White Sox

Sox Drawer: The Buehrle goodbye

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Sox Drawer: The Buehrle goodbye

DALLAS -- On the last day of the regular season, Kenny Williams walked into the White Sox clubhouse seeking out Mark Buehrle. He gave him a hug to say goodbye.

Is this goodbye, goodbye? Mark asked.

No, its just goodbye, Williams said.

At the time, there was still hope that the White Sox would find a way to bring Buehrle back to the White Sox.

Chicago was his home. It held his heart. The White Sox were all he knew.

But when the window opened for teams to contact free agents, the Marlins came calling -- so did the Nationals, Rangers and almost half of the teams in the major leagues. Everyone wanted Buehrle -- even the Cubs -- and yes, so did the White Sox, but there was nothing they could do about it.

Well, almost nothing.

I knew what we could have done, Williams told reporters Wednesday night. Wed have to go to the ATM about 56 million times. Thats assuming we can get a dollar out of it.

Blame it on bad timing.

In 2010 at the Winter Meetings, the White Sox had money to spend. Weve heard the phrase a zillion times. They were All In. However, in 2011 when it comes to free agents, its exactly the opposite.

"All Out." Just like the Marlins were for the last several years. Not this year.

In terms of payroll, both teams are headed in different directions. The White Sox are low on money, the Marlins are apparently printing it -- spending lavishly on Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell -- so far.

For Mark, it was never about the money. According to a source close to him, he likely would have given the White Sox a hometown discount as long as the offer was fair. Yet when Buehrles agent, Jeff Berry, contacted Williams on Wednesday night to inform him of the 4-year, 58 million dollar deal with Miami, the end of his White Sox career became official.

It was goodbye, goodbye.

They came to us and told us exactly what he had in front of him, Williams said. And we simply said, Congratulations, we wish you well, and thank you. You will forever be in our hearts. Theres nothing we can do about it.

Buehrle has easily been one of the most popular players on the team for the last decade, so the decision to let him leave will certainly not go over well with White Sox fans.

I asked Williams how he thinks theyll react to the news.

I think people are going to be just as unhappy as I am, said the Sox GM. Listen, given my druthers I would rather have him here than not. Two words probably sum it up best, It sucks. But this is part of sports, part of business. Your favorite players and my favorite players will come and go.

Most athletes dont have trouble switching teams or leagues. It happens all the time. However, Mark is different. Hes about as straight and narrow as they come. All along, he was hoping his career would stay on the same path. But now its headed on a big detour, one that has him reuniting with Ozzie Guillen.

Buehrle told his longtime manager that he had serious reservations about leaving the White Sox, even though all the signs pointed to him not coming back.

One of the first conversations we had he said I dont know how Im going to handle it, going to a new city and new spring training, Guillen said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet after the news broke. I said you are going to handle it easy wearing a Marlins uniform because I'm going to be there, and Joey Cora going to be there, and he knows the way we work. But it was very hard. I know for a fact that he feels kind of funny leaving the ballclub. But this is part of the game. I told him dont blame Kenny, dont blame Jerry Reinsdorf. I think they go in a different direction. Mark decided to play somewhere else. Thats the way it was meant to be.

Wednesday night, Guillen flew back to, of all places, Chicago. He and his wife recently built a home in the city, and despite managing in Miami, he plans on living in Chicago in the winters. He said he doesnt want to leave. Why? Well, hes Ozzie, and he still loves Chicago -- apparently even when its 5-below zero.

And if you happen to live near Guillen, you might see him around the neighborhood on Thursday morning, and a lot more than normal.

I will walk my dog three times to see what they say about Mark. It will be pretty interesting to see what they say.

Memo to Ozzie: theyre not going to be happy.

So now the White Sox move on without one of their longtime centerpieces, a guy who pitched a perfect game, a no-hitter, won a World Series ring, as well as the hearts and minds of every White Sox fan from Beverly to Burr Ridge, Palos Hills to Park Forest.

Can they replace him? We know better.

You cant.

For me to stand here and say that somebody is going to take that mantle and be Mark Buehrle? Mark Buehrle is Mark Buehrle. Hes a unique person, Williams said. I just told the Marlins ownership, I said, Youve got one hell of a pitcher, but let me tell you, youve got a better person.

One of the best players, and one of the best people this sportscaster has ever covered or ever met.

Chicago, I feel your pain.

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

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USA TODAY

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

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AP

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.”