White Sox

Dear MLB free agents, White Sox players want you

Dear MLB free agents, White Sox players want you

Before leaving Chicago for the winter, White Sox players seemed to have a unanimous opinion about the foundation they built in 2019 and what they believe lies ahead starting in 2020.  

Winning is coming.

Reliever Aaron Bummer put it simply.

“It’s that time.”

The young core of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez is here. Luis Robert is on the way.

Now begins the mystery of what other talent could be headed to the White Sox in deals made this winter.

Players don’t sign free agents, but if you’re a starting pitcher, right fielder or designated hitter about to enter the market looking for a place to win, know this: There’s a clubhouse on the South Side that’s ready for you.

“You look at how teams have gone through this rebuild process like the Cubs and the Astros.  Right now is that time where we’re about to turn it over. It’s no longer about development and getting experience. It’s about winning,” Giolito said. “For a free-agent guy who wants to go somewhere exciting, somewhere we’re about to start building a good winning culture, I think this is a great spot for that.”

White Sox fans still feeling the affects of last year’s swing-and-miss at Manny Machado might have some doubts that the front office will convert on the big targets in this year’s class.  Ultimately, it’ll be up to Rick Hahn and Co. to eliminate that skepticism. Fortunately, the White Sox are in a stronger position to convert on top-tier free agents this year compared to last because they don’t have to convince players and agents on what Jimenez, Moncada, etc. might do. In 2019, they went out and did it.

"I really think we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need to sell the team or talk about the future because it’s evident to everyone around the league what’s coming,” Hahn said in his season-ending press conference. “When you are talking to some free agents, last year, we were probably a year too soon. You had to map out what it was going to look like and educate them a little bit about who was coming and how we saw this thing coming together.

“Over the course of this year, we saw a lot of it come together before our eyes and it’s fairly easy to project out who is going to be joining us from our system and what’s that going to potentially look like. The excitement is there, not just in our clubhouse but around the game right now."

Giolito and James McCann experienced this first hand when they spoke to other players at the All-Star Game in Cleveland.

“There were a lot of guys who were singing our praises,” McCann said.

Hopefully, those compliments were coming from, oh, J.D. Martinez, Gerrit Cole and Yasmani Grandal.

“Talking with various friends and people around the league, especially at the All-Star Game, there’s only been positive talks about how talented we are and how good we can be,” Giolito added. “But now it’s on us to make it happen. We didn’t make it happen this year, but now it’s go-time next year.”

Jake Odorizzi, Dallas Keuchel, Marcell Ozuna, did you hear that?

“It’s no longer waiting. It’s a shift to a winning desire that’s attractive to guys. I mean, it’s attractive to me. I want to win,” Bummer said. “Everyone in this clubhouse wants to win. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”

As a free agent at the lower end of the market last winter, McCann had to see the forest through the trees before signing with the White Sox last winter. Giolito was coming off his disastrous 2018 season, Moncada led all of baseball in strikeouts, Jose Abreu was coming off his worst season in the majors, Michael Kopech was lost for the year with Tommy John surgery.  

McCann himself was saddled with an ugly year offensively, finishing with career lows in batting average, home runs and RBIs.

The optics are much different for the White Sox in free agency this time around.

“From a standpoint of where this organization is at, I think it’s an opportunity to come in and help get an organization with such a rich tradition back in the postseason,” McCann explained. “I think that’s a very attractive thing. It’s also knowing the amount of talent and youth. It’s not just one year, now or never. It’s a chance to be good for several years.”

Even before the White Sox make a move this offseason, their 72-89 record in 2019 might not scream playoffs a year from now. But the way Bummer looks at it, there’s more to the story than just the wins and losses.

“I think there’s no doubt that everyone in this clubhouse is going to get better. I think that’s the goal of everyone is to get better, at the end of the day. And if all of a sudden everyone keeps getting better, who’s to limit us on the amount of wins we can get?” Bummer said. “Everyone says that 20 (more) wins in one year is a lot. If you look and see what’s in the clubhouse and the way that some of the games have gone for us, we definitely could have won 10 more games this year. All of a sudden, we’re at 80 wins.”

