White Sox

No clowning around: Melky Cabrera's lighter side doesn't interfere with focus

No clowning around: Melky Cabrera's lighter side doesn't interfere with focus

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The self-professed “clown” of the White Sox is having way too good of a time this season to worry about his uncertain future.

Melky Cabrera understands he could be traded before the season ends. He also knows that another round of free agency looms next winter if a trade doesn’t happen. And with the White Sox rebuilding, there’s no guarantee Cabrera could stick around working under a manager for whom he enjoys playing. But Cabrera said on Wednesday morning that he has done his best to not focus on anything aside from the present. Whether it’s the constant GIF-worthy highlights he produces or the big hits he provided, Cabrera appears to be anything but distracted.

“I've been enjoying every moment of this season,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “This is an important season for me, but I don't like to think about free agency or what is in the future for me because if you do you miss the opportunity to enjoy what you are doing right now. So I am just trying to do my best, work hard every day, help the team win games and be the best player I can be. That's my mindset.”

The approach has worked very well of late. Cabrera has been red hot at the plate for nearly two months after a slow start. He’s hitting .332/.379/.505 with eight homers, nine doubles and 35 RBIs over his last 208 plate appearances since his OPS hit a season-low .591 on May 16.

He also continues to excel in the game’s biggest moments.

On Tuesday, Cabrera singled off Oakland A’s closer Santiago Casilla with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the score. Cabrera entered Wednesday with an .868 OPS with runners in scoring position. He has an .875 OPS in “late and close” situations, according to Baseball-Reference.com, and has a .929 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position.

“He seems to be able to slow things down in big situations on both sides of the plate,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There’s a lot of experience, which probably leads to the confidence he has. He has been doing a great job. He has been on a phenomenal run, the things he’s doing in key situations for us.”

Cabrera also manages to have way too much fun on and off the field. He faked out several broadcasters last week when he pretended that he didn’t catch a fly ball from the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge, feigning that it instead went over the fence for a homer. Cabrera also takes charge of the team’s victory celebrations, awarding the replica championship wrestling belt and mini belt to the top two players of the day. If that weren’t enough, the veteran wastes no opportunities to make dramatic even the smallest of moments, as if he were starring in his own personal telenovela. Manager Rick Renteria thinks Cabrera’s ability to have fun helps him keep his mind off the big picture.

“He doesn’t concern himself with a whole lot of noise that we talk about,” Renteria said. “He just focuses and tries to enjoy and trust the skill he brings to the table and tries to use it.

“He knows how to balance what he does. He enjoys the camaraderie of his teammates. When he’s out there working, he does his work.”

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Teammate Yolmer Sanchez appreciates how Cabrera carries himself. Sanchez is of a similar mindset his elder, always trying to keep things loose in the clubhouse. What Sanchez likes the most is how Cabrera can toe the line --- his ability to have fun and still perform as well as he does. Sanchez also said it would difficult to miss Cabrera’s effort on the field and how he provides younger teammates with a solid example of how to be.

“When you see the veteran guys -- Melky, (Jose Abreu), (Todd) Frazier -- they hit a ground ball and they hustle,” Sanchez said. “That’s a good example for when you get into big leagues and want a long career. You see these guys as examples, that’s very good.

“(Cabrera) has fun because he likes to have fun every day. But he knows how to play. He plays hard every day so you learn.”

Cabrera has learned over the years how to stay focused on the daily routine rather than the big picture. He’s been a free agent before and excelled during the 2013 season, too.

Of course he knows his name is constantly mentioned as being available on the trade market. Were he still not owed nearly $7.5 million this season, perhaps Cabrera rumors would be more prominent with the trade deadline nearing. But Cabrera doesn’t want to worry about any of that stuff in order to stay focused on his job and current club.

“I just don't try to think about it because you miss opportunities if your mind is on it,” Cabrera said. “What happens in the future will happen. It’s God's will.”

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox


James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

Another day, another quality start for James Shields.

The White Sox once more didn’t win a Shields start. Despite an increasingly good-looking season stat line, Shields can’t seem to rack up many wins, with just two to his name on the season. But of course, wins are not exactly the most important barometer in this rebuilding campaign.

Speaking of the rebuild, the White Sox are getting closer to the trade deadline, it’s about a month and a half away. And Shields’ continued success could have Rick Hahn’s phone ringing as July 31 creeps closer. After six innings and three runs in Sunday’s loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers, Shields has seven quality starts in his last 10 outings,

After last season’s struggles that ended in a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs surrendered, getting anything for Shields might’ve seemed a bit of a fantasy. But Shields has delivered, especially since the end of a rocky April.

“It’s very important to try to eat as many innings as you possibly can,” Shields said of his consistent efforts of late. “Early on in the season, we were ruining our bullpen by not going deep into games. My main focus is to go as deep as I possibly can. … Consistency’s the name of the game.”

Does it make him one of the most attractive names on the market? No, probably not. Is it going to fetch a highly ranked prospect? No, probably not. But it might fetch something, and in a season where guys believed to be afterthoughts like Dylan Covey and Daniel Palka are working their way into the conversation about the White Sox future, who wouldn’t want something added to this rebuilding effort?

And Shields isn’t the only White Sox player who could bring something back.

The bullpen was stocked with potential sign-and-flip guys over the offseason, and a few of those veteran arms have had good runs that could earn them a similar fate to the bulk of last year’s relief corps. Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard were all dealt away last summer. Could Hahn employ a similar strategy this season?

The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year, which made all of those players attractive additions for contending teams around the league. But veterans like Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Bruce Rondon, Xavier Cedeno — guys who hoped to rediscover some old magic — could still draw interest.

