White Sox

Alexei Ramirez 'starting to click' at right time for White Sox

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Alexei Ramirez 'starting to click' at right time for White Sox

CLEVELAND -- Alexei Ramirez has played his best baseball of the season and it couldn’t come at a better time for White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.

With a week left before the trade deadline, Ramirez continued to shine in every facet on Friday night in a 6-0 White Sox victory over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Ramirez had three hits, stole two bases and made a trio of nice defensive plays and Jose Abreu homered for the first time since July 3 in support of Jose Quintana, who earned his first victory since July 1. Quintana struck out eight in the first complete game and shutout of his career.  

“(Ramirez) was doing everything tonight,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Right now, it’s probably that time where he’s starting to click, offensively and defensively.”

Since July 1, Ramirez has a .333/.363/.483 slash line with five extra-base hits and eight RBIs in 66 plate appearances. It’s an eye-opening stretch compared with the rest of his 2015 season as Ramirez hit .212/.235/.281 with two homers and 26 RBIs in his first 293 plate appearances.

Not only that, but Ramirez ranked near the bottom of the league in qualified shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved. But as of Friday, Ramirez has improved to 18th of 26 shortstops with minus-4 runs saved, according to fangraphs.com.

[MORE: White Sox react to Larry King's trade prediction]

While Ramirez is under contract through this season, he’s only owed $1 million for 2016 unless his $10 million team option is picked up. His recent play -- for which he credits the White Sox coaching staff -- could make Ramirez an attractive option for a contender in need of a veteran shortstop before next week’s non-waiver trade deadline. Pittsburgh, which acquired Aramis Ramirez from Milwaukee on Thursday, also could use a shortstop with Jordy Mercer out with an injury.

“I really appreciate all of the coaches having my back and supporting me,” Ramirez said through an interpreter. “I feel it’s been working out good with all of the support they’ve given me. We had a talk and a meeting in a friendly way, and they said we’re going to continue to play hard, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Ramirez made his presence felt several times throughout Friday’s win over reigning American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. But none was bigger than a two-run double off first base in the eighth inning against Bryan Shaw to give the White Sox a six-run lead.

Ramirez scored the team’s first run in the third inning when he singled, stole second base, advanced on a grounder and scored on a Kluber wild pitch. He also singled and stole second base in the seventh inning.

The three-hit performance comes on the heels of a monstrous three-run homer by Ramirez in Thursday’s game, which Ventura said was the best ball the 2014 Silver Slugger had hit all season.

But Ramirez’s rebound hasn’t been limited to his bat, as he has seemingly made one diving stop after another for most of the month.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

A Gold Glove finalist last season, Ramirez has looked like one again in July. In the second inning, Ramirez knocked down a screamer headed for the outfield, retrieved the ball and flipped it between his legs to Carlos Sanchez at second for the force. An inning later, Ramirez made a nice play in the hole and threw behind Jason Kipnis, who overran second base for an out. Ramirez also took a hit away from Giovanny Urshela in the eighth inning.

Those plays helped Quintana to his first career shutout and complete game. Quintana gave up five hits through the first three innings but then settled in as he retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced. Quintana struck out eight batters and walked none in a 120-pitch effort.

“Alexei plays good every time,” Quintana said. “Tonight, he got us a couple double plays. Good.”

Ramirez has been his most productive since that meeting, which took place in Detroit late last month. While he always has been a streaky player, Ramirez took a little longer this time. But Ventura has confidence Ramirez -- who entered Friday worth minus-0.7 F-Wins Above Replacement -- is on the rebound.

“Every year, you look at him and he goes through ruts,” Ventura said. “This one was a little bit extended. But at the end of the year, you look up and he’s right at the top of everybody at shortstop. 

“You are going to look up and he’ll be right around .270 and even though it started out slow, he just always seems to beable to get to that point by the time the season is over. You half expect a hot streak.”

White Sox free-agent focus: Marwin Gonzalez

White Sox free-agent focus: Marwin Gonzalez

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

The best way to plan for a future full of unknowns is to cover all your bases — and all the spots in your outfield, too.

Marwin Gonzalez is going to be a very popular man on the free-agent market this offseason because he is one of the most demonstrably versatile players in the game. He’s been a do-it-all savior for the Houston Astros in recent seasons, part of their rise from baseball’s cellar to a world championship in 2017 and their current status as one of the best teams out there.

During the 2018 season alone, Gonzalez appeared at every position except pitcher and catcher, playing 73 games in left field, 39 at shortstop, 32 at second base, 24 at first base, three at third base, two in center field, one at designated hitter and one in right field. That versatility is practically unmatched throughout the game, and it’s likely to get the soon-to-be-30-year-old Gonzalez a nice contract this winter.

For a rebuilding team like the White Sox, he’d be a perfect fit, chiefly because there’s still so much to play out in this rebuilding process and it’s difficult to figure out where the future holes will be. In Gonzalez, the White Sox could add someone now who could fill any number of those potential weak spots, be they caused by failed development or injuries down the road.

