White Sox

Poetry in Pros: Freddy's been steady

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Poetry in Pros: Freddy's been steady

Monday, Aug. 16, 2010
7:20 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO It was just five days ago that Freddy Garcia sat languidly in his clubhouse chair, ice on his shoulder and in his veins.

I dont care about doubters, he said, citing some slightly fuzzy math of just three of 22 poor starts on the season (actually, four of 21). I believe in myself.

Thats good, because not a lot of fans do at the moment. As Garcia labors through his two historically worst months (July and August, home of his two ugliest single-month ERAs and the only two months he owns a career record below .500), the pitchforks and torches are coming out.

One of the mob members is a favorite Chicken Little of White Sox baseball, a newspaper expert who today evoked the names of Gio Gonzalez, Clayton Richard and even John Ely (!) as fifth-starter solutions, sigh, if only. (My my, if sweet-swinging Chris Carter, a former White Sox farmhand swapped for Carlos Quentin who the same critic tirelessly bemoaned the loss of, ever gets a major-league hit, prepare the full-on Schadenfreudemania.)

Well, hey, theres no doubt that Garcias recent performances are a cause for concern. But even updating the numbers to include yesterdays five runs in five innings, Garcias sentiment last week was right, as he shushed his doubters by pointing to his low percentage of games he had no chance in: Its not that bad.

Five blowouts in 22 starts are the cold, hard facts. And for a fifth starter, thats an endorsement of, not an argument against, Garcias value. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has consistently admitted pure shock over how well Garcia pitched all season and insists that a fifth starter is doing his job by simply giving his team innings. And as usual, Ozzies right.

All the scuttlebutt implies that Garcia has been an unsteady influence in the White Sox rotation. Thats far from the case. Believe it or not, Garcias percentage of quality starts (.682) has not only been terrific in his second stint with the White Sox, it has been superior to his QS percentage on his first go-around (.549). That quality start percentage is second only to John Danks among White Sox starters, and just barelyDanks, esteemed as a breakout ace this season, sports just one more quality start than Garcia and a .696 QS percentage overall.

Unfortunately, as the second-oldest player and oldest pitcher on the White Sox, Garcias fall-off has been reminiscent of many veterans in the Chicago clubhouse. J.J. Putz scuffled over the weekend, while Andruw Jones misplayed consecutive flyballs to pave the way for the Detroit Tigers comeback on Sunday. Paul Konerko has cooled, Omar Vizquel seems a step slow and A.J. Pierzynski and Mark Kotsay have done little of late to reverse season-long slumps.

No doubt, Garcias giveaway effort in Sundays series finale vs. the Tigers, allowing five runs and eight hits in a laborious five innings, dug a hole for the White Sox they could only briefly rise out of before, as is customary in Garcias starts, the bullpen failed late and lost the game.

I pitched better today. I felt really good out there, Garcia said after Sunday's start vs. Detroit, pointing to situations in nearly every inning in which he narrowly avoided escaping damage. I feel bad. I should have gone one more inning to spare the bullpen.

Another thing thats too easily overlooked about Garcia is his capacity for leadership. Unlike Konerko, whose captaincy is unquestioned and his calm rarely dismissed as dispassion, Garcia is viewed not only as expendable on the field, but when preaching calm, hes viewed a bit like a beach-bum goofball.

Why? Perhaps its a language barrier, as the veteran is a native Spanish speaker who employs English deliberately, though with unflinching honesty. Perhaps as a player who wasnt being counted on coming into the season, Garcia cant help but be viewed as ancillary to the real team on the field.

But dont dismiss the significance of Garcia. Hes leaned on by Guillen as a veteran the manager can trust, one who wont fail to be straight with him and give 100 percent on the field. By extension, Garcia can play a primary leadership role among the significant Latino segment of the team. He may not be the Venezuelan Konerko, but Garcias significance on and off the field should not be disregarded, particularly among younger players like Sergio Santos, Alexei Ramirez, and even Alex Rios.

Were very positive, Garcia insisted Sunday, even in light of the sheer horror of the game. Thats exactly the sort of thing Konerko would and has said, through the ups and downs of the season. Garcia is just less frequently queried.

And in the same session, Garcia also was willing to go farther than any other White Sox playerperhaps too far, evenin describing what awaits the Sox in the Series of the Season up in the Great White North.

Weve got to get in a groove and play better vs. Minnesota, he said. We have to play almost perfect to beat them. They make smart plays.

Along with many candidates, Garcia is an unsung MVP of this contending White Sox club. And dont be too quick to dismiss the role hell play in eight or nine starts down the stretch.

