White Sox

Healthy international program could be big contributor in White Sox rebuild

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White Sox

Healthy international program could be big contributor in White Sox rebuild

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox reportedly have strong interest in 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert and are perhaps even poised to sign a player who produced a 1.213 OPS last season.

That the organization has reached a point where it would make a significant investment in an extremely talented international prospect is yet another signal about the strength of its Latin American program. Headed by Marco Paddy, the White Sox have endured a transformation from the days of the Dave Wilder scandal to having a minimal presence in Latin America to once again becoming a player on the international market. 

General manager Rick Hahn said much of the credit for the shift belongs to Paddy, a highly-respected, well-connected evaluator with an eye for talent who's in his sixth season with the team. Paddy has not only helped refurbish the team's once-tarnished reputation, but he also has provided ownership with a renewed sense of confidence. Such assurance could be critical for the White Sox to make another big international signing when Robert becomes eligible for free agency either in June or July.

"It wasn't just a matter of us going out and getting somebody and putting him in place internationally," Hahn said. "It was a matter of going out and getting someone we felt was among the best in the game and would bring his expertise and his network to our organization and help essentially re-establish ourselves from zero, which is where we were before he joined us."

"We were not in a great spot before he joined us internationally. He carries a lot of weight down there and gets us access to the right guys and is an excellent evaluator of talent."

As a result of Wilder's dismissal in May 2008, the White Sox had limited credibility in the international community when they hired Paddy away from the Toronto Blue Jays on Nov. 30, 2011. The involvement of Wilder and two scouts in a skimming scandal resulted in a two-month investigation by Major League Baseball and a two-year sentence on federal charges for the team's former player development director in 2013. 

The team's international investments dried up almost immediately. The club's largest signing in the 3 1/2-year gap between Wilder's firing and Paddy's hire was a $125,000 bonus for left-handed pitcher Jefferson Olacio in 2010. Beyond him, most signings were of players valued in the $10-to-30,000 range. 

The team had such a minimal scouting infrastructure that trainers rarely brought their top players to showcases because they didn't believe the White Sox were worth it.

"They had at best a token presence in Latin American up until Marco Paddy took over," Baseball America's Ben Badler said. "They just weren't finding any talent in any of those years.

"He was a very important addition for them. They were pretty much a non-factor and the trainers who have players throughout Latin American (knew) the White Sox were not going to spend money down there — ‘Why should we bother bringing them to the White Sox?'"

Paddy's hiring as Hahn's special assistant in charge of international operations gave the White Sox instant access to players previously unattainable. His resume includes five seasons as Toronto's Director of Latin America Operations (2007-11) and 14 with the Atlanta Braves, including the final three as their international director. 

He also has earned a reputation for finding major league talent. Paddy signed Toronto closer Roberto Osuna as well as pitcher Henderson Alvarez, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, both of whom were included in the trade for Mark Buehrle. The Blue Jays traded outfielder Wuilmer Becerra to acquire R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets and catcher Carlos Perez to the Houston Astros for J.A. Happ. Both were signed by Paddy.

(Photo courtesy of El Nacional)

Within two weeks of his hire by the White Sox, Paddy signed right-handed pitcher Luis Martinez — who last season struck out 141 batters in 137 innings with a 3.81 ERA at Single-A Kannapolis — to a $250,000 bonus. But Paddy had plenty of work ahead to get the White Sox into position of overall respectability.

"It's safe to say it was more just standing still," Paddy said. "It was just there, just stagnant and not a lot movement. It was kind of waiting for someone to take over and lead the way. It was still functioning, but it needed someone to take the reigns and say ‘Ok, we're going to go in this direction.'"

Paddy's improvements include the hire of four scouts, including three full-timers in Venezuela. He also recommended an overhaul of the team's Dominican Republic academy in Boca Chica, which was close to dilapidated. 

"It was really rundown, beat down," said amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler. "It was rough."

Among the items the White Sox added: an additional batting cage, air conditioning units, a computer lab and outdoor agility courses. They also upgrade the players' rooms and kitchen in a total refurbishing of the dorms. But beyond the improved infrastructure, the rest has been up to Paddy and his network of connections.

"Baseball is an industry where everybody knows everybody," he said. "What helped me was the reputation I have in the industry, especially internationally, the relationships I'd built during the time I was with Atlanta and then Toronto. It made it a lot easier for the White Sox to get more attention from (trainers)."

