White Sox

Hector Santiago would figure to be next up in White Sox rotation, but he's making sure Carson Fulmer stays there

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AP

Hector Santiago would figure to be next up in White Sox rotation, but he's making sure Carson Fulmer stays there

So far in spring training, the best pitcher on the White Sox is the guy who couldn’t get a job.

He also might be the best teammate, a selfless act in sportsmanship unfolding right now in Arizona that is a sight to behold.

A free agent during the worst offseason in the history of free agency, Hector Santiago waited for the phone to ring all winter long. In November, nobody called. In December and January, same thing. Finally in February, teams started showing some interest in the 2015 All Star, but nothing was guaranteed.

Coming off an injury-plagued season, Santiago wasn’t expecting to break the bank in his first chance at free agency, but he did hope better offers would come.  

They didn’t.

Finally, a day before spring training began, he signed a minor league contract with the White Sox, the first team that gave him an opportunity when they drafted him in the 30th round out of little known Okaloosa-Walton Community College in Niceville, Florida, in 2006.

When he arrived in Glendale, there seemingly wasn’t a spot in the rotation. Heck, there wasn’t even room for Santiago on the 40-man roster.

But now with Carson Fulmer struggling, a door has suddenly swung open. However, instead of walking right through it, Santiago is doing the exact opposite, essentially slamming the door on himself for the sake of the team.

Santiago has chosen to help the young Fulmer every chance he gets.

“I’ve talked with Fulmer a lot,” Santiago said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He’s putting a lot more pressure on himself because he feels like he’s competing for a spot. Right now, the job is his and it’s his to lose, so he has to go out there and compete and be positive.”

In his first two spring starts, Fulmer gave up eight runs on nine hits and five walks in two innings. Santiago came out of the bullpen to spell Fulmer in both games and allowed one run in eight innings with one walk and nine strikeouts.

If Fulmer doesn’t improve, the veteran Santiago is the clear candidate to replace him in the rotation.

But Santiago wants Fulmer to get back on track, revealing more about Santiago’s character than his actual pitching ability.

Take Fulmer’s last start. Santiago was watching him in the bullpen and noticed how much energy Fulmer was burning during warm-ups.

“You’ve got to be more conservative going into a game,” Santiago said he told Fulmer. “I was watching him in the bullpen, and I’m like, ‘Here goes three scoreless innings.’ He was executing every pitch, he was spinning it where he wanted it, he had life on the ball, his breaking pitches were great. And then he goes into the game and he gets two strikes, and you’re competing for a spot on the team, and for him it’s like, ‘I gotta get this guy, I gotta get this guy.’ And it’s like, 'No man, if you’ve got a guy 0-2, you’ve just got to execute a pitch. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to bounce it. You can throw a fastball.' He had so many different options where he could put a guy away.”

Instead, Fulmer allowed a leadoff home run to the Padres' Manuel Margot on an 0-2 count in the first inning, and it was pretty much downhill for Fulmer after that.

This could be the best thing to happen for Santiago, who waited all winter for a rotation spot that didn’t come. But here he is, basically blocking his own path by putting the team first ahead of any personal gain.

“I can’t go in there and tell Rick (Hahn), ‘Hey, Fulmer is not throwing the ball over right now, so the spot is mine,'” Santiago said. “I have no control over that. My point is, I can help (Fulmer) and I can go out there and succeed and do well and at the end of spring training you can only hope for the best.”

Santiago’s best friend on the team is Nate Jones. The two came up together as rookies with the White Sox in 2012. Jones is trying to come back from his third major surgery. He should have enough things to worry about. But these two grizzled veterans find themselves spending time away from ballpark thinking about ways to help out the young pitchers.

That’s just the kind of guys they are.

“We’re just sitting at home talking about pitchers and what we can say or do to make them understand that there’s no pressure,” Santiago explained. “We’re teammates, we’re all in this together, we’re obviously competing against each other, but I’m not pushing for anything negative. If I see something I can help someone out with and get better, that’s what we’re here for.”