Por que? Try this on: Garcia is at his best in the stretch, going 28-11 with a 3.28 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his career September and October starts, his best marks of any month.

Wonder what the Chicken Littles will do with that.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

SAN DIEGO — “We belong at the table in these negotiations, we belong as part of negotiations for premium talent. And regardless what happens over the next several weeks with either of these two players, we plan to be at the table and continue to attempt to convert on these guys.”

That was Rick Hahn in January, talking about his front office’s pursuits of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on last winter’s free-agent market and two guys who landed $300 million contracts. Neither, obviously, is playing for the White Sox. But Hahn set forth expectations last winter that the White Sox were going to try to land that kind of top-of-the-market talent.

Fast forward to the current free-agent cycle, and the biggest names on the market have all signed. None of them signed with the White Sox. The Winter Meetings saw a tidal wave of spending, with Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon all coming off the board, all inking huge deals that figure to transform their new teams (or old team, in the case of Strasburg).

The White Sox, meanwhile, headed home with nothing more to show for their efforts than Nomar Mazara. No word came from any of the usual baseball news-breakers connecting the South Siders to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon.

Why not?

Hahn spent this week, and has spent his media availabilities this offseason and in the months prior, talking about fit. The White Sox are looking for players who fit their long-term plans. The 2020 season might be the year the long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending comes. It might not be. So the White Sox are searching for players who align with a contention window far into the future.

And that’s an admirable goal. The White Sox should stick to those plans. They’ve suffered too much to make a handbrake turn to try to rush things, certainly at the expense of their bright future. That’s completely understandable.

But didn’t Cole, Strasburg and Rendon fit into that box? Aren’t they the type of premium talents Hahn has talked about wanting to add to a burgeoning young core? Wouldn’t the long-term deals they got insert them right into that contention window?

“Probably a guy the fans see out there and see fits with what we're doing and, ‘Hey, they should pursue him,’ maybe we did,” Hahn said Thursday. “Maybe we have extra information where it shows that would’ve been a fruitless pursuit in the end, just based on the player’s preference for where they want to be, league or locationally. Perhaps it’s something that we did get after and just weren’t able to convert on.

“We obviously operate best when there’s less noise around what we’re doing. Certainly we recently showed that on (Yasmani) Grandal. It would be temporarily nice or fulfilling for me to stand here and say like, ‘Yeah, we didn’t go after Player X because we knew for a fact this thing about why he wasn’t coming here,’ or, ‘We did go after Player X and we came up short.’ That might satisfy some sort of desire to show that we were active if people didn’t think we were.

“But I would hope after all this time that people understand our approach tends to err on the side of being aggressive. And if there’s a high-quality player that seems like a fit for us, we probably went down that path to some extent, and if it didn’t wind up converting, there’s usually a pretty good reason why.”

That quote hit the Twitterverse not long after it left Hahn’s mouth, and the reactions were, generally, less than favorable. Plenty saw it as an excuse. But while vague, there’s a lot of truth in those words.

The White Sox cannot control everything when it comes to free-agent pursuits. They can control how much money they offer, but as we saw with Zack Wheeler, that doesn’t always win the day. Wheeler spurned the White Sox richer offer to please his family and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cole, meanwhile, was long expected to choose between a preference for the West Coast or his childhood fandom for the New York Yankees. It helped, of course, that the Yankees offered him a stupifying contract. Strasburg was long expected to return to the Washington Nationals, and that’s just what he did, with folks wondering if there was any consideration given to pitching somewhere else.

Those are mighty difficult things to overcome, and they could have made the White Sox — and plenty of other teams — jumping into the fray a potential non-starter.

“More often than not, early in the process, you hear why it’s a potential non-fit for either side,” Hahn said Monday, speaking in the wake of Wheeler’s decision. “Again, that doesn’t mean anything was mishandled or anything was wrong with this. In the end, when offers are on the table and it's decision time, guys can make that decision based upon any factor that they view as important. You’ve got to respect that. And they’ve earned that right.”

That’s not really supposed to make anyone feel any better. As Hahn often says, you either sign the guy or you don’t.

What’s probably got some fans stewing as much as the eventual free-agent destinations is the White Sox complete lack of attachment to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon in the typical stream of rumors that flows during baseball’s busiest week. As Hahn mentioned, all being quiet doesn’t mean the White Sox weren’t pursuing those players. But after years of discussing financial flexibility, the team seems to have the economic means to play in the deepest end of the free-agent pool, so it’s not unreasonable to expect to hear about it doing so.

"The money will be spent,” Hahn said in February, after Machado picked the San Diego Padres. “It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in best position to win some championships.”

