White Sox

Expect a busy winter on the South Side: A big ol' White Sox offseason primer

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USA TODAY

Expect a busy winter on the South Side: A big ol' White Sox offseason primer

Rick Hahn doesn’t often get into too many specifics, especially when it comes to discussing moves that he might or might not make. But the White Sox general manager laid out a pretty cut-and-dry offseason to-do list for his front office as the regular season entered its final days.

The bottom line: Expect a busy winter on the South Side.

As the White Sox move into what the general manager called the “next stage” of his rebuilding project, the types of offseason moves the team will make are expected to be as different as it hopes the results on the field will be.

In other words, don’t anticipate another offseason like last one, at least from the standpoint of the kinds of players the White Sox ended up acquiring: Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay, Ivan Nova, that sort of thing. Instead, expect the White Sox to remain as aggressive as they were in attempting to land Manny Machado and expect bigger additions.

Where? Well, Hahn laid that out during his end-of-season press conference Friday, signaling the team’s intent to add two starting players to the lineup and potentially multiple arms to the starting rotation.

“We've had a fair amount of meetings in terms of where we think we need to go,” Hahn said. “I think it's no secret that as strong as some of the offensive performances have been this year, we obviously haven't gotten much production out of certain positions — right field, designated hitter — over the course of the year.

“We're very pleased, going into the offseason, projecting out (Lucas) Giolito, (Dylan) Cease and (Reynaldo) Lopez as part of that rotation, but that leaves a couple spots. Obviously, Michael Kopech's coming back from injury, Carlos Rodon at some point next year, at some point next year Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert. But it still leaves the opportunity to solidify that rotation either through free agency or trade, and that will likely be a priority in the coming months.”

A right fielder, a designated hitter, a starting pitcher or two. That’s the to-do list for Hahn and his front office. As for which players will end up filling those holes, that obviously remains to be seen.

Why do the White Sox need to make these specific moves?

Certainly those needs are justified ones. Hahn went as far as saying “many of our young outfielders aren’t quite ready to fill that void in right field,” pointing to the hit the organization’s depth took with myriad injuries and under-performers in 2019. And with Alonso and Daniel Palka both floundering dramatically, the White Sox were basically left with no viable DH options all season. Zack Collins might wind up an option there, but he’s hardly a sure-thing middle-of-the-order presence right now.

The numbers explain things perfectly. White Sox right fielders slashed .220/.277/.290 this season, with White Sox designated hitters posting a similarly disappointing .203/.282/.346 line.

In the rotation, starting pitching has long been discussed as an offseason priority for Hahn and his front office. The team’s major league ready depth was worn bare in a hurry this season, with a parade of mostly ineffective fifth starters. While Giolito developed into the ace of the staff, Cease arrived at the major league level with high hopes and Kopech is expected to return from his Tommy John surgery, there’s work to be done to eliminate some of the rotation’s question marks heading into next season.

Will the White Sox plug these holes via free agency or trades?

In all areas, it’s perhaps likely free agency will be the main route to plug those holes. It doesn’t mean it will be the only one, but pulling off a trade for an impact player seems, at the least, more difficult than it might have been a year ago. The aforementioned injuries and under-performances throughout the minor leagues make it difficult to envision what kind of package could be built out of players who aren’t slated for key roles in the White Sox long-term future.

Hahn addressed that Friday, though, saying that teams were interested in injured players during the season and that with those players closer to health, the interest could be there again this winter.

“If you're talking more specifically about do injuries to certain players affect their trade value, I can say that at the trade deadline when we were targeting some major league add-ons, we were asked about some players who were out for the year. Not that we were necessarily looking to move them, but they still had some level of value,” he said. “Obviously their value will continue to climb as they get closer to return and once they do return and perform, we'll be back to where we were.

“So we'll have to see how the market plays out. It was probably, initially, one area we felt it most with the injuries was having trade capital stored up. But as we get closer to these players returning, I think we're going to return back to that level of having a decent stable to draw upon for Chicago or trades to improve Chicago.”

And so it’s likely back to the free-agent waters for these White Sox, who ventured out there last season in search of Machado, only for the All-Star infielder to sign with the San Diego Padres. This winter’s free-agent market isn’t as stacked as it once was thanks to a flurry of extensions signed last winter and spring that kept names like Chris Sale, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Justin Verlander and others in the employ of their current clubs. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options.

The question is whether Hahn will be able to end up with a different outcome than the one he did last spring, when the White Sox missed out on Machado.

“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. “I’ve heard from my peers in other organizations, I know I’ve heard from players in the clubhouse, what their peers have said. The coaches talk.

“There’s a lot of positive buzz about where this team is headed. 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.”

Who will the White Sox pursue?

