White Sox

Why isn't Avisail Garcia thinking about an All-Star bid? 'Long season, man'

Why isn't Avisail Garcia thinking about an All-Star bid? 'Long season, man'

Avisail Garcia continues to make a strong case to make his first American League All-Star team, but Monday’s birthday boy isn’t thinking that far into the future. 

Garcia, who turned 26 on Monday, notched two hits, drove in three runs and stole a base as the White Sox blasted the Baltimore Orioles, 10-7, in front of 17,665 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Through 60 games — half of how many he played in 2016 — Garcia is hitting .333 with a .921 OPS. His 10 home runs are second on the White Sox and he leads the team with 45 RBIs. 

Those are numbers certainly worthy of an All-Star roster spot. So is Garcia already planning his flight to Miami in July?

“No,” Garcia said. “Long season, man.”

That Garcia is even under consideration for the 2017 All-Star Game is improbable given the seemingly-rigid trajectory he was on heading into this season. From 2015-2016, Garcia slashed .252/.308/.374 and averaged 12 home runs and 55 RBIs per year. 

Entering Monday, Garcia ranked 12th among American League position players in WAR (2.1) and was in the top 10 in batting average, RBIs and OPS. As of June 6’s most recent American League All-Star balloting update, Garcia had the fifth-most votes among outfielders (479,349), about 40,000 votes behind Boston’s Mookie Betts in fourth and about 75,000 votes shy of Cleveland’s Michael Brantley for the third and final starting spot. All-Star voting ends June 29.

“His approaches have been consistent,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s still seeing the ball very well and controlling the strike zone better. It’s been a good run and hopefully he adds to it as the season progresses.”

Even if Garcia isn’t in Terry Francona’s starting lineup July 11 at Marlins Park, he would seem to be a veritable lock for his first All-Star nod unless his likely-unsustainable .404 batting average on balls in play craters over the next month. The highest BABIP in the last five seasons was .394 (Atlanta’s Chris Johnson in 2013), which suggests that eventually, Garcia won’t see base hits fall in at quite the same rate he’s enjoying now. 

But for now, Garcia hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. In the third, he laced a double to center to plate two runs — one of which scored on an error, so Garcia didn’t earn both RBIs — and an inning later, a sharp RBI single brought home two more runs. 

“The balls in play for him are productive,” Renteria said, knocking on what he hoped was wood on the White Sox interview room dais. “Where the base on balls might keep a line moving he’s driving in runs and actually driving the ball. His at bats are good. Hopefully it continues, he lays off pitches not in the zone and continue to get the hits.”

Garcia is walking in only 3.7 percent of his at-bats this year, down from between 6 and 7.5 percent from 2014-2016. The aggressiveness has suited him well, allowing him to go into each at-bat with that consistent approach Renteria praised. 

“I just try to swing at strikes,” Garcia said. “Swing at strikes and don’t try to do too much, because when I try to do too much nothing happens.”

Garcia hasn’t had an extended run of success like this since he broke through with the Detroit Tigers in 2012. Despite some spurts of early success — like the five hits and three RBIs he had in the 2012 American League Championship Series and encouraging debut with the White Sox in 2013  — most of Garcia’s major league career has been an exercise in dealing with failure. 

While he’s only 26, Garcia played in his 469th game Monday night. And he’s using the lessons he learned over the last five years to take a big-picture approach to how well he's hitting this year — and if that means he'll join the best players in the game in Miami next month. 

“I have more experience right now, I’ve been in the league for a little bit and you just gotta keep working,” Garcia said. “Long season and we have to play the game tomorrow.” 

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

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USA TODAY

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

Gerrit Cole is rightfully at the top of many White Sox fans' free-agent wish list. But might those hopes already need adjusting?

Cole looks to be on track to land the richest pitching contract in baseball history when he hits free agency after the Houston Astros' playoff run is over. The White Sox are shopping for starting pitching, and what team wouldn't love to top their rotation with the guy who might be awarded the AL Cy Young?

But whether or not you're part of the Twitter-using faction of White Sox fans that believe the team would never spend such money to land a pitcher the caliber of Cole, it might not matter.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale spoke to a couple of Cole's fellow Astros, and they told him they think Cole will end up playing in California. The South Side, at least in the Astros' clubhouse, it seems, is not a betting favorite.

"It will be west of Nevada," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We know he wants to be a West Coast guy. He’s a California guy, so he probably wants to be close to home. I know he mentioned Oakland a couple of times because of how he’s pitched there in the past. ... But that probably won’t happen. They’d have to clear the whole roster to afford him."

