White Sox

White Sox midseason report: Which current big leaguers have made case to be part of rebuild?

White Sox midseason report: Which current big leaguers have made case to be part of rebuild?

Since the White Sox front office made its rebuilding plans known, there hasn’t been much expectation for the South Siders to make a run in 2017.

Through the first half of the season, those expectations have been met, the White Sox a last-place team at the All-Star break.

Certainly, though, things haven’t been exclusively gloomy on the South Side. Several players have staked claims to being a part of the rebuild moving forward, playing key roles in all those times that Ricky’s boys didn’t quit. And all the while, the prospect watch in the minor leagues has been an entertaining pastime.

So, at the season’s midway point, here’s a player-by-player breakdown, looking not just at what each guy did in the first half but also looking at if they did enough to factor into the front office’s long-term plans.

Avisail Garcia

The Avi everyone was waiting for has finally arrived in 2017. In Miami this week for a well-deserved All-Star appearance, Garcia has been one of the White Sox top hitters this season, slashing .310/.353/.497 at the break with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs. Not to mention he's batting a Ted Williams-esque .400 against left-handed pitchers. Thanks in large part to hard work in the offseason, Garcia finally broke away from his mediocre numbers in his first few years with the team and now looks deserving of a shot at being a long-term fixture in the middle of the order.

Rebuild status: Penciled in for 2019

Jose Abreu

As good as Garcia has been for the White Sox this season, Abreu has locked in the title of Mr. Reliable in his fourth big league season and currently leads the team with 53 runs scored, 103 hits, 23 doubles, 58 RBIs, a .522 slugging percentage and an .871 OPS. Barring injury or a serious slowdown, Abreu is likely going to wind up with his fourth consecutive 25-homer, 100-RBI season in a White Sox uniform. While it’s possible that track record could fetch a few intriguing offers for the 30-year-old — and Rick Hahn showed he wasn’t afraid to deal away his team’s best player with the Chris Sale trade this past offseason — Abreu has stated his desire to stick with the White Sox long term and be a mentor to top prospects and fellow countrymen Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert.

Rebuild status: Penciled in for 2019

Leury Garcia

Injury has quieted what was a mighty solid campaign for Leury Garcia, who emerged as an everyday center fielder after the White Sox started Jacob May there on Opening Day. Garcia’s slashing an impressive .298/.345/.459, but he hasn’t played since June 15 thanks to a finger injury. He might not be around when the rebuild is finished, but affordable and under team control for a while, he’s probably not going anywhere soon.

Rebuild status: He might stick around

Todd Frazier

Following up on last season’s incredible distinction of having the lowest OPS of any 40-homer season in baseball history, Frazier has improved in 2017. He might not bash as many dingers — he’s got 16 at the break — but look at that on-base percentage: .335 with a team-high 47 walks. Last year, the on-base percentage was .302 and he had 64 walks in 158 games, a career high but a number he’s on pace to surpass this season. Still, Frazier’s hitting just .213, continuing a season-by-season drop in batting average that’s stretched on four years. Frazier would be a definite trade candidate with better numbers, but it’s unclear how much the White Sox would be able to get for him at this point. He’s set to become a free agent after this season.

Rebuild status: Trade chip

Yolmer Sanchez

Perhaps the White Sox most pleasant surprise in 2017, Sanchez’s numbers won’t leap off the page at you, but he’s impressed with his personality, hustle and how much he’s improved from a season ago. In 2016, he slashed a nasty .208/.236/.357. That’s rocketed up to .265/.328/.398 this season. He’d probably have to make another big jump in production in order to really factor into the team’s long-term plans considering he plays the same position as top prospect Moncada. But you could see Sanchez sticking around as a reserve once the rebuild reaches it’s high point.

Rebuild status: He might stick around

Anthony Swarzak

Swarzak’s been the team’s best pitcher so far this season, turning in a 2.41 ERA in 35 relief appearances. He’s been the best part of a tip-top bullpen that has one of the 10 best relief ERAs in all of baseball. Like Frazier, Swarzak is a free agent at the end of the season. Unlike Frazier, his strong numbers could fetch some interesting trade offers. As far as midseason trade candidates go, you’d have to figure Swarzak would be one of the leading ones on the roster.

Rebuild status: Trade chip

Jose Quintana

The guy everyone thought would be traded by now is still here — and could still be for a long time. That’s the thing about Quintana is he gives Hahn & Co. plenty of options. When Sale and Adam Eaton were dealt in the offseason for huge hauls, most assumed the same would happen with Quintana, a 2016 All Star who had been as good as most American League pitchers over the past few seasons. Quintana’s numbers have significantly dipped in 2017 — he’s got a 4.49 ERA in 18 starts — which has led many to panic that Hahn missed his window. But Quintana is still just 28 years old, has a mighty affordable contract and could be with the team under that contract through 2020. For a guy who’s been among the league’s best pitchers, the prospects of either dealing him for a big contract now, this winter or beyond or having him at the top of the starting rotation for the next three seasons are all attractive.

Rebuild status: Trade chip OR penciled in for 2019

David Robertson

Much like Swarzak, Robertson has been great out of the White Sox bullpen. His 13 saves might not seem like a ton, but he’s converted all but one of his chances. He’s also struck out 46 guys in 31.1 innings of work and has a nice 2.87 ERA. Robertson is under contract for next season, but closers are often an extremely in-demand item at the deadline. Robertson isn’t as dominant as Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller were last season, but those guys fetched massive hauls from two teams that wound up in the World Series. Robertson might draw similar interest.

Rebuild status: Trade chip

Tommy Kahnle

Kahnle. See Swarzak. Just like Swarzak and Robertson, Kahnle has also been mostly solid out of the ‘pen. "Mostly" because he’s had a rough last couple weeks, with an ERA above 14.00 in his last five outings. But in the 30 appearances prior to that, he was virtually unhittable with a pencil-thin ERA of 1.19. It’s still a more than respectable 2.65 on the season. The difference between Kahnle and the other two aforementioned relievers is that he’s just 27 years old and under team control for a long time. That makes him less likely to be dealt this summer and could keep him in the relief corps for a good deal longer.

Rebuild status: He might stick around

Melky Cabrera

Cabrera is also a free agent after this season, and while he hasn’t been stellar by most evaluations, he’s second on the team in runs scored, hits and RBIs with 48, 97 and 51, respectively. And don’t forget those game-winning knocks, too. While you wouldn’t suspect him to net any sort of gigantic return package, you’d also have to think some contender would be interested in Cabrera’s bat. Right?

Rebuild status: Trade chip

Omar Narvaez

While you should give Narvaez credit for having one of the four best on-base percentages on the team, he’s also slugging just .279. Catcher has been perhaps the White Sox worst offensive position this season, boasting an OPS of .655. Only two American League teams’ catchers have been worse. It’s about waiting for Zack Collins at this point.

Rebuild status: Placeholder

Adam Engel

Engel’s been manning center field while Leury Garcia’s been sidelined with injury. Engel’s slashing .247/.330/.358 in 27 games.

Rebuild status: Placeholder

Chris Beck

Beck’s been fine out of the White Sox bullpen and deserves credit for being much, much better than he’s been in the past. After posting a 6.39 ERA in 25 appearances last season, he’s got a 3.79 ERA in 33 appearances this season. Improvement’s always good.

Rebuild status: He might stick around

David Holmberg

Holmberg was fine as a spot starter, allowing 11 earned runs in 25.2 innings over six starts. He’s been very good as a reliever with a minuscule 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings out of the ‘pen.

Rebuild status: He might stick around

Nate Jones

Yet again battling injuries, Jones is good when he pitches. He’s got a 2.31 ERA the season, his sixth with the White Sox. Problem is, only half those campaigns have seen him appear in more than a handful of games. All that said, he’s under contract for two more years. He’ll be 33 when the 2019 season starts.

