White Sox

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Detroit Tigers

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Detroit Tigers

As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

The Tigers, somehow, finished with a better record than the White Sox last season.

Despite Miguel Cabrera playing in just 38 games, despite them no longer having Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer, despite them losing an identical 98 games the year prior, the Tigers did win two more contests than the South Siders in 2018. That, perhaps, had something to do with the 12 wins they had in the 19 head-to-head matchups, a winning record against the White Sox powered almost single-handedly by Nicholas Castellanos, who crushed South Side pitching last season. In those 19 games, he slashed .363/.414/.625 with 29 hits, six doubles, five homers and 29 RBIs. He's the newest Sox killer, and though his name was included in many a rumor this offseason, he didn't go anywhere. Castellanos' bashing of the White Sox was part of a nice .298/.354/.500 season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see his name floated around again at the trade deadline.

Unfortunately for the now-rebuilding Tigers, Castellanos is perhaps the lone bright spot on this squad.

They got some tough news Tuesday, when No. 1 starting pitcher Michael Fulmer was recommended to have Tommy John surgery, an outcome that would wipe out his 2019 season. Fulmer didn't put up terrific numbers last season, right on par with currently uninjured starters Matthew Boyd and Jordan Zimmermann, who had 4.39 and 4.52 ERAs, respectively, in 2018. Detroit's got a pair of unexciting newcomers in their rotation, too, free-agent signings Matt Moore and Tyson Ross. Moore had an ERA near 7.00 in just 12 appearances last season, while Ross fared far better out of the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen than he did in the San Diego Padres' rotation.

Of course, the Tigers still have Cabrera, who as mentioned missed most of the 2018 season. He was faring far better than he did in 2017 before he got hurt, with an on-base percentage up around .400. But given the amount of missed time, it's not like he's bounced back from that ugly 2017, a .249 average, a .329 on-base percentage and just 16 homers, quite yet. While Cabrera is a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer, he could be standing in the way of the Tigers making headway in their rebuilding effort, as he'll be making at least $30 million a year for the next five seasons.

But the rest of the lineup, even with a solid offseason addition in Josh Harrison, doesn't look terribly potent. Former Cubs prospect Jeimer Candelario was OK in his first full season in the bigs, hitting 19 homers but only posting a .224/.317/.393 slash line. Niko Goodrum? About the same. JaCoby Jones? Just a .207/.266/.364 line. Prospect outfielder Christin Stewart (probably not the star of the "Twilight" movies) had an .844 OPS in Triple-A last season.

Nothing terribly imposing there.

What the Tigers do have is a trio of highly rated pitching prospects, all ranked in the top 100 prospects in baseball. They're a ways away but could make for one heck of a 2021 rotation. Casey Mize was the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft and is now the No. 17 prospect in the game. Matt manning is the No. 52 prospect in baseball, and Franklin Perez is No. 78. But again, they're not going to be showing up this year.

And so there's not much for Motor City baseball fans to get excited about. At least they've got the entire Motown catalog to listen to this summer.

2018 record: 64-98, fourth place in AL Central

Offseason additions: Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Matt Moore, Tyson Ross

Offseason departures: Victor Martinez, James McCann, Francisco Liriano, Jose Iglesias

X-factor: Harrison wasn't awesome last season. He played in only 97 games and reached base at a sub-.300 clip. But he's just two seasons removed from his second career All-Star appearance, when he slashed .272/.339/.432 with a career-high 16 homers in 2017. Harrison brings infield versatility and if he can bounce back from last season, he can provide a boost to the Tigers' lineup. Yeah, it might be a reach, but there's not a lot to go on with these Tigers.

Projected lineup:

1. Josh Harrison, 2B
2. Nicholas Castellanos, RF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
5. Christin Stewart, LF
6. Niko Goodrum, DH
7. Jordy Mercer, SS
8. Grayson Greiner, C
9. JaCoby Jones, CF

Projected rotation:

1. Matthew Boyd
2. Jordan Zimmermann
3. Tyson Ross
4. Matt Moore
5. Daniel Norris

Prediction: Fourth place in AL Central, no playoffs

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What baseball's extension trend — now starring Mike Trout — means for the White Sox rebuild and future free-agent pursuits

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USA TODAY

What baseball's extension trend — now starring Mike Trout — means for the White Sox rebuild and future free-agent pursuits

Baseball's hottest club is "Extension."