(Photo courtesy of the White Sox)

Paddy said the investment from ownership was the final piece to the program and it has steadily increased with time and trust. An ex-Braves farmhand, Paddy, 52, was instrumental in the team's pursuit and October 2013 signing of Jose Abreu, who was acquired for $68 million. Paddy suggested the White Sox sign the Cuban slugger and executive vice president Kenny Williams recommended it to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after he attended a workout. Abreu's success after signing a franchise-record deal has only given the White Sox more confidence in Paddy. 

The Abreu deal occurred four months after the team made its biggest international splash under Paddy, signing outfielder Micker Adolfo for a $1.6 million bonus. 

While he hasn't yet exceeded his signing bonus pool with the White Sox, Paddy has continued to sign high-profile international teenagers. Infielder Franklin Reyes received $1.5 million in July 2015, a year after infielders Amado Nunez and Ricky Mota received $900,000 and $750,000, respectively. Catcher Jhoandro Alfaro also signed in July 2014 for $700,000. 

Fernando Tatis Jr. — who was traded to San Diego last summer — signed for $700,000 in July 2015. 

Last July, the White Sox signed three outfielders ranked among Baseball America's top-50 international prospects: Josue Guerrero (33rd overall), Luis Mieses (36) and Anderson Comas (37). Guerrero received $1.1 million, Mieses got $428,000 and Comas earned $450,000. The team also signed righty pitcher Henderson Caraballo for $350,000 and shortstop Lenyn Sosa for $325,000. 

"They're definitely in a better position than they were previously," Badler said. 

Hostetler and Williams raved about the sheer quantity of talented players who had begun to trickle into the system after the team held its instructional camp from mid-September through October. Those players had previously been absent after the club's three-year hiatus from adding international talent and hurt the depth of the club's farm system. 

Though none of Paddy's 15-to-16-year old signees have yet reached the majors, the White Sox expected a five-to-six-year process at the minimum.

"He's starting to influx the system with really good, high ceiling, athletic, middle of the diamond-type guys as well as some power guys," Hostetler said. "My guess is we're looking at the next 18 months, these guys are going to start surfacing and flying up boards and (prospect) rankings."

While Adolfo was the biggest name at the time and Tatis' stock has risen to where he'd potentially be the first overall pick this summer were he available in the amateur draft, Robert could be the biggest of the bunch. Were MLB to be make Robert available before June 15, teams could bid for his services under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement. There's no telling where the bidding could go for the lean, 6-foot-3 outfielder who last season hit .401/.526/.687 in 232 plate appearances in Cuba's Serie Nacional. 

Two years ago, Boston signed current White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada for $31.5 million. By exceeding its bonus pool, the Red Sox had to pay an additional $31.5 million tax. 

Though Baseball America reported that the White Sox are one of the most talked about teams as a landing spot for Robert, those talks could be premature as several key officials have yet to see him in person. 

If Robert doesn't get cleared in time by MLB, he'll be added to the July 2 class and subject to a new set of rules under the recently signed CBA. Under the new system, teams' bonus pools max out near $5 million with most having about $4.75 million to spend. Several big spending teams already can't sign players during the upcoming period because they previously exceeded their max in 2015-16. Baseball America said the White Sox "would have more room than most in their bonus pool" starting July 2.

Whereas the previous CBA only taxed teams, the new one has harsher penalties, including the loss of draft picks and the inability to sign future prospects.

"This (new) system now is more about history, it's about knowing the player, who's willing to invest your entire pool, portions of it, whatever," Paddy said. "If you have history, and we've been fortunate to have history because we do our due diligence, then now you're more prepared to make an investment that may involve the entire amount you have for your signing pool."

Their confidence in Paddy and his staff and the leveled playing field have the White Sox liking their chances under the new CBA. When a similar change took place with signing bonuses in baseball's amateur draft in 2012, the White Sox became far bigger spenders on amateur talent. Since then, the White Sox have spent their entire bonus pool amount each time and even exceeded it to sign first-rounder Carlos Rodon in 2014. With an emphasis on adding young, homegrown talent, the rebuilding White Sox plan to do more of the same in the future.

"Now that there's a little firmer cap internationally it does tend to make it a little bit more perhaps old school and that's a competition among player evaluators — through player evaluation and economic muscle," Hahn said. 

"We've got the utmost faith in Marco and his staff.

"With Marco's reputation and the work he has put in, and the network he has assembled down there, I feel like we have access to all the finest talent and good of a chance as anybody to sign them."

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re wrapping things up with the manager and the coaching staff.

