White Sox

Hahn believes trade market about to pick up

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Hahn believes trade market about to pick up

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rick Hahn is fairly certain there will be a surge of action on the trade market in the near future.

The White Sox general manager believes once some of the marquee free agents come off the board teams with payroll once allotted for those players will begin to search for substitutes. Hahn seemed to believe the White Sox offseason is far from over during a media session Wednesday at the winter meetings.

Last month, rival executives said they believe the White Sox have made pitcher Gavin Floyd, outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo, and second baseman Gordon Beckham all available on the trade market. Hahn has also said he has been willing to listen to other teams about any players, though he admits some would be harder to move than others.

Once they realize we arent getting this guy they need to explore other options and they are more willing to spend some payroll on those spots, Hahn said. I think youve started to see that free-agent tier below the premium tier starting to find some homes. Thats starting to move since we got here. But the trade market may start to wait on those premium free agents. Look, if youre a club in on one of those, you dont have to give up talent to get somebody. If you have the money, you give up the money before you give up the money and the talent.

Wednesdays action at the meetings included talk of a four-team deal. Hahn last month spoke about the possibility of a three-team deal or two involving the White Sox and hopes to get in on the action if anything comes down.

I want to get a little piece of that, Hahn said. I dont want all my friends getting together and having fun without me.

Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: Free-agent additions

Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: Free-agent additions

The White Sox are heading into the shortened 2020 season with the same expectations they had back when they thought they’d be playing a 162-game schedule: to leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode.

They sure look capable of doing just that. And while it wouldn’t be possible without the emergence of the young core last season, you can’t build a contender solely from homegrown stars.

Rick Hahn followed through on this February 2018 declaration that “the money will be spent” with a super busy offseason that saw him add to nearly every facet of the roster. He remade the White Sox lineup, adding some power and on-base skills after the team sorely lacked in both areas a year ago. He added some dependability to a starting rotation that still seeks answers from its young, talented arms. And he even strengthened the back end of the bullpen with a proven late-inning option.

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All that work got fans super excited, and though the moves were a mixture of short- and long-term contracts, they all mesh together to provide the kind of fuel that can power the White Sox drive toward the top of the AL Central.

First was Yasmani Grandal, who signed before Thanksgiving, and though he — and everyone else, for that matter — has been overshadowed during “Summer Camp” by rookie five-tooler Luis Robert, he’s probably the most important newcomer to this 2020 group of South Siders. Robert will, the idea is, be around for the better part of the next decade, and superstar status might not be far off, if his teammates’ reviews are a reflection of reality. But Grandal sees the White Sox future in their pitching, the reason he keeps giving for why he bought into Hahn’s long-term vision and signed the biggest free-agent deal in club history.

A catcher, Grandal plays a position where it’s hard to find a long-term fill. White Sox fans don’t need to be reminded of that and can probably rattle off the name of everyone the team’s tried there since A.J. Pierzynski’s departure. Grandal is rated highly as a pitch-framer, a valuable skill until the robots come for the umpires’ jobs. He’s got good defensive numbers and is known as a quality influence on pitchers. The White Sox have a lot of young hurlers, some who still need to figure things out at the major league level — or have yet to even get there — and Grandal is going to be around for at least the next four years to shepherd them into what the team hopes is a lengthy contention window.

But Grandal is a huge upgrade with the bat, too. No offense to the All-Star numbers James McCann turned in during the first half last season, but Grandal has a much longer track record of being one of the more productive offensive catchers in the game. He was an All Star, too, last season, a career year that saw him hit 28 homers, drive in 77 runs and — perhaps most importantly — walk a whopping 109 times. That walk total was one of baseball’s highest last season and a gigantic addition to a White Sox lineup that, as a team, had the fewest walks in the game in 2019.

Grandal was the big fish that bought in first, but it might be Dallas Keuchel who ends up serving as the White Sox version of Jon Lester. Keuchel has a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship on his resume. He knows how to win, and he’s bringing his veteran know-how to that same young pitching staff. He’s already receiving rave reviews for how he’s worked with the White Sox young arms.

“Talking about Dallas, you don’t have enough time in a daily day to say all the positives he brings to the table,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said last week. “He’s the ultimate professional, a guy who goes out there and is an amazing teammate. What he builds, the chemistry in that clubhouse, and takes guys under the wing, the way to go about it as a true professional.

