White Sox

Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Nelson Cruz: Reports link White Sox to more free agents

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USA TODAY

Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Nelson Cruz: Reports link White Sox to more free agents

CARLSBAD, Calif. — The links between the White Sox and big-name free agents keep on coming.

A day after MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported that the South Siders were interested in this offseason's top two free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, he added two more big names to the list of potential targets: starting pitchers Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ.

Much like his reasoning for the White Sox being candidates to land Harper and/or Machado — that they have one of baseball's smallest payrolls and "need a new face of the franchise" — Morosi's reasoning for why the White Sox would be interested in the services of Corbin and/or Happ doesn't make a ton of sense on its own. The innings total of Carlos Rodon and the ERA of Lucas Giolito are not reasons why the White Sox are shopping for starting pitching. Michael Kopech's recovery from Tommy John surgery and James Shields' departure are the reasons the White Sox are in the market for additions to their rotation.

But additions the caliber of Corbin and Happ could have something to do with how the White Sox view their crop of starting pitchers in the long term. In the short term, they need two arms to go every fifth day in 2019. In the long term, though, signing proven starters to multi-year contracts could provide a safety net for Kopech when he returns from recovery and Dylan Cease or Dane Dunning when they eventually hit the major and get their first tastes of big league ball. Having Corbin, for example, at the front end of a rotation could decrease the load that would need to be shouldered by an inexperienced pitcher on a potential contender.

The 29-year-old Corbin is perhaps the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market after Clayton Kershaw opted to skip free agency and reup with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Corbin was an All Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018, finishing the season with a 3.15 ERA and a career-high 246 strikeouts. He's expected to get a big contract (possibly from the New York Yankees) and would line up with a team looking to make a big addition not just for 2019 but for a long time beyond that, for example, when the White Sox plan to field a perennial contender.

Happ, meanwhile, is an Illinois native who attended Northwestern. He just turned 36, meaning he might be more of a short-term option. But he was very good after a midseason trade to the Yankees last season, when he had a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts.

But that's not all. While it's no surprise the rebuilding White Sox are shopping for pitching this winter, it's significantly more unexpected to see them linked to a 38-year-old designated hitter.

Nelson Cruz seems like the opposite of the kind of player the White Sox would be looking to acquire, as he has little versatility (he hasn't played more than five games in the outfield in each of the past two seasons) and would figure to be no part of a long-term plan given his age. Cruz spent the last four seasons with the Seattle Mariners and was incredibly productive for the majority of that time, but his numbers dipped last season, most glaringly with a .256 batting average that was his lowest in more than a decade.

That being said, the White Sox could potentially buy low and hope Cruz returns to form in the first few months of the 2019 season, in which case they might be able to flip him in a rebuild-advancing trade.

But with Rick Hahn talking so much about moves that would improve the White Sox in the long term Tuesday at the GM Meetings, the link to Cruz comes off as a bit of a head-scratcher.

Manny Machado tries to clear up 'Johnny Hustle' comments

Manny Machado tries to clear up 'Johnny Hustle' comments

Whether or not front offices across baseball cared much about Manny Machado's comments about not being "Johnny Hustle," one of the biggest fish in this winter's free-agent pond has tried to clarify the remarks that have gone a good way toward defining his offseason to this point.

For those who might not remember, Machado, who reportedly has interest from the White Sox, made big headlines during the playoffs, when after getting criticized for not running out a ground ball, he made the optics so much worse by telling The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal that he'll never be "Johnny Hustle" and that hustling "isn't my cup of tea." That was a scene right out of a public-relations person's nightmare, but it wasn't all that Machado did wrong during the postseason. He also caused mini controversies by interfering with a pair of double-play turns and dragging his foot over the leg of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar.

All those antics combined to make Machado a sort of postseason villain, though he also displayed the incredible talent with the bat and glove that has made him one of the best players in baseball.

But while time supposedly heals all wounds, the "Johnny Hustle" comments have lingered into the offseason, with former players — A.J. Pierzynski being one of them — joining the ranks of those unhappy with an apparent non-hustler. Hence, perhaps, the need for Machado to clear things up, which he did in an interview with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

"When I was asked that question, I was definitely on the defensive, and I was wrong to answer it the way that I did, because looking back, it doesn't come across how I meant it," Machado said in the interview. "For me, I was trying to talk about how I'm not the guy who is eye wash. There's a difference between fake hustle for show and being someone who tries hard to win. I've always been the guy who does whatever he can to win for his team.

"But I know how I said it and how that came across, and it's something I take responsibility for. I look forward to talking with each GM and owner that we meet with about that, or any other questions they have."

Again, there's no knowing how Machado's words and actions impacted the thinking of general managers and front offices. Teams have been known to value on-field production over players' perceived attitudes in the past. Only New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, whose team seem to be one of the most likely landing spots for Machado, has had something to say about Machado's comments, specifically "that ain't going to sell where we play baseball."

But for the White Sox, specifically, it has made for an interesting situation. Vocal fans on Twitter long coveted Machado to be the big-money addition to the White Sox rebuilding effort, but the tone changed noticeably during the playoffs, with fans much preferring the South Siders shop elsewhere (and the rumor connecting them to Bryce Harper probably helped). And then there's manager Rick Renteria, who while he would surely appreciate the addition of a talent like Machado to his roster, made many a decision during the 2018 season to bench his players for not hustling out ground balls, pop ups and line outs. How would Machado fit into that culture, which the White Sox praise at every opportunity and committed to enough to give Renteria a contract extension?

Of course, it's important to remember that those poorly worded comments about hustling are hardly the only blemish in Machado's otherwise sensational career. He's had several on-field incidents that ended in the throwing of helmets and bats, and he had an infamous spikes-up slide into Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. His feud with the Red Sox — who just last month defeated him and his Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series — even featured former White Sox pitcher Chris Sale delivering some pitches, let's say, well outside the strike zone.

It makes complete sense that a guy aiming to receive one of the richest contracts in baseball history would try to go on the PR offensive, and it's also believable that those original comments didn't tell the whole story about Machado's approach to the game. The results, of course, speak for themselves, and the four All-Star selections, three top-10 MVP finishes and two Gold Gloves all came before his career year in 2018: a .297/.367/.538 slash line with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs, all career highs.

But whether it's to front offices or just fans, Machado feels he's got some clarifying to do. Maybe he won't be "Johnny Hustle" anytime soon, but he's out to prove he's far from the opposite.

White Sox pitching prospect Ian Clarkin goes to Cubs on waivers

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AP

White Sox pitching prospect Ian Clarkin goes to Cubs on waivers

Ian Clarkin, one of the return pieces in the seven-player swap with the New York Yankees in 2017, is no longer with the White Sox organization after being picked up by the Cubs on waivers Tuesday.

Clarkin, a 23-year-old left-hander, was no longer ranked as one of the top 30 prospects in the White Sox loaded farm system.

He split time between Class A Winston-Salm and Double-A Birmingham in 2018, struggling at the latter stop to the tune of a 5.64 ERA in 68.2 innings. He made 18 appearances there, only 10 of which were starts.

The deal that sent David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier to the Bronx was the biggest of a flurry of trades made by the White Sox in the summer of 2017. But after Clarkin's departure to the other side of town, outfield prospect Blake Rutherford is the only member of the four-player return package still with the White Sox organization. Major league reliever Tyler Clippard was dealt to the Houston Astros later that same season. Outfield prospect Tito Polo became a minor league free agent this offseason. And now Clarkin is gone on waivers.

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