In the end, Santiago is here to make the team. That seems like a lock right now either in the rotation or as a long man in the bullpen. Though if a closer doesn’t develop in spring training, don’t look past Santiago as a possibility. He came out of nowhere as a rookie in 2012 and became the White Sox ninth inning guy to start the season.

“I don’t know how that happened,” Santiago said looking back.

It could happen again. Who knows?

“For me, I’m trying to go out there and throw strikes and get through my innings and hopefully have a job in the big leagues, whether it’s here or somewhere else. Or a long guy, whatever the case may be,” Santiago said. “Honestly, I’ve never been in this situation before. I’ve always been in team control. As a non-roster invite I could wind up being in Triple-A, a long guy in the big leagues, a starter in the big leagues. I have no idea.”

Whatever role the White Sox give Santiago, he’ll embrace it.

And if Fulmer turns his spring around and makes the rotation, he can thank the pitcher who was in line to replace him.

Some of Santiago’s advice to Fulmer was to have fun — and not worry about outcomes.

Santiago’s advice for the rest of the American League:

“In the near future there’s going to be a lot of teams worrying about the White Sox.”

Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

SAN DIEGO — Pitching. The White Sox need it. And their No. 1 target is now a Philadelphia Phillie.

“What's next?” doesn’t quite do the mystery justice.

Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu have all been thrown around as possibilities, mostly because they’re in the same free-agency tier that Zack Wheeler was in. You remember Wheeler, the guy who turned down a superior financial offer from the White Sox to please his family and pitch for the Phillies. Seeking help elsewhere in that same tier makes sense, but it’s possible the White Sox might not be quite as enamored with their backup plans as they were with their primary target.

That’s obviously the case, by definition, but perhaps the gap is bigger than Hahn suggests when he says the White Sox will “move on to the next one.” Not all free agents are created equal.

“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani (Grandal) is we felt he brought a very unique set of tools to the situation, and we wanted to make sure we locked that in. And we found a guy that aligned, not just economically with what he wanted, it was a good fit and something we were able to get done quickly,” Hahn said, pointing to an example of the White Sox acquiring their No. 1 choice. “In other segments of the market, there is some greater fall off, as well. In some, it's not so much of a fall off.

“The guys are the primary targets for a reason, but certainly, there's more than one way to skin a cat and we'll find a different way to get it done.”

The different way could involve none of those free-agent names. While reports have tied the White Sox to Bumgarner and Keuchel to various degrees, they were reported to be after Jordan Lyles, who recently signed with the Texas Rangers. Hahn said his front office was focused more on trades than free-agent signings in its conversations Monday in San Diego.

Trades, though, could be difficult, as the White Sox seem hellbent on hanging on to their top-rated prospects, a completely understandable stance considering the promise they show as impact players. Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech figure to take over as top-of-the-depth-chart guys in 2020. Andrew Vaughn, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert might not be far behind.

What’s certain is those players won’t be going anywhere in exchange for a one-year fix. That’s more relevant to conversations involving Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant than ones involving a pitcher. But it’s important to remember that any trade talk probably starts midway down the list of White Sox prospects, a difficult way to land a truly impact player.

“There’s been, obviously, the pains and suffering that comes along with the early stages of a rebuild. We endured all that so we would be able to be in a position of building something that was going to be able to win on an annual basis, that was going to have some success for an extended period of time,” Hahn said. “Right now, we are in a bit of an interesting spot.

“Fundamentally, as a fan that has dealt with the hardships over the last three years, you want that benefit, that promised-land side of things to come more quickly. At the same time, we have to keep in mind why we started this and that was to build something sustainable. You don’t want to do anything short-sighted that’s just going to, trade wise, give us a quick bump next year but compromise the extended window we foresee coming when this all comes together.

“You need to be cognizant of that temptation to try to accelerate things. We want to get this to where it needs to be as quickly as possible. We don’t want to do that at the expense of shortening the window or making the window more difficult when it does open, whether that’s in the next few months or it takes a little longer.”

OK. So trading for impact fixes in the rotation appears unrealistic. The buzz surrounding the White Sox and free-agent signings diminished significantly as time went on during the first day of the Winter Meetings, and the possibility exists that the backup plans to Wheeler won't be quite as easy to pull the trigger on.

