Welington Castillo

Why you can believe in the White Sox in 2018


Why you can believe in the White Sox in 2018

Mark it down.

Jan. 28, 2018.

The day Nicky Delmonico planted the White Sox flag for the upcoming season, saying on the White Sox Talk Podcast, “We’re going to surprise the world.”

Surprise the world? What do you mean?

“We’re going to surprise everybody. That’s exactly what I mean,” Delmonico said emphatically. “I think that White Sox fans know it. I think we’re going to have a really exciting year.”

It’s the offseason, a time when every player on every team can basically say the same thing without much accountability. Who’s going to go back and check the quotes in eight months, anyway?

For this story, the hope is, we will have to dig them up at the end of September, because there might actually be some weight behind what Delmonico is saying.  

The White Sox are not going to win the World Series. They’re definitely a long shot to make the playoffs — though Dan Plesac of MLB Network was the first prominent believer in the White Sox, saying at the Winter Meetings that they could compete for a wild card.

For the record, Plesac grew up a White Sox fan. So did I.

But dig deeper into the White Sox 67-95 record last season, and there was a lot more going on than mere wins and losses.

Take last July and August. The White Sox were terrible. They traded away Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak, Melky Cabrera and Dan Jennings. They went a combined 17-34 in those two months. On Aug. 31, they were serious contenders for the worst record in baseball and the first pick in this year’s draft.

But when the dust settled in September, what happened?

The White Sox got better.

They went 15-14 and had their best month since April.

Truth be told, September can be a weird month. There are call-ups getting their first (and sometimes last) taste in the majors. Plus, there are contending teams resting players, which allows also-rans like the White Sox to pick up some cheap wins. So September success can sometimes be fool’s gold.

But manager Rick Renteria saw something different going on with his team that month.

“I think that our players who were with us through September learned a little bit about themselves,” Renteria said during last weekend's SoxFest festivities. “If everybody starts to really look at it, Tim Anderson started to rebound from some of the things he was going through at the time. (Yoan) Moncada started squaring up more pitches in the off-speed category that he was probably swinging through when he first arrived. Those were some of the adjustments we were hoping he was going to make.”

After slashing .105/.261/.263 in his first 12 games in July, Moncada rebounded with .276/.349/.469 and five HRs in September. As for Anderson, he closed the season with his hair on fire. He batted .327 with nine stolen bases in September. He also had 32 strikeouts and just one walk, but hey, you can’t have everything.

“I saw (the players) starting to come together (in September) and understand a lot of their particular roles, specifically the bullpen,” Renteria said.

Let’s get to that bullpen, which was a shambles after the trade deadline. They finished August with a 6.03 ERA, the worst in baseball. But come September, the rocky seas got a whole lot calmer. As a team, the bullpen had a 3.96 ERA that month, not great, but they finished in the middle of the pack in the majors. Look at things a little closer and you had left-handed rookie Aaron Bummer settle down and finish with an 0.96 ERA in September. Gregory Infante had his second straight sub-2.00 ERA month in a row (1.42). Juan Minaya closed the season with five scoreless innings and five consecutive saves.

In the starting rotation, Derek Holland and his 6.20 ERA were DFA’d on Sept. 5.

Mike Pelfrey was still used occasionally as a starter in September — with disastrous results, 17 runs in two starts — adding to the White Sox loss total. Both won’t be in the rotation in 2018.

But three pitchers who very likely will be on this year's starting staff were called up to the majors and did this in September:

— Carson Fulmer: 3-0, 1.64 ERA
— Lucas Giolito: 2-2, 2.23 ERA
— Reynaldo Lopez: 3-2, 4.10 ERA

This season, they’ll be mainly throwing to Welington Castillo, a big upgrade at the catching position from last season offensively and defensively. Castillo had a league-leading 44.4-percent caught-stealing rate in 2017. White Sox catchers were second-to-last at 18 percent. Castillo had the best pitch-framing statistics of his career. He also hit a career-high 20 home runs in only 365 plate appearances.

And sometime next season (possibly as early as May or June), the White Sox will likely bring up Michael Kopech, who has one of the best arms in minor league baseball. The rotation will be young but potentially really good.