The core players did their part. Now, the job falls on the front office to surround them with the necessary pieces to help the White Sox as they enter what Hahn described as “the next phase” starting in 2020.

Madison Bumgarner, Nicholas Castellanos, Edwin Encarnacion: Want to join the party?

Those already here anxiously await the possible news to come.

“You look forward to the winter meetings when all those rumors really start to surface,” McCann said. “I’ll be pressing the refresh button quite a bit.”

He’s not alone.

Get ready to click.

It should be a busy winter.

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White Sox free agent focus: Taking advantage of the Cuban connection with Yasiel Puig

White Sox free agent focus: Taking advantage of the Cuban connection with Yasiel Puig

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Yasiel Puig, OF, Indians

Age: 28 (turns 29 on Dec. 7)

2019 salary: $9,700,000

2019 stats: .267 BA, .327 OBP, .458 SLG, .785 OPS, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 76 R, 19/26 SB 

What Puig would bring to the White Sox

A playoff-experienced, veteran bat still in his 20s who is fun to watch. Puig would also join Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and eventually Luis Robert to give the White Sox five Cubans in the same lineup.

Puig isn't the premier bat some thought he was/would be after his first two years in the majors. Puig had a .925 OPS as a 22-year-old rookie in 2013. He backed that up with a solid .863 OPS a year later. He hasn't had an OPS above .840 since.

That said, he's still a solid bat and would be a major upgrade from what the White Sox had in right field in 2019. He's been up and down since his first two years, but has still been above average offensively over the past five seasons (109 OPS+ over that span).

Puig draws a decent amount of walks (something lacking in the White Sox lineup) and is a solid fielder with a strong arm. He wouldn't slide into the middle part of a White Sox order that features Abreu, Moncada, Grandal and Eloy Jimenez, but he would go a long way toward filling out the lineup with solid bats 1-9.

He's also played in 58 playoff games thanks to his six years with the Dodgers. Puig has a .780 OPS in the postseason.

What it would take to get him

Puig's age should make him attractive to teams in need of an outfielder, but he hasn't been trending positively offensively.

Jay Bruce got three years at $13 million per year from the Mets heading into 2018 when he was two years older than Puig is now. That seems like a reasonable comparison with Puig's age making him more likely to get a fourth year.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

He's not out of their price range, he fills a positional need and he might be enticed to join the ever-growing Cuban contingent on the White Sox.

Puig isn't going to turn the South Siders into contenders by himself, but he would make them a better team. With Yasmani Grandal already on board, Puig would be a nice second addition to the lineup. On top of that, it's easy to see him becoming a fan favorite because of his boisterous personality.

White Sox free agency: Madison Bumgarner's flags aren’t as red as you might think

White Sox free agency: Madison Bumgarner's flags aren’t as red as you might think

The rumors are true: Madison Bumgarner has thrown a lot of innings.

But let’s not pretend the only 30-year-old Bumgarner is some sort of withered husk of his former self. Mostly because he’s only six months older than me, and I’m not ready to be a withered husk yet.

Figuring out how much gas the longtime San Francisco Giant has left in the tank is certainly going to be top of mind for the White Sox after they missed out on Zack Wheeler, who took less money than the South Siders were offering to go play for the Philadelphia Phillies. They’re now forced to look elsewhere in their quest to upgrade the starting rotation, and Bumgarner leads a pack of free agents still on the market, a group behind elite arms Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg that also includes Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

There are legitimate concerns over what kind of effect 1,948.1 combined regular-season and postseason innings will have on a pitcher who will get a multi-year contract. Bumgarner wasn’t the same pitcher in the last three seasons as the one he was from 2013 to 2016, when he finished in the top 10 in NL Cy Young voting four years in a row. But there were some promising developments in 2019 to suggest there’s plenty of life left in his arm.

