White Sox

Machado or no Machado, Jon Jay brings plenty to White Sox (but Machado would be nice)

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USA TODAY

Machado or no Machado, Jon Jay brings plenty to White Sox (but Machado would be nice)

Yes, it's true what you've heard: Jon Jay and Manny Machado are friends. It's also true that Yonder Alonso is Machado's brother-in-law. Together, the three of them make up the "Miami Baseball Brotherhood" the White Sox are hoping they can reunite on the South Side.

This would all seem to be a page out of the book of scandalous college basketball recruiting: signing the brother of the kid you really want, giving jobs to people around one of the highest-rated recruits in the land. It might look like that from the outside — and it's inarguable that by adding Alonso and Jay that the White Sox can offer Machado something his other suitors cannot — but the White Sox insist that's not what they're doing.

"These players are here because of what they bring specifically, both between the lines and in the clubhouse. We feel they make us better in 2019 and have the potential to have a lasting impact on what we are trying to build for the long term," general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday, discussing Alonso and Jay and their relationships with Machado. "Not going to get into the relationships they have with other players throughout the game. It’s certainly a positive, but I would say it’s by no means a reason to make a move to acquire either player."

Now Hahn nor any other member of White Sox brass is going to come out and say, "Oh yeah, we spent X millions of dollars and handed out a pair of roster spots just to convince Manny to sign with us." That's not going to happen, even if it were true.

But there's no doubting that Alonso and Jay do make the White Sox a better team, no doubting that they help fill some of the White Sox offseason needs. Even without Machado, bringing these two players in accomplishes some of the goals Hahn and his front office had when the winter began.

Chiefly, they add a veteran presence in a young-and-getting-younger clubhouse. They are mentors to young players who are going to form the core of this team when it's planned to be a perennial championship contender.

But Jay, specifically, adds even more. He's a high on-base guy who doesn't strike out often, something this lineup needed. He's a defensive upgrade in right field, where the White Sox recently non-tendered Avisail Garcia, and so a position that was slated to have Daniel Palka and his questionable glove starting there now has a Gold Glove finalist starting there. He brings versatility with the ability to play all three outfield spots.

And like Alonso — and Ivan Nova and Kelvin Herrera, for that matter — he brings a veteran presence on and off the field and winning experience that he can impart on younger players.

"His energy, his professionalism, his focus, work ethic have all received very high marks at a number of his stops," Hahn said. "(Manager Rick Renteria) has talked about the culture we want here, the culture we are trying to create in Chicago as well as throughout the minor league system, and having players that reinforce that approach to each and every game and even each and every at-bat.

"It helps move that process along and expand that culture and helps teach young guys what it means to be a big leaguer, and Jon has through multiple stops — and Kelvin, as well — has received high praise for what they’ve done in the clubhouse and their ability to not only set a tone but help mentor young players and indoctrinate them into that culture."

And Jay is all aboard playing that role on the South Side.

"I just try to be a good person every day. I try to help out wherever I can," he said. "I truly care about the game, I truly care about my teammates. I want everyone to do well. I was blessed, came up through St. Louis in a great organization, and we learned there and I learned from a lot of Hall-of-Fame players. I try to pass that down, the things they learned before my time, to players, try to keep that moving."

The 26-year-old Machado, though he's been in the big leagues for seven seasons already, might be the kind of player who could benefit from someone like Jay, who also happens to be a good friend and winter workout buddy. Machado's much-publicized postseason antics made him a baseball villain of sorts. He didn't run out a ground ball, then made things infinitely worse by telling The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal that hustling wasn't his "cup of tea." He interfered with a couple double-play turns and had Milwaukee Brewers players calling him dirty when he dragged his foot across Jesus Aguilar's leg at first base. All this after multiple instances of throwing equipment on the playing field and a spikes-up slide that injured Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Jay and Alonso have been influences on Machado forever, but they could continue to be positive influences during the season from a few steps away inside the White Sox clubhouse.

But just like brother-in-law Alonso said he wouldn't be doing any kind of recruiting, Jay said he was going to stay out of Machado's decision-making process, that he was here to play for the White Sox, not to play with Machado — even if that would be pretty nice.