With back-to-back winters of free-agency frustration and changes to the collective-bargaining agreement (if not something much worse) looming, some of baseball's biggest names are saying "forget it" to what was once the ultimate goal of every player: reaching free agency and cashing in for big bucks. But you see it now, unless you're Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, that path has become a very risky one. Even a Cy Young winner like Dallas Keuchel can't find a job. Same goes for Craig Kimbrel, one of baseball's best closers and a guy potentially on his way to the Hall of Fame.

And so the extension craze is sweeping the game. If your current team is willing to hand out massive dollars, why risk jumping ship? Take the money. Take the security. Especially when these contracts are of the record-breaking variety.

The latest member of the club is the best player in baseball. Mike Trout reportedly agreed to a 10-year extension with the Los Angeles Angels. Throw in the two years and roughly $70 million remaining on his current contract, and he'll make $430 million over the next 12 years.

Trout's new deal follows the one Nolan Arenado took with the Colorado Rockies last month, the one that will net him $260 million over the next eight years. That came just a few years after Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million with his then-current team, the Miami Marlins. He was traded to the New York Yankees after the first three years of that contract and will be in pinstripes through the 2027 season.

Those guys are three of the best players in the game, but these kinds of deals aren't limited to only the most elite talents/brands in baseball. This offseason featured "stay with your current club" deals for Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies), Luis Severino (Yankees), Aaron Hicks (Yankees) and Miles Mikolas (St. Louis Cardinals). Next year's free-agent class is set to be absolutely loaded, but Arenado's already taken himself out of it. Hicks won't be a part of it, either. Given this trend, there's speculation Chris Sale might not hit that market and instead sign a new contract with the Boston Red Sox. Same for Anthony Rendon and the Washington Nationals. And here's a thought: Now that Trout has a monster deal in hand, what will that mean for the other guy who was set to break the bank after the 2020 season, Mookie Betts, the reigning AL MVP? Is there a possibility that a free-agent class assumed to star two of baseball's biggest names now might not contain either?

And that's why this all applies to the White Sox.

No, Trout sticking with the Angels doesn't have some dramatic impact on the White Sox ability to compete for championships in the future, nor does any single one of these extensions in isolation. But as part of his ongoing rebuilding project, Rick Hahn wants to add a premium talent from outside the organization. It's been part of the plan all along. There were opportunities to do that this offseason with Machado and Harper, but those two are playing elsewhere. Those weren't the last opportunities. There will be others in offseasons and at trade deadlines to come.

But this trend of extensions could limit those opportunities.

Arenado was at the top of the wishlist for many White Sox fans, but he's not going anywhere until at least after the 2021 season and he might stay in Denver through the length of his contract, through the 2026 season. Rendon, then, looks like a fine alternative, a third baseman who has been excellent in recent seasons, with a .305/.389/.534 slash line, 49 homers and 192 RBIs in the last two years. Well, if he decides to stay in D.C., there goes the opportunity to add him to the mix on the South Side. Sale might have no interest in coming back to the White Sox, but no matter how realistic his return is or isn't, if he takes himself off the market, that dramatically shifts the starting-pitching market in free agency next offseason, a market the White Sox could be looking to be a part of.

So whether these extension signers or extension candidates are White Sox targets or not, their avoidance of the free-agent market will have its consequences for Hahn's front office.

It's worth noting, though, as Stanton and the Marlins showed, these extensions do not mean all these players will remain with the team they sign with. Trades could become an even more common way to acquire the game's best players after they cash in for their big-money deals. In that area, the White Sox could find more opportunities. After all, Hahn has built a talent-packed farm system, and trading from a position of depth — such as the outfield, where seven of their top 11 prospects play — could end up being the way in which the White Sox get their premium talent from outside the organization.

Trout might not have been in the cards for the White Sox two offseasons from now, so news of his high-priced extension might have made no difference to the team on the South Side. But he's joining in a trend — and now setting a new bar with this record deal — that could have big effects on which players the White Sox will even have the opportunity to pursue in the coming years. And because building a contender solely out of homegrown players is just about impossible, that's a big deal.

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