White Sox

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.

Why should White Sox fans care about the World Series? Free-agent stars are a good start

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USA TODAY

Why should White Sox fans care about the World Series? Free-agent stars are a good start

The Washington Nationals swept away the St. Louis Cardinals, the Houston Astros walked off the New York Yankees, and we’ve got ourselves a World Series.

The final chapter to what’s been an immensely entertaining postseason should be mandatory watching for baseball fans across the country. But if even a titanic Game 1 showdown between Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer isn’t enough to hook South Side fans irked their team is sitting at home for an 11th consecutive October, there are plenty of reasons to tune in to the Fall Classic — and that’s not even counting the fact that football season appears to be over.

The next South Side superstar?

The guys who will potentially be the three biggest names on this winter’s free-agent market are playing in this World Series: Astros ace Gerrit Cole, Nationals MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and Nationals hurler Stephen Strasburg. Cole and Rendon will be the top pitcher and position player available, respectively, while Strasburg can slide right behind Cole on the pitcher rankings if he chooses to opt out of the remainder of his current contract.

The prospects of any one of that trio landing on the South Side ought to have White Sox fans drooling, especially after Rick Hahn’s front office lost out on Manny Machado last winter. But Hahn has vowed to be aggressive once more in trying to bring in an impact talent to be the cherry on top of his rebuilding effort. That 11-season playoff drought isn’t irritating to just fans, and the team is setting up for an offseason that could bring the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode as soon as 2020.

Hahn has already outlined his offseason to-do list, and the White Sox will have a new right fielder, a new designated hitter and likely a couple new starting pitchers by the time next Opening Day rolls around. Considering the rash of injuries and under-performances that affected the team’s mid-tier prospects in 2019, it looks like the free-agent market is a more realistic way to address those issues (at least when it comes to acquiring big-name pieces) than the trade market. So all eyes are understandably on the top of that market after the White Sox chased the two biggest names there last winter in Machado and Bryce Harper.

Cole has been downright outrageous all year, especially since his loss to the White Sox, coincidentally, on May 22. He hasn’t lost since, with a pencil-thin 1.59 ERA in that span. He finished the season with an AL-best 2.50 ERA and a baseball-leading 326 strikeouts. In three postseason starts, Cole has a 0.40 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 22.2 innings.

Basically, he’s been the best pitcher in baseball in 2019, so he would obviously look good at the top of 30 starting rotations across the game. The White Sox could pair him with Lucas Giolito at the front of their starting staff and produce a seriously fearsome 1-2 punch. Of course, Cole is expected to receive the richest pitching contract in baseball history, and whether the White Sox would be willing to hand out such a contract or not has been the topic of much social-media debate.

The White Sox certainly have the financial flexibility to do it, but until they do sign a player to such a deal, as Hahn will readily admit, the notion that they can’t will stick. Even if the White Sox plan to be in the race for Cole, though, they figure to face plenty of competition, and a couple of Cole’s teammates have already predicted that the Southern California native — who grew up minutes from Angel Stadium — will end up pitching in the Golden State.

None of that eliminates the White Sox at this stage, obviously, and if they’re looking to make the absolute biggest splash they can this winter, then Cole would be the guy. And he’ll pitch, probably multiple times, during the World Series.

Just below Cole on the list of top-of-the-rotation pitchers available could be Strasburg, and the “could” is hardly a reflection of his quality. The 31-year-old righty has been just about as filthy during the playoffs, with a 1.64 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 22 innings over four appearances, three of which were starts. Those numbers go along nicely with the 3.32 ERA and career-high 251 strikeouts he posted in an NL-best 209 innings during the regular season.

The “could” comes from whether or not Strasburg will even be available to sign, as he has an opt-out clause he can exercise if he wants, though he’d leave a guaranteed four years and $100 million in search of an even better payday. But while he’s had plenty of health issues throughout his now decade-old major league career, it seems like outdoing those numbers wouldn’t be a problem, especially if he turns in continued spectacular performances in the World Series.

Strasburg would fill much the same need that Cole would if we’re talking hypothetical White Sox additions. Cole is two years younger and performed objectively better this season, making him more attractive. But he’ll also be more expensive. Strasburg obviously wouldn’t be cheap, either, but adding a top-of-the-rotation pitcher who can help vault your rebuilding team into contention mode never is. Ask the Cubs about Jon Lester. Ask the Astros about Justin Verlander. Ask the Boston Red Sox about Chris Sale.

Given the White Sox history — a history of trends Hahn is trying to veer away from, or at the very least not remain beholden to — perhaps a pricey contract for a hitter is more likely than one for a pitcher. Hahn has already indicated that starting pitching will be tops on the to-do list, but considering there are offensive holes to fill, too, Rendon bears watching.

He’ll be the biggest name among free-agent bats, and that status is well deserved after several seasons of somehow quiet MVP-caliber production. In 2019, he had a career year with a .319/.412/.598 slash line (a 1.010 OPS, goodness) to go along with 34 home runs, a major league leading 126 RBIs and an NL-leading 44 doubles. That’s a middle-of-the-lineup stick, for sure, one that would look good alongside Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and in all likelihood, Jose Abreu.

Rendon’s postseason numbers have been similarly gaudy: a .375/.465/.594 line with a homer, four doubles, seven RBIs, eight walks and eight runs scored. The bat screams “sign him up,” and his glove is pretty great, too. Just one problem: The White Sox already have a third baseman, and a darn good one, in Moncada, who turned in his own career year at the plate and showed why he was ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball not long ago. So does that prevent them from even pursuing Rendon this winter?

Maybe. Maybe not. The White Sox chased Machado last year despite having shortstop spoken for in the long term, so we know they’re not shy about it. But this time around, they have more specific needs to fill. Their resources, while potentially ample, need to be deployed to get a right fielder, a couple starting pitchers and a DH. Would they divert a bunch of those same resources to get another third baseman?

That all remains to be seen. But you can see these three superstars take center stage during the World Series before they take center stage in the White Sox expected free-agent activity.

White Sox trying to follow the Astros’ plan

The Astros are baseball’s model franchise right now. In the World Series for the second time in three seasons, they have perfected the now-popular trend of undergoing a total rebuild, gutting through seasons as dire as 100 losses in the name of player development, building a core stocked with MVP candidates and bringing in players from outside to bolster their chances of staying on top.

This is the exact model the White Sox are trying to follow, and the Astros’ continued place at the top of baseball’s mountain should convince even the most skeptical fans that it’s a blueprint worth following.

The Astros’ success has been driven by patience while a young core developed, and that young core is still the driving force of a team that went outside to add its three best pitchers and an All-Star outfielder. More on that later. But how fitting that the guy who’s been around the longest, Jose Altuve, was the one who blasted the Astros into the World Series with Saturday night’s walk-off homer. Altuve grabbed an MVP back in 2017, the year the Astros won the World Series, but he could soon have company if voters picked Alex Bregman over Mike Trout this season. Regardless, Altuve and Bregman are two of at least four young Astros stars that can win the MVP on an annual basis, with Carlos Correa and George Springer falling into that same category. Yordan Alvarez might join the group, too, as he’s the logical favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year vote.

Sound familiar to what the White Sox are trying to pull off with Moncada, Anderson, Jimenez, Robert, Abreu and Nick Madrigal? Drawing such a comparison a year ago — when Anderson was a .240 hitter, Moncada struck out 217 times, Jimenez hadn’t played a major league game and Robert went an injury-shortened minor league season without hitting a home run — might have sounded like lunacy. But in the year since, Anderson won a batting title, Moncada turned into the team’s best all-around hitter, Jimenez blasted 31 homers as a rookie, Robert was the best player in the minor leagues, Madrigal had his own sensational minor league season and Abreu kept on being Abreu, with some of the best production in his six years as a big leaguer. It all adds up to a core that should have White Sox fans really excited.

Then there are the outside additions of consequence, which the Astros have made to perfection, bringing in Verlander and Zack Greinke in midseason trades, dealing for Cole two winters ago and signing Michael Brantley as a free agent last offseason. The Astros don’t win the 2017 World Series without Verlander, and the same will be true of Cole and Brantley if they’re champions again this time around.

Certainly the White Sox would like to make similar moves, hence their aggressive approach last offseason when Machado and Harper were on the market and their stated aggressive approach this winter with so many names out there that could get the team over the rebuilding hump. Signing a Cole, a Rendon, a Strasburg, a Madison Bumgarner, a J.D. Martinez, et cetera, et cetera, would be a very Astros-like move.

The Astros aren’t the only team that has done this kind of thing. But the Cubs, who succeeded with a similar strategy, fired their manager after playing all of one playoff game in the last two seasons. The Red Sox, who despite their frequent spending did something not too dissimilar in assembling their championship core, missed the playoffs the year after winning it all. So following the Astros’ plan is about more than just winning the World Series one time. It’s about that sustained success and that perennial contention that Hahn is always talking about.

Who won the trades?

Teams generally don’t care about winning trades. They care about winning championships.

But if the Nationals win the World Series this year, that will make back-to-back championships for the teams the White Sox traded with to kickstart their rebuild. Sale and the Red Sox won it all last year. Now it could be Adam Eaton’s turn with the Nationals.

Certainly, no one is going to claim that Eaton has the same level of importance to these Nationals as Sale did to last year’s Red Sox. Sale was that team’s ace and closed out the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. But Eaton is an everyday player and the two will remain connected as the guys Hahn traded away to stock his farm system with top-rated prospects.

