White Sox

Depth issues too much for 2016 White Sox to overcome

Depth issues too much for 2016 White Sox to overcome

Rick Hahn had it pegged in July — the White Sox truly are mired in mediocrity.

Despite a blistering hot start, the White Sox won’t be headed to the playoffs for an eighth straight season that wrapped up Sunday with a 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.

And even though they actually improved for a third year in a row under now former manager Robin Ventura, it wasn’t nearly enough for the White Sox to finish with a record above .500. The White Sox, who are expected to name Rick Renteria their new manager on Monday, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report, posted their fourth consecutive losing season.

“We had it early on, we were doing it, and it seemed right at that time,” Ventura said. “I think offensively we couldn't keep up the pace we were going on and once the injuries happened and the bullpen … it becomes a different bullpen. We just didn't have enough to do it and we didn't play well enough.”

The outcome shouldn’t come as a big surprise.

Oh sure, the White Sox looked every bit the postseason contender in April and early May when they won 23 of their first 33 games. But that was before the club’s biggest issue, one several prominent baseball analysts identified in January and has dogged the franchise for several years now, surfaced and sunk them.

Though the 2016 White Sox boasted enough top-tier talent to potentially propel them to their first postseason appearance since 2008, analysts believed the White Sox needed most everything else to go in their favor for that to happen. The thinking was, and Hahn called the assessment “fair,” that the White Sox farm system is paper thin and was incapable of providing the necessary replacements if required.

And boy were they needed.

The problem initially surfaced — and remained for the duration of 2016 — a month into camp when veteran hitter Adam LaRoche abruptly retired. While LaRoche’s exit solved a playing time issue, it created bigger obstacles as the team no longer had a left-handed power threat for the middle of the lineup. Manager Robin Ventura’s only remedy was to move switch-hitter Melky Cabrera from a better fit — hitting in front of Jose Abreu — to batting behind the slugger and third baseman Todd Frazier in order to break up a right-handed heavy lineup.

Cabrera succeeded with an .818 OPS in the fifth spot. But the trio who replaced him in the second spot — Jimmy Rollins, Austin Jackson and Tyler Saladino — combined for a .619 OPS in 275 plate appearances.

It also meant increased plate appearances for Garcia, who originally was scheduled for part-time duty and didn’t improve as the White Sox had hoped.

By the time the injury bug rolled around, and it smacked the White Sox pretty hard, the offense was a shambles.

The first of two injuries to catcher Alex Avila meant too much playing time for veteran Dioner Navarro and not enough offense from either. Jackson’s season-ending knee injury in June resulted in a starting role for outfielder J.B. Shuck, who had a .557 OPS in 237 plate appearances.

Injuries to Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka, both prominent relievers the previous two seasons, sapped an already-tired bullpen. An additional injury, to Daniel Webb, had the White Sox using untested pitchers in big spots throughout the summer, a problem that became even bigger once Zach Duke was traded.

When it came time to replace underperforming starting pitchers John Danks and Mat Latos, the White Sox couldn’t supply their own answers and instead took on James Shields, who allowed 31 home runs in 22 starts after he was acquired.

The White Sox also didn’t have enough contributions from the supporting cast when Abreu and Frazier slumped.

The combination of poor offense and unreliable pitching sunk the White Sox.

And the little depth the team had has been a mixed bag. The team traded Duke for Charlie Tilson, who was lost for the season only five innings into his major league debut. Matt Davidson came up to challenge Garcia for playing time only to also suffer an injury in his debut.

Brett Lawrie’s injury did, however, result in playing time for Saladino and Carlos Sanchez, who played well in his absence. Relievers Dan Jennings and Tommy Kahnle also have taken advantage of their tryouts. Miguel Gonzalez also thrived after taking over as the No. 4 starter and looks like a find.

But in the end it wasn’t enough.

Even with standout performances from Adam Eaton, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, a 40-homer season from Frazier, 85 RBIs and a .790 OPS from Cabrera, a strong second half by Carlos Rodon and Abreu and a good rookie season from Tim Anderson, the White Sox finished woefully short.

The win-now method that has been employed for more than a decade and prompted Hahn to say the White Sox would have to look hard at their methods has depleted the team’s ability to answer its questions internally. Whereas Cleveland thrived without its best position player (Michael Brantley) and suffered injuries to key starting pitchers and Kansas City managed to stay afloat despite injuries to Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis and others, the White Sox have sunk.

“We were hot early and then not so much and we never got hot again,” Ventura said. “I think baseball, it's tough to be able to recapture that. We did have a couple injuries.

“We had a really good bullpen, offensively we were doing enough and then we struggled in that area for a while. It's tough to stay consistent and keep yourself afloat in a baseball season because it just doesn't stop. It just keeps coming and you're in a division that's tough.”

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

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CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS/LAURA WOLFF

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not to go all Seinfeld on you, but what's the deal with second base?

Between the breakout seasons from young core players in 2019 and an influx of veteran additions, the White Sox starting lineup is rather easy to project. Obviously Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Edwin Encarnacion are locked in as everyday starters, and even Nomar Mazara seems to be in that category at the moment, with talk of a potential platoon in right field all but disappearing over the last couple months.

That leaves just one position in the realm of the unknown: second base.

Over the course of the entire 2020 season, the majority of the starts there figure to go to Nick Madrigal, one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball. But whether he'll break camp with the White Sox or start the season at Triple-A Charlotte is still uncertain. The latter seems more likely, based on how he's been talked about this offseason, though how he fares this spring could produce the opposite result after he played at three different levels of the minor leagues in 2019.

