White Sox

Buckle up: Marmol unsure what will happen next, but hopes it's with Cubs

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Buckle up: Marmol unsure what will happen next, but hopes it's with Cubs

NEW YORK At the end of the night, its just Carlos Marmol alone on the mound.

The 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field can boo, but it wont make a difference. The coaching staff can come up with the game plan, but its on the Cubs closer to execute. At that point, Dale Sveum feels like his job is over the manager can only watch.

Would you sign up for this white-knuckle ride?

The Cubs will almost certainly be asking some version of this question through the end of July. If you are a general manager, trading for Marmol would mean pacing around the luxury suite during all those high-stress innings.

Theo Epsteins front office inherited Marmol, whos still owed 13.3 million through the end of this season and next. With that violent delivery, Marmol doesnt make it look easy. But he earned that big contract by developing into an All-Star setup guy and a dominant closer for a time, converting 49 of 54 save chances from the end of 2009 through 2010.

I dont know what they think about me, Marmol said. I dont think about trades. I dont want to leave Chicago, though. I want to be on (this) team.

Marmol who as a teenager in the Dominican Republic signed with the Cubs 13 years ago this week has spent almost half his life in the organization.

I dont want to go nowhere else, Marmol said. I just want to stay here. Chicagos like home for me.

For now, the Cubs are working with what they have, and breathing a sigh of relief on nights like Friday, when Marmol nearly blew a four-run lead against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Marmol gave up three runs on three walks and two hits before jamming Lucas Duda and getting a double play on a line drive back to the mound.

After barely hanging on for an 8-7 victory, Sveums message to Marmol on Saturday went like this: Dont read too much into it.

It wasnt like you were all over the place, Sveum said. You were just missing some sliders. Things didnt work out, but the bottom line is you got the out when you had to. You still came back and you made the pitches.

I told him on paper it didnt look too good, (but) weve seen the other ones (that were) much worse. The bottom line was we won the game, and thats all that counts.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but the Cubs have been encouraged by Marmols progress since losing the closers job in early May and getting it back, in part, because they didnt really have any other options.

Prior to Friday nights near meltdown, Marmol had allowed only one run in his last 10 appearances, converting six straight save opportunities, and picking up his 100th career save.

I feel confident and comfortable, Marmol said. I feel great on the mound. This is a good point. Well see. You never know when its going to happen. I hope that I can keep going, still doing the same thing.

Part of it has been buying into a coaching staff that leans heavily on video and statistical analysis and has very clear ideas about what should happen each at-bat. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told MLB.com that Marmol owes a case of wine if he shakes off the catcher.

The slider made Marmol a fortune, but there was the growing sense that he had to evolve beyond that one pitch, a point most famously made during Carlos Zambranos We stinks! rant last season.

Hes got to establish his fastball and get more swings and misses and get back in counts with (it), Sveum said. Hes starting to understand that: Wow, this is something that works. (Its) not shaking off. (Its going with) whatever the catcher puts down.

(It) takes the thought process out of everything. He can visualize the pitch beforehand, instead of shaking off and going right to another pitch. I think hes slowed things down out there.

Is that enough to entice a team that needs bullpen help? Would you trust a reliever with 28 walks in 25.2 innings in a high-leverage situation? Maybe this is an intriguing project (even for the Cubs): Someone whos 29 and notched 138 strikeouts in 77.2 innings only two years ago.

Hes matured a lot, Sveum said. (He understands) those games are going to happen. And being a closer you cant (revert) back to pitching away from contact.

The bottom line is just get that final out. Sometimes (thats not) gonna happen, but it doesnt mean that youre going to lose your job or anything like that as long as youre throwing strikes and youre around the strike zone.

It can be all anxiety in the ninth inning, but there is something endearing about Marmol, whether its his deep voice, quick smile andor love of swear words. On Saturday he turned a corner in the clubhouse and nearly bumped into Anthony Rizzo, the hyped rookie, and barked: You again?

The other day in Atlanta, Marmol entertained himself (and Matt Garza) by swinging a putter like a driver it looked like he had never golfed before and didnt know there was a difference between the two clubs and hitting ice chips into lockers (and at teammates). Marmol then pumped his fist in celebration and said it was his Tiger Woods impersonation.

Slowly, Marmol is trying to get his swagger back. He believes he can perform at a high level again. Buckle up.

I got confidence in myself, Marmol said. Everybody lost confidence in my pitching, but at that point I still believed in myself. I still think I can do that. I feel I can close some games out there.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.

Adam Schefter: Bears plan on Khalil Mack playing vs. Patriots

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USA TODAY

Adam Schefter: Bears plan on Khalil Mack playing vs. Patriots

Khalil Mack has yet to miss a game in his NFL career. He doesn’t plan on breaking that streak on Sunday.

ESPN insider Adam Schefter told the “Kirk and Callahan show” on WEEI in Boston that the Bears expect their star pass rusher to play this week against the New England Patriots.

Mack missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with the ankle injury he suffered last week against the Miami Dolphins.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio indicated this week that the outside linebacker could potentially play even if he doesn’t practice due to the injury.

Assuming Mack does take the field on Sunday, he won’t be 100 percent, and it’s unclear how much of an impact he’ll be able to have.

Last week was his least productive game of the season, and he earned a career-low grade from Pro Football Focus, with two missed tackles and only one pressure generated on 33 pass-rushing snaps.

The Bears are going to need more from Mack to slow down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense that’s averaging nearly 40 points per game over the last three weeks.