White Sox

If the White Sox end up with a Nationals-esque rotation, thank the Nationals

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USA TODAY

If the White Sox end up with a Nationals-esque rotation, thank the Nationals

Every time Chris Sale blows into town with his Boston Red Sox, the same discussion topic pops up: Who won the trade?

Each Crosstown series, the same question gets asked in reference to Jose Quintana and the Cubs.

Adam Eaton doesn’t play in the American League or on the other side of town, so the “who won the trade” talking point doesn’t get applied to his deal nearly as often. But the Washington Nationals are on the South Side this week. So cue the sports-talk radio dream scenario.

The answer to the question, of course, isn’t one that demands much debate. The nature of a veteran-for-prospects swap is such that the true determination of who got the better end of the deal is unable to be made until many years after the original transaction. It sure looks like the Red Sox “won” the Sale trade considering the large piece of jewelry adorning the former South Side ace’s finger. But Yoan Moncada has played just 266 games in a White Sox uniform. Michael Kopech has played just four. Luis Basabe just got activated from the injured list — at Double-A Birmingham.

To suggest any trade evaluator save their judgment isn’t just a recommendation. It’s a requirement.

But there’s Eaton, out in right field for the Nationals this week at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Acquiring him hasn’t been the final championship piece Washington’s front office might have hoped when it gave up a seeming king’s ransom in three highly regarded pitching prospects: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Eaton played in just 23 games during the 2017 season, which ended with the Nationals eliminated by the Cubs in the NLDS. He played in 95 games during Washington’s disappointing 2018 season, when they missed the playoffs in Bryce Harper’s final season with the team.

Does it make it a loss for the Nationals? Not yet. This season's finish remains unwritten, and they could pick up the remaining two team options on his contract, keep him around for another couple seasons and try for more postseason glory.

And whatever the Nationals’ fortunes are during their years with Eaton really have no bearing on whether the White Sox get a win out of the deal, either. Their contention window has yet to open, so how much Giolito, Lopez and Dunning do to help fuel championship-caliber teams on the South Side has yet to be determined.

But the White Sox are unquestionably happy with the return a year and a half after the fact. They can look across the field this week at a Nationals rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg, and thanks in part to the Eaton trade, envision having a staff that could strike similar fear into the hearts of opponents.

“We have the makings with some of the guys who are here with us now. We have some kids who are working and coming back with Kopech and when we get back (Carlos) Rodon and you've got (Dylan) Cease down there and we've got Dunning, who's recovering. We have some young arms that are going to be filtering this way,” manager Rick Renteria said ahead of Tuesday’s game. “You tip your cap to those kids (the Nationals) got over there because they're pretty good. So hopefully we have that type of staff developing as we continue to move forward and they'll be as effective as those guys have been.”

That’s obviously a high bar to clear. Scherzer is a three-time Cy Young winner. Corbin got the richest deal of any pitcher last winter after his second All-Star season. Strasburg has had massive expectations ever since he was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft and has done a decent job of delivering with three All-Star appearances and a pair of top-10 finishes in Cy Young voting.

But it’s not terribly difficult to at least wish for such a rotation to develop on the South Side. Kopech, Cease and Dunning all remain highly rated pitching prospects. Giolito has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. And while consistency has been hard to nail down for both Rodon and Lopez, they’ve shown flashes of promise in the past.

The White Sox would perhaps be wise to account for at least some of those myriad unknowns with some outside help this winter. But a 2020 rotation of Giolito, Kopech, Cease, Dunning and Lopez — with Rodon expected back sometime in the second half of the campaign — not only sounds promising, it sounds like the best White Sox rotation in years.

Giolito’s dominance through the first two and a half months of this season is the obvious driver of the good feelings. Even with such high hopes, Kopech, Dunning and Rodon are all still in recovery mode after Tommy John surgery, Lopez has one of the highest ERAs among the game’s qualified starting pitchers, and Cease remains a pitcher who hasn’t yet thrown a major league pitch. But Giolito has been incredible in 2019, a legitimate Cy Young candidate to this point.

You want to evaluate how the White Sox are faring in the aftermath of the Eaton trade? Giolito’s the obvious starting point.

“Now there are a lot of dividends being paid through his performances,” Renteria said of Giolito. “We really like our chances every time he's out on the mound. That's possible when you have talent. I think the kids we have coming up and some of the guys we have here are looking to get to that point, and I think they will at some point.”

Debating the winners of various deals might be the dream scenario for the sports-talk industry. But the dream scenario for the White Sox is hitting on the players they got in exchange for Eaton. Giolito’s doing his part this season.

If the return package in that Eaton trade — not to mention the ones in the Sale and Quintana trades — can help form a rotation that helps the White Sox compete for and win championships, consider the trade won.

Not that it’s a competition, of course.

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Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

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USA TODAY

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

Gerrit Cole is rightfully at the top of many White Sox fans' free-agent wish list. But might those hopes already need adjusting?

Cole looks to be on track to land the richest pitching contract in baseball history when he hits free agency after the Houston Astros' playoff run is over. The White Sox are shopping for starting pitching, and what team wouldn't love to top their rotation with the guy who might be awarded the AL Cy Young?

