White Sox

Sounds like a Chris Sale reunion won't be happening as extensions keep shaking up next winter for White Sox

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USA TODAY

Sounds like a Chris Sale reunion won't be happening as extensions keep shaking up next winter for White Sox

A certain segment of White Sox fans were wishing for a Chris Sale homecoming. It looks like those wishes will not be coming true.

Sale, who just won a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox, is reportedly the latest to jump aboard the extension bandwagon, joining huge names like Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and more who are taking themselves off future free-agent markets and re-upping with their current teams for long terms and big dollars.

Given the current state of free agency — yeah, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper cashed in big, but other great players like Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel remain jobless just a week away from Opening Day — and the looming uncertainty surrounding the collective-bargaining agreement, these extensions make plenty of sense. Even if the goal for every player always seemed to be getting rewarded with a huge free-agent payday, that seems to be changing, and that's changing things for the White Sox.

It might have never seemed that a Sale reunion on the South Side was very likely, even if some fans wanted one of the best pitchers in franchise history to return. Sale had multiple, highly publicized beefs with members of the organization during the 2016 season, including anger over the Drake LaRoche situation and the infamous jersey-cutting incident.

But Sale is just the latest player to remove himself from what figures to be an important round of free agency for the White Sox next winter. Arenado, Sale, Goldschmidt, Aaron Hicks and Miles Mikolas all looked to be part of a loaded free-agent class. Trout was supposed to headline the group of available players following the 2020 campaign. Now, none will be available for the White Sox, who will be looking to add impact talent from outside the organization to a team planned to be transitioning from rebuilding to contending. And other players could follow suit. Anthony Rendon has been mentioned as a possible extension candidate. J.D. Martinez could decide not to opt out of his current deal. And considering how surprising some of these extensions have been, particularly Trout's, these could seemingly come at any time and dramatically shake things up months ahead of the offseason.

Again, while Sale specifically might not have been a White Sox target — same, potentially, for the likes of Trout and others — this trend is altering the landscape on a daily basis. Next winter's free-agent class seemed a safety net of sorts after the White Sox missed out on Machado and Harper this offseason, a shining example of the remaining opportunities Rick Hahn's front office has to add big-time talent from outside the organization. Those opportunities have undoubtedly diminished in recent days and weeks.

They haven't been completely eliminated, of course, and that free-agent class could still feature big names like Rendon, Martinez, Gerrit Cole, Xander Bogaerts, Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, Josh Donaldson, Yasmani Grandal, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and more. Plus, there's the ever-present trade market, which the White Sox could be in a unique position to take advantage of thanks to their loaded farm system.

And the White Sox, too, are reportedly a part of this trend. They're supposedly close to finishing off a new deal with top-rated prospect Eloy Jimenez, one that could keep him on the South Side for the next eight seasons.

But for a team still likely to be searching for help via the free-agent market over the next two offseasons, some of the biggest potential additions are taking themselves off the market. That limits the opportunities for Hahn's front office, and it might force the White Sox down some previously less-considered paths in an effort to finish off the rebuild.

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A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

Hitting has not been the biggest problem for the White Sox. But even after a win to kick off this week's series against the Baltimore Orioles, they're still under .500 and in fourth place in the aggressively weak AL Central.

There's a ton of baseball left, and their spot in the standings on April 22 indicates nothing about where they'll be at the end of September. But the issues that have cropped up in the early going — many of them having to do with what's gone on on the pitcher's mound — have signaled that another losing season in the thick of the ongoing rebuilding process wouldn't come as a great shock.

That point being established, there's still been more to smile about in the early going this season than there was perhaps in the entirety of the 2018 campaign, what Rick Hahn described from the beginning as "the toughest part of the rebuild." That turned out to be prescient, with the White Sox losing 100 games. This year, the early season emergence of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and, to a lesser extent, Eloy Jimenez have made it so there are exciting reasons to pay attention to what's going on on the South Side, all the while making for a lineup that can push across a good deal of runs.

Now imagine if Jose Abreu wasn't hitting below the Mendoza Line.

He's not anymore after a big night Monday, but the guy who's arguably still the team's best hitter when everything's right hasn't been right very often so far in 2019. That could be starting to change, though, and if it does, a lineup that's already a heck of a lot more threatening to opposing pitchers than it was at any point in 2018 could become even more fearsome, even more productive. And that leads to more wins, important not just for fans hoping for a surprise run at relevancy given the weak state of the division, but for a team building a lineup for the future that it hopes is scoring a whole bunch of runs in meaningful games in seasons to come.

Abreu went 3-for-5 in Monday night's 12-2 laugher in Baltimore, the White Sox bats looking even better with an opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching, which entered as the worst staff in the majors with a 6.21 ERA and owned a 6.37 ERA after Monday's blowout. But it's a three-game hitting streak for a guy whose average was down to .174 after Thursday's series-opener in Detroit. Since, he's 6-for-15 with a homer and seven RBIs.

