White Sox

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

PHOENIX — Carlos Rodon was pretty excited to face hitters at a major league venue on Monday afternoon, another step in his return from the disabled list.

Just when the White Sox left-hander will return is still to be determined. But it’s another telling sign of progress that Rodon threw 60 pitches and got up and down four times against White Sox minor leaguers at Chase Field on Monday. The exercise was the fourth simulated game that Rodon — on the 60-day disabled list with bursitis in his left shoulder — has participated in since he returned to the mound earlier this month. He said he currently views himself on an every-fifth-day schedule. Jake Petricka, who like Rodon was ecstatic to be back around White Sox teammates, also threw in the sim game as did Nate Jones.

“I’ve been itching for two months,” Rodon said. “Like I said, frustrating. Hopefully soon they’ll lift the leash off and let me pitch in a game and get back up here for my boys.

“Jake and I, we just play it by ear, listen to what they got for us and we do it.”

“We’re getting closer.”

While nobody is putting a timeline on when Rodon would return, he’s clearly advancing to a promising phase. General manager Rick Hahn watched Rodon’s outing and called it positive. Hahn said it’s encouraging that Rodon has begun to think of himself on a five-day schedule and the next step includes building up arm strength and endurance.

“He’s been out there now three or four times throwing to hitters,” Hahn said. “Each time has been a little more crisp from what I understand from the previous ones to today. Hopefully here in the coming weeks we are able to announce he’s starting a rehab assignment and we’ll have a better sense of his time frame at that point.”

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The entire ordeal has been somewhat of a frustrating odyssey for Rodon. He initially believed he would be ready to return to the White Sox at the start of the month.

“Now it’s May 22nd and we’re still here,” he said. “It’s taken a lot longer than I imagined. It’s hard to be patient when your team is out here battling. I’m sitting on the backfield throwing and fielding PFP’s and waiting back here. It’s been frustrating.

“That’s all I can say, frustration.”

Rodon said he threw at 100 percent in the game. He described his command as pretty close to normal and said his stuff has begun to return.

The process has taken longer than all parties expected because it’s based on feel and “throwing with discomfort is never a good thing,” Rodon said. However, that time appears to be in the past as Rodon feels like he’s made good progress and is itching to get back on the mound.

Rodon would love to ignore his body and try to pitch through this. But after experiencing discomfort, Rodon appreciates the methodical approach.

“The competitor in me tells me to go out there, screw it, I can pitch,” Rodon said. “I’ll do it. I don’t care. But then you have to step back and know this is your career. It’s something that could affect you over a long period of time, I have to be healthy. I can’t be on the DL every other month. You know? That’s not going to work. You have to be a reliable starter, a guy who goes seven innings. We’re looking into the future. Not just this year but into the future. Obviously, hopefully I’m a part of that. Have to be healthy to help out so. It’s hard to take the reins back on myself. As you get older you know your body better, what feels right and what feels wrong. I’m understanding that in the whole process. They’re helping me pull the reins back.”

Why should White Sox fans care about the World Series? Free-agent stars are a good start

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USA TODAY

Why should White Sox fans care about the World Series? Free-agent stars are a good start

The Washington Nationals swept away the St. Louis Cardinals, the Houston Astros walked off the New York Yankees, and we’ve got ourselves a World Series.

The final chapter to what’s been an immensely entertaining postseason should be mandatory watching for baseball fans across the country. But if even a titanic Game 1 showdown between Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer isn’t enough to hook South Side fans irked their team is sitting at home for an 11th consecutive October, there are plenty of reasons to tune in to the Fall Classic — and that’s not even counting the fact that football season appears to be over.

The next South Side superstar?

The guys who will potentially be the three biggest names on this winter’s free-agent market are playing in this World Series: Astros ace Gerrit Cole, Nationals MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and Nationals hurler Stephen Strasburg. Cole and Rendon will be the top pitcher and position player available, respectively, while Strasburg can slide right behind Cole on the pitcher rankings if he chooses to opt out of the remainder of his current contract.

The prospects of any one of that trio landing on the South Side ought to have White Sox fans drooling, especially after Rick Hahn’s front office lost out on Manny Machado last winter. But Hahn has vowed to be aggressive once more in trying to bring in an impact talent to be the cherry on top of his rebuilding effort. That 11-season playoff drought isn’t irritating to just fans, and the team is setting up for an offseason that could bring the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode as soon as 2020.

