White Sox

Three ways the White Sox could make a splash at this week's Winter Meetings

Three ways the White Sox could make a splash at this week's Winter Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Expecting the rebuilding White Sox to be quiet at this week's Winter Meetings?

You might want to rethink that.

The biggest week of the baseball offseason has historically been a time where any transaction can happen, whether expected or surprising. Last year, the White Sox pulled off a couple of huge December trades that helped jumpstart the rebuild and reshape the future of the franchise. Chris Sale went to Boston in return for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and others. Adam Eaton went to Washington in exchange for a package that featured Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, two guys already in the White Sox starting rotation.

So what will this year bring? There are some big possibilities. Of course, these are all just potential happenings for this week in Florida. Surely there will be other conversation topics, as well, with Rick Hahn likely to be asked about the continued progression of a bunch of the White Sox core pieces. But if there is a splash to be made, these ones make the most sense.

1. White Sox trade Jose Abreu

Really, the biggest question of the White Sox offseason is what happens with Abreu. There might have been an indication of an answer last week, when The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that the team is unlikely to trade Abreu this winter, but then came another report over the weekend that teams like the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are interested in acquiring Abreu. So perhaps there's still a possibility Abreu gets moved at the Winter Meetings.

The arguments for dealing Abreu away seem to be just as good as the ones for keeping him. It kind of means that there's no wrong answer for Hahn.

Abreu has been a model of consistency in his four seasons as a big leaguer and has produced at a great level. Last season, he became just the third player ever to hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs in each of his first four major league seasons, joining Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols. Good company. He finished 2017 with a .304/.354/.552 slash line, 33 homers, 102 RBIs and a career-high 189 hits and 43 doubles. He struck out a career-low 119 times. So in other words, he's really good.

It's because of that and his contract situation that Abreu seems to be an attractive trade candidate and could land the type of package that Hahn acquired in those trades involving Sale and Eaton last winter. Abreu will turn 31 next month, but he's got just two years of team control left, meaning there's no long-term contract that teams would be acquiring along with a player currently in his prime but one who will be in his mid 30s when the 2020 season begins. It makes a ton of sense for a contender, sticking a bat like Abreu's in the middle of the batting order and not having to worry about an investment going south beyond 2019. Of course, it could also cost an awful lot in prospects, which could scare teams away from a deal.

But there are plenty of reasons for the White Sox to keep Abreu around, too. The aforementioned offensive production is valuable to a team that hopes to be contending soon. And off the field, Abreu earns rave reviews as a team leader and a mentor to some of the organization's young stars of the future, including fellow Cubans Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert. But if the White Sox opt to keep Abreu, they'll have to make a decision on whether to extend his contract or not. Common thinking is that the White Sox will be ready to compete come 2020, when many of their top prospects will be ready for the major leagues. With Abreu set to become a free agent after the 2019 season, keeping him for the long haul will mean another decision for the White Sox.

And so for this week, perhaps a decision on Abreu will come. Rosenthal’s report suggested that teams like the Red Sox were perhaps turned off by the White Sox asking price. There are also several intriguing free-agent options for teams looking for a big bat at first base. But Abreu might also interest teams that missed out on the offseason’s top two targets, Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton, potentially rekindling the possibility of an Abreu deal.

Also, should the White Sox keep Abreu this winter, it does not precludes them from dealing him at the 2018 trade deadline, next offseason or at the trade deadline in 2019 — and all the above arguments for and against dealing him will still apply at those times, too.

Hahn has shown he’s not afraid to deal away his team’s best player for the right return package. Abreu’s situation gives his general manager another advantage, too: options. So it will be interesting to see what Hahn has to say down in Florida.

2. White Sox trade Avisail Garcia

Much like Abreu, Garcia, the team's other best offensive player in 2017, has been speculated about as a potential trade candidate. Garcia is significantly younger than Abreu — he'll turn 27 next summer — and it's taken him a while to reach big league success: He made his major league debut way back in 2012.

But Garcia finally had a big season last year, slashing .330/.380/.506 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs. He made his first career All-Star appearance. He was second in the American League in batting average and sixth in on-base percentage. It's that breakthrough that has placed his name into trade speculation for the rebuilding White Sox, the idea being that the team could sell high and acquire minor league talent that would extend their contention window even further into the future.

Like Abreu, Garcia is under team control for two more seasons. Like Abreu, he had a great 2017 season. Unlike Abreu, he's still a young player. Unlike Abreu, he doesn't have a track record of consistency. All that thrown together could mean that a return package for Garcia wouldn't be as impactful as one for Abreu, and that could impact the likelihood of a deal.

But like the decision the White Sox need to make with Abreu, there's a decision that needs to be made with Garcia: Is he a part of the team's long-term future or not? If he is, then holding onto him — and extending his contract into that period of projected contention — makes a lot of sense. If not, the White Sox would certainly like to get something for a guy they don't envision having past 2019. And that's where a trade would come in. Does that mean this week? It remains to be seen.

3. White Sox make some more surprise signings

Hahn surprised at the beginning of the month by signing Welington Castillo to a two-year deal with a club option for a third. It's not that Castillo is an earth-shattering free-agent acquisition, but it's an interesting one considering where the White Sox are in their rebuild.

Castillo is a veteran backstop coming off a career year offensively and defensively. And while there's little doubt Castillo is an upgrade over the quietly productive catching tandem of Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith, the move still came as a bit of a shock considering it looks like more of a win-now type addition.

Castillo has plenty of value to the White Sox over the next few seasons as a veteran who can help bring along a young-and-getting-younger starting staff, a productive hitter at the catching position, a bridge to the supposed catcher of the future, Zack Collins, and a potential trade chip to add another piece down the road. But Castillo, who just completed his age-30 season, could certainly be of value when the White Sox contention window opens, too, even as the potential starting catcher.

So, signing Castillo brings up the question of when that window opens. Moncada, Giolito and Lopez are already on the big league roster, and guys like Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning might not be too far behind. If the White Sox see the rapid progression of its stockpile of minor league talent and thinks that maybe this rebuild will reach its apex sooner than expected, could more signings like Castillo's be in the future? The near future? This week?

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.