefty who has never lived up to his billing. Bandname: Smyly and the Klubots.
  • For $7 million or better you can get a lefty who really kinda blows. Bandname: Left Out!
  • For $6 million you can get a #4 starter with a good nickname. Bandname: The Disco Factor
  • For $2 million or better you can get bad pitchers or a guy who was a good pitcher until he was hurt. Bandname: Scrapheap and the Mehs.

Of the pitchers signed, Disco and Morton seem like bargains while the deals for Stroman and Gausman make it hard to fathom Trevor Bauer taking less than $30 million per year. Kluber’s deal if he’s healthy is a bargain because he’s likely better than Gausman or Stroman, and maybe comparable to 2019 Charlie Morton. Wood is a flyer while some guys are getting deals based on fleeting potential or some good year in the past. If this is the market, then no wonder the Sox, Padres and Mets chose to trade for pitching. But, that also means that we can match the profile of remaining free agents to the ranges that the 2021 market has established.

  • Charlie and Friends, feat. Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odirizzi, Garrett Richards, Taijuan Walker, J.A. Happ and Jose Quintana
  • Smyly and the Klubots, feat. James Paxton and Brett Anderson
  • Left Out! feat. Carlos Rodón
  • The Disco Factor feat. Mike Leake, Chris Archer, and Rick Porcello
  • Scrapheap and the Mehs it turns out is a pretty all-inclusive band that no one wants to listen to, with some players being better than others.

There’s also solo artist Trevor Bauer, who will be very pricey. There’s also Rolling Stones/Aerosmith like band of potentially pricey aging rockers who have lost a step but might still bring it every now and again, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Rich Hill and Adam Wainwright.

So my slack cut to Rick Hahn here is, where do the Sox go? Pay around $15 million or more for a decent guy? A little less for a comeback candidate? Or go for reasonably priced mediocrity? I’d be willing to wait and see if a bargain falls in his lap.

How’s Jerry stack up to Virginia, two families and himself? Photo by Money Inc.

More Complaints: Owners Edition

For those White Sox fans that spend some of their emotions and cash on the Bears, the post-mortem presser sparked conversation about sports ownership and where the McCaskeys ranked amongst the NFL and Chicago owners. The answer was unfavorable, to say the least. Then I saw some attempts at comparing the Rickettseses of Wrigley to the Sox’ own Jerry Reinsdorf, with several comments that they are both bad. Toss in the Blackhawks slowly sinking back into irrelevance and the Bulls who are owned by…Rerry Jeinsdorf?

So who has the right to claim misery at having the worst owner in town? On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the greatest sports owner in history who spares no expense on players, facilities, fan experience and puts a championship banner up every other year at least (no one) and 10 being a rich idiot with no knowledge of the game, no attempts at a winning team and no cares whatsoever about the fans (Rachel Phelps from “Major League”), where do our fair city’s team owners rank? Keep in mind that the midpoint, a 5, is a competent owner that invests in the product but will be mindful of profits first and puts reasonably good sports minds in key positions, creating a generally predictable result with occasional greatness and badness.

Virginia Halas McCaskey, Bears – 3 out of 10. Why? Look, the fact that Mrs. McCaskey has been around pro football since pro football started is impressive. I do believe that she hates the failure of the franchise as much as her dad would have. But at this point, the team isn’t great, the stadium isn’t great, the explanations aren’t great about why things aren’t great. For too long the Bears have had the same issues, a GM that struggles to evaluate QBs and offensive talent, coaches that aren’t as good as expected, teams that under perform when it matters, and hanging on to fan tropes and glories so old that it makes the fandom look like an SNL parody. Even that parody is so tired that it isn’t funny anymore. At some point repeating the same mistakes is an ownership issue, and shoveling that down fans’ throats really is an ownership issue.

The Wirtz family, Blackhawks – 7 out of 10. Why? They won championships and Rocky Wirtz remade the team into a much more fan-friendly and accessible team in the process. But like a lot of teams, now that they are top-heavy with aging stars things aren’t going great and it’ll be curious to see how they react, which so far hasn’t been exceptionally. Recent Stanley Cups are what’s keeping them above average and this would have been an 8 or 9 until recently.

Jerry Reinsdorf, Bulls – 4 out of 10. Why? In a nutshell he let Jerry Krause’s personal vendettas determine the fate of the Dynasty and first rebuild, and then let Gar/Pax run the show for too long in spite of repeatedly coming up short on all fronts. The NBA is a league where 1 player can determine the fate of a franchise but ownership has to get the front office in place to get that guy and surround him with talent. Jerry hasn’t gone too cheap on the Bulls or tried to alienate the fans, but his loyalty to bad evaluators since ’99 is a huge problem.

The Ricketts family, Cubs – 6 out of 10. Why? I wouldn’t trust them to watch my dog while I took a piss, but I will give credit to the Ricketts for doing what they said they’d do. They remade Wrigley, they sold out hard to win a World Series and delivered one, and the wave of that success buoys their score. But that love fest is over now with the team looking to rebuild and rumblings that the debt the Ricketts went into to get the team is going to dog them. Like the Wirtz family, recovering from the championship window closing will be telling, and they still get a pass from the big win. Now we get to see if they will return to the Cubdom that the Ricketts knew and loved when they were just obscenely rich fans, a team that is seemingly unable to monetize their ridiculous overpopularity into behaving like they should, as the Yankees of the NL. They could drop straight into the 3 out of 10 realm as soon as this year if they aren’t careful.

Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox – 5 out of 10. What? I mean, Why? For all our griping, Jerry is basically just a competent baseball owner. He invests only what he feels he can with profits in mind, he has decent baseball minds in key places, he at least has the team make attempts to engage fans and provide a good fan experience, but he doesn’t go over and above to try and win, nor does he ever really truly shit on the fans. It’s aggravating, though, in way that Bears fans and Bulls fans don’t suffer. Jerry The Sox Version hasn’t really done anything obviously wrong, just he hasn’t done anything exciting so there’s no one thing to complain about that’s clearly bad, just knowing it could be better. Bears fans watch the same garbage each year and each iteration of the team, and can sit there and yell about Ted Phillips and the inability to draft a QB and point to clear problems. Bulls fans watched Jerry clearly not be able to put a good front office together or control the guys he did put in and have them make good choices. But with the Sox…Jerry’s largely had good GMs…his payroll is usually tied to attendance and income for the team the year prior…Sox games are fun in person but not transcendent baseball experiences…they sign free agents but never a huge splurge…and so on.

So who has it worst?

A Lineup’s worth of Things about the Sox that worry me, an ongoing list:

  1. The team is on the floor.
  2. Said team on said floor being anointed in January as the team to beat in the AL based solely on other teams’ inaction.
  3. Liam Hendriks’ jocularity vs. Adam Eaton
  4. Lucas Giolito being worried about his contract.
  5. Tony LaRussa overusing Liam Hendriks.
  6. Walls and Nets vs. Eloy. (Three words: memory foam walls)
  7. Tony LaRussa under using Liam Hendriks.
  8. The bullpen behind Hendriks being a tad overrated.
  9. NRI, DH.
  10. And warming up in the pen: being just two players away.

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