White Sox

The bet: How Ivan Nova is mentoring Reynaldo Lopez, $100 at a time

The bet: How Ivan Nova is mentoring Reynaldo Lopez, $100 at a time

Reynaldo Lopez and Ivan Nova have a bet going. And Wednesday night, for the second time in six days, Lopez had to pay up.

As the media gathered around his locker following an excellent eight-inning outing in the White Sox loss to the Miami Marlins, Lopez slipped Nova a 100-dollar bill.

Why?

“I told him, ‘You need to speak English.’ It’s not that he doesn’t speak English. He does. But he’s kind of shy a little bit. So we made a little bet,” Nova explained Thursday. “I’m not going to say the amount. But I gave him two options: ‘I’m going to give you a certain amount of money if you do the interviews in English after the games, and you’re going to give me 100 bucks if you don’t do it.’

“I told him, ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s a good game or a bad game, you’ve got to do it in English.’ So he pitched a good game (last Friday) in Tampa, and I was waiting for the guys to do the interview. I was right next to him, and I saw him take the (money out of his wallet) and he said, ‘Here you go, here’s your 100 dollars.’ ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m not going to do it, there’s a lot of people here.’

“I told him, ‘You’re only going to get better if you try. If you don’t try you’re never going to get better.’

“(Wednesday) it was the same thing. I was waiting for the guys. And he said, ‘No.’ ‘OK, give me my money.’ And then he goes, ‘OK, I’m going to do it,’ but when he saw you guys he got his money. So I told him I’m going to talk to (manager Rick Renteria) and make you pitch in two days so I can get more money.”

It’s a fun story, for sure. But to Nova, it’s not a way to get a little extra cash, it’s a necessity. This is what mentorship looks like.

———

The White Sox traded for Nova over the winter with a couple goals in mind. They wanted a stable, veteran presence in their rotation to eat up innings and help the bullpen, a la what James Shields did when he logged 200 innings in 2018. But they also wanted a guiding presence for younger pitchers, which is another role Shields took on last season, though he was most closely associated with the ongoing development of Lucas Giolito, whose locker was right next to his in the clubhouse. Giolito had rave reviews for Shields at the end of last season.

Nova is serving as Lopez’s Shields. Their lockers are right next to each other in the White Sox clubhouse, and the two are often spotted playfully chatting before and after games. This is exactly what the team envisioned when they made the trade for Nova in December.

“The first thing that I did with him is just trying to make sure that he’s comfortable with everybody and everyone possible here. Comfort starts everything,” Nova said. “We’re having a conversation, but sometimes if I’ve got to be tough on the guy, I’ll be tough on the guy. I tell him a lot of times to just go out there and enjoy the game.

“The stuff is there, a lot of times it’s more the mental part than anything else. ‘Try to stay focused, stay in the game. We can talk while you’re pitching or not, but make sure you’re staying in the game, pitch by pitch.’ Stuff like that. It’s simple stuff that I’m pretty sure that he knew before, but it’s always good to have a guy that can take you to the right place and tell you the right thing at the right time.

“He jokes a lot, he plays a lot, but he listens. That’s the good thing. We have a really good relationship. He goes out there and works on his bullpen. A lot of time I make sure he works in the weight room. He’s a hard worker, but we all have days that we don’t feel like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ We all have those days, and it’s good to have somebody that can push you.”

Nova is drawing on his own experience as a young pitcher from his days with the New York Yankees, when guys like CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera served as his mentors.

And according to Nova, it’s not just about what happens on the mound. Making Lopez comfortable includes getting him to speak English more often. That’s what this bet is about.

“I did it because somebody did that to me,” he said. “It’s good to go out there and have a conversation like I do with you guys and know what you guys are talking about. And a lot of other, different things. If you’ve got to go to the doctor — hopefully it never happens — and you don’t understand, you need somebody to translate.

“A lot of times in baseball, I’ve seen a guy saying stuff that the person didn’t say. If I want to say something, they’ll put it another way, and it sounds good and it is good sometimes, but it’s not what you want, it’s not what you feel. I’m just trying to help the guy.

“I try to help the guy be better in any possible way that I can help him. As a pitcher, he’s got way better stuff than what I had. He just needs the mental part. The English part, we’re going to get better.”

———

Things have been much better for Lopez of late. Though he’s made just three starts since the All-Star break, he’s delivered on the promise he made at the end of the first half, that he would be a different pitcher than the one who had a 6.34 ERA after his 18th start of the year. In three second-half starts, he’s got a 1.71 ERA, 25 strikeouts and only four walks in 21 innings.

Wednesday, Renteria chalked some of that recent success up to Lopez’s teammates, and Lopez echoed the influence his teammates, Nova included, have had on him. Certainly Nova’s seen the difference that’s made Lopez look a lot more like the dominant pitcher he was at the end of last season.

“He’s more aggressive. He’s more aggressive since (his first start of the second half in) Oakland,” Nova said. “It started in Oakland. He was more aggressive, and he remembered that feeling. He remembered that feeling and stayed hungry. It’s something that we talked about the whole year, and he’s finally putting it together now.

“He’d pitch a good game in the first half, but there was something that he didn’t like about that game. He’d come in here and put his head down and start reading stuff. So I tried to take that away from him. I told him, ‘You pitch a good game, you’re always going to have one thing you didn’t like about it or two things. But when there are more positive things than bad things, you eliminate the bad thing and focus on the good things.’”

