White Sox

Should the White Sox trade James McCann?


Should the White Sox trade James McCann?

Here’s a question that made no sense as recently as mid November: Should the White Sox trade James McCann?

Then Yasmani Grandal came along, secured the No. 1 catcher’s job for the next four years, and suddenly McCann’s future, short-term instead of long-term, became a relevant discussion topic.

With Grandal behind the plate for the foreseeable future and Edwin Encarnacion — whose one-year free-agent deal with the South Siders has been reported but not announced — stepping in as the team’s primary designated hitter, that doesn’t leave a ton of starts for a guy who earned such a role with his performance in 2019. It might make him seem expendable, or at the very least a primo trade chip.

And indeed, a surplus of All-Star catchers sounds like an area Rick Hahn could deal from in order to get his ready-to-contend roster in even better shape as spring training approaches. The general manager said his focus would be on bolstering the bullpen now that he’s made so many additions elsewhere, and what better way to acquire a top-notch relief arm or two — or a platoon partner to go along with Nomar Mazara in right field — than by dangling an All-Star backstop?

Obviously, as Hahn has made a habit of mentioning, hypothetical trades depend on what the White Sox receive in return. If Hahn can get the bullpen improvement he seeks, maybe that deal gets done. When assessing whether that sort of return is possible, McCann's trade value will undoubtedly be affected by his second-half dip in production and the fact that he's slated to hit free agency following the 2020 season.

But here’s the thing: McCann, not traded, has plenty of value to the White Sox as they look to compete for a playoff spot in 2020.

Acquiring Grandal was, in part, such a good move, despite McCann’s presence, because it provided a reliability that McCann couldn’t. Despite an All-Star first half in 2019 (a .316/.371/.502 slash line), he didn’t produce at that level after the break (a .226/.281/.413 slash line). His second-half numbers were far more in line with what he did for five seasons as a Detroit Tiger than what he did in a few months with the White Sox.

Grandal brings a resume of consistent offensive production, and he puts up strong defensive numbers. Framing might not be a valuable trait for much longer, should the robot revolution reach the umpiring ranks, but while it is, Grandal ranks highly in the category and McCann ranks near the bottom.

Certainly there’s some level of disappointment for McCann, who in 2019 was the first All-Star catcher on the South Side since A.J. Pierzynski. But McCann is one of those team-first guys the White Sox seem to have in droves these days, the kind of guy who will tell an assemblage of reporters that he’ll play shortstop if the team wants him to — don't worry, there’s no chance the White Sox will want McCann to play shortstop. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Jose Abreu from taking grounders there before every game.

McCann established himself as a leader for the 89-loss White Sox last season with an unparalleled work ethic that earned rave reviews from current and former teammates alike. His work as a game-planner was cited as a tremendous benefit to a young pitching staff, and he earned plaudits for his role in Lucas Giolito’s remarkable turnaround that sent the pitcher to the All-Star Game alongside his battery mate.

Those leadership skills don’t have to go away just because McCann’s no longer at the top of the depth chart, either. You might remember a certain backup catcher who played a significant role on a championship team in this city. If you don’t know who I’m referring to, just drive up to the North Side and see whose name is on the manager’s office.

The point being that having two really good catchers is better than having one, and if you're a team fighting for a spot in the playoffs, having an All-Star catcher behind the plate every day is better than having an All-Star catcher behind the plate five out of six days.

“I’m sure he’s (saying) ‘Gosh, we just signed a guy and gave him a multiple-year contract. Where do I fit?’ Well, I made him understand,” manager Rick Renteria said of McCann after the White Sox signed Grandal. “The conversation we had was, he knows how I feel about him. The whole organization knows how I feel about him. I love Mac, and I think that this addition does not detract from who he is and what he brings to the table as White Sox.

"I wanted him to know that we’re going to make this work. I think that all players when you make a change or add, they deserve to have a conversation with the man that is putting the lineup together. I just said, ‘Listen, don’t worry about it. This will work itself out.’ It will. It always does. Things happen and right now this is a move that the organization felt that could us in a better position moving forward.”

McCann remains a veteran catcher who works well with the pitching staff and showed — if not for as long as he would’ve liked — that he can swing the bat. Sounds like a description of an ideal No. 2 catcher, no?

Maybe someone rings up Hahn and presents him with a deal that brings back tremendous value to the bullpen or an attractive bat to go along with Mazara. Maybe he feels good enough about Zack Collins' potential as a No. 2 catcher in the big leagues that pulling the trigger on such a trade wouldn't be all that difficult. But McCann seems to be the perfect No. 2 catcher on a very good team, and that's what the White Sox are trying to be as they shift out of rebuilding mode and into contending mode. And so keeping him as a part of that transition makes an awful lot of sense.

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After two busy years with Joe Maddon, 'beautiful man' Steve Cishek ready for more with White Sox

After two busy years with Joe Maddon, 'beautiful man' Steve Cishek ready for more with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Joe Maddon called on Steve Cishek an awful lot during the right-handed reliever’s two years on the North Side.

Cishek wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“You get paid a lot of money to play this game, I want to make sure that I’m keeping up my value,” Cishek said Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. “You get paid to go out there and pitch and perform. I take a lot of pride in that, I want to make sure I’m going out there and giving everything I possibly have. Hopefully my teammates and organization reap the benefits of that.

“That’s always been my approach. I always try to make myself available. I prepare every day and take care of my body to the best of my ability using the staff that we have to hopefully give the manager the option to use me during the game.”

Cishek’s pitching on the South Side now, one of the many veterans Rick Hahn’s front office brought in to complement the young core and build realistic postseason expectations for the 2020 campaign. During his two years with the Cubs, Maddon called on Cishek a combined 150 times. In 2018, only one pitcher in baseball, Brad Ziegler, made more appearances. In 2019, Cishek again ranked in the top 25.

That’s a lot, but it never seemed to make Cishek any less effective: In those two seasons, he had a combined 2.55 ERA.

While plenty have suggested that Maddon's use of Cishek had some sort of detrimental effect on the pitcher, as Cishek's words illuminate, he’s always game to head to the mound. That attitude is what made Maddon use Cishek so much. It’s what made Maddon love the guy.

“'Shek is one of the finest teammates you’re ever going to find,” Maddon, now managing the Los Angeles Angels, said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. “I love him because he’s so durable, but he’ll tell you when he needs a day, which is important. He’s fearless.

“This guy, you’ve got to be careful because he’ll keep wanting to go out. This guy wants to play all the time. So you have to have a conversation to know when he needs a day.

“But he’s a beautiful man, and I’m going to miss him.”

It’s hard to find many better compliments than that. When told about what his former skipper said, Cishek laughed and said: “Thanks, Joe.”

But even though Cishek is no longer playing for Maddon and the Cubs, he’s ready to continue the same kind of thing he was doing up north. Rick Renteria can expect to have at his disposal a pitcher who’s ready to go every day.

“That’s what the offseason’s for. I don’t really mess around much. I prepare and try to get my body to endure a long season,” Cishek said. “I do everything that I’m able to do because I don’t want to go out there and not be able to perform or be hurt, not able to help the team win. So that’s what I focus on when I prepare for these games.”

Cishek figures to be a big factor at the back end of the White Sox bullpen in 2020, someone who can provide durability and reliability to a unit, regardless of team, that could always use more of that.

The White Sox bullpen was pretty good in 2019 and returns many of the arms that made it that way: Aaron Bummer, Alex Colome, Jimmy Cordero and Evan Marshall. But as Hahn will tell you, there’s a good deal of volatility with relief pitching. So bringing in someone with Cishek’s track record of not just pitching a lot but pitching a lot and pitching well figures to be a successful addition.

“You always anticipate a good result when he pitches,” Maddon said. “Always.”

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The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Home runs simply don’t sound like this.

“We were all in awe.”

Those who were there say they’ve never seen one hit like this, either.

“It just disappeared into the night. The ball just kept on truckin’.”

Last August, White Sox prized outfield prospect Luis Robert grabbed a brand new bat in the Charlotte Knights dugout. From the on-deck circle, he joked to his teammates he was going to hit a home run.

“Because when I get a new bat I usually hit homers,” Robert said.

What happened next on this memorable night in Durham, N.C., only adds to the legend of Robert. He is still in the infancy of his young baseball career, but is already telling a special, even mythical story that will soon be adding many chapters when he makes his major league debut this spring in Chicago.