What happened in 2019

While it’s easy to cruise through the statistical production of players and determine just how well they performed in 2019, that’s a little more difficult when it comes to manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.

In the end, managers and coaches are evaluated on win-loss record — or at least how close they came to meeting the expectations in that department. While the White Sox are a gruesome 83 games under .500 in Renteria’s three years at the helm, that’s not really falling outside the expectations he had when he took over a rebuilding club. So it’s pretty hard to argue that because the White Sox lost 89 games in 2019, Renteria did a poor job.

Truly, his performance as a manager can’t be determined until he’s managing a team with expectations of winning. Renteria more than anyone has been the one setting such expectations for 2020, spending much of the waning weeks of the 2019 campaign voicing his opinion that all this losing stops next season.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Renteria and his staff did plenty in 2019 to continue developing the team’s young players into the core of the future. But the skipper's most memorable on-field moment came in September, when even after he stopped making mound visits because of shoulder surgery, he went out to the mound and had an animated conversation with Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez made a habit of following up stellar performances with ugly ones, lacking consistency in a fashion that made even the optimistic Renteria throw up his hands at times. Renteria utilized that frustration on the mound in Detroit in an attempt to get some points across to the pitcher.


When it comes to Renteria’s staff, certainly they deserve some credit for some of the breakout seasons on the roster. Hitting coach Todd Steverson did offseason work with both Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson ahead of 2019 campaigns that saw them transform into the best all-around hitter on the team and the big league batting champ, respectively. Pitching coach Don Cooper helped oversee Lucas Giolito’s transformation into an All Star. Infield coach Joe McEwing worked with Moncada, who made a smooth transition from second base to third base.

But if the coaches earn some of the credit for the things that went right, they must also be mentioned alongside the things that went wrong. Steverson coached an offense that ranked near the bottom of the game in most categories. Cooper coached a starting rotation that finished the season with a 5.30 ERA. McEwing coached Anderson, who committed a major league high 26 errors.

None of that is to say those guys are wholly responsible for those negative outcomes. Just as the players have to be the ones to turn in the good results, they’re the ones who have to turn in the poor ones, as well. Steverson, however, along with assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, will not be back for the 2020 season.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have already made their coaching moves this offseason, parting ways with Steverson and Sparks and replacing Steverson with Frank Menechino, who after several seasons on the Miami Marlins staff took over as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019.

Menechino impressed the White Sox with his work there, spent September with the big league club and was quickly promoted once the season was over. At Charlotte, he worked with top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who both had fantastic seasons playing at three different minor league levels and figure to be everyday players for most of the 2020 season.

The change, in the end, seemed to be more about how the White Sox felt about what Menechino could bring to the table than a reaction to the offensive production from a team that didn’t have expectations of doing much more than it did during another rebuilding season.

General manager Rick Hahn announced that the rest of the staff will be back in 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

There will be a change in the expectations game come 2020. That should be mostly because of the breakout 2019 seasons from so many young players, the pending arrival of Robert and Madrigal and the offseason additions anticipated to be made by Hahn’s front office. But if nothing else, the expectations, when it comes to Renteria, will be different because he’s already said they will be.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said just last week, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

And so judging him and his staff can reach another level, too, because it will no longer solely be about hard-to-define development but the cold, hard wins and losses. Plenty of fans have taken to Twitter and complained about Renteria during this losing stretch, suggesting he’s not the one to manage this team into a winning era, but those were conclusions that cannot be drawn considering the quality of the rosters he’s managed in his three years on the South Side. How can you judge a manager’s ability to contend when he doesn’t have the tools to do so?

That’s about to change, so there will finally be some actual evidence to back up either side of that argument.

It’s clear where the White Sox stand in that discussion. They’ve been praising the job Renteria has done for three years now, and they’ve expressed nothing but confidence that he’ll be the guy to get it done.

“When Ricky was put in that role, it wasn't with the idea that he was just going to be the right guy for the first stage, the stage that is coming toward an end here, or is at an end here,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “Obviously, the history and teaching and communicating and holding guys accountable is very important now. But even at the time we hired him, we felt he had the ability to not only set the right winning culture but to put guys in the best position to win.

“His ability to communicate with all 25 or 26 guys on a daily basis, to know where they're at, to know what they're capable of doing and putting them in the best position, makes us fairly confident that once that roster is deep enough and strong enough that he's going to be able to maximize the win potential with that roster when the time comes.”

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Remember that guy? Chris Widger

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AP

Remember that guy? Chris Widger

Backup catchers for Chicago World Series teams have been in the news lately, so why not take the time to look back at the career at Chris Widger?

