White Sox

Lucas Giolito making no little plans for 2020: 'Our goal will 100-percent be making the playoffs'

Lucas Giolito making no little plans for 2020: 'Our goal will 100-percent be making the playoffs'

“Make no little plans,” so goes the famous quote from Daniel Burnham, “they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

No one is ever going to accuse Lucas Giolito of making little plans.

How very Chicago of him.

It seems everyone in the White Sox clubhouse was doing their best Burnham impression as the 2019 season wound to a close. Yes, it was another campaign finished with a record south of .500, another campaign finished without a trip to the postseason. But there was nothing but hope in the eyes, minds and mouths of the manager and his players.

A South Sider once made it all the way to the White House on the word “hope.” These White Sox, sick of losing summers and unoccupied autumns, sound like they have their own riff on his famous slogan: “Hope ... or else.”

“Our goal will 100-percent be making the playoffs and getting as deep as we can,” Giolito said in late September. “If we don’t, then I don’t think we’ve come close to what we should be doing.”

That’s not much different from what Rick Renteria made a habit of expressing during the season’s final weeks, and even beyond when he spoke after the hiring of new hitting coach Frank Menechino last week.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

This is nothing new for Giolito, who’s previously talked about his sky-high expectations for himself, his fellow pitchers in the starting rotation and the team as a whole. In August, he said the White Sox rotation, in the coming years, “can be one of the most dominant rotations in baseball.” That might seem like big talk considering the White Sox starting staff finished the 2019 season with a 5.30 ERA. But Giolito has reason to be confident after his transformation into an All-Star, the arrival of Dylan Cease at the major league level, the coming return of Michael Kopech from Tommy John surgery and expected offseason additions to the roster.

It’s that last bit that White Sox fans will have all their attention on this winter, and certainly there’s good reason to stay fixated on the rumor mill, considering the caliber of pitcher that will be available on the free-agent market. Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler, Jake Odorizzi and maybe even Stephen Strasburg will all be looking for jobs. Pairing one of those guys with Giolito at the top of the rotation would go a long way toward making Giolito’s words come true.

So you hot stove watchers can count at least one more among your ranks.

“With what we’ve got, we’ve got a really, really good group of guys, but you can always improve anything,” Giolito said. “It’s not really my place to suggesting or talking about those kinds of things. I’m here to do my job, which is pitch. But it’s fun to think about how strong this rotation could be knowing some of the guys going into free agency this year.”

When it comes to doing his job and controlling what he can control, the standard operating procedure of any and all sports persons, Giolito did that with aplomb in 2019. After posting the worst statistics of any qualified pitcher the year prior, he went to work in the offseason, making mechanical adjustments and revamping his mental approach. It all paid off, with Giolito making the All-Star team and developing into the ace of the South Side staff. He’s destined to finish somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote after ending the year with a 3.41 ERA and 228 strikeouts, a total reached by just two other pitchers in team history.

But as much as “controlling what I can control” is part of athlete programming, so too is “I’m never satisfied.” Giolito’s subscribing to that one, as well, and it’s part of the reason his expectations for himself and the eventual fortunes of the starting staff are so high.

“For me, I see it as just a nice big step forward, kind of taking control of my career, kind of coming into my own, becoming the guy I know that I should be every time I go out and compete. But there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “I think that I can be better than I was this year.”

So back to that whole playoffs thing. If you gazed at the headline and experienced an involuntary Jim Mora impression, it wouldn’t shock me. It probably wouldn’t shock Giolito, for that matter. The White Sox have lost a combined 284 games in the last three seasons. And as general manager Rick Hahn, the guy tasked with making those much anticipated additions to the rotation and elsewhere on this roster, will readily admit, the reputation that the White Sox can’t attract a free agent of consequence will stick until they prove otherwise.

But Giolito’s breakout season was just one of many in 2019. Tim Anderson went from a .240 hitter to a batting champion. Yoan Moncada went from 217 strikeouts to the best all-around hitter on the team. Eloy Jimenez had an up-and-down rookie season thanks to a couple injuries and still hit 31 home runs. James McCann pulled off a similar transformation to Giolito’s and made the AL All-Star team. Jose Abreu, expected to be back with the team even as he heads to free agency, was Jose Abreu. And all the while, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal raked in the minor leagues.

All that should provide an ample launching pad for any blastoff into playoff contention that might come in 2020.

Those who bought into Hahn’s rebuilding plans from Day 1 weren’t surprised by what they saw from those core players in 2019. And it’s probably why they’re so optimistic about the team’s fortunes in 2020.

