White Sox

Five reasons why Pierzynski won't return to the White Sox

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Five reasons why Pierzynski won't return to the White Sox

Nothing is final at such an early juncture in the offseason, but it appears A.J. Pierzynski will play for another team next season.

The free agent-catcher -- an eight-year White Sox veteran -- has indicated a strong desire to return to the South Side in 2013. The franchise has also reciprocated the sentiment: general manager Rick Hahn wants to retain the clubs only World Series-winning catcher in the past 88 seasons.

But even though both sides have good intentions, several mitigating factors could combine to interfere with a reunion. Heres a look at those five reasons:

1 -- Limited payroll

The White Sox dont have unlimited resources. With a payroll expected to be in the 97-100 million range, Hahns hands are hardly tied. But the team has already committed 89.25 million for nine players and several under contract -- Alejandro De Aza, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo -- could earn another 7 million after arbitration and raises. At the minimum, the teams other 13 players on the 25-man roster would cost 6.5 million, which leaves little room for another expensive player.

2 -- Raise due

Pierzynski earned 6 million in 2012 in the final season of a two-year, 8-million deal he signed before 2011. He also he hit 27 home runs and drove in 77 RBIs, career-high figures. With a lack of options on the free-agent market behind the plate -- a premium position -- Pierzynski is due a significant raise. After he cut a deal to return in 2011, and as this figures to be his last big money contract, the 35-year-old wants a fair deal, which will be costly. On Saturday, Boston gave 35-year-old David Ross, a career backup catcher, a two-year deal for 6.2 million.

3 -- Viable replacement

With an average of 133 12 games played the past eight seasons, Pierzynski is a proven, durable commodity behind the dish. His willingness to play through injury and ability to speak his mind have value in the clubhouse that cannot be measured.

But the White Sox believe they can ably replace Pierzynski with Tyler Flowers. Though Flowers, who turns 27 in January, has played only 108 games in the major leagues, the team is high on his receiving ability, arm and believes he is capable of hitting 15-20 home runs -- all at or just above the major-league minimum.

4 -- Priority

Pierzynski played a significant role last season for a team that was in the race for the American League Central title until the final two games of the season. He won the Silver Slugger award earlier this week for his offensive performance. But catcher isnt the only position where the White Sox have an opening this season and their need at third base is much greater because they have Flowers. With Brent Morels health still in question and the team not in favor of Dayan Viciedos return to the hot corner, the White Sox will likely need to bring in a free agent -- perhaps Kevin Youkilis -- or acquire a player through trade before they worry about their catching situation.

5 -- Timing

Pierzynski has to be viewed as the top option behind the plate along with the Texas Rangers Mike Napoli. The rest of the free-agent class offers few starters and none with the offensive abilities of Pierzynski. What that means is Pierzynski wont have to wait around for a catching market to be established. Though it is early in the offseason, Pierzynski should receive strong interest and could be signed before the White Sox have an opportunity to resolve the hole at third base.

As Hahn said earlier this month, nothing is final when it comes to a teams own free agents. Sentimentality can factor in as well and either party could potentially bend to bring Pierzynski back to the South Side. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf made sure such a reunion happened in 2011 when he got involved at the last minute, sources have confirmed. But it will likely take another such intervention or Pierzynski again agreeing to take less for him to call 35th Street his baseball home once again.

Buckle up, White Sox, here come the best two teams in baseball

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USA TODAY

Buckle up, White Sox, here come the best two teams in baseball

Things are about to get tougher for the White Sox. Much tougher.

The upcoming road trip features seven straight games against first-place teams, the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins. Those two teams are, by their winning percentages as of this writing, the two best teams in baseball.

The much-bemoaned makeup of this season’s American League means seeing top-shelf competition is a rarity for any team playing outside the AL East. The Astros are a mile ahead of the rest of the AL West. The Twins have appeared, so far, as the only team capable of winning an aggressively weak AL Central. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays — three teams the White Sox have already seen one time apiece — will battle it out for the AL East crown all season long, but let’s be honest, they all seem safe bets to make the postseason.

The fact that the five teams likely to make the playoffs have already put themselves ahead of the competition and it’s not even Memorial Day is its own discussion topic as the rebuilding trend sweeps through the Junior Circuit. But for the 2019 edition of the Chicago White Sox, specifically, it just means that this week is not likely to be a good one.

In the 10 games they played against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, the White Sox went 3-7. They were pasted by the Rays and Red Sox, who combined to outscore them 58-18 in seven games on the South Side, and they took two of three from the Yankees in The Bronx.

Of course, any expectations can be dashed in a small portion of a 162-game season. Cast your mind back to 2017, when the White Sox swept a three-game series from the soon-to-be world-champion Astros. The South Siders finished with 95 losses that season, but for three games in August, they had the champs’ number.

