White Sox

Manny Machado isn't here, but he's still the talk of camp on Day 1 of White Sox spring training

Manny Machado isn't here, but he's still the talk of camp on Day 1 of White Sox spring training

GLENDALE, Ariz. — No, there wasn’t a surprise press conference early Wednesday morning. There wasn’t a shocking No. 13 jersey hanging in a locker in the White Sox clubhouse. Rick Hahn was walking around Camelback Ranch like it was business as usual.

But things aren’t the usual on report day here in Glendale, where everyone is still waiting to find out if Manny Machado is going to be suiting up for this team in 2019 and beyond.

Machado entered the offseason as a 26-year-old superstar cruising for a gigantic, potentially record-breaking deal. But pitchers and catchers have reported to camps across the majors, and Machado is still jobless. His fate isn’t the same as the many other unsigned free agents out there, as barring some insane holdout he’ll have a job come Opening Day. But his free agency — and that of Bryce Harper — continues, all while spring training has already begun.

On a day where the norm is to ask players about the upcoming season, what they did in the offseason, what it’s like for the newcomers to be a part of this team, instead all the questions were about the one guy who wasn’t here.

And that was especially the case for Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay, two offseason additions who are good friends and winter workout buddies with Machado. Alonso is Machado’s brother-in-law.

“I have no idea what Manny’s doing or what his family’s doing,” said Jay, the more verbose of the two when it came to this topic Wednesday morning. “Same thing I’ve said the whole time: It’s a private matter that he and his family will deal with. I’ve dealt with free agency, and even my best friends I don’t talk to about that stuff because it’s a private manner and you never know what’s going to happen.

“There’s a lot of emotions involved. You don’t want to report one thing, and then the next day it goes away or whatever. Manny’s a heck of a player, great work ethic. Like you’ve asked, he’ll do tremendous things for a team. But Manny’s going to do what’s best for Manny and his family.”

Alonso got all these questions a couple weeks ago during SoxFest, so with Machado still undecided, the same old questions were understandably, well, old.

“I don't know,” Alonso said when asked when Machado is going to make up his mind. “We'll see.

“You have to ask him that.”

That won’t stop the speculation train from chugging on, full speed ahead. Alonso and Jay have lockers right next to each other at Camelback Ranch, no surprise considering their friendship. There’s an empty locker next to Jay’s. Cue the social-media frenzy.

“I demanded an empty locker next to me,” Jay joked. “Just kidding, it just worked out that way. That might be one of the perks of being around a little bit longer.”

Both Alonso and Jay are valuable veteran additions to this team, and the contributions they can provide in helping guide along the cornerstones of the rebuilding effort shouldn’t be dismissed. But given the Machado cloud hanging over this team and this entire offseason, they’re being viewed through the lens of their relationships to Machado, first and foremost, by many fans.

The White Sox did not acquire these two players because of their ties to Machado. But there is an added benefit in that having these players allows them to offer something no other suitor in the derby can: the ability to play alongside two of his best friends, even if only for a little bit of what's expected to be a lengthy contract.

That doesn’t mean that Alonso and Jay have been part of the sales team, though.

“It’s his decision,” Jay said. “It’s something for him and his family to decide. He’s going to be playing for a lot longer than I am. Ultimately, it’s his decision, it’s his thing. He knows how I feel about him, he knows how Yonder feels about him, and we’ll see what happens.”

“Yesterday,” Alonso said when asked the last time he spoke to his brother-in-law. “We didn't talk about baseball. One hundred percent I can tell you that, we didn't talk about that.”

And so the baseball world spins on without a resolution. The White Sox start camp without a resolution. Maybe Machado will show up at some point. He’s not here yet. Until he is here — or in a big league camp somewhere else — there will be no change in the No. 1 topic of discussion.

Manny Mania persists.

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Rick Renteria has a laugh at Cubs' expense in census PSA


Rick Renteria has a laugh at Cubs' expense in census PSA

"Even that team up in Wrigleyville counts."

White Sox fans probably have some varying opinions on that statement, but it was an unexpected laugh-worthy line in Rick Renteria's public service announcement encouraging folks to participate in this year's U.S. census.

In an otherwise standard pep talk from the South Side skipper, he assured every Chicago resident and every White Sox fan that they deserve to be counted in the every-10-years tally of the national population.

But even the manager had to chuckle when he got to this line: "I mean, even that team up in Wrigleyville counts."

Renteria has repeatedly expressed his lack of ill will toward his former employer on the other side of town and his gratitude for the Cubs giving him his first big league managerial job.

But a little neighborly ribbing between the two Chicago squads is always welcome. And in this case, it's for an important cause.

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Remember That Guy: White Sox reliever Neal Cotts


Remember That Guy: White Sox reliever Neal Cotts

Neal Cotts was one of the stars of the 2005 White Sox bullpen, the top lefty in Ozzie Guillen’s relief corps.

