White Sox

Rick Hahn leaves door open for more White Sox moves

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Rick Hahn leaves door open for more White Sox moves

After a flurry of moves was made in December, the White Sox offseason has hit a lengthy lull that has caused some frustration among fans.

Whether it’s missing on Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon or no significant position player acquisitions since mid-December, White Sox fans have grumbled about the team’s inactivity, with some of that irritation surfacing in the club’s town hall event Friday at SoxFest.

General manager Rick Hahn made it seem as if those fans aren’t alone. Disappointed by empty pursuits of several free agents he said decided to stay home, a clear reference to Cespedes and Gordon, Hahn said the White Sox roster isn’t complete.

He wouldn’t make any promises. But ideally, Hahn said, he’d like to continue adding to a roster that already upgraded at three positions with the acquisitions of Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie and catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro -- moves that were completed by Dec. 16.

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“It’s frustrating from the standpoint in that we haven’t been able to convert on any targets,” Hahn said. “But it’s been atypically busy for January, I suspect probably into February even. We talk about at the winter meetings, there’s no urgency that says we have to do the deal at the winter meetings and we were able to get Todd Frazier a week later. When we acquire them makes zero impact on how many games we are going to win with Todd Frazier.

“Traditionally we do have everything we want to do done by SoxFest. For whatever reason … it has been a little slower evolving in segments. So there still is the possibility we are going to have changes before camp or Opening Day.”

For now, Hahn is happy with how the team is constructed. Frazier and Lawrie are projected to produce 5.5 Wins Above Replacement at spots where the White Sox combined for minus-2.5 WAR, the worst in baseball. The team’s catchers also are expected to out-produce last year’s grouping.

Still, Hahn wouldn’t say a club that is projected to win 84-85 games is without its flaws. Depth is an issue and questions surround whether or not outfielder Avisail Garcia -- who may have heard a few boos during the event’s opening ceremony on Friday -- can contribute enough.

In order for the White Sox to take advantage of an outstanding starting rotation, Hahn needs Garcia to live up to his potential -- “there are specific things he needs to work on and he knows that,” Hahn said -- and for a rebound from Adam LaRoche, whom one fan asked why he hadn’t been cut. While Hahn responded that he told manager Robin Ventura there are no scholarships, he also said he wouldn’t simply cut a player in the offseason before they had a chance to show what ability they might still possess.

[MORE: Chris Sale likes the direction White Sox are taking]

Even so, Hahn wants to add more pieces to give Ventura better options -- if they can make it work.

“I’m not sure which of the 30 clubs is going to tell you they have enough depth,” Hahn said. “We want to get to the point where it’s self-sustained, where your young players on the upper levels can jump in where there is an injury or underperformance. And we are getting to the spot with some of these guys that in a pinch they can come up and help us. But like everyone else we need to target depth at the upper levels as insurance policies. Sometimes those happen in March when players don’t make clubs. There’s some shuffling. That process never ends.”

“The more options, the easier it is for Robin to go with the best lineup. So if there is -- whether it’s the group that we have today or another addition -- it will create a situation where the best guys are going to play.”

As for some of those better players the White Sox pursued, Hahn -- who makes a practice of not commenting on rumors -- seemed bothered by reports the White Sox wouldn’t offer deals longer than three years to free agents. Though he never specifically said Gordon’s name, Hahn said the team pursued free agents who returned to their old clubs until they signed. Gordon returned to Kansas City earlier this month and Cespedes rejoined the New York Mets last week.

[RELATED: Robin Ventura thinks White Sox can be 'dangerous' in 2016]

“Let me make something real clear: there is absolutely no hard line, dogma limit on contract terms with free agents,” Hahn said. “The reason we didn’t sign any of the players that thus far have signed elsewhere, at the end of the day was not about any contract term limitations. We had numerous conversations with various parameters, various structures, right up until the day or day before these players wound up choosing their ultimate destination.

“Every free agent negotiation is different, every player evaluation is different in how they fit for us, what they could bring going forward and what the market for their services is. And that’s what dictates what limits we put on where we’re willing to go.”

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.