As much as I hate to see Curtis Granderson sign with the Mets, not the White Sox (or even the Cubs), the Friday morning developments in baseball were positive for Rick Hahn, even though the White Sox ge As neral manager didn’t close any deals.
With Robinson Cano shocking Yankee fans, if not Brian Cashman’s front office, an opportunity has opened for Hahn to make a trade that will reshape the mix of a team that badly needs a new look.
Find me a better fit for a Yankee team with no Cano and an extremely fragile, 39-year-old Derek Jeter than Alexei Ramirez, in particular one who is under control through 2016 for less than $10 million a season. With the exception of kids who aren’t going to be traded by their teams, I don’t think you can find any of those. I can’t.
Ramirez, tagged the Cuban Missile by Ozzie Guillen during his electrifying rookie season in 2008, hasn’t developed into the impact, two-way stud that it looked like he would. He had a .792 OPS that season, when it seemed he hit grand slam after grand slam and repeatedly made plays at second base alongside shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and that has slid to .691 over the last three seasons.
He’s not an All-Star player, but is he a better option than Omar Infante, who will be 32 in three weeks and is seeking a free-agent bonanza? It seems to me he is, especially for a team that needs both a second baseman and insurance behind Jeter, who played 17 games last year and could walk away after 2014.
Trading the right-handed-hitting Ramirez would give the White Sox flexibility to reshuffle their middle infield, possibly adding switch hitter Carlos Sanchez, who can be the on-base guy they have lacked in recent years. He struggled as a 20-year-old in Triple-A last season, especially early in the year, but this winter has hit .333 with a .408 on-base percentage in 40 games as a leadoff man for La Guaira.
Sanchez is hardly the only option the White Sox have to play middle infield. Marcus Semien, who was promoted to Chicago in September, was MVP in the Southern League and is an organization favorite but he’s a right-handed hitter, and the Sox are overloaded in that department.
Speedster Leury Garcia, a speedster acquired from the Rangers for Alex Rios, is a switch hitter. Jake Elmore, a right-handed hitter claimed on waivers from the Astros, is a versatile guy. Even base-stealer extraordinaire Micah Johnson, drafted in 2012, could be in the discussion if he hadn’t cut short a stint in the Arizona Fall League to have elbow surgery.
Because he carries himself like a leader, the White Sox remain committed to getting more production from Gordon Beckham. But if they traded Ramirez they could at least consider moving Beckham to shortstop, which would open second base for Sanchez — or maybe they could send the Yankees both Beckham and Ramirez and go with a middle infield of Semien and Sanchez.
Probably gone too far there. But I can’t wait to see what Hahn does between now and the time the equipment truck heads to Arizona. Some changes are coming.
— While we all love George Kottaras and Wesley Wright, it will be a big blow for those keeping up with the Cubs if the Rakuten Golden Eagles follow through on Thursday’s threats not to post Masahiro Tanaka. Lots of Major League executives believe that the club president, Yozo Tachibana, is bluffing but the Golden Eagles could hold onto Tanaka for another two years rather than accept $20 million as a posting fee.
If Tanaka is posted, the Cubs are in excellent position to ante up the theoretical $20 million to spend a month trying to sign him. Their 2014 payroll commitments are at about $70 million, including estimates for the arbitration-eligible players they tendered, and that includes $14 million going to the Yankees to pay Alfonso Soriano. They are at a max of $31 million in guaranteed contracts from 2015 forward, so they could just keep increasing their bid to get Tanaka.
It won’t help them or anyone else that the Yankees missed out on Cano, however, as they might be able to sign Tanaka and stay under the $189 million tax threshold with him out of the picture. The Cubs must hope they spend heavily elsewhere in the next few days as the Tanaka situation sorts itself out.