So what do the White Sox do?

It’s almost impossible to envision a parade of ineffective arms the likes of which we saw in 2019, when Ervin Santana and Manny Banuelos and Dylan Covey and Odrisamer Despaigne and Ross Detwiler manned a rotation that was exposed for its lack of big league ready depth. But should the White Sox come up empty on top-of-the-rotation free-agent fixes like they did with Wheeler, it’s not quite as difficult to envision stopgaps of some sort that set up what could still be a deeper pitching staff come 2020. Hahn raved about the potential for homegrown depth in the near future.

“There's still multiple options out there,” Hahn said when asked how the pitching market looks post-Wheeler. “We're going to continue to explore them both via trade and free agency.

“It's funny we talk about 2020, obviously, because that's the most important year we we can currently put our fingers on. We do think that, as we sit here, a year from now we have a chance to have a fair amount of depth on the pitching side. It doesn't mean we don't want to augment it, not only to get better in 2020, but to hedge that bet on the depth a little bit going forward and to create even more options for us going forward.

“But I do look forward to a year from right now and we're sitting up in that suite looking at our board. And I think the viable options in the big leagues are going to be even deeper than they are now.”

That’s true, mostly because Kopech and Dylan Cease should have full major league seasons under their belts and Dunning, Lambert and Carlos Rodon should all be back from Tommy John surgery.

So what does all that have to do with signing Bumgarner right now? If the White Sox are so gaga over the potential of their internal pitching depth a year from now, are they pleased enough to forego a potential impact addition this winter — one they’re not nearly as thrilled about making as compared to how they felt about Wheeler?

A pitching staff built primarily on internal options would not at all be a bad thing, but such an outcome relies on all those young arms hitting the way Lucas Giolito did in 2019. That's extremely difficult. The three models for turning a rebuild into a world championship, the Cubs, Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals, have had almost no luck doing that. The biggest names in those championship runs, from a pitching standpoint, were Jon Lester, Justin Verlander and Jonny Cueto. The Royals are now rebuilding. The Cubs have struggled to find any homegrown pitching since Theo Epstein's regime took over. It's really hard to do.

These are questions with few answers, really. Hahn doesn’t talk about specific free agents, meaning everything is a philosophical discussion rather than a “this is what we’re doing” one. Are the White Sox opposed to adding a top-of-the-rotation pitcher? Absolutely not, they’d love to. Are they going after Keuchel to do it? That’s not quite as open for discussion.

And that’s a fine policy for perfectly understandable reasons, it just leaves so much a mystery. Mystery is all we have regarding the potential additions that could follow Grandal this offseason. The White Sox need pitching, and they’ll get it. But are they jazzed about the remaining options to the point it will top any of the internal options on the depth chart? Stay tuned.

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All quiet on the White Sox front: South Siders showing 'no urgency' to make moves at Winter Meetings

All quiet on the White Sox front: South Siders showing 'no urgency' to make moves at Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO — This is not what White Sox fans wanted to hear during what was supposed to be an aggressive offseason.

“There’s simply no urgency to get anything done here.”

That was general manager Rick Hahn speaking on the first night of the Winter Meetings here in Southern California. It’s true what Hahn says, that the White Sox can accomplish their business just as well next week as they can this week, providing the players they want remain available.

But in an all too apt example of how quickly things can change at the Winter Meetings, the question surrounding the White Sox went from “How big a splash will they make this week?” to “Will they do anything at all this week?”

For a team seemingly so intent on getting business done, on spending to accomplish its goal of acquiring premium talent from outside the organization — like they did last month in signing Yasmani Grandal — the buzz (or lack thereof) in San Diego was that the White Sox weren’t much involved on the bigger names on the free-agent market.

Forget the biggest names. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on Monday. Gerrit Cole seems destined for a bidding war of epic proportions between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. Anthony Rendon hasn’t been tied to the White Sox much at all this winter. But word that they were in the mix for Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna and Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel subsided as the hours went on Monday.

MLB.com’s Jon Morosi started the day by predicting that Keuchel would land on the South Side, by saying there was a pretty good chance the White Sox could end up with either Castellanos or Ozuna. Hahn ended the day by saying this:

“Certainly we would love to get stuff done here. We’ve been known to get stuff done at the Winter Meetings. We’ve also had some quiet Winter Meetings along the way. But there’s simply no urgency to get anything done here.

“We’d love to knock off everything on our list while we are all together here, but that’s no different than how we were approaching our business last week or the week before or the week before Thanksgiving when we signed Yasmani.

“We will remain engaged in conversations. In terms of predicting whether something happens, it’s really sort of impossible to say until we get right on that goal line, which we are not at just yet.”

As mentioned, things can change quickly. Hahn brought up past instances of him meeting with reporters with nothing to report, only for multiple moves to happen in the hours that followed. Considering the sheer volume of needs Hahn has pledged to address — two starting pitchers and a right fielder being the most noteworthy — the White Sox would figure to be exploring enough possibilities that something could come along and change his tone at any second.

But a front office that teased a busier-than-usual offseason sounded unsure about getting anything done this week.

“I’m not trying to hide the ball when I say I can’t predict what’s going to happen over the next few days,” Hahn said. “But I do know no matter what happens over the next few days, we like the position we're in going forward. We like the progress that's been made at the big league level over the last few months of the last season. We like the progress made on a number of fronts with the prospects. And we like the addition of Yasmani Grandal, and obviously having Jose (Abreu) back.

“We know we still have work to do. Ideally we get a good portion of that done here over the next few days, but if we don't, that's fine. We've proven in the past we can acquire a guy next Tuesday just as easily as we can this Tuesday.”

Of course, the White Sox tried to acquire a guy last Tuesday, and Zack Wheeler’s decision to spurn their superior financial offer to pitch for the family comfort of the Philadelphia Phillies was a prominent topic Monday night with the general manager. He’s clearly not feeling much better about this outcome than he did about Manny Machado turning the White Sox down in favor of the San Diego Padres back in February.

This time around was different, though, with the White Sox controlling everything they could control, making the richest offer on the table — and still ending up at the same place.

“A bit of it's Monday-morning quarterbacking, and it doesn't matter if you don't get the guy,” Hahn said. “So I'm not going to go too deep into how fine of an effort or how great of an offer or any of that stuff. You either get the guy or you don't. When you don't, you move on to the next one.”

Trying to figure out who that “next one” is has proven difficult, with seemingly every free-agent starting pitcher not named Cole or Strasburg thrown out as a possibility. The White Sox were reportedly going after Jordan Lyles, who signed a free-agent deal with the Texas Rangers. They’ve been linked to Bumgarner and Keuchel in various fashions. Hahn said the team’s work Monday was more focused on trades than free agency.

It’s evident Wheeler was the primary target. As for the backup plan, you have to wonder how big a gap there was between the White Sox desire for Wheeler and their desire to, as Hahn said, move on to the next one.

“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani is we felt he brought a very unique set of tools to the situation, and we wanted to make sure we locked that in. And we found a guy that aligned, not just economically with what he wanted, it was a good fit and something we were able to get done quickly,” Hahn said, pointing to an example of the White Sox acquiring their No. 1 choice. “In other segments of the market, there is some greater fall off, as well. In some, it's not so much of a fall off.

“The guys are the primary targets for a reason, but certainly, there's more than one way to skin a cat and we'll find a different way to get it done.”

As for when? Good question. The Winter Meetings are certainly not the be all, end all, and Hahn has talked in the past about winning the offseason only for that “W” not to translate to the standings come summer. It was in this very city five years ago when the White Sox made those post-dinner moves to acquire David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija. Things did not play out quite as victoriously once they started playing the games.

But Hahn also talks about the White Sox deserving to play with the big boys, about the White Sox being an attractive destination, about the White Sox moving into the next phase of their rebuilding project. If all that is true — and the team’s desire to spend big is as big as it seems after their (successful) run at Grandal and (unsuccessful) run at Wheeler — then something is going to have to happen eventually.

Right?

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