White Sox

James Shields looking to provide stability to White Sox

James Shields looking to provide stability to White Sox

James Shields was all smiles on Tuesday during his first day with his new team.

While he wasn’t anticipating a trade when he initially signed a four-year, $75 million contract with the San Diego Padres in February 2015, Shields has been around long enough to know things change quickly in this business and he’s happy to find himself on a team in the thick of the playoff race.

“I’m really excited to be here in Chicago,” said Shields, who was acquired by the White Sox for minor leaguers Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis Jr. over the weekend. “I’ve always played against Chicago and loved the city, love the town, my kids love the town. So I’m excited to do some things here.”

In his 11-year career, Shields is 129-104 with a 3.76 ERA. He’s also reached the postseason four times.

The White Sox are hoping that adding a player of Shields’ caliber can give the White Sox a boost, not only in the rotation, but also in a way to help alleviate some of the pressure off the bullpen by eating up innings.

“There are different times when you bring in a veteran guy who brings something else to the table,” manager Robin Ventura said. “There are intangibles that come with him that are helpful.

“It’s going to be good to have him in the rotation. Not only the physical stuff, of him going out there and pitching, but seeing him from the other side you admire what he brings to the table as far as his persona, work ethic and all of that stuff. I think that’s always been big for him.”

After starting out the season 23-10, the White Sox have lost 18 of their last 24 games and, entering Tuesday, stand at 29-28 – three and a half games out of first in the division.

It wasn’t a secret that the White Sox were looking to strengthen their weaknesses, which included pitching.

Aside from Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, the White Sox have been inconsistent in their pitching rotation. Mat Latos started off the year hot, but his numbers have trailed off despite his 6-1 record. Carlos Rodon continues to have a shaky sophomore season, and after John Danks’ departure, the team has been trying to solidify a fifth man to the rotation.

They’re hoping Shields can help fix that.

“With James we wanted to help stabilize the middle and back of that rotation,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “We think he improved our overall staff, first from the standpoint of giving us a nice, dependable starter in there to lengthen the rotation and also take perhaps a little bit of the burden off the bullpen by having a guy who, more likely than not, is going to give you an effort deeper in games and take a little bit of the load off the bullpen, which quite frankly has been taxed pretty heavy over the last six, seven weeks.”

Ironically enough, Shields essentially turned out to be Danks’ replacement in the White Sox rotation. What’s even more ironic is that Shields and Danks squared off in his first postseason start in 2008 when Shields served as the ace for the Tampa Bay Rays

It turned out to be his first win in October baseball.

“I actually played pretty well in that game,” Shields said. “They have a lot of tradition here in Chicago and the White Sox organization. My cousin actually played in the 2005 World Series, Aaron Rowand, I’m sure you guys know him. So I got a lot of history myself in my own family here in the White Sox organization. I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Although some White Sox fans have been hoping Shields can be their savior, Shields isn’t trying to bring too much attention to that. He just wants to focus on his game and help the ball club get back in the win column.

“I’m here to do my job and that’s to pitch once every five days and post,” Shields said. “I’ve been on a lot of teams where we’ve gotten a new guy, sometimes having a new face in the clubhouse will change the atmosphere a little bit, kind of change the mood a little bit.”

Hahn knows that the White Sox still need to improve in other areas, and he’s hoping the Shields trade is the tip of the iceberg for more acquisitions.

Not surprisingly, the Shields trade signals that the White Sox are all in on this season. But this isn’t just a move for this year. It’s for the future as well.

“We made a deal that we felt was in the best interest of the White Sox,” Hahn said. “It made sense for us both in 2016 but as importantly, likely in '17 and '18, that he can fit in and ultimately elect to exercise the player option and not opt out, that he's a nice fit for us going forward at a price point that we can make other things work around.”

The potential is there for the White Sox to make a run at their first postseason berth since 2008. Shields saw it from an outsider looking in.

Now he’s looking to help make it happen.

“I think this team has been great,” Shields said. “Looking from afar, they look like they have a blast. They have fun, which I’m really excited about.”

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

Daniel Palka was a phenomenon in 2018. But before there was Daniel Palka, there was Dan Pasqua. You might have heard the Palka/Pasqua comparisons on White Sox game broadcasts or within White Sox fan circles. Both are lefty sluggers with a similar build: Palka listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Pasqua at 6-foot-0 and 203 ppounds. Both led the White Sox in home runs in their age-26 seasons: Pasqua with 20 in 1988, Palka with 27 in 2018. And hey, they have the same first name and last initial!

Pasqua, nicknamed “The Hammer,” turned 57 years old Wednesday. Let’s learn a few more things about him.

— He was a teammate of John Elway (for four games with Oneonta of the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1982), Bo Jackson (with the White Sox from 1991 to 1993) and Michael Jordan (for four games with Birmingham of the Southern League in 1994).

— He was the 1985 International League MVP with the Columbus Clippers.

— He homered in his MLB debut on May 30, 1985, with the Yankees

— He was Sports Illustrated’s 1987 preseason pick to lead the American League in home runs. He finished with 17, only 32 behind Mark McGwire.

— He hit a Comiskey Park roof shot on May 30, 1989.

