Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
When the White Sox fired Jerry Manuel the day after the regular season ended, the only question in Chicago was why the team waited three months too long. The favorite to replace him is former Toronto manager and back-to-back World Champion Cito Gaston, and not only was Gaston available in early July, he's one of the only managers in history who previously took over a struggling team at mid-season and guided them to the playoffs. Gaston is a much better pick than rumored names like Ozzie Guillen, Wally Backman, and Buddy Bell as Guillen and Backman both appear far too aggressive to run a team and Gaston is much more successful than Bell. Only Mike Hargrove might be a superior option, and Chicago isn't expected to interview him. Guillen unexpectedly could win the job, but given his horribly overrated playing career, I suspect his strategies will resemble those from the first decade of the 20th century than the beginning of the 21st.
Once he finds a manager, GM Kenny Williams will begin reconstructing a roster that could experience severe turnover before Spring Training. Among core Sox, only Joe Crede, Miguel Olivo, Esteban Loaiza, Jon Garland, and Damaso Marte seem certain to return. Carl Everett, Roberto Alomar, and Tom Gordon should leave as free agents, as might Frank Thomas. Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko, and Mark Buehrle all could be dangled as the payroll seems likely to drop by at least ten million.
The increasing dropoff in minor league talent also should worry Sox fans. Jeremy Reed, Jon Rauch, Neal Cotts, and Kris Honel all appear promising, but the deals for Everett, Alomar, Marte, Scott Sullivan, Billy Koch, and Scott Schoeneweis all sapped needed depth. Williams need to improve the overall defense, find a couple hitters who deserve top-of-the-order lineup slots, and find an ace if Bartolo Colon doesn't return, all while likely lowering the payroll per owner request.
Regardless of Ordonez's contract, dealing the organization's best player is a bad move. Moving a hitter of Lee's upside seems foolish, and Thomas likely will exercise his $6M player option rather than risk a larger pay cut on the open market. Re-signing someone like Sandy Alomar to catch along side Olivo also isn't a terrible idea.
Konerko represents a bigger problem as losing Everett and possibly not exercising the option on Jose Valentin leaves the lineup without any left-handed hitters. Any trade would increase Konerko's remaining salary to $17.75 over the next two years, so unless the Sox foolishly include extra prospects, they only will net a similarly overpaid player for Konerko. The best idea I see is to offer Konerko for Cincinnati's Sean Casey, who lacks power but makes contact, owns a better glove, makes over $3M less the next two years, and bats left-handed. Like Konerko, Casey also would be a positive clubhouse force. After giving the Reds two starting infielders, D'Angelo Jimenez and Tim Hummel, for only two months of Scott Sullivan and a minor league reliever, Cincinnati should be open to reacquiring Konerko. If the Sox offer to accept the $2.5M owed Jimmy Haynes in 2004 once he exercises his player option, the Reds should be amenable to adding a needed right-handed slugger to their bevy of lefties. Dealing Konerko for Casey, Haynes, and a low-level prospect helps Cincinnati clear a little short-term payroll while giving them a player with significant upside.
Casey fills the #2 hole for the Sox with a contact hitter who should prosper in Comiskey. As the Sox won't offer the contract necessary to acquire a top free agent, cheaper options remain that also should keep the team competitive. If Roberto Alomar will take somewhere around $6M for two years, he can return with his brother, but Roberto either must abandon switch-hitting or accept a platoonmate. Perhaps AAA second baseman Aaron Miles might be a good match, although dealing for a lefty masher like Ron Belliard or Carlos Febles would give the Sox a surprisingly productive leadoff platoon.
Following an Alomar platoon and Casey, Thomas, Ordonez, and Lee again comprise the heart of the order. Jose Valentin seems likely to return if he'll accept a lower salary, so he, Crede, Olivo/Alomar, and either Jeremy Reed or a platoon of Willie Harris and Aaron Rowand should complete the lineup. Giving the restrictions apparently imposed on Williams, I see no reason the Sox can't retain on of baseball's best offenses.
The pitching staff is more complicated as Bartolo Colon seems intent on testing free agency, which means he'll likely depart. We can't expect Esteban Loiaza to match his 2004 performance, and Mark Buehrle moves another year towards free agency and his likely departure to somewhere like St. Louis. At least Garland looks like a decent #3 starter, and some combination of Jimmy Haynes, Jon Rauch, Dan Wright, and Neal Cotts appears quite capable of handling the last two rotation slots, not to mention long relief.
