White Sox

White Sox designate John Danks for assignment

White Sox designate John Danks for assignment

Any questions or doubts one might have about the White Sox and their plans to compete this season should be long gone now.

The first-place White Sox made their intentions for 2016 crystal clear Tuesday as they announced plans to cut ties later this week with starting pitcher John Danks. The longest-tenured player in the organization, Danks, 31, will officially be designated for assignment on Thursday.

In the interim, right-hander Erik Johnson will start Thursday in place of Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ERA in four starts, general manager Rick Hahn said. But nothing is set in stone beyond that as to how the White Sox will handle the fifth spot in the rotation.

“(Danks) was an important part of some very good White Sox teams,” Hahn said. “This is about putting us in the best position to win ballgames going forward. We feel we have a pretty special thing going on in this clubhouse right now. We have the opportunity to build off some of the momentum we already have created for ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in the best position to win games going forward.”

The White Sox -- who will eat roughly $11.75 million of the veteran’s $14.25 million salary with the move -- have been in a dicey spot with Danks. With an American League-best 18 wins, the club is playing its best baseball in four seasons despite the ongoing struggles of Danks, a very popular figure in a clubhouse only seven weeks removed from the Adam LaRoche ordeal.

Hahn said the front office heavily considered how the transaction would play in the clubhouse if they decided to move on from Danks, who was acquired in a December 2006 trade that sent Brandon McCarthy to the Texas Rangers.

While players are sad to see their friend go, several talked about not being surprised.

“It doesn’t matter if he has six days, six years or 10 years,” starting pitcher Chris Sale said. “You never want to see it happen, especially a guy like him. He was a big part of the chemistry we had going on in here. He was a personality. He was a character.

“But we need to keep moving. This game stops for nobody. It’s the greatest job in the world. I’ll be the first to tell you. But it can be cutthroat at well.”

Sale has been in constant contact with Danks, who learned of the team’s plans several days ago. The four-time All-Star said he convinced Danks to stop by the White Sox clubhouse early Tuesday to see his teammates one last time.

“Saying goodbye to him was tough for all of us, but like I said it's part of the game,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “It's sad to see him go.”

Danks was an integral piece on the 2008 AL Central champions, pitching the White Sox into the postseason with eight scoreless innings in the Sept. 30 “Blackout Game” in which they topped the Minnesota Twins, 1-0.

From 2008-10, Danks went 40-31 with a 3.61 ERA in 97 starts and looked as if he’d develop into a front-of-the rotation starter. Danks’ performance led to him receiving a five-year, $65-million extension from the club in December 2011.

But his shoulder started to bother him in 2012 and by August Danks required shoulder surgery, from which his performance never fully recovered. He went 22-44 with a 4.84 ERA in 88 starts since he returned in 2013.

Danks’ struggles weren’t for a lack of effort, however. He and the White Sox worked tirelessly to reinvent the pitcher and this spring they were cautiously optimistic his fastball command and consistency had improved.

“As far as work ethic and just guts, he had all of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That was never a question. He’s always been able to do that and there’s a lot of respect for him in the clubhouse for all the things that he did and one of them’s coming back from an injury and trying to gut through it.”

But the results didn’t match the effort.

Because he gave them so many innings -- he averaged 185 2/3 frames the past two seasons -- the White Sox were open to running Danks out to pitch as long as he stayed competitive. But the team went 32-56 in Danks’ starts since 2013, losing all four of this season. Whereas they went 13-17 in Danks’ starts last season, they were only competitive in his April 21 start this season, a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Those poor results led to Tuesday’s decision, one that demonstrates the White Sox willingness to improve even at a great cost. Hahn said the White Sox never really considered a long man role in the bullpen and Danks didn’t want to go to the minor leagues, which left the club in a difficult position.

Ultimately, Hahn acted in a way he feels best suits the club’s current needs.

“We weren’t getting the production we needed out of that spot,” Hahn said. “Given the fact that we feel like this could well be a very special summer around here, there certainly was heightened scrutiny to all the areas where we weren’t performing. But that fifth spot was one where we felt it was imperative we made a move.”

Despite midseason slump, Jose Abreu is moving toward a fifth straight season of 25 homers and 100 RBIs

Despite midseason slump, Jose Abreu is moving toward a fifth straight season of 25 homers and 100 RBIs

When Jose Abreu went to the All-Star Game — voted in as the starting first baseman for the American League squad — he was of course deserving as an incredibly consistent performer through his first four seasons in the big leagues and his role as the face of the White Sox.

But the numbers weren't looking so good in mid July. An extended slump had Abreu looking very un-Abreu-like, perhaps heading toward his worst statistical season since arriving in the majors from Cuba ahead of his 2014 Rookie of the Year campaign.

At the close of the first half, he was slashing .253/.311/.441 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs, a far cry from the .301/.359/.524 slash line he put up through his first four seasons, when he also joined Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only players ever to start their careers with a quartet of 25-homer, 100-RBI campaigns.

But Abreu, who's been a very good second-half hitter during his career, is on a hot streak that's powering his way back to his version of normal. And it's looking like he could again reach the numbers we're so used to seeing from him by season's end.