"Manny is going to do what is best for him and his family," he said. "We obviously have a great friendship, and Yonder is his brother-in-law and all that. But Manny is going to do what is best for his family. That will be up to them privately. I haven’t been involved in any of that. Those are their matters.

"Let’s see how everything shakes out. We’d obviously love to have a Manny Machado, absolutely, the guy is unbelievable. But that is up to him and his family. Who knows what is going to happen."

The White Sox can offer Machado the chance to team up with two of his great friends. The Philadelphia Phillies can't offer that. The New York Yankees can't offer that. No mystery team can offer that.

There are so many other factors to his decision, that even being able to offer that might not be enough. And so even if Machado is wearing red or navy pinstripes instead of black ones when Opening Day rolls around, the White Sox will be happy they signed Jay and traded for Alonso.

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Contenders? Maybe not quite yet, but the White Sox are steaming toward that status

Contenders? Maybe not quite yet, but the White Sox are steaming toward that status

Last week, James McCann called the White Sox contenders.

For the catcher in the midst of an All-Star season, a guy who’s taken his career to a new level in just a few months with the team, he had reason to be optimistic.

The White Sox were in the middle of an extended period of feel-goodery. This wasn’t even 24 hours after Eloy Jimenez hit that game-winning home run in his first game against the team that traded him, an exclamation point on the franchise’s recent rebuilding progress, which has been on display all season long in the forms of Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, McCann and now Jimenez.

The positive signs have been impossible to miss, stabilizing the notion that the White Sox future is incredibly bright. And inside the clubhouse, the players are seeing their preseason talk get backed up, in certain ways. During spring training, they argued the focus should be placed on the present as much as the future. And after two seasons of little more than waiting for the future, there is definitely reason to pay attention to the present.

“The thing for me is you look around here and guys are still competing,” McCann said from inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field, “despite losing a (Carlos) Rodon, despite not having (Michael) Kopech this year, despite the injuries to Nate Jones, guys like that who were supposed to be big-time contributors. And it's kind of been that next-man-up mentality.

“So I'd say at this point in the season, this team is a contender. Who knows what's going to happen down the road. But you have guys in Triple-A that are coming up. You've got a guy like (Zack) Collins here to contribute. We're one, two pieces away from making a big-time statement in this division.”

Surely, Collins was ready to contribute. The day McCann made those comments, Collins drew a walk in his first major league plate appearance. Two nights later in Texas, he smacked a three-run homer for his first big league hit. It was more positive news for the rebuild, a guy who’s a big part of Rick Hahn’s long-term plans immediately announcing his presence.

The White Sox lost that game, though. Since Jimenez’s game-winning heroics and McCann’s “contender” comments, the White Sox have dropped three of their four games.

One series loss in Arlington, Texas, in June is not going to be the determining factor of whether the White Sox can compete for a playoff spot this season. But for all the whispers of postseason potential, the White Sox are just 8-10 this month. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an improvement on what fans watched over the last two seasons. The White Sox current 36-39 record is vastly preferable to the 195 losses the team suffered during the 2017 and 2018 campaigns.

But that’s what seems to be brewing as the grand conclusion from this season at this moment: The White Sox are better, but they’re not there yet.

They woke up Monday — ahead of a series in Boston that will start with another Giolito start and end with another matchup against former mate Chris Sale — five games out of the second wild-card spot in the American League. That technically counts as being “in it,” though losing a series to the Texas Rangers over the weekend ought to provide some evidence that the White Sox are still mid-climb.

Rebuilding progress does not equal an immediate windfall of victories. As White Sox fans well know from the last two-plus seasons, processes like these take time. Sometimes they take a lot of time. Ask the first-place Houston Astros, who have been atop baseball’s mountain for several years now, but only after enduring 416 losses from 2011 to 2014. Another 100-loss season doesn’t seem to be a danger for these White Sox, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be in a pennant race, either.

That shouldn’t come as a disappointment, though. It should come as just the opposite, in fact. These White Sox are undoubtedly different — undoubtedly better — than the couple of White Sox teams that came before them. Don’t just look at the win-loss totals or take my word for it, ask someone who knows.

“One of the things that I notice is the constant fight,” said McCann, who spent the first five years of his big league career playing against the White Sox with the division-rival Detroit Tigers. “There were days playing against the Sox last year where — I don't want to say they didn't have fight — but we'd take a lead on them and say, ‘OK, we feel comfortable.’

