If you’re currently in a state of White Sox Hot Stove euphoria, excited that the front office satisfied the cravings of a playoff-hungry fan base with a roster-altering, emergency-podcast-making offseason, you’re not alone.
Even players like Lucas Giolito are elated with the new additions and can’t wait for the season to get started.
“As a member of the team who’s been there through the hard times of the last couple years, seeing the moves we’ve made, the player additions, I’m just excited to get out to spring training to meet all the new faces and get to work,” Giolito said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast.
“It’s time to shift gears to winning baseball on the South Side.”
When the Washington Nationals traded Giolito, along with fellow pitchers Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, to the White Sox for Adam Eaton at the start of the rebuild in December 2016, the two teams were in completely different places.
The Nationals were in win-now mode.
The White Sox were thinking win later.
Now thanks to the signings of playoff veterans Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion and Gio Gonzalez, plus the acquisition of 24-year-old Nomar Mazara and the contract extension of Luis Robert that will likely have him in the lineup on Opening Day, Giolito says there’s a new mindset with the White Sox.
“We’re seeing that shift in focus from rebuild, development, experience to now winning,” Giolito explained. “Guys like Dylan Cease, they’re seeing that shift. I’m definitely seeing that shift. I don’t even see it as added pressure or anything. It’s more like, ‘OK, this is just the natural way of things. This is what we’re going to do.’”
Soon after Grandal signed with the White Sox in November, one of his first phone calls was to Giolito, who had a lot of questions for the older and more experienced Grandal. But as it turned out, the new White Sox catcher actually had a lot of questions for his new top pitcher.
“He was asking me about my method, my approach, the adjustments I made, how I like to pitch,” Giolito recalled from their conversation. “We got into the overall vibe, the chemistry in the clubhouse. What we’re trying to do. What we’re trying to accomplish.”
What kind of questions did Giolito have for the White Sox new All-Star catcher?
Considering Grandal has been to the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, including two trips to the World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 and 2018, Giolito was searching for the secret sauce that has been missing from the White Sox kitchen since he arrived here three years ago.
“How do we get over that hump?” Giolito asked. “How do we get to winning? What do we need to do as a cohesive unit? Not just adding good players, which we’re doing and that’s great, but how do we come together and learn to win and make that part of the culture?”
Answers to those questions are expected to be discussed in more detail when the whole team is together at spring training next month in Arizona.
For a pitcher like Giolito, his best friend on the field is his catcher. Last season, he developed a great rapport with James McCann. Now with Grandal aboard, the White Sox have a surplus of catching they haven’t seen in years.
“Between him and James, I’d say that we probably have one of the best — if not the best — catching combinations in the big leagues,” Giolito said. “You know all about James and what he brings to the team. Now we’re adding another really good catcher. I think that they’re going to be able to work together really well. As far as scouting reports and getting a feel for the pitchers, it’s invaluable. It’s so important to have good catching. We have some of the best. I’m looking forward to it.”
Giolito’s brain has a lot of storage space for pitching minutiae. As a young hurler with the Nationals, he tried to absorb as much information as he could from Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Since coming to the White Sox, he received a master class in pitching from James Shields in 2017 and 2018 and leaned on Ivan Nova for wisdom during his breakout year in 2019.
But the signing of Keuchel might turn out to be a perfect match, considering where Giolito is right now in his development and what Keuchel has accomplished and the knowledge he can provide.
“It’s huge,” Giolito said about the Keuchel addition. “I have aspirations to win a Cy Young Award, win a World Series. He’s been there. He’s done that before. Being able to work alongside a guy that’s done that, that has been around a very long time, knows what it takes to win, knows what it takes to be consistent, it’s super important for me. I’m looking forward to picking his brain as a player, as a person and developing that good, close relationship. With an addition like him, I think it makes our starting-pitching staff that much stronger. I’m looking forward to working with Dallas and seeing what he’s got for us.”
Giolito didn’t have to look far to find praise for Keuchel. One of Giolito's best friends is Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried, who was on the receiving end of Keuchel’s teachings last season.
“He’s told me nothing but great things about Dallas,” Giolito said. “He loved working with him. They had a good time together in Atlanta last year. I think it’s a really good fit. I think we are so much better off having a guy like him in our rotation.”
And though he might not have the same accomplishments as Keuchel, don’t overlook the signing of fellow starter Gio Gonzalez, a two-time All-Star who was with the Nationals when Giolito was coming up in the organization.
“Such a good dude,” Giolito said about Gonzalez, who was originally drafted by the White Sox in 2004. “He’s in the same boat (as Keuchel). He’s been on winning teams. He knows what it takes. He’s a strong competitor. That’s all the stuff that we need from that veteran presence that can guide and show the younger guys the way. Very, very exciting.”
Looking to build on his storybook, breakout season of 2019, Giolito is focused this offseason on building strength in his right shoulder. After logging a career-high 176.2 innings in 2019, he wants to push that number over 200 in 2020.
“The work has been fantastic,” Giolito said.
Because simply adding muscle around his shoulder has felt like a vacation compared to what he went through a year ago.
“I’m not going to lie to you, last year was a full overhaul,“ Giolito said. “It was, ‘Let me completely rebuild my arm action, and let me completely rebuild how I’m using my legs and hips. It took a lot of practice and a lot of drills, and I felt like the timing and how everything synched up, got better over the course of the season.”
He’s also working on his pitch grips, “instead of last year when I was working on, ‘What’s my arm doing? Where’s my arm in space when my hips are doing this?’ Now it’s making things as close to perfect as possible. That’s going to be the case for the rest of my career.”
The sudden hype surrounding the White Sox has started to spread outside of Chicago. You may have heard that the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas recently gave the White Sox 5-1 odds to win the AL pennant and 10-1 odds to win the World Series in 2020. This for a team that won only 72 games last season and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008. Clearly, some Vegas experts, who are inexplicably correct more often than not, see big things potentially happening with the White Sox in 2020.
“That’s very true,” Giolito said. “But at the same time, it’s time for us to go out there and prove it. There can be a lot of talk and a lot of buzz in the offseason, but the biggest thing is we show up at spring training ready to work, put that good work in and carry that into the season. The biggest thing is consistency. Making winning important. As a unit, we show up in the clubhouse every day with the expectation to win that game. I think if we do that, we’ll be in a good spot.”
The White Sox certainly seem to be a long shot to win the World Series in 2020, but if you’re looking for a favorite to turn their fortunes around next season, that's where the South Siders are a really good bet.
“I want to win. I’m so sick of losing,” Giolito said. “I think we’re starting to put the pieces together to make that happen.”