“It’s great to see, but at the same time, I think we were all expecting it,” Giolito said. “I knew that I was going to be better this year, Tim knew he was going to be better, Yo-Yo knew he was going to be better. This is Eloy’s first year, he’s hit 30 home runs. This is the talent starting to come into play at a higher level because of the experience, because of everything we’ve learned through our struggles.

“And the goal now is to put all that away — ‘development,’ ‘rebuild,’ all those words — because next year it’s time to win. That’s going to be the clear goal is us coming together, holding each other accountable and playing the baseball we know we can.”

Hahn has, wisely, refused to set specific expectations for next season, opting to wait until after what’s expected to be a busy offseason concludes and the team’s roster is constructed. His manager and his players have chosen not to exercise the same patience in this specific area.

Giolito, Renteria, Anderson, Abreu. They’re following Burnham’s lead. They’re making big plans. Anyone's blood feeling stirred?

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Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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A free-agent destination? Scott Boras: 'Players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago'

A free-agent destination? Scott Boras: 'Players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox certainly believe themselves to be a destination for the game’s top free agents.

What do those free agents think, though?

Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Nicholas Castellanos will likely stay silent on that and all other matters until they’re introduced as members of their new teams.

Their agent, Scott Boras, is not exactly the staying-silent type.

Boras spoke to the typical throng of reporters Wednesday at the GM meetings, doing his job as an advocate for a game in which more teams are handing out bigger contracts and the players see a bigger share of the pie. But, as is tradition, he was peppered with questions about individual teams and their attractiveness to his clients.

And that included the White Sox, who have quite a bit on their shopping list this winter. So, Scott, are they the destination Rick Hahn claims they are?

“They have a lot of great young talent,” he said. “It’s a great city. Certainly players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago, no question.”

It’d be hard not to. At this time two years ago, the White Sox were coming off a 95-loss season, with a 100-loss season to follow. But in 2019, despite the loss total still arriving at a nothing-to-be-proud-of 89, we learned the White Sox have an exciting young core thanks to several players breaking out with big performances. Two years ago, Tim Anderson wasn’t a batting champ, Yoan Moncada wasn’t the best all-around player on the team, Lucas Giolito wasn’t an All Star and Eloy Jimenez wasn’t a 31-homer rookie.

Everyone should look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago, free agents included.

Boras' words do little to actually indicate whether the White Sox will have a strong chance at reeling in one of the biggest fish in this winter's free-agent pond. But between the White Sox stated aggressiveness in pursuing premium talent and the idea that talent might be looking at the White Sox as a destination, that's good news for Hahn's front office and the goal of landing a top player.

There was more from Boras, though his other White Sox-related comments came off more as lobbying the South Siders to hand out deals to free agents. Still, it doesn’t make him wrong.

“Well certainly the White Sox need veteran players, because they have such great young players, and you're trying to create that mix all the time,” he said. “So I readily foresee there's a lot of fits that could go in there and really advance what they've built to date.

“I think veteran players, particularly who have won before, can come into a locker room, bring a credibility where players can go to them and say, organically, ‘How does this happen? Are we that close? How far away are we? What do we do? What do I do?’

“And when you've been around world champions, when they speak, the athletes have a high level of credibility for what they have to say because they've done it, they've been through it.”

But Boras’ biggest talking point about the White Sox is actually the same as Hahn’s. The general manager has voiced for months now that his team’s top selling point isn’t the financial flexibility that will allow them to hand out a massive contract — though certainly that will help — but the opportunity to play winning baseball with this group of talented players.

“We are a logical destination for premium talent,” Hahn said Tuesday. “Players want to come play for us, play for the White Sox, play on the South Side, play for (manager Rick Renteria) and be part of what we're building. And if last year we announced that perhaps a little too loudly, it was in part a response to the general narrative that we weren't legitimate players for such talent.

“I think the message has already been delivered that we are a true destination for such talent, and now it's incumbent upon us to convert on some along the way.”

Hahn added more on the topic Wednesday.

“It's a combination, not just while we're here but over the course of the season, hearing from some guys in our clubhouse who have heard from other players around the league about what we've been building and what the future looks like, and then having that reinforced in these early conversations with some free agents.

“The agents will certainly tell you nice things along the way, but when you hear it directly from some of the players, ‘I see what you guys have been doing, I see where the future is headed there and it's exciting,’ it's some positive reinforcement.

“Now, in the end, dollars and contract terms tend to carry a little more weight. But at the very least, it's good to hear that people are excited by the prospect of being part of what we're building.”

Hahn’s right, in the end, the money will likely do the majority of the talking, and it’s up to his front office to do away with what he calls a “false narrative” that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend on the highest-priced free agents.

But there’s also the old cliche that winning cures all ills. This team showing it’s ready to compete for a title with its performance on the field could play a big role in top talent picking the South Side as a landing spot.

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