On the starting-pitching front, Gerrit Cole will be the biggest and most expensive name out there. One of the Houston Astros’ two Cy Young candidates could end up fetching the richest pitching contract in baseball history. Whether the White Sox want to swim in those waters or not, we’ll find out. But even if they don’t, players like Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Jake Odorizzi, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and perhaps even Stephen Strasburg will be available. The White Sox could opt to top their rotation with a veteran ace type or fill in behind Giolito, who turned in one of the best pitching seasons in the American League in 2019.

There are a few very attractive corner-outfield options. Nicholas Castellanos has upped his value and should get a huge payday after playing so well with the Cubs since the trade deadline. He crushed the ball at Guaranteed Rate Field when he was a member of the division-rival Detroit Tigers. Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna are also heading to the open market.

It’s perhaps here where we should address the idea of the White Sox needing a certain type of right fielder, a category that neither Castellanos, Puig nor Ozuna fit into: Will the White Sox be looking to add a right fielder who bats left handed? Those will be much more difficult to find — Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson would be the top two options on the free-agent market — if Hahn believes he needs to add a left-handed bat to balance out a heavily right-handed lineup.

James McCann, Jose Abreu, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are all right-handed hitters. Yoan Moncada is a switch hitter, and Collins is a lefty. What does Hahn think about the need for another left-hander in that group?

“Ideally, that would be nice,” he said. “Ideally, you'd like to balance that out, and that would require adding some left-handed power. We don't want to get too hung up strictly on handedness in the end and sign an inferior, say, left-handed hitter when a better right-handed hitter is available and fits. But it's a consideration, and in an ideal world we would balance it out.”

Maybe something to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses.

Finally, designated hitters can really come from anywhere, so it’s hard to pick out a list of guys. One player, though, who’s expected to be available is J.D. Martinez, the Boston Red Sox slugger who is expected to opt out of his deal with the BoSox in a bit of a financial pickle. If Martinez hits the open market, he’ll be hotly pursued, but he’s a perfect fit for a team looking to solidify the DH spot.

What about someone who doesn’t fit into one of those holes?

Last offseason, the White Sox pursued Machado because he would have been an impact addition as a middle-of-the-order bat for the next decade. They already had a shortstop, of course, but the opportunity to land Machado meant they were perhaps willing to do a little shuffling with their current roster.

That opportunity might pop up again this winter in the form of Anthony Rendon, the player expected to be the biggest bat on the market. He’s a third baseman, and a good one, as well as a guy who’s been a quiet MVP candidate in recent seasons. He’d be a heck of an addition to any lineup.

Well, Hahn obviously didn’t address whether the White Sox were thinking of chasing Rendon. But if they are, they’ll encounter the same issue as last winter, as they’ve already got a third baseman. Moncada has been excellent offensively and defensively in 2019, blossoming into the team’s best all-around hitter while playing strong defense at the hot corner. But would the chance to sign Rendon mean a second position switch in as many years for Moncada?

Hahn was not talking in specifics here, but he was asked whether the team would consider pursuing a player who played a position that’s already spoken for on the White Sox roster.

“The talent pool is a little different free agent-wise this offseason, but I'm not going to say we won't be creative in a couple elements, whether it's via trade or free agency,” he said. “Our roster does have a little bit of flexibility in it, and we hope in the coming years to have more flexibility built in in terms of different positions that guys can go out and play.

“That said, if we wind up breaking with Moncada at third, TA at short and Eloy in left, McCann behind the plate. If Jose is back, him at first or DH, we're going to feel real good about that initial start. It's going to be a matter of augmenting them at those specific positions I didn't name.”

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What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

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CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS/LAURA WOLFF

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not to go all Seinfeld on you, but what's the deal with second base?

Between the breakout seasons from young core players in 2019 and an influx of veteran additions, the White Sox starting lineup is rather easy to project. Obviously Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Edwin Encarnacion are locked in as everyday starters, and even Nomar Mazara seems to be in that category at the moment, with talk of a potential platoon in right field all but disappearing over the last couple months.

That leaves just one position in the realm of the unknown: second base.

Over the course of the entire 2020 season, the majority of the starts there figure to go to Nick Madrigal, one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball. But whether he'll break camp with the White Sox or start the season at Triple-A Charlotte is still uncertain. The latter seems more likely, based on how he's been talked about this offseason, though how he fares this spring could produce the opposite result after he played at three different levels of the minor leagues in 2019.

"We made the assessment at the end of last season that Nick Madrigal wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. "He was sent home with some specific things to work on. He can very well come to spring training this year, show he’s made certain adjustments and find himself on the Opening Day roster.

"That said, we also have guys like (Danny) Mendick and Leury (Garcia) who we fully believe can hold down the fort until such time that Nick is ready.

"We’ll have somebody come Opening Day sitting over there."

Indeed, the White Sox manning every position on the field seems a safe bet.