Hahn has already outlined his offseason to-do list, and the White Sox will have a new right fielder, a new designated hitter and likely a couple new starting pitchers by the time next Opening Day rolls around. Considering the rash of injuries and under-performances that affected the team’s mid-tier prospects in 2019, it looks like the free-agent market is a more realistic way to address those issues (at least when it comes to acquiring big-name pieces) than the trade market. So all eyes are understandably on the top of that market after the White Sox chased the two biggest names there last winter in Machado and Bryce Harper.

Cole has been downright outrageous all year, especially since his loss to the White Sox, coincidentally, on May 22. He hasn’t lost since, with a pencil-thin 1.59 ERA in that span. He finished the season with an AL-best 2.50 ERA and a baseball-leading 326 strikeouts. In three postseason starts, Cole has a 0.40 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 22.2 innings.

Basically, he’s been the best pitcher in baseball in 2019, so he would obviously look good at the top of 30 starting rotations across the game. The White Sox could pair him with Lucas Giolito at the front of their starting staff and produce a seriously fearsome 1-2 punch. Of course, Cole is expected to receive the richest pitching contract in baseball history, and whether the White Sox would be willing to hand out such a contract or not has been the topic of much social-media debate.

The White Sox certainly have the financial flexibility to do it, but until they do sign a player to such a deal, as Hahn will readily admit, the notion that they can’t will stick. Even if the White Sox plan to be in the race for Cole, though, they figure to face plenty of competition, and a couple of Cole’s teammates have already predicted that the Southern California native — who grew up minutes from Angel Stadium — will end up pitching in the Golden State.

None of that eliminates the White Sox at this stage, obviously, and if they’re looking to make the absolute biggest splash they can this winter, then Cole would be the guy. And he’ll pitch, probably multiple times, during the World Series.

Just below Cole on the list of top-of-the-rotation pitchers available could be Strasburg, and the “could” is hardly a reflection of his quality. The 31-year-old righty has been just about as filthy during the playoffs, with a 1.64 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 22 innings over four appearances, three of which were starts. Those numbers go along nicely with the 3.32 ERA and career-high 251 strikeouts he posted in an NL-best 209 innings during the regular season.

The “could” comes from whether or not Strasburg will even be available to sign, as he has an opt-out clause he can exercise if he wants, though he’d leave a guaranteed four years and $100 million in search of an even better payday. But while he’s had plenty of health issues throughout his now decade-old major league career, it seems like outdoing those numbers wouldn’t be a problem, especially if he turns in continued spectacular performances in the World Series.

Strasburg would fill much the same need that Cole would if we’re talking hypothetical White Sox additions. Cole is two years younger and performed objectively better this season, making him more attractive. But he’ll also be more expensive. Strasburg obviously wouldn’t be cheap, either, but adding a top-of-the-rotation pitcher who can help vault your rebuilding team into contention mode never is. Ask the Cubs about Jon Lester. Ask the Astros about Justin Verlander. Ask the Boston Red Sox about Chris Sale.

Given the White Sox history — a history of trends Hahn is trying to veer away from, or at the very least not remain beholden to — perhaps a pricey contract for a hitter is more likely than one for a pitcher. Hahn has already indicated that starting pitching will be tops on the to-do list, but considering there are offensive holes to fill, too, Rendon bears watching.

He’ll be the biggest name among free-agent bats, and that status is well deserved after several seasons of somehow quiet MVP-caliber production. In 2019, he had a career year with a .319/.412/.598 slash line (a 1.010 OPS, goodness) to go along with 34 home runs, a major league leading 126 RBIs and an NL-leading 44 doubles. That’s a middle-of-the-lineup stick, for sure, one that would look good alongside Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and in all likelihood, Jose Abreu.

Rendon’s postseason numbers have been similarly gaudy: a .375/.465/.594 line with a homer, four doubles, seven RBIs, eight walks and eight runs scored. The bat screams “sign him up,” and his glove is pretty great, too. Just one problem: The White Sox already have a third baseman, and a darn good one, in Moncada, who turned in his own career year at the plate and showed why he was ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball not long ago. So does that prevent them from even pursuing Rendon this winter?

