White Sox

Despite Chris Sale rumors, White Sox say they have contingencies in place for a rebuild

Despite Chris Sale rumors, White Sox say they have contingencies in place for a rebuild

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Though the majority of reports Monday suggested Chris Sale would be the first piece to go in a potential rebuild, the White Sox say they have many contingencies.

The five-time All-Star pitcher was one of the hottest topics on the rumor mill at the first day of the Winter Meetings on Monday and figures to be all week. Tied to numerous teams either vying for his services or reportedly dropping out because of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s high-asking price of four can’t-miss prospects, the pursuit of Sale already has been established as one of the offseason’s top stories to follow. But general manager Rick Hahn — whose phone has constantly been recharging after what he describes as an “interesting few weeks” — said the White Sox aren’t limited to one major move to get their offseason underway. As long as someone pays up, the White Sox could deal any one of several players from a top-heavy and talented roster.

“What we are looking to do is deals that put ourselves in the strongest position possible for the long term and there’s no need for Player X to move before Player Y if we get to the right price point on any given deal,” Hahn said.

Hahn continued to make it perfectly clear Monday that the White Sox are interested in long-term moves. The days of quick fixes appear to be over with the hope being that a dramatic paradigm shift could one day prevent the franchise from enduring another eight-year long playoff drought.

The White Sox want to one day be able to provide sound replacements from within their own farm system, something Hahn has preached for years, but hasn’t yet been able to attain. Hahn said he’s encouraged about the potential returns from other teams and the prospect of reloading a thin farm system by trading several of the talented pieces from his roster.

But by no means would the direction the White Sox take be held up by one trade in particular. Given the White Sox have few bad contracts on the books, the team isn’t at a disadvantage of being in a position where it must trade Sale or Jose Quintana. If the White Sox deal either one of their All-Star pitchers or Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton or anyone else, it would only be after they feel their price has been met.

“I think what we are looking to do is put ourselves in a position for extended success,” Hahn said. “The means for us to do that is by acquiring as much impact, controllable talent as we can over an extended period and continuing the efforts to build us up internationally and through the draft and adding to that potentially via trade.

“It’s not something that’s necessarily going to happen over night. It’s not something that I would expect to be completed while we are here in its entirety. It’s going to be a process potentially that takes some time. …

“We have alternatives in mind and alternative routes for putting the club together. We are pretty confident about what we want to try to accomplish and how that’s going to unfold. …

“We don’t want to be caught in between. But again, we’re not going to force that seven things have to get done or it’s not worth doing one. It’s a process.”

Fifty homers? Eloy Jimenez aims to be a centerpiece in a newly powerful White Sox lineup

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USA TODAY

Fifty homers? Eloy Jimenez aims to be a centerpiece in a newly powerful White Sox lineup

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Fifty. Fifty home runs.

That's a lot of home runs in a single season.

But Eloy Jimenez — like he does with just about everything — is greeting that number with a smile and a laugh.

"Why not?" he said, when asked Monday at Camelback Ranch if he believes he could hit 50-plus homers in a single campaign.

Jimenez does this quite often, asking his own questions of reporters who just asked him a question. Most of the time it's an opinion kind of thing. For example, earlier in the same media session, I asked him how the White Sox lineup looks after the team's many offseason additions. He turned it back on me: "What do you think?" I told him it looks significantly improved from last season. "OK, you have the answer." I guess I did.

But to his "Why not?" in the 50-homer discussion, there was no response from the assembled media. Because really, there isn't a reason why he can't hit 50 home runs in a single season.

It's becoming more of a rarity in baseball, especially since the homer-happy days of the steroid era. And it's never happened on the South Side. The team record for homers in a single season is 49, accomplished by Albert Belle in 1998. That mark was a tad overshadowed by what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did that year.

But the point is that if Jimenez reached the 50-homer mark, it would be a new White Sox record.

Why can't he do it? Crickets.

Jimenez has the power to do such a thing, hitting 31 home runs in a rookie season that still featured plenty of growing pains. Put those behind him, and who knows how many balls he can launch to the fan deck in center field.

A lot of the focus this winter and this spring is on improving his defense, which looked nowhere near as ready for dominance as his bat did in 2019. But manager Rick Renteria constantly talks about how Jimenez and his fellow White Sox youngsters are just scratching the surface of what they'll be able to do in their careers. If that's the case, then White Sox fans better brace themselves for some spectacular feats on the South Side over the next decade. Jimenez hitting 50 homers might just be one of them.

That's a maybe for the time being, though. What's a certainty is that Jimenez and this revamped White Sox lineup look primed for a far more powerful 2020 campaign.

