White Sox

Dealing Chris Sale unlikely, but could expedite White Sox turnaround

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Dealing Chris Sale unlikely, but could expedite White Sox turnaround

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- If ever there’s an opportunity for another general manager to try and pry Chris Sale away from Rick Hahn and the White Sox, it could be now.

Hahn returned to Chicago on Thursday morning after several days of “robust” discussions as the GM meetings at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

In what has become an annual tradition, Hahn continues to tell reporters he would have to be overwhelmed by the return package any time he’s asked about a trade for Sale.

But there’s a growing sense among rival executives that the current state of the White Sox could have Hahn -- who has always maintained no player is untouchable -- in a place where the previously unthinkable is no longer entirely out of the question.

Still, any time an out-of-town reporter asks him about the lanky left-hander’s availability, Hahn has a stock answer prepared that he’s undoubtedly repeated dozens of times.

“Same as it’s been for the last two-and-a-half years,” Hahn said with a laugh. “It’s our job to listen. We are open-minded on all our players. We don’t view anyone as being 'untouchable.' At the same time, we realize we do have a few players on this roster, including Chris Sale, who are absolute premium talents, both from a performance standpoint and what they mean in our clubhouse. You add in the factor of the control of the contract costs on a player like that and we realize how special that combination is. So while we’re doing our due diligence and we’re listening and haven’t closed off any avenues, it would certainly take us needing to be overwhelmed to pull the trigger on something like that because you would be in theory trading away not only something special and important to our success over the next couple of years, but also leaving a hole in the wake.”

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The possibility Sale is traded this offseason is highly unlikely.

Though he acknowledged that the probability has increased, one American League executive estimated Thursday the chances of a Sale trade are minuscule.

“I’d say it’s gone from zero percent to somewhere below one percent,” he said.

Let’s not forget the facts.

En route to establishing a franchise-record with 274 strikeouts (it also was an AL-high) in 2015, Sale earned a fourth consecutive All-Star nod. He also has four seasons left (two are club options) on his contract at just under $49 million. By comparison, free agent Zack Greinke could earn up to $30 million annually after this offseason.

“Other than the Sonny Gray’s, you won’t find a better contract for a pitcher,” one executive said.

In just four seasons, Sale has developed into the face of the franchise and one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. And he earns far less on an annual average value than any of the top free agents expect to receive this winter.

But don’t totally rule it out, either.

Though the White Sox have done an admirable job the past 2 1/2 years overhauling their roster, there’s still work to be done. The club has needs at shortstop, third base and catcher -- three of the most difficult spots to fill because of the limited options available in free agency and via trades.

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Hahn spoke earlier this week about the desire in the White Sox front office to rebuild at a faster rate than the Houstons and Kansas Citys of the baseball world.

One way to accomplish that would be to deal a big-ticket item like Sale, who could fetch 4-5 talented prospects or perhaps a young, controllable and established player along with several other prospects.

So while one Boston reporter said he would be crazy to entertain trade offers, Hahn offered that he always has to listen just in case his steep price is met.

“You have to consider it because someone may surprise you,” Hahn said. “I don’t think the Dallas Cowboys thought they were going to make the Herschel Walker trade until they had that conversation.”

Few teams boast a farm system or enough talent to absorb the cost of Sale. But one AL executive suggested the Boston Red Sox would be the franchise most capable of acquiring Sale and one Hahn would prefer because of the talent within.

Hahn likely would begin negotiations by aiming incredibly high and asking for a package revolving around shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 22, who produced a .320/.355/.421 slash line with seven home runs and 81 RBIs in his second full season in 2015.

But Boston also has young catcher Blake Swihart, of whom the White Sox are said to be fond. Not only have the Red Sox sought a front-of-the-rotation pitcher since last offseason, they also have a new head of baseball operations in Dave Dombrowski, who has to turn around a 78-84 club that was 14th in the AL with a 4.31 ERA in 2015.

Before he left Florida on Thursday, Dombrowski told the Boston Herald he’s mulling a number of opportunities on the trade market and via free agency that could involve tough decisions.

“At some point, we're going to most likely do something that is painful one way or the other,” Dombroski said. “But if you're trying to get quality talent, you're going to have to do that at some point.”

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While there might be outrage over a trade of Sale -- who is 57-40 with a 2.91 ERA in 196 games (116 starts) -- one National League executive believes it might be an opportune time for the White Sox to continue their retool. The Kansas City Royals won the World Series, Minnesota has improved, Cleveland is loaded with pitching and the Cubs appear to be set for a long and high profile run, which could provide a local distraction.

“This would be a good time with the Cubs in the spotlight,” he said.

Hahn never discusses ongoing negotiations with other teams or free agents and he didn’t veer off course this week. But he also noted the White Sox haven’t closed any doors. Whether or not he could part that could include Sale remains to be seen.

Chances are remote.

“There has been a lot of productive and interesting dialogue,” Hahn said. “Now whether that actually translates into deals or people take it back to their offices and get a little more in depth with some free agents -- that slows down some of the trade market -- I don’t know yet. There certainly has been a real fluid exchange of ideas. We’ll see where it goes.”