Remember that guy?

Neal James Cotts celebrated his 40th birthday a week ago; he was born March 25, 1980 in Lebanon, Illinois, not far from St. Louis. A Lebanon High School product, he attended Illinois State and as a second round pick by the Oakland A’s (69th overall). At the time, Cotts was the second highest drafted player in ISU history, after Dave Bergman (second round, 36th overall in 1974).

Cotts started his pro career in 2001, posting a 2.73 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 66 innings across Vancouver (low-A) and Visalia (high-A). The next year for Modesto (high-A), he was 12-6 with a 4.12 ERA but struck out well over a batter an inning (178 K in 137.2 IP). He looked promising, if only he could cut down his walk totals (5.7 BB/9).

On Dec. 3, 2002, the White Sox traded Keith Foulke, Mark Johnson, Joe Valentine and cash to the A’s for Billy Koch and a player to be named later – Cotts – whom Oakland sent to the Sox on Dec. 16.

Cotts was excellent for Birmingham (AA) in 2003 and even started for the U.S. (under manager Carlton Fisk) in the 2003 Futures Game at U.S. Cellular Field. He made his MLB debut Aug. 12, 2003 at the Angels as a starter, going 2 1/3 innings, allowing two hits, two runs and six walks – including four in the third inning – and one strikeout (Shawn Wooten).

Cotts made four starts for an 8.10 ERA and was sent back down at the end of August. He had an encouraging minor league season, sporting a 2.16 ERA in 21 starts at Birmingham while striking out 133 in 108 1/3 innings, though the walk totals were still high. He made the transition to the bullpen in 2004, making only one start in 56 appearances. He struggled to adjust to his new role, finishing with a 5.65 ERA while striking out fewer than a batter an inning.

What happened in 2005, however, nobody would see coming.

Cotts walked a batter in each of his first four appearances of 2005 (five in three innings), but then walked only two over his next 13 games (10 2/3 innings). His positive roll continued, though he allowed three runs in his last appearance before the All-Star break to inflate his ERA to 2.86. He was nearly unhittable down the stretch, posting a 0.70 ERA in 35 games (25 2/3 innings) after the Midsummer Classic. He finished his season with a 1.94 ERA in 60 1/3 innings with 13 holds and a pair of saves, allowing just one home run.

Of 271 pitchers to toss at least 60 innings in 2005, Cotts’ home run rate (0.15 per nine innings) was the lowest. Here’s a fun fact: the highest home run rate (2.56) belonged to Ezequiel Astacio, with 23 in 81 innings. He was the pitcher who allowed Geoff Blum’s 14th inning blast in Game 3 of the World Series.

In the 2005 postseason, Cotts became the answer to a fun trivia question: who was the only White Sox reliever used in the ALCS? He retired two batters in relief of Jose Contreras in Game 1. Then the Sox cranked out four straight complete games. Cotts (1 1/3 innings, no runs) and Bobby Jenks (5 innings, two runs) were the two White Sox pitchers who saw work in all four games of the World Series sweep.

Like Cliff Politte, Cotts couldn’t find the same magic in 2006, as he posted a 5.17 ERA in 70 games. After the season, he was involved in what seemed like the rarest of trades – the crosstown swap between the White Sox and Cubs. The White Sox received pitchers David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez in return.

The southpaw reliever from Southern Illinois shuffled between the Cubs and Triple-A Iowa over the next three seasons, though in 2008 he became the second hurler (after Bob Howry) to pitch for both the White Sox and Cubs in the postseason (Clayton Richard would later join them).

Cotts received the dreaded Tommy John diagnosis in mid-2009 and underwent elbow surgery in July. To make matters worse, the reliever had four hip surgeries starting in 2010. He tried to latch on with the Pirates in 2010 and the Yankees in 2011, but injuries wouldn’t allow him to throw a single pitch over a two-year span.

Cotts resurfaced in the Rangers organization in 2012 and finally worked his way back to the majors in 2013. On May 21, he threw his first major league pitch since May 25, 2009 in a remarkable story of perseverance. Not only did Cotts make it back, he turned in a career year, posting a remarkable 1.11 ERA in 58 games (57 innings). Of 330 pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, only Koji Uehara (1.09) of the Red Sox was better.

Cotts struck out 65 batters that season and allowed fewer than a baserunner an inning (0.947 WHIP) for the only time in his MLB career. He regressed in 2014 (4.32 ERA in a career-high 73 games) and spent 2015 with the Brewers and, after an August trade, the Twins, posting a 3.41 ERA in 68 games.

The next two seasons saw Cotts sign with the Astros, Angels, Yankees, Rangers and Nationals, but he was unable to find his way back to the majors. He finished his MLB career with a 3.96 ERA in 483 games over 10 seasons. He had some ups and downs, but in 2005 Cotts was instrumental to the White Sox improbable World Series run.

You remember that guy.