With that in mind, plenty assumed the White Sox would be able to afford even the gargantuan contracts that went to this winter’s three free-agent superstars. But simply having money to spend doesn’t mean they believed Cole was worth the $324 million he got from the Yankees. It doesn’t mean they believed Strasburg was worth the $245 million he got from the Nationals. It doesn’t mean they believed Rendon was worth the $245 million he got from the Los Angeles Angels.

That’s where that discussion of fit comes in again. It’s easy for us to see a player and believe him a fit for what the White Sox are building. But we’re not the ones defining the fit. The White Sox are. And while they might have pursued all three, might have wanted to pursue all three, might have been willing to back a truckload of money up to all three, it’s also possible that, for whatever reasons, they didn’t see them as the same kind of fit they see other players at different price points.

The lingering notion that the White Sox shy away from handing out long-term deals to pitchers is likely more of a general caution than the edict it’s often portrayed to be. It’s also not reserved to the White Sox.

“In general, the investment in a position player is less risky than an investment in a pitcher,” Hahn said. “Those things vary. We are talking just about generic players, you generally err on the side of a position player being less risky.”

“Is anybody worth $300 million?” USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said Tuesday on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Say the White Sox signed Gerrit Cole, it doesn’t make them an automatic winner. He’s a good pitcher, but hey, good pitchers get hurt, too.”

OK, so what about Rendon? The White Sox were willing to offer a reported $250 million in guaranteed money to Machado last winter. Rendon got less than that to play for the Angels. Of course, Machado’s free agency came before Yoan Moncada blossomed into the team’s best all-around player at third base. Machado was 26 during his sweepstakes. Rendon is 29. These are not necessarily defenses, they are simply truths.

“As a general thought, when you are making a long-term commitment, doing that to a player who is in their mid 20s, in general, is a more appealing alternative then doing that with a player who is in his 30s at the start of the contract,” Hahn said. “Everyone is familiar with aging curves and risk and how that balances out as you get older. So yeah, the idea of devoting big money to someone who is younger versus older is certainly more appealing.”

And then there’s the clarifying Hahn did on those “money will be spent” comments from 10 months ago. Basically: That money doesn’t all have to be spent in one place to make the White Sox better.

“I think it would be awfully foolish to say we're going to go out and spend whatever the amount of the offer (to Machado) was immediately,” he said Wednesday. “The point of that comment was there's other ways for us to allocate this money, and it's going to be allocated toward player acquisitions.

“You could argue some of it went to Grandal, you could argue some of it went to the Eloy (Jimenez) extension or re-signing (Jose) Abreu or whatever we have coming down the pipe next.

“That offer was over an eight- to 10-year period, so to say it's all going out the door in Year 1 just because it's sitting there, maybe, but it's got to be for the right players.”

None of this will satisfy the critics. And that’s a product of the frustrating on-field success of the big league team during the rebuild and the expectations that came into this offseason. The White Sox pursued the talent at the top of the free-agent market last offseason, so they must be willing to do the same thing again this winter, right? They might have. But it didn’t work out, and now there are two offseasons where fans wanted Machado and Harper and Cole and Strasburg and Rendon and watched all those players go elsewhere.

It’s important to remember the White Sox did sign Grandal, that they do still have that young core that broke out in a big way in 2019. The future is still blindingly bright, and Hahn & Co. see that. It’s why they remain so committed to their long-term plans — because they could very well work.

Those plans might mean that the consolation prizes for teams that didn’t land one of the top three prizes on the free-agent market aren’t quite as appealing fits. It’s not as easy as just moving down to the next name on the list. The White Sox are being picky, and they can afford to be picky. Not adding a huge free agent — and, again, remember they did sign Grandal — doesn’t mean Moncada and Jimenez and Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are suddenly all bad. The future is snowballing for the White Sox, in a good way, and the melting process is nowhere near starting.

Yes, the South Siders left San Diego without Cole, Strasburg or Rendon. Perhaps it wasn’t for lack of trying. Perhaps they weren’t able to get past the bouncer, no matter how big the checkbook was. Perhaps they didn’t see these guys as good fits. Perhaps they saw these guys as expensive in a way that would jeopardize their carefully laid plans.

The biggest takeaway from this week: Those plans are the driving force for these White Sox. Do not, for any reason, expect them to deviate.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

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NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

Ford Frick winner and Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson joins Chuck Garfien on the podcast.

(3:15) - People that have congratulated Hawk on his induction, including some people you would never guess

(12:24) - Origin of some of your favorite "Hawk-isms"

(15:29) - Great story about the late great Harry Carey

(18:46) - His life growing up in Savannah, Georgia

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

 

White Sox Talk Podcast

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