White Sox

The three big questions everyone's asking at SoxFest

The three big questions everyone's asking at SoxFest

SoxFest 2018 is a happening place.

Sold out, the event is packed with rebuild-loving White Sox fans ready for the much-discussed future of the organization. Autograph lines are packed to capacity, the hallways are buzzing, and Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria had a full house for their Saturday-morning seminar at the Hilton Chicago.

Fans asked the general manager and the skipper a bunch of questions, but there are certain hot topics on everyone’s mind. And just like they did in a smaller seminar Friday night, fans lobbed the most pressing questions at Hahn.

Here are the three questions everyone’s asking at SoxFest.

1. When will Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez make it to the major leagues?

Perhaps the biggest overarching question of the upcoming campaign. Fans want to know when the two biggest stars of the rebuild will make it to the South Side.

The answer is actually an easy one: No one knows yet.

But it seems like a good bet to assume that Kopech, at least, will reach the bigs sometime this season after he dominated at Double-A Birmingham last year and forced Hahn & Co. into an unscheduled promotion to Triple-A Charlotte. Jimenez, meanwhile, hasn’t played much above the Class A level, meaning seeing him advance to the majors is perhaps less likely than Kopech — but also still possible considering how he’s mashed his way through the minors so far.

Hahn offered up a more nuanced explanation of what the “reasonable” expectations are for two guys who have a ton of hype surrounding them — and who have each said in recent days that they’re ready when the call to big leagues comes.

“Kopech and Eloy, not too dissimilar from conversations and questions we had about (Yoan) Moncada last year. Now, Moncada was a little bit more advanced than Eloy in terms of age, he’s a year older, he’d already been in the big leagues, he’d spent a fair amount of time in Double-A. Eloy has four weeks above A-ball, and he just