White Sox

The three big questions everyone's asking at SoxFest

The three big questions everyone's asking at SoxFest

SoxFest 2018 is a happening place.

Sold out, the event is packed with rebuild-loving White Sox fans ready for the much-discussed future of the organization. Autograph lines are packed to capacity, the hallways are buzzing, and Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria had a full house for their Saturday-morning seminar at the Hilton Chicago.

Fans asked the general manager and the skipper a bunch of questions, but there are certain hot topics on everyone’s mind. And just like they did in a smaller seminar Friday night, fans lobbed the most pressing questions at Hahn.

Here are the three questions everyone’s asking at SoxFest.

1. When will Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez make it to the major leagues?

Perhaps the biggest overarching question of the upcoming campaign. Fans want to know when the two biggest stars of the rebuild will make it to the South Side.

The answer is actually an easy one: No one knows yet.

But it seems like a good bet to assume that Kopech, at least, will reach the bigs sometime this season after he dominated at Double-A Birmingham last year and forced Hahn & Co. into an unscheduled promotion to Triple-A Charlotte. Jimenez, meanwhile, hasn’t played much above the Class A level, meaning seeing him advance to the majors is perhaps less likely than Kopech — but also still possible considering how he’s mashed his way through the minors so far.

Hahn offered up a more nuanced explanation of what the “reasonable” expectations are for two guys who have a ton of hype surrounding them — and who have each said in recent days that they’re ready when the call to big leagues comes.

“Kopech and Eloy, not too dissimilar from conversations and questions we had about (Yoan) Moncada last year. Now, Moncada was a little bit more advanced than Eloy in terms of age, he’s a year older, he’d already been in the big leagues, he’d spent a fair amount of time in Double-A. Eloy has four weeks above A-ball, and he just turned 21. In theory, it would a perfectly acceptable developmental season at age 21 to spend the whole year at Birmingham in a tough, tough league, the Southern League, and do well. That’s great. That’s what puts him on track to be a potential impact big leaguer for a long time.

“Similarly with Kopech. He has 16 innings in Triple-A at 20 years old. If he spent the whole year in Triple-A and did well, fantastic. At age 21, that’s a real good season for a pitcher in the International League. Up the innings total he has under his belt, continue to refine his off-speed pitches and be ready to make an impact in the big leagues next year. That’s fine.

“That said, the good ones, and you’ve heard me say this many times, have a way of forcing your hand, changing that timeline. … Conceivably, they could blow right past that given their ability and given their upside. We’re not putting any cap on what they’re going to do this year, but we have a sense of what’s a reasonable development year for each of them.”

That might not be exactly what White Sox fans want to hear, considering there are plenty hoping Kopech, in particular, can dazzle in Arizona and make the big league roster out of spring training. But remember that the rebuilding White Sox are blessed with time, and there’s no reason for Hahn & Co. to order a promotion before any prospect is done cooking in the minor leagues.

2. How close were the White Sox to trading for Manny Machado — and will he eventually come to the South Side?

The buzz of the Winter Meetings was the supposed derby for Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, a young star who the O’s reportedly put on the market last month when baseball was gathered down at Walt Disney World. The White Sox were one of the teams reported to be interested in landing Machado, and he’s a player the team’s fans have long coveted in social-media discussions.

Obviously, the White Sox didn’t end up making a trade for Machado. No team has yet, as the 25-year-old is still an Oriole. But the debate still rages whether trading for Machado would’ve been a good move. Netting him obviously would’ve cost Hahn a sizable portion of the prospect capital he’s built in the last year plus, a risky move to say the least considering Machado is slated to hit the free-agent market after the 2018 season. That said, Machado is a special talent, and if the White Sox could have given themselves a leg up in that upcoming sweepstakes, perhaps that would’ve been worth consideration.

Unsurprisingly, Hahn was asked about it Saturday morning. In fact, the rebuild-loving questioner explained how he had hoped Hahn wouldn’t make such a move. But plenty more are wondering if the White Sox will still compete in the bidding war for Machado next winter — with questioners even bringing up the team’s history of not signing players to the kinds of monster deals that have popped up around the game.

So what’s the latest? A tough question to answer considering Hahn can’t talk about players on other teams.

“I’m going to try and avoid a tampering fine at SoxFest. I don’t think that’s in our budget,” Hahn joked.