— While Robin Ventura spent a long time on Wednesday explaining how he can get at-bats for Jose Abreu, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, there’s a better chance than you might think that the White Sox will find a market for Dunn. The first potential fit is the post-Cano Yankees but don’t overlook the Rangers, who will be anxious to counter the Cano move, or the Rays, A’s and, yes, even the Astros. The White Sox would certainly have to pay some of the $15 million left on his contract but if they can get a left-handed hitter with shelf life or a good prospect, why not?
“Dunner,’’ as Ventura calls him, has seemingly been a disaster since arriving in Chicago but has 75 home runs and driven in 182 runs over the last two years. That’s worth something, especially at a time when pitching is dominating and power is hard to find, even in the minor leagues.
Have you seen what Carlos Sanchez is doing in Venezuela?
The switch-hitting infielder who struggled so much at Triple-A in 2013 is back to being himself with Tiburones de La Guaira, controlling the strike zone and making things happen at the top of the lineup. He was 2-for-5 on Wednesday, with a double in a 10-8 victory over Magallanes.
Sanchez is batting .330 with a .430 on-base percentage in 33 games this winter. He needed a strong finish to hit .241 with a .293 OBP at Charlotte but you shouldn’t hold that against him too much.
Pushed aggressively by the White Sox — he climbed through four levels in 2011 and ’12 — he was only 20 years old when this season began, extremely young for Triple-A. And his fielding was as strong as always moving between second base and shortstop.
Sanchez isn’t the only middle infielder of note in the White Sox system. He was effectively passed by Marcus Semien, who was named MVP of the Southern League before spending September in the Major Leagues, and the Sox acquired a switch-hitting base-stealer in Leury Garcia, who came from the Rangers for Alex Rios.
Oh, and no one has forgotten Micah Johnson either. The guy who hit .312 between three levels while leading the minors with 84 stolen bases was continuing his swift ascent in the Arizona Fall League before undergoing elbow surgery, which might be the only thing stopping him from pushing for big-league consideration in the second half of next season.
This is why the White Sox have to find a trade for either Alexei Ramirez or Gordon Beckham. Ideally one of them and another of the team’s attractive trade chips — Alejandro De Aza, Hector Santiago and Dayan Viciedo — could be traded for a catcher or a left-handed bat. Trading Ramirez or Beckham would add to the payroll flexibility, which could help GM Rick Hahn land Curtis Granderson, who would be an excellent fit.
Other things on my mind:
– While adding utility man Jake Elmore (another middle infielder) in a waiver claim from the Astros, the White Sox did not protect either of their two most productive left-handed hitters, leaving Andy Wilkins and Dan Black exposed for the Rule 5 draft. Both are having strong winters, Black in the Dominican Republic (.275 with 5 home runs, 19 RBIs and a .904 OPS in 25 games for Aguilas) and Wilkins in Venezuela (.314 with 3 homers, 21 RBIs and an .871 OPS in 31 games for La Guaira). Both are blocked by Adam Dunn but figure to be interesting guys to look at next spring, assuming they aren’t picked in the Rule 5 draft.
– Northwestern’s Eric Jokisch (11-13, 342 at Double-A) and Jacksonville University’s Matt Loosen were among the notable players the Cubs did not protect. Loosen excited the Theo Epstein regime by going 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA in nine starts for high-A Daytona to start the season but got knocked around after being promoted to Tennessee (3-3, 6.14). They were competing with Dallas Beeler for a spot on the 40-man roster and Beeler surged past them with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.
– You’ve got to feel for Daniel Bard. The former Red Sox prospect has a spot on the Cubs’ roster but little ability to locate his fastball. He’s made three appearances in Puerto Rico but gotten only one out while walking nine and hitting three batters. His ERA is 189.00. It speaks to Theo Epstein’s belief in him that he wasn’t cut loose on Wednesday to free up a roster spot.
Will Rick Renteria be The Guy or just another link in the chain for the Cubs?
History, of course, suggests the latter but Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein really need for it to be the former. This is an organization that needs stability at the top as badly as any in the majors.