The White Sox are stressing patience with their prospects, but if they can press the issue and check all the boxes, they could be promoted sooner rather than later.

“We have an eye on all of them. Some of the things we’ll talk to them about in spring training is to let them know, ‘Hey, we know you’re here,’” Renteria said. “You’re never too far away. Sometimes you think you’re from here to the moon and all of a sudden (a call up) happens and you’re surprised. We don’t want them to be surprised when they get to the big leagues. We want them to be ready and expect to get to the big leagues.”

Eloy Jimenez has only played 18 games at the Double-A level. He says he wants to make the big league club out of spring training. If that doesn’t happen (and let’s be honest, it won’t), he’ll settle for coming up, as he put it, in “the middle” of the season.

If that occurs, you’ll have two of the best minor league prospects in baseball joining a tenacious, cohesive club that follows the lead of their persistent manager.

“We’re not going to be someone that’s gonna let other clubs just walk all over. We took that approach last year,” Renteria said. “We’re not going to put ourselves in the position where we’re going to downplay where we’re at. We’re going to play to high expectations. That’s a fact.

“We want our guys to have fun. We want our guys to exude to the fans that are coming out every single day to play as consistent of baseball that they possibly can. I think we’re getting to that point where people are starting to trust that as a reality.”

After getting called up on August 1, Delmonico took this mindset and ran with it. He set a White Sox record, reaching base in the first 13 games of his major league career. In September, he hit walk-off home runs against the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels, two teams chasing a wild card. For a fan base starving for hope and excitement, the charismatic Delmonico quickly became one of the White Sox most popular players.

But beyond the baseball field, he noticed something really special going on inside the clubhouse that he believes will lead to more victories in 2018.

“I haven’t felt this comfortable in a locker room in I don’t know how long,” Delmonico said. “I think it has to do with up top, with everything going on in the front office all the way down to the clubhouse. I think everybody is on the same page. It’s really fun to come in and play for the White Sox everyday. Everyone is on board with what we have to do and what we want to do. The biggest thing is that we’re here to have fun and play hard. I think everybody has bought into those two things. If you do those two things, you play hard and have fun, you can do a lot of damage out on the field.”

After doing most of their dirty work with the rebuild last season, the White Sox are now starting to trend upward. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers are just beginning their teardowns. Expect some dark days ahead for those teams — and more wins for the South Siders.

How many more? That’s in the eye of the beholder. If they can stay healthy, an additional 10 to 15 wins seems possible. Delmonico obviously goes much further, predicting the White Sox are going to surprise the world.

Get ready, Earth.

Wherever you sit on the “White Sox in 2018” spectrum, it’s tough to deny the talent that has reached the majors and will continue to arrive in the future.

So go ahead, be a believer in the White Sox — even in 2018. They should be better, and better than most people think.

October baseball seems unlikely. But it’s February. It’s baseball. Anything is possible.

White Sox have a secret weapon in next offseason’s pursuit of Manny Machado

White Sox have a secret weapon in next offseason’s pursuit of Manny Machado

Next year at SoxFest, if the stars align, a gargantuan contract is offered and a certain free-agent shortstop/third baseman believes his baseball future belongs on the South Side of Chicago, the White Sox will introduce Manny Machado as the grand prize to their rebuild to a frenzied crowd of Sox fans at the Hilton Chicago.

If it happens (and we’ll get to the “if” in a moment), you’ll be able to credit chairman Jerry Reinsdorf for giving Rick Hahn the enormous funds to make it happen.

But you’ll also be thanking their new catcher Welington Castillo for being the White Sox ace in the hole in luring Machado to 35th and Shields.

“He’s my friend. We are tight,” Castillo told NBCSportsChicago.com about Machado. “I called him a few weeks ago. We were texting and I was doing FaceTime with him.”

Really …

So, were you FaceTiming him about possibly signing with the White Sox next offseason?

“Just to play around, I said, ‘I hear that you’re going to go to Chicago.’ He said, ‘That’s what I hear, too. That’s a rumor.’ I said, ‘Hey, I want you to be in Chicago, too.’ He said, ‘I’m going to play whatever they want me to play.’”