Unfortunately, if Colon doesn't re-sign soon, the Sox again appear likely to exit the off-season without a true ace. Perhaps they could add Sidney Ponson, but his injury history makes him an extreme gamble. While I see no problem entering the season with a rotation of Loaiza, Buehrle, Garland, Haynes, and Rauch/Wright/Schoeneweis, Williams instead should explore moving Buehrle in a deal for a true ace. The Cardinals might move Morris and possibly a left-handed outfielder for Buehrle and a couple of young arms. Boston would deal Pedro if they could replace him with a top young pitcher while adding prospects. Even Curt Schilling and Javier Vazquez don't seem untouchable in a deal for Buerhle. Chicago will need to find a couple more bargains like Esteban Loaiza, or else keep Ordonez and Lee at surprisingly cost-effective deals, to continue contending through 2005, so moving Buehrle now, particularly when no team looks like a clear favorite, would send a strong message to the league and Chicago fans.
Other than the homegrown right-handed hitters, Chicago's bullpen is the next strongest component of the team. Damaso Marte, Kelly Wunsch, and Scott Schoeneweis give the Sox perhaps baseball's best left-handed relief corps. Billy Koch, if trusted by management, should rebound to pitch like a top closer. If Scott Sullivan signs elsewhere, Chicago needs one established right-handed setup man, and then if either Wright or Rauch doesn't make the rotation they belong in the bullpen as both pitchers could dominate in relief. I don't view Chicago's relievers with nearly as much trepidation as many others, yet while placing full faith in Koch is risky, I don't see a better alternative that doesn't involve acquiring another overpaid player who likely wouldn't fill an obvious hole. With Marte in the more valuable setup role, Koch should be fine in the 9th inning.
The Sox succeeded for a few years under Manuel's calm tutelage, and even though a younger and fiery leader shouldn't hurt, Chicago currently lacks the numerous solid rookies necessary to take full advantage of a less reserved manager. Given the current state of the organization, gearing up for one more run with the current core is a logical step since the minor league system is short of the wave of prospects needed to fill the increasing number of holes at the major league level. Hopefully Gaston's two World Series rings will command the respect that Jerry Manuel lost to help Chicago fulfill the promise suggested by the success of the 2000 edition of the White Sox.
Joe Borchard, 24, OF-S
The only good news in Borchard's largely miserable season is that he displayed decent patience during his time with the White Sox by compiling a .10 walk rate and 4.14 #P/PA. While the sample size is rather small, a 2.71 G-F in those 49 at-bats suggests a worrisome development as his power output at Charlotte similarly crashed from his 2002 marks. However, even though his patience also decreased at Charlotte, his contact rate rose from .68 to .76. Don't cut bait on Borchard quite yet since I still see significant upside in these skills. If a one-year slump or perhaps a minor injury is the reason for his .705 OPS, Borchard easily could rebound in 2004, securing a starting spot in Chicago by mid-season. Unless you can deal him for another top prospect, hold onto Borchard now as his relative value can't fall much further and hopefully should rise dramatically in the near future.
His development over the last two years makes him Chicago's best infield prospect, a situation that indicts the Sox's minor league system more than heralding Miles' talent. Miles appears to be a dependable fielder with good doubles' power and bat control, although his limited plate patience suggests he won't develop into a quality top-of-the-order hitter. While he should succeed in the majors as long as he holds a .300 BA, his currently meager secondary skills don't indicate much upside. If handed the starting second base job, he could reach double-digit roto value in 2004, but Chicago needs to find a better option as another year in the minors, particularly if he can transfer his doubles' power into more home runs, shouldn't hurt Miles at all.
The only reason Rauch failed to see time in Comiskey this year was Kenny Williams' desire to justify his idiotic closer swap with Oakland by promoting Neal Cotts a year early. Rauch instead remained at Charlotte all season, finally refining his skills to the point where he undeniably belongs in the majors. He dropped his walk rate from 3.5 to 2.5 BB/9, a welcome development even if his strikeout rate slipped from 8.0 to 6.8 K/9. Considering he stands almost 7 feet tall, Rauch's control is far more important than his dominance, which should improve as he matures as a pitcher. I see no reason why he shouldn't spend all of 2004 in a big league rotation, and since he certainly qualifies as a post-hype sleeper, he looks like a definite target for anyone looking for a promising young pitcher about to fulfill his promise.
