White Sox

With trade deadline approaching, White Sox enter Shark Week

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With trade deadline approaching, White Sox enter Shark Week

BOSTON — With his next start looming on Tuesday, the pursuit of Jeff Samardzija remains in full force.

Baseball sources said Monday that the Toronto Blue Jays continue to make the biggest push for Samardzija, who has a 2.55 ERA over his last eight starts and pitched at least seven innings in each of the last nine. The San Francisco Giants have also checked in on Samardzija, though they reportedly have cast a wide net in the search for a No. 2 starter behind Madison Bumgarner.

None of this continued interest makes life any easier for White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who must determine what direction to take over the next five days.

Samardzija “loves” how the White Sox have played and understands how parity in the American League could play a role in slowing down a decision.

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox have Jeff Samardzija penciled in for Tuesday]

“Sometimes the record doesn’t totally show the situation of the team, so I’m sure they assess that amongst themselves and go from there,” Samardzija said. “All we can do is show up and play every day. We love how we’ve been playing. ... We need to come in and handle our business, and when the deadline comes down the road, you see where you’re at.”

The White Sox are fresh off their best series of the season, sweeping a four-game series as they finally combined all three facets at once — albeit against a lousy Cleveland Indians team. An offense dormant for most of the season broke out with 24 runs in the first three games of the series as the White Sox earned their first four-game sweep since July 2010. Even though the team is 46-50, they’re only five back from the second wild-card spot, the closest they’ve been in some time.

Still, this is a team that has sent its fans, coaches and the front office on a roller-coaster ride all season. While they very well could win three of their next four games and leave Fenway Park with a 49-51 record, they just as easily could lose three of four as they have proven to be inconsistent all season.

“We are playing our best baseball at the time of the trade deadline, we’re making Rick have a lot more white hair, I’m sure,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said.

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After Saturday’s 10-3 victory, White Sox manager Robin Ventura conceded his team could get back into contention if it played exactly as it had all weekend. But even with the recent offensive revivals of Melky Cabrera, Alexei Ramirez and even Carlos Sanchez, that’s a big if for a team averaging 3.5 runs per game through its first 96 contests.

The White Sox are said to still be contemplating what route to take, but they’ve also been clear all along they don’t intend to sell off future assets for this season.

As if the picture isn’t already difficult enough, Cincinnati landed Brandon Finnegan and two other minor leaguers from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Johnny Cueto on Sunday. Some observers believe the Reds did very well in the deal, though that opinion relies heavily on Finnegan remaining a starting pitcher and not everyone is convinced he will. While Cueto is seen as a having a higher value than Samardzija, the White Sox might still be able to get back a strong return. Over the weekend, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the White Sox expect to receive a “significant” haul if they deal Samardzija.

Were they to not trade Samardzija and make a run at the postseason, the White Sox would almost certainly make a qualifying offer this offseason toward the future free agent, which would net them a compensatory draft pick if he went to another team.

Whether they keep him or not, it is believed the White Sox would have strong interest in re-signing Samardzija in free agency.

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: