White Sox

White Sox: Justin Morneau's 'fun' return could have him back in 2017

White Sox: Justin Morneau's 'fun' return could have him back in 2017

KANSAS CITY -- He isn’t yet ready to think whether or not he’ll play next season, but Justin Morneau concedes this one has been enjoyable so far.

The White Sox designated hitter’s surgically repaired elbow still requires maintenance and he has some rough days. At the same time, Morneau -- who’s hitting .300/.351/.500 with three homers and nine RBIs in 77 plate appearances -- is surprised how quickly he has found comfort at the plate and how he’s been physically capable of preparing the way he needs. While for now he’s focused on the present and not 2017, Morneau makes it sound as if he’d have a difficult time calling it quits if all is well.

“As long as I’m still enjoying it and enjoying the work, I’ll probably assess that toward the end of September,” Morneau said. “But to be able to come out and work the way I'm used to working -- I’m someone that enjoys spending time in the cage and all that kind of stuff. I’ve been able to do that. That was the most frustrating part about last year -- I couldn’t take the amount of swings that I wanted and that was kind of what had me questioning whether or not I would enjoy playing again.”

“I’ve been able to do things that I wanted to do, so I’ll make that decision at a later point, but for right now, it has been fun.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Morneau wasn’t sure what to expect when he had the surgery last December. After rehabbing for six months, he hoped he’d only need 20-30 minor league plate appearances to find some semblance of comfort at the plate. At that point he’d return to the big leagues knowing it would still be a work in progress.

So far, Morneau has been everything the White Sox needed since Adam LaRoche retired five months ago.

“He’s filled the left-handed presence we were looking for,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Even against the lefty he’s having a quality at-bat.

“He’s had professional at-bats. It’s a very educated at-bat.”

Todd Frazier has had a front row view as he often has hit behind Morneau since he joined the team last month. He appreciates how Morneau competes and extends the lineup. Frazier pointed to Tuesday’s win when Morneau said he wasn’t feeling it and followed with a 4-for-5 performance, including a critical double in the 10th inning.

“Just consistency,” Frazier said. “Just a professional. Guy has been doing it for years. You look up to a guy like that. I have the best view in the house. I’m hitting right behind him and you see the battles he goes through and the at-bats and he finds a way to do it. Couldn’t ask for anything better.

“He came in after the first at-bat telling everyone he didn’t feel well. Next thing you know he’s got four hits. Whether that’s professionalism or he’s lying to us, either way we’ll take it.”

Those types of days are exactly one of the reasons Morneau wanted to return. Disappointed how his sore elbow hindered preparation in 2015, Morneau hoped to feel healthy once again. He believed he had some ability left and has proven it so far. As long he continues to enjoy it and all is well, Morneau may just have the same desire again in 2017.

“It’s usually when you have it figured out and your swing is locked in, that’s when you go 0-fer and those times you go up there and battle you surprise yourself sometimes and get some balls to fall in and usually that’s how you start rolling,” Morneau said. “It starts with a blooper or a two-strike hit or a two-out hit or whatever it is. That can get you going in the right direction.

“You never know when that’s going to happen. Those days like that are few and far between, but they are nice when they happen. It’s hopefully a sign of more good things to come.”

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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