“Everything we’re doing right now for the past year plus has been aimed at putting ourselves in the best position for the long term. And we absolutely are not going to do anything that’s going to compromise that for a short-term gain. Over arching, there’s a plan in place that we’re not going to deviate from.

“That said, when intriguing talent becomes available, we are going to at the very least check in, have conversations, understand the value of our players that are asked about … and if we feel like we can acquire something that’s controllable on a shorter term that we might be able to extend for a longer term, we’ll take that opportunity seriously. Obviously there was no transaction this offseason that involved us giving up prospects for short fixes.”

Hahn reiterated what he’s said a few times this winter, that the team has shattered expectations in what it’s done during the last year plus, starting a full-scale rebuild and making a trade with the Cubs being two examples of Hahn doing things fans thought the White Sox would “never do.” There’s a certain assumption that the White Sox also won’t shell out the big bucks that it would take to land Machado, who’s expected to get one of the larger contracts in baseball history. Hahn said again Friday that fans shouldn’t expect the team to conform to those kinds of expectations.

So there’s that.

3. What was the cost of trading for Christian Yelich?

Another big name the White Sox were tied to at various points this offseason through a variety of rumors was Christian Yelich, the now-former Miami Marlins outfielder who was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week.

Much like the discussion surrounding the White Sox and Machado, it figured that the price would be steep in terms of prospect capital, and that ended up being the case for the Brewers, who traded away a four-player package headlined by their No. 1 prospect to bring Yelich to Wisconsin.

Where could the Marlins have got that sort of idea?

“You’ve seen some teams extract pretty high prospect prices in the last year or so,” Hahn deadpanned, sparking plenty of applause.

The thing with Yelich, however, is his contract, which unlike Machado’s, keeps him under team control for another five seasons. That made for a much different argument when it came to the White Sox, considering their contention window is expected to open before the end of those five years, making him a long-term acquisition like Hahn talked about.

At this point, it’s all just for discussion purposes considering Yelich has a new home, but fans were interested in what it might have cost to bring Yelich to the South Side.

Hahn said Friday that the White Sox “had an understanding of what it was going to take” to acquire Yelich and added that it was “not a level we were comfortable with.”

Upon seeing what the Brewers gave up, you’d have to figure the Marlins were asking for at least one of the White Sox highest-rated guys, perhaps a Kopech or a Jimenez, though of course that’s just speculation. If that was the case, fans should be happy Hahn didn’t pull the trigger on a trade for Yelich.

The bottom line appears to be — and Hahn has even hinted at the possibility of next offseason being a much different one for the White Sox — the team doesn’t yet appear to be in the position where they’re adding big-time pieces from the outside.

One thing Hahn said repeatedly over the past two days is that the White Sox have enough major and minor league talent where they could project out a "championship-caliber" player at every position on the big league team. And that’s true, with the caveat that all those prospects need to blossom into what they’re projected to be. But until they do or don’t, there’s no knowing what holes will exist and which ones will need filling.

“We objectively have options at every position, guys who could, if they max out and hit their ceiling, provide us with championship-caliber players at every position on the field and on the pitching staff,” he said Friday. “Unfortunately, player development isn’t always linear and cruel things happen and the baseball gods likely have some hiccups in store for us along the way, so ultimately not everyone is going to hit those ceilings in all probability. Once we know more, which could be a year from now, it could be 18 months from now, about which of these players are truly going to come close to approaching their ceilings, then we’ll be able to more aggressively address what remaining holes may exist at that time.”

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Baltimore Orioles?


White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Baltimore Orioles?

As the 2018 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What’s there to know about the Baltimore Orioles?

Perhaps a better question for White Sox fans: When’s Manny Machado coming to the South Side? (Better question from me, personally, is when Chicago might acquire Maryland's greatest creation: the crab pretzel. Had in College Park last summer. It's amazing.)

Whether that ends up happening or not is a question for next offseason, but that query is one that plenty of South Side baseball fans on social media have asked for years now. Machado, mentioned in trade rumors during the Winter Meetings in December, is most likely entering his final season as an Oriole. His contract is up at season’s end, and he’s expected to land a gargantuan deal next offseason.

The funny thing is that for all the hullabaloo over the 25-year-old infielder, he’s coming off his worst statistical campaign as a big leaguer. In 2017, he slashed .259/.310/.782, all three of those percentages seeing huge dropoffs after a sensational 2016 campaign a year prior. His power numbers stayed relatively consistent, but his run and hit totals plummeted as the O’s weren’t quite as a competitive as in years past.

