White Sox

After Luis Robert’s extension, here’s how long every member of the White Sox core is under club control

After Luis Robert’s extension, here’s how long every member of the White Sox core is under club control

Thursday’s six-year contract extension for Luis Robert that includes eight years’ worth of club control is just the latest long-term pact inked by the White Sox, part of the team’s carefully crafted long-term planning with the goal of keeping its contention window open for as long as possible.

That window technically hasn’t opened yet, as the White Sox have yet to finish in the top three in the AL Central standings since 2012. But Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project seems on the verge of shifting into contention mode in 2020, not just because of the breakout campaigns from so many of the team’s core members in 2019, but because of the aggressive approach the front office has taken this winter, bringing in impact veterans like Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and, reportedly, Edwin Encarnacion.

So how long will this window stay open? As should be plenty obvious to anyone who’s followed what’s happened on the other side of town, those seemingly wide-open windows can shut in an instant. And for all of Robert’s confident talk about winning “multiple championships” on the South Side, it’s difficult enough to win one.

But looking at how Hahn has positioned his club, with a strict adherence to the long-term vision that’s put it in this position, we can start to get an idea of what that window looks like. So many of the team’s young players — and some of the just-signed/extended veterans — are under contract for a while, allowing the White Sox to compete with this roster for an extended period of time.

Under club control through 2020: Alex Colome, James McCann, Leury Garcia

Let’s get the short-termers out of the way first. These three players are all due for free agency following the upcoming campaign. Who knows what 2020 holds for these White Sox, though playoff expectations are suddenly real and deserved. Regardless, Hahn could be in the market for a new closer come next winter. If McCann continues his All-Star level production, he’d likely be able to find a new home a starter after the 2020 season. But if he proves more of a backup type, perhaps the White Sox would want to keep him around in that sort of role.

Under club control through 2021: Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara, Carlos Rodon, Gio Gonzalez, Kelvin Herrera

Encarnacion’s deal reportedly includes an option for the 2021 season, so we’ll include him here, though it’s possible the White Sox make a decision that could put him on the free-agent market a year earlier. Andrew Vaughn’s development figures to have something to do with all that. Rodon will have a limited window following his recovery from Tommy John surgery to prove he belongs in the White Sox long-term plans. The recently acquired Mazara is just 24 years old, with Hahn talking a lot about the unlocked potential the team believes exists inside its new right fielder. If they can uncover something Mazara didn’t show in his four seasons with the Texas Rangers, perhaps he becomes a bigger factor in all this.

Under club control through 2022: Jose Abreu, Evan Marshall

Abreu, the face of the franchise, turns 33 at the end of this month. That means he’ll be 36 by the time Opening Day 2023 rolls around. The next three years will determine whether or not Abreu’s tenure will be extended. Considering the White Sox have reportedly signed a DH who turns 37 next week, we know they’re not opposed to someone of that age on a short-term deal — and at what could be Abreu's more regular position by the time 2023 rolls around. We know Abreu’s love for the South Side and the South Side’s love for Abreu, so if he remains productive over the next three seasons, his White Sox tenure doesn’t have to end with his current contract.

Under club control through 2023: Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Jace Fry

So here’s where things get really interesting. The four-year deal for Grandal and the three-year-and-an-option deal for Keuchel end at the same time as the rookie contracts for Moncada, Giolito and Lopez. There will obviously be some important decisions to make. Keuchel will be 36 for the 2024 season. Grandal will be 35. Moncada and Giolito, of course, will be much younger and should they keep up the kind of production they put up in 2019, they’ll be in high demand. The White Sox have shown with Robert and Eloy Jimenez that they aren’t shy about locking up their young players, so maybe an extension or two could come before we get all the way to free agency following the 2023 season. The biggest takeaway here is that Keuchel, Grandal, Giolito, Moncada, Lopez and the players yet to be named will all be together for at least the next four years. That speaks very well to the White Sox chances over that period of time.

Under club control through 2024: Tim Anderson, Michael Kopech, Aaron Bummer

That’s right, Anderson’s team-friendly contract extension signed way back when doesn’t expire until after the midway point of the decade that just started a couple of days ago. Kopech still has to go out and show he’s the elite pitcher that was promised prior to his Tommy John surgery. His next appearance on a big league mound will be just his fifth. But should he live up to the hype, he’d figure to be someone the White Sox would want to lock up, as well. Bummer could be a Colome successor, should he be able to repeat how he impressed in 2019, meaning having him in the fold for the next five seasons could prove quite fruitful — and potentially alleviate some spending on the back end of the bullpen over the next several offseasons.