Christopher Jon Widger was born May 21, 1971, in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up in Pennsville, New Jersey, where he attended Pennsville High School, graduating in 1989. He started catching his senior year and played college baseball at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

The Seattle Mariners came calling in the third round of the 1992 MLB Draft, and Widger started his ascent to the major leagues. On June 23, 1995, he debuted for the Mariners in a 14-4 loss to the California Angels. He replaced Dan Wilson in the sixth inning, and his first big league plate appearance was a lineout against Mark Langston. One week later he picked up his first hit, a single off the Texas Rangers’ Kevin Gross. In his first start, Widger caught a shutout, a combined effort by Tim Belcher and Bobby Ayala. In all, Widger played 23 games in his first taste of major league action in 1995 and even appeared in five postseason games against the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians as the Mariners reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history. In 1996, Widger spent most of the season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he excelled at a .304/.355/.483 clip with 13 home runs in 97 games. He played eight games for the Mariners in August and September, going 2-for-11.

Widger got a fresh start north of the border when he was traded to the Montreal Expos in October 1996 along with pitchers Trey Moore and Matt Wagner in exchange for pitchers Jeff Fassero and Alex Pacheco. He went from catching Randy Johnson (OK, he caught him once in 1995) to catching Pedro Martinez (OK, he caught him only four times in 1997).

But at least Widger got a chance to play regularly. From 1997 to 2000, he appeared in a total of 436 games, more than 100 per year. He even hit double figures in home runs in 1998, 1999 and 2000 with 15, 14 and 13, respectively. In August 1999, Widger homered in four straight games, tying an Expos franchise record that still stands with the Washington Nationals. In August 2000, Widger was sent back to the Mariners for players to be named later, who turned out to be Sean Spencer and Termel Sledge. Unfortunately, Widger missed nearly all of 2001 with a shoulder injury and headed into free agency with an uncertain future.

In 2001, Widger’s sister Toni tragically passed away from complications with medications to treat a staph infection. She left behind five young girls including a set of quadruplets. Chris returned to Pennsville and built a new house, allowing his sister’s husband, Mike, and five children to move into the old house. Chris and his wife, Theresa, helped out with the kids when they could. Luckily, he signed a deal with the nearby Yankees for the 2002 season, but he had to work his way from Triple-A Columbus first.

Widger had limited major league opportunities over the next few seasons, appearing in 21 games for the Yankees in 2002 and 44 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. He was out of the majors altogether in 2004.

It was during that 2004 season where Widger found himself playing in a fast-pitch softball league, then later for the Camden Riversharks in the Independent Atlantic League, only about 30 minutes from home. In 55 games, he hit .267/.336/.574 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs, which earned him an invitation to spring training with the White Sox for 2005. Widger made the team and backed up A.J. Pierzynski during the White Sox improbable march to a World Series victory. He chipped in a .241/.296/.383 slash line with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 45 games for the champs. His most memorable moment was his home run off Randy Johnson on Aug. 21, 2005, the fourth home run off the future Hall of Famer that inning. It was one of only three times the Big Unit allowed four homers in a game in his legendary career.

Widger saw one game of postseason action in 2005. He caught the last five innings of Game 3 of the World Series, a 14-inning marathon. He went 0-for-1 with a pair of walks, including one with the bases loaded in the 14th to give the Sox a 7-5 lead. When Mark Buehrle came in to record his one-out save, Widger was behind the dish.

All good things eventually come to an end, and Widger was released by the White Sox in July 2006. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles shortly thereafter and finished up his big league career with nine final games.

In 10 major league season, Widger played in 613 games with a .238 batting average, 55 home runs and 222 RBIs. He ranks seventh in home runs among major leaguers born in Delaware (Paul Goldschmidt has lapped the field with 243). Four of his final 11 career home runs were off pitchers who won a Cy Young Award: Chris Carpenter, Tom Glavine, Barry Zito and Johnson.

Widger returned to baseball in 2012, taking a job as an assistant coach at his old high school. The following year, he returned to the Riversharks, who in 2004 had given him a chance to work his way back to the majors. He served as the Riversharks' pitching coach for two years under manager Ron Karkovice before taking over as manager in 2015. The Riversharks left Camden after the 2015 season.

Widger’s next job in baseball was as the bench coach for the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, from 2016 to 2018. He remains with the Royals and recently completed his first season as the manager for the Burlington Royals, a rookie-ball team in the Appalachian League. He went 39-29.

Chris Widger. You remember that guy.

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