Now, Machado is likely still cruising for a big contract regardless of what he does in 2018. He’s moving to shortstop, which will be interesting. But he’s young enough that even another season like last year won’t make too big a difference, considering how good he’s been throughout his career.

That’s who White Sox fans will be watching whenever their gaze falls on the Baltimore baseball club. (They won’t be alone, by the way, and some contending teams might even try to add him at the trade deadline.) But the O’s are making news for other reasons, recent reasons, in fact.

The biggest name left on the free-agent market finally signed this week, and now the Orioles have a big-time addition to their starting rotation. Unlike Jake Arrieta, it appears Alex Cobb’s waiting game paid off in the form of dollars, years and a no-trade clause. How nice for him. It’s also nice for the O’s, who get to add a guy to a low-key decent starting staff.

Cobb, who had a 3.66 ERA in 29 starts last season, might not be ready to rock for the start of the regular season considering he didn’t ink a deal until a week out from Opening Day — bet he’s good at staring contests, too — but the trio of Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner (another new addition) and Kevin Gausman will be ready, and all those guys are coming off a solid-enough 2017. Bundy had a couple good stretches, posting a 3.03 ERA over his first 13 starts and then a 2.00 ERA in the month of August. Gausman had a 3.31 ERA over his final 18 starts. Cashner, another free-agent signing, had a 3.40 ERA with the Texas Rangers.

So while the likes of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and the better-than-Machado-last-year Jonathan Schoop still make the O’s an offensive threat in a hard-to-win AL East, the starting pitching might be where the magic is this time around.

2017 record: 75-87, fifth place in AL East

Offseason additions: Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Colby Rasmus, Alex Presley, Pedro Araujo, Joely Rodriguez, Nestor Cortes Jr.

Offseason departures: Welington Castillo, J.J. Hardy, Ryan Flaherty, Seth Smith, Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley

X-factor: I said it just above, and I'll say it again: Jonathan Schoop was better than Manny Machado last season. Schoop made the All-Star team and finished with 32 homers, 105 RBIs and a .293/.338/.503 slash line. His .841 OPS was one of the best 50 in the game. Should we expect Schoop to be the best middle infielder on the O's in 2018, too? Maybe that's a little extreme, but hey, good to have this guy.

Projected lineup:

1. Tim Beckham, 3B
2. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
3. Manny Machado, SS
4. Adam Jones, CF
5. Chris Davis, 1B
6. Trey Mancini, DH
7. Colby Rasmus, RF
8. Caleb Joseph, C
9. Alex Presley, LF

Projected rotation:

1. Dylan Bundy
2. Andrew Cashner
3. Kevin Gausman
4. Chris Tillman
5. Mike Wright Jr.

Prediction: Third place in AL East, no playoffs

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers

Sounds like we know how the White Sox starting rotation will line up to start the season


Sounds like we know how the White Sox starting rotation will line up to start the season

Rick Renteria's starting rotation isn't exactly official for the start of the season, but it's about as close as it can be.

Maybe "unofficially official" is the best way to go?

The South Side skipper agreed with the assessment of reporters Wednesday in Arizona, saying that an order of James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer "sounds right."

Shields was already announced as the White Sox starter for the season opener next Thursday in Kansas City. That wasn't much of a surprise considering Shields' veteran status in this rotation.

Giolito, who made seven starts at the end of last season and looked mighty good doing it, might be the best starting pitcher on the team going into the season. He posted a 2.38 ERA in those games, with many fans hoping he would have been the one to take on the Royals in the opener. It sounds like he'll likely pitch two days later in Game 2 against the Crowns.

Lopez made eight starts at the end of last season, turning in a 4.72 ERA in those starts. He's another former highly touted prospect who will get a full season to continue his development at the major league level.

Gonzalez was brought back this winter after being traded away from the South Side last summer to bring another veteran mentor type to help along these young pitchers. He had a 4.31 ERA before the trade to the Texas Rangers after a 3.73 ERA in a full season with the White Sox in 2016.

Fulmer is another young arm who will be looking to earn a spot in the crowded rotation of the future this season. He's had a rough spring — though turned in his best start of the spring earlier this week — but he'll be given every opportunity to prove he can succeed as a big league starting pitcher after showing some promise at the end of last season.

Those first three guys will face off against the Royals on the season's opening weekend. Gonzalez and Fulmer are expected to make their first starts of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays in Canada.