Under club control through 2025: Dylan Cease

It’s still a bit of a mystery how the rotation of the distant future will look, but Cease will be a controllable option for that group, at the very least, for the next six seasons. His first taste of the majors in 2019 didn’t go great, from a results standpoint, but he still has as high a ceiling as any of these young arms and is someone the White Sox believe can be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Under club control through 2026: Eloy Jimenez

A middle-of-the-order hitter for the next seven years? Yeah, sounds like the White Sox made a good deal when they inked Jimenez to an extension last spring. All he did in his rookie season was launch 31 home runs, including those of the jaw-dropping variety that bounced off the Fan Deck in center field. And everyone asked said that he was simply scratching the surface. If Jimenez makes a similar jump to the one Moncada made from his first full season in the bigs to his second, then look out. That’s what will be mashing on the South Side for the next seven seasons.

Under club control through 2027: Luis Robert

And at the top of that lineup for the next eight years? Robert is a true five-tool threat who put up insane numbers in the minors in 2019. All the talk coming from minicamps, the Arizona Fall League and the minors the last few years have suggested Robert might end up the best of all these youngsters. Hahn said Thursday: “We are obviously extremely excited to put our money where our mouth is in terms of our level of excitement about this player. … We truly do think he has a chance to be very special.”

Under club control through seasons yet to be determined: Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn, Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert, Jonathan Stiever

Yes, the White Sox core still extends into the minors. Guys who have yet to even make the major league debuts — and might not even do so in 2020 — are part of this window staying open, too. Unlike many (but not all) of the players mentioned to this point, these ones have not had any kind of success at the major league level because they haven’t been there yet, so we can’t classify them as players to bank on. But it goes to show that there’s more than just the current major league roster playing into the length of this contention window. That’s the organizational depth Hahn is always talking about. Some of these guys, specifically Madrigal, are expected to take over as everyday players sooner rather than later, meaning they’ll be part of that core quickly.

———

The point: That’s a lengthy window. Yes, there’s a lot of decisions to be made over the course of it. But that’s how these things work. There will be more free-agent signings and trades and more players added to the minor league system. Heck, we’re looking at the vast majority of an entire decade here.

The White Sox window technically hasn’t even opened yet. But they’ve put themselves in the position that when it does open — which could, and at this point should, be very soon, like March 26 soon — it could stay open for a mighty long time.

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What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

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CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS/LAURA WOLFF

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not to go all Seinfeld on you, but what's the deal with second base?

Between the breakout seasons from young core players in 2019 and an influx of veteran additions, the White Sox starting lineup is rather easy to project. Obviously Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Edwin Encarnacion are locked in as everyday starters, and even Nomar Mazara seems to be in that category at the moment, with talk of a potential platoon in right field all but disappearing over the last couple months.

That leaves just one position in the realm of the unknown: second base.

Over the course of the entire 2020 season, the majority of the starts there figure to go to Nick Madrigal, one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball. But whether he'll break camp with the White Sox or start the season at Triple-A Charlotte is still uncertain. The latter seems more likely, based on how he's been talked about this offseason, though how he fares this spring could produce the opposite result after he played at three different levels of the minor leagues in 2019.

"We made the assessment at the end of last season that Nick Madrigal wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. "He was sent home with some specific things to work on. He can very well come to spring training this year, show he’s made certain adjustments and find himself on the Opening Day roster.

"That said, we also have guys like (Danny) Mendick and Leury (Garcia) who we fully believe can hold down the fort until such time that Nick is ready.

"We’ll have somebody come Opening Day sitting over there."

Indeed, the White Sox manning every position on the field seems a safe bet.

Nothing against Garcia nor Mendick, but Madrigal is such a talented up-and-comer that it's quite possible he's the team's best second baseman right now. But Madrigal saw just 29 games' worth of Triple-A pitching last season, and it's possible the White Sox will leave Glendale believing he needs to see some more before they bring him up to the major leagues.

Madrigal's job is to convince them otherwise, and he's been prepping to do exactly that all winter.

"I actually stayed here (in Arizona) this whole offseason, so I've been around a while now," Madrigal said last week. "I started coming to the complex about two or three weeks ago."

