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Chicago White Sox

  • McCarthyism: Among the last few players cut from the White
    Sox’s 25-man roster last week was top prospect Brandon
    McCarthy
    , #23 on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 50 prospects
    list
    , the seventh-ranked pitcher and top White Sock. McCarthy
    pitched well in spring training–while we all know that spring
    training stats mean very little, a 14/3 K/BB ratio in 18.0 innings was a
    good showing for the young right-hander. After pitching well at three
    levels last year, there were worries that McCarthy’s sudden rise may be
    accompanied by a period of adjustment or an equally precipitous fall.
    Exposed to major league hitters after topping out in Double-A last year,
    McCarthy assuaged a few of those fears with his spring performance.

    There was some talk that McCarthy could be called upon to start the
    season in the rotation in Chicago after Mark Buehrle‘s
    injured foot looked likely to keep him out for the season’s first month.
    With Buehrle’s return, McCarthy’s demotion to the minors was
    assured. With only 12 starts above low-A ball to his credit, the rumored
    move to Triple-A may seem like another impossible jump for the young
    northpaw, but McCarthy has shown little reason to make anyone doubt his impressive
    array of skills so far.

    In 172 innings last year, the then-20-year old McCarthy struck out
    202 batters while walking a mere 30, for a K:BB ratio of 6.7:1 and a K/9 IP
    rate of 10.6. The 6’7″ pitcher dominates with a low-90s fastball, solid
    curve, and a progressing change-up, but the jump from Double-A to
    Triple-A can be difficult on younger players. Going from leagues filled
    with players of similar ages and development to a league filled more
    often with borderline major leaguers struggling to get back to the show
    requires players to get by on more than raw talent. Pitchers throw more
    advanced pitches, batters are more patient and powerful, and the
    transition between the two levels can be more difficult than other moves
    up the ladder. There’s little reason to expect that McCarthy will
    struggle after his dominating performance in 2004, but even a slight
    regression by a 21-year old pitcher in Triple-A would be great news for White
    Sox fans.

    With questions surrounding the back of the Chicago rotation, McCarthy
    could earn himself a call-up before the season is out. Jon
    Garland
    has strung together three seasons of remarkably
    consistent yet uninspiring pitching. There are worse things than 200+
    innings of just under league-average pitching. The bigger questions
    surround Jose Contreras and Orlando
    Hernandez
    , who have proven to be worse than mediocre in both
    the talent and health departments. It’s likely that at least one of the
    two will falter as the season progresses; with a weak division as
    winnable as the AL Central to call home, the temptation to
    bring up McCarthy to try to push the Sox over the top may be too great.

    The issues of starting McCarthy’s service clock and further exposing
    him to the rigors of major league pitching at such a young age will not
    be easily answered by a mediocre team in a mediocre division. Even
    struggling along at near .500–right around where PECOTA sees them–the White Sox still could be within a couple games of first place in mid-July.

    In short, at some point during the summer, the White Sox are going to
    be able to convince themselves that the division is winnable; a cynic would say that with
    Carl Everett already on the team and Roberto
    Alomar
    retired, their standard trade deadline moves won’t
    be available. That leaves McCarthy–a great, young talent who has a chance to be
    a great pitcher–to spend the early part of his career on a
    below-average team before getting expensive just when his team has a
    chance to rebuild into contention down the road. Sound
    familiar
    ?

Oakland Athletics

  • Lease to Own: The big news in Oakland is the new ownership group
    headed by Los Angeles real estate investor Lewis Wolff. Wolff has done
    an impressive job of telling the Oakland fan base exactly what it wants
    to hear–that the team will not be moving to San Jose, Portland, or Las
    Vegas and that a new ballpark is in the works. How well he follows through on these promises will only be determined by the ongoing process
    involving those two issues.

    The majority of major baseball parks have opened in the past 16
    years, leaving teams like Oakland and parks like the coliseum–recently
    described by the Associated Press as “dilapidated”–in the minority.
    Removing the 18 new parks since 1991 and those yards that double as
    historical landmarks:

    • Angel Stadium – Heavily renovated in 1996-97, it might as well be a
      new ballpark.

    • Busch Stadium – New stadium currently under construction.
    • Kauffman Stadium – With the turf removed in 1995 before massive
      renovations in 1998, it remains one of the more pleasant places to catch
      a ballgame.

    • McAfee Coliseum
    • The Metrodome – Monstrosity or symbol of winning small-revenue team?
    • RFK Stadium – New stadium plans in the works…or at least they are
      by Washington standards.

    • Shea Stadium – Can’t build a new stadium unless the Yanks get one,
      too. Thanks for playing, see you in a decade.

    Of these seven, two will be replaced before the decade is out, two
    are fine places to catch a ballgame, and one is hopelessly tied to both
    another team and big city politics, leaving only Minnesota and Oakland
    as targets for new parks. Bug Selig’s New Park Extravaganza has thus
    been focusing its efforts solely on those two sites as a result. Several
    previous park proposals to keep the A’s in Oakland have fizzled out in
    the past for various reasons, but Wolff has mentioned those magical
    words: “private funding”. While he’s not about to pull a Peter McGowan–pay
    for the entire park on his own and draw the ire of his former
    fraternity brother Selig–it appears for the time being that the Oakland
    public might not be in the same situation as the populace in the
    nation’s capital.

