When the White Sox traded Chris Sale to Boston, they received a pair of top-shelf prospects in return. Yoan Moncada was seen as possessing superstar potential, while Michael Kopech was a first-round pick who pumped 100-mph gas. Also coming to Chicago in the deal were a pair of midrange prospects, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz.
Which team got the better of the December 2016 blockbuster? It’s too early to say, but one thing is certain: The Red Sox dodged a bullet. Basabe and Diaz became part of the package only after then GM Dave Dombrowski balked on including a 20-year-old corner infielder who’d yet to advance beyond A=ball.
“At one point, I asked for Rafael Devers,” acknowledged White Sox GM Rick Hahn, when asked about the trade. “Marco Paddy, who runs our international operation, had mentioned him back when he originally signed with Boston [in 2013], and our pro scouts had obviously seen him in Greenville and Salem. Joe Butler, Joe Siers, and John Tumminia — John has since retired — were all high on him, and made sure he was in the mix. The reason we liked Devers so much was because of those guys.”
As for Kopech, the 23-year-old right-hander is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. A pair of other notable White Sox pitching prospects are, as well. I asked for an update on all three.
“Kopech completed his rehabilitation program for 2019 by throwing a couple of innings in instructional league,” informed Hahn. “He went home for the offseason as a healthy player, and will enter spring training without any restrictions other than being cognizant of the fact that he hasn’t [otherwise] pitched to hitters in over 18 months.
“Dane Dunning had his Tommy John last March, so when he comes to spring training he’s not going to be completely done with his rehabilitation. We foresee him being ready to join an affiliate around mid-season. Jimmy Lambert had his Tommy John shortly after Dunning did, and we project him to return around the same time.”
Notable in the spate of surgeries — big-leaguers Carlos Rodon and Ryan Burr went under the knife as well — is the fact that the White Sox have historically avoided one of baseball’s biggest health issues. Is this the Elbow Gods getting their revenge, or have other factors entered the equation?
“We’re certainly looking at it,” Hahn told me. “Given the multi-decade track record that essentially the same medical staff has compiled, there’s a chance that this is just bad cluster-luck evening things out. That said, velocities have increased, and usage has increased among youth ballplayers. Those are factors we need to consider as we look at some of these injuries.”
Sixto Sanchez was Philadelphia’s top prospect when he was traded to Miami last February in the J.T. Realmuto deal. He immediately became the top prospect in the Marlins system — and that’s something that hasn’t changed. The 21-year-old right-hander possesses plus-plus stuff, and were it not for his injury history he would be ranked even higher than he is (No. 22) on The Board.
Michael Hill is not only confident that Sanchez is big-league bound, he feels that his elbow issues are behind him. A mechanical tweak, accompanied by a health-conscious development plan, are the reasons why.
“Sixto is one of the better development stories in our system,” Miami’s President of Baseball Operations told me on Wednesday. “I think people acknowledge his ceiling, and just how good he is as a prospect, it’s just that he’d had trouble staying healthy. Our pitching department was involved when we went through the trade discussions, We talked about Sixto’s delivery, and starting from Day One [after acquiring him] we’ve taken a very methodical approach to building him up, and improving some mechanical issues we felt he had.”
Asked to elaborate, Hill explained that Sanchez needed to be working more downhill, and on more of a direct line to home plate. Prior to the adjustment, “there was a little bit of a left turn as he went through his delivery.” Correcting that allowed the righty’s arm to “decelerate naturally, and give his stuff better finish.”
After starting slow — he missed the first month of the season — Sanchez went on to work a career-high 114 innings, all but 11 of them with Double-A Jacksonville. He had a 2.76 ERA, more strikeouts (103) than hits allowed (101), and walked just 21 batters.
How close is Sanchez to big-league ready?
“He hasn’t pitched above Double-A,” Hill said after thoughtful pause. “But whenever you’re talking about a young pitcher who has three well-above-average pitches, which he does with his fastball, slider, and changeup, you have to say he’s close to the majors.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
The Reds were involved in multiple bench-clearing incidents this past year, and not surprisingly, pitches thrown at, or behind hitters, tended to be the precipitator. In one case, umbrage was taken when a ball was hurled behind the back of a Cincinnati batter who’d stood at the plate admiring a home run in his previous at bat.
The dust having long settled from the season’s set-tos, I asked Dick Williams to weigh in on the subject.
“There’s no place in the game for intentionally hurting another player,” Cincinnati’s President of Baseball Operations told me. “I want to see the game played with joy and excitement. I want to see the celebrations. I don’t want to see mean-spirited taunting. And if there are things that happen that are inappropriate… I hope we get to a point where, as an industry, we can figure out how to police them in a way that pitchers don’t feel they need to retaliate, that they’re the ones responsible for extracting justice. Intentionally hurting a player is never the right reaction.”
Yasiel Puig, since traded to Cleveland, was like a raging bull in a few of the fracases. To a certain extent, so was David Bell. I asked Williams if he had conversation with the first-year manager following his eruptions.