Soria owns a 3.12 ERA. Avilan’s is at 3.10. Cedeno hasn’t given up a run in his six relief appearances. Rondon has shown blow-em-away stuff at times. It’s been a nice recovery for some of these sign-and-flip veterans.

“They’ve had an opportunity to get their chances to work on different things and become really effective performers,” manager Rick Renteria said of some of his veteran relievers prior to Sunday’s game. “I think Joakim has risen his level of game back what he was pre last couple years, I think he’s reinvented himself a little bit. He has an up-down breaking ball now, he’s continuing to attack the strike zone, he’s throwing 93 miles an hour with his fastball, he’s commanding the zone. He’s doing everything he can to be as good a closer as he was in the past. His history and his experience also allow him some confidence to be put in situations to close out ballgames.”

Soria could perhaps draw the most interest because closers are often in demand in July. But last year’s trade-a-thon showed that teams are willing to trade prospects away for relief help of any kind. Many of the return pieces in those deals might not get rebuild-loving prospect followers thrilled. Casey Gillaspie and Ryan Cordell haven’t exactly put their names at the forefront of the discussion about 2020 and beyond. But remember that Blake Rutherford came over in the deal that sent Robertson and Kahnle out of town (Todd Frazier went to the New York Yankees in that trade, too). So an acquisition that could improve the rebuild can most definitely happen, even with middle relievers.

There’s no guarantee that any of these guys, be it Shields in the rotation or any of the arms out in the bullpen, will get traded or even draw significant interest. But for a team in the White Sox position, you’d have to assume they’d be open to making a deal and getting something to add to this rebuilding process.

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt


Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

Here’s a comp that’ll get White Sox fans really excited. It’s a Hall of Famer saying that the organization’s top-ranked prospect reminds him of another Hall of Famer.

“The kid Eloy (Jimenez), I’ve really watched him a lot. He’s a tremendous (player),” Frank Thomas said. “He reminds me of a young Vlad (Guerrero) that can cover the whole zone and use the whole field. I’m interested in seeing how he progresses.”

Eloy a young Vladdy, eh?

Don’t tell actual young Vladdy that — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ranked one spot ahead of Jimenez on MLB Pipeline’s list of the best prospects in baseball — but that’s one heck of a comp for a player that White Sox fans are already immeasurably excited about.

Thomas was back on the South Side on Sunday to join Hawk Harrelson in the broadcast booth for the latter’s sendoff season. He spoke a lot about what Harrelson meant to him and the White Sox, but he also answered questions about the team’s ongoing rebuild. Thomas has kept a close eye both in his roles as an analyst for FOX and someone who will always be invested in this team.

“It’s Chicago, and we’re used to winning,” Thomas said when he was asked if the White Sox needed to undergo such a process. “You normally get away with this in a smaller market, but you’ve got to understand they’ve taken their time with it. They wasted a lot of money for a five-year period trying to continue to be successful the way we were in the past and it wasn’t working.

“The game has changed. The game has totally changed. It’s a different ballgame now. It’s all about the youth. … The hardest part they’re going to have, though, is figuring out who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here because over the next couple years they’ve got so many young talented players in Double-A and Triple-A that someone could actually force some of these guys out. It’s going to be a hard decision what they’re going to have to do.”

That’s the good problem Rick Hahn and his front office would like to have.

While fan buy-in to the rebuilding effort has been tremendous, there are some who will continue to question the willing suffering through losing seasons at the major league level while the contending team of the future develops in the minor leagues. But if you look at the teams that have won and played in the World Series in recent seasons — and even seasons long past — the process almost seems mandatory if you want to reach that level.

“It is,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched it firsthand. I first saw it with Cleveland when I was playing. Cleveland did it. Then you saw the Royals do it. You saw Houston do it, and they’re tearing it up with that youth. There’s been some other teams that have had a lot of success with it, too. I think Billy Beane has been great with it in Oakland for many, many years. They just haven’t had the luxury of keeping it together and going for the World Series, but he continues to create young superstars and basically trading them off for whatever the organization needs.”

Thomas, the greatest hitter in White Sox history, was also asked about the greatest hitter on the White Sox right now, Jose Abreu. Abreu’s future is the topic of much conversation surrounding this team, what with his contract running out at the end of the 2019 season, just when the White Sox hope to be fielding a perennial contender.

Abreu has been remarkably consistent — and one of just three players ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four seasons — but Thomas thinks there’s a side of Abreu we still have yet to see.

“I just don’t think we’ve seen the best of him,” Thomas said. “That’s because it’s a youth movement and the protection’s been up and down for him in that lineup. I’ve seen him be inconsistent at times, but I think he’s a much better player than that. But I understand when you’re not winning every day and it’s not as motivating because losing’s tough on everybody. But the guy’s an incredible player, an incredible hitter.

“I think the next couple of years we’ll see the best of him if he’s still here. I think this guy has a chance to be one of the great ones.”

With one last question about the modern-day White Sox, Thomas was asked about manager Rick Renteria, who he raved about. But with Renteria’s recent history with the Cubs, when he was replaced with Joe Maddon right before the North Siders started their phase of contention, he has yet to be the manager of a team with expectations. The plan is that he soon will be, and Thomas is interested to see what happens when that becomes the case.

“I think he’s done a hell of a job. I really like Ricky a lot,” Thomas said. “But who knows what they’re going to do in the future. When this team becomes what they think it’s going to be, either you get it done or you don’t. That’s just what it’s going to be. That’s the way Jerry’s handled it for many, many years.

“We’ve had some decisions that weren’t all happiness at times, but it’s about winning once they get their team here. I hope it’s Ricky because he’s done a hell of a rebuild job with the Cubs, he did a hell of a rebuild job here. It’s just time for him to get a good team out on the field and see what he really can do. I’m hoping he gets a chance of having a full team to put out there for 162 games and see what he can do.”