White Sox

White Sox say goodbye to 2010; Paulie, A.J. too?

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White Sox say goodbye to 2010; Paulie, A.J. too?

Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010
Updated 5:57 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
Even for the last-place team, the final game of the season is always an emotional affair.

The Chicago White Sox had sewn up second place in the AL Central days earlier, but the open spaces of their projected 2011 roster is what will trouble fans for weeks ahead.

In Sundays finale, White Sox fans bade a possible farewell to two longtime Pale Hose heroes.

In the top of the fourth, six-season catcher A.J Pierzynski, the feisty soul of the team, trotted off the field to a loud ovation, having played possibly his final game for the White Sox. Three innings later, an even louder response was generated for Paul Konerko, a 12-season White Sox and five-year team captain.

The surge of emotionspurred by a labored 5 23 innings from Edwin Jacksonpaced the White Sox to a 6-5 win over the Cleveland Indians. The White Sox finished 2010 as the hottest team in baseball, winning nine of their final 11 games and ending the year at 88-74. With the victory, manager Ozzie Guillen picked up his 600th career win.

After the game, both players spoke at length about the emotion of the day, as well as their futures. Before the two heroes left the field, Pierzynski implored the crowd, next year, bring back Paulie! and Konerko teased twice that there might be more.

The big blasts in the game came off the bat of Alexei Ramirez, who iced his Silver Slugger award with a first-inning home run and second-inning double, driving in the teams first three runs. Later, Juan Pierre stole his 69th base of the season and drove in the other three runs for the White Sox as part of a 3-for-5 day.

It was a nice way to win, Guillen said. A lot of good things happened today. Speaking as a friend or a baseball fan, it was a privilege to manage all those guys out therethey played hard.

Pierzynski went 0-for-2 in the finale and finished the season batting .270. Konerko was 2-for-3, upping his average to .312. The first baseman fell short in an attempt to clinch his third season with 40 or more home runs, however, finishing with run production numbers of 39 longballs and 111 RBI. Not that he cared much.

I hit 40 homers twice, and the world didnt change, Konerko said. Chasing an individual goal is not what Im about. If you chase the numbers, youre in trouble. This year, my numbers were just a byproduct of my plan day-to-day.

Konerko continued his insightful look at how the 2010 season has differed for him.

You dont have great years, you put together great years. Its a long-haul type of thing, he said. I gave away less at-bats fewer than 100 than I ever have this seasonthats a choice. Im a better leader because of how I went about it.

Natch, the self-deprecating Konerko would end his lesson on a comic note, laughing: I guess it took me 11 years to figure that out.

Both Guillen and Konerko described a rather comic scenario in the White Sox dugout, where as the game went on Konerko wanted to pull himself in order to get Mark Kotsay one more at-bat on the season, and Kotsay refusing to substitute for the legend. Bench coach Joey Cora had to intervene and make a final ruling.

Kotsay and I were both kind of arguing about it, Konerko said. Hes a great guy. Ill do anything for that guy.

When Kotsay trotted out to replace Konerko with one out in the seventh inning, the two had a lengthy embrace near the pitchers mound.

Pierzynski, who is the more affordable and potentially more essential team depth-wise option to return of the pair, was both grateful and urgent in his postgame comments.

The White Sox are a special team, and Chicago is a special place, he said. Ill always be thankful. White Sox fans are the best fans, and Chicago is the best place to play. Ive always said I wanted to be back. I want to be a White Sox until I retire.

Jackson pitched into the fourth without allowing a hit, and exited in the sixth having surrendered five hits and three runs while striking out six.

Lucky me, lucky me, a smiling Jackson said of piloting this monumental finale. Today was just a fun game overall. Everybody was loose. It was the last game. You can easily go out and give up, but guys continued to battle and play hard, so thats always a plus.

The Indians rallied for two runs off of Chris Sale after the rookie sensation struck out four of the first five batters he faced. But the southpaw induced a groundout from Michael Brantley to end the game, and the 2010 season.

Magic Number: 1,768

Paul Konerko logged his 1,768th game with the White Sox, the fourth-most in franchise history. He left in the top of the seventh to a standing ovation and a curtain call from the crowd of 24,539.

Final Word

The only stat that matters is winning. Guillen on the importance of his 600th career win, accomplished with Sundays finale.

Next on the Mound

The White Sox will continue this six-game series in Cleveland, next April 1. Early guesses at the Opening Day starter? The safe bet here is Mark Buehrle, for a team-record ninth time.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

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.”