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South Side Hope

Let's try this for openers: The White Sox' newly acquired David Robertson, a first-time closer due to the presence of the great Mariano Rivera, shut down the opposition 39 times in 44 save opportunities for the Yankees last year - a success rate of 88.6 percent.

At the risk of dredging up unpleasant memories, White Sox relievers last season were successful 63 percent of the time when it came to nailing down leads in the ninth inning. That's not very good.

Now consider for a moment if the Sox had converted 88 percent of those opportunities. Had that been the case, the Sox would have finished 87-75 instead of a disappointing 73-89. All of which creates a beacon of optimism for the South Side in 2015.

Even the Sox GM of the 1950s, Trader Frank Lane, would be envious of the acumen, perception and cunning of present wheeler-dealer Rick Hahn.

Who would have thought that Chicago baseball would be occupying headlines in December? Coupled with substantial moves coming from the other side of town, there's a buzz so intense that spring training can't come quickly enough.

For a franchise that has experienced a decrease in attendance in each of the last eight seasons, look for the Sox to begin reporting that season ticket sales are on the rise.

Robertson's four-year deal is worth $46 million, and starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, whom the Sox pried loose from the A's a couple of days ago, is slated to make $9.5 million next season before becoming a free agent.

The Sox drew slightly more than 1,650,000 last season. You think they can jack that to 2 million in 2015? That's slightly less than 25,000 a game. If that happens, Samardzija's salary will just about be covered.

But getting back to the baseball side of things, Hahn has said that the Sox' Big Three of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Samardzija stacks up favorably against the top three starters of any team in baseball. Well, maybe.

If that turns out to be the case, the team figures to be competitive approximately 60 percent of the time. Of course, the Big Three won't be effective all the time, but the Little Two, John Danks and Hector Noesi, won 20 games between them last year, so they figure to add to the mix.

December is a safe time for giddiness, so let's note that 60 percent of 162 is 97.

Of course, things didn't quite turn out that way in 2014. Of the five starters for next season, only Sale came close to a success rate of .600 in 2014. He started 26 games, of which the Sox won 15, for a .577 mark. Quintana, the King of No Decisions, started 32 games. The Sox won only 12 of those despite the fact that Quintana had a solid season with an ERA of 3.32 and a respectable WHIP of 1.243.

On the North Side, Samardzija received negligible support during his time with the Cubs. They won only three of his 17 starts, and he departed for Oakland with a 2-7 record despite a 2.83 ERA.

A couple of nights ago, I ran into a good friend, a season ticketholder at Wrigley for the past umpteen years. "I hope you don't mind losing games 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2," he said when I asked him what he thought about the Sox getting Samardzija.

The wind momentarily left my sails, so I checked out how the big right-hander fared in Oakland. He pitched well enough with a 3.14 ERA, but the A's won just half the 16 games Samardzija started, going 5-6. Samardzija must have had nightmares of the North Side after losing 3-2, 2-0 and 4-3 decisions during his brief stint in the Bay Area.

Can it be that guys like Quintana and Samardzija simply are tough luck pitchers? When Samardzija joined the A's, they were 54-33, three-and-a-half games in front of the second-place Angels. After Samardzija joined the team, the A's went 34-41 - and don't forget that Jon Lester, now the ace of the Cubs' staff, became a member of the A's on July 31.

The A's had a massive power outage the last two months of the season, finishing 10 games behind the Angels before losing the wild card game despite leading the Royals 7-3 after six innings - with Lester on the mound. Oakland eventually lost 9-8 when Kansas City scored twice in the bottom of the 12th en route to the World Series.

Don't misunderstand. The Sox are far, far better off now with Samardzija and especially Robertson than they were prior to the winter meetings in San Diego. Please remember that last season's starters in April included Felipe Paulino and Erik Johnson. We all know how that worked out.

Robertson no doubt likes the money and the prospect of playing for a potential contending team, but he also can be thankful that he doesn't have to face the Sox any longer. Two of his blown saves last year came against the Sox - the first on May 23 when Adam Dunn smashed a ninth-inning, walk-off home run, giving the Sox a 6-5 victory and bringing their record at the time to 25-25. It was the last time the Sox were a .500 team. In the second instance, Avisail Garcia hit a ninth-inning solo shot off Robertson at Yankee Stadium on August 24 to tie the game at 4 before the Yankees beat the Sox 7-4 in extra innings.

Meanwhile, the Sox should be relieved they don't have to face Samardzija anytime soon. In 36 innings facing the South Siders, the Shark allowed the Sox just four earned runs for an ERA of 1.00. He was particularly effective at The Cell - good news - with a 0.47 ERA in four games.

Having the likes of Robertson, Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke and left-handed reliever Dan Jennings - the Sox traded Andre Rienzo Thursday afternoon to the Marlins for Jennings - makes the Sox a stronger group going into 2015.

So does the absence of a few bodies.

With LaRoche batting between Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu and Garcia, the team has a left-handed hitter with power who drove in 92 runs last season for Washington. He also makes contact more often than the now-retired Dunn, whose career strikeout mark was eclipsed by only three others in the history of the game. LaRoche also is a very good fielder, so he and Abreu can split duties at DH and in the field. Dunn was marginal at first base. He won't be missed.

Neither will - dare I say? - Paul Konerko, who was used sparingly in 2014. Second baseman Gordon Beckham, a truly talented fielder, never panned out for the Sox and now is a free agent, having been released by the Angels. It will be interesting to see who - if anyone - will offer Beckham work next season. Alejandro De Aza figures to stick with the Orioles, but we won't miss his boneheaded baserunning mistakes. De Aza was a hustler. He played hard. But he wasn't the kind of guy who notably made the Sox a better team.

The Sox may be leaning toward Micah Johnson as their everyday second baseman, although he has yet to appear in a major league game. Before his season was cut short last year due to injury, Johnson hit .275 at Triple-A Charlotte. In three minor league campaigns, he has stolen 125 bases while posting a .297 average. He'll turn 24 next week. If Johnson isn't ready, Carlos Sanchez might be after hitting .250 in 28 games for the Sox last season.

Hahn has apparently turned his attention to left field, where we're still waiting for Dayan Viciedo to live up to his potential. I always thought that Moises Sierra could challenge Viciedo for a regular role, but the Royals claimed Sierra off waivers in October.

Hahn dealt youngsters Chris Bassitt, Josh Phegley, Marcus Semien, and Rangel Ravelo for Samardzija. Right-hander Bassitt could be the biggest loss; he showed promise in five late-season starts in 2014, and his minor league record is stellar. But Billy Beane wouldn't deal someone like Samardzija unless he received talent in return.

Don't forget that last year's top draft choice, Carlos Rodon, just 22 and another left-hander with a wicked slider, is waiting in the wings to join the team either as a starter or out of the bullpen. However, with just 24 innings of professional experience, letting Rodon gain confidence and perfect his craft at Triple-A as the season begins will be a luxury that the Sox now can afford.

What seems clear at this point is that the Sox will be far more interesting than they were the past few campaigns. They're also going to win more games. How many at this point very well depends on how well they play defense and hit in the clutch behind people like Samardzija and Quintana.

Looking back to 2011, the Sox signed Dunn for four years after he tore up the National League, hitting at least 38 home runs in seven different seasons and driving in more than 100 runs on six occasions. The team was coming off an 88-74 season, and many Sox fans figured Dunn would put them in elite company.

Of course, it didn't turn out that way. This time it should be different.

We hope.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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