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.”

[MORE: White Sox could be strong candidate to play exhibition in Cuba]

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.

[RELATED: Boras says Rodon showed why he should have been 2014's top pick]

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.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up during the offseason, White Sox fans!]

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.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: A.J. Pierzynski rips Manny Machado

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: A.J. Pierzynski rips Manny Machado

Former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski comes on the podcast and tells Chuck Garfien why he’d sign Nolan Arenado over Manny Machado (6:15).

Pierzynski criticizes Machado for saying that he doesn’t play hard everyday (7:08). Would he make Machado the face of the White Sox franchise? (12:30)

He also talks about how bullpenning cost the Milwaukee Brewers a spot in the World Series (14:45).

He reveals the former White Sox player who had a gift for recognizing players who tipped their pitches (21:00).  Pierzynski tells behind the scenes stories about former teammates Nick Swisher, Bartolo Colon, Gavin Floyd and more (28:00).

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

A White Sox fan's guide to watching the World Series

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USA TODAY

A White Sox fan's guide to watching the World Series

The White Sox are not playing in the World Series. A 100-loss season will do that.

But just because the South Siders aren't playing doesn't mean White Sox fans shouldn't pay attention to the Fall Classic. There's plenty to take from this matchup between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers that applies to South Side baseball past, present and — most importantly — future.

Chris Sale

The guy who will throw the first pitch of the 2018 World Series is one of the greatest White Sox pitchers of all time.

Sale's been grabbing headlines the last few days for an alleged belly-button ring, but the only body part of his that matters come Tuesday night is his left arm. Since the White Sox traded Sale away in the deal that kick-started the rebuild, he's been arguably the best pitcher in baseball, putting up a 2.56 ERA in 59 regular-season starts, with 545 strikeouts in his 372.1 innings. He's made five postseason appearances with the Red Sox and hasn't fared quite as well, the overall numbers ugly thanks to a seven-run outing against the eventual-champion Houston Astros last year. But this fall, he's given up just four runs and struck out 14 batters in 10.1 innings.

Sale's status as one of the game's best hurlers is a reminder of a couple things for White Sox fans watching him wear differently colored Sox this fall: 1. why they liked him so much in the first place, and 2. what kind of price it took for Boston to get him. The K Zone can be reborn, if only briefly and in the comfort of White Sox fans' own homes, for Sale's appearances in this World Series. But more importantly to the future of the South Side franchise, Sale's continued excellence is a reinforcement of the potential of Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada, the two biggest names in the return package. It took those guys and their incredibly high ceilings to get a pitcher as good as Sale, and that's still a good sign for the White Sox future.

This is how you rebuild

The Red Sox have a reputation as one of baseball's biggest spenders, but their roster is rife with the fruits of player development, something the rebuilding White Sox are trying to yield in their contending team of the future.

Boston has a couple big-ticket players in David Price and J.D. Martinez, but they're two of just four free-agent signings on the Red Sox World Series roster. Meanwhile, a whopping seven were drafted by Boston, including the entire starting outfield: Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and likely AL MVP Mookie Betts. The left side of their infield is a pair of international signings in Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, so that means five of the Red Sox starting nine position players (five and a half if you count Christian Vazquez, one half of the Red Sox catching tandem) have never known another organization.

The Red Sox might not win this World Series, but their roster makeup isn't dissimilar from the last two teams that hoisted a trophy, the Cubs and Astros, who boasted their own groups of homegrown stars. And here's something you might not realize: Boston had back-to-back last-place finishes in the AL East in 2014 and 2015, during which they rid themselves of veteran contracts and earned a couple high draft picks. They made the No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft for all that losing. The result? Benintendi.

And so it's another October with a team proving that the tear-down-and-rebuild method can work wonders. White Sox fans might not be rooting for the Red Sox this fall, but their victory would be another for the rebuilding strategy — and should give plenty of hope to South Side fans envisioning their own group of homegrown stars leading a championship run one day.

