White Sox

How an unorthodox routine has increased Todd Frazier's confidence at the plate

How an unorthodox routine has increased Todd Frazier's confidence at the plate

CLEVELAND -- Todd Frazier feels as good at the plate as he has all season and is taking extra steps to maintain that state. 

The White Sox third baseman has spent the better part of the team’s current road trip tracking his teammates’ pitches in pregame bullpen sessions instead of taking extra batting practice. 

Given how slowly he started the season, Frazier wanted to ensure he’s doing everything he can to get back on track. And while setting foot in the bullpen means he hears extra smack talk from teammates and argues balls and strikes with Don Cooper, Frazier thinks the practice -- one he’s done before seven straight games -- has helped considerably. His numbers indicate how feels as Frazier is hitting .348/.400/.826 in his last 25 plate appearances. A three-hit game on Thursday night pushed Frazier’s average to a season-high .206.

“The main part of it is you feel your front foot getting down and seeing where you are on a fastball, seeing where you are on a slider,” Frazier said. “I’ve been in great positions and it’s a challenge for me and for them too. I think it can only help. It’s something I used to do a lot but kind of got away from it -- the days are longer and you’re playing a lot more games. But kind of got in a little groove with doing that and then getting ready.”

The groove is overdue for a player who in his career has considerably better numbers in the first half of the season versus the second. Frazier experienced myriad health issues early in the season that seemed to continually prevent him from building momentum. But even after he got healthier, the free agent to be couldn’t get back on track.

Frazier has seen the ball pretty well as evidenced by his team-high 27 walks. Still, he wasn’t hitting his pitches when they came. 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Frazier said. “At the end of the day not only in baseball, but in life in general, to go through these kinds of things, which I’ve done a couple times -- not everybody is Mike Trout -- it’s a learning experience.”

It’s an experience that had Frazier return to an old tried-and-true method he hadn’t used in season since the 2015 season in Cincinnati. Hitters normally spend the first few days each spring tracking pitches in live batting practice. But to see a hitter stand in the bullpen to track pitches in season for more than a day is a rare occurrence.

Pitcher Derek Holland faced Frazier earlier in the week. Holland said the level of trash talk between Frazier and whatever starting pitcher he faces is at an absurd level. But Holland thinks everyone benefits from the intensity of the game-like practice sessions.

“It’s definitely at an all-time high right now,” Holland said. “What makes it even better is when you’re going through tough times. The last two starts haven’t exactly been what I wanted.

With this, having (Frazier) stand in there, one we’re talking crap to each other and two we’re feeding off each other. It’s helping me visual better when I’m facing a right-handed hitter. It’s helping him see the ball.

“It definitely gets intense.”

The impact seemingly has been instant for Frazier, whose June OPS (yes, it’s a small sample) is 475 points higher than his season OPS (.741). Both Frazier and manager Rick Renteria like how the veteran looks at the plate and expect the run to continue. It was at its peak on Thursday when Frazier started a potential rally with a leadoff single in the fifth inning. Three innings later, Frazier smacked a two-run homer -- his 10th -- off the left-field foul pole to get the White Sox within a run.

“Todd is starting to feel it a little bit,” Renteria said. “It’s been coming along over the last week or so. He’s been working very hard, his routines. He’s been doing a few things to get him to feel more and more comfortable at the plate, and we’re happy to see it’s starting to pay some dividends.”

Frazier hopes that his teammates’ trash talk will be quieted down with each good performance. He doesn’t, however, expect he’s going to get any fairer of a shake from Cooper calling balls and strikes in the bullpen sessions. 

“When I’m right it’s going to be for a while,” Frazier said. “I’ve been working on a lot of things and I feel really good at the plate.

“The pitchers were talking a little smack so I said ‘All right, I’ll come in there and track and call strikes, too.’ At the end of the day these pitchers think everything is a strike and Don Cooper is the same way, so me and him aren’t talking. You know, we’re not going to be talking for a while.”

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s almost like Jose Abreu never left.

He was only a free agent for a week and a half, Abreu bringing his brief time away from the White Sox to an end Thursday, when he accepted the qualifying offer of a one-year deal with $17.8 million.

It’s not the multi-year contract that was expected, but MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported that the sides will continue to discuss a long-term pact. Still, the decision is a rare one, with Abreu becoming one of the few players ever to accept the qualifying offer. But he’ll get a nice payday for the 2020 season with a chance to do this whole free-agency thing again a year from now, if he chooses.

There was speculation that Abreu could accept the qualifying offer because of a potentially weak market for his services league-wide. If Abreu rejected the qualifying offer and things fell apart in discussing a multi-year deal with the White Sox, any team that signed him to a contract would have lost a draft pick in doing so. That deterred teams from signing free agents just in the last year, with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel notably going unsigned until June.

Who knows if that — or just the desire to earn $17.8 million before a potential dip in his annual salary as he ages — had anything to do with Abreu’s decision, but it’s what was being speculated.

Regardless, the White Sox have their first baseman back, great news after he turned in one of the more productive seasons of his six-year big league career in 2019. Abreu led the American League with a career-best 123 RBIs and came three home runs shy of matching a career-high in that category, as well.

Abreu’s return always seemed a foregone conclusion, with the three-time All Star spending the entire 2019 season talking about how badly he wanted to remain on the South Side, going as far as to pledge that if the White Sox didn’t re-sign him, he’d sign himself to a contract and play here anyway.

The feeling was mutual, too, with general manager Rick Hahn, manager Rick Renteria and teammates praising Abreu as a model player and a mentor for the team’s young stars in the making. Eloy Jimenez said Abreu had been like a father during the rookie’s first season in the majors. Abreu revealed that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him he’d never wear another uniform.

He’s as giddy about the team’s future as anyone and has cited the planned shift into contention as the reason he wants to stick around. Tim Anderson said “it’s only right” that Abreu return for 2020, a season in which the long-awaited transition out of rebuilding mode could take place. Hahn said earlier this season that it’s “very likely” Abreu would be around for the franchise’s planned good times.

Abreu’s been incredibly productive at the plate, though his off-the-field contributions are just as important, of course, and he’s been a mentor to players like Jimenez and Yoan Moncada as they’ve gotten their first taste of the major leagues. Luis Robert, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, figures to find his way under Abreu’s wing when he reaches the bigs next season.

Abreu has long seemed to be held in the same esteem as players who have their numbers retired and statues standing at Guaranteed Rate Field, earning the title of “Mr. White Sox” for this generation. It’s no surprise the White Sox are keeping him in that role moving forward as they plan to start seeing brighter days on the South Side.

After capturing the RBI crown, Abreu made his final prediction of the 2019 campaign, saying he did believe he'd be back with the White Sox for 2020. It might not have been terribly difficult to be prescient in this case, but he was nonetheless.

"Everybody knows my wishes and my desire to stay here," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "This is an organization I respect. This is an organization I really honor.

"I want to be here, and you know guys, I’ve been telling you that. Hopefully I’m going to be here."

Hope no longer. It might not have gone down exactly as was expected, but Abreu isn't going anywhere.

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Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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