Maybe it's just a nice three-game stretch, boosted by a chance to swing against the big leagues' worst pitching staff. But it allows the White Sox to dream about a lineup made ever more dangerous by the regular production of a two-time All Star and one of the AL's reigning Silver Sluggers.

Again, offense has not been the main reason the White Sox are still underwater, from a win-loss perspective, at this point. They aren't exactly blowing the doors off the league when it comes to their offensive prowess, middle of the pack in baseball with 106 runs scored this season. But they entered Monday's game with a 5.44 team ERA, one of the four worst marks in the bigs. The bullpen's ERAs are still on their way down after short outings from the starting staff in the season's first couple of weeks forced them into unenviable situations. One run allowed in Monday's bullpen day should help with that. The team ERA shot down to 5.27 after Monday's game, still not enough to vault them out of the bottom six teams in the league.

But reliable versions of Anderson (who's still hitting over .400), Moncada and Jimenez are pieces this lineup didn't have last year, and they've been three of the best parts of it so far in 2019. Leury Garcia has been quietly productive if not flashy while doing it. James McCann, who hit a three-run homer to start the scoring in Monday night's rout, has put up good numbers in limited time while splitting catching duties with Welington Castillo. Even Ryan Cordell, only the team's starting right fielder for a few days, has shown promise with a couple homers already. There have been holes, of course, chiefly Yolmer Sanchez — who was still hitting under .100 on April 13 but is now batting .231 after a three-hit night Monday — and the sent-down Daniel Palka. Abreu and Yonder Alonso, in the middle of the White Sox order, have been unproductive, as well, while the younger guys have flourished around them.

But an Abreu turnaround — or, really, an awakening, considering how early it still is — would boost the numbers and make the lineup capable of even more on a regular basis.

It could also be another factor in the ongoing conversation about a potential Abreu contract extension. While Hahn has suggested it's unlikely that such a deal would be struck during the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see it come before Abreu is set to hit free agency once the 2019-20 offseason begins. The White Sox are such big fans of what Abreu does in the clubhouse and as a mentor for younger players that production might not play as big a role as it normally would. But obviously the consistency of that production in Abreu's first five big league seasons certainly helps. To keep that production going with a late-April awakening would be all the more reason to keep Abreu around for the transition from rebuilding to contending.

The White Sox lineup has been promising to this point. It could become downright potent if Abreu starts knocking the ball around as we all know he can.

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White Sox are considering five players for the third pick in the MLB draft

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USA TODAY

White Sox are considering five players for the third pick in the MLB draft

While more key White Sox prospects are making the jump to the majors and progressing through the higher levels of the minors, the farm system is still due to get another significant prospect.

That’s because the White Sox hold the third pick in the draft, which is six weeks away on June 3. This is the highest pick the White Sox have had since the team took Carlos Rodon No. 3 overall in 2014. Last year the White Sox had the fourth pick and took Oregon State infielder Nick Madrigal.

Nick Hostetler is the White Sox director of amateur scouting, which means he is the face of the White Sox draft. In an interview with James Fegan of The Athletic, Hostetler said the White Sox have “dwindled our list down to about five” players they could take with the third pick.

So who could those five players be? This year’s draft class is position-player heavy at the top, which is something Hostetler later admits, but he did said there is “a pitcher still in our mix.” Given that, it sounds like four position players and a pitcher.

MLB Pipeline has six position players topping its rankings while Baseball America had batters occupying the top nine spots. Baseball America added that “four players seem to have put themselves into a tier among their own.” In that group is Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn and two high school shortstops, Bobby Witt Jr. and C.J. Abrams. FanGraphs and ESPN have the same top four in some order.

Rutschman was Madrigal’s teammate at Oregon State last year when the Beavers won the College World Series. He is the consensus top-rated prospect with Pipeline, BA, ESPN and FanGraphs all putting Rutschman No. 1.

After that things vary a little bit with Vaughn offering comical offensive numbers the last two years for Cal. He had a 1.350 OPS last year as a sophomore and has a 1.219 OPS so far this season.

Witt and Abrams are prep shortstops noted as good athletes. Witt’s father was the third overall pick in 1985. Abrams is known for his elite speed and went to the same high school in Georgia (Blessed Trinity Catholic) as former White Sox players Tyler Flowers and Matt Skole.

Finding out the pitcher Hostetler was referring to is trickier, although TCU left-hander Nick Lodolo is having a dominant junior season with 77 strikeouts, a 2.20 ERA and a WHIP just under 1 in 65 1/3 innings.

The draft is only six weeks away, but things can change quickly as these players wind down their season. Still, these are names that will continue to be named towards the top of the draft.

 

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