No one has managed the Cubs for more than five seasons since Leo Durocher was fired in 1972, and only Jim Riggleman made it that long. That’s an astonishing fact when you consider the quality of managers who have tried to win at Wrigley Field during this time – a list that includes Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Don Baylor and Don Zimmer.
Including guys on the job when Phil Wrigley punted Durocher for Whitey Lockman, the other 29 franchises have combined for 50 managerial stints of more than five years. Not every team has had this stability – the Diamondbacks, Royals and Marlins are like the Cubs – but more than half (18) have had two managers work more than five seasons continuously post-Durocher.
The Yankees, Giants, Cardinals, Rangers, White Sox and Nationals/Expos have had three different managers with tenures that lasted more than five seasons, and among those teams only the Rangers and Nationals have failed to be rewarded with a championship season.
When you break down why the Cubs haven’t won, there are a million more sexy reasons that you can theorize about. But the lack of stability has to be high on anyone’s list.
Starlin Castro, for instance, reached the big leagues under Piniella as a 20-year-old in 2010. He’ll be playing for his fourth manager when he reports to spring training in February, with Mike Quade and Dale Sveum following Piniella. That has to be confusing at some point, doesn’t it?
Besides the lack of stability, what has hurt the Cubs through the years? It’s a consistent lack of talent, not a Billy Goat curse, and especially the failure to develop homegrown All-Stars – which has been the primary area attacked by the Epstein regime since it arrived.
When guys like Piniella and Baker left saying they weren’t prepared for all the challenges that came with managing the Cubs, they were giving themselves a way out when the easier thing to say was, “We failed.’’ What’s different between the Cubs and other teams? Sure, there are more day games, and, yes, Wrigley Field is antiquated in terms of having the work space needed to best prepare for games.
Spring training is held in the wrong state (23 of the last 29 champions have trained in Florida, where the humidity helps pitchers). But the overriding issue is the talent hasn’t been good enough and when it was – 1969, for instance – the manager did a poor job with it.
Historically, there hasn’t been an emphasis on player development and scouting nor an ownership that was truly committed to making winning baseball the primary attraction. Phil Wrigley generally sold the beauty of the ballpark and popular events like Ladies Day, and the Tribune Company got caught up in sideshows like Harry Caray and Sammy Sosa, who kept the pot bubbling even when the team wasn’t winning.
The Cubs haven’t gotten nearly their share of passed-along talent talent during the era of free agency, which is in its fourth decade. The most successful free-agent signing came when Andre Dawson literally let ownership fill in a blank contract at a time when Major League owners were found to colluding to reduce salaries. Payrolls haven’t always been at the level that the market size suggests they should be, and ownership hasn’t stayed the course when times got tough.
Riggleman was just figuring it out when he got fired. Baker probably could have done just as well in 2007 and ’08 as Piniella but he’d become a whipping boy for fans and was fired (he helped the division rival Reds win 90-plus games three of the last four seasons before again being fired for not winning in October).
Renteria arrives at a time when the Cubs are finally addressing the primary underlying weakness of the franchise – the farm system. You may not be able to tell it by the team he puts on the field to start 2014 but he is going to get a chance to win in future seasons. If he’s still around in 2019, to start his sixth season, it will be a sign that better days have arrived.
n Award season begins with the handing out of Rookie of the Year hardware on Monday. Here’s my quick take on ROYs and Managers of the Year, which will be announced Tuesday:
ROY, NL: In completely different ways, young Cubans Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig were electrifying. In many years either of those guys would be an easy winner but one is going to have to finish second. Fernandez was more consistent and up all season, so he gets the call over his countryman, as well as Cardinals’ slugger Matt Adams and a strong crop of rookie pitchers. Here’s my ballot after the Marlins’ Fernandez — 2. Puig, Dodgers; 3. Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers. (Had the BBWAA expanded the rookie ballot to five, as it did the Cy Young ballot, the Cardinals’ Shelby Miller and Adams would have gotten a call).