“His history has shown he’s a winner in every aspect, on the field and off the field, in the clubhouse. We are very very fortunate as an organization to have him to help us as an organization and help everybody in that clubhouse.”

But it’s his dependability every fifth day that will be the biggest plus for the White Sox, who outside of Lucas Giolito struggled to find much consistency from their starters during the 89-loss campaign a year ago. If White Sox fans turn up their noses at a Cubs comp, though, then let’s call Keuchel a potential Mark Buehrle type. Like the South Side legend, he’s got a closet full of Gold Gloves, and he’s accomplished what he’s accomplished without exactly blowing people away like Michael Kopech. With Keuchel and Giolito paired at the top of the starting staff, the White Sox have a reliable 1-2 punch that would sound pretty good as the first two starters in a playoff series.

RELATED: White Sox staff leader Lucas Giolito ready to rock, hopeful for multiple aces

To get there, though, the White Sox will have to outslug — or slug right along with — the division-rival Minnesota Twins. Before the previous offseason, this team just wasn’t capable of doing that. Grandal adds some power to the lineup, as does Robert and another newcomer in Nomar Mazara, but the White Sox have a new big bopper in Edwin Encarnación. The guy’s hit at least 30 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. Like José Abreu, he’s a proven and consistent veteran slugger who provides not just production but the peace of mind that the production will be there. He also brings an imaginary parrot.

The White Sox lineup is significantly more menacing with Encarnación in the middle of it, and for a team that ranked toward baseball’s bottom in both home runs and slugging percentage last season, it’s one heck of an upgrade.

“It gives us depth,” McEwing said of Encarnación last week. “It lengthens an extremely good lineup. It was a good lineup before. It makes it extremely longer. And the professionalism, Eddie, you can’t put a number on it. You can’t put a measure on it what he means to this ball club, not just in the clubhouse but on the field. When he steps in the box, it’s a presence that is the model of consistency in what he has done throughout his career and what he’s capable of doing. It means so much to every individual in that locker room and every time we step on the field, it’s a different presence.”

And it’d be wrong to exclude Steve Cishek from this group. He’s the newcomer at the back end of the White Sox bullpen. Teamed with Alex Colomé and Aaron Bummer, a unit that was a strength last year is now stronger. While Hahn will be the first to remind you of the volatility of relief pitching from one season to the next, Cishek brings a nice track record, including some high-stakes moments during his two-year stint with the Cubs. That time on the North Side showed durability, if nothing else, as Joe Maddon called on Cishek a whopping 150 times in two years.

The White Sox are obviously in the position they’re in because of the meticulous work of bringing young talent into the organization and getting it to the big leagues. But it’s free-agent splashes that truly move the needle in a fan base starved for championship contention. The White Sox did that, too, over the winter, reaching the always planned-for phase of the rebuild when they started adding win-now pieces.

Grandal and Keuchel are multi-year additions that fit in with Hahn’s long-term planning. Encarnación and Cishek? Maybe more like hired guns. Regardless, they’ll all have an impact on the 2020 team, and their presence is a big reason why the White Sox look ready to take the next step.


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White Sox test drive MLB's new extra-inning rule, and it doesn't look great

White Sox test drive MLB's new extra-inning rule, and it doesn't look great

"The runner on second,” White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer said last week, “I'm not a fan of at all.”

It’s not difficult to see why.

The White Sox took Major League Baseball’s new extra-inning rule for a test drive during Monday’s intrasquad game at Guaranteed Rate Field, and it’s not great.

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I’m no old-school baseball purist. Games are too long, and the league isn’t wrong to try to figure out a way to speed them up. In this case, it’s an attempt to get the game to finish up rather than speed up. And innovation, especially in this most unusual of seasons, should not be turned away.

But I’m not sure this one is a winner. In fact, it’s going to make a loser out of a lot of pitchers, hence their displeasure.

Here’s how we saw it play out Monday.

The White Sox started an inning by trotting Danny Mendick out to second base. Luis Basabe was supposed to bunt him over to third base, what he and many others would be asked to do in the same situation during the regular season. Basabe couldn’t get the bunt down, striking out while trying, but the White Sox made believe that it worked, moving Mendick to third with one out. It allowed for the infield and the pitcher, Jimmy Cordero, to practice for the real thing.

