White Sox

Could a Mariners rebuild be a big-time opportunity knocking for the White Sox?


Could a Mariners rebuild be a big-time opportunity knocking for the White Sox?

CARLSBAD, Calif. — The White Sox are going to be “opportunistic” this offseason, according to their general manager. Well, a big opportunity might be knocking on the door.

According to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, the Seattle Mariners might enter into a full-scale rebuild this winter, potentially offering up their best players in trades. That includes a pair of 2018 All Stars in outfielder Mitch Haniger and closer Edwin Diaz, who was perhaps the best in the game at his position last season, and an All-Star caliber starting pitcher in James Paxton.

The White Sox know what that purgatory feeling is like, and it’s why they pulled the trigger on their rebuild two years ago. It allowed the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and Cubs to be “opportunistic” in acquiring the biggest pieces on the South Side: Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana, respectively.

White Sox fans know very well what it took for those three teams to land those difference-makers, and so it should come at no surprise to read that the Mariners’ asking price for any of those three guys would be “massive.”

But when looking at what the Milwaukee Brewers did last season in acquiring Christian Yelich, who is expected to be named the NL MVP later this week, a similar opportunity could be facing the White Sox in Haniger. The soon-to-be 28-year-old outfielder is under team control for four more seasons, yet to even reach arbitration. He slashed .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs last season for the M’s. He played in all but five games, banged out 38 doubles and played all three outfield positions, including making 26 starts in center field.

That’s got to sound extraordinarily tantalizing to White Sox fans. Haniger would be a big offensive upgrade at any of the three outfield positions and could be penned, not penciled, into the lineup for the next four seasons. Once Eloy Jimenez arrives on the South Side, expected to be early next season, he’ll have an outfield spot on lockdown for the foreseeable future.

And, heck, while we’re at it, the cases for adding Paxton and Diaz are pretty strong, too. The 24-year-old Diaz led the majors with 57 saves last season and is also under team control for four more years. Paxton is freshly 30 (happy birthday, James) and under team control for two more seasons. He was sensational in 2017, with a 2.98 ERA in 28 starts, and fell back to Earth a bit last season, finishing with 3.76 ERA while also reaching career highs with 28 starts, 160.1 innings and 208 strikeouts.

The White Sox have a shot at a homegrown rotation, but of the five arms that could make up the 2020 rotation, Carlos Rodon is the most proven of the bunch, with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez coming off at-times rocky first full seasons in the bigs, Michael Kopech out for 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and Dylan Cease still in the minor leagues. Meanwhile, the White Sox have a fleet of young relief arms out in the bullpen, but as to who will be the team’s closer of the future, that’s a complete mystery. The favorite for that job, 2016 first-round pick Zack Burdi, is also on the mend from Tommy John surgery.

Now, the cases against adding any of these guys are obvious, too. The return packages would have to be loaded with top-ranked prospects, and that could mean guys as high in the White Sox organizational rankings as Dylan Cease and Luis Robert, it could mean guys with as bright of futures as Dane Dunning and Nick Madrigal. Those would be huge price tags and a significant — though not complete — disruption to Rick Hahn’s carefully laid rebuilding plans.

But the White Sox boast an incredible amount of depth throughout their farm system, with the potential for blockbuster trades being just one of many reasons that depth exists. Trading from positions of strength like starting pitching and outfield, as examples, wouldn’t necessarily mean the cupboard would be bare, though it would mean it might not be as promising as it was before.

The difference here, however, compared to other names that have been bandied about as dream targets for the White Sox is the team control. Haniger and Diaz wouldn’t become free agents until after the 2022 season. And while injuries throughout the organization might have delayed the opening of the White Sox contention window, it’s very much expected to be open before then. And, obviously, adding a player or players of this caliber would once again alter that timeline, in that case for the better.

In an offseason full of expensive free agents who might not be as attracted to the White Sox long-term vision as they might be to the concrete evidence of present-day contenders, perhaps a trade is a way to kick the rebuild into overdrive.

It’s all just speculation, just the game of “how about this?” that goes on every Hot Stove season. But the White Sox, with all the flexibility their rebuilding process has created, might have a chance at being “opportunistic.”

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Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera look like home-run additions for White Sox: 'Our bullpen could be nasty'

Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera look like home-run additions for White Sox: 'Our bullpen could be nasty'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Alex Colome was making some noise Saturday. Literally. His pitches were not just fast. They were loud.

Lined up next to Kelvin Herrera during a weekend bullpen session, Colome gave onlookers a preview of the most significant (to this point) additions of the White Sox offseason. Colome was the major league saves leader in 2017. Herrera was a key piece of a fearsome Kansas City Royals bullpen during that team’s back-to-back World Series runs in 2014 and 2015.