ROY, AL: Wil Myers suffers because the Rays waited so long to promote him. Jose Iglesias was a lifesaver for two franchises this season. He was an offensive force out of the gate for the Red Sox, filling in for Will Middlebrooks at third base, and then became the glue guy for the Tigers after GM Dave Dombrowski realized he was going to lose Jhonny Peralta to a Biogenesis suspension. But I’d still go with Myers because the Rays don’t recover from a 24-24 start without him. The rest of the ballot — 2. Iglesias, Tigers; 3. Dan Straily, A’s (the Rays’ Chris Archer and the Indians’ Cody Allen could have been on a five-deep ballot).
Manager, NL: Easy pick here. Clint Hurdle’s optimism turned around the Pirates, who overcame disastrous second halves in 2011 and ’12 to go the distance into the playoffs this time around. Their run differential wasn’t close to the Cardinals and Reds but they hung with them all season, a tribute to Hurdle’s ability to put the players around McCutchen into the right spots. The runnersup — 2. Mike Matheny, Cardinals; 3. Don Mattingly, Dodgers.
Manager, AL: Terry Francona took over a more positive situation in Cleveland – thanks to off-season acquisitions – than did John Farrell in Boston. The Red Sox obviously have a ton of talent but give Farrell credit for steadying the ship after the tumultuous 2012 season under Bobby Valentine and Francona’s ugly exit the year before. I’m going with Farrell but there would be nothing wrong with Francona winning. My runnersup — 2. Francona, and 3. Joe Girardi, Yankees.
Major League executives no longer attend the World Series like they once did. In fact, it’s rare to see a general manager at a World Series game if his team is not involved. But there is a destination for GMs this week – that’s Kleenex Stadium in Sendai, Japan.
The Cubs are expected to be among the most heavily represented teams at the Japan Series, with a strong interest in 24-year old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. He will pitch Game 2 for his Rakuten Golden Eagles, taking a 25-0 record into a game that starts about 5 a.m. CST Sunday.
Tanaka, according to Major League Baseball sources, has become a top priority for Cubs’ owner Tom
Ricketts and his baseball group, headed by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. He is expected to be offered up for the posting process by the Golden Eagles after the Japan Series, and the Cubs will bid heavily on it.
So too will all of baseball’s biggest spenders, with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers among the teams most frequently mentioned as having interest. The Blue Jays, Mariners, Dodgers and maybe another half dozen teams are also following Tanaka closely.
Two years ago, the Rangers invested over $107 million in Japanese ace Yu Darvish, winning the rights to sign him with a blind bid of $51,703,411 that went to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and then signing Darvish for $56 million over six years. The belief that the process to acquire Tanaka will be at least as competitive, in part because Darvish (29-18, 3.34 with 498 strikeouts in 401 innings pitched) has done so well in his two seasons with the Rangers.
Landing Tanaka would be a coup for Epstein, as he perfectly fits the organizational need for pitching and would give Ricketts a player he can promote as the wait continues for position-player prospects Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albertico Almora.
The Cubs participated in the bidding process with Darvish but always viewed as secondary players within the industry. They were runnersup for two other top international free agents, Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes after the 201 season and Korean left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu last year, and appear at least as serious in landing Tanaka as they did either of those two. More than likely, they’re probably more motivated, as they need to do something major with NL Central rivals St. Louis and Pittsburgh looking so strong in October and well situated for the future.
He’s 6-2, 205 pounds with a fastball that tops out at 97 and a splitter that is wicked. He gets a lot of ground balls to go with swings and misses, and he will pitch at age 25 next season, meaning he should be at the peak of his career in 2015, when the Cubs hope to become consistent playoff contenders behind a rebuilt farm system and some well-chosen free agents.
