Tommy Kahnle

How Rick Hahn and the White Sox could end up the biggest difference-makers in the MLB playoffs

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USA TODAY

How Rick Hahn and the White Sox could end up the biggest difference-makers in the MLB playoffs

Without the White Sox, this year's MLB postseason would look a lot different.

Already, just one game in, former White Sox players are starring, and with all the talent traded away from the South Side in the past year, it's not unreasonable to suggest that one of the biggest difference-makers in the 2017 playoffs could be Rick Hahn.

Tuesday night's AL wild card game was a good one, the New York Yankees topping the Minnesota Twins by an 8-4 score to advance to the ALDS. And while the Yankees' trio of homers — smacked by Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner — had nothing to do with the White Sox, former South Side relief pitchers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle combined to throw 5.2 innings of scoreless ball. Those innings were crucial after Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino was lifted after recording just one out in the first inning. Severino coughed up three first-inning runs and earned a quick hook in the winner-take-all game. Fortunately for the Yankees, the offense responded with three runs of its own in the bottom of the first and the bullpen stopped the bleeding. Robertson and Kahnle did the majority of that work.

That deadline deal involving the White Sox and Yankees, which also included third baseman Todd Frazier, was tremendously beneficial for both sides as the two franchises are at vastly different places when it comes to competing for a championship. The Yankees made that deal for exactly this kind of scenario, and without it, maybe the Twins would have advanced on Tuesday night.

But the AL wild card game won't be the only place the White Sox recent flurry of deals will be felt this postseason. Obviously the Yankees now move on to face off against the Cleveland Indians, and Robertson, Kahnle and Frazier figure to all continue to play big roles for the Bronx Bombers. But look elsewhere on the bracket, too. The two guys who just a year ago topped the White Sox rotation are now pitching in the playoffs with new teams.

Chris Sale will get the ball in Game 1 of the ALDS between his Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros. Sale, who struck out 308 hitters this season and is a candidate to win the AL Cy Young, could have a monumental impact on the playoffs for as long as the Red Sox stay alive. He's the kind of top-of-the-line starting pitcher who the Red Sox could throw twice in a best-of-five series and three times, perhaps, in a best-of-seven series. As we've seen in recent years with pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Corey Kluber and Cole Hamels and further back with guys like Josh Beckett, one starting pitcher can dominate a postseason. Is Sale that guy this year? That would be some instant gratification for the Red Sox after the offseason trade that sent Sale to Boston and brought back Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the White Sox.

Jose Quintana, meanwhile, might not be the ace of the Cubs' starting staff, but he'll make his first career postseason start in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. Quintana was one of the Cubs' most reliable starting pitchers down the stretch, posting a 2.52 ERA in five September starts, and he figures to make a big difference every time he grabs the ball. Obviously, the longer the Cubs remain in the playoffs, the greater an impact he will make.

It's well known the prospects that Hahn acquired in the deals that sent these impact guys out of town, and that's gone a long way toward building what he hopes is a championship team of the future. Don't be surprised, though, if one of these deals ends up making a big difference on whatever team is the championship squad of the present.

Just for fun, here are all the former White Sox (and some former White Sox farmhands) on the 40-man rosters of this year's playoff teams:

— Cleveland Indians: Austin Jackson

— Houston Astros: Tyler Clippard, Chris Devenski, Francisco Liriano

— Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale, Addison Reed, Chris Young

— New York Yankees: Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Todd Frazier

— Minnesota Twins: Eduardo Escobar

— Los Angeles Dodgers: Brandon McCarthy, Trayce Thompson

— Washington Nationals: Matt Albers, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Eaton

— Chicago Cubs: Jose Quintana, Alex Avila

Why the White Sox are willing to gamble on prospects like Ti'Quan Forbes and Casey Gillaspie

Why the White Sox are willing to gamble on prospects like Ti'Quan Forbes and Casey Gillaspie

The record Powerball prize may have been given away last month, but Rick Hahn and the White Sox are still buying lottery tickets.

While the prized prospects have received the bulk of the headlines during the rebuild, the White Sox have recently quietly collected many low-risk, high-reward players.

Ti’quan Forbes is the latest lottery ticket-type prospect to be acquired by the White Sox. A 2014 second-round draft pick turned struggling minor leaguer, Forbes was obtained from the Texas Rangers on Thursday night in exchange for starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez. During the 2017 season, the White Sox also traded for first-rounder Casey Gillaspie and claimed first-rounder D.J. Peterson and former touted prospect Alen Hanson off waivers. Given their success with similar moves in the past and the opportunity for playing time they have readily available, the White Sox aren’t afraid to gamble again.

“You’re not always going to be able to acquire the guy who’s got the fantastic, loud tools as well as the outstanding track record of performance,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “That’s the ideal. You want to be able to check all the boxes. There are going to be times where we’re betting on a performance that out-straps the tools to continue, and there’s going to be times where you need to bet on the tools that haven’t quite translated in the performance that ultimately, through repetition and improvement, translate into a good performance.”

[MORE: White Sox trade Miguel Gonzalez for minor league infielder] 

A free agent after this season, Gonzalez wasn’t going to bring back a heavy return. Not only does Gonzalez not have the shiny qualities of some of the higher-end assets moved ahead of him, but he’s a rental player to boot. While Gonzalez still possesses value, the White Sox could either take a less-talented player who has performed in the minors or a more toolsy prospect who just hasn’t panned out.

Forbes, who turned 21 on Saturday, is the latter. He was ranked as the No. 50 overall prospect in the 2014 draft by MLB.com but has struggled to perform since he turned pro. Forbes has a .634 OPS in his minor league career, a figure that dropped to .588 at Advanced-A this season. But that won’t prevent the White Sox from taking the shot.

