White Sox

White Sox bring back Matt Albers with one-year contract

matt-albers-sox-0121.png

White Sox bring back Matt Albers with one-year contract

Matt Albers threw the ball so well late in the 2015 season he became a trusted member of the White Sox bullpen.

But it was because of his performance, and the increased number of high-leverage appearances he made in September, that the White Sox believed Albers would pitch in a different uniform this season.

Instead, the White Sox have to be very pleased as they added to their bullpen depth by retaining the free-agent right-hander on Thursday with a one-year, $2.25 million deal. The club also holds a $3 million option for 2017 on Albers, who didn’t allow a run in his final 20 appearances and finished 2-1 with a 1.21 ERA in 30 games.

“It evolved for him,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “When he came back (from injury) he emerged as a guy that we really, really liked and really, really trusted in big moments in the seventh and eighth inning. I know he has the streak going.

“He finished really strong. He did a great job for us, and for me it’s a great addition. I thought he might have been gone, but he’s not and he’s going to bring those same qualities back.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Jose Quintana's bad luck hasn't been seen since Dead Ball Era]

Albers flourished at the end of the 2015 season.

After he missed three months with a broken finger, the result of an April brawl with the Kansas City Royals, Albers returned on July 19 and quickly assumed a key role in the bullpen.

Only eight days after he was activated, Albers — who began the season appearing in six straight losses — made the first of 10 high-leverage appearances over his final 24 games (41.7 percent). That included a stretch in September where Albers made six high-leverage appearances in 11 games and picked up six holds.

Prior to 2015, Albers’ previous best was 32.1 percent high-leverage appearances in 2009.

Aside from David Robertson in the ninth inning, the White Sox haven’t defined any bullpen roles for 2016. But it’s likely that Albers would start the season in the early setup role (sixth and seventh innings) with Nate Jones, Zach Duke, Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka slated for the later innings.

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

No matter what role Albers takes on, general manager Rick Hahn is happy to have the Houston, Texas, native back in the mix. With bullpens unpredictable from year to year, the White Sox are further insulated from an injury or a poor performance.

They also have a variety of pitchers. Whereas the 2014 squad was full of ground-ball relievers, this season’s group promises to have a nice mix of strikeout and sinkerball pitchers.

“Matt brings a different look and greater depth to our bullpen,” Hahn said in an email. “Robin (Ventura) and the staff trusted Matt in a variety of different roles over the course of the season, and he had success in all of them. We're glad he is back.”

Albers hasn’t allowed an earned run since July 31. Over that span, he went 23 1/3 innings, allowing an unearned run and 19 hits with six walks and 19 strikeouts.

While the team’s current bullpen doesn’t have the flash of the New York Yankees’ current group or Kansas City’s, Cooper is confident. He likes that Albers for his calm demeanor and pitch ability and because he induces grounders, a nice complement to the rest of the bullpen.

“We have enough talent out there to bridge things together, get people out and close out games,” Cooper said. “I do like our guys and think we can piece things together.”

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

0218-dylan-covey.jpg
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

0218-jose-abreu.jpg
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.