Talk about improving the South Side relief corps, which posted a 4.49 ERA last season, ranking 23rd out of 30 big league bullpens.

“When they added both of them, that’s one thing I was thinking. My thoughts were, ‘Our bullpen could be nasty,’” fellow reliever Nate Jones said Sunday at Camelback Ranch. “With the young guys, you’ve seen all the talent we’ve accumulated, and you got a glimpse of it in September with the guys in the bullpen. With what they can do, hopefully they can take what they learned last year and apply it to this year. We could be pretty dang good.”

It’s certainly not outlandish to suggest that Colome and Herrera could give the White Sox the best bullpen in the American League Central. Three of the White Sox four division rivals had worse relief ERAs in 2018, including the division-champion Cleveland Indians, who struggled out of the bullpen all season despite their former dominance in that department. The only Central team better was the Minnesota Twins, one spot ahead in 22nd with a nearly identical 4.45 ERA.

And those numbers are obviously without Colome and Herrera in the mix for the White Sox.

While the division is weak enough for the White Sox to potentially surprise this season, this is a team completely focused on the future. Thankfully, Colome and Herrera have big roles to play in that aspect, too. Colome, under team control for two more seasons, and Herrera, under team control for as many as three more seasons, figure to be around as the South Siders make the transition from rebuilding mode to contention mode. But even if they aren’t under contract for the next decade, they’ll have a big impact on the organization’s crop of young relievers.

Just ask Jones, the elder statesman of the group at this point, a 33-year-old entering his eighth big league season with the White Sox.

When the two newcomers were acquired, they figured to have a positive effect on the development of young pitchers like Jace Fry, Ian Hamilton, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare and others, including guys who haven’t even reached the majors yet like Zack Burdi, Tyler Johnson and Zach Thompson. If Colome and Herrera and Jones have the back end of games covered, it would figure to allow those young guys to pitch in lower-leverage situations.

Jones said that is absolutely the case.

“With some of the younger guys in the bullpen, they can look up to these guys and see what their work ethic is and how they attack hitters and go about their day and go about the game and learn from that,” he said.

“I know when I was one of the young guys, that definitely helped to get my feet wet in the big leagues, to not be thrown into those high-leverage situations right out of the chute, so you can kind of get your feet wet, build that confidence up and then have the trial and error of going into those high-leverage situations.

“Being a young guy and having the back end of the game taken care of a little bit takes the pressure off, let’s them focus on the game and throwing strikes and getting guys out first. I think it helps our bullpen tremendously.”

And so it’s a multi-faceted pair of acquisitions for the White Sox, who greatly improved their bullpen in the short term and hope to continue to reap benefits far into the future.

As everyone continues to focus on the acquisition the White Sox have not yet made (some guy whose name rhymes with Shmanny Shmachado), it’s important to realize they might have already made a couple of home-run adds.

“When they were brought on board, I was like, ‘All right!’” Jones said. “Especially Kelvin, we faced him so many times with the Royals. So I told him, first thing I said was, ‘It’s nice you’re on our team now.’ But both are huge. They bring that veteran experience. One’s a World Series champion, and one’s been the single-season saves leader one year. Can’t do nothing but help us.”

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From the Dominican Republic to the doorstep of the majors, Eloy Jimenez's dreams are coming true

From the Dominican Republic to the doorstep of the majors, Eloy Jimenez's dreams are coming true

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Eleven years ago, a young boy named Eloy Jimenez visited the United States for the very first time.

Playing on a traveling baseball team in Santo Domingo, he boarded a plane with his teammates from the Dominican Republic and headed to a faraway city almost 2,000 miles to the north.

The destination was Chicago.

Flying over the vast metropolis, the 11-year-old Jimenez gazed out the airplane window, surveyed the massive skyline and something hit him.

He saw his future.

“One day I’m going to be here. That was the first thing in my mind. I don’t know why I think that, but it was one of my dreams,” Jimenez said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast.

Most kids his age might see a city that big and be frightened by the enormity of it. Not Eloy.

“It was one of my dreams to come to Chicago because Sammy Sosa played in Chicago. Jim Thome and Frank Thomas played in Chicago,” Jimenez explained.

When Jimenez was 14, he watched Thome hit his 600th career home run on television. As Thome rounded the bases for that milestone homer, Jimenez envisioned another player doing the same in the future.  

“I remember I was a little kid, and I said, ‘Wow, that’s special for him,’” Jimenez recalled. “I said, ‘One day it could be special for me, too.‘’’

Soon after the White Sox acquired Jimenez from the Cubs in 2017, one of the first White Sox representatives Jimenez spoke to was Thome. It’s a conversation Jimenez remembers vividly.

“He said, ‘It’s nice to meet you, I’m Jim Thome,’” Jimenez recalled. “I said, ‘I know who you are. I’m Eloy Jimenez.’”