Tanaka broke Daisuke Matsuzaka’s career high school strikeout record and this season broke a record for consecutive victories that had stood since 1957. He was impressive in the World Baseball Classic, striking out 12 and walking none in seven innings, although he missed a chance for a major showcase when Puerto Rico upset Japan in the semifinals at AT&T Park, where it appeared he was on track to start against the Dominican Republic in the finals.
Also worth knowing:
n Yes, the White Sox did discuss a possible Jake Peavy trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, the team he faced in World Series Game 3, before dealing him to the Red Sox. But talks between the White Sox and Cardinals weren’t serious. The Sox were only going to deal Peavy if they got a major piece back – possibly pitching prospect Carlos Martinez, who looks like a world-beater in the Cardinals’ bullpen – and the need for him in St. Louis wasn’t at the level that would have caused GM John Mozeliak to seriously consider such a deal.
n There have been no significant hitches in the White Sox’s acquisition of Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, even though it has not been formally announced. The sides agreed to a six-year, $68-million deal on Oct. 17, pending a physical. A news conference is expected next week, and could be held as soon as Tuesday. It does not appear that the White Sox will try to rush Abreu into action in the Arizona Fall League or even the Dominican Winter League in December. The tentative plan calls for him to use the next four months to get acclimated to the United States before he puts a uniform on in February, when the White Sox report to camp in Arizona.
n The White Sox suffered a blow when speedy second baseman Micah Johnson experienced pain in his right elbow, which had required surgery before his junior year at Indiana University. He underwent surgery earlier this week, which could limit him when spring training begins. Johnson is a terrific prospect – he helped Double-A Birmingham win the Southern League championship and was on track to push for big-league consideration late in 2014 – but has been injury prone. He hit .561 as a junior at a private school in Indianapolis but missed his senior season of high school because of surgery to repair his left shoulder.
There’s more skepticism out there nationally about Jose Abreu than there ought to be. I’ve thought that since he came to North America, not just since he agreed to a deal with the White Sox.
Some scouts point out that he’s not as athletic as Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, and speculate that Major League pitchers will be able to find a weakness in his swing to exploit. You can’t argue either of those points.
But the one place where you can make comparisons – especially between Cespedes and Abreu is how they’ve hit in Serie Nacional, and it was Abreu, not Cespedes, who put up historic numbers there. Why wouldn’t that suggest that he can come to Chicago and pile up a stack of numbers that are taller than the ones that Cespedes has amassed in his first two seasons with the A’s – a slash line of .265/.324/.472 with an average of 25 homers and 81 RBIs?
If that’s the over/under on Abreu, put me down for the over, heavy. He’s going to be in a very comfortable situation — even if the White Sox part with one of the two Cubans already in their lineup, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, he will still have a countryman in uniform alongside him – and hitting at a terrific ballpark for a right-handed power hitter.
And at-bats? Hey, if he’s healthy he can go straight to the Major Leagues, as Cespedes did, and play every day, either at first base or as the DH. He will be a focal point for the franchise, just as Cespedes was two springs ago.
This is going to be so much fun to watch.
Also on my mind as the two championship series head toward their Game 6s:
n As others have noted, the Abreu signing doesn’t mean that Paul Konerko is done as a member of the White Sox.
When he talked to reporters on the last weekend of the season, he seemed to think he might enjoy spending one farewell season in Chicago with reduced expectations on him as a player. He talked about wanting to let his hair down a little bit in the clubhouse, becoming more of a teacher and mentor to younger players, and who better to work with than an impact hitter who is learning the ropes?
It would be challenging to find consistent at-bats for both Konerko and Adam Dunn but they would make a nice platoon, assuming Konerko is willing to play at a major discount. It might be tricky to determine his value on a one-year contract. And don’t assume that Dunn is going to be with the 2014 White Sox.