After a one-homer, three-hit, three-RBI day in Wednesday afternoon's win over the Detroit Tigers, Abreu is up to .268/.327/.484 on the campaign with 21 homers and 73 RBIs. That puts him nine homers and 27 RBIs away from the mark he's hit in each of his first four seasons with 42 games left in the season. It's not at all unreasonable to suggest he'll be able to do that, as he's hit eight homers and driven in 21 runs in his last 22 games.

He'd have to be some kind of dialed-in for the remainder of 2018 to bump the averages back to where they've been in recent seasons. But here's the kind of hot streak he's on now: Since the start of the second half, Abreu is slashing .323/.385/.646. And that's not too crazy when you realize how good he's been in the second half in his career. Coming into Wednesday's game, his career second-half stat line looked like this: a .314/.381/.540 slash line with 61 homers and 199 RBIs in 303 games.

For the White Sox, the confidence was always there that Abreu was going to snap out of the extended slump that saw him slash .180/.230/.308 from May 27 to the end of the first half, and he's done exactly that. Now, he's hot enough that he's inspiring confidence he could return to some of his regular numbers by season's end. It's that kind of consistency, coupled with his off-the-field value, that makes the team think so highly of him and could keep him around long enough for the rebuilding process to yield a perennial contender on the South Side.

A lot can change, but who are the favorites to make up the White Sox rotation of the future?

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USA TODAY

A lot can change, but who are the favorites to make up the White Sox rotation of the future?

The White Sox seem to be a couple years away from shifting from rebuilding mode to contention mode. There's plenty of development that still needs to occur at both the major league and minor league levels before the roster of the future comes fully into focus.

But with some excellent performances happening right now, is the White Sox rotation of the future falling into place? At least a little?

Look at this:

— Carlos Rodon, last seven starts: 1.60 ERA, 42 strikeouts
— Michael Kopech, last six starts: 1.89 ERA, 50 strikeouts
— Dylan Cease, last seven starts: 1.08 ERA, 57 strikeouts
— Dane Dunning, last five starts (back in June): 2.08 ERA, 38 strikeouts

Kind of looks like four-fifths of a starting rotation, doesn't it?

As has often been discussed, the White Sox have a good deal of starting pitching depth, and there are plenty of possibilities to fill that starting staff down the line. Heretofore unmentioned are pitching prospects Alec Hansen, Jordan Stephens, Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores, all ranked among the organization's top 25 prospects, as well as current big leaguers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who have each had their flashes of brilliance this season on the major league stage.

But the four guys listed above have been very, very good this season, especially recently, making it easy to envision them making up 80 percent of the starting rotation the next time the White Sox are competing for a championship.

Let's start with Rodon, who extended his streak of great starts to seven in Wednesday afternoon's win over the Detroit Tigers. He went eight innings for the second outing in a row, and he's now pitched into the eighth inning in five of his last six starts. He's got a 1.60 ERA in his last seven starts, with 42 strikeouts in that span. Wednesday, he bounced back from a rocky three-run third inning and finished with just three runs allowed on five hits and a walk, adding six strikeouts. Quite simply, he's been ace-like and done well to answer the health-related questions he brought into the season, when shoulder surgery prevented him from debuting until June for the second straight campaign.

Then there are the two guys putting up monster numbers in the minor leagues: Kopech and Cease.

The 22-year-old Kopech has moved past some midseason struggles and has been downright electric of late at Triple-A Charlotte. In his last six starts, Kopech has a 1.89 ERA with 50 strikeouts and a jaw-droppingly low four walks in 38 innings. It's quite the turnaround for a guy who was having difficulty keeping the walk numbers low earlier this season. But he's come out the other side pitching as well as he has since joining the White Sox organization prior to last season, which is saying a lot considering he struck out 172 hitters in 2017. He's just 11 strikeouts away from matching that total this year. He could make his major league debut before the 2018 season is over.

And then there's Cease, also 22, who wasn't even the most talked-about player in his own trade, coming over from the Cubs along with Eloy Jimenez in last summer's crosstown swap. Cease has been a tremendous surprise for the White Sox this season, not because they didn't think he'd be great but because he's been the organization's best pitcher. And he's continued that trend in his seven most recent starts at Double-A Birmingham, too, with a razor-thin 1.08 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. He deservedly represented the White Sox at the Futures Game during All-Star week in Washington, D.C., last month and appears to be well on his way to earning the team's minor league pitcher of the year honors.

And for a fourth, how about a guy who hasn't pitched in a month and a half? Dunning has an elbow injury that's kept him out since late June, but prior to that, he was putting up terrific numbers at Double-A Birmingham. In his last five starts before hitting the DL, he had a 2.08 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. And he might be making some progress, if a recent tweet is any indication.

Now, as mentioned, there's a lot that can and will happen before the starting staff is set on the next White Sox team that will contend for a championship. But this kind of positive production from these four guys stokes the idea of a potentially dominant rotation of the future.

At the very least, this quartet seems to be making life easy for the legion of 2020 lineup projectors out there.