"We made the assessment at the end of last season that Nick Madrigal wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. "He was sent home with some specific things to work on. He can very well come to spring training this year, show he’s made certain adjustments and find himself on the Opening Day roster.

"That said, we also have guys like (Danny) Mendick and Leury (Garcia) who we fully believe can hold down the fort until such time that Nick is ready.

"We’ll have somebody come Opening Day sitting over there."

Indeed, the White Sox manning every position on the field seems a safe bet.

Nothing against Garcia nor Mendick, but Madrigal is such a talented up-and-comer that it's quite possible he's the team's best second baseman right now. But Madrigal saw just 29 games' worth of Triple-A pitching last season, and it's possible the White Sox will leave Glendale believing he needs to see some more before they bring him up to the major leagues.

Madrigal's job is to convince them otherwise, and he's been prepping to do exactly that all winter.

"I actually stayed here (in Arizona) this whole offseason, so I've been around a while now," Madrigal said last week. "I started coming to the complex about two or three weeks ago."

The kid's a real go-getter, as you can tell. There might not end up being much that separates Madrigal starting the season as the second baseman in Chicago or as the second baseman in Charlotte, but obviously the difference between those two jobs is huge. A big performance in Cactus League play could show the White Sox, a team that's gone from making a priority of development to making a priority of winning games and competing for a playoff spot, they're better served with Madrigal playing 162 games as a big leaguer rather than a smaller number.

"It's kind of out of my control. The only thing I can control is showing up every day and playing as hard as I can," Madrigal said. "They may think I need to add some stuff to my game, or whatever it may be. I feel confident right now the way I'm playing out there. Just can't worry too much about that at this point.

"I know there's a lot of time from here to the season, there's a lot of games you've got to play, so anything can happen. But I'm going to try to show up every day and play my game."

But if the White Sox still think Madrigal needs further minor league seasoning, then what?

Well, as Hahn mentioned, someone will be starting at second base on Opening Day.

The likeliest candidate is Garcia, the utility man whose versatility makes him a lock to make the 26-man roster out of camp. But while utility reserve will likely be his primary role once Madrigal arrives, until then, he could be the team's starting second baseman.

Mendick, who had some good moments as a September call-up last season, would likely be the reserve infielder, and he could see plenty of time at second if Renteria opts to send Garcia to spell starters in both the infield and outfield.

So there's not an update so much as there is a setting of the table as the Cactus League schedule begins Saturday. There might be nothing bigger to watch during the exhibition schedule than whether Madrigal can play his way onto the Opening Day roster. If that happens, the White Sox will have their transformed lineup ready from Day 1 as they look to chase down the AL Central crown.

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Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Your 2020 White Sox Opening Day starter is ... (drumroll, please) ... we don't know yet.

That's not entirely true, of course, as Lucas Giolito is the overwhelming favorite to take the mound March 26, when the White Sox open the season against the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field.

But if you're talking about an official announcement from the manager, well, you're going to have to wait a little longer.

"You want the scoop?" Renteria teased Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. "We won’t lay out a scoop yet."

Giolito has expressed on multiple occasions during the early days of camp that he hopes to be the guy that gets the Opening Day nod. In his first meeting with the media this spring, he said he'd "hopefully" be the Opening Day starter and expanded on that in a couple interviews Wednesday.

Giolito's enthusiasm for the job isn't enough to convince Renteria to move his announcement up to the first week of full-squad workouts. But even the skipper, known to take his time before announcing such things for public consumption, can't deny that Giolito, after his transformational 2019 campaign that saw him go from the pitcher with the worst stats in baseball to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff, has earned a shot at the title of Opening Day starter.

"I’m glad he wants to be the Opening Day starter. He’s really grown, and I certainly wouldn’t say to you that you would be surprised if you saw him doing it.

"He’s definitely earned an opportunity to possibly have the Opening Day start."

Giolito was sensational last season, posting a 3.41 ERA with 228 strikeouts in 29 starts. Even with this offseason's signing of Dallas Keuchel, who has a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship on his resume, Giolito still looks to be the ace of the staff heading into 2020.

Finishing sixth in last year's AL Cy Young voting would seem to indicate that Giolito has reached the status of one of baseball's elite arms. But here's a question: Can he get better? After all, he's just 25 years old, and many of these young White Sox are said to only have scratched the surface of what they can do. Can Giolito surpass what he did in 2019?

"I don’t know I want him to go past it as much as remain consistent and just continue to have incremental growth," Renteria said. "That was a huge jump for him. And it was a great jump for him. He learned a lot from that season. He learned a lot over the previous year and made the adjustments he needed to over the winter. He came in and did what he needed to do and was able to go ahead and be so effective for us.

"All in all, good health, knock on wood, he gets back out there and he has a chance to continue to do what he does. His pitch sequencing, his pitch mix gives him an opportunity to do that. Hard to pick up a ball out of his hand, now with the new delivery. He just needs to get back out there and pitch."

Certainly that's what Giolito is hoping to do, particularly after he gets past the strained chest muscle he suffered trying to work a little too quickly while still feeling the effects of the flu last month. As Giolito said last week, though, he has a "zero-percent" concern that injury will have any significant impact on his readiness for the season.

So bring on the Opening Day start, right?

"Hopefully," he said last week. "We’ll see. I’m excited.

"That’s not my decision."

Well, it shouldn't be too difficult of one for the person whose decision it is.

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