Avisail Garcia

The good, the bad and the mixed: What went right and what went wrong for the 2017 White Sox

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The good, the bad and the mixed: What went right and what went wrong for the 2017 White Sox

The White Sox lost 95 games, and yet their general manager described himself as pleased with certain aspects of the 2017 season.

He isn’t wrong to be.

Welcome to life in a rebuild.  

There’s undoubtedly analysts and fans who rightfully have questions about the direction the White Sox are headed. They traded almost all of their top players for unproven prospects who come without any guarantees. There’s no promise this will work. The White Sox haven’t proven anything yet, and it’ll likely be a few seasons before anyone knows if they’ve executed it.

But as crazy as it sounds, the White Sox had a good season that has begun to generate optimism from the fanbase. Whether it’s the number of trades Rick Hahn completed, the talent the team accumulated, how young players developed or several other reasons, the White Sox had plenty of positives this season. Here’s a look at what went right, what went wrong and what could have gone better.

The Good

1. Hahn traded almost everyone

What seemed impossible in December and more difficult in May was suddenly complete several days before the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline. When the White Sox started 2017 with Jose Quintana on the roster after trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, some thought Hahn had overvalued Quintana. Then Quintana struggled through May, and the volume of those questions significantly increased. But everything was reduced to a whisper when the White Sox traded Quintana to the Cubs on July 13 for a package featuring elite prospect Eloy Jimenez. Hahn then spent the next six weeks trading everyone, completing his work with an Aug. 31 deal that sent Miguel Gonzalez to Texas. In all, nine players were traded during the season.

2. New kids prospered

Not everyone had great seasons, but many of the top prospects acquired since December took large steps forward. Lucas Giolito rediscovered his confidence. Reynaldo Lopez and Yoan Moncada forced the issue and fared well in the majors. Michael Kopech and Jimenez developed into elite prospects, and Dane Dunning continues to look like a steal.

3. Prospecting went well

Nowhere was the staggering amount of talent acquired by Hahn more evident than the farm system’s top-30 rankings. Even as Giolito, Lopez and Moncada graduated, the White Sox still have six prospects remaining on MLB Pipeline’s top-100 list. Ten on their current top-30 list have been added via trades since December. Three more came from the 2017 draft.

But the biggest move, one that signaled to fans the White Sox are serious about rebuilding, was the May signing of Luis Robert for $52 million. The penalties they faced — the $26 million tax and two years of international signing restrictions — weren’t enough to dissuade them from signing Robert, who is currently ranked No. 22 in MLB Pipeline’s list.

4. Foundation laid

Nearly as important as adding talent is making sure it’s fostered in the proper environment. Hahn thought manager Rick Renteria would instill the appropriate atmosphere and hired him.

The White Sox are ecstatic with what Renteria has done. Hahn and the front office have recognized those efforts all season long, praising the team for its unrelenting attitude and unwillingness to quit.

5. Older players developed, too

Tommy Kahnle went from project to setup man almost overnight and keyed a trade that brought Blake Rutherford and Ian Clarkin over from the Yankees. Avisail Garcia finally released his untapped potential and turned into an All Star and a potential trade chip. And Yolmer Sanchez found a new level and ensured himself a lot of future plate appearances.

The Bad

1. Carlos Rodon’s future is uncertain

The hope was Rodon would develop into a 33-start, 200-inning pitcher this season. Instead the White Sox have more questions about if Rodon will ever reach his potential. Rodon appeared to be unaffected by the bursitis in his left biceps that cost him three months when he struck out 9.9 batters per nine over 12 starts. But what Rodon’s future holds after he had arthroscopic surgery last week is anyone’s guess, even if the White Sox are optimistic he’ll fully recover.

2. Starting pitching gambles flop

Ten starts in, Derek Holland looked like a find and a potential trade candidate. But his fastball velocity dipped and his ERA soared, leading to Holland’s release last month. Rule 5 pitcher Dylan Covey showed some signs in his final two starts but struggled much of the season. Still, don’t be surprised if the White Sox follow a similar formula next season and try to convert a rehabbing pitcher or two into trade candidates.

3. The injury bug hit hard

Rodon wasn’t the only important player sidelined for a large chunk of the season. Nate Jones was limited to 11 games, Zach Putnam pitched in seven before he and prospect Zack Burdi had reconstructive elbow surgery. Catcher Geovany Soto was hurt twice and never got going. Leury Garcia’s breakout season was slowed by injuries, and even Avisail Garcia missed time with finger and knee soreness. It was hoped Charlie Tilson would take over in center field, but he didn't play a single game this season.