Shortstop? Third base? I don’t think the White Sox will mind where. The larger question is how?

With big-spending teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers potentially in the mix next winter for Machado, who could command a contract of $300 million or more, how will the White Sox be able to compete considering the largest free-agent contracts they’ve ever signed were to Jose Abreu (six years, $68 million) and Paul Konerko (five years, $60 million)?

Hahn revealed in a SoxFest seminar on Friday that the White Sox have actually made multiple offers to players in the past that exceeded $100 million.

Asked about signing big-time free agents next offseason in the media session earlier in the day, Hahn let it be known that money will not be an issue.

“I can certainly assure you that the resources will be available,” Hahn said. “Can I assure you we’re going to be able to convert on every target? No. Unfortunately, it’s a going to be a robust and competitive market. I get that question a lot, and I get it, because it would seem to break with our past practice to be aggressive or to be at the top of the market.”

That’s mythbuster No. 1. Hahn then listed a few more.

“I would say over the last 18 months we’ve sort of busted a lot of the myths about how the White Sox go about their business. There was certainly a lot out there that the Chicago White Sox would never rebuild. Obviously we did. There was a lot written a year ago that we would never make a trade with the Chicago Cubs, even if it made us better. And obviously we did.

"Additionally, people touted that we would never incur a significant tax or penalty in order to sign a player like we did with Luis Robert. Each of those steps along the way reinforced this process and put us closer to being in position to win championships. Being competitive in free agency and targeting big-ticket items and hopefully converting on them is going to be the next logical step when the time is right.

"Anyone who doubts that this organization will break from past perception or past process, I think the evidence is there over the last year that the old standard has fallen apart.”

When Machado becomes a free agent, he’ll be asking a lot of questions.

“How much money are they offering?” That’s probably No. 1. After that, he’ll likely want to know about the culture, climate and talent inside each clubhouse. That’s likely the biggest reason the White Sox tried acquiring Machado this offseason, to give him a first-hand look at what the White Sox are all about before he hits free agency.

But he’s got a close friend in Castillo who admits he had “a lot of offers” from other teams but specifically chose to play for the White Sox, partly because of their young talent.

“I know this team is going to be good, really soon.”

The other factor in his decision was Rick Renteria, who managed Castillo when he played for the Cubs.

“I like everything (about Renteria). He has the players’ back. You want to give everything you have for him,” Castillo said.

Will the White Sox be able to sign Machado next winter? Who knows?

But with the franchise trending in the right direction, and with waves of talent either in Chicago or starting to knock on the door, they’ve got Machado’s close friend already in his ear.

Castillo signed with the White Sox to catch baseballs. Helping to reel in Machado would be his biggest catch of all.

White Sox leaving door open for activity at Winter Meetings, even if staying quiet looks more likely

White Sox leaving door open for activity at Winter Meetings, even if staying quiet looks more likely

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — To trade or not to trade?

That seems to be the question for Rick Hahn at this week’s Winter Meetings.

The rebuilding White Sox don’t have to do what they did a year ago, when they exploded out of the rebuilding gates with a couple of huge trades, shipping Chris Sale to Boston, sending Adam Eaton to Washington and bringing back a boatload of highly rated prospects in return. The foundation was laid, and now the time has come to sit back and let all that young talent develop.

But the biggest mystery of the week is whether Hahn & Co. will be active or stay quiet. Will they trade their assets to once again bolster the farm system or simply play the waiting game?

It seems the White Sox are leaning toward having a quiet Winter Meetings this time around. But that doesn’t mean the guy who dealt away Sale, Eaton and Jose Quintana in the last 12 months is closing any doors.

“If we’re able to find a similar match in the coming days we’ll move on it, but at this point my common theme of needing to be patient needs to be reiterated — not necessarily for White Sox Nation but for those of us up in the room,” Hahn said Monday at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.

“I’d be lying to say that you don’t feel the impact of being down here. You know that deals are taking place. You know that teams are more serious, that free agents are coming off the board. The focus of not only White Sox fans but all of baseball is on these four days here. I’d be lying if I said we were impervious to the desire to show some fruit of our labors down here.

