Do Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson Make the White Sox AL Central Contenders?
Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn didn't spend a lot of time at the beach on Monday.
The White Sox were busy on the first day of the Winter Meetings in San Diego, acquiring starter Jeff Samardzija from the Oakland A's and signing former Yankees closer David Robertson to a four-year, $46 million deal. Neither deal has been confirmed by Chicago as of yet, but multiple reports indicate both are done.
The American League Central is a tough nut to crack. Chicago finished in fourth place last year at 73-89, 17 games behind the first place Detroit Tigers and 16 games behind the AL Champion Kansas City Royals. Heck, they were even 12 games behind the Cleveland Indians, who took a step forward on Monday by acquiring Brandon Moss from Oakland.
Needless to say, the White Sox have a tough road in front of them next year.
However, the moves made by Chicago on Monday should do a lot to shore up some problem areas for the team, mainly the component of the game that requires people to throw the baseball at the people holding bats.
|Starters||12.5 (8)||4.26 (12)||4.04 (12)||7.17 (9)||2.98 (13)||1.36 (13)|
|Relievers||0.7 (13)||4.38 (14)||4.22 (15)||7.24 (14)||4.51 (15)||1.51 (15)|
As you can see, Chicago had issues in both the rotation and the bullpen, ranking near the bottom in every meaningful category in the American League. Help was needed.
A Dominant Top Three
The White Sox are adding a guy who has become one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
Since becoming a full-time starter with the Cubs in 2012, Samardzija posted career-best numbers across the board for both Chicago and Oakland last year. His nERD of 1.99 was 12th-best among all pitchers in the Majors last season, meaning that over a 27-out game, he would have held opponents to 1.99 runs a game fewer than a league average pitcher would have.
He's a number-one starter who will slide into the number-two spot behind Chicago ace Chris Sale, who went 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA, 2.57 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement of 5.4, and a nERD of 1.75 last season. That will also bump Jose Quintana down to the number-three spot in the rotation, where his 3.32 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 5.3 fWAR, and nERD of 1.88 will make him a formidable arm in that spot. Jon Danks and Hector Noesi appear to have the inside track on the last two spots. And don't sleep on last year's first-round draft pick, left-hander Carlos Rodon, earning a rotation spot out of spring training.
But that is a top-three that can match up with anyone else's in the division. Detroit is about to lose Max Scherzer to free agency and, if and until they find a replacement, would feature a top-three of David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and Justin Verlander. Kansas City, who is about to lose James Shields, would throw out Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, and either Jason Vargas or Jeremy Guthrie as their top three. And Cleveland would be able to roll out Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar as their top three starters, if the season started today.
Among the starting staffs in the AL Central, the White Sox appear to be well-positioned.
Fixing The 'Pen
As for the bullpen, Robertson will be brought aboard to help put out what was a tire fire in 2014. No one on the roster had more than 14 saves, with the not-so-heralded Jake Petricka leading the team in that category. Their best reliever in terms of fWAR and ERA was Zach Putnam, who was worth 0.8 fWAR and had an ERA of 1.93, but a FIP of 3.08, in 54.2 innings. Chicago featured five relievers who had at least 20 innings pitched out of the bullpen with ERAs 4.60 or higher.
As for Robertson, he was lights out in his first season as the Yankees' closer last year.
Robertson, who turns 30 next April, has actually been doing this for a while, posting ERAs 3.30, 3.82, 1.08, 2.67, 2.04 and 3.08 since 2009, compiling at least 43.2 innings in each of those seasons. He's been remarkably consistent, especially for a reliever, which is perhaps why the Sox, as well as at least a half-dozen other teams, felt comfortable giving a late-inning reliever a huge, multi-year contract.
Chicago certainly hopes they'll get as much out of Robertson as Philadelphia has gotten out of Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal before the 2012 season, and has posted a 2.45 ERA and 106 saves in three seasons for the Phillies, despite declining velocity.
There are risks involved in every baseball deal, and these two are no exception.
As of this writing, reports are Chicago will send shortstop Marcus Semien, right-hander Chris Bassitt, and a third player to the A's in exchange for Samardzija. Semien is 23 years old and hit .234/.300/.372 with 6 home runs and 10 doubles in 255 plate appearances with the White Sox last season. He'll be the leading contender for the A's starting shortstop position this spring. And until his call-up with Chicago last year, the 25-year-old Bassitt had never made it past Double-A Birmingham but was 7-3 there with a 1.97 ERA in 14 starts, averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He had a cup of coffee with Chicago last year and looks like a potential back-of-the-rotation starter in the Majors.
These are good prospects who should help Oakland, but they are not top-100 guys.
Also, Chicago also will only have one year of Samardzija's services. He's in his final year of arbitration and will certainly get a big raise from the $5.3 million he made last year when it comes time to ink a new contract.
As for Robertson, signing a 30-year-old reliever to a four-year deal that will pay him more than $11 million a year on average is always a risky proposition, no matter how consistent he's been over his career. The good news for the White Sox is that their first round pick this year is top-10 protected, so they won't have to relinquish it to Oakland. Instead, they'll give up their second-rounder to the A's, a far more palatable alternative.
The White Sox are clearly going for it in 2015 and are one of the teams that can afford to take on the added salary. They already signed first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $25 million deal this winter, and before factoring in the contracts to Robertson and Samardzija, the Sox had just $64.8 million committed to their payroll for next season.
Usually, trading for a player on the last year of his deal and signing a relief pitcher to a big free agent contract aren't the best ideas in the world. But for the White Sox, both moves make sense and don't appear to hurt their long-term future too much.
In the end, Hahn added two players who should help them immensely next season - all at a reasonable cost.