The 2002 second round pick exploded onto the prospect scene in his first full season of professional baseball. He demonstrated excellent offensive potential during a couple months in the Carolina League, compiling a .18 walk rate, .92 contact rate, and an 82% SB success rate, and then he somehow improved his performance after making a mid-season jump to AA. Hitting .400 over multiple months in the upper minors is one of the most impressive accomplishments in baseball, yet Reed managed that feat thanks to holding a .92 contact rate and maintaining enough plate discipline to hold a solid .12 walk rate. The only downside of his promotion is that Wally Backman's kamikaze managerial style dropped Reed's steal success rate to 58%. Of course, Reed's overall play placed him on the short list for nearly every minor league award, and given his offensive skills, I envision him finally providing the success with a superb left-handed hitter, capable of excelling at the top of the order while handling center field. He ranks among the best minor leaguers available in any minor league draft for keeper leagues as he shouldn't need more than a couple months at AAA even if he fails to win a starting job in spring training.
Jon Adkins, 26, RH Swingman
Most of Adkins' skills appear solid, especially his 2.5 walk rate, however his advancing age and weak dominance suggest he might find more success in the bullpen. While you can expect him to emerge as a decent fantasy contributor within a couple of years, hold off on rostering him until he demonstrates quality skills on a consistent basis in the majors.
After a strong showing in the Carolina League in 2001, Bajenaru missed last season due to injury. He strongly rebounded this year, placing himself in line for a promotion to AAA and consideration for the majors as soon as next summer. Like almost all minor league relievers, Bajenaru isn't a roto option right now, but if he maintains his strikeout rate while improving his command, he should emerge as decent roster filler in the near future.
The crush of White Sox outfield prospects could force Bikowski out of the organization within a couple of years, but given his impressive progress at the plate this year, Chicago certainly should consider him for a reserve role as soon as next year. Of course, Bikowski also offers little roto upside, so until he reaches the majors and begins posting numbers that at least echo those of Orlando Palmeiro, he isn't a viable fantasy option.
Although Burke's power output decreased after departing the Pacific Coast League, he maintained a .300+ BA, suggesting he could contribute on a big league bench. Given his success over the past two years, feel free to use him as roster filler whenever you see him on free agent lists.
Rather than give Cotts the development time he obviously requires given his 4.7 AA walk rate Kenny Williams promoted him to the majors in August rather than acquire the veteran starter the Sox needed. Cotts only made it past the fifth inning in one of his four starts as Williams' attempt to justify the Foulke/Koch trade backfired horribly. Jerry Manuel compounded the problem by starting Cotts against the Yankees on May 28th, holding back Mark Buehrle to face Detroit one day later. The Sox lost both games and never truly recovered. The good news for Cotts is that he remains one of the most dominant left-handed prospects in the game, and as long as the Sox give him another season in the minors, I expect him to emerge as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate in 2005. Rushing him into the rotation again would be a terrible move, so only select him in spring minor league drafts if Chicago finds enough starting depth to leave him in the minors for several months.
Diaz definitely will compete for a big league roster spot in spring training, however he may not possess the dominance necessary to excel as a starter. Fortunately, his command could enable him to remain in the rotation indefinitely, but Diaz's skills also depict a potentially great closer. His uncertain role makes me reluctant to recommend him right now, so while you should avoid him in most spring drafts, Diaz certainly could emerge as a solid mid-season pickup in many leagues.
While he hasn't demonstrated much plate discipline since A-ball, promising power potential and an improving contact rate should elevate Gload to Brian Daubach's 2003 role on the White Sox. I don't imagine Gload posting great numbers, but he shouldn't hurt fantasy teams in a limited role, and if Chicago moves a first baseman or corner outfielder, he could approach double-digit value as a starter. Unfortunately, he lacks significant long-term upside, however Gload could earn decent profits in the next few years.
Hankins spent a majority of the year at third base, saw significant time at first, squeezed in several games at second, and now plays mostly catcher in the AFL. This flexibility will overshadow his weak power skills as he enters spring training as a prime competitor for the last offensive roster spot. I expect him to spend another year or two in the minors, however Hankins' decent plate discipline and consistently solid BA intrigues me, particularly if he qualifies at catcher. Consider a Dollar Days pick on him if he breaks camp in the majors and you might net a cheap yet profitable catcher option.