The kid's a real go-getter, as you can tell. There might not end up being much that separates Madrigal starting the season as the second baseman in Chicago or as the second baseman in Charlotte, but obviously the difference between those two jobs is huge. A big performance in Cactus League play could show the White Sox, a team that's gone from making a priority of development to making a priority of winning games and competing for a playoff spot, they're better served with Madrigal playing 162 games as a big leaguer rather than a smaller number.

"It's kind of out of my control. The only thing I can control is showing up every day and playing as hard as I can," Madrigal said. "They may think I need to add some stuff to my game, or whatever it may be. I feel confident right now the way I'm playing out there. Just can't worry too much about that at this point.

"I know there's a lot of time from here to the season, there's a lot of games you've got to play, so anything can happen. But I'm going to try to show up every day and play my game."

But if the White Sox still think Madrigal needs further minor league seasoning, then what?

Well, as Hahn mentioned, someone will be starting at second base on Opening Day.

The likeliest candidate is Garcia, the utility man whose versatility makes him a lock to make the 26-man roster out of camp. But while utility reserve will likely be his primary role once Madrigal arrives, until then, he could be the team's starting second baseman.

Mendick, who had some good moments as a September call-up last season, would likely be the reserve infielder, and he could see plenty of time at second if Renteria opts to send Garcia to spell starters in both the infield and outfield.

So there's not an update so much as there is a setting of the table as the Cactus League schedule begins Saturday. There might be nothing bigger to watch during the exhibition schedule than whether Madrigal can play his way onto the Opening Day roster. If that happens, the White Sox will have their transformed lineup ready from Day 1 as they look to chase down the AL Central crown.

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Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Your 2020 White Sox Opening Day starter is ... (drumroll, please) ... we don't know yet.

That's not entirely true, of course, as Lucas Giolito is the overwhelming favorite to take the mound March 26, when the White Sox open the season against the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field.

But if you're talking about an official announcement from the manager, well, you're going to have to wait a little longer.

"You want the scoop?" Renteria teased Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. "We won’t lay out a scoop yet."

Giolito has expressed on multiple occasions during the early days of camp that he hopes to be the guy that gets the Opening Day nod. In his first meeting with the media this spring, he said he'd "hopefully" be the Opening Day starter and expanded on that in a couple interviews Wednesday.

Giolito's enthusiasm for the job isn't enough to convince Renteria to move his announcement up to the first week of full-squad workouts. But even the skipper, known to take his time before announcing such things for public consumption, can't deny that Giolito, after his transformational 2019 campaign that saw him go from the pitcher with the worst stats in baseball to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff, has earned a shot at the title of Opening Day starter.

"I’m glad he wants to be the Opening Day starter. He’s really grown, and I certainly wouldn’t say to you that you would be surprised if you saw him doing it.

"He’s definitely earned an opportunity to possibly have the Opening Day start."

Giolito was sensational last season, posting a 3.41 ERA with 228 strikeouts in 29 starts. Even with this offseason's signing of Dallas Keuchel, who has a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship on his resume, Giolito still looks to be the ace of the staff heading into 2020.

Finishing sixth in last year's AL Cy Young voting would seem to indicate that Giolito has reached the status of one of baseball's elite arms. But here's a question: Can he get better? After all, he's just 25 years old, and many of these young White Sox are said to only have scratched the surface of what they can do. Can Giolito surpass what he did in 2019?

"I don’t know I want him to go past it as much as remain consistent and just continue to have incremental growth," Renteria said. "That was a huge jump for him. And it was a great jump for him. He learned a lot from that season. He learned a lot over the previous year and made the adjustments he needed to over the winter. He came in and did what he needed to do and was able to go ahead and be so effective for us.

"All in all, good health, knock on wood, he gets back out there and he has a chance to continue to do what he does. His pitch sequencing, his pitch mix gives him an opportunity to do that. Hard to pick up a ball out of his hand, now with the new delivery. He just needs to get back out there and pitch."

Certainly that's what Giolito is hoping to do, particularly after he gets past the strained chest muscle he suffered trying to work a little too quickly while still feeling the effects of the flu last month. As Giolito said last week, though, he has a "zero-percent" concern that injury will have any significant impact on his readiness for the season.

So bring on the Opening Day start, right?

"Hopefully," he said last week. "We’ll see. I’m excited.

"That’s not my decision."

Well, it shouldn't be too difficult of one for the person whose decision it is.

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