White Sox

Sale wants to pitch 200 innings as a starter

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Sale wants to pitch 200 innings as a starter

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Near the end of last season, Chris Sale was sitting at a lunchroom table inside the White Sox clubhouse when pitching coach Don Cooper gave him the news.

Youre going to join the starting rotation next season, Cooper said.

What was Sales initial thought?

Can I get one in before the season ended? I was trying to weasel my way into getting a start late in the year, Sale admitted in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. He entertained it for maybe a day or two, but it just didnt work out. Needless to say, Im really excited to take this on.

The 22-year-old lefty with a rail-thin body and fireballing arm is preparing for the biggest challenge of his professional career: moving from being a reliever to a starter, and even more imposing, filling the spot in the rotation left by Mark Buehrle, arguably the most dependable starter in the history of the White Sox franchise. In his first 11 full seasons in the majors, Buehrle topped the 200-inning mark every year, starting more games (362) than any other pitcher in baseball during that time.

After pitching just 104 13 innings combined the last two seasons in the majors and minors, no one expects Sale to throw 200 innings in 2012.

That is, no one but Chris Sale.

Its not a matter of whether I think I can. I want to, said Sale. Thats something that I want to push for because thats what this team needs. I dont really like to set goals or live up to expectations and stuff because I tried doing that last year and I failed miserably.

Hailed by fans and media as the second-coming after his spectacular debut at the end of the 2010 season, Sale started to believe the hype when the White Sox broke camp last spring. However, the phenom quickly came back down to Earth after getting pummeled in April and May, posting a 5.31 ERA.

The first couple months I was just struggling miserably, both physically and mentally. Going out there getting rocked for an inning, giving up runs, walking guys and stuff like that. It really kind of bothered me, Sale said. I let it all get to me. Im so passionate about pitching. This is something Ive done my entire life. This is really the one thing that Im good at. For me to go out there and not succeed like I wanted to, it was killing me.

Fortunately for Sale, he received some great advice from his teammates and coaches.

Some of the guys were just like, Hey its over. Youre not going to go back and fix that. Focus on what you need to do now. Clear your mind. Dont think about that stuff because any negative energy coming towards you, its a waste. Talking with Coop, he really kind of led me through this last year. I was very fortunate for that and very thankful for that.

Those same pitchers who came to his emotional rescue are amazed by Sales freakish ability, even his fellow starters -- great talents of their own whose jaws drop when they watch him pitch.

He definitely has the best stuff on our team, said Gavin Floyd, who held that title until Sale arrived. When he first came up, they all had the scouting report on him and I looked in the other dugout and they were like, Look at this guy. Then all of sudden you see the radar and the miles per hour, and they all started laughing. Theyre like, Man, we never expected that out of this guy.

Floyds praise for Sale is actually dwarfed by the words coming from 2007 Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy.

Chris Sale is as good as anybody that I have ever played with as far as his raw, physical talent, said Peavy, who has played with the likes of Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman, David Wells and Heath Bell.

When I told Sale about Peavys compliment, he was floored by it.

Thats one of the best compliments Ive ever gotten, Sale said. Jakes a great guy and I know hes worked real hard to get back healthy. Im pretty sure hes tired of talking about it. Hes a warrior out there. Hes a guy that I look up to. For him to say those things about me is pretty special.

To prepare his body for the endurance needed to be a full-time starter in the majors, Sale added swimming to his workout routine, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who were both excellent swimmers back in the day. In fact, Sales dad was an All-American swimmer at Daytona Beach Community College and still owns records from their hometown of Lakeland, Fla.

He actually got on me the other day because he saw where I was talking about how he showed me swimming, and I called him an old man, Sale said. He goes, Next time youre at home, this old man will school you in the pool! He didnt much like that.

Is Chris a good swimmer?

I can float.

And when he finished with his strenuous aquatic workouts Chris was relieved...because he could eat.

I came home and crushed food every time, Sale said. Something about getting in a pool, you just automatically get hungry.

Taking a glance at his 170-pound beanpole body, it sure didnt look like it.

I gained about 20 pounds this offseason, and for some reason I lost it all before I came out here, joked Sale. Thats my story and Im sticking to it.

While his body might not carry that much weight, his stuff just might carry the White Sox rotation for years to come.

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.