White Sox

Garfien: Buehrle to the Cubs? No chance

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Garfien: Buehrle to the Cubs? No chance

Over the last couple days you may have heard rumblings in the news that a certain baseball team in Chicago not called the White Sox has expressed interest in signing free agent pitcher Mark Buehrle. Im told the thought of the South Side legend calling the North Side home has produced such side effects as nausea, headaches, and especially -- heartburn.

As I sit here today, I cannot promise you that Mark will return to the White Sox. There are many teams knocking on the door, and reportedly even the team that plays at Wrigley Field. However, there is one thing I can assure you:

Mark Buehrle will not sign with the Cubs.

Rest easy, White Sox fans. It wont happen.

How do I know?

Lets start with what we know about Mark as a person. Growing up in a close-knit family in St. Charles, Missouri, the values that were instilled in him back then are still very much apart of his life. Ever hear the phrase Give me a child until he is seven and Ill give you the man?

Thats Mark.

He was born into a world that made him a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, and to a large degree, he remains that to this very day. The White Sox are number one in his life, the Cardinals are number two.

What do both teams have in common? A deep and utter dislike for the Cubs. Those feelings dont go away in a day or even three decades.

Mark also knows who he is. His life has become deeply rooted, not only in White Sox lore, but in the hearts and minds of the people who come to watch him play. He knows it, and when he takes the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, he feels it. Although he wasnt raised on the South Side, when he looks into the crowd, he doesnt just see White Sox fans, he sees a bit of himself. Meat and potato baseball fans. Thats one of the reasons hes become such an icon.

So would Buehrle, who has made 85 million in his baseball career -- millions more than he ever dreamed of -- jump ship to the other side of town, turning his backs on the only team hes ever played for, the only major league fans who have ever cheered for him, just so he could chase a few extra bucks?

No way.

These are just my words. Want to hear some from Mark?

Buehrle has declined to be interviewed until he signs with the lucky team. But an interview I did with him last February during spring training revealed what he was thinking then, and is very likely thinking now. Mark has lived by the same principles his entire life. I doubt they have changed in the last nine months.

In the conversation, he first explained that if the White Sox didnt re-sign him there would be a small list of teams he would play for.

Obviously St. Louis would be there, Buehrle said. Im not going to throw teams out to you because obviously getting to the end of your career youre going to want to go to a team thats going to win or has a chance to win. Youre not going to go to a team thats obviously rebuilding.

After winning 71 games and finishing 25 games out of first place, this would seemingly take the Cubs out of contention. One could argue that the White Sox situation isnt much better, but thats a subject for another column, one I would disagree with -- depending on the moves Kenny Williams makes this off-season. Its too early to go down that road.

Right now, I cant pinpoint how many teams, Buerhle continued. I know there are teams in my head I will not go to no matter how much money or what the situation is. If the White Sox dont want to sign me back after this year and some team that Im not a fan of, or I dont want to go play for, or if its just too far from home, Im not going to go play just to make money.

So I asked him. What about the Cubs?

Im not saying any names, any cities, any towns, but I have a few teams that are on my mind I would play for, and there are a few teams I wouldnt play for.

I told Mark that if he went to the Cubs Id be concerned about the mental well-being of many White Sox fans.

I could see that, he replied. I dont know if I can get up for that many day games. Im not a morning person. Spring training is about it, and then I need some sleep.

Mark is a smart person and also a smart business man. There would be no benefit in saying directly that he wouldnt play for the Cubs. But read between the lines. Its all there.

Cubs President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are reportedly pursuing Buehrle, which is what any smart baseball executive would and should do. On paper, hes a logical fit for the Cubs. Plus, they both have experience seeing one of their best players leave and play for their biggest rival. In 2006, Johnny Damon departed the Red Sox and signed with the hated Yankees. Wade Boggs did the same thing. Theyre probably thinking, Why not Buehrle?

But thats Boston and New York. This is Chicago. Its different here. Its the same reason Kerry Wood chose not to sign with the White Sox last winter. He wouldnt do it.

For those of us who are from here, its all quite simple.

The Sox are the Sox.
The Cubs are the Cubs.
We are who we are. Its in our blood.
The Sox are in Buehrles blood.

Being traded across town is one thing. Its happened before. Even to Ron Santo. But choosing to jump ship and actually sign with the enemy, thats completely another.

Some athletes chase money, some chase fame, some both.
Buehrle? He stands for much more than that.

Will he sign with the Cubs?

No offense to my friends and colleagues who are Cubs fans, but the answer is an easy one.

It can be summed up in a single word.

Never.

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: