White Sox

Is Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo the left-handed hitter the White Sox need?

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AP

Is Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo the left-handed hitter the White Sox need?

Ideally, Rick Hahn said, the White Sox would add some left-handed pop this winter.

Things don’t always go ideally, but there’s a pretty obvious need for some left-handed presence in the White Sox lineup of the future. Go around the diamond. James McCann, Jose Abreu, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert. The only guy who bats lefty among them is Moncada, a switch hitter who only sometimes bats lefty.

For all of Rick Renteria’s talk of balance when it comes to his managerial style, there isn’t a lot of balance, in this one regard, at least, projected in this White Sox lineup.

But with declared intentions to plug the offensive holes in right field and at designated hitter, there’s certainly an opportunity for Hahn to add a left-handed bat of great consequence this offseason. Of course, that opportunity might pale in comparison to the one(s) to add a right-handed bat of even greater consequence. An all-righty lineup isn’t really that big a deal if all the righties are good. At least that’s an idea Hahn referenced during his end-of-season press conference last month.

“Ideally, that would be nice. Ideally, you'd like to balance that out and that would require adding some left-handed power,” he said. “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.”

Hahn stopped short of saying the White Sox truly need a lefty bat this winter like they need starting pitching and offensive upgrades at the two aforementioned positions. And maybe that’s because the left-handed options aren’t the most glamorous.

We can talk about trade possibilities till we’re blue in the face — and we did on the most recent episode of the White Sox Talk Podcast — but there’s the overarching concern about the White Sox minor league depth and whether a package for an impact lefty bat is even able to be constructed out of the injured and under-performing prospects behind the top guys in the organization.

And so free agency, like with so many other parts of the White Sox offseason, looks the more realistic route. Looking for a left-handed hitting right fielder on that market? Your options are mostly limited to Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson. Useful players those might be, but it’s doubtful they’re revving White Sox fans’ engines at this moment in time.

Perhaps, then, the White Sox will look elsewhere. And that brings us to Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the Japanese slugger who will be posted this offseason as he looks to play big league ball in North America. Like with most Japanese stars who get to take their talent overseas, there’s been a decent amount of excitement over the coming derby, if not in front offices across the game then at least on White Sox Twitter.

Tsutsugo is a 27-year-old, left-handed hitting corner outfielder who has a career .284/.382/.525 slash line to go along with his 205 career home runs in NPB. This past season, he hit .272/.388/.511 with 29 homers, but fans chomping at the bit for an injection of left-handed power on the South Side will point in the direction of his 2016 numbers: a .322/.430/.680 with 44 homers.

Yeah, that’d be all right.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the world of Japanese baseball, so it’s a good thing Our Chuck Garfien talked with Jim Allen, who covers NPB for the Kyoto News, on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast. You’ll find his comments on Tsutsugo far more illuminating. But if you’re a part of the Committee to Bring Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to the South Side, this might throw a little bit of rain on your pending parade.

“He’s a quality bat in Japan, but he’s really not the elite bat,” Allen said. “The whole question is how much of his power is going to play in the United States, and the big question is how is he going to adapt to seeing 100-mile-an-hour fastballs, which he hasn’t seen regularly because very, very few pitchers in Japan throw that hard. And he’s 27 years old. So it’s like taking a guy who’s basically played college-level ball most of his life and suddenly at 27 he’s in the major leagues.

“(Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei) Ohtani was a bit of an outlier. There are hitters who are that good in Japan. Tsutsugo is not quite one of them. He is relatively adaptable. In other words, I expect him to make some adjustments to MLB, I expect him to find some solutions to MLB. But I also don’t see him getting a guaranteed contract.

“He’s flexibile, adaptable, good leader, good teammate. But if you’re looking at the skills, I don’t think he’s going to blow anybody away with his skills.

“My guess is he’ll agree to a minor league contract, he’ll get a camp invite and that he’ll win a major league job out of camp because he’s just a really useful guy to have. But nobody’s going to be throwing guaranteed money at him. If they do, I would be surprised.”

Based on that evaluation, Tsutsugo doesn’t sound like he’d slide into the middle of the White Sox lineup and mash a ton of homers, providing the pop the team needs to help vault itself out of rebuilding mode and into playoff contention. At the same time, a projection of a minor league deal makes him sound like an intriguing option considering the potentially low cost. A minor league contract would make for a much smaller release fee than the ones you might typically associate with the biggest names to come out of Japan.

The biggest question in my mind is how he compares to Calhoun and Dickerson, other guys the White Sox could look at if they truly crave a left-handed bat. And after Calhoun just hit 33 home runs for the Angels and Dickerson just posted a .906 OPS splitting time between the two Pennsylvania teams, they’d figure to warrant something more than minor league deals this winter.

But Tsutsugo or no Tsutsugo, the White Sox might still have a dearth of reliable left-handed options they can stick in the middle of the lineup, and the attribute that’s been missing from their offense since Jim Thome left the South Side might still be missing heading into 2020.

Will that matter? If the team goes out and signs J.D. Martinez to fill the DH spot, no it might not. An all-righty lineup isn’t a big deal if all the righties are good, remember? But Hahn has also spent years trying to build an ideal contender, and he says, ideally, the White Sox would have some left-handed pop. Let’s see if he goes after some this offseason.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Matt Vasgersian's quest to get Hawk Harrelson into Cooperstown

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Matt Vasgersian's quest to get Hawk Harrelson into Cooperstown

Chuck Garfien speaks with MLB Network and ESPN broadcaster Matt Vasgersian, who explains why Hawk Harrelson should win this year's Ford Frick Award.

