James Shields

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.

James Shields not content to brush aside losses as growing pains of White Sox rebuild: 'I don't really care about the rebuild right now'

James Shields not content to brush aside losses as growing pains of White Sox rebuild: 'I don't really care about the rebuild right now'

James Shields doesn’t figure to be a part of the White Sox long-term plans. So he shouldn’t be expected to be looking past the present and focusing solely on the bright future on the South Side.

The veteran pitcher said as much after Saturday’s loss to the visiting Milwaukee Brewers.

While fans and observers and the front office and even plenty of the guys on the current major league roster have their sights set on what this team will look like in 2020, 2021 and beyond — when highly touted prospects are planned to arrive and turn the White Sox into a perennial contender — there’s no reason for Shields to have that same view of things.

So it makes plenty of sense why rapidly accumulating losses and constant talk of, ‘Oh well, this is how things go in a rebuild,’ don’t sit too well with the 36-year-old.

“Frankly, I don’t really care about the rebuild right now,” Shields said. “I care about winning. They keep talking about rebuild, and I’m trying to win ballgames right now, period.

“I don’t like losing. We are losing ballgames right now. They can keep talking about rebuild, but at the end of the day, we have to win ballgames right now. I’m not worried about this rebuild. I’m worried about winning right now.”

At first blush, that reaction might sound like the opposite of the entire discussion surrounding this team right now. But Shields vocalizing a dislike for talk of the rebuild isn’t much different from his manager, who has gone as far as saying he doesn’t like the word.

Shields was acquired before this rebuilding effort began, back when the White Sox were in win-now mode. Two years later, Shields is sitting in the same clubhouse, but his team has a much different plan.

But it doesn’t mean he’s without his value, both on and off the field, where he’s serving as an example to the young players who are expected to be a part of the long-term future. This young team, even if it isn’t shocking to see it lose so many games in 2018, is going to have to learn how to win at some point. Shields is trying to teach that right now, and the lack of results is understandably frustrating.

“He’s always talking with the young guys, trying to give them advice about what to do at this level to have success and how they need to behave and perform and handle their business. And that’s a really good influence,” first baseman Jose Abreu said. “With me, we always talk about games and what things we need to do as a team to win more games or to get better. It’s good. He’s a veteran, he has a lot of experience.”

On the field, Shields has been terrific of late. He’s lasted at least six innings in eight straight outings, he’s lasted at least seven innings in four straight outings, and he’s got a 2.86 ERA in his last four games. It’s a consistent string of performances that could make him an attractive trade candidate as summer wears on. That could help this rebuilding effort by bringing another prospect or two into the mix.

“I would not be shocked,” manager Rick Renteria said when asked if he’d be surprised if teams came calling for Shields. “The adjustments he’s made are showing to be extremely conducive to him being able to pitch and eat up innings and keep a big league ball club in a game. It's been fantastic to watch him evolve and reinvent himself. I know I use that word a lot with him, but he has. Here was a guy who when he first started with us was having a little bit of a tough time. Rightly so, people weren't really happy with the way he was performing. But he has a lot of heart, a lot of guts. He found a way to make it work, and he’s extremely effective against some pretty good big league hitters.”

“I’ve been around the game a long time and I understand that process,” Shields said. “But I can’t control that. What I can control is what I do out there every five days. My job is to go out there and throw as many innings as I possibly can and do my job. I’m going to focus on that and focus on trying to get some ‘Ws’ for this team.”

Shields’ opinion is nothing new, nor is it something uncommon in the White Sox clubhouse. Players have been dismissing talk of the future and preaching focus on the present all season long. Renteria has made similar “no one likes losing” speeches during his media sessions since the early stages of the campaign.

No team in baseball has fewer wins than the White Sox. But while it’s easy for those invested in this long-term plan to think about waiting until next year and the year after that and the year after that, those who aren’t part of that picture are still trying to do their jobs in the present. It’s a lesson that Renteria has been trying to teach, a complete focus on the here and now on a daily basis. It seems he has a fellow teacher in Shields.

“We have a great attitude in here. We want to win,” Shields said. “We just aren’t getting the job done right now, plain and simple. … Right now we have to focus on winning ballgames. We can’t worry about what everyone is saying out there in the media. We have to worry about what we do in this clubhouse.”

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.