    The leading proposal at the moment is one in which the new ballpark
    is built in the Coliseum parking lot, and thus adjacent to the Oakland
    Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors and the occasional Paul
    McCartney concert inconveniently timed with Opening Day. Further
    development is planned around the coliseum area, but building another
    park in the parking lot not only raises questions about construction
    hassles, but also still leaves a ballpark far from any of the
    fashionable “downtown revival” areas in the East Bay that have been part
    of most of the new parks built.

    Plans for a new park aside, the other major result of the new
    ownership affects General Manager Billy Beane. Not only did Beane sign a
    contract extension through 2012 (his previous extension would have
    expired in 2008), he also purchased an ownership stake of just under 5% in
    the club, a move nearly without precedent. Beane’s new ownership stake
    in the club will only further enhance his ties to Oakland, an organization
    he declined to leave for riches in Boston two years ago. Beane’s
    ownership stake signifies an investment in the club he’s built into one
    of baseball’s great success stories and the move increases the chances
    of keeping him in Oakland through his new 2012 extension. Beane’s
    success over the last decade has proven his ability to maintain success
    on a low budget; keeping him involved in the construction of the
    Oakland team is certainly good news for an A’s team that receives its
    fair share of bad press from MLB. While the payroll might not increase
    immediately as a result of the changes, Beane fans in Athletics Nation have reason to
    rejoice.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Trade Winds: The Phillies welcomed the former Expos back to
    the states with an 8-4 victory over the Washington Nationals yesterday
    afternoon in Philadelphia. Led by none other than new center fielder
    Kenny Lofton and his three-run homer, the Phils’
    offense managed to overcome Jon Lieber surrendering 10
    hits over 5.2 innings. While it’s all about the W, yesterday’s game
    encapsulated the major questions about the 2005 Phillies: Can the
    rotation keep things respectable long enough to hand things off to the bullpen?

    With Vicente Padilla on the DL to start the season,
    the Phils rotation now stands as Lieber, Brett Myers,
    Randy Wolf, Cory Lidle, and
    Gavin Floyd. Spring training stats mean little, but
    Lidle, Myers, and Floyd struggled badly in March. Myers and Floyd
    combined to walk 22 men in 42.1 innings while Lidle allowed 32 hits and
    21 earned runs in 23.1 innings. While some of Lidle’s performance can be
    blamed on the porous defenses often found in spring games, Myers’ and
    Floyd’s wildness certainly inspire little confidence.

    Padilla is due back April 17, but with six starting pitchers ready to
    chip in lots of league-average innings, the rotation isn’t likely to be
    settled until mid-season. Floyd has proven himself in the minors and
    while a little seasoning at Triple-A may be in order, if Myers continues
    his struggles from 2004, the Phillies might not be willing to wait.
    Throw in Lidle and his 5.56 ERA in Toronto and Cincinnati in 2003-04 and
    Padilla’s continued injury questions, and what is now a position of
    depth may soon become a hole that needs filling.

    The good news from the spring is that many of the key offensive
    players looked excellent and put up impressive numbers to boot. Most
    impressively, Pat Burrell calmed injury fears from his
    sprained wrist on which he elected not to have surgery. Clubbing a team-high six home runs, Burrell complemented his power with a .344 average and
    three doubles. Tying him for the team lead in spring home runs was Chase Utley, the proclaimed starter at second base for
    2005. Instead, the Phillies chose to start righty-swinging Placido
    Polanco
    against right-hander Livan
    Hernandez
    in the season opener yesterday. Despite the long
    winter of starting proclamations, comments from Phillies officials have
    started to include the word platoon when discussing the situation.

    Both Utley and Polanco are highly capable second basemen, a position
    sorely in need of solid offensive contributors elsewhere in the league.
    Polanco’s presence seemed fortuitous when David Bell was
    injured early in spring training, but Bell’s healthy return and Utley’s
    emergence makes Polanco’s talent redundant. Great bench players are nice
    to have, but quality starting pitchers can contribute much more.

    The Phillies need some insurance in the rotation; they have an extra
    infielder who can hit. Forgive us if the solution seems obvious. Toss in
    Ryan Howard and his albeit laughable demands for a
    trade and the Phillies could easily put together a nice package of
    talent in exchange for a starter elsewhere, potentially a front-line one.

    Trade speculation isn’t something that we like to engage in here at
    Baseball Prospectus, but the Phillies foresaw this situation, having tried to deal Polanco in the off-season.
    With a roster constructed to win now, there’s no reason for the team not to
    pursue deals along these lines. They’re going to dissatisfied with
    portions of their rotation this season and the sooner the Phillies make
    a move to minimize that weakness, the better their chances of breaking
    the Braves’ stranglehold on the division will be.

    Now if they can just find a team with enough pitching depth to part with a top-of-the-rotation arm, near the start of the season to boot. This may take a while.