General Manager Rick Hahn is likely to look for creative ways to move him, either paying some salary to interest a team like the Astros or in taking back a dubious contract to accommodate a trade. Are there any other A.J. Burnetts out there? That trade with the Yankees worked out incredibly well for the Pirates.
n Next year’s amateur draft is going to be a big story on both sides of Chicago. The White Sox will have the third overall pick, behind only the Astros and Marlins, while the Cubs pick fourth one year after grabbing Kris Bryant with the second overall pick. Baseball America says the 2014 draft will be especially heavy at the top.
North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon will almost certainly be the No. 1 pick, assuming he enjoys good health. But after that things aren’t so clear. Here are six guys that BA says will be under strong consideration by the White Sox and Cubs, in the order that they rank heading into the upcoming season.
East Carolina University RHP Jeff Hoffman – He was the top performer in the Cape Cod League and has tools similar to Rodon but hasn’t yet been a dominator at the college level. That should happen this season.
Texas high school RHP Tyler Kolek – He fits the Nolan Ryan/Roger Clemens model perfectly.
North Carolina State SS Trea Turner – He’s ultra-athletic and a polished hitter.
California high school SS Jacob Gatewood — Tremendous power for his age, he put on a show at Citi Field during the Home Run Derby and also won the home run contest in the UnderArmour Game at Wrigley Field.
San Diego high school C Alex Jackson – He’s considered by some as the best hitter available in the draft. He has played all over the diamond so he could be moved from behind the plate, as was Bryce Harper.
Vanderbilt RHP Tyler Beede – The 21st overall pick out of high school, Beede opted for college rather than signing with Toronto. He’s hasn’t yet produced the results to match up to his tools. The Cubs’ Derek Johnson was Vanderbilt’s pitching coach in Beede’s first season there.
When 2027 rolls around, Tom Ricketts will have owned the Cubs for 18 seasons. Here’s hoping that his legacy will be something like that of Bill DeWitt Jr., the former St. Louis Browns batboy who headed a partnership that bought the Cardinals from Anheuser Busch in 1995.
DeWitt, a second generation owner whose father owned the Browns, has maintained the Cardinals’ legacy on the field while growing the brand massively off the field. The extent of that growth won’t be fully understood until 2014, when the team owned and controlled Ballpark Village opens beyond the left-field boundary of Busch Stadium.
It’s going to be a revenue-producing monster, and it’s a great thing for the city of St. Louis, as it will make downtown the place to be on date night, whether the team is in town or not.
Here’s what I love about DeWitt. As we were standing in the stadium and looking toward the project in mid-construction, the part of it that DeWitt most wanted to talk about was the Cardinals Hall of Fame and museum. This is a guy who gets baseball in the way that the White Sox’s Jerry Reinsdorf gets baseball.
DeWitt is so obsessed about preserving the history of the sport that he has been personally bidding on Cardinals memorabilia when they reach auction. He recently purchased a jersey that Grover Cleveland Alexander wore in the 1926 World Series, when he beat the Yankees in Games 2 and 6 and pitched the last three innings of a 3-2 victory in Game 7. Before that, he had won an auction to get one of two known home jerseys worn by Dizzy Dean with the Cardinals.
Such passion is as impressive as the business sense it took to realize there was a choking point for his team in the Albert Pujols negotiations two years ago. The Cardinals wouldn’t have the bargain known as Carlos Beltran if they had decided they had to keep Pujols at any cost, and that was an ownership decision, as DeWitt and his son Bill DeWitt III, the team president, are the ones who would have had to live with it if it blew up.
Also worth saying:
n Rick Renteria is getting some traction among executives with other teams as a possible Cubs manager. He fits Theo Epstein’s criteria well except that he doesn’t have Major League managing experience. He has coached in the National League for six seasons, including three as the Padres’ bench coach, and managed in the minor leagues. He grew up in California but has a season as Mexican League MVP on his resume as a player.
n People who have been in Arizona this week are raving about the Cubs’ players. There was a feeling that the Cubs were taking a gamble on Kris Bryant over Jonathan Gray with the second overall pick because they needed pitching but Bryant is a quick-study who looks like the second coming of Ryan Zimmerman, possibly with more power. He’s off to a crazy fast start with the Mesa Solar Sox, going 7-for-14 with two homers and seven RBIs in his first three games in the Arizona Fall League. That’s awfully impressive for a guy who was playing for the University of San Diego five months ago. Another guy to watch from that Solar Sox team – Cuban right-hander Armando Rivero. The Cubs aren’t saying it but they think he can be an important part of their bullpen for at least a few years, beginning in 2014.
