White Sox

White Sox to make decisions on Ramirez, Samardzija this week

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White Sox to make decisions on Ramirez, Samardzija this week

A busy week with key decisions is underway for the White Sox after Kansas City clinched its first World Series victory since 1985 late Sunday night.

Within the five-day window before free agency begins at midnight Saturday, the White Sox must make choices on both Alexei Ramirez and Jeff Samardzija.

In the case of Ramirez, the team has three days to decide whether or not to exercise the veteran shortstop’s $10 million club option, with his return seeming likelier than it did two months ago.

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The White Sox are also expected to extend a qualifying offer to Samardzija before Friday’s 4 p.m. CST deadline, which would allow him to return next season on a one-year, $15.8-million deal.

The White Sox would be entitled to a compensatory draft pick were Samardzija — who went 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA in 32 starts — to reject the qualifying offer and sign elsewhere.

Players must accept or decline a qualifying offer by Nov. 13. With as many as eight parties possibly interested in his services, including the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, Samardzija is expected to decline the offer and pursue a free-agent deal.

Ramirez produced a .249/.285/.357 slash line with 10 homers and 62 RBIs in 622 plate appearances last season, his eighth with the WhiteSox. One of the worst players in baseball in the first half of the season, Ramirez dramatically improved in the second half hitting .282/.329/.426 with eight homers and 36 RBIs from July 1-Oct. 4.

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Still, Ramirez finished the season worth minus-0.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs.com. But with several other key holes to fill and options limited on the free agent market — Ian Desmond, Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew and Jimmy Rollins are the top options — Ramirez could make the most sense for the White Sox, given he’s a year removed from winning a Silver Slugger award and being named a Gold Glove finalist.

Though the White Sox already have a future shortstop on the way in Tim Anderson, the organization doesn’t want to rush the 2013 first-round pick, preferring to give him more time to hone his defensive skills and plate approach. 

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: