White Sox

Derek Holland looks for perfect balance of fun, success with White Sox

Derek Holland looks for perfect balance of fun, success with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Optimistic might not be a strong enough word for how Derek Holland feels at the moment.

He doesn’t want to oversell it, but the new White Sox pitcher not only believes he’s in a good spot physically, he also thinks he’s in the right place to rebound from three frustrating seasons full of injuries.

After spending his entire career with the Texas Rangers, Holland said he chose the White Sox not only because of their reputation for keeping players healthy, but also because of pitching coach Don Cooper’s successful track record with southpaw pitchers. Holland, who signed a one-year deal in December that could be worth $8 million, said he’s already very pleased with his decision to join the White Sox.

“I feel great,” Holland said. “I mean, I don’t know how to rally describe it without sounding crazy, but I feel awesome. I want to use some crazy words, but I have to remember this is the media.”

Holland participated in his first bullpen session on Tuesday and cracked that it went well other than he was throwing next to Jose Quintana, who already appears to be in outstanding form as he prepares for the World Baseball Classic.

But Holland, who produced 8.6 f-WAR from 2011-13, said the health issues that have dogged the past three seasons aren’t presently an issue. Whichever way he opted to go in free agency --- the White Sox or Pittsburgh Pirates --- Holland felt comfortable. Ultimately, it was Cooper’s vision for helping him rebound that sold him on the White Sox.

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“Both have good histories with the pitchers and Coop just kept nailing me, talking to me, ‘There’s some things I want to work on, I know what we can get right. I saw some things,’” Holland said. “We continued, just kept talking about stuff and I know these are things in need to get back on track and to be successful. And that was it. Once he started hammering down on me I was like, ‘Alright, we’re going with the White Sox.’”

Holland thinks he knows what he and Cooper have to do to get back on track and he’s ready to get to work. He’s also comfortable enough to know when to let his hair down and do impersonations in the clubhouse -- Harry Caray, Kermit the Frog and Cleveland from ‘The Family Guy’ are among them. Holland is a big believer in having fun equivalent to the amount of work he puts in and has enjoyed meeting a room full of new teammates, though he’s already butchered several names -- “I’ve met a few guys like five times already,” he said.

Manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday he’s glad to have Holland around as his personality is necessary for a young club. He knows about the impersonations and the all-around character that is Holland and intends to tap into the resource at some point for the sake of his baseball team.

“It’s awesome,” Renteria said. “As we get to know him a little bit more, we are going to take advantage of it, exploit it a little bit. He’s a happy go lucky guy. Very focused. Very intent on his work. Knows what he wants to do. He’s been around. We’ll take advantage of it and use it to liven up the clubhouse a little bit.”

Holland has already done his part, singing in the ear of catcher Geovany Soto about being reunited and taking reliever Tommy Kahnle to the WWE Elimination Chamber event over the weekend. In a perfect world, Holland would reach 200 innings this season and have a lot of fun along the way.

“I am who I am,” Holland said. “I don't want the impersonations being used against me -- the thing that gets lost in translation is that people think that's what I'm really working on when I'm actually here trying to get myself better. I just have a personality, I want to live my life, have fun, enjoy myself and play the game of baseball at the same time. I know how hard I work and what it takes to be out there on the field. But my personality should not dictate that.”

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

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USA TODAY

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

Gerrit Cole is rightfully at the top of many White Sox fans' free-agent wish list. But might those hopes already need adjusting?

Cole looks to be on track to land the richest pitching contract in baseball history when he hits free agency after the Houston Astros' playoff run is over. The White Sox are shopping for starting pitching, and what team wouldn't love to top their rotation with the guy who might be awarded the AL Cy Young?

But whether or not you're part of the Twitter-using faction of White Sox fans that believe the team would never spend such money to land a pitcher the caliber of Cole, it might not matter.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale spoke to a couple of Cole's fellow Astros, and they told him they think Cole will end up playing in California. The South Side, at least in the Astros' clubhouse, it seems, is not a betting favorite.

"It will be west of Nevada," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We know he wants to be a West Coast guy. He’s a California guy, so he probably wants to be close to home. I know he mentioned Oakland a couple of times because of how he’s pitched there in the past. ... But that probably won’t happen. They’d have to clear the whole roster to afford him."

"I got the Angels," pitcher Wade Miley said, "and paying him at least $250 million."

Well then.