"I got the Angels," pitcher Wade Miley said, "and paying him at least $250 million."

Well then.

Certainly the Los Angeles Angels are not a new suggestion in the "where will Cole sign" discussion. Cole went to high school a 10-minute drive from Angel Stadium and pitched his college ball at UCLA. The Oakland Athletics? That's a new one.

Anyway, a lot of White Sox fans are probably out there thinking "here we go again" as we begin poring over every bit of minutiae in this winter's free-agent market, just like we did last offseason, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were both out there for the signing — and both White Sox targets. That months-long reading of the tea leaves, of course, was all kicked off when MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the White Sox interest during the GM Meetings in November.

So far, there's nothing out there connecting the White Sox to Cole besides pure speculation, that and the fact that Rick Hahn has said his front office will be in the market for starting pitching. Cole, being a starting pitcher, fits the minimum requirement as a potential target.

In fact, in listing a boatload of teams that might make a run at Cole this winter, Nightengale left the White Sox out. He mentioned four of the five California-based teams: the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and every White Sox fan's favorite, the San Diego Padres, who landed Machado back in February. He also mentioned the Astros, the New York Yankees (who Cole will pitch against in game 3 of the ALCS on Tuesday), the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers.

No White Sox.

There are plenty of other variables in this sweepstakes than just geography, and chief among them figures to be money. The White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility gained as a goal of the ongoing rebuilding process, but Hahn said that's not the most attractive element when it comes to free agents signing up to play on the South Side.

"The biggest advantage we have is the talent base we've accumulated so far and the excitement to come and be part of that," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. "We do have some economic flexibility. That was part of the plan from the start. But I think if you're looking at advantages, a lot of teams have money. A lot of teams don't offer the ability to play with some of the players that are joining us here already and joining in the coming years and the opportunity to win a championship in a city like Chicago."

Whether that appeals to Cole or whether the White Sox will set their sights elsewhere remains to be seen. Certainly his fellow Astros' predictions aren't the be all, end all. Remember last winter when it was a foregone conclusion Machado would be a Yankee because he was a fan of that team growing up? Didn't work out that way. (It's here that I'll mention a pretty cool nugget in Nightengale's piece about Cole sitting in the front row cheering on the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. Is he destined to wear pinstripes because of it? No.)

For the White Sox, they certainly should chase Cole, who would count as the biggest free-agent splash in team history and do a heck of a lot to vault the team out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. But Hahn is hoping that whichever players he lands this winter can do that, along with the team's talented young core, and there are plenty of starting-pitching options out there not named Gerrit Cole: Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and maybe even Stephen Strasburg. It's an impressive list of possibilities, one that remains impressive for the White Sox even if they fail to meet any imaginary Golden State requirement from Cole.

Even as Cole readies to face off against the Yankees in the ALCS, attempting to go 19-0 since he lost to the White Sox on May 22, his role as the star of the hot stove season is already beginning.

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MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

It isn't "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, but it is "an" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

The MLB Players Association announced Monday that White Sox hurler Lucas Giolito is a finalist for its "Players Choice" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, voted on by the game's players. He was joined by outfielders Hunter Pence of the Texas Rangers and Jorge Soler of the Kansas City Royals. On the NL side, the three finalists were Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The whole "voted on by your peers" element is pretty cool, as certainly they know how different the 2019 version of Giolito was from the one they saw a year earlier. James McCann, who played against Giolito as a Detroit Tiger in 2018 and then caught him as the White Sox backstop in 2019, constantly talked about how transformed Giolito was from one year to the next.

A totally different pitcher.

That's precisely what Giolito seemed like to us non-player types, too, after he went from the worst statistics of any qualified pitcher in 2018 to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff in 2019.

Giolito gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in the game in 2018, also leading the AL in walks during a season he finished with a 6.13 ERA. Then he went to work in the offseason, making mechanical changes and overhauling his mental approach to the game. It resulted in the kind of breakout season the prognosticators foresaw when they ranked him the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball once upon a time.

In 2019, Giolito posted a 3.41 ERA, went to the All-Star Game, struck out a whopping 228 batters — that particular feat accomplished by only two other pitchers in White Sox history — and will likely place somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote.

His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against two of the best teams in baseball, the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. Both shutouts came against 100-win teams on their own turf.

Presumably some Astros and Twins threw a few votes Giolito's way.

Giolito's status when it comes to "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award will be revealed next month, after the World Series is over. But for now, this is a pretty cool feather in the cap for him, another example of how far he's come.

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