But whether or not you're part of the Twitter-using faction of White Sox fans that believe the team would never spend such money to land a pitcher the caliber of Cole, it might not matter.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale spoke to a couple of Cole's fellow Astros, and they told him they think Cole will end up playing in California. The South Side, at least in the Astros' clubhouse, it seems, is not a betting favorite.

"It will be west of Nevada," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We know he wants to be a West Coast guy. He’s a California guy, so he probably wants to be close to home. I know he mentioned Oakland a couple of times because of how he’s pitched there in the past. ... But that probably won’t happen. They’d have to clear the whole roster to afford him."

"I got the Angels," pitcher Wade Miley said, "and paying him at least $250 million."

Well then.

Certainly the Los Angeles Angels are not a new suggestion in the "where will Cole sign" discussion. Cole went to high school a 10-minute drive from Angel Stadium and pitched his college ball at UCLA. The Oakland Athletics? That's a new one.

Anyway, a lot of White Sox fans are probably out there thinking "here we go again" as we begin poring over every bit of minutiae in this winter's free-agent market, just like we did last offseason, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were both out there for the signing — and both White Sox targets. That months-long reading of the tea leaves, of course, was all kicked off when MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the White Sox interest during the GM Meetings in November.

So far, there's nothing out there connecting the White Sox to Cole besides pure speculation, that and the fact that Rick Hahn has said his front office will be in the market for starting pitching. Cole, being a starting pitcher, fits the minimum requirement as a potential target.

In fact, in listing a boatload of teams that might make a run at Cole this winter, Nightengale left the White Sox out. He mentioned four of the five California-based teams: the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and every White Sox fan's favorite, the San Diego Padres, who landed Machado back in February. He also mentioned the Astros, the New York Yankees (who Cole will pitch against in game 3 of the ALCS on Tuesday), the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers.

No White Sox.

There are plenty of other variables in this sweepstakes than just geography, and chief among them figures to be money. The White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility gained as a goal of the ongoing rebuilding process, but Hahn said that's not the most attractive element when it comes to free agents signing up to play on the South Side.

"The biggest advantage we have is the talent base we've accumulated so far and the excitement to come and be part of that," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. "We do have some economic flexibility. That was part of the plan from the start. But I think if you're looking at advantages, a lot of teams have money. A lot of teams don't offer the ability to play with some of the players that are joining us here already and joining in the coming years and the opportunity to win a championship in a city like Chicago."

Whether that appeals to Cole or whether the White Sox will set their sights elsewhere remains to be seen. Certainly his fellow Astros' predictions aren't the be all, end all. Remember last winter when it was a foregone conclusion Machado would be a Yankee because he was a fan of that team growing up? Didn't work out that way. (It's here that I'll mention a pretty cool nugget in Nightengale's piece about Cole sitting in the front row cheering on the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. Is he destined to wear pinstripes because of it? No.)

For the White Sox, they certainly should chase Cole, who would count as the biggest free-agent splash in team history and do a heck of a lot to vault the team out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. But Hahn is hoping that whichever players he lands this winter can do that, along with the team's talented young core, and there are plenty of starting-pitching options out there not named Gerrit Cole: Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and maybe even Stephen Strasburg. It's an impressive list of possibilities, one that remains impressive for the White Sox even if they fail to meet any imaginary Golden State requirement from Cole.

Even as Cole readies to face off against the Yankees in the ALCS, attempting to go 19-0 since he lost to the White Sox on May 22, his role as the star of the hot stove season is already beginning.

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MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

It isn't "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, but it is "an" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

The MLB Players Association announced Monday that White Sox hurler Lucas Giolito is a finalist for its "Players Choice" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, voted on by the game's players. He was joined by outfielders Hunter Pence of the Texas Rangers and Jorge Soler of the Kansas City Royals. On the NL side, the three finalists were Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The whole "voted on by your peers" element is pretty cool, as certainly they know how different the 2019 version of Giolito was from the one they saw a year earlier. James McCann, who played against Giolito as a Detroit Tiger in 2018 and then caught him as the White Sox backstop in 2019, constantly talked about how transformed Giolito was from one year to the next.

A totally different pitcher.

That's precisely what Giolito seemed like to us non-player types, too, after he went from the worst statistics of any qualified pitcher in 2018 to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff in 2019.

Giolito gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in the game in 2018, also leading the AL in walks during a season he finished with a 6.13 ERA. Then he went to work in the offseason, making mechanical changes and overhauling his mental approach to the game. It resulted in the kind of breakout season the prognosticators foresaw when they ranked him the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball once upon a time.

In 2019, Giolito posted a 3.41 ERA, went to the All-Star Game, struck out a whopping 228 batters — that particular feat accomplished by only two other pitchers in White Sox history — and will likely place somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote.

His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against two of the best teams in baseball, the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. Both shutouts came against 100-win teams on their own turf.

Presumably some Astros and Twins threw a few votes Giolito's way.

Giolito's status when it comes to "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award will be revealed next month, after the World Series is over. But for now, this is a pretty cool feather in the cap for him, another example of how far he's come.

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