Certainly the Los Angeles Angels are not a new suggestion in the "where will Cole sign" discussion. Cole went to high school a 10-minute drive from Angel Stadium and pitched his college ball at UCLA. The Oakland Athletics? That's a new one.

Anyway, a lot of White Sox fans are probably out there thinking "here we go again" as we begin poring over every bit of minutiae in this winter's free-agent market, just like we did last offseason, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were both out there for the signing — and both White Sox targets. That months-long reading of the tea leaves, of course, was all kicked off when MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the White Sox interest during the GM Meetings in November.

So far, there's nothing out there connecting the White Sox to Cole besides pure speculation, that and the fact that Rick Hahn has said his front office will be in the market for starting pitching. Cole, being a starting pitcher, fits the minimum requirement as a potential target.

In fact, in listing a boatload of teams that might make a run at Cole this winter, Nightengale left the White Sox out. He mentioned four of the five California-based teams: the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and every White Sox fan's favorite, the San Diego Padres, who landed Machado back in February. He also mentioned the Astros, the New York Yankees (who Cole will pitch against in game 3 of the ALCS on Tuesday), the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers.

No White Sox.

There are plenty of other variables in this sweepstakes than just geography, and chief among them figures to be money. The White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility gained as a goal of the ongoing rebuilding process, but Hahn said that's not the most attractive element when it comes to free agents signing up to play on the South Side.

"The biggest advantage we have is the talent base we've accumulated so far and the excitement to come and be part of that," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. "We do have some economic flexibility. That was part of the plan from the start. But I think if you're looking at advantages, a lot of teams have money. A lot of teams don't offer the ability to play with some of the players that are joining us here already and joining in the coming years and the opportunity to win a championship in a city like Chicago."

Whether that appeals to Cole or whether the White Sox will set their sights elsewhere remains to be seen. Certainly his fellow Astros' predictions aren't the be all, end all. Remember last winter when it was a foregone conclusion Machado would be a Yankee because he was a fan of that team growing up? Didn't work out that way. (It's here that I'll mention a pretty cool nugget in Nightengale's piece about Cole sitting in the front row cheering on the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. Is he destined to wear pinstripes because of it? No.)

For the White Sox, they certainly should chase Cole, who would count as the biggest free-agent splash in team history and do a heck of a lot to vault the team out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. But Hahn is hoping that whichever players he lands this winter can do that, along with the team's talented young core, and there are plenty of starting-pitching options out there not named Gerrit Cole: Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and maybe even Stephen Strasburg. It's an impressive list of possibilities, one that remains impressive for the White Sox even if they fail to meet any imaginary Golden State requirement from Cole.

Even as Cole readies to face off against the Yankees in the ALCS, attempting to go 19-0 since he lost to the White Sox on May 22, his role as the star of the hot stove season is already beginning.

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MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

It isn't "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, but it is "an" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

The MLB Players Association announced Monday that White Sox hurler Lucas Giolito is a finalist for its "Players Choice" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, voted on by the game's players. He was joined by outfielders Hunter Pence of the Texas Rangers and Jorge Soler of the Kansas City Royals. On the NL side, the three finalists were Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The whole "voted on by your peers" element is pretty cool, as certainly they know how different the 2019 version of Giolito was from the one they saw a year earlier. James McCann, who played against Giolito as a Detroit Tiger in 2018 and then caught him as the White Sox backstop in 2019, constantly talked about how transformed Giolito was from one year to the next.

A totally different pitcher.

That's precisely what Giolito seemed like to us non-player types, too, after he went from the worst statistics of any qualified pitcher in 2018 to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff in 2019.

Giolito gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in the game in 2018, also leading the AL in walks during a season he finished with a 6.13 ERA. Then he went to work in the offseason, making mechanical changes and overhauling his mental approach to the game. It resulted in the kind of breakout season the prognosticators foresaw when they ranked him the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball once upon a time.

In 2019, Giolito posted a 3.41 ERA, went to the All-Star Game, struck out a whopping 228 batters — that particular feat accomplished by only two other pitchers in White Sox history — and will likely place somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote.

His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against two of the best teams in baseball, the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. Both shutouts came against 100-win teams on their own turf.

Presumably some Astros and Twins threw a few votes Giolito's way.

Giolito's status when it comes to "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award will be revealed next month, after the World Series is over. But for now, this is a pretty cool feather in the cap for him, another example of how far he's come.

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