The White Sox did the same when they took Gillaspie back for Dan Jennings from the Tampa Bay Rays in July. Coming off a 2016 campaign in which he was the organization’s minor league player of the year, Gillaspie struggled at Triple-A Durham with a .671 OPS entering Friday, down from .869 last season.

“(Forbes) was the one of the youngest kids in the 2014 draft,” Hahn said. “We knew he was extremely raw and was going to take some time. He has second-round pedigree.

“Peterson and Gillaspie were first-round guys, but it’s the same kind of element. There’s a reason these guys had that draft stock that they did at the time, and that’s because of their tools. The reason they’re available now perhaps is because they haven’t lived up quite yet from a performance standpoint, and we’ve got an opportunity here for our player development staff and a change of scene to perhaps hopefully unlock a little bit of that potential.”

The White Sox have had some success with similar moves in the past.

Most recently Tommy Kahnle developed from a hard-throwing pitcher who couldn’t find the plate into an unstoppable force and was the key to the deal that brought Blake Rutherford back from the New York Yankees.

Hahn also cited previous success with Gavin Floyd and Matt Thornton. It’s not as if the White Sox are the only team willing to take these risks -- they’re quite commonplace. But one advantage they do have is an abundance of opportunity.

“It’s not a unique play necessarily that we’re doing,” Hahn said. “But certainly in some of the major deals that we did, the goal was to get that well-rounded player, the well-rounded prospect, the one where the tools and the subjective analysis matched with performance and the objective side of evaluating a player. As we’ve moved toward some of these later deals, we knew you weren’t going to get that perfect mix coming back, you were going to have to take some bets either on the tools or the performance translating to the big-league level.”

White Sox surprised that nobody has acquired Miguel Gonzalez

White Sox surprised that nobody has acquired Miguel Gonzalez

MINNEAPOLIS -- The White Sox remain in let’s-make-a-deal-mode, Miguel Gonzalez has pitched well for six weeks and yet he’s still here.

If you’re surprised by that development, you’re not alone.

Even the White Sox starting pitcher’s manager reflected his astonishment about the status of Gonzalez roughly 90 minutes before he took the mound on Thursday. Gonzalez pitched well yet again, though the White Sox ultimately lost to the Minnesota Twins 5-4 at Target Field. It was the eighth quality start produced by the free-agent-to be in nine outings since he returned from the disabled list on July 18. The waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball falls at 11 p.m. CST on Thursday night.

“A little bit (surprised),” Renteria said. “He’s pitched against some of the top clubs in the big leagues in his last four or five starts and has done a nice job keeping us in ballgames and minimizing damage, to a run or two in some or most of the starts. But I am surprised. He has done a great job. I wouldn’t be surprised (if he’s traded). It’s still not midnight yet so if today is the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if something would happen.”

The market for Gonzalez has been relatively quiet with few exceptions. Given that Gonzalez has a 3.27 ERA since he returned from a shoulder injury in mid-July and is affordable (he’s owed a little more than $1 million), the White Sox had to believe their asset would drum up more interest.  

Though he doesn’t overpower hitters with the fastball, Gonzalez has a nice mix of pitches and has proven to be consistent and likes attacking the strike zone. Gonzalez posted a 3.45 ERA between 2012-2014 for the Baltimore Orioles. He struggled in 2015 and did so again earlier this season after a shoulder injury limited his ability. Prior to the injury, however, Gonzalez pitched well for the White Sox in 2017, posting a 3.18 ERA in his first six starts after he finished 2016 on a good run. Gonzalez posted a 2.72 ERA over his final 13 starts of 2016 (79 1/3 innings).

But for now at least, a run of seven poor starts from mid-May to mid-June in which Gonzalez had a 7.15 ERA and eventually landed on the disabled list has tempered the interest. Since returning, Gonzalez has only had on rough outing on Aug. 3 at Boston as he got chased after 1 2/3 innings.

“I saw him throw in Boston and he didn’t throw well, but he still has good stuff,” one American League scout said. “I’d like to have him. He could at least pitch out of the bullpen.”

Gonzalez said he has tried to avoid thinking about the potential for a trade even as the White Sox traded a boatload of players over the past six weeks.

Anything that isn’t nailed down has been on alert to the possibility of a trade since the White Sox began to offload players last December with the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. The process included a series of trades in July that saw the departures of Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak and later Tyler Clippard.

But Gonzalez, who was stunned to be released by the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training in 2016, has enjoyed his time with the White Sox. He’s 12-18 with a 4.01 ERA in 45 games (44 starts) since coming over and credits the White Sox for giving him a chance after a rough 2015 season.

Gonzalez has been one of the team’s steadiest pitchers since he returned in July. On Thursday, the right-hander said he wasn’t as crisp as normal but got by in the early innings because the Twins had an aggressive approach. The Twins doubled three times off Gonzalez in the fifth inning to score twice and tie the game. But Gonzalez stranded the go-ahead run with a strikeout of Eduardo Escobar and retired four straight to get through the sixth. Gonzalez allowed three earned runs, seven hits and walked two while striking out five in a 110-pitch effort over six innings.

“Not thinking about it, honestly,” Gonzalez said. “If something happens then it’s meant to be. But if it doesn’t than I’m here all the way with the White Sox.

“It is what it is. Nothing that we can control. We’ve got to keep pitching, keep going out there every fifth day and try to make things happen.

“I’m happy (with my recent performances). A lot of positives. Been able to go out there until the sixth, seventh inning, even to the eighth. That’s a blessing in disguise. Struggling for a lot of months and to be able to come back and do that has been great.”