White Sox

Chris Sale likes the direction White Sox are taking

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Chris Sale likes the direction White Sox are taking

Whether or not the White Sox are done adding players for the winter remains to be seen, but left-handed ace Chris Sale said he’s pleased with the moves that’ve already been made this offseason. 

While the additions of third baseman Todd Frazier and second baseman Brett Lawrie drew most of the December headlines, Sale will experience a significant change in who he’s throwing to this coming summer. Sale hasn’t thrown to a catcher not named Tyler Flowers since 2013, and the now-former White Sox backstop caught 62 percent of Sale’s career innings. In place of Flowers, who signed with the Atlanta Braves, the White Sox brought in a pair of veterans in Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, who combined have caught 11,827 2/3 innings in the major leagues. 

[MORE: Robin Ventura thinks White Sox can be 'dangerous' in 2016]

Both Avila and Navarro are here at the Hilton Chicago for SoxFest, which will provide Sale an early opportunity to begin to develop a relationship with each backstop. 

“This is definitely a good platform to be able to spend a weekend away from baseball to get to know each other a little bit,” Sale said. “And then you get to spring training and start building that relationship on the field, getting acquainted with each other. We’ll be bouncing ideas and leaning on (pitching coach Don Cooper) and figuring some things out together to make that relationship good.”

While Flowers was a plus as a defender, game manager and pitch caller behind the plate, especially for Sale, his offense — a career .665 OPS — is why the White Sox decided to replace him. Both Avila and Navarro have consistently been rated by FanGraphs as above-average defensive catchers as well. 

Improving the team’s overall defense was a focus of this offseason for the White Sox, too, which should directly benefit Sale. The additions of Frazier and Lawrie brought defensive upgrades to third and second base, and Tyler Saladino can be expected to play better defense than Alexei Ramirez did in 2015, too. 

Sale’s gulf between his ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was the fifth-highest among qualified starting pitchers in 2015, which for a strikeout machine of a pitcher who gave up an average number of home runs can be connected to the White Sox sub-optimal defense last summer. 

“You got a guy (Frazier) who’s one of the best in the business at what he does both offensively and defensively,” Sale said. “That’s something I think we’ve needed for a while.”

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The additions made by the White Sox this offseason have led some advanced projections to peg the club to win around 84 or 85 games in 2016, which, if a few things break right, could blossom into a legitimate playoff push. Sale, from his perspective, sees a similar possibility.

“(General manager Rick Hahn) has put us in a situation to be able to go out there and fend for ourselves and fight for a division title,” Sale said. “That’s all you can ask. When your guys up top are doing everything they can, that puts some fire underneath us to go out there and do what we need to do.”

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.