White Sox

This is the Ivan Nova the White Sox were hoping for

This is the Ivan Nova the White Sox were hoping for

Now this is the Ivan Nova the White Sox were hoping for.

OK, maybe not quite this Ivan Nova, the guy who's pitched like Cy Young reincarnated over his last five spins through the South Side rotation to the tune of a 0.49 ERA — that's two earned runs in 37 innings. Tuesday night, in the second game of the White Sox doubleheader with the visiting Houston Astros, Nova was untouchable, holding what might be the best team in baseball to one unearned run and just five base runners in his second complete-game effort in five starts.

But while they perhaps didn't expect him to go out and shut down the Astros, as much a World Series favorite as any team in the game, this was part of the job description when the White Sox acquired Nova in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Winter Meetings: eat up innings. Nova's done just that, going nine Tuesday, eight the start before that and nine back on July 22.

That's what James Shields did last season, eat up innings, reaching 200 of them by the time the 2018 season ran out. Will Nova reach that same plateau? He's a shade under 150 innings through 25 starts.

He's certainly been healthy this season, a good thing, but reliability wasn't exactly an apt descriptor during the first half of the season, which he finished with a 5.58 ERA that was still north of 6.00 more than midway through June. Now roughly midway through August, he's got that season mark down to 4.51.

"It feels good, it feels good," Nova said. "That's what I was hoping from the beginning. Thankfully we turned things around and are pitching better."

The other part of that job description, another role that Shields played in 2018, was to help mentor the young pitchers on the starting staff. While Shields focused his attention on lockermate Lucas Giolito — who's now in the middle of an All-Star campaign and pitching like the ace of the staff — Nova has established a strong relationship with his lockermate, Reynaldo Lopez. The two are a bit more playful than Shields and Giolito, with Nova collecting $100 from Lopez every time the youngster chooses Spanish over English in his postgame media sessions.

As much of an impact that Nova has had on the young Lopez — who's also in the middle of a post All-Star break renaissance, with a 2.13 second-half ERA —  it sounds like Lopez has helped Nova out, as well.

"Lopez was really the one. After (Don Cooper), my pitching coach, Lopez was really the one that got me going," Nova said. "I went to throw a bullpen and he was right there, and he told me I was opening too quick. It was something that Coop and everybody else was telling me before, but for some reason, maybe because it was coming from a player and the relationship that we have and the guy yelling at me from the bench, I think that helped and I was able to correct.

"I've got three pitching coaches: Coop, (assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler) and Lopey."

While Nova's first-half struggles were more than a mild contributing factor to rotation-wide problems before the All-Star break, this current stretch of dependability and inning-eating begs the question: Does Nova have a future with the White Sox past the end of this season?

With general manager Rick Hahn declaring that starting pitching will be on the White Sox shopping list this winter, fans' minds shoot right to the top of the free-agent market. That's where Gerrit Cole, the Astros' All Star who was scratched from a matchup against Nova on Tuesday night, sits. He's expected to command many a suitor and many a million.

The White Sox figure to have Giolito, Lopez, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech locked into four of their five rotation spots for next season, meaning perhaps just one spot open for an outside addition. And while Nova has shown how good he can be of late, is someone like Nova really a big enough addition to bolster what should be a different-looking starting staff? Maybe. Maybe not.

But what's for sure is that starting-pitching depth has been an at times crippling issue for the White Sox this season. They burned through their own depth in a hurry this year due to injuries and underperformance and were forced to look to outside additions like Odrisamer Despaigne, Ross Detwiler and Hector Santiago, minor league free agents and a guy who was pitching in independent ball. Someone like Nova in the fold could certainly prevent that kind of thing from happening again. Though serving as depth just in case things go wrong might not be a very attractive role for Nova. Who knows?

What's for sure is that Nova is doing what the White Sox hoped he'd do when they traded for him. He's eating up innings, and he's having a positive off-field influence on young pitchers.

Shutting down the Astros in a complete-game effort? Yeah, that's pretty nice, too.

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White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

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.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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