White Sox

AL Central pecking order becoming clearer as White Sox push winning streak to five

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USA TODAY

AL Central pecking order becoming clearer as White Sox push winning streak to five

Exciting. Fun. Watchable.

Words of praise thrown around during the first five games of this homestand were rarely applicable during the first two seasons of the South Side rebuilding project. But the White Sox haven’t lost since returning from a three-game sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, delivering the same fate to the Kansas City Royals before taking the first two of a four-game weekend set against the Cleveland Indians.

It’s a rather apt illustration of where the AL Central is at the moment, the Twins towering above the competition this season while the White Sox look to be in a better spot than the other three teams. They pulled even with the Indians, at 28-29, thanks to Friday night’s 6-1 victory. In the first two games of this series, the White Sox have outscored the Indians by a combined 16-5 margin, and while the Indians booted and threw the ball all over Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday, the White Sox took advantage against Trevor Bauer.

That’s two straight wins against Carlos Carrasco and Bauer, two of the Indians’ supposedly elite starting pitchers.

Regardless of whether or not you think this streak is a harbinger of October baseball coming to the South Side — and it’s certainly far too early for that — what can’t be argued is that these are the kinds of accomplishments the White Sox didn’t have in 2017 and 2018, when they lost a combined 195 games. Bright spots on this team have shone a promising spotlight on the future, and they might be rewarded in the present, with multiple guys playing at All-Star levels.

The Indians looked as if they had one more run in them, perhaps. Even with a less than inspiring lineup when the season began, they had the best rotation in the game and two MVP candidates in the lineup in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. While Carlos Santana has been fine, Ramirez has not. Lindor hit Dylan Covey’s third pitch out of the park Friday night, but the limitations of an offense with few other dependable hitters were on display. Cleveland couldn’t scratch across another run the rest of the night.

And so with the Indians caught, the White Sox have done what some had hoped but fewer had expected: They’ve established themselves as the No. 2 team in this division. What that’s worth, though, is potentially inconsequential.

Tim Anderson might not have been drawing up playoff scenarios in his head — or reliving just how badly the Twins beat up on the White Sox just a weekend ago in Minneapolis — but he outlined the White Sox true desire before Friday’s game.

Does second place mean anything?

“No, man. We want to be in first place and we want to keep working and keep getting better,” Anderson said. “We're going to stay hungry.”

Anderson was likely just providing another example of pro athletes’ “if you’re not first, you’re last” mentality, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s true that second place in the AL Central might not mean much when it comes to the postseason. The New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox figure to keep battling it out in the AL East, and the Oakland Athletics have made their annual out-of-nowhere surge into contention.

True, the White Sox are not at all far from the second wild-card spot in the American League. But it’s also May 31.

This isn’t to rain on the ongoing parade on the South Side, however. The White Sox are winning right now, and that’s more than could be said during the vast majority of the last two seasons. The rebuild was always going to yield something positive at some point. This winning streak might not foreshadow the White Sox reaching baseball’s mountaintop by the end of this season, but it’s a positive sign made up of a bunch of other positive signs that spell good things for seasons to come.

As for the rest of 2019, there are nine games left against these Indians, 10 left against the Royals and 14 still to play against the Detroit Tigers. The White Sox can rack up a lot of wins against those teams, not to mention their still-to-come series with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, who they’ll see a combined 10 times before the season’s end. There are scattered National League opponents of various quality remaining, as well.

The White Sox, unsurprisingly, are not concerned with playoff projections or which teams remain on the schedule. They’ve got a good thing going on this homestand, and they’d like to keep it rolling for as long as possible.

“The guys are playing with some energy,” manager Rick Renteria said after Friday’s win. “I think they are having fun, they are focused. Clubs when they start to get on a little bit of a roll, they are enjoying their time, they know what they are doing. They are going with the moment and hopefully this will be a moment that lasts a long time.”

Long-lasting success is the ultimate goal of this rebuild, of course, and getting to the top of the game first requires getting to the top of the division. The Twins hold a 10.5-game lead as the calendar turns to June, meaning the White Sox might have to settle for only getting to second place in 2019. But that’s a lot better than where they were last year.

The rebuild progresses.

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Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s almost like Jose Abreu never left.

He was only a free agent for a week and a half, Abreu bringing his brief time away from the White Sox to an end Thursday, when he accepted the qualifying offer of a one-year deal with $17.8 million.

It’s not the multi-year contract that was expected, but MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported that the sides will continue to discuss a long-term pact. Still, the decision is a rare one, with Abreu becoming one of the few players ever to accept the qualifying offer. But he’ll get a nice payday for the 2020 season with a chance to do this whole free-agency thing again a year from now, if he chooses.

There was speculation that Abreu could accept the qualifying offer because of a potentially weak market for his services league-wide. If Abreu rejected the qualifying offer and things fell apart in discussing a multi-year deal with the White Sox, any team that signed him to a contract would have lost a draft pick in doing so. That deterred teams from signing free agents just in the last year, with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel notably going unsigned until June.

Who knows if that — or just the desire to earn $17.8 million before a potential dip in his annual salary as he ages — had anything to do with Abreu’s decision, but it’s what was being speculated.

Regardless, the White Sox have their first baseman back, great news after he turned in one of the more productive seasons of his six-year big league career in 2019. Abreu led the American League with a career-best 123 RBIs and came three home runs shy of matching a career-high in that category, as well.

Abreu’s return always seemed a foregone conclusion, with the three-time All Star spending the entire 2019 season talking about how badly he wanted to remain on the South Side, going as far as to pledge that if the White Sox didn’t re-sign him, he’d sign himself to a contract and play here anyway.

The feeling was mutual, too, with general manager Rick Hahn, manager Rick Renteria and teammates praising Abreu as a model player and a mentor for the team’s young stars in the making. Eloy Jimenez said Abreu had been like a father during the rookie’s first season in the majors. Abreu revealed that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him he’d never wear another uniform.

He’s as giddy about the team’s future as anyone and has cited the planned shift into contention as the reason he wants to stick around. Tim Anderson said “it’s only right” that Abreu return for 2020, a season in which the long-awaited transition out of rebuilding mode could take place. Hahn said earlier this season that it’s “very likely” Abreu would be around for the franchise’s planned good times.

Abreu’s been incredibly productive at the plate, though his off-the-field contributions are just as important, of course, and he’s been a mentor to players like Jimenez and Yoan Moncada as they’ve gotten their first taste of the major leagues. Luis Robert, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, figures to find his way under Abreu’s wing when he reaches the bigs next season.

Abreu has long seemed to be held in the same esteem as players who have their numbers retired and statues standing at Guaranteed Rate Field, earning the title of “Mr. White Sox” for this generation. It’s no surprise the White Sox are keeping him in that role moving forward as they plan to start seeing brighter days on the South Side.

After capturing the RBI crown, Abreu made his final prediction of the 2019 campaign, saying he did believe he'd be back with the White Sox for 2020. It might not have been terribly difficult to be prescient in this case, but he was nonetheless.

"Everybody knows my wishes and my desire to stay here," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "This is an organization I respect. This is an organization I really honor.

"I want to be here, and you know guys, I’ve been telling you that. Hopefully I’m going to be here."

Hope no longer. It might not have gone down exactly as was expected, but Abreu isn't going anywhere.

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Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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