Maybe. Maybe not. The White Sox chased Machado last year despite having shortstop spoken for in the long term, so we know they’re not shy about it. But this time around, they have more specific needs to fill. Their resources, while potentially ample, need to be deployed to get a right fielder, a couple starting pitchers and a DH. Would they divert a bunch of those same resources to get another third baseman?

That all remains to be seen. But you can see these three superstars take center stage during the World Series before they take center stage in the White Sox expected free-agent activity.

White Sox trying to follow the Astros’ plan

The Astros are baseball’s model franchise right now. In the World Series for the second time in three seasons, they have perfected the now-popular trend of undergoing a total rebuild, gutting through seasons as dire as 100 losses in the name of player development, building a core stocked with MVP candidates and bringing in players from outside to bolster their chances of staying on top.

This is the exact model the White Sox are trying to follow, and the Astros’ continued place at the top of baseball’s mountain should convince even the most skeptical fans that it’s a blueprint worth following.

The Astros’ success has been driven by patience while a young core developed, and that young core is still the driving force of a team that went outside to add its three best pitchers and an All-Star outfielder. More on that later. But how fitting that the guy who’s been around the longest, Jose Altuve, was the one who blasted the Astros into the World Series with Saturday night’s walk-off homer. Altuve grabbed an MVP back in 2017, the year the Astros won the World Series, but he could soon have company if voters picked Alex Bregman over Mike Trout this season. Regardless, Altuve and Bregman are two of at least four young Astros stars that can win the MVP on an annual basis, with Carlos Correa and George Springer falling into that same category. Yordan Alvarez might join the group, too, as he’s the logical favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year vote.

Sound familiar to what the White Sox are trying to pull off with Moncada, Anderson, Jimenez, Robert, Abreu and Nick Madrigal? Drawing such a comparison a year ago — when Anderson was a .240 hitter, Moncada struck out 217 times, Jimenez hadn’t played a major league game and Robert went an injury-shortened minor league season without hitting a home run — might have sounded like lunacy. But in the year since, Anderson won a batting title, Moncada turned into the team’s best all-around hitter, Jimenez blasted 31 homers as a rookie, Robert was the best player in the minor leagues, Madrigal had his own sensational minor league season and Abreu kept on being Abreu, with some of the best production in his six years as a big leaguer. It all adds up to a core that should have White Sox fans really excited.

Then there are the outside additions of consequence, which the Astros have made to perfection, bringing in Verlander and Zack Greinke in midseason trades, dealing for Cole two winters ago and signing Michael Brantley as a free agent last offseason. The Astros don’t win the 2017 World Series without Verlander, and the same will be true of Cole and Brantley if they’re champions again this time around.

Certainly the White Sox would like to make similar moves, hence their aggressive approach last offseason when Machado and Harper were on the market and their stated aggressive approach this winter with so many names out there that could get the team over the rebuilding hump. Signing a Cole, a Rendon, a Strasburg, a Madison Bumgarner, a J.D. Martinez, et cetera, et cetera, would be a very Astros-like move.

The Astros aren’t the only team that has done this kind of thing. But the Cubs, who succeeded with a similar strategy, fired their manager after playing all of one playoff game in the last two seasons. The Red Sox, who despite their frequent spending did something not too dissimilar in assembling their championship core, missed the playoffs the year after winning it all. So following the Astros’ plan is about more than just winning the World Series one time. It’s about that sustained success and that perennial contention that Hahn is always talking about.

Who won the trades?

Teams generally don’t care about winning trades. They care about winning championships.

But if the Nationals win the World Series this year, that will make back-to-back championships for the teams the White Sox traded with to kickstart their rebuild. Sale and the Red Sox won it all last year. Now it could be Adam Eaton’s turn with the Nationals.

Certainly, no one is going to claim that Eaton has the same level of importance to these Nationals as Sale did to last year’s Red Sox. Sale was that team’s ace and closed out the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. But Eaton is an everyday player and the two will remain connected as the guys Hahn traded away to stock his farm system with top-rated prospects.

But if winning titles is the ultimate desired outcome of any big deal, then consider the Red Sox winners for what Sale did for them in 2018. If the Nationals win the whole thing this month, they’ll be in the same category.