“That said we’re pretty good at taking a longer term view. We’ve got in a good pace of doing that in the last year plus. So we have enough sensible people in that room that will stop anyone from doing anything too impetuous here in next few days.”

Just because the White Sox might be in a position to stand pat and let their minor league talent continue to cook doesn’t mean they’ve been absent from the barrage of trade speculation that’s flown through these Winter Meetings like a certain local airborne elephant.

Most of the Sox-related chatter has involved Jose Abreu, the team’s best hitter who in 2017 became the fourth player ever to hit at 25 homers and drive in 100 runs in each of his first four major league seasons. Reports have simultaneously suggested that the White Sox are unlikely to deal the slugger and that he’s being pursued by multiple teams. Hahn did not announce one way or the other which way the team will go with Abreu, prudently keeping multiple possibilities alive.

And if nothing else is a certainty about the Abreu question, it’s that he gives his general manager plenty of options. Of course Abreu’s bat makes him a strong trade candidate. But his value as a team leader and mentor to younger players in the White Sox clubhouse is also extremely valuable. And at this stage in the rebuild, the White Sox might see more value in the latter, making a trade increasingly unlikely.

“It's very tough to quantify,” Hahn said, speaking of Abreu’s off-the-field value. “I think all 30 clubs can put some sort of cash value on what he does between the white lines, using whatever metrics you favor and coming to generally the same area. The sort of softer-science side of things, the example he sets in our clubhouse, the work ethic, the way he plays the game, the way he represents us in the community, that’s really tough to quantify and it’s something we value. It’s something the organization has valued for years on various players, whether it’s (Paul) Konerko or (Mark) Buerhle or others come to mind immediately. And it probably makes it a challenge at times to overlap with another club that doesn’t quite fully know what to make of that, because they haven’t had the opportunity to have them yet.”

In addition to being a strong argument as to why the White Sox would benefit from keeping Abreu on the South Side, it’s also a possible explanation as for why a trade just won’t happen. Surely, as reports have indicated, it would take a big package to pry Abreu away, and in asking for that sizable return package, the White Sox are perhaps thinking of things that other teams are not considering. To trade or not to trade when it comes to Abreu? The answer is never no for Hahn. But you can plainly see why it’s been reported that a deal is unlikely.

Of course Abreu isn’t the only thing on Hahn & Co.’s minds this week. Avisail Garcia has been speculated about as a potential trade chip. And then there are the necessary additions the team needs to make to its starting rotation and its bullpen.

When it comes to free-agent activity in general, the White Sox were one of the first teams to make a move this winter, inking Welington Castillo to a two-year deal (with a possibility for a third) at the beginning of the month. That was a somewhat surprising signing, the rebuilding White Sox adding a win-now type player coming off a career year offensively and defensively.

So maybe the White Sox front office could surprise with more signings like that or it could make more expected additions, like adding veteran starting pitchers to help balance out a young rotation, or bullpen arms to make up for the many trades made involving the relief corps during the 2017 season.

Regardless of what the direction ends up being, Hahn said that the team was expecting those moves to come later, only for the Castillo signing to get things started early. And now, baseball-wide, activity is in full swing at the Winter Meetings.

“It’s funny because we did think a fair amount of whatever our free-agent activity that would be for the White Sox this year would be closer to the holidays or perhaps first of the year based on how previous markets have unfolded. But we had the opportunity to sign Welington Castillo, one of the first free-agent signings of the year,” Hahn said. “Coming down here it did seem like it would be a quiet market at least as of a week ago, but now based on our conversations in the last three or four days, it seems some of the players in that category are starting to move as well.

“So I can’t give you a great answer on the timing other than to tell you that we initially thought it would be a late-developing market and we were ready for that, but if the opportunity, as it did with Castillo, arises to do something that improves us, we’ll move on it.”

And so one day into these Winter Meetings, the door remains open for some White Sox activity. To trade or not to trade? To sign or not to sign? To stand pat or not to stand pat? Those questions don’t have answers yet, and that’ll keep things interesting.