“Now, I look at the scoreboard and we might be down 7-1 and I feel comfortable that we're going to make a comeback. So an outsider watching the team and now being an insider, a part of the team, it's a culture of complete buy-in. No one guy's more important than the other, and guys truly want their locker-mate to succeed. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of.

“Playing against them, I get to have conversations with guys. Not that I get to know people, but I get to see where they come from and how they view different things, just in a few conversations that we get to have. So I knew the talent that was here, it was just a matter of guys putting it all together. You're starting to see that.

“By no means is it a finished product, but in all reality, there's no team that's a finished product until they win Game 7 of the World Series. That's when you're a finished product.”

And things should only continue to progress as this season moves along. Dylan Cease is expected to join Collins as a much heralded prospect up from Triple-A Charlotte before summer’s end. Luis Robert continues to scorch minor league pitching at such a rate, that seeing him on the South Side before the end of the season isn’t a ridiculous thought, even if the more realistic route might be for the White Sox to wait until 2020 to give Robert his first taste of the majors. And of course, Giolito and Anderson and Moncada and Jimenez figure to keep developing in their own right and getting better as time moves along.

By the time 2020 rolls around, it looks like the puzzle could be complete enough to elevate the White Sox to true contender status. Giolito, Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, McCann, Collins, Cease, Robert, Kopech, Rodon. Maybe Nick Madrigal will arrive, maybe Jose Abreu will return, maybe Alex Colome will be too important a 2020 asset for Hahn to sell high on in 2019.

McCann should keep on feeling optimistic, and White Sox fans should, too. That bright future isn’t as far off as the word “future” might have made it seem over the past couple years. Even if it’s not here quite yet.

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After homering for his first MLB hit, Zack Collins was 'in shock'

After homering for his first MLB hit, Zack Collins was 'in shock'

The young players that figure to feature heavily in the future of the White Sox have had quite a week.

It started with Lucas Giolito being the first pitcher in the majors to reach 10 wins, then Eloy Jimenez blasted a big go-ahead home run in the ninth inning in his first crosstown game against the Cubs. Now, Zack Collins has added his own blast of optimism to the White Sox young core.

The 24-year-old made his first major league start on Friday in Texas and delivered a three-run home run in his first at-bat. It was his second MLB plate appearance after he drew a pinch-hit walk Wednesday in Wrigley.

After the White Sox beat the Rangers 5-4 in 10 innings, Collins talked to Jason Benetti and Steve Stone on the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast.

“Honestly I was just in shock,” Collins said. “I was running around the bases. It seemed like it lasted like three seconds and I felt myself sprinting around second so I had to slow it down and enjoy the moment, but it was an awesome time.”

Collins finished 1-for-5 with three strikeouts, but that is Collins’ game. He’s going to strikeout a lot and his batting average probably won’t be pretty. He has a career .234 batting average in the minors (.250 in Triple-A Charlotte this year), but he coupled that with a .378 on-base percentage and big power.

In his five trips to the plate on Friday, Collins saw 22 pitches. He’s going to work the count and sometimes he’s going to run into home runs.

“It was smooth,” Collins said. “I just kind of put the ball in play and the ball flew. I really don’t know. It was kind of a blur to me. It was obviously a big moment for me.”

Collins was called up Tuesday morning ahead of the first game against the Cubs. He didn’t play that game, but the pinch-hit walk on Wednesday helped take out some of the nerves.

“On Wednesday night I stepped up, I had a little bit of jitters, had a little bit of butterflies and stuff, but I think that was the point of getting in there on Wednesday and getting all that out,” Collins said. “It felt good tonight.”

Collins still hasn’t played catcher since he got called up. He was the DH in Friday’s lineup. That didn’t stop his dad from being excited about his first start.

“I was pumped,” Collins said of when he saw he was in the lineup. “I immediately texted my dad and told him I was in there. He told me good luck, play hard, do your thing. Obviously it started off well and we got a big win tonight so it was fun.”

As of the postgame interview, Collins didn’t yet have his home run ball. However, it sounded like he was able to make a deal with a fan for it.

“Somebody said they did get the ball,” Collins said. “I think I have to make a little trade with somebody.”

 

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