White Sox

Remember that guy? Chris Widger

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AP

Remember that guy? Chris Widger

Backup catchers for Chicago World Series teams have been in the news lately, so why not take the time to look back at the career at Chris Widger?

Christopher Jon Widger was born May 21, 1971, in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up in Pennsville, New Jersey, where he attended Pennsville High School, graduating in 1989. He started catching his senior year and played college baseball at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

The Seattle Mariners came calling in the third round of the 1992 MLB Draft, and Widger started his ascent to the major leagues. On June 23, 1995, he debuted for the Mariners in a 14-4 loss to the California Angels. He replaced Dan Wilson in the sixth inning, and his first big league plate appearance was a lineout against Mark Langston. One week later he picked up his first hit, a single off the Texas Rangers’ Kevin Gross. In his first start, Widger caught a shutout, a combined effort by Tim Belcher and Bobby Ayala. In all, Widger played 23 games in his first taste of major league action in 1995 and even appeared in five postseason games against the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians as the Mariners reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history. In 1996, Widger spent most of the season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he excelled at a .304/.355/.483 clip with 13 home runs in 97 games. He played eight games for the Mariners in August and September, going 2-for-11.

Widger got a fresh start north of the border when he was traded to the Montreal Expos in October 1996 along with pitchers Trey Moore and Matt Wagner in exchange for pitchers Jeff Fassero and Alex Pacheco. He went from catching Randy Johnson (OK, he caught him once in 1995) to catching Pedro Martinez (OK, he caught him only four times in 1997).

But at least Widger got a chance to play regularly. From 1997 to 2000, he appeared in a total of 436 games, more than 100 per year. He even hit double figures in home runs in 1998, 1999 and 2000 with 15, 14 and 13, respectively. In August 1999, Widger homered in four straight games, tying an Expos franchise record that still stands with the Washington Nationals. In August 2000, Widger was sent back to the Mariners for players to be named later, who turned out to be Sean Spencer and Termel Sledge. Unfortunately, Widger missed nearly all of 2001 with a shoulder injury and headed into free agency with an uncertain future.

In 2001, Widger’s sister Toni tragically passed away from complications with medications to treat a staph infection. She left behind five young girls including a set of quadruplets. Chris returned to Pennsville and built a new house, allowing his sister’s husband, Mike, and five children to move into the old house. Chris and his wife, Theresa, helped out with the kids when they could. Luckily, he signed a deal with the nearby Yankees for the 2002 season, but he had to work his way from Triple-A Columbus first.

Widger had limited major league opportunities over the next few seasons, appearing in 21 games for the Yankees in 2002 and 44 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. He was out of the majors altogether in 2004.

It was during that 2004 season where Widger found himself playing in a fast-pitch softball league, then later for the Camden Riversharks in the Independent Atlantic League, only about 30 minutes from home. In 55 games, he hit .267/.336/.574 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs, which earned him an invitation to spring training with the White Sox for 2005. Widger made the team and backed up A.J. Pierzynski during the White Sox improbable march to a World Series victory. He chipped in a .241/.296/.383 slash line with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 45 games for the champs. His most memorable moment was his home run off Randy Johnson on Aug. 21, 2005, the fourth home run off the future Hall of Famer that inning. It was one of only three times the Big Unit allowed four homers in a game in his legendary career.

Widger saw one game of postseason action in 2005. He caught the last five innings of Game 3 of the World Series, a 14-inning marathon. He went 0-for-1 with a pair of walks, including one with the bases loaded in the 14th to give the Sox a 7-5 lead. When Mark Buehrle came in to record his one-out save, Widger was behind the dish.

All good things eventually come to an end, and Widger was released by the White Sox in July 2006. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles shortly thereafter and finished up his big league career with nine final games.

In 10 major league season, Widger played in 613 games with a .238 batting average, 55 home runs and 222 RBIs. He ranks seventh in home runs among major leaguers born in Delaware (Paul Goldschmidt has lapped the field with 243). Four of his final 11 career home runs were off pitchers who won a Cy Young Award: Chris Carpenter, Tom Glavine, Barry Zito and Johnson.

Widger returned to baseball in 2012, taking a job as an assistant coach at his old high school. The following year, he returned to the Riversharks, who in 2004 had given him a chance to work his way back to the majors. He served as the Riversharks' pitching coach for two years under manager Ron Karkovice before taking over as manager in 2015. The Riversharks left Camden after the 2015 season.

Widger’s next job in baseball was as the bench coach for the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, from 2016 to 2018. He remains with the Royals and recently completed his first season as the manager for the Burlington Royals, a rookie-ball team in the Appalachian League. He went 39-29.

Chris Widger. You remember that guy.

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Could the Price be right for a big White Sox move?

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USA TODAY

Could the Price be right for a big White Sox move?

SAN DIEGO — The White Sox still need two pitchers, and the pool of free-agent options is shrinking.

Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, the two names at the tippy top of the starting-pitching market, might never have been true possibilities for the White Sox, but they sure won’t be now, each signed to a massive deal at this week’s Winter Meetings.

Zack Wheeler spurned the White Sox and their high bid to take less money and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. Jordan Lyles is now a Texas Ranger. Tanner Roark is now a Toronto Blue Jay. Josh Lindblom is now a Milwaukee Brewer. Michael Wacha is now a New York Met.