Well, there haven’t been many bad things to focus on over Lopez’s last three starts. Renteria called the way Lopez is pitching “elite” on Wednesday night, and it’s reminiscent of the way Lopez closed out last season, when he looked capable of being an ace-type pitcher. The rediscovery of that kind of success is nothing but good news for the White Sox, who could be making the transition from rebuilding to contending come the 2020 season and could use a reliable Lopez to help solidify a potentially exciting rotation alongside Giolito, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease.

And Nova’s hand in that is an example of what general manager Rick Hahn talked about all offseason when referencing the impact guys like Nova, who might not be on those contending White Sox teams, could have on the franchise’s bright future.

Through helping Lopez to pitch better and to feel more comfortable as a person in the White Sox clubhouse, Nova is having an effect on the future. And Lopez is enjoying that effect — perhaps a little too much, at times.

“We have a really good relationship,” Nova said. “It’s not only in here, it’s in the dugout, it’s everywhere.

“I told him once, ‘I’m going to block you because I don’t want you texting me on my off days. I have enough with you at the ballpark. Off day is off day, so don’t text me.’ He texted me one day, and I saw the message and I didn’t answer. And the next day, he was like, ‘Why didn’t you respond to my message?’ I was like, ‘Because I don’t want to.’ And he was like, ‘You could at least put “OK.”’ So I grabbed my phone and typed it in, ‘OK.’ ‘I sent it to you, feel good now?’

“He’s a good boy.”

Nova’s had the effect the White Sox were hoping he would. Now the veteran just wants to get Lopez to flash his bilingual skills.

“I think it’s going to be fine,” Nova said. “Once he loses two or three hundred more bucks, he’s going to do it.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

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.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

A free-agent destination? Scott Boras: 'Players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago'

A free-agent destination? Scott Boras: 'Players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox certainly believe themselves to be a destination for the game’s top free agents.

What do those free agents think, though?

Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Nicholas Castellanos will likely stay silent on that and all other matters until they’re introduced as members of their new teams.

Their agent, Scott Boras, is not exactly the staying-silent type.

Boras spoke to the typical throng of reporters Wednesday at the GM meetings, doing his job as an advocate for a game in which more teams are handing out bigger contracts and the players see a bigger share of the pie. But, as is tradition, he was peppered with questions about individual teams and their attractiveness to his clients.

And that included the White Sox, who have quite a bit on their shopping list this winter. So, Scott, are they the destination Rick Hahn claims they are?

“They have a lot of great young talent,” he said. “It’s a great city. Certainly players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago, no question.”

It’d be hard not to. At this time two years ago, the White Sox were coming off a 95-loss season, with a 100-loss season to follow. But in 2019, despite the loss total still arriving at a nothing-to-be-proud-of 89, we learned the White Sox have an exciting young core thanks to several players breaking out with big performances. Two years ago, Tim Anderson wasn’t a batting champ, Yoan Moncada wasn’t the best all-around player on the team, Lucas Giolito wasn’t an All Star and Eloy Jimenez wasn’t a 31-homer rookie.

Everyone should look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago, free agents included.

Boras' words do little to actually indicate whether the White Sox will have a strong chance at reeling in one of the biggest fish in this winter's free-agent pond. But between the White Sox stated aggressiveness in pursuing premium talent and the idea that talent might be looking at the White Sox as a destination, that's good news for Hahn's front office and the goal of landing a top player.

There was more from Boras, though his other White Sox-related comments came off more as lobbying the South Siders to hand out deals to free agents. Still, it doesn’t make him wrong.

“Well certainly the White Sox need veteran players, because they have such great young players, and you're trying to create that mix all the time,” he said. “So I readily foresee there's a lot of fits that could go in there and really advance what they've built to date.

“I think veteran players, particularly who have won before, can come into a locker room, bring a credibility where players can go to them and say, organically, ‘How does this happen? Are we that close? How far away are we? What do we do? What do I do?’

“And when you've been around world champions, when they speak, the athletes have a high level of credibility for what they have to say because they've done it, they've been through it.”

But Boras’ biggest talking point about the White Sox is actually the same as Hahn’s. The general manager has voiced for months now that his team’s top selling point isn’t the financial flexibility that will allow them to hand out a massive contract — though certainly that will help — but the opportunity to play winning baseball with this group of talented players.

“We are a logical destination for premium talent,” Hahn said Tuesday. “Players want to come play for us, play for the White Sox, play on the South Side, play for (manager Rick Renteria) and be part of what we're building. And if last year we announced that perhaps a little too loudly, it was in part a response to the general narrative that we weren't legitimate players for such talent.

“I think the message has already been delivered that we are a true destination for such talent, and now it's incumbent upon us to convert on some along the way.”

Hahn added more on the topic Wednesday.

“It's a combination, not just while we're here but over the course of the season, hearing from some guys in our clubhouse who have heard from other players around the league about what we've been building and what the future looks like, and then having that reinforced in these early conversations with some free agents.

“The agents will certainly tell you nice things along the way, but when you hear it directly from some of the players, ‘I see what you guys have been doing, I see where the future is headed there and it's exciting,’ it's some positive reinforcement.

“Now, in the end, dollars and contract terms tend to carry a little more weight. But at the very least, it's good to hear that people are excited by the prospect of being part of what we're building.”

Hahn’s right, in the end, the money will likely do the majority of the talking, and it’s up to his front office to do away with what he calls a “false narrative” that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend on the highest-priced free agents.

But there’s also the old cliche that winning cures all ills. This team showing it’s ready to compete for a title with its performance on the field could play a big role in top talent picking the South Side as a landing spot.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.