Bumgarner made just 38 starts in 2017 and 2018, shelved with freak injuries: He injured his shoulder in a dirt bike accident in 2017 and was hit in the hand with a line drive in 2018. Then he turned around and made 34 starts in 2019, the most in baseball. Those specific injuries shouldn’t ring any alarm bells when it comes to long-term health concerns.

Then there are the numbers, some of which ticked up significantly in 2019. Yes, his 3.90 ERA was a career high, but it was still lower than the 3.96 ERA Wheeler delivered. But Bumgarner finished the season with an 8.8 K/9, his highest since 2016, and a 1.9 BB/9, a dramatic drop from the 3.0 BB/9 he posted the year prior. His 4.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the fourth best of his 11-year big league career.

As The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal recently pointed out, Bumgarner’s fastball in 2019 was as fast as it had been since 2015, and the increase in his fastball’s spin rate — for all you spin rate fans out there — from 2018 to 2019 was the biggest jump in the game.

Of course, not everything was sunshine and lollipops. In 2019, Bumgarner finished with the highest hard-hit percentage of his career, with 43.8 percent of the batted balls he gave up hit hard. His 35.8-percent ground ball rate was the lowest of his career. And while 207.2 innings — the most he threw in a season since 2016 — had a lot to do with certain stats looking large, he did give up a career-high 30 home runs and a career-high 90 earned runs.

Who knows whether Bumgarner will receive the same five-year deal that Wheeler did. Wheeler might be of similar age, just eight months younger than Bumgarner, but has a significantly less taxed throwing arm after he missed two seasons due to injury. But speculation abounds that Bumgarner will receive a similarly expensive deal, one richer than $100 million after Wheeler agreed to a $118 million pact with the Phillies — and turned down a contract offer worth more than $120 million from the White Sox.

Bumgarner, though, brings plenty Wheeler never could. He’s a three-time World Series champ and arguably the best pitcher in World Series history, with a 0.25 ERA in five Fall Classic games. That kind of winning experience would be invaluable to a team like the White Sox, whose veteran leader, while incredibly deserving of his status in the clubhouse, has played for sub-.500 teams in all six of his major league seasons.

In that regard, because their resumes are so similar, Bumgarner can be a Jon Lester of sorts for this Chicago rebuilding effort. Lester was the first big-name player to sign up with the then-rebuilding Cubs, inking a gigantic free-agent contract after a 2014 season in which the Cubs — who had yet to even call up Kris Bryant, Addison Russell or Kyle Schwarber — lost 89 games. With Lester (and those youngsters) aboard, the Cubs went to the NLCS in 2015 and won the World Series in 2016.

Coincidentally, the 2019 White Sox also lost 89 games. Coincidentally, Lester was also 30 years old and had World Series rings on more than one finger when he signed his big deal. (For what it’s worth, Lester had logged a combined 1,680 regular-season and postseason innings when he joined the Cubs.) Bumgarner buying into the vision on the South Side would be oh so reminiscent of Lester doing so on the North Side.

Lester was more than just a symbol for those Cubs teams, pitching as well as — if not better than — any pitcher they’ve had (save maybe Jake Arrieta) since he signed. Bumgarner would have to do the same to have the same kind of impact, obviously. But the jumps in those statistics just in 2019 signal he could be capable of doing just that.

This isn’t to say the White Sox “lucked out” in missing out on Wheeler or that Bumgarner is guaranteed to be a slam-dunk success for whichever team he signs with. But there are still some very good options on the free-agent market, even past Cole and Strasburg — who, it should be noted, the White Sox haven’t been tied to much at all, with MLB Network’s Jon Heyman going as far to say there’s “no belief” the White Sox would be in on either.

And the White Sox, if they’re indeed pursuing Bumgarner already, are likely to face steep competition, just like they did in the Wheeler sweepstakes. The Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals have been linked to the lefty, too.

There are reasons to question the pursuit of any player, Bumgarner included. But he can provide so much for a young rotation and a young team. Plus, he’s still a damn good pitcher. We’ll see if the White Sox willingness to spend the biggest bucks on Wheeler applies to their next target, too.

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