Nick Madrigal was up next and pretty much did what he was supposed to, smoking a line drive. But a drawn-in Leury García made a great play at second base, snagging the liner and keeping Mendick from scoring. The White Sox practiced some more, making a high-stakes pitching change by bringing in Steve Cishek, someone who likely will find himself trying to wriggle out of such a situation come the regular season. Cishek gave up a floater of a base hit to Nicky Delmonico, and the run scored.

Now, soft contact turning a game on its head is nothing new for baseball, and it’s just bad luck pitchers have to deal with. But the point is that through no fault of the pitcher — not even bad luck — it resulted in a run.

And that’s where it’s easy to finding a decent sized flaw in this new extra-inning setup. By starting all extra innings with a runner on second base, the pitcher is in an immediate jam. This is the idea, of course, to increase the chance of a tie-breaking run scoring and the game coming to a quicker conclusion. But nothing had to happen to get to that point.

Let’s say a low-scoring game spins into extras. Congratulations, pitchers, on keeping the opposing offenses in check. Your reward is a runner in scoring position. Get out of it.

RELATED: White Sox staff leader Lucas Giolito ready to rock, hopeful for multiple aces

It’s an interesting challenge, and the upside of this rule — outside of the game not lasting five hours, obviously — is increased drama. The situation suddenly becomes as tense as can be, and every move a manager makes to try to keep that run off the board becomes a high pressure one. In a season where players are already preparing for every game to matter in a 60-game sprint to the playoffs, one game in the standings could wind up a huge deal.

But while late-game skippering is fun to watch, will it be as fun without the build-up? It’s one thing if a leadoff man comes through and doubles to start the 10th, putting pressure on the pitcher and the defense. It’s another thing when he’s there at second base and the pitcher — nor the base runner — did anything but show up.

“is there a difference between being here for three and a half hours versus four hours for a game?” Bummer said. “That's for someone else to make a decision that's a whole lot smarter than I am. But I'm not necessarily a fan of that. I think that's when you start messing with the integrity of the game.”

Even the guy who has to do the strategizing isn’t looking forward to it.

“That’s something I’m sure everyone is excited about trying. I’ll be honest, I’m not,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said last month. “I’ll just lay it out there. I’m glad everyone is going to enjoy something new. ‘We want to tie in some excitement.’ I’m more of a traditionalist.

“I would have rather just had — my own opinion is, and I put this out there years ago, and I’ll get myself in trouble — just play an 11-inning game and figure out some way of creating a point system. If you’re tied after that, you use a mechanism that gives you the ability to create something that gives you some form of differentiating yourself from other clubs that end up having the same type of record or whatnot. Then we just play the game and it ends when it ends.”

Bringing this rule in for the 2020 season makes sense from a health-and-safety standpoint. Playing in the middle of the pandemic, the idea is to keep players in close proximity to one another for as little time as possible. Extra innings can drag a game on forever, and that’s not what you want in these circumstances.

But this has been in the works longer than the pandemic’s been around, with the rule used in the minor leagues last year. It’s one of the proposals to shrink game times that have been stretched out by more pitching changes and more selective hitters. The days of Mark Buehrle breezing through a game and getting everyone home for a late dinner are history. So the league is taking matters into its own hands.

RELATED: Michael Kopech's 2020 absence won't sink deep White Sox pitching staff

Some things will work. Some things won’t. Some won’t make a difference. No drastic changes seemed to come from the restrictions on the number of mound visits. Nobody seems to pay much attention to the between-inning countdown clocks in every ballpark. We’ll see what effect the three-batter minimum, another new one for 2020, has on the parade of pitching changes. My prediction? It will lead to a bevy of two-out pitching changes.

But none of those new ideas take the pitching and the hitting out of the players’ hands like the new extra-inning rule does. Changes to baseball are just fine, as long as you’re still playing baseball. In this instance, you’re literally removing the pitcher-vs.-hitter essence of things by skipping ahead to the runner in scoring position.

A saving grace? Maybe this won’t be too much of a brave new world for relief pitchers, who tend to be called on to strand runners on a fairly regular basis.

“Relievers, they train for that situation, guys come in with bases loaded, nobody out. So it's just kind of treating it like that,” White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito said Monday. “You're coming in to do your job, execute pitches, get out of the situation. I think if you worry too much about that runner being there, that's when you can get into trouble. I trust that our guys know how to handle that.”


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