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.”

MLB The Show: White Sox fall behind big early, drop second straight to Twins

MLB The Show: White Sox fall behind big early, drop second straight to Twins

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: Twins def. White Sox 10-4
Record: 28-31, 3rd in A.L. Central (4.0 GB of Twins)

W: Rich Hill (4-4)
L: Reynaldo Lopez (5-2)

Game summary: All good things must come to an end. In the case of the White Sox' winning streak, things have come to an abrupt end. A day after the Twins put up 11 runs in the first two innings, Minnesota jumped on Chicago early again.

Reynaldo Lopez failed to make it out of the fourth inning. The Twins harassed him with singles a plenty, including RBI base knocks from Alex Avila and Miguel Sano in the second and fourth innings. Then, the big blow came from Jorge Polanco, whose grand slam gave Minnesota a 7-1 lead before the final out of the fourth. Lopez' day came to an end. 

Yasmani Grandal hit a pair of solo home runs in the third and fifth. Yoan Moncada added a couple more runs on a late two-run blast but the White Sox dropped their second straight to the Twins to fall four games back of the division leaders.

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White Sox lineup

Edwin Encarnacion: 0-3 (.316 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, R (.269 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 2-4, HR (12), 2 RBI, R (.261 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 1-4 (.261 BA)
Jose Abreu: 2-4, 2B (.298 BA)
Tim Anderson: 0-4 (.298 BA)
Luis Robert: 0-4 (.232 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 3-4, 2 HR (21), 2 RBI, 2 R (.309 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 0-3 (.243 BA)

Scoring summary: 

Top first

Luis Arraez grounded into double play, Byron Buxton scored. 1-0 MIN.

Top second

Alex Avila singled to right field, Josh Donaldson scored. 2-0 MIN.

Bottom third

Yasmani Grandal homered to left field. 2-1 MIN.

Top fourth

Miguel Sano singled to left field, Eddie Rosario scored. 3-1 MIN.
Jorge Polanco homered to right field, Sano, Max Kepler and Avila scored. 7-1 MIN.
Nelson Cruz homered to center field, Arraez scored. 9-1 MIN.

Bottom fifth

Grandal homered to center field. 9-2 MIN.

Bottom sixth

Yoan Moncada homered to center field, Eloy Jimenez scored. 9-4 MIN.

Top eighth

Polanco homered to left field. 10-4 MIN.

Notable performance: With his two homers on Saturday, Grandal now has 21 on the season, which trails only teammate Eloy Jimenez for the team lead. Grandal is third in the AL in RBIs (49) and leads the league in WAR (4.5). Not too shabby for the eight-hole hitter.

Next game: Sunday, May 31 - Game 60: Twins vs White Sox (Devin Smeltzer, 6-2, 2.42 ERA vs Michael Kopech, 0-0, 3.78 ERA)

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: Controversies or not, dominant pitching won the ALCS

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Controversies or not, dominant pitching won the ALCS

“Realistically, I don't know if they could be pitching much better than they have.”

By the end of Game 4 of the ALCS, Joe Buck had a different way to summarize things.

“The dominance continues.”

Realistic or not, the White Sox starting rotation was just plain unhittable in the penultimate series of the 2005 season.

First it was Jose Contreras, setting the tone in a losing effort in Game 1 and coming two outs away from a complete game. Mark Buehrle followed with what he called — to that point, before the no-hitter and the perfect game — one of the best games of his career. Game 3 saw Jon Garland take the baton and stifle the Los Angeles Angels. And then it was Freddy Garcia, dealing as the White Sox cruised to a Game 4 win.

And so while the Fox broadcast spent an awful lot of time on supposed controversies, missed calls by the umpires and breaks for the White Sox, let’s face it: Those Angels weren’t hitting that pitching staff.

After the way Game 2 wrapped up, with A.J. Pierzynski swinging, missing and running to first base in a baffling display that for some reason worked, controversy was a storyline. And boy, did it get milked in Game 4.

Now, this isn’t to say that there weren’t missed calls or that the White Sox didn’t experience a couple breaks in this contest. There were. And they did.

After the Angels chopped the White Sox lead to 3-1 on an RBI hit in the second inning, they still had two men on with only one out. But instead of a rally, Steve Finley hit into an inning-ending double play. His bat, replay clearly showed, hit Pierzynski’s glove on the swing, meaning by rule he should have gone to first on catcher’s interference and loaded the bases. Instead, he turned around to argue while running out the ground ball, hence the double play.

He should have learned from Pierzynski and just busted it down to first base, leaving the details to be sorted out later. No call came, and Finley was out, the Angels’ rally stopped.

The White Sox lead back to three runs in the fifth inning, Scott Podsednik — who had a remarkable game, on base four times with two stolen bases and two runs scored — was seemingly picked off at first base. But the call was safe, and he scored later in the inning to extend a tight three-run game to a four-run game.

But did it really matter? Would any of it made a difference?

Garcia was on point, just like his three rotation-mates before him. He allowed just two runs on only six hits, walking one. He did that 2005 White Sox thing where he pitched fast, pitched to his defense and pitched the Angels into a whole bunch of outs.

You can point to the breaks all you want, attempt to stir up controversy. But the White Sox pitchers were so good that nothing was stopping them as they marched to a pennant.

The only thing that could, as we saw in Game 1 of the series, was an equally strong pitching performance on the other side. That’s exactly what Paul Byrd turned in against Contreras in that first game, and a White Sox lineup that slugged against the Red Sox in the ALDS was stymied. A sick Jarrod Washburn did his best in Game 2, with some help from a terrific crop of relievers, only for Pierzynski to flip the series on its head. In Games 3 and 4 in Anaheim, the Angels couldn’t match Garland and Garcia. An awakened group of White Sox bats hung a crooked number on John Lackey in Game 3 and had the same rude greeting for Ervin Santana — a future member of the South Side rotation, however briefly — in Game 4.

The old sports cliche goes that defense wins championships. In baseball, pitching wins championships. It did in 2005. And no amount of supposed controversy was going to change that.

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 5 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago.

 

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