Thanks for following me over from the Chicago Tribune, if you are one who did, and hello to those who just stumbled into the room.
The Yankees recently announced that Joe Girardi has left the building, as far as Wrigley Field is concerned, and that means the Cubs will have to head seriously in another direction in their managerial search. As for where they’re heading, we’ll get to that in a moment. But know that despite all the talk – a little of which I may have generated – it is not a surprise that Girardi has opted to take a four-year deal to stay with the Yankees.
The surprise would have been if a sitting manager with the Yankees, well regarded by his ownership and front office, had packed up his office at the house next to what’s left of the House that Ruth built and signed up to manage the Cubs, no matter whether he graduated from Northwestern or Slippery Rock (alma mater of the Cardinals’ Matt Adams, one of my new favorite players). You just don’t leave the Yankees to take over the Cubs, someone explained to me a few weeks ago, and that person was spot on the money.
Girardi did the smart thing by sticking with the Yankees for the full ride, wherever it leaves him from the nightmare that was this season. He only gets to use the go-home-to-Chicago card once, and there might be a team he needs it. This wasn’t it.
Now as to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, they can exhale and get serious about finding the guy to replace Dale Sveum. They may already have found him – Manny Acta is a very respected guy, despite that 372-518 record as manager of the Nationals and Indians – but it’s likely that the Rays’ Davey Martinez, Sandy Alomar Jr. and some others will get interviews before we get from here.
One thing I know/strongly suspect: The new guy will be bi-cultural – that is, comfortable speaking Spanish when called upon (mostly in getting into the ears and heads of guys like Starlin Castro, Javy Baez, Albertico Almora, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Rubi Silva and others) and English around us gringos. Acta crosses those bridges extremely well. On the other hand, he didn’t get results in Cleveland, with the performance of Ubaldo Jimenez and Asdrubal Cabrera not exactly suggesting that he’s the guy to turn around Castro. He does have experience, which you can’t say about guys like Rick Renteria, Martinez and Alomar.
How ’bout Ozzie Guillen? If Epstein and Hoyer were bold enough to do that after watching him and Ken Williams knock heads for the last two or three years of Guillen’s generally successful run with the White Sox, well, I’d be surprised. Shocked, stunned, blown away. But it might be a great move too. Guillen is a good baseball man, and far too young to be a wasted resource for the game. If he could be re-trained to talk only about his players, and not himself, he could do just fine.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Chicago, here are two words to help get you through the week: Micah Johnson. The left-handed-hitting second baseman is a joy to watch, as I saw with a trip to Birmingham during the Southern League playoffs. He led the minor leagues with 84 stolen bases, and he just swiped three in the Arizona Fall League opener. Johnson, a ninth-round pick in the 2012 draft from Indiana University, was hitting second for Glendale, between the Twins’ Byron Buxton and the Marlins’ Colin Moran, both of whom are studs.
Consider his performance in six plate appearances:1) Walks, steal second and scores. 2) Reaches on an error, steals second and third, scores. 3) Grounds out. 4) Doubles, scores. 5) Strikes out. 6) Reaches on infield single.I’ll stick with what I wrote for the Chicago Tribune last month. The kid’s like gravel in a pitcher’s spike. He’s impossible to ignore. I loved what he told me about hoping to get to U.S. Cellular in the near future. “I think if I can focus, be consistent day in and day out, I’ll get to Chicago,’’ Johnson said. “I want to get there as fast as I can, before these legs get old.”