White Sox

In Dallas Keuchel, White Sox have found their Jon Lester for transition to winning

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By White Sox Insiders
White Sox

One person who likes the idea of comparing Dallas Keuchel to Jon Lester: Dallas Keuchel.

"I like the Jon Lester comparison because he’s a monster of a human being. I'm about 6-(foot)-2, 215 (pounds), so I dwarf compared to him. But I appreciate that."

That bit of levity included, it was hard to listen to Keuchel's first conversation with Chicago media since the announcement of the three-year deal that brought him to the South Side and not think about the veteran lefty who made such a huge impact on the other side of town.

General manager Rick Hahn and Scott Boras — Keuchel's agent whose appearance on Monday's conference call ought to squash any lingering ideas that he and the White Sox don't get along — brought it up rather quickly in their comments: Keuchel's addition to this team is as much about what he can do as a leader, as a mentor for the young pitchers around him as it is about what the guy who won the 2015 AL Cy Young and the 2017 World Series can do on the mound.

"Many of these kids are obviously blessed with a world of talent, and it takes time and sometimes hardship at the big league level for them to get to the right path and learn what's best for them in terms of unlocking that potential or fulfilling that potential," Hahn said. "We feel like in having Dallas around — someone who's been to the top of the mountain, someone who's been a champion, someone who's been a Cy Young Award winner and was part of a club that went through a similar transition from rebuild to potentially a championship club, as we foresee ourselves doing in the coming years — having someone like that as a resource, ... having a peer such as Dallas, someone who's been there before, someone who's excited for that role, we think is going to be quite meaningful to these young arms as they continue to take that next step in that progression."

 

The White Sox sure seem capable of having what Lucas Giolito has predicted could be one of the most dominant rotations in the game. Giolito's fresh off an All-Star season in 2019, but big question marks, whether they exist because of recent injuries or inconsistent performance, still stand when it comes to Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning. Keuchel, the White Sox hope, can not just aid in smoothing out some of the ugly statistics the starting staff put up in 2019 but in helping those young pitchers become championship caliber.

Certainly Keuchel has been over the course of his career. His resume is peppered with the same kinds of accomplishments Lester had before he bought into what Theo Epstein and the Cubs were building after the 2014 season. Lester had a previous relationship with Epstein, of course, and a brand new manager in Joe Maddon. But the Cubs had yet to call up Kris Bryant or Addison Russell or Kyle Schwarber. Lester saw what could blossom, and in his first year on the North Side, the Cubs went to the NLCS. In his second, they won the World Series.

Keuchel is buying in, too. He's buying into what Hahn & Co. have planned, the carefully laid rebuilding plans that seem to have the White Sox — who lost 89 games in 2019, just like the Cubs lost 89 games in 2014 before Lester signed — primed to make a similar leap forward.

"Willingness to win," Keuchel said, asked what lured him to the South Side. "They are really pushing towards kind of opening that winning window, and I think in the AL Central, there is about a three- to five-year gap right now to really push it. I know Rick didn’t use the word 'push.' I like to use the word 'push' just because 162 is long but it goes quick. The years go by quick, too."

Only time will tell if Keuchel can deliver the same kind of annual Cy Young type performance Lester did — Hahn went as far as saying, "we're not looking for Dallas, in between the lines, to be anything more than we've seen of him in recent years" — but no matter how he pitches, just being a veteran of the Houston Astros' transition from 100-game losers to World Series champs ought to be helpful as the White Sox look to do the same thing.

 

"I don’t really try to go out and be somebody, be a leader," Keuchel said. "I just try to be myself. And I think about situations. I think about opportunities I’ve had throughout the course of my career.

"I try to remember these conversations and these opportunities and these moments throughout the course of my career. I know at some point through different guys’ careers, they are going to come to that point or different situation that’s kind of similar. I really want to reiterate and kind of be there for those guys because no one guy is going to make a whole team in baseball go.

"I want there to be five guys in the rotation clicking at the same time with the right mindset. I want the infielders and the outfielders to do the same thing and so on and so forth. Really I just kind of think back to certain moments and certain times and try to pull from those and believe it or not, that usually works out with some of these guys and usually sticks with some of these younger guys."

Will things go the way they went for Lester and the Cubs? Or Keuchel and the Astros? That's obviously the plan, and the ingredients exist for such a success to happen. But Keuchel knows from experience how fleeting a moment can be — heck, any White Sox fan who's seen what's happened to the supposed-to-be dynasty on the North Side knows it, too.

"There are a ton of comparisons," Keuchel said, asked about these White Sox and his old Astros team. "When you break it down, position by position, you can make comparisons all day long. But what it boils down to is you've got to step on the field and you've got to be productive. And baseball is the toughest sport to be productive year in and year out. So you've got to really appreciate the winning moments because you don't always know exactly when it's going to be.

"I remember when we made the playoffs in '15, kind of shocked everybody, beat the Yankees in the wild card game. And then we missed the playoffs in 2016 because we got ahead of ourselves, we didn't really see the moment. And that's really the biggest key is you've always got to stay in the moment. But some of these young guys have got to appreciate what’s going on because it's not every day that these young cats come in and perform at the big league level year in and year out without some veteran leadership, so that’s what I’m going to try to sprinkle in."

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