“It’s something we talked about a lot,” answered the exec. “And we were like-minded in that intentionally throwing at a batter doesn’t have a place in this game. When David feels that’s happening is when he really loses it. Again, I hope that as an industry we can come up with a solution. I know from discussions here at the GM Meetings that we’re all in agreement on that.”
The Australian Baseball League gets underway on November 21. The eight teams include the Adelaide Giants, Auckland Tuatara, Brisbane Bandits, Canberra Cavalry, Geelong-Korea, Melbourne Aces, Perth Heat, and Sydney Blue Sox.
Seiya Suzuki, a 25-year-old outfielder with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, tops Premier-12 batters in most offensive categories. A .335/.453/,565 hitter in NPB this past season, Suzuki is 12 for 24, with eight extra-base hits, in the WBSC tournament.
Miami’s Triple-A affiliate, which is relocating from New Orleans, Louisiana to Wichita, Kansas, will be known as the Wind Surge. Known as the New Orleans Zephyrs from 1993-2016, the franchise was rebranded as the Baby Cakes in 2017.
The MLB minimum salary for 2020 will reportedly be $563,500, an $8,500 raise from the $555,000 minimum in 2019.
Potential deals were discussed at the GM meetings, and it’s safe to say that trade talks will only escalate as we move on to next month’s Winter Meetings. Moreover, every deal consummated will have been preceded by inner-office discussions. With rare exceptions, multiple members of s front office are involved in the process.
Some teams solicit input from their managers. The Red Sox being among them, I asked Alex Cora to what extent his thoughts tend to differ from those of the analysts. Not so much with on-field expectations, but rather with non-quantifiable aspects such as how a player might fit in the clubhouse. Cora suggested that’s not the case — “It’s my job to make it work” — then proceeded to touch on in-season deals.
“One great potential manager, who was a pretty good baseball player and was traded a couple of times, told me something a few years ago,” shared Cora. “He said that when you get traded, especially if it’s to be ‘the guy,’ you’ll make it work.”
(My conversation with Cora took place shortly before the Mets hired Carlos Beltran as their new manager. Make of that what you will.)
“That’s specially true for those guys who are only with an organization for two or three months,” continued Cora. For August, September, and then the playoffs, they’ll be on their best behavior. Regardless of the reputation they have. They were brought in to help win a championship, so they’ll stay with the program. They’ll be the best citizen in the world, and then after that… whatever. You move on.”
Bruce Sutter had 37 saves, a 2.22 ERA, and fanned 9.8 batters per nine innings when he won the NL Cy Young award in 1979. This season, Kirby Yates had 41 saves, a 1.19 ERA, and fanned 15 batters per nine innings. Yates finished 10th in the voting.
Was the Padres closer better in 2019 than the Hall of Famer was in his Cy Young season? The above numbers suggest the answer is yes, but at the same time, Sutter has the edge in WPA — 4.13 to Yates’s 3.39 — and pitched 40 more innings. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say he had the more-impressive season. Even so, Yates deserved more love from my BBWAA colleagues. There weren’t nine National League pitchers better than Yates this year. Not even close.
Per his New York Times obituary, former NFL quarterback Zeke Bratkowski was named after a baseball player. A native of Illinois, Edmund Raymond Bratkowski donned the uniform of Chicago White Sox slugger Zeke Bonura while serving as a batboy for the semipro team his father played on. From that point forward, Bratkowski — best known as Bart Starr’s longtime backup with the Green Bay Packers — went by “Zeke.” He died on Monday at age 88.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Our Game, John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, addressed The Three True Outcomes, and a Possible Fourth.
At The New York Post, Ken Davidoff wrote about how the Astros-Patriots cheating comparison adds layers to MLB’s decision.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels each had 28.0% O-Swing percentages this year, the best in baseball. Detroit Tigers hitters had a 37.2% O-Swing percentage, the worst in baseball.
Thurman Munson was named AL MVP on this date in 1976. The Yankees catcher had been named AL Rookie of the Year six years earlier.
The 1997 expansion draft was held on November 18 of that year. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays took Florida Marlins left-hander Tony Saunders with the first pick. The Arizona Diamondbacks followed by selecting Cleveland Indians southpaw Brian Anderson.
In 1961, American League teams began playing a 162-game schedule, while National League teams continued playing a 154-game schedule. The senior circuit adopted the current 162-game slate in 1962.
In his 1961 MVP season, Roger Maris had 61 home runs and a .993 OPS. He was worth 7.1 WAR. Mickey Mantle, who finished second in MVP balloting, had 54 home runs and a 1.135 OPS. He was worth 10.3 WAR.
In 703 regular-season relief appearances, Clay Carroll went 88-66 with 143 saves and a 2.82 ERA. In 22 postseason relief appearances, he went 4-2 with two saves and a 1.39 ERA. Carroll, a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series.
Ham Hyatt appeared in 63 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1913. Used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter, he had three or more at bats just six times. In those games, Hyatt went for 10 for 24 with two doubles, a pair of triples, and a home run. On the season, Hyatt slashed .333/.372/.605 in 88 plate appearances.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.