I don't know why Toronto didn't keep Majewski as a Rule 5 pick last year, but he maintained all his skills while progressing to AAA for the first time. While he needs to improve his control prior to emerging as an effective reliever, his impressive dominance and very low homer rates will make him a useful bullpen part for several years. As long as he posts a decent WHIP, Majewski will qualify as decent roster filler almost as soon as he breaks into the majors.
Any pitcher who can manage a 12.0 K:BB over nearly 100 innings at any level merits attention as an intriguing prospect, particularly a lefty who also posts decent strikeout rates. While Meaux doesn't deserve roto consideration due to his limited upside, his outstanding control should make him a good mid-season pickup once Chicago promotes next year.
Continued control problems and an excess of quality lefty relievers in the system could make Munoz trade bait in the near future. However, his impressive dominance gives him as much upside as any Chicago left-hander aside from possibly Damaso Marte, so I expect the White Sox will give Munoz a long look this spring. Although he isn't a viable fantasy option now, he still should develop into a solid short reliever and potential closer by the end of the decade.
While he probably needs a full year at Charlotte to consolidate his impressive skill gains, Pacheco could emerge as a decent option for the Sox later in 2004. Pacheco easily could develop into decent rotation filler or a productive reliever, but considering his age and fairly weak dominance, he doesn't rank with Chicago's better prospects. Wait until Pacheco proves his AA debut performance wasn't a fluke before considering him for your team.
Stewart began the year as Chicago's 5th starter, compiling an unimpressive 30330 QA log before spending most of the year on the DL. Jeff Cirillo lined a ball off Stewart's collarbone in his fifth start, causing a blood clot to form in his left shoulder, as well as additional circulatory problems that bothered him all year. While Stewart should be fine in the spring, he likely requires at least a few more months in the minors to refine his skills. I don't envision him contributing to successful fantasy teams in 2004.
While Wylie still could emerge as a respectable starter, he appears more likely to spend a few years in a big league bullpen. Although this respectable rebound from an injury-shortened 2002 should keep Wylie in the White Sox's plans, he needs to remain healthy while demonstrating solid skills at AAA to warrant any fantasy consideration.
Chicago signed him as a free agent out of Japan last winter, and while his unimpressive stuff should prevent him from enjoying a significant major league career, he could spend a few seasons in a rotation. Of course, Yofu will need to maintain his current skill ratios in a full year at AAA to ever earn an extended look in the big leagues. His age obviously removes him from traditional prospect consideration, but if you see him on a free agent list, he might not hurt as roster filler and could emerge as an interesting bottom-of-the-rotation option.
Kris Honel, 20, RH Starter
We nearly drafted Honel in a couple leagues after recommending him in this space a year ago, however now we almost regret our hesitance as he still looks like one of the best prospects in the minors. A fall from 3.1 to 2.8 in his walk rate compensate for a drop in his strikeout rate from 8.9 to 8.3 K/9, and his continued stinginess in allowing hits and homers bodes well for his future. I see nothing in his portfolio to suggest waiting again as he should debut in the majors next September before securing a rotation spot in the spring of 2005. Honel isn't overworked, continues to develop on schedule given his age and level, and held his impressive skills after a promotion. My only hesitance stems from Chicago's poor success at grooming pitching prospects at AA in recent years, however Honel's overall upside renders this historical worry largely irrelevant for me. Anyone looking to roster a future ace should draft Honel in the spring.
Jeremy Reed ranks with any fantasy prospect in the game due to his combination of skills and tools, and even if he doesn't break camp in the majors, he should join the Chicago outfield by August. Aaron Miles and Joe Borchard also offer intriguing upside, however the system lacks much depth in position players. While the roster of impressive pitching prospects also isn't overly long, Jon Rauch, Neal Cotts, Felix Diaz, and Kris Honel all possess bright futures. Not only do Reed and Honel merit draft picks in any league next spring, but owners in deeper AL leagues should consider several of the players discussed above.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Chicago White Sox(J.Reed, Rauch, Miles, Gload, Borchard)
7:00: Boston @ New York Yankees
As we've accepted the Cub's loss since we never expected them to make the playoffs in the first place, we can now turn to rooting for the Red Sox. We picked Boston in the pre-season to win it all and they're the only team left in the playoffs that hasn't won a Series in the last decade. Pedro's performance should induce Clemens to return for no less than a half-season in 2004 even if he decides to pitch in the Olympics, thus setting up the not-really-anticipated Boston-Florida Pudge match.
1. Jeremy Reed, OF
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