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

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USA TODAY

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

It might end up an ugly week for the White Sox in Houston. But try to find some beauty in what this Astros team looks like. Because it's what the White Sox hope to look like, eventually.

While White Sox fans were likely staring with a frown at Brad Peacock mowing down their team's lineup and at a couple home runs absolutely blasted out of Minute Maid Park in the first of this four-game series Monday night, know that the inverse of that feeling is what the White Sox front office is hoping to deliver in the coming seasons.

The Astros, along with the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago, are the template for what the White Sox are trying to do with their ongoing rebuilding process. Houston experienced some hideous seasons on the way to becoming a perennial contender and a World Series champion in 2017, losing a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, the Astros made their first postseason appearance in a decade. Two years later, they were the world champs, and they remain an annual title contender and are currently the best team in baseball two years after that.

The first part of that should sound familiar, as the White Sox have lost a combined 195 games in the two seasons since this rebuild officially began. Things are better now than they were during last year's 100-loss campaign, but it's expected to be another season of more losses than wins and another season without a playoff berth on the South Side, which would be the franchise's 11th straight to end without a trip to the postseason.

The second half of the Astros rags-to-riches story is yet to come for the White Sox, who are still waiting for young players to develop at both the major league and minor league levels, still waiting for the entire core to assemble in the big leagues. That includes, right now, waiting for certain players to recover from serious injuries. That includes watching growing pains up and down the organization. It's not unexpected for such things to happen in the middle of a rebuild. But when mired in the losing years, they become constant sources of frustration for fans.

Just like no one in Houston looks back fondly on the 100-loss seasons of 2011, 2012 and 2013, it's unlikely South Side baseball fans will look back fondly on these loss-heavy campaigns. But it's part of the process, as maddening as that might be to keep hearing.

Fortunately, there are examples of what the end of the tunnel looks like, and the White Sox are up against one of those examples this week. The Astros are dominating the competition so far this season, their young core of sluggers and a few overpowering starting pitchers fueling the best team in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve might have been out of the lineup Monday night, but Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman were still on display. And none of those guys were the ones to blast home runs halfway to Oklahoma off the White Sox on Rick Renteria's otherwise successful bullpen day. Peacock was traded a few times before landing in Houston, and Justin Verlander and Geritt Cole were trade acquisitions, as well. All of those guys have made the Astros a formidable force once again.

The White Sox are likely going to have to make a few outside acquisitions, too, before they can finally reach baseball's mountaintop. General manager Rick Hahn says that's the plan. But the homegrown portion of those rosters of the future could resemble what the Astros have put together in recent seasons. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins. That's the planned core on the South Side. And Hahn has a number of young pitchers who could make up a fearsome rotation, too, in Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. There are more names White Sox fans are familiar with who could play big roles, too.

That's a lot of talent, and while White Sox fans might remain skeptical until the wins start coming at an increased rate, the blueprint is there for those pieces to come together and create something special. The blueprint is what's across the field from the White Sox this week in Houston.

The Astros might cause some bad feelings for the White Sox and their fans over the next few nights. But if they look closely, they might catch a glimpse of the White Sox future if this rebuild goes where Hahn & Co. envision it going.

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Eloy Jimenez returns to White Sox a little more than three weeks after spraining ankle

Eloy Jimenez returns to White Sox a little more than three weeks after spraining ankle

Things looked grim when Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox top-ranked prospect and a centerpiece of the South Side rebuilding plans, was down in pain on the warning track.

But a little more than three weeks later, Jimenez is back in the lineup, returned from his stay on the injured list for the start of a four-game series against the Houston Astros.

Jimenez made a leaping attempt to catch a home-run ball in the April 26 game against the Detroit Tigers. In the process, his foot got stuck in the padding of the left-field wall, and the 22-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain. He limped off the field and needed help getting into the dugout and clubhouse. Thoughts of "here we go again" flashed through a fan base that's watched top prospects suffer one significant injury after another in recent seasons.

The White Sox said Jimenez would be reevaluated in a couple weeks, while cursory Google searches revealed recovery times of more than a month for this type of injury.

But Jimenez seems to have healed quickly. He went on a minor league rehab assignment last week, playing in five games with Triple-A Charlotte before being deemed ready to return Monday.

This is phenomenal news for the White Sox and their fans, of course, who in the time Jimenez has been sidelined have seen another key piece go down with Carlos Rodon's Tommy John surgery. Jimenez hasn't got off to the rip-roaring start some predicted — he's slashed .241/.294/.380 with a trio of home runs in his first 21 major league games — but all playing time for the youngster is good playing time as he continues his development in his first big league season. Throw in Jimenez's four-game stay on the bereavement list prior to that game against Detroit, and he's had just one at-bat since April 21.

So maybe expect some rust, and manager Rick Renteria said Jimenez could perhaps be eased back with a game at DH here and there as he continues to work on improving his defense in left field.

Jimenez did go 7-for-22 (a .318 batting average) with a homer and a double in his rehab stint in Charlotte. Now he's back in the major league outfield, a good thing for everyone following along with this rebuild.

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