White Sox

Hector Santiago returns familiar face to White Sox and fills hole on 2018 pitching staff

Hector Santiago returns familiar face to White Sox and fills hole on 2018 pitching staff

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Hector Santiago was traded away from the White Sox, made an All-Star team, shut down his former team (a few times) and hurt his back.

Now Santiago is back with the South Siders, signed Wednesday to a minor league deal that comes with an invite to spring training. As White Sox pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch, a familiar face was on the way.

Santiago's addition is no small thing. While there's no guarantee he'll be a part of the White Sox roster on Opening Day, the team's needs seem to indicate he's got a good chance to be among the 25 who break camp and head to Kansas City for the season opener.

While nearly every role in the White Sox bullpen is up for grabs, there seemed to be few if any who fit the bill of a long reliever. Santiago, though he's had his best days as a starter, would figure to slide into that long-relief spot. But his versatility is what made him a desirable addition for the White Sox during this epically slow offseason. Should any injuries befall the expected starting rotation of James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer — with a recovering Carlos Rodon waiting in the wings — Santiago would figure to be among the best options to fill in.

"The versatility has a great deal of appeal," general manager Rick Hahn said during a Wednesday press conference. "Obviously, he's had success including an All-Star season as a starter in the American League. We saw first-hand how valuable he can potentially be in various roles, whether it's in the rotation or the bullpen. The versatility certainly had an appeal to us and as a player we drafted and helped develop, I think we have a special fondness for Hector. He's a tremendous, tremendous individual and a great fit in the clubhouse."

Santiago was drafted by the White Sox in 2006 and spent his first three big league seasons on the South Side before getting dealt away in the Adam Eaton trade. During his first stint with the White Sox, he made 78 appearances, only 27 of which were starts. He made the 2015 AL All-Star squad with the Los Angeles Angels, posting a 3.59 ERA that season with 162 strikeouts in 180.2 innings.

Santiago made 33 starts with the Angels and Minnesota Twins in 2016 but only pitched 15 times last season while dealing with a back injury. Hahn said Wednesday that Santiago is recovered from that injury and will be full go once he reports, which could be as early as Thursday.

Santiago and Gonzalez make two former White Sox back in the fold for the 2018 campaign. The South Siders added Gonzalez earlier this offseason after trading him away last summer. The White Sox knew what they were getting in these guys, and the duo has familiarity with pitching coach Don Cooper.

"It does play some role," Hahn said. "Hector's got probably more experience out of the pen and more versatility. Gonzo having been in this clubhouse, he fit well and it's obviously comfortable for him with the role going forward."

But maybe the best thing about the White Sox bringing Santiago back is that they don't have to face him anymore. In seven starts against his former team, Santiago is 5-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 45.1 innings.

So a positive move on all fronts.

Ryan Cordell goes to Triple-A as White Sox seemingly figure out center field situation


Ryan Cordell goes to Triple-A as White Sox seemingly figure out center field situation

The White Sox center field situation seems to have a solution.

Ryan Cordell was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte, the team announced Thursday, bringing his bid to make the Opening Day roster to an end.

Cordell had a nice spring in his first action since joining the White Sox organization in last summer's trade that sent reliever Anthony Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers. Cordell was injured after playing 68 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs last season, but he got some love from general manager Rick Hahn at this winter's SoxFest, with Hahn saying three teams had called the White Sox inquiring about the 25-year-old outfielder.

In 17 Cactus League games, Cordell slashed an impressive .317/.417/.512 with six extra-base hits, eight runs scored, eight RBIs, seven walks and only six strikeouts. That performance brought on the idea that Cordell could not only make the team out of camp but perhaps be the Opening Day center fielder, potentially beating out an improved Adam Engel for the job after Engel hit just .166 last season.

But Engel's spring numbers are even better than Cordell's. He's got a .364/.429/.682 slash line with four homers, 11 runs scored, eight RBIs and four walks. Plus, he's already well known as a strong defender in center after last season's impressive glove work. Spring stats don't mean much, but it's a good sign considering how ineffective Engel was at the plate last season.

With Thursday's news and Engel's impressive spring, it seems the White Sox have things figured out in center to start the season. Engel will likely be the starting center fielder, with utility man Leury Garcia an option there in a reserve role. Cordell and Charlie Tilson, who was sent to Charlotte earlier this spring, are sure get plenty of at-bats in the minors and could be called up should Engel struggle.

Both Engel and Cordell fall into the "see what you've got" category for the rebuilding White Sox. The future of the position figures to belong to highly touted prospect Luis Robert, who was reassigned to minor league camp along with pitchers Rob Scahill and Chris Volstad on Thursday, bringing the White Sox to 32 players in big league camp. But with the team not expected to contend in 2018, Engel has an extended opportunity to figure things out at the big league level. Should he struggle, someone like Cordell or Tilson could have a similar opportunity.

Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: Will Jose Abreu get a contract extension this year?


Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: Will Jose Abreu get a contract extension this year?

White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.

Jose Abreu doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

The White Sox star first baseman entered the offseason as the subject of trade speculation. After four remarkably productive and consistent seasons at the big league level, the South Siders seemed capable of fetching a package of prospects that would have helped further stock their rebuilding effort. The question, of course, was whether that package would have looked like the ones Rick Hahn's front office received in return for Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana. Maybe not, considering Abreu's age and the fact that he's only under team control for two more seasons.

But as the offseason progressed, it became clear that the White Sox had no intention of trading Abreu, and Hahn even said that the White Sox perhaps value Abreu more than other teams considering what he means to their clubhouse. It all ended with trade speculation transforming into apparent certainty that Abreu would be around not only for 2018, not only through the end of his contract in 2019, but past that, as well, as a veteran member of what's planned to be a White Sox team that's contending on an annual basis.

In order to do that, Abreu's contract will need to be extended, or he'll require a new one after the 2019 season. Will that happen this season? Will Abreu be cemented as a White Sox mainstay the way guys like Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle were in the past? That's for the team and the player to hash out.

Until they do, fans can watch and see exactly why Abreu, despite his advancing age, is deserving of consideration for a spot on these teams of the future. He'll be much, much older than the likes of Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Luis Robert and the other stars of the rebuild. But he's become such a force in the clubhouse, a mentor to Moncada and another fellow Cuban, Robert. His work ethic is routinely praised by manager Rick Renteria, who routinely points to Abreu's correction of his fielding issues at the beginning of last season. Abreu's role-model status makes him incredibly valuable to a team that's young and getting younger.

And then, obviously, there's what Abreu does on the field. He's put up four straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs, the third player ever to do that (along with Joe Dimaggio and Albert Pujols), and he hit at least 30 homers in three of those seasons. The consistency has been astounding, and he put up some career-best numbers in his age-30 season last year, setting new career highs with 189 hits, 43 doubles and six triples, plus a career-low 119 strikeouts.

While extending Abreu for multiple years past his age-32 season carries the expected risk as a player ages, his production and his off-field value inside the White Sox clubhouse make him a strong extension candidate. That being said, the White Sox also have some flexibility, with the option to move him over the next two seasons if they get the opportunity to add to their incredible collection of young talent.

Flexibility seems to be the name of the game for the White Sox as they wait for their young players to develop in the minor leagues. Consistency has been the name of the game for Abreu. If that stays true in 2018, perhaps he gets that contract extension.