James McCann

What to expect from the White Sox at the non-tender deadline

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USA TODAY

What to expect from the White Sox at the non-tender deadline

It's non-tender deadline day, perhaps more often greeted by the casual observer with a question mark as opposed to an exclamation point, but an important day on baseball's offseason calendar, nonetheless.

The White Sox, along with their 29 major league compatriots, have until Monday night to tender contract offers to their arbitration-eligible players or to decide not to, sending them to free agency. The White Sox have decisions to make on six players: Alex Colome, James McCann, Leury Garcia, Carlos Rodon, Yolmer Sanchez and Evan Marshall.

Here's what to expect.

Yolmer Sanchez

Sanchez has been the most discussed of this group, and indeed his time with the White Sox already appears to be over. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported last week that the team placed its Gold Glove second baseman on outright waivers and that Sanchez cleared those waivers and will head to free agency. Sanchez, who had repeatedly said he wanted to stay with the only organization he's ever known, followed with a social-media post or two indicating he was going to try to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. The team, aside from a comment from manager Rick Renteria, has not officially announced anything involving Sanchez's status.

Certainly the White Sox moving on from Sanchez wasn't difficult to foresee. Nick Madrigal, the team's first-round pick in the 2018 draft, is on the doorstep of the major leagues and is expected to be the starting second baseman on the South Side for the bulk of the 2020 campaign. While Sanchez plays some exceptional defense, he can't match what Madrigal — a top-40 prospect in baseball who has also been touted as an elite defender — can do with the bat. Sanchez slashed just .252/.318/.321 in 2019, while Madrigal tore up the minors to the tune of .311/.377/.414 and struck out only 16 times in 120 games. In the end, Sanchez would have been an expensive reserve infielder, projected to make $6.2 million in arbitration.

Alex Colome

There are certain corners of the White Sox internet that look at Colome's second-half splits and lack of strikeouts and see doom coming around the bend. Indeed, Colome did fare much worse after the All-Star break than he did before it, with a 3.91 ERA and a frightening .265/.347/.422 slash line against in the second half after posting a 2.02 ERA and holding hitters to a .127/.194/.288 line in the first half. Is that worth a projected $10.3 million? That's the decision the White Sox face.

But Colome has been one of the more productive ninth-inning men in baseball in recent seasons, even if the second half of 2019 didn't look so good. Since the start of the 2016 season, he's posted a 2.78 ERA and saved 126 games, a total that would be significantly higher if not for his playing setup man for the majority of 2018.

In a 2019 season featuring plenty of problems from the rotation and lineup, the bullpen was a reliable unit for the White Sox, with a 4.31 ERA that ranked seventh in the American League, behind only the five playoff teams and the Cleveland Indians, who narrowly missed the postseason. Stability at the back end with Colome and Aaron Bummer is a good thing to head into 2020 with, especially with so many other holes that need filling on the roster. The White Sox likely don't want to add potentially expensive bullpen help to their offseason to-do list.

James McCann

The White Sox tendering McCann a contract is a no-brainer, but he's been talked about an awful lot since the team inked free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal to the richest contract it's ever given out a couple weeks ago. McCann doesn't figure to go anywhere, even with another All-Star backstop now ahead of him on the depth chart. McCann was a heck of a find by Rick Hahn last offseason, and having two good catchers is better than having one, especially considering the lineup permutations Rick Renteria might be forced to come up with if the White Sox front office opts for a DH rotation of Grandal, McCann, Jose Abreu and Zack Collins.

But McCann will be talked about on a variety of levels as the offseason goes on, too. If the White Sox could sell high on a guy who made the All-Star team last season — but who also batted just .226/.281/.413 in the second half — would they take that opportunity? Or will McCann stay on and serve as a personal catcher of sorts for Lucas Giolito after the duo had such incredible success in 2019? The White Sox have options, but no matter which path they end up traveling down with McCann, they'll almost surely do so after tendering him a contract Monday.

Leury Garcia

Another seeming no-brainer, Garcia is likely destined for the role of utility man on the 2020 roster after playing in 140 games in 2019 and starting in 135 of them. His projected $4 million is less than Sanchez's projected $6.2 million, and he can play all three outfield positions in addition to the three positions on the infield Sanchez can play. His .310 on-base percentage and relative light-hitting ways might not have been what some fans wanted to see from an everyday player last season, but as a guy off the bench once Luis Robert and Madrigal reach the major leagues, Garcia figures to be an asset for Renteria and the White Sox.

Evan Marshall

Marshall is also a seeming lock to get a contract tendered Monday after he was a key member of the White Sox late-inning corps in 2019. They picked him up as a minor league free agent, and he turned in a 2.49 ERA in 50.2 relief innings. Hahn is always reminding us about the volatility of relief pitching, so it's difficult to say we should expect a repeat performance from Marshall. But he's slated to hold a key bullpen position in 2020, as well, making him well worth a projected $1.3 million.