Mixed results

1. Anderson struggles before rebounding

Shortstop Tim Anderson’s ascent was derailed for several months as he struggled to cope with the May shooting death of his close friend, Branden Moss. Anderson made far too many errors and had a .608 OPS before he sought a grief counselor and turned around the toughest season of his life. After making 22 errors in 80 games, Anderson made six in the final 65. He also produced a .793 OPS in his final 54 games.

Why Avisail Garcia wants to remain with the White Sox 'forever'

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Why Avisail Garcia wants to remain with the White Sox 'forever'

CLEVELAND — Similar to Jose Abreu’s earlier comments about his uncertain future, Avisail Garcia reiterated he wants to stay with the White Sox.

The 2017 All-Star — who didn’t appear in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians — loves the direction in which the White Sox are headed.

Garcia is a fan of the culture instilled by manager Rick Renteria. He believes it has had an impact on his breakout season. And he’d love to be on the South Side when the White Sox eventually turn things around.

“Everybody wants to be a part of a winning team and I want to be a part of this team forever,” Garcia said. “I love this team. I love the coaches. I would like to stay here.”

Garcia’s breakout performance certainly has him in a much better position to stick around than he was in heading into this season. He might not have been afforded the opportunity to stay in 2017 had the White Sox chosen to compete.

But once the exodus began, the White Sox figured they’d give Garcia one more chance and it has paid off handsomely. Garcia, who lost approximately 18 pounds in the offseason and has maintained it, produced a career year. He hit .330/.380/.506 with 18 home runs and 80 RBIs in 561 plate appearances and played well in right field. He reduced his strikeout-rate to a career-low 19.8 percent, produced a ridiculously high .392 average on balls in play and finished the season worth 4.2 f-Wins Above Replacement. Optimistic as Renteria is, even he couldn’t see this kind of season from Garcia.

“I did not,” Renteria said. “I saw him improving.

“He came in very fit, and you also saw how committed he was to everything that was going on. He put together the first half of the season that was a little bit of a surprise. But not really because this was his fourth year in the big leagues. It takes a little time for people to settle in. And then our question was, is he going to be able to sustain this after the All-Star break? And he certainly has.”

“Is he always going to be a .330 hitter? I don’t think so. But he certainly has shown me that he has the ability and the approach that might potentially let him be able to do that if he stays consistent.”

Garcia thinks his season is a product of many things, including Renteria’s influence. Clearly the weight loss has helped and the way he’s felt this month has encouraged him to work as hard in the offseason. The experience and improved focus have also been keys for Garcia. Throw those aspects in with Renteria’s drive and Garcia put it all together. It’s the kind of manager Garcia thinks can help the White Sox turn their fortunes around as his own have.

“He pushes everybody to do their best every day,” Garcia said. “No matter what happens, we prepare to win the game the next day. He’s a great manager. I’m happy he’s here with us. I love Ricky. He’s that kind of guy that pushes you every day. He’s that kind of guy that even if you don’t hit, he’s always got your back. Big, big part.”

After Jose Abreu says 'I would like to stay here forever,' Rick Hahn unsure what path White Sox will take

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After Jose Abreu says 'I would like to stay here forever,' Rick Hahn unsure what path White Sox will take

If Jose Abreu were in charge of the White Sox rebuild, he’d write his name in the heart of the 2020 batting order, and he’d do it in pen.

“I would like to stay here forever,” Abreu said before the White Sox played their final home game of the season Thursday night. “I would like to play with this team my whole career. But it is a business, and we have to accept and respect what’s in the future. I would like to stay here forever.”

Abreu hasn’t been shy about expressing his desire to be with the White Sox for the remainder of his career, and that’s an outcome that could still very well happen. But as the franchise enters a new phase of its rebuild — one moving on from the glitzy acquisitions of highly touted prospects and moving toward waiting for those players to develop into major league stars — there’s a big question mark surrounding the future of the team’s best hitter.

Abreu is under team control for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, but during his end-of-season press conference Thursday, general manager Rick Hahn seemed to have 2020 circled as the year his rebuilding White Sox begin competing for championships. Will Abreu be on that White Sox team?