Matt gives his all-time favorite Hawkism (2:00), his desire to plead his case to the voting committee (4:50) and why Hawk's homerism should be celebrated and honored (8:00).

Then, the two discuss why we won't see another Hawk Harrelson ever again (9:45), how Matt used to blurt out Hawkisms on late nights at Wiener Circle (13:00), why the White Sox could take a big step forward with offseason moves this winter (16:30) and more.

Listen to the episode here.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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Unwilling to spend big? Rick Hahn addresses narrative surrounding White Sox

Unwilling to spend big? Rick Hahn addresses narrative surrounding White Sox

When will the White Sox spend big on a premium free agent?

In the minds of those in the White Sox front office, that’s not even a question. They’re ready to do it now, fully realizing that the part of their rebuilding plan that involves bringing an impact player in from outside the organization hinges on paying big dollars. The money will be spent, so Rick Hahn proclaimed when it didn’t end up getting spent on Manny Machado last winter. Well, there are plenty of opportunities for it to get spent this time around.

On the other end of the spectrum is a segment of White Sox fans who are convinced it never will be spent and the White Sox are either unable or unwilling — or perhaps both — to ink a major free agent. After all, the largest contract in team history remains the $68 million over six years Jose Abreu received upon arriving from Cuba ahead of the 2014 season. Albert Belle’s one-time record-setting contract? That was 23 years ago. The reported discrepancy in guaranteed money between what the White Sox offered Machado last winter and what he ended up getting from the San Diego Padres, a reported $50 million, added ammo to this argument.

Hahn, of course, is not ignorant to the criticism. While he continues to insist that the unable-or-unwilling-to-spend narrative is a false one, he knows it will linger until his front office proves it wrong.

But Hahn isn’t the only target of the complaints involving free-agent spending. Some of the grumblings are reserved for team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. He’s the guy signing players’ checks, after all. Reinsdorf was among those who took the heat when Machado picked the Padres.

That heat doesn’t bother the chairman, according to Hahn, nor will it play any kind of role in his reaction if and when the White Sox sign a big-name free agent.

“Jerry’s been doing this for 37, 38 years. He’s lived in this town most of his life. I don’t think he lets the narratives that are written out there that we perceive to be false get to him that much. I think he’s just used to it being out there,” Hahn told NBC Sports Chicago during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “And over the last several years, we’ve disproved a lot of them, and really at no point has he taken any sort of victory dance because, ‘Hey, we showed you.’”

Hahn talks frequently about the preconceived notions the White Sox have disproved: that they wouldn't launch a full-scale rebuild, that they wouldn't spend big on the international market, that they wouldn't make a trade of significance with the Cubs.

Just like the Machado rumors flew last winter, this offseason has already kicked off with the White Sox connected to the likes of Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. Yasmani Grandal and Madison Bumgarner seem like good fits. Plenty of speculators, myself included, have wondered what the likelihood might be of the White Sox jumping into trade talks with the financially minded Boston Red Sox with an eye on Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez or Andrew Benintendi.

Much of that has already been met with online eye-rolling, and even Hahn pointed to the fact that people are sick of rumors about what might happen and are hungry solely for results: “It's my experience that people aren't too interested in hearing about the labor, they want to see the baby.” But the White Sox are serious about contending for marquee free agents and know it will be difficult to convince certain folks otherwise until it happens.

Hahn said that Reinsdorf and the White Sox are far more concerned with getting a big-name player to sign on the dotted line than they are with shutting anyone up.

“In the end, any excitement that he would have about us signing a premium free agent in a way that people didn’t expect would come far more from adding that talent to our roster than disproving any false narrative that might be out there.

“Until we win,” Hahn added, “that can be said. It doesn’t change, fundamentally, what our goals are in any offseason or over the course of a year, and that’s to win a championship.”

The White Sox will undoubtedly stick to their rebuilding plans in their quest to win that title. Hahn said numerous times that the way the Machado pursuit played out last offseason won’t force the team to change its approach. Those plans, it should be noted, have always included adding from the outside, adding impact talent and spending to get it when the time came. There was an opportunity to do all that last winter, and it didn’t work out. There are more opportunities to do so this winter. If things continue to go according to plan and the White Sox move into contention mode in the near future, there will be more opportunities in winters to follow.

The last three seasons of losing have been an upsetting part of those plans, too. And those summers full of losses have contributed to a less-than-sunny disposition for some who continue to target Hahn, Reinsdorf and others with their complaints. All along, Hahn has said that the frustration that comes with repeated losing has been present in the front office, too.

White Sox fans understand what the team is trying to do through this rebuild but at this point they’re ready to see it bear fruit. The manager agrees, saying it’s time to turn the page. That includes the ace of the starting staff saying if the 2020 White Sox don’t make the playoffs, “then I don’t think we’ve come close to what we should be doing.”

And that includes the chairman.

“He's ready for this rebuild to be over,” Hahn said of Reinsdorf. “At the same time, he knows, from the start, what the plan was and what it looked like and what the likely time horizon was, as well as some of the events that have occurred over the last few years that have accelerated the timeline and some of them that have decelerated it. So, he's realistic.

“But at the same time, like fundamentally any other fan, he's ready to win.”

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