Carlos Rodon

The White Sox only have two years of team control remaining with Rodon before he's slated to hit free agency. Between the contract situation and all the significant arm injuries he's suffered in recent seasons, it's not at all easy to project him as a long-term member of the rotation. That being said, it would be shocking to see him non-tendered Monday. The team has suggested all along that he's still very much part of their plans. The White Sox are still hoping that even after a long layoff while recovering from Tommy John surgery that he can become the pitcher they envisioned he'd be when they took him with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft. That has been a bit of a challenge for Rodon, who's shown flashes of strikeout-heavy brilliance, as well as frustrating bouts of ineffectiveness. Prior to having the surgery this year, he had a 5.19 ERA in seven starts.

But the White Sox figure to crave all the starting pitching they can muster in 2020. On the hunt for a couple offseason additions, they also have plans to limit Michael Kopech — who's returning from his own Tommy John surgery — and can't be 100-percent certain what they'll get out of still-promising youngsters Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez. The contributions of pitching prospects Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert remain mysteries, too, as they return from Tommy John in the middle of the season.

Bottom line: Whatever the White Sox can get out of Rodon in 2020, they'll happily take, making the projected $4.5 million seem plenty doable.

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Why, with Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox spent big on a free-agent catcher

Why, with Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox spent big on a free-agent catcher

The White Sox made one heck of a free-agent splash Thursday, announcing a four-year deal with catcher Yasmani Grandal that at $73 million is the richest in club history.

The move is totally in line with everything the White Sox have talked about adding to the team: an impact player from outside the organization, a hitter with power and on-base skills that can slot into the middle of the lineup, a player who meshes with the long-term plans and who can help transition things from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

But it didn't address one of the team's stated positional needs: right field, designated hitter and starting pitcher.

Don't think for one second that's a critique of this deal. Everything about this signing screams "bingo" for the White Sox as they are likely just getting started in what's expected to be a busy offseason.

But there are some out there who might be asking, "Why would the White Sox spend big money on a catcher, a position they seemed to have filled, when they could spend that big money in more pressing areas?"

First off, priorities can change if new opportunities arise. The White Sox aren't taking anything off the table this offseason, and that included upgrading at catcher.

“You still want to be opportunistic,” general manager Rick Hahn said during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “You can't control when certain opportunities arise, and we want to take advantage in the market and be flexible.”

The White Sox saw an opportunity with Grandal and made it happen.

"Still," you might wonder, "why at catcher, where the White Sox already had an All Star in James McCann?"

McCann, under team control for one more season, was an All Star in 2019, and he deserved it after a sensational first half that saw him slash .316/.371/.502, a dramatic transformation from his five years of mediocre offensive production with the Detroit Tigers. After the All-Star break, however, those numbers returned to what they looked like when he played for the division rivals, a .226/.281/.413 line in his final 55 games of the campaign.

But despite that midseason All-Star status, it is reasonable to ask: Which McCann will the White Sox get in 2020? They can count on his work ethic, one described as unlike anything his teammates have seen. They can count on his work with the pitching staff, especially Lucas Giolito, who heaped plenty of credit on McCann in a season that saw the young righty finish seventh in the AL Cy Young vote. But can they count on his bat?

They can count on Grandal's bat. He's got more home runs than any catcher in baseball since 2015 (117) and ranks third among big league catchers in RBIs (322) during the same span. He hit 20-plus homers in each of the last four seasons. In 2019, he hit a new career high in that department with 28 long balls, also reaching career highs in RBIs and walks, with 77 and 109, respectively. Those 109 bases on balls were the fourth most in baseball, with two of the only three players to walk more being Mike Trout and Alex Bregman. Grandal had more than double the amount of walks of Yolmer Sanchez, who led the White Sox with 44 of them in 2019.

Behind McCann, there were options, sure. But unknown ones.

Zack Collins was slated behind McCann on the depth chart, though he provided little insight into what kind of offensive or defensive player he’ll be at the big league level in two brief stints of major league service in 2019. The .323/.441/.631 line he put up at Triple-A Charlotte in between those two stints provides hope he can be an impactful offensive contributor somewhere in the White Sox lineup.

Seby Zavala is still on the 40-man roster, though he picked up only one hit and struck out nine times in a dozen trips to the plate in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trip to the big leagues over the summer. Yermin Mercedes didn’t get the September call-up many fans were clamoring for after he hit an impressive .317/.388/.581 with 23 homers and 80 RBIs in the minors, and was guaranteed nothing more than a shot after the White Sox added him to the 40-man roster Wednesday, preventing another team from snapping him up in next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Grandal answers not just the immediate but the long-term questions about the catcher position. All the others — McCann, Collins, Zavala, Mercedes — could still factor into the mix. But Grandal takes a position that was a question mark and makes it an exclamation point.

The White Sox might have a solution at DH now, too. We'll have to see how confident Hahn is in a potential rotation there involving Grandal, Collins, McCann and Jose Abreu. But expect the White Sox to continue looking outside the organization for help in right field and in the starting rotation, at the least. Just because they didn't address those needs with their first addition of the winter doesn't mean they won't.