Will this week go similarly? Maybe. But it doesn’t seem likely.

The Astros are on fire, or at least they were before the Red Sox snapped their 10-game winning streak Sunday. That doesn’t change the fact that the Astros boast a plus-92 run differential that counts as the best in the game. Or their 3.43 team ERA (second in the AL). Or their .279 team batting average and jaw-dropping .353 team on-base percentage, both marks the best in baseball.

The Twins, the division rivals the White Sox will see for the first time in 2019 beginning Friday, aren’t far behind. That offense has been sensational, too, through the season’s first two months, owning baseball’s second best run differential (plus-77) and its second best team batting average (.270). No team in either league has hit more homers than the Twins, who have launched 87 of them in 45 games.

The White Sox, meanwhile, have a fragile, injury-affected starting rotation — after Sunday’s game, manager Rick Renteria did not share who’s starting Monday’s game — and a pitching staff with a 5.09 ERA that’s given up 68 homers this season. Sunday, Reynaldo Lopez made it through six innings of one-run ball, only for the White Sox bullpen to cough up a pair of two-run homers to the Toronto Blue Jays (one of baseball’s worst offenses) in the game’s final two innings. It was the sixth time this season the White Sox bullpen has allowed multiple home runs in a single game.

“Gulp” might be an appropriate reaction to hearing the White Sox have to go up against the Houston and Minnesota offenses seven times in the next seven days.

This isn’t to say the White Sox are merely a punching bag for these two giants of the American League right now. Certainly most of the teams the Astros and Twins have faced have suffered less than desirable fates. But the gaps between the rebuilding White Sox and this pair of contenders are not small.

The White Sox are trying to accomplish the same thing the Astros did, spending several frustrating years being patient during a rebuilding process only to come out the other side a perennial contender and World Series champion. These same Astros who are now bullying the rest of the AL lost a total of 416 games in the four seasons prior to their first playoff season in a decade in 2015. By the end of the 2017 campaign, they were world champions. That’s the template the White Sox are trying to follow.

But the White Sox aren’t to the mountaintop yet, and that might end up being painfully clear by the end of the upcoming road trip. It doesn’t mean their climb won’t get them to that same point, but don’t try to compare the 2019 White Sox to the 2019 Astros this week. That’s not the comparison that counts.

The Twins are a little different, having revamped their lineup over the offseason with free-agent acquisitions who have paid huge dividends. C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz (currently on the IL) have combined for 31 homers in 45 games. But homegrown guys like Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler are all playing well, too. That quintet has accounted for 43 of the Twins’ 87 homers this season. That’s a strong core of homegrown young hitters, the kind of thing the White Sox hope to have real soon, the kind of thing that’s taking shape with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson off to good starts and Eloy Jimenez at the major league level (and likely to come off the injured list Monday).

The White Sox have obviously had their positives this season, and they’re clearly in a better place now than they were at this point last year (a 21-24 record after Sunday’s game compared to 14-31 through the first 45 games of 2018). But their rebuilding process hasn’t yet reached the point where they’re going to be trading blows with the two best teams in baseball.

There could be some surprises on this road trip. But they don’t figure to be easy to come by. Buckle up, here come the two best teams in baseball.

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The key to Lucas Giolito's success

The key to Lucas Giolito's success

Lucas Giolito has looked like a different pitcher this season, particularly over his last five starts, where he has posted a miniscule 1.67 ERA in 27 innings, striking out 32 and walking only 9. But even if you take his entire 2019 body of work into account, he has been so much better through eight starts than he was in 2018.

Of 109 pitchers who entered Sunday with at least 40 innings pitched, 24 of them are averaging 10 or more strikeouts per 9 innings, and Giolito is one of them, at 10.47. Giolito finished 2018 with 6.5 strikeouts per 9 innings, which is far from ideal. Going by strikeout percentage, he’s way up from 16.1 percent to 28.6 percent.

Comparing his first eight starts of the season in 2018 and 2019, the difference is staggering.

Lucas Giolito – first eight starts of season

  2018 2019
ERA 6.91 3.35
IP 41.2 43
Hits 37 32
K/BB 23/32 50/18
HR 4 3

Maybe the ERA stands out most to you, but to me, the strikeouts are much more critical.

But why? How is he doing it? The answer certainly seems to be the changeup.

Lucas Giolito first seven starts of 2018 and 2019.

Strikeouts by pitch type (pitch type data from Statcast)

  2018 2019
4-seam fastball 11 17
CHANGEUP 0 16
Curve 2 1
Slider 8 12

Giolito over his first seven starts of 2019 recorded 16 strikeouts on his changeup, whereas he didn’t record any strikeouts through seven starts last season. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you have watched him work this season. That pitch is nasty and hopefully it continues to be a weapon going forward.

 

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