White Sox

White Sox in talks with free agent SS Ian Desmond


White Sox in talks with free agent SS Ian Desmond

They’d prefer to retain their compensatory draft pick, but the White Sox have said all along they’d relinquish it for the right player.

Sounds like they may soon need to make that choice.

The White Sox -- a team some see as a bona fide contender with at least one more addition -- were listed Thursday as one of six clubs in pursuit of free agent shortstop Ian Desmond, according to Jon Heyman. A baseball source confirmed the report.

Desmond -- whom the White Sox have reportedly kept tabs on along with Dexter Fowler -- has averaged 3.8 f-Wins Above Replacement the past four seasons and would provide a surefire solution to one of the team’s biggest question marks.

But, because Desmond rejected a qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals in December, the White Sox would have to surrender the 28th overall pick to sign him. The team would still retain its first pick (10th overall) as all top-10 selections are protected.

“We’ve engaged on players this past offseason that would have cost us the pick,” general manager Rick Hahn said at SoxFest last month. “At some level, you balance the ability to improve this club versus the long-term impact that losing a pick like that would have. Obviously we are lucky -- it’s good we have the 10th pick and it’s protected. If for whatever reason we did wind up without the 28th pick, we still would at least have a full complement of our picks.”

Instead of trading away Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to restock the farm system, the White Sox have attempted to improve this offseason after three consecutive losing seasons.

[MORE: Statistically, Mat Latos could be a bargain for White Sox]

The club has made several nice moves, particularly at second and third base, with the additions of Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier. The White Sox ranked 30th in OPS at those spots in 2015.

They also believe they’ve upgraded at catcher with Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila and have strengthened the back end of their rotation by signing Mat Latos.

But there’s a consensus (see: nearly every national writer) among those in the industry that the White Sox could use more.

The Latos signing occurred several weeks after ZiPS projected 84-85 wins from the White Sox. At the time, ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski believed the White Sox could enter April with the highest projection in the division, though he still hoped to see the club add more players. Desmond is one of the first names he mentioned.

Currently, the White Sox have second-year man Tyler Saladino, who has played in 68 big league games, penciled in at shortstop. The White Sox believe in Saladino’s glove and think he should improve upon a .602 OPS. Top prospect Tim Anderson also could make an impact in 2016, though he’d likely benefit from more development time in the minors.

“It’s a franchise that still has some holes and it’s a division that’s ripe for the taking,” Szymborksi said. “A few average adds here would really improve the chances of the White Sox and kind of even out that risk.

“Fortune favors the bold.

“Baseball’s structure favors the teams that are bold because .500 teams don’t get the high draft picks and they don’t make the playoffs.

“I think they could do more simply because of the opportunity. It’s kind of almost like being pot-committed in a way -- they’ve thrown in most of their chips, and at some point you’re going to throw in all your chips.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Though his production was down in 2015 -- his .674 OPS was the lowest of his career -- Desmond finished the season strong. He produced a .777 OPS in the second half, hitting 12 of 19 homers in 72 games.

Desmond has averaged 22 home runs per season each of the last four years. He also is considered a good, athletic defender at short with a strong arm. The veteran shortstop also carries a positive reputation among teammates.

The White Sox have to weigh those factors against what their extra pick could bring.

They’ve been selective about players for whom they would surrender the comp pick.

They pursued outfielder Alex Gordon until the day he returned to Kansas City last month. But aside from Desmond, Fowler and Justin Upton -- and that was just a whisper -- they haven’t been linked to any of the other 12 players who received a qualifying offer.

The compensatory selection would move up to No. 27 overall if the Baltimore Orioles sign Yovani Gallardo -- a deal that is reportedly close. Last year, the slotted signing bonus for the 27th pick was worth $2,004,600 million.

[RELATED -- Sale: Frazier, Lawrie bring fire to White Sox]

With their top three picks, including the No. 49 selection, the White Sox would have nearly $6.5 million in their bonus pool. That amount would help the White Sox replenish a system left thin by two free-agent signings (Melky Cabrera and David Robertson) and three significant trades (Frazier, Lawrie and Jeff Samardzija) completed since December 2014.

The White Sox surrendered seven homegrown players -- Rangel Ravelo, Trayce Thompson, Micah Johnson, Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Chris Bassitt and Zach Eflin -- and two additional prospects acquired in trades (Frankie Montas and J.B. Wendelken) to complete their deals. They also forfeited their second- and third-round selections in the 2015 draft to sign Cabrera and Robertson. On Thursday, ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the White Sox as having the No. 22 farm system in baseball.

But if Desmond -- or Fowler -- is the right fit, the White Sox gladly would surrender one more pick.

“The draft pick has real value,” Hahn said. “A couple of million dollars worth of bonus money or pool money, which allows you to be flexible with that draft or pay some forward or pay some back. That said, we would still have two in the top 48 or so and our second round would remain in tact.”

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


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: