White Sox

Reynaldo Lopez finishes season strong, but questions will linger throughout offseason

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez finishes season strong, but questions will linger throughout offseason

That was the Reynaldo Lopez the White Sox want to see.

Lopez was terrific in his final start of the 2019 season Saturday, giving up just one run in eight innings of work. He struck out nine and threw four consecutive hitless innings in the middle of the game. The White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers handily in the first game of a final-weekend doubleheader, and everything was sunshine and lollipops.

The problem for Lopez, of course, is that kind of outing was never a guarantee during the 2019 campaign. After a miserable first half, the second half was certainly better, but after a positive stretch out of the All-Star break, it seemed the White Sox never knew what they were going to get from the promising young right-hander. As much as it was possible for him to turn in a gem like Saturday’s, it was equally possible for him to stumble.

The final two outings of his season told the story of his season, really. Both came against the same Tigers team. But last weekend in Detroit, Lopez was so off — missing the much-discussed focus — that manager Rick Renteria made his lone mound visit since having rotator cuff surgery to make sure Lopez knew he was pitching in that game. It was some of the most critical verbiage we’ve ever seen from the South Side skipper.

But then Lopez went out and dazzled Saturday, showing the potential that’s had him discussed as a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher.

“Today was a great finish and beginning at the same time going into the offseason and getting ready for the upcoming year,” Renteria said Saturday. “It was nice to see him come back and do what he did. We're very optimistic as to what he is for us moving forward.

“That's the kind of start he can have on a consistent basis. You take 30 starts during the year, 32 starts, whatever the case might be, you have 10 good ones, you might have 10 squeaky ones and then the other 10 are the ones that you kind of try to work through.

“Certainly, you can see the stuff that he has and what he brings to the table. We're optimistic that that's kind of the guy we want to see and I think the guy he is.”

So what Lopez will show up in 2020? And more importantly, can the White Sox, looking to make a transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode, afford to let him continue to fluctuate so wildly? If the games start meaning more, how long can they put up with such inconsistencies?

Lopez figures to get an opportunity, with general manager Rick Hahn saying during his end-of-season press conference Friday that Lopez should join Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease as members of the 2020 rotation. But there are some moving parts that makes that far from an Opening Day guarantee.

Michael Kopech will return from Tommy John surgery, though it’s been hinted he could begin the season in the minors if he needs to work his way back. And the White Sox have starting pitching on their offseason shopping list. If multiple additions to the rotation are made, spots could be hard to come by. Even if Lopez finds a way into the rotation out of spring training, Kopech is just one of several White Sox pitchers planned to return from Tommy John in 2020, perhaps providing late-season reinforcements — and in-season competition for Lopez.

So whether it’s because of the White Sox entering a more winning mode or increased competition on that starting staff, the stakes figure to be higher for Lopez next season. And he knows it.

“Ricky has said that, the pitching coach has said that. We are going to be much better next year. We all have to be prepared for that,” Lopez said Saturday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I have to be prepared to do a better job. ... I just need to be better. That’s going to be my focus.

“The results are going to speak for themselves. They will be the ones who will say what kind of pitcher I’m going to be.”

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White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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