Rebuild status: He might stick around

Dan Jennings

Jennings has one of the highest ERAs of the qualified throwers out of the ‘pen at 4.14, which goes to show how good the relief unit has been overall this season. It’s a step back from the tiny 2.08 ERA he posted last season. He’s 30, making him look less of a long-term option than someone like Kahnle, but he’s under team control and figures to be part of the bullpen moving forward.

Rebuild status: He might stick around

Tyler Saladino

You’re not supposed to lose your job to injury, but Saladino might’ve been Wally Pipped by Sanchez, who’s done admirable work while the team’s Opening Day second baseman has been sidelined with back issues since late May. Saladino’s numbers have been poor this season, a sharp decline from the .282/.315/.409 he posted in 90-plus games last season. This year it’s an ugly .200/.302/.273 slash line, making Saladino look like less of a long-term option, especially with Moncada and Tim Anderson penciled in as the middle infield of the future.

Rebuild status: Placeholder

James Shields

Finally back from the disabled list, Shields has not done well to make himself attractive to other teams. His ERA is 4.95 in just seven starts, and he’s given up 10 homers in just 36.1 innings. Even though the San Diego Padres are paying a big chunk of his salary, he’s still under contract for two seasons past this one. He’s a good clubhouse presence, but surely the White Sox are hoping he can put together a good stretch at some point that allows them to flip him.

Rebuild status: Trade chip

Matt Davidson

There’s been good news and bad news with Davidson this season. The good news is he leads the team with 18 home runs, showing the power that made him a projected piece of the White Sox long-term plans. But he’s also cruising for a 200-strikeout season and has an ugly .284 on-base percentage. He’s also mired in a pretty nasty slump at the moment, with one homer and a .122/.140/.220 slash line in his last 12 games. The White Sox are obviously hoping for those numbers to pick up over the second half of the season and into the next few seasons and would like him to produce enough to warrant inclusion in a lineup of the future.

Rebuild status: Penciled in for 2019

Mike Pelfrey

Another hoped-for sign-and-flip guy, Pelfrey is not doing much to make that possible for the White Sox. He’s got a 4.83 ERA in 14 starts. Despite a promising stretch in May and June in which he had a sub-2.00 ERA in seven outings, his last four outings have been disastrous with an ERA above 10.00 in those games. Doesn’t look the sign and flip is going to work out.

Rebuild status: Placeholder

Carlos Rodon

A first-round draft pick that was expected to potentially reach near-ace status this season, Rodon spent almost the entire first half on the disabled list. He’s made three starts in the last couple weeks, the first two featuring just two earned runs in 11.1 innings — including a 10-strikeout performance against the Oakland A’s. But he gave up six in Sunday’s 10-0 crushing in Denver. That one start aside, there’s little preventing Rodon from projecting into the team’s long-term rotation right now. Along with fellow first-rounder Carson Fulmer and top prospect Michael Kopech, Rodon figures a lock for the starting staff of the future.

Rebuild status: Penciled in for 2019

Derek Holland

Another sign-and-flip looking like it won't pan out, Holland hasn’t been very effective in his 17 starts, boasting a 5.01 ERA at the break. He’s given up 19 home runs, a number surpassed by only seven other American League pitchers.

Rebuild status: Placeholder

Tim Anderson

Given a big-time contract extension before the season started, Anderson has disappointed with a nasty 2017 to this point. In addition to having committed 19 errors, the most in baseball, he’s slashing .240/.263/.369 with nine homers and 28 RBIs in 78 games. A few bad months won’t change the White Sox long-term plans for Anderson, which is a lock for shortstop once the rebuild reaches its highest point. Still, a second-half turnaround would be nice.

Rebuild status: Penciled in for 2019

Kevan Smith

As mentioned with Narvaez, the White Sox catching tandem has done little production-wise this season, with a .655 OPS that ranks third-to-last in the American League.

Rebuild status: Placeholder

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.”