Then Thome said something to Jimenez that still leaves the White Sox prospect floored more than two years later.  

“Thome said, ‘I know who you are.’ I said, ‘You know who I am?’ Someone from the Hall of Fame tells me 'I know who you are,' and I don’t even play in the big leagues? That was special for me.”

With Jimenez knocking on the door to the majors, special times could be coming soon for the White Sox. Walk inside their spring training clubhouse and you will see three lockers right in a row: Jimenez, Micker Adolfo and Luis Basabe.

The three outfield prospects are often inseparable. They not only play baseball together, they eat and play video games as a trio away from the facility.

They also share the same dream.

“We talk hitting and defense, but most importantly we talk about how it’s going to be when we win the World Series. That’s most of the time what we talk about,” Jimenez said.

How often do they talk about it?

“Pretty much every day. We are excited to see it, and we can’t wait.”

Jimenez speaks with so much confidence, it’s as if he’s lived his life before. He’s just repeating it for a second time for old times’ sake.

But there has been struggle in his life, even in baseball.

The first time Jimenez ever played the game, at 9 years old, he stepped to the plate for his very first at-bat — and got smacked in the head by a wayward pitch.

“I was out of the game. When I got home, I told my dad, 'I don’t want to play anymore,'”  Jimenez said.

Just like that, the baseball career of Eloy Jimenez could have ended after one at-bat. Basically one pitch. It didn’t seem like a big loss to Jimenez. His real love at the time was basketball.

But a few weeks later, his dad circled back on the idea of giving baseball another try.

“Why are you going to quit after just one at-bat?” father asked son. “Why don’t you try again?”

Jimenez begrudgingly returned to the baseball field, mainly to please his dad. He grabbed a bat, stepped back in the box, stared at the pitcher’s mound and to his surprise, fate intervened.


Jimenez smashed a home run about 200 feet over the left-field fence.

How did it feel?

“Oooof. Amazing,” Jimenez said with his big beaming smile.

As he puts it, “from that point on, I was in” when it came to baseball.

He would eventually become one of the top young players in the Dominican Republic. By 2013, he was considered “the crown jewel” of that year’s international class. Jimenez signed a $2.8 million contract with the Cubs as a 16-year-old. Scouts believed he was the total package.

But while playing rookie ball in the Cubs organization in 2014, Jimenez admits something today that few people have ever known: He thought about quitting the game.

“The first year when I came to the United States, I was 17 years old. I was away from my family. I didn’t speak the language. It was really hard. I needed to wait for somebody to translate so I could go eat. It was hard because I wasn’t doing good in the season and I was little bit frustrated with that,” he explained.

Playing on a team featuring top Cubs prospects like Gleyber Torres and Jorge Soler, Jimenez went through a slump that brought him to his knees.

“I was 0-for-40.”

Think about that. Eloy Jimenez 0-for-40. Basically 10 straight games without a hit.

I was like, ‘I don’t want to play anymore.’” Jimenez said.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the light that burns so brightly inside him to flicker back to life.

“The next day I said, 'Why did I say that? (Playing baseball) is something you’re dreaming about. That’s why you play. That’s why you signed. Why do you say that you don’t want to play anymore?' I don’t think that is good. I felt that, too.”

That season in 42 games, Jimenez hit just .227/.268/.367 with three home runs in 164 plate appearances.

“I think that was the year that was the worst of my career,” he said.

Jump ahead five years, Jimenez is coming off his very best year. In 108 games with Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, he combined to hit .337/.384/.577 with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs.    

Not getting called up to the majors last September was “disappointing,” but Jimenez accepted the White Sox decision to hold him back until this season.

“There was nothing I could do about it. There was nothing I could control. I just go to the field and can control what I can do,” he said.

After the season, Jimenez returned to the Dominican Republic, where he received a special visitor at his home: White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.

“It was really special. I appreciated it. He take his time to come to the DR and talk to me and my family,” Jimenez said of Hahn’s visit.

“He just tell us, 'Don’t worry. Just be ready for the moment because it’s going to be soon.' And I said, 'OK, no problem.'”

When he gets to the majors, how good does Jimenez think he’ll be?

“I think I’m going to be good in my mind all the time,” he said with conviction.

Where did he get such confidence in himself?

“I’m born with it. With everything I’ve done. I think that’s special for me.”

Soon the city of Chicago will be able to see this budding star’s poise, spirit, fearlessness and mile-wide smile firsthand when Jimenez dons a White Sox uniform for his major league debut.

When will that be? The question has yet to be answered. But we know this: That time is fast approaching.

“I’m just going to let it happen,” Jimenez said. “When it happens and I get the call, I’m going to be excited.”

So will White Sox fans.  

Get ready everyone, because Eloy is coming.

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