But if winning titles is the ultimate desired outcome of any big deal, then consider the Red Sox winners for what Sale did for them in 2018. If the Nationals win the whole thing this month, they’ll be in the same category.

Meanwhile, though, the White Sox are seeing some pretty big upsides from dealing away those two players. After terribly disappointing seasons of growing pains for Giolito and Moncada in 2018, they emerged as arguably the two best players on the team in 2019. Michael Kopech will return to the team in 2020 after his Tommy John surgery. The same goes for Dane Dunning. And while Reynaldo Lopez’s ups and downs provided a bunch of frustration this season, the White Sox aren’t counting him out of their long-term plans yet.

All those guys came over in those two trades. And so while the two teams who the White Sox made those trades with after the 2016 season could end up world champs within three years, the White Sox still have to be thrilled with their ends of those deals.

One more former South Sider

White Sox fans with any interest in rooting for their team’s former players will be forced to cheer for the Nationals, with no ex-South Siders playing for the Astros. And if you’re not about to jump into all that 2016 drama involving Eaton — or also can’t remember the Javy Guerra Era — you’ve got one option left: Daniel Hudson.

The White Sox dealt away Hudson when he was a youngster not long up from the minor leagues back in 2010. Hudson was shipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Edwin Jackson, had a couple Tommy John surgeries and has kicked around the big leagues ever since, getting traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the relief-desperate Nationals earlier this season.

Well, he’s been a remarkable find for the Nationals, who have turned him into their World Series closer. Hudson’s gotten some huge outs during this postseason run, locking down the ninth inning of the NL wild card game, making three scoreless appearances against the Dodgers in the NLDS and picking up saves in Games 2 and 4 during the Nationals’ NLCS sweep of the Cardinals. He hasn’t allowed a run yet and has 11 strikeouts in his 11 innings.

So celebrate Hudson, White Sox fans, if for nothing more than his cool late-career renaissance. Also, he’s a free agent after the season’s over. Just saying.

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MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

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USA TODAY

MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

If Major League Baseball gets its way, there could be seismic changes coming to the minor leagues.

According to a report from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, the league has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the minor leagues, including the elimination of 42 affiliated teams.

The proposal is merely the beginning of what are expected to be lengthy negotiations over a new version of what’s called the “Professional Baseball Agreement,” basically the contract that keeps the major and minor leagues connected and minor league teams stocked with players employed by major league clubs. The existing edition expires at the end of the 2020 season, and so a new one will need to be hashed out.

Major League Baseball is looking for control over how the minor leagues are organized, with an eye on improving facilities and clustering affiliates and leagues from a geographic standpoint to cut down on travel costs. There’s also expected to be an increase in salaries for minor league players, which has long been a talking point thanks to the increasing number of descriptions of how financially difficult life can be for those trying to reach the majors.

To accomplish those goals, Major League Baseball is proposing drastic solutions.

The one that will grab the most attention is the elimination of more than a quarter of the existing affiliated teams in the minor leagues, removing affiliated minor league teams from more than three dozen cities across the United States and getting rid of more than 1,000 jobs for minor league players. Simply, the entire short-season rookie ball (excluding squads that play at team-owned facilities in Arizona and Florida) would be eliminated, leaving only four levels of affiliated teams: Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

If you’re wondering what would happen to those 42 teams, the proposal is for them to form something called a “Dream League,” which would essentially serve the same purpose as an independent league, allowing players without jobs to keep playing and try to get a job with a major league team.

Additionally, Major League Baseball is proposing radical restructuring of existing leagues in order to cluster teams closer together. That could include changing the level of certain teams, such as making a Class A team a Triple-A team based on the quality of facilities and what makes the most geographic sense. Leagues could also gain or lose a large number of teams, with the Triple-A International League growing to 20 teams and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shrinking to just 10 teams. One Class A league was described as being reduced to just six teams, while the rest of its current teams would be put into a brand-new league.

As for how the White Sox and their affiliates would be affected, team-specific information was not included in the report. One read of the details of this proposal could see something such as the White Sox affiliates being relocated to Midwestern cities. Another, however, could see the White Sox affiliates mostly staying how they currently are, given those teams are all geographically close to one another, with all but one located in North Carolina.

Buried in all of this is another big change, a proposed move of the draft from June to August, giving players a couple more months to show off for major league teams, and a reduction in the number of rounds from the current 40 to somewhere between 20 and 25. That, and the elimination of short-season rookie ball, would likely prevent draftees from playing minor league baseball in the same year they’re drafted.

It’s all something to keep an eye on, for sure, as many fans across the country who closely follow minor league teams in their hometowns could experience a dramatic shakeup.

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