Those who witnessed Robert completely obliterate this one helpless baseball say they will never forget what they saw. They’re still talking about it six months later.

“I think everyone just looked at each other like, did that really just happen?” said Nick Madrigal, who was standing on first base.

Robert’s towering home run went so far into the darkness, nobody has any idea where it actually landed, which is even more perplexing considering what stands in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Triple-A stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

First, there’s a 32-foot high fence they call the Blue Monster, named after the famous Green Monster at Fenway Park. Beyond that, there’s a concourse and concession area. And even beyond that, stands a massive 25-foot high snorting bull, made famous in the 1988 movie, "Bull Durham."

Durham Bulls players win a free steak whenever they hit the bull with a home run.

Robert’s homer sailed high over everything: the fence, the concession stand, even the enormous bull. Nothing but gravity could stop it.

“That was honestly the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He should have gotten a steak for hitting it over the bull,” catcher Zack Collins said.

Robert believes it was the hardest contact he made on a baseball last year. Watching as the ball left the stadium (and possibly the city of Durham) in a heartbeat, his teammates aren’t going to disagree with him.

“One thing that stands out about that home run is how fast it got out. It got out in what felt like a matter of seconds,” Madrigal said. “It was still going by the time it got over the bull. That was one of the hardest hit home runs I’ve ever seen.”

Everyone in the ballpark watched in awe as the ball rocketed into infinity, everyone except Robert, of all people.

“When I hit that ball, I didn’t follow it. I didn’t know how far the ball went,” Robert explained through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Then my teammates told me how far it went and then I saw the video and I was impressed with myself. I saw in the news that they didn’t know if the ball has landed yet.”

Maybe it still hasn’t.

“The pitcher knew it immediately,” said Danny Mendick, who was playing shortstop that night. “And everyone (on the Bulls) just put their head down and was like, ‘Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen.’”

Robert began to realize the sheer enormity of his home run as soon as he trotted to first base.

“I remember I was running the bases and the first baseman said, ‘Damn bro,’” Robert said. “And the Latinos from the other team were saying, ‘You are an abusador.’”

That’s Spanish for the word “beast.”

“What I remember about that game was that homer. He hit the ball really high and it was over the bull,” said Yoan Moncada, who happened to be on a rehab assignment and batted in front of Robert that night. “It was impressive. When I played in Triple-A, I didn’t see anybody hit a homer like that.”

Which begs the question: has anyone ever hit a ball that far at that ballpark?

Scott Strickland is the assistant general manager of operations for the Durham Bulls. He’s worked there for 16 years. Is Robert’s home run the farthest ball he’s ever seen hit there?

“Yes. I would agree with that. I would absolutely agree with that,” Strickland said. “The way it disappeared, everyone was in shock. It was very quiet in the ballpark because it was so shockingly well struck.”

How far did it actually travel? No one will ever know, but what about an estimate?

“That ball more than likely landed on the street that’s behind the office building,” Strickland said.

So for the record, that would mean Robert hit the baseball over the fence, over the concession stand, over the 25-foot bull and now over an office building.

“I would estimate that he hit it north of 450, but probably between 450 and 475," Strickland said. "The hard part there is, that ball was still going up. It’s not like it was coming down as it was going over the bull’s head. It was still going up.”

That sounds more like over 500 to me.

And here’s the crazy part. Robert doesn’t think this was the longest home run he hit last season.

“The farthest I think was the one I hit in Birmingham. It was over the scoreboard,” Robert said.

If you’re wondering whatever happened to the bat Robert used to launch this majestic home run, it didn’t have much of a shelf life.

He says it eventually broke.

Robert played 47 games for Charlotte last season, slashing .297/.341/.634. The rest of the International League likely rejoiced when he signed that big extension with the White Sox this offseason, basically punching his ticket for the major leagues on Opening Day.

“He had played so well against us. The question was already going around, ‘What in the world is he doing down here?’ And then he hit that one,” Strickland said of Robert’s home run. “If there was a debate at all of whether or not this kid is a future star or a future big leaguer, then that question was 100 percent answered in that one swing.”

Somewhere somebody probably has the baseball from that one swing.

That is, unless it’s still going.

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