Blackhawks

Hahn faces tough decisions on A.J., Peavy, Youkilis

925431.png

Hahn faces tough decisions on A.J., Peavy, Youkilis

Rick Hahn will have to make difficult decisions on a World Series hero who gave the White Sox an identity and a hard edge, as well as the Cy Young Award winner who underwent experimental surgery, not to mention: Youk!

Thats just the start of the offseason dominoes still waiting to fall on the South Side.

Hahn took timeout for the news conference announcing his promotion to general manager, but said afterward that budget meetings were still happening on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field. While the White Sox havent settled on a final payroll number for next year, preliminary projections gave him confidence that it would be right in the same neighborhood we spent in 2012, somewhere around 100 million.

A.J. Pierzynski is positioned to become a free agent, while the White Sox are expected to decline options on Jake Peavy and Kevin Youkilis, seeing if they can work out another deal. They also hold club options on pitchers Gavin Floyd (9.5 million) and Brett Myers (10 million with a 3 million buyout), with Francisco Liriano about to hit free agency.

Hahn believes Tyler Flowers will be an everyday catcher in the big leagues, which could spell the end for Pierzynski, who was on the verge of signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in December 2010 before the White Sox stepped in with a two-year, 8 million deal.

I try not to handicap these things at this point, Hahn said. Weve had A.J. here for eight years and hes been a fantastic member of the White Sox organization for every minute of it. Weve signed him to I think three multiyear deals in the course of those eight years. Two years ago at this time, I think there was probably a thick level of pessimism about him coming back.

A source indicated that Pierzynski had lunch with chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after the season ended, while Hahn said he spoke with the catchers agent last week.

It was a good dialogue, and an open dialogue, and well stay in touch, Hahn said. Until he gets out there and sees what his market is and we get out there and sort of explore alternatives and other ways to spend our money its impossible to handicap. But I know there was pessimism this time two years ago, so I dont get too caught up in whatever pessimism there is now.

Pierzynski is 35 years old and coming off a season in which he generated 27 homers and 77 RBI. Peavy also made a salary drive, returning to the All-Star Game and going 11-12 with a 3.37 ERA while accounting for 32 starts and 219 innings.

Look, there arent a lot of free-agent pitchers out there, and there is a fair amount of money that has to be spent by other clubs, Hahn said. Pitchers get paid a significant amount and Jake given his track record and especially his 2012 season where he answered questions about his health is going to be a pretty popular guy.

So that one may be a challenge, but weve had good talks back and forth already, honest conversations. I know Jakes preference which he hasnt been shy about is to be back here in Chicago. And thats always a good place to start. But there does come a point where there are certain opportunities elsewhere that dont make sense for us to try to chase.

It sounds like emotions wont get in the way this time. Of the top 10 moments during his 12 years as assistant general manager, Hahn estimated that Mark Buehrle might have been responsible for three or four of them. But that didnt mean the White Sox should match the four-year, 58 million contract the Miami Marlins gave the veteran left-hander last winter.

Hahn believes the White Sox should compete for a playoff spot next season and win multiple World Series titles. Hes inheriting a team that should have Chris Sale and John Danks near the front of the rotation, and Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Alex Rios in the middle of the order. Theyre running out of room for more big-ticket items.

This is an opportunity for a lot of these players, as their first time out on the open market, Hahn said. Understandably, they want to hear from the other 29 clubs and may be interested in what their value is. Given the sort of shallowness of this years free agent market and the fact that there are some clubs with some money to spend, Im not overly optimistic that were going to be huge players in free agency.

But at the same time, were going to be out there looking for values and certainly continue to talk to our guys and see if we cant fit them in for next year, too.

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Probably not the way the Blackhawks wanted to start their second half of the season.

After a five-day break, the Blackhawks suffered a brutal 7-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night at the United Center. This coming after a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on home ice last Sunday.

"It was a game we had to win," Quenneville said after Saturday's loss. "Disappointing in a lot of ways."

The Blackhawks needed both goaltenders to get through 60 minutes. Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass combined for 39 saves on 46 shots.

On the offensive side of things, Patrick Kane hit a milestone.

The 29-year-old had two goals and an assist and recorded his 800th career point, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to reach 800 points.

The Blackhawks are now 22-18-6 on the season with 50 points and rank last in the Central Division, five points behind the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks' schedule doesn't get any easier when the Tampa Bay Lightning — the league-leader in points — come to town on Monday.

See what Quenneville and Kane had to say about Saturday's loss in the video above.

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.