In 2019, the White Sox were one of just six teams to hit fewer than 200 home runs. Their team slugging percentage of .414 was the sixth worst in baseball. This while the division-rival Minnesota Twins set a new major league record with 307 home runs, using all that might to win 101 games and the AL Central crown.

That's the prize the White Sox have their sights on this season. To win it, they'll need a power boost. Well, that's what Rick Hahn's front office tried to provide this offseason, adding Edwin Encarnacion (34 homers in 2019) as the new DH, Yasmani Grandal (28 homers) as the new No. 1 catcher, Nomar Mazara (19 homers) as the new right fielder and Luis Robert (32 homers in the minor leagues) as the new center fielder. That's four new everyday bats in a lineup that already included Jose Abreu (33 homers in 2019), Jimenez (31 homers), Yoan Moncada (25 homers) and Tim Anderson (18 homers).

While the baseball that many believe led to the kinds of inflated homer numbers that teams like Twins put up in 2019 is slated for change in 2020, many of those White Sox haven't reached the crest of their power-hitting wave. Jimenez, Moncada, Anderson, Mazara and obviously Robert are still young, still developing and could still have a lot more power production in them.

In other words, yes, this is a powerful lineup. And it's expected to get even more powerful.

"Our lineup has now been stretched out a little bit more. It's a little deeper, which is huge for us," Renteria said. "Mazara and what we believe he might be able to bring to the table, and another year of growth for the guys that are here. The power potential in terms of just having guys with solid experience, obviously power. Now you've got some protection, a little bit more. And so we'll continue to try to see how we develop that lineup composition, but certainly have many options at hand and we'll do the best we can to make it work."

No matter how you want to stack them up, Renteria is right. Last season, the White Sox had the four long-term centerpieces of their order — Anderson, Moncada, Abreu and Jimenez — and a half season of All-Star caliber production from James McCann. This season, the lineup contains productive and powerful options all the way toward the bottom. That's a big change from what fans have watched on a nightly basis during these rebuilding years and is a big part of the reason there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side.

None of the newcomers has a more powerful profile than Encarnacion. His 297 homers since 2012 are the most in the majors. He's hit at least 30 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. And despite playing in just 109 games with the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners last season, he still ranked 12th in the American League in long balls.

He's also known Jimenez since the young White Sox star was 14 years old. Who knows if Encarnacion can take much credit for Jimenez becoming a dangerous hitter in his own right, but Jimenez is happy to give Encarnacion credit for the impact he's made in his life — and the impact he thinks he'll make in the White Sox clubhouse.

"Now, to play with Edwin, in the same lineup, for me is really exciting," Jimenez said. "After I found out he was going to sign with us, I said, 'Welcome home.' And he said, 'Yeah, now I’m on a really good team and we can change the game.' So now I think we have a really good lineup, and we’re going to change the game, too.

"He gave me a lot of advice before I signed. The first advice I’ll always have with me: Don’t get crazy and don’t change because you have money. That is one of the biggest advice I’ve ever had from him. Before I got to the majors, he said, 'Don’t try to do too much and just show what you do always.' And that was the other advice he gave me.

"I appreciate him because he’s always treated me as a kid he loves. For me, it’s good to have a veteran who takes care of me.

"He’s the veteran on the team. You can see, he hits with a lot of power. And he’s a good teammate. So I’m guessing he’s going to (have the same impact he’s had) on me on the other guys, too."

The fans in the bleachers are hoping Encarnacion has an impact on them, too.

Up and down the lineup, those fans should see a lot more activity this season. Maybe that even means catching some of the 50 or more balls Jimenez could send into the seats.

"Why not?" Jimenez repeated. "Yeah, it’s a big number, but my goal is every year to have better numbers than the past year. So I think, one day, I can hit 50 plus. But let’s see."

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Can Luis Robert live up to the hype? 'He makes the game look pretty easy'

Can Luis Robert live up to the hype? 'He makes the game look pretty easy'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Yoan Moncada hype was pretty huge. So was the Michael Kopech hype. And the Eloy Jimenez hype.

But like the answer to the question about who is the best Bears quarterback of all time, the answer to which White Sox prospect has the most hype always seems to be: the next one.

The next one is Luis Robert, and his hype is sky high for a somewhat unique reason among this generation of White Sox up-and-comers. He’s a true five-tool threat who can do everything on a baseball field. Jimenez went as far as calling him “the next Mike Trout” during SoxFest.

Ask his teammates what impresses them the most about Robert, and they take a broad approach to answering, as good an indication as any that what makes Robert so special isn’t one thing. It’s everything.

“All of his game, all the things he does on the field,” third baseman Yoan Moncada said Monday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I can’t pick just one.”

“He can do it on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive side,” second baseman Nick Madrigal said. “He’ll hit a 400-plus-foot home run one day, and then he’ll make a Superman catch in the outfield. It seems like he can do it all. Stealing bases every day. He’s definitely the complete package.”

It’s that overflowing toolbox that has made the prospect evaluators out there peg Robert as the best of the White Sox bunch. Moncada, Jimenez, Kopech, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito. All those guys are cornerstones of this rebuilding project. But Robert has the potential to be the brightest star of all.

You only need a sampling of the highlights that accompanied his rapid rise through the minor league system in 2019, when he played at three different levels, to know this. He launched home runs, made highlight-reel grabs in center field, stole 36 bases and slashed .328/.376/.624.

Now he’s got a big-money contract that cleared the way for him to start the 2020 season on the big league roster and will keep him in a White Sox uniform for as many as eight seasons.

It’s all added up to huge expectations as he gets his first taste of the major leagues. Like Moncada and Jimenez before him, just huger.

“I am confident that I am going to have a very good year this year,” Robert said through Russo on Sunday. “I think my mind is strong and in the right place. What I did last year reinforced all the things that I know that I can do on the field. It helped me a lot.

“One of the things that I’m going to learn is that I’m going to need to make adjustments as quickly as possible, as fast as possible, because I know that in the major leagues, I won’t have too much time to waste.”

And so the question becomes whether Robert can live up to the hype. As Moncada and Giolito and Jimenez showed, growing pains would not be unexpected, and even the most hyped prospects who eventually became big league stars had to go through bumpy roads in the early going.

Moncada’s and Giolito’s struggles in their first full seasons in the majors were dramatic, with Moncada striking out 217 times and Giolito posting the worst statistics of any starter in the game. Jimenez hit 31 home runs as a rookie, but he also faced his share of struggles.

Fans are ready for Robert to set the major leagues on fire the same way he did the minors. Taking a little while to get that fire going would not be at all surprising.

“When I spoke to him once we extended him, I reached out to congratulate him and he texted me back: ‘It’s time to go to work,’” manager Rick Renteria said. “He knows this is just the first step, and I think he understands that there are a lot of people expecting so many different things.

“It’s just our job to make sure he understands: ‘Just go out there and play the game. You are not the only one here. There will be a lot of guys here who have to do their particular job and hopefully as you move along, you are able to balance it out.’

“You are always trying to prove you belong here. It takes a little time to ultimately settle down. It won’t be any different for him than any of the other guys.”

And that’s a resource Robert can lean on. The past experiences of Moncada, going through his struggles in 2018, or Kopech, making his big league debut to much fanfare, or Jimenez, admitting that he was a little too anxious when he arrived in the big leagues last Opening Day, can be of great assistance to Robert as he takes his own first steps as a major leaguer.

“The biggest and the key advice from me to him is just to be patient, be calm,” Moncada said. “He’s going to want to do a lot of things. ‘Just take your time.’ I’m going to be around him, (Jose Abreu) is going to be around him. For him it’s going to be very important to be patient and calm because he has the talent to do good things but he needs to also control all the world around him.”

“During SoxFest, we were talking about the things that I’m going to face during my first season in the major leagues. And I am pretty sure they are going to keep giving me advice throughout the whole season,” Robert said, “just about things that I need to improve, things I can do better or things that I’m going to face, how to manage those challenges or those situations. I know that I’m going to have them on my side, and they’re going to help me.”

At the same time, pressure doesn’t really seem to be a word Robert spends a lot of time thinking about.

“Since I signed with the team, I know the expectations have been high, but it hasn’t affected me at all,” he said. “This year won’t be any different. I just need to do my work.”

While it’s a good idea to lessen any pressure and temper expectations for a 22-year-old kid who’s never faced a major league pitch in his life, there’s a reason those expectations are as high as they are. There’s a reason he’s ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball.

Robert is really, really talented. And he can do just about anything you’d want a baseball player to do.

Can he live up to the hype? While the realistic answer is to be patient, you can’t help but see some of the giddiness breaking through.

“It just seems like he’s a different player out there, you know?” Madrigal said. “Sometimes when he’s locked in, it seems like he makes the game look pretty easy. One pitch, it looks like he gets fooled, and the next pitch, he’s hitting it out of the ballpark.”

“I think the fans are going to get crazy just watching him, what he’s capable of doing on the field,” Moncada said. “It’s going to be an exciting time for them. He can do a lot of stuff, and everybody’s going to be very, very happy and excited for him on the field and just watching what he’s doing.”

The Luis Robert Show debuts March 26 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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