— He hit the last triple (and had the last RBI) in Comiskey Park history on Sept. 30, 1990.

— He hit a 484-foot home run, the third-longest by a White Sox player in Guaranteed Rate Field history, on April 27, 1991.

— He finished his MLB career with 117 home runs, tied with all-time great outfielders Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Ichiro Suzuki.

And finally, let’s compare Pasqua to Palka statistically. Since Palka had 449 career plate appearances through the end of the 2018 season, here's the duo's numbers through their first 449 career MLB plate appearances.

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

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USA TODAY

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

"It's a dirty play by a dirty player."

That was Christian Yelich, the all-but-sure-to-be NL MVP, describing Manny Machado, who's about to become one of the best-paid players in baseball history, after Game 4 of the NLCS, a game in which Machado once again grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Machado's Los Angeles Dodgers and Yelich's Milwaukee Brewers have played four games in this NLCS, and after three of them, the focus has been on Machado. Not because of his bat or his glove but because of lack of hustle and certain methods on the base paths that weren't exactly on the up and up.

After Game 2, he was criticized for not hustling on a ground ball to shortstop. In something straight out of a public-relations person's nightmare, he defended himself by saying that hustling really isn't his cup of tea. During Game 3, he twice attempted to break up double plays by interfering at second base and was, upon review, busted for it the second time. In extra innings in Game 4, he appeared to intentionally drag his leg across Jesus Aguilar's at first base. That play cleared the benches, got Machado called "dirty" in the Brewers' clubhouse and earned him the reputation of postseason villain.

And so Machado's impending free agency gets to be discussed in a brand new light. There's now more baggage attached to the 26-year-old superstar with a fantastic bat and a stellar glove.

The question is: Will the White Sox, one of many teams that could be mulling a contract offer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, care?

As much as it’s talked about building a perennial contender of the future by developing the on-field skills of their fleet of highly touted prospects, the White Sox brain trust has discussed developing a culture, a way of doing things, to go along with all that talent and all that skill. Unsurprisingly that conversation has focused on the oft-used phrase of “doing things the right way.”

Does what Machado has been doing count as “doing things the right way”? It seems easy to assess that it doesn't. It's far more difficult to determine whether it will end up making a difference or not.

Not hustling is one of Rick Renteria's biggest bugaboos. He sat down multiple players on multiple occasions throughout the 2018 season — starting with Avisail Garcia in a spring training game and including a veteran like Welington Castillo as well as a young star like Tim Anderson — for not running to first base on pop ups and line outs and ground outs. Would Renteria's tune suddenly change if Machado and his preference for not hustling arrived on the South Side in what would surely be the biggest free-agent deal in club history?

Renteria got fired up over the issue at the end of July, when he benched Anderson for not hustling on what the shortstop believed was a line out.

“We tell these guys, don’t assume anything. ... It’s as simple as that, and he understands it. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. He comes out of the box, he doesn’t stand there. But we just reiterated to make sure that you allow the umpires to make the calls and you allow the other clubs to go ahead and ask for reviews. We run.”

But asked about not running out his ground ball in Game 2, Machado shared pretty much the opposite philosophy.

"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen," Machado told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. "That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."

What about Machado's interferences at second base? It was that exact play that sent Anderson into an on-field tiff with umpire Joe West during the second Crosstown series of the season just last month. Javy Baez slid into second base, and Anderson thought Baez did something he shouldn't have, raising his arm to interfere with a double-play turn, that sequence of events ending with Anderson screaming at West on the field. Would Anderson be cool with playing alongside — and potentially vacating his position at shortstop for — an infamous interferer?

And what about being a "dirty player," a villain? The White Sox always seemed fine — heck, they loved it — having one of baseball's greatest irritants in A.J. Pierzynski on the roster. Perhaps no player wore the "villain" title as a badge of honor more than the catcher on the 2005 World Series team. But remember that Pierzynski took the punch, he didn't throw it. Being baseball's version of a "villain" and being a guy who makes dangerous plays that could hurt somebody are two different things.

The point being: Do Machado's actions in this postseason series make him anathema to the "Ricky's boys don't quit" mantra? If the White Sox were to turn a blind eye to the events of this NLCS, would it qualify as a betrayal of their quest to establish a high-effort, high-character culture?

Or do they value that culture so much that they stay away from Machado this offseason?

Here's Rick Hahn from September of last year.

"It’s the culture that Ricky and his coaching staff have been able to create in that clubhouse. I cannot tell you how many various fans have stopped me, or emailed me or mentioned to me that they’ve never been this excited over a 60-win team. Or they’ve never been excited about a team that isn’t going to the playoffs. And I think so much of that is based on how Ricky and the coaches have them playing day in and day out. You see them fighting for 27 outs, you see them prepared every night. Sure, we’re going to get out-manned at portions during this process, but the fight and competitiveness and the style of play is the kind of thing that is going to endure year in and year out. And that is extremely important for us to establish at the big league level for all of us."

Machado's talent would make any team he's a part of more competitive. But for the White Sox, who talk an awful lot about hustling and refusing to quit, perhaps all these postseason shenanigans make it so Machado just isn't their cup of tea.