The arguments for keeping Abreu past his contract’s expiration date are strong ones. He’s absolutely raked in his four seasons in the big leagues, posting four straight campaigns of 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. Plus, he’s become incredibly valuable to the team off the field, acting as a role model and mentor to the organization’s young Spanish-speaking players. And as his English improves, he’s assuming that role for all the team’s young players.

“(His off-the-field contributions bring) a lot of value, especially in the place in which we're at right now,” manager Rick Renteria said Thursday. “We find ourselves with a lot of young players that are just coming into the major league level. There is a learning curve about what they’re capable of doing between the lines, but then you have someone who’s been here now for four years, who’s maintained a really consistent working routine and has still continued to improve. I mean, this year might be one of his better years of his four years. … Offensively, he's been consistent as you can possibly be. Defensively, he took another step forward, a huge step forward.

“I think during ballgames, on top of that, when there’s a little action going on and they have to talk about something when they go to the meetings at the mound, he’s in there. He is initiating some of those talks. It’s really big to have those guys see someone take something seriously, still be relaxed, he’s also coming into his own himself. He’s becoming more and more relaxed as time goes on.”

But while the positives are many, there are understandable reasons the team might not want to keep a guy who’s been fantastic since putting on the uniform.

First off, Abreu turns 31 in January, and that means his age differs dramatically from that of all the other guys who project to be a part of that 2020 lineup. Abreu’s big league prime might not align with the White Sox championship window.

With that comes the possibility that the franchise could better position itself by moving Abreu in a trade, be it this offseason or next season or the offseason after that or the season after that. Hahn pulled the trigger on deals involving Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, younger guys who could have conceivably been a part of the team’s long-term future. But by moving them, he acquired minor league talent that could keep that championship window open longer.

And so while Hahn didn’t commit to any one direction involving Abreu — and Avisail Garcia, the younger hitter who’s also having a career year and is also under team control for the next two seasons — he laid out the exact situation, a tricky one but one that gives the White Sox options moving forward.

“Both Avi and Abreu are under control for the next two years, through 2019. I think even under the most optimistic projections of our ability to contend, certainly ’18 and ’19 don’t include the bulk of the time when we anticipate having a window open to us,” Hahn said. “So obviously with any player who isn’t controllable through the bulk of that window, we have to make an assessment.

“Is it in our best interest to extend that player, so they’re controllable through that period of time, or do we need to, as we did with other similar extremely talented and very valuable players in the game, explore the trade market and see if we’re more better served moving them in exchange for players who would be under control for that extended window of time we project to have for ourselves?

“They’re both special cases, and there are very strong arguments for them playing roles in 2020 and beyond. Abreu, obviously you can’t say enough about the season he had on the field, but his importance in the role he plays in our clubhouse. Avi is still very young in this game at age 26 and has had his breakout season, and you would have reason to believe that kind of performance is going to become the norm for him going forward. And those are considerations as we make that assessment. Are we better served trying to control these players through the bulk of what we project to be our window, or are we better served as an organization doing what we had to do with Chris, Adam (Eaton), Jose and others?”

You might read it as Hahn refusing to make a public commitment. Or you could read it is a question that doesn’t have one solid answer.

“What I tried to do is lay out the question at hand and the issue at hand, and we have to as a front office make that decision,” Hahn said. “And frankly, on both players, those decisions don’t have to be made this offseason. They’re both controllable through 2019. We have the luxury if we want to play it out another year, play it out another half a year to see if the performance continues, see if the trade market changes. As was the case when we sat here with Quintana a year ago. Yes, he was potentially a trade candidate, but the market didn’t respond the way we had anticipated, so we had to wait. It’s not me just dancing around or being cute. There isn’t a firm answer right now. We don’t know what the options are. One of them conceivably is extending, and we have to wait and see what that cost entails.”

The rebuilding White Sox are blessed with time if nothing else, which means Hahn doesn’t have to make these decisions right away. But at the same time, building a contender for 2020 takes on a much different shape depending on whether Abreu and Garcia are parts of that team.

While it’s unknown how many of the organization’s highly ranked prospects will end up panning out as major league stars, one of the rebuild’s largest remaining questions is what Hahn will do with his team’s best known quantity.

There’s just no telling when an answer will come or what answer that will be.

We do know, though, what Abreu wants: For your No. 79 White Sox jersey to remain relevant forever.