Manny Machado

The World Series will allow White Sox fans to do a little bit of scouting on some free agents that the South Siders could pursue this winter, and there's no bigger name in that category than Machado, the Dodgers shortstop expected to receive one of the biggest contracts in baseball history this offseason.

Many a Twitter-using White Sox fan have had Machado on their wish list for years, though that number might be declining following some of Machado's words and actions during the NLCS. He didn't run to first on a grounder, then ignited a PR disaster by saying hustling wasn't his "cup of tea." He interfered with a pair of double-play turns by sticking his hand up while sliding into second base (the same play that, during a Crosstown game last month, ended with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson screaming at umpire Joe West). And Machado most notably dragged his foot over Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar's leg in a play Aguilar's teammates called dirty after the game.

So with all that in mind, Machado and his extreme amount of talent — he's at the end of a career year that saw him slash .297/.367/.538 with 37 homers and 107 RBIs during the regular season — will be on the game's biggest stage for all to see. That includes his future team, whichever that might be. Those White Sox fans still hoping he lands on the South Side to help kick the rebuild into overdrive can watch this World Series to see just how good he is with the bat and with the glove. On the latter, should the White Sox be willing to rearrange their infield for Machado, who is insistent on playing shortstop despite his two Gold Gloves at third base? Watch and see.

Other free agents to be

But Machado's not the only player in this matchup who'll be hitting the free-agent market this winter.

Before either of these teams punched their tickets to the Fall Classic, I wrote about a pair of pitchers who will be free agents this offseason and who could make sense for the White Sox, and lo and behold they're both going to make starts in this World Series. Hyun-Jin Ryu is slated to get the ball for the Dodgers in Wednesday's Game 2, and though yet to be announced, we'll likely see Nathan Eovaldi go for the Red Sox when the series shifts to Los Angeles.

Rick Hahn said the White Sox will be looking to add pitching this offseason, and Ryu and Eovaldi will both be available. Either would be an upgrade in a South Side rotation that led baseball in walks this season. Eovaldi walked just 20 guys all year, 12 in 54 innings with the Red Sox and only eight in 57 innings with the Tampa Bay Rays. That's compared to a season strikeout total of 101, for a better than 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Ryu, meanwhile, walked only 15 batters in his 82.1 innings, compared to 89 strikeouts. His ERA was a pencil-thin 1.97, significantly lower than Eovaldi's still quite good 3.81 number, which was 3.33 after the midseason trade from the Tampa. Could either one be a future White Sox starter? Maybe.

Boston closer Craig Kimbrel is also heading to free agency and could be of interest to White Sox fans who don't see a future closer among the team's crop of young relievers. He's going to cost a lot, though, a seven-time All Star with a 1.91 career ERA and eight straight seasons of at least 31 saves (40-plus in five of those).

Other bullpen guys who will be looking for jobs this winter: Joe Kelly of the Red Sox (one earned run allowed in 5.1 innings this postseason) and Ryan Madson of the Dodgers (one run allowed in 6.1 innings this postseason).

Oh, and Dodgers Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw could be a free agent, too, if he opts out of his current contract. The White Sox would figure to be quite a longshot to lure him away from Southern California, but if Kershaw were to go somewhere else, that could shake up the whole market and open up other possibilities for teams like the White Sox. Something to keep in mind.

The next important trend

The World Series and the postseason in general have been ground zero for some of the game's latest sweeping changes in recent years.

Specifically, the emphasis on relief pitching has dominated the last couple Fall Classics, and teams like the Brewers and Rays showed how good a team can be while leaning as heavily on the bullpen as any team ever has. While this World Series might not feature teams practicing "bullpenning" to those extremes, the relief corps again figure to play starring roles. If that happens, how does that impact the White Sox rebuild? Does a heavy focus on starting-pitching depth need to shift to a bigger focus on relief-pitching depth? Or do the lists of future free-agent relievers become of greater interest than players at any other position?

Or perhaps an entirely new trend is born this fall that the White Sox will have to react to while constructing their teams of the future. You won't know unless you watch the World Series.