White Sox

A clubhouse cancer with Giants? Pierzynski clears the air

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A clubhouse cancer with Giants? Pierzynski clears the air

The next time you see A.J. Pierzynski in a White Sox uniform, feel free to take a moment to thank the one man who helped bring the contentious catcher to the South Side in the first place.

Hawk Harrelson.

I think I was conceived because Hawk Harrelson was alive, Pierzynski joked during an interview for Inside Look: A.J. Pierzynski, which premieres Saturday at 7:00 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.

Pierzynski was being sarcastic, but in reality, if it wasnt for the longtime White Sox broadcaster, a family friend of the Pierzynski family since A.J. was a sophomore in high school, the backstop would have ended up somewhere like Baltimore or Tampa. Both teams offered him a contract, but Chicago was the only place he wanted to be.

We kept going to Kenny, and Kenny was like 'I don't know, I've heard all these bad things, and I don't know, I've gotta talk to my people, Pierzynski said. Finally, I guess Hawk got a hold of him, sat down and told him he'd take care of me, so Kenny finally consented and I've been here ever since.

While some players last their whole careers without making a single ripple of controversy, Pierzynski has been in the middle of the ocean, hanging ten on 20-foot waves, infamously surfing his way from one embroilment to the other.

Rangers manager Ron Washington not selecting him to the All-Star team is merely the latest public squabble involving the White Sox catcher, but certainly not the first.

That would be the notorious blowup that occurred in 2004 when Pierzynski was with the San Francisco Giants. In a story that ran in the Oakland Tribune that season, Pierzynski almost caused a mutiny among the Giants pitching staff.

The pitchers arent happy with him. If they can trade him, that would be fine with me, one player said. Another called him a cancer.

Several pitchers questioned Pierzynskis work ethic. He was accused of giving his teams signs to the opposition and for criticizing Giants pitchers to the Padres Phil Nevin while Nevin was hitting.

After years of speculation, Pierzynski wanted to set the record straight.

Basically one guy came out and said that.

I brought up Brett Tomko, the Giants pitcher who has long been associated with throwing Pierzynski under the bus.

Well, he says he didn't, Pierzynski said. But I know Matt Herges, he said some things, some other guys said some thingsyou know, they have their right, and one of the things I was accused of was getting the other team signs. Anyone that knows me, I would never in a million years give the other team, tell the other team what's coming. Whats funny is the guy who wrote the article, wrote this article and never asked me about it. He just wrote the article, and then it became a national perception that I was doing all these things when nobody still had ever asked me about it. That's the one thing I get most mad about.

After giving up Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to acquire him from Minnesota, the Giants released Pierzynski after just one season.

With the perception of being a clubhouse cancer, it wasnt exactly the greatest situation to walk into as a free agent.

It wasn't hard to get a job. I could've had a job, but it was hard to get the right job, Pierzynski said. It was hard to find a job where I could come in and play everyday and not basicallyyou always had to earn your spot, but really without coming in and trying to basicallystart over, almost like a first-year guy.

Pierzynski instantly found a home with the White Sox, who in that first season won the 2005 World Series.

As for the 2004 Giants, safe to say A.J. wont be invited to any future reunions?

I don't know about that. There's still some guys on that team that I talk to. Scott Eyre, a former White Sox guy, I talk to all the time. As far as that goes, I don't know the answer to that, because if you look at it, we didn't have a bad year. I didn't have a bad year. We missed the playoffs on the last day.

Unless he and the White Sox strike a deal sometime this summer, Pierzynski will become a free agent after this season. Kenny Williams wont need a pitch this time from Hawk Harrelson to sign him.

On pace for career-highs in home runs and RBIs, Pierzynski might be taking care of that all by himself.

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

Another day, another quality start for James Shields.

The White Sox once more didn’t win a Shields start. Despite an increasingly good-looking season stat line, Shields can’t seem to rack up many wins, with just two to his name on the season. But of course, wins are not exactly the most important barometer in this rebuilding campaign.

Speaking of the rebuild, the White Sox are getting closer to the trade deadline, it’s about a month and a half away. And Shields’ continued success could have Rick Hahn’s phone ringing as July 31 creeps closer. After six innings and three runs in Sunday’s loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers, Shields has seven quality starts in his last 10 outings,

After last season’s struggles that ended in a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs surrendered, getting anything for Shields might’ve seemed a bit of a fantasy. But Shields has delivered, especially since the end of a rocky April.

“It’s very important to try to eat as many innings as you possibly can,” Shields said of his consistent efforts of late. “Early on in the season, we were ruining our bullpen by not going deep into games. My main focus is to go as deep as I possibly can. … Consistency’s the name of the game.”

Does it make him one of the most attractive names on the market? No, probably not. Is it going to fetch a highly ranked prospect? No, probably not. But it might fetch something, and in a season where guys believed to be afterthoughts like Dylan Covey and Daniel Palka are working their way into the conversation about the White Sox future, who wouldn’t want something added to this rebuilding effort?

And Shields isn’t the only White Sox player who could bring something back.

The bullpen was stocked with potential sign-and-flip guys over the offseason, and a few of those veteran arms have had good runs that could earn them a similar fate to the bulk of last year’s relief corps. Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard were all dealt away last summer. Could Hahn employ a similar strategy this season?

The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year, which made all of those players attractive additions for contending teams around the league. But veterans like Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Bruce Rondon, Xavier Cedeno — guys who hoped to rediscover some old magic — could still draw interest.

Soria owns a 3.12 ERA. Avilan’s is at 3.10. Cedeno hasn’t given up a run in his six relief appearances. Rondon has shown blow-em-away stuff at times. It’s been a nice recovery for some of these sign-and-flip veterans.