The White Sox need at catcher was nowhere near as pressing as needs elsewhere, true. But signing Grandal was an opportunity too good to pass up, and the White Sox capitalized with one of their biggest offseason splashes ever.

It makes all the sense in the world.

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Dear MLB free agents, White Sox players want you

Dear MLB free agents, White Sox players want you

Before leaving Chicago for the winter, White Sox players seemed to have a unanimous opinion about the foundation they built in 2019 and what they believe lies ahead starting in 2020.  

Winning is coming.

Reliever Aaron Bummer put it simply.

“It’s that time.”

The young core of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez is here. Luis Robert is on the way.

Now begins the mystery of what other talent could be headed to the White Sox in deals made this winter.

Players don’t sign free agents, but if you’re a starting pitcher, right fielder or designated hitter about to enter the market looking for a place to win, know this: There’s a clubhouse on the South Side that’s ready for you.

“You look at how teams have gone through this rebuild process like the Cubs and the Astros.  Right now is that time where we’re about to turn it over. It’s no longer about development and getting experience. It’s about winning,” Giolito said. “For a free-agent guy who wants to go somewhere exciting, somewhere we’re about to start building a good winning culture, I think this is a great spot for that.”

White Sox fans still feeling the affects of last year’s swing-and-miss at Manny Machado might have some doubts that the front office will convert on the big targets in this year’s class.  Ultimately, it’ll be up to Rick Hahn and Co. to eliminate that skepticism. Fortunately, the White Sox are in a stronger position to convert on top-tier free agents this year compared to last because they don’t have to convince players and agents on what Jimenez, Moncada, etc. might do. In 2019, they went out and did it.

"I really think we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need to sell the team or talk about the future because it’s evident to everyone around the league what’s coming,” Hahn said in his season-ending press conference. “When you are talking to some free agents, last year, we were probably a year too soon. You had to map out what it was going to look like and educate them a little bit about who was coming and how we saw this thing coming together.

“Over the course of this year, we saw a lot of it come together before our eyes and it’s fairly easy to project out who is going to be joining us from our system and what’s that going to potentially look like. The excitement is there, not just in our clubhouse but around the game right now."

Giolito and James McCann experienced this first hand when they spoke to other players at the All-Star Game in Cleveland.

“There were a lot of guys who were singing our praises,” McCann said.

Hopefully, those compliments were coming from, oh, J.D. Martinez, Gerrit Cole and Yasmani Grandal.

“Talking with various friends and people around the league, especially at the All-Star Game, there’s only been positive talks about how talented we are and how good we can be,” Giolito added. “But now it’s on us to make it happen. We didn’t make it happen this year, but now it’s go-time next year.”

Jake Odorizzi, Dallas Keuchel, Marcell Ozuna, did you hear that?

“It’s no longer waiting. It’s a shift to a winning desire that’s attractive to guys. I mean, it’s attractive to me. I want to win,” Bummer said. “Everyone in this clubhouse wants to win. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”

As a free agent at the lower end of the market last winter, McCann had to see the forest through the trees before signing with the White Sox last winter. Giolito was coming off his disastrous 2018 season, Moncada led all of baseball in strikeouts, Jose Abreu was coming off his worst season in the majors, Michael Kopech was lost for the year with Tommy John surgery.  

McCann himself was saddled with an ugly year offensively, finishing with career lows in batting average, home runs and RBIs.

The optics are much different for the White Sox in free agency this time around.

“From a standpoint of where this organization is at, I think it’s an opportunity to come in and help get an organization with such a rich tradition back in the postseason,” McCann explained. “I think that’s a very attractive thing. It’s also knowing the amount of talent and youth. It’s not just one year, now or never. It’s a chance to be good for several years.”

Even before the White Sox make a move this offseason, their 72-89 record in 2019 might not scream playoffs a year from now. But the way Bummer looks at it, there’s more to the story than just the wins and losses.

“I think there’s no doubt that everyone in this clubhouse is going to get better. I think that’s the goal of everyone is to get better, at the end of the day. And if all of a sudden everyone keeps getting better, who’s to limit us on the amount of wins we can get?” Bummer said. “Everyone says that 20 (more) wins in one year is a lot. If you look and see what’s in the clubhouse and the way that some of the games have gone for us, we definitely could have won 10 more games this year. All of a sudden, we’re at 80 wins.”

The core players did their part. Now, the job falls on the front office to surround them with the necessary pieces to help the White Sox as they enter what Hahn described as “the next phase” starting in 2020.

Madison Bumgarner, Nicholas Castellanos, Edwin Encarnacion: Want to join the party?

Those already here anxiously await the possible news to come.

“You look forward to the winter meetings when all those rumors really start to surface,” McCann said. “I’ll be pressing the refresh button quite a bit.”

He’s not alone.

Get ready to click.

It should be a busy winter.

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