Nothing against Garcia nor Mendick, but Madrigal is such a talented up-and-comer that it's quite possible he's the team's best second baseman right now. But Madrigal saw just 29 games' worth of Triple-A pitching last season, and it's possible the White Sox will leave Glendale believing he needs to see some more before they bring him up to the major leagues.

Madrigal's job is to convince them otherwise, and he's been prepping to do exactly that all winter.

"I actually stayed here (in Arizona) this whole offseason, so I've been around a while now," Madrigal said last week. "I started coming to the complex about two or three weeks ago."

The kid's a real go-getter, as you can tell. There might not end up being much that separates Madrigal starting the season as the second baseman in Chicago or as the second baseman in Charlotte, but obviously the difference between those two jobs is huge. A big performance in Cactus League play could show the White Sox, a team that's gone from making a priority of development to making a priority of winning games and competing for a playoff spot, they're better served with Madrigal playing 162 games as a big leaguer rather than a smaller number.

"It's kind of out of my control. The only thing I can control is showing up every day and playing as hard as I can," Madrigal said. "They may think I need to add some stuff to my game, or whatever it may be. I feel confident right now the way I'm playing out there. Just can't worry too much about that at this point.

"I know there's a lot of time from here to the season, there's a lot of games you've got to play, so anything can happen. But I'm going to try to show up every day and play my game."

But if the White Sox still think Madrigal needs further minor league seasoning, then what?

Well, as Hahn mentioned, someone will be starting at second base on Opening Day.

The likeliest candidate is Garcia, the utility man whose versatility makes him a lock to make the 26-man roster out of camp. But while utility reserve will likely be his primary role once Madrigal arrives, until then, he could be the team's starting second baseman.

Mendick, who had some good moments as a September call-up last season, would likely be the reserve infielder, and he could see plenty of time at second if Renteria opts to send Garcia to spell starters in both the infield and outfield.

So there's not an update so much as there is a setting of the table as the Cactus League schedule begins Saturday. There might be nothing bigger to watch during the exhibition schedule than whether Madrigal can play his way onto the Opening Day roster. If that happens, the White Sox will have their transformed lineup ready from Day 1 as they look to chase down the AL Central crown.

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Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Your 2020 White Sox Opening Day starter is ... (drumroll, please) ... we don't know yet.

That's not entirely true, of course, as Lucas Giolito is the overwhelming favorite to take the mound March 26, when the White Sox open the season against the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field.

But if you're talking about an official announcement from the manager, well, you're going to have to wait a little longer.

"You want the scoop?" Renteria teased Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. "We won’t lay out a scoop yet."

Giolito has expressed on multiple occasions during the early days of camp that he hopes to be the guy that gets the Opening Day nod. In his first meeting with the media this spring, he said he'd "hopefully" be the Opening Day starter and expanded on that in a couple interviews Wednesday.

Giolito's enthusiasm for the job isn't enough to convince Renteria to move his announcement up to the first week of full-squad workouts. But even the skipper, known to take his time before announcing such things for public consumption, can't deny that Giolito, after his transformational 2019 campaign that saw him go from the pitcher with the worst stats in baseball to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff, has earned a shot at the title of Opening Day starter.

"I’m glad he wants to be the Opening Day starter. He’s really grown, and I certainly wouldn’t say to you that you would be surprised if you saw him doing it.

"He’s definitely earned an opportunity to possibly have the Opening Day start."

Giolito was sensational last season, posting a 3.41 ERA with 228 strikeouts in 29 starts. Even with this offseason's signing of Dallas Keuchel, who has a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship on his resume, Giolito still looks to be the ace of the staff heading into 2020.

Finishing sixth in last year's AL Cy Young voting would seem to indicate that Giolito has reached the status of one of baseball's elite arms. But here's a question: Can he get better? After all, he's just 25 years old, and many of these young White Sox are said to only have scratched the surface of what they can do. Can Giolito surpass what he did in 2019?

"I don’t know I want him to go past it as much as remain consistent and just continue to have incremental growth," Renteria said. "That was a huge jump for him. And it was a great jump for him. He learned a lot from that season. He learned a lot over the previous year and made the adjustments he needed to over the winter. He came in and did what he needed to do and was able to go ahead and be so effective for us.

"All in all, good health, knock on wood, he gets back out there and he has a chance to continue to do what he does. His pitch sequencing, his pitch mix gives him an opportunity to do that. Hard to pick up a ball out of his hand, now with the new delivery. He just needs to get back out there and pitch."

Certainly that's what Giolito is hoping to do, particularly after he gets past the strained chest muscle he suffered trying to work a little too quickly while still feeling the effects of the flu last month. As Giolito said last week, though, he has a "zero-percent" concern that injury will have any significant impact on his readiness for the season.

So bring on the Opening Day start, right?

"Hopefully," he said last week. "We’ll see. I’m excited.

"That’s not my decision."

Well, it shouldn't be too difficult of one for the person whose decision it is.

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