“They’ve had an opportunity to get their chances to work on different things and become really effective performers,” manager Rick Renteria said of some of his veteran relievers prior to Sunday’s game. “I think Joakim has risen his level of game back what he was pre last couple years, I think he’s reinvented himself a little bit. He has an up-down breaking ball now, he’s continuing to attack the strike zone, he’s throwing 93 miles an hour with his fastball, he’s commanding the zone. He’s doing everything he can to be as good a closer as he was in the past. His history and his experience also allow him some confidence to be put in situations to close out ballgames.”

Soria could perhaps draw the most interest because closers are often in demand in July. But last year’s trade-a-thon showed that teams are willing to trade prospects away for relief help of any kind. Many of the return pieces in those deals might not get rebuild-loving prospect followers thrilled. Casey Gillaspie and Ryan Cordell haven’t exactly put their names at the forefront of the discussion about 2020 and beyond. But remember that Blake Rutherford came over in the deal that sent Robertson and Kahnle out of town (Todd Frazier went to the New York Yankees in that trade, too). So an acquisition that could improve the rebuild can most definitely happen, even with middle relievers.

There’s no guarantee that any of these guys, be it Shields in the rotation or any of the arms out in the bullpen, will get traded or even draw significant interest. But for a team in the White Sox position, you’d have to assume they’d be open to making a deal and getting something to add to this rebuilding process.

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

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AP

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

Here’s a comp that’ll get White Sox fans really excited. It’s a Hall of Famer saying that the organization’s top-ranked prospect reminds him of another Hall of Famer.

“The kid Eloy (Jimenez), I’ve really watched him a lot. He’s a tremendous (player),” Frank Thomas said. “He reminds me of a young Vlad (Guerrero) that can cover the whole zone and use the whole field. I’m interested in seeing how he progresses.”

Eloy a young Vladdy, eh?

Don’t tell actual young Vladdy that — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ranked one spot ahead of Jimenez on MLB Pipeline’s list of the best prospects in baseball — but that’s one heck of a comp for a player that White Sox fans are already immeasurably excited about.

Thomas was back on the South Side on Sunday to join Hawk Harrelson in the broadcast booth for the latter’s sendoff season. He spoke a lot about what Harrelson meant to him and the White Sox, but he also answered questions about the team’s ongoing rebuild. Thomas has kept a close eye both in his roles as an analyst for FOX and someone who will always be invested in this team.

“It’s Chicago, and we’re used to winning,” Thomas said when he was asked if the White Sox needed to undergo such a process. “You normally get away with this in a smaller market, but you’ve got to understand they’ve taken their time with it. They wasted a lot of money for a five-year period trying to continue to be successful the way we were in the past and it wasn’t working.

“The game has changed. The game has totally changed. It’s a different ballgame now. It’s all about the youth. … The hardest part they’re going to have, though, is figuring out who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here because over the next couple years they’ve got so many young talented players in Double-A and Triple-A that someone could actually force some of these guys out. It’s going to be a hard decision what they’re going to have to do.”

That’s the good problem Rick Hahn and his front office would like to have.

While fan buy-in to the rebuilding effort has been tremendous, there are some who will continue to question the willing suffering through losing seasons at the major league level while the contending team of the future develops in the minor leagues. But if you look at the teams that have won and played in the World Series in recent seasons — and even seasons long past — the process almost seems mandatory if you want to reach that level.

“It is,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched it firsthand. I first saw it with Cleveland when I was playing. Cleveland did it. Then you saw the Royals do it. You saw Houston do it, and they’re tearing it up with that youth. There’s been some other teams that have had a lot of success with it, too. I think Billy Beane has been great with it in Oakland for many, many years. They just haven’t had the luxury of keeping it together and going for the World Series, but he continues to create young superstars and basically trading them off for whatever the organization needs.”

Thomas, the greatest hitter in White Sox history, was also asked about the greatest hitter on the White Sox right now, Jose Abreu. Abreu’s future is the topic of much conversation surrounding this team, what with his contract running out at the end of the 2019 season, just when the White Sox hope to be fielding a perennial contender.

Abreu has been remarkably consistent — and one of just three players ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four seasons — but Thomas thinks there’s a side of Abreu we still have yet to see.

“I just don’t think we’ve seen the best of him,” Thomas said. “That’s because it’s a youth movement and the protection’s been up and down for him in that lineup. I’ve seen him be inconsistent at times, but I think he’s a much better player than that. But I understand when you’re not winning every day and it’s not as motivating because losing’s tough on everybody. But the guy’s an incredible player, an incredible hitter.

“I think the next couple of years we’ll see the best of him if he’s still here. I think this guy has a chance to be one of the great ones.”

With one last question about the modern-day White Sox, Thomas was asked about manager Rick Renteria, who he raved about. But with Renteria’s recent history with the Cubs, when he was replaced with Joe Maddon right before the North Siders started their phase of contention, he has yet to be the manager of a team with expectations. The plan is that he soon will be, and Thomas is interested to see what happens when that becomes the case.

“I think he’s done a hell of a job. I really like Ricky a lot,” Thomas said. “But who knows what they’re going to do in the future. When this team becomes what they think it’s going to be, either you get it done or you don’t. That’s just what it’s going to be. That’s the way Jerry’s handled it for many, many years.

“We’ve had some decisions that weren’t all happiness at times, but it’s about winning once they get their team here. I hope it’s Ricky because he’s done a hell of a rebuild job with the Cubs, he did a hell of a rebuild job here. It’s just time for him to get a good team out on the field and see what he really can do. I’m hoping he gets a chance of having a full team to put out there for 162 games and see what he can do.”