Yes, the options still out there remain attractive. Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel or Hyun-Jin Ryu would do the job of firing up the fan base and pairing with Lucas Giolito atop the South Side starting staff. But those are just three pitchers. And there are a lot of teams on the hunt for starting pitching.

Of course, it’s also not that simple. Hahn might have said this in talking about losing out on Wheeler: “You either get the guy or you don't. When you don't, you move on to the next one.” But it’s not as easy as just moving down to the next biggest name on the free-agent market.

“Any guy we target is because we feel strongly that they fit in for the long term, in terms of a big-ticket free-agent acquisition that we feel is going to help make us better throughout the good portion of this upcoming window,” the general manager said Wednesday. “There does come a point on any list, whether it's after the third guy or after the sixth guy or after the 10th guy, where you're no longer describing that type of player. So it's up to us to figure out how quickly we drift into that group.”

The price tags are getting high for these pitchers, and Hahn admitted that the prognosticators missed the mark a bit when it came to predicting the massive paydays Cole, Strasburg and Wheeler received. Those big deals could drive up the price on the Bumgarners and the Keuchels and the Ryus.

It’s not that the White Sox are incapable of spending in that area — they reportedly offered more than $120 million for Wheeler’s services — they just might not be as enamored with those options as folks on the outside might be.

Hahn is still committed to the idea that “the money will be spent,” though he’s not 100-percent committed to it all being spent in one place.

“I think it would be awfully foolish to say we're going to go out and spend whatever the amount of the offer (to Manny Machado) was immediately,” he said. “The point of that comment was there's other ways for us to allocate this money, and it's going to be allocated toward player acquisitions.

“You could argue some of it went to (Yasmani) Grandal, you could argue some of it went to the Eloy (Jimenez) extension or re-signing (Jose) Abreu or whatever we have coming down the pipe next.

“That offer was over an eight- to 10-year period, so to say it's all going out the door in Year 1 just because it's sitting there, maybe, but it's got to be for the right players.”

But does the right player exist anymore? Wheeler certainly seemed to be that for the White Sox, but he’s off the board and they still need two arms. It might be time to get creative.

What about David Price?

Hahn’s been throwing the spotlight on trades this week, talking at length Wednesday about an intriguing proposal the front office was considering, one that might not line up perfectly with the White Sox rebuilding plans.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Tuesday that multiple teams have targeted Price, the Boston Red Sox playoff hero who is still owed a whopping $96 million over the next three seasons. The Red Sox, interested in ridding themselves of salary, could attach him to another player to incentivize a team to take that contract off their hands.

This is where the White Sox could come in. They have the financial flexibility to eat up Price’s remaining dollars. And they’d probably be pretty interested in acquiring one of Boston’s bats to stick in the middle of their lineup. The Red Sox have a lot of hitters who could be of use to the White Sox, but certainly Andrew Beninitendi comes to mind. He’s under club control for three more years, and while his addition would probably require a bit of realignment in the outfield, it’d be a good one to the South Side batting order.

The 34-year-old Price, meanwhile, wouldn’t exactly be, from a production standpoint, the high-quality add to the starting staff that other, still-available arms would be. He had a 4.28 ERA in 2019, the second highest of his career and his highest in a decade, even though he had positive stretches during the Red Sox otherwise miserable World Series hangover.

There are more concerning elements with Price, too. NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase writing last week: “He's no longer a 200-inning pitcher. His elbow could blow. He considers himself a great teammate, but he consistently brings negativity into the clubhouse, which multiple rival executives have noted warily. He's too expensive. He hasn't made an All-Star team or earned a Cy Young vote since 2015. He's past his prime.”

Certainly none of that is terribly appealing.

But the White Sox need pitching. They need it. They can’t go into next season with what they’ve got or we’ll see the same parade of ineffective fill ins that we saw in 2019. Price might not be Cole. He might not be Wheeler. He definitely is preferable to Manny Banuelos and Odrisamer Despaigne.

And if he brings Benintendi with him? What if he brings J.D. Martinez with him? What if he brings Mookie Betts with him? Well, you can probably forget about Betts, the White Sox not at all interested in trading their top-flight prospects for one year of anyone, but the other two are worth thinking about.

There’s another element to all this: the return cost. When discussing that mysteriously appealing trade offer Wednesday, Hahn alluded to the popularity of the White Sox prospects. That comes as no surprise. What does is that the White Sox would consider trading any of them away. It’s near impossible to envision Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal or Michael Kopech going anywhere. But what about Andrew Vaughn? Or Dane Dunning?

It’s all speculative at the moment, of course. But the White Sox pitching need isn’t going to go away until they make some moves. Other teams are doing just that, making Hahn’s job harder by the minute.

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Hawk Harrelson joins Hall of Fame

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Hawk Harrelson joins Hall of Fame

SportsTalk Live is on location at Day 3 of the MLB Winter Meetings.

0:00- Chuck Garfien, Vinnie Duber and Scott Merkin join David Kaplan to react to Hawk Harrelson making the Hall of Fame. Plus, they share their thoughts the Nomar Mazara trade and what may be next for the White Sox this winter.

10:00- Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer joins Kap and Tony Andracki to talk about the Cubs slow offseason and the importance of staying under the luxury tax. Hoyer also responds to Anthony Rizzo's agent's comment that the team will not be signing the first baseman to an extension this offseason.

19:00- Kap, Chuck, Vinnie and Tony discuss Gerrit Cole's record contract with the Yankees.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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