Meanwhile, though, the White Sox are seeing some pretty big upsides from dealing away those two players. After terribly disappointing seasons of growing pains for Giolito and Moncada in 2018, they emerged as arguably the two best players on the team in 2019. Michael Kopech will return to the team in 2020 after his Tommy John surgery. The same goes for Dane Dunning. And while Reynaldo Lopez’s ups and downs provided a bunch of frustration this season, the White Sox aren’t counting him out of their long-term plans yet.

All those guys came over in those two trades. And so while the two teams who the White Sox made those trades with after the 2016 season could end up world champs within three years, the White Sox still have to be thrilled with their ends of those deals.

One more former South Sider

White Sox fans with any interest in rooting for their team’s former players will be forced to cheer for the Nationals, with no ex-South Siders playing for the Astros. And if you’re not about to jump into all that 2016 drama involving Eaton — or also can’t remember the Javy Guerra Era — you’ve got one option left: Daniel Hudson.

The White Sox dealt away Hudson when he was a youngster not long up from the minor leagues back in 2010. Hudson was shipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Edwin Jackson, had a couple Tommy John surgeries and has kicked around the big leagues ever since, getting traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the relief-desperate Nationals earlier this season.

Well, he’s been a remarkable find for the Nationals, who have turned him into their World Series closer. Hudson’s gotten some huge outs during this postseason run, locking down the ninth inning of the NL wild card game, making three scoreless appearances against the Dodgers in the NLDS and picking up saves in Games 2 and 4 during the Nationals’ NLCS sweep of the Cardinals. He hasn’t allowed a run yet and has 11 strikeouts in his 11 innings.

So celebrate Hudson, White Sox fans, if for nothing more than his cool late-career renaissance. Also, he’s a free agent after the season’s over. Just saying.

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MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

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USA TODAY

MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

If Major League Baseball gets its way, there could be seismic changes coming to the minor leagues.

According to a report from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, the league has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the minor leagues, including the elimination of 42 affiliated teams.

The proposal is merely the beginning of what are expected to be lengthy negotiations over a new version of what’s called the “Professional Baseball Agreement,” basically the contract that keeps the major and minor leagues connected and minor league teams stocked with players employed by major league clubs. The existing edition expires at the end of the 2020 season, and so a new one will need to be hashed out.

Major League Baseball is looking for control over how the minor leagues are organized, with an eye on improving facilities and clustering affiliates and leagues from a geographic standpoint to cut down on travel costs. There’s also expected to be an increase in salaries for minor league players, which has long been a talking point thanks to the increasing number of descriptions of how financially difficult life can be for those trying to reach the majors.

To accomplish those goals, Major League Baseball is proposing drastic solutions.

The one that will grab the most attention is the elimination of more than a quarter of the existing affiliated teams in the minor leagues, removing affiliated minor league teams from more than three dozen cities across the United States and getting rid of more than 1,000 jobs for minor league players. Simply, the entire short-season rookie ball (excluding squads that play at team-owned facilities in Arizona and Florida) would be eliminated, leaving only four levels of affiliated teams: Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

If you’re wondering what would happen to those 42 teams, the proposal is for them to form something called a “Dream League,” which would essentially serve the same purpose as an independent league, allowing players without jobs to keep playing and try to get a job with a major league team.

Additionally, Major League Baseball is proposing radical restructuring of existing leagues in order to cluster teams closer together. That could include changing the level of certain teams, such as making a Class A team a Triple-A team based on the quality of facilities and what makes the most geographic sense. Leagues could also gain or lose a large number of teams, with the Triple-A International League growing to 20 teams and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shrinking to just 10 teams. One Class A league was described as being reduced to just six teams, while the rest of its current teams would be put into a brand-new league.

As for how the White Sox and their affiliates would be affected, team-specific information was not included in the report. One read of the details of this proposal could see something such as the White Sox affiliates being relocated to Midwestern cities. Another, however, could see the White Sox affiliates mostly staying how they currently are, given those teams are all geographically close to one another, with all but one located in North Carolina.

Buried in all of this is another big change, a proposed move of the draft from June to August, giving players a couple more months to show off for major league teams, and a reduction in the number of rounds from the current 40 to somewhere between 20 and 25. That, and the elimination of short-season rookie ball, would likely prevent draftees from playing minor league baseball in the same year they’re drafted.

It’s all something to keep an eye on, for sure, as many fans across the country who closely follow minor league teams in their hometowns could experience a dramatic shakeup.

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