But what about his offense? If there is a reason to stay away from Gonzalez, it’s the significant dropoff in his offensive numbers last season. In 2017, the season he helped the Astros win their first-ever World Series title, he slashed .303/.377/.530 with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs, finishing in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. In 2018, he slashed .247/.324/.409 with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs — and that’s with more playing time, his games played jumping from 134 to 145 and his plate appearances jumping from 515 to 552.

Is that enough to scare teams away? That remains to be seen.

Would Gonzalez be a good fit for the White Sox? It sure seems that way, though there are perhaps 29 other teams that could say the same thing.

Jose Abreu is an All-Star starter and Silver Slugger, but will he be with the White Sox past 2019?

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu is an All-Star starter and Silver Slugger, but will he be with the White Sox past 2019?

It was Jose Abreu's worst season in the major leagues. And he still started the All-Star Game and won a Silver Slugger.

The White Sox have a decision to make at some point, though not necessarily this offseason, on what to do with Abreu in the long term. His on-field production isn't a question. His role as an off-field mentor isn't a question. But when Opening Day 2020 rolls around, he'll be 33 years old. Does that "align" — to borrow a word used very often by Rick Hahn at last week's GM Meetings — with the White Sox long-term plans?

Abreu's entering the final season of his current contract coming off a year defined as much by freak injuries and a prolonged slump as by the accolades he received in spite of those things. For the first time as a big leaguer, he finished a season without hitting at least 25 homers and racking up at least 100 RBIs. Only playing in 128 games, he posted career lows in most stat categories, with his 36 doubles, the second most in his career, a notable exception. His .473 slugging percentage was only the second lowest of his five-year major league career.

But if the awards were any indication — though it should be added there was a dearth of productive first basemen in the American League last season — he still has the ability to be one of the game's best at his position. His 162-game average over the course of the past five seasons: a .295/.353/.516 slash line with 32 home runs and 107 RBIs. Three times in five seasons, Abreu has received MVP votes, finishing as high as fourth during his Rookie of the Year season in 2014.

And on top of all those numbers, Abreu has earned consistent praise for his role off the field. He's been an omnipresent mentor to Yoan Moncada, who's not even two years removed from being the No. 1 prospect in baseball, with the two Cubans' lockers right next to each other in the White Sox clubhouse. And Abreu is touted as an example to all the team's young players, who can look to him as a model for how to go about one's business and prepare on a daily basis.

So the value is obvious. But in order to make a decision on Abreu, the White Sox have to figure out when their planned contention window is going to open. Significant injuries to a host of their highly touted prospects — most notably the elbow injury that forced Michael Kopech into Tommy John surgery — has muddied the waters when it comes to predicting when this wave of minor league talent will was ashore on the South Side.

If that year is soon, if it's still 2020, then having a 33-year-old Abreu in the middle of the order doesn't seem like a bad thing at all. But in order to make that happen, the White Sox will need to give him a contract extension at some point before this time next year, or they'll have to give him a new contract if he were to reach the free-agent market. If the year when the contention window opens is much past 2020, how old is too old to help the White Sox make a championship run? When does the dropoff in production that comes with most aging players arrive?

The White Sox talk highly of Abreu, giving no indication they plan to move on from the guy they spent lavishly on after the 2013 season. And for his part, Abreu continues to talk glowingly about the White Sox and remains committed to saying that he hopes to be in Chicago for the foreseeable future.

"Everybody knows that 2019 is going to be the last season of my current contract, but I try not to think about that because I am part of the White Sox and I believe that I’m going to be part of this organization for a very long time," he said through a translator during a Tuesday conference call with reporters. "That’s something that’s out of my hands right now because I have one season left on this current contract.

"But in case the next season is my last one, I’d like to thank all the White Sox organization and all the people who have been around me during my time on this team, especially the owner, Jerry (Reinsdorf). He has been an outstanding person to me. He’s one of the greatest people that I’ve met in this country.

"But I try not to think about that because I truly believe that I’m going to be part of this organization for a very long time. But we’ll see. I know that this is a business, and that’s the way you have to approach it."

That answer to a reporter's question covered all the bases, a masterclass in the public-relations friendly response. But Abreu does always come off as someone who wants to stick with this team. He knows what's going on in the minor league system and he knows how bright the White Sox future is.

And the White Sox know what Abreu can do. Their reported desire to trade Avisail Garcia might be an indication they're ready to move on from their older players, but Garcia and Abreu are vastly different cases, with Abreu far more productive on the field and more commonly discussed as an asset to the young players off it.

During the 2017 season, the decision on Abreu seemed an easy one for the White Sox: Keep this extraordinarily productive player and team leader around as long as you can. But injuries might have made that decision more difficult — and not the freak ones Abreu suffered during the season, but the ones suffered by prospects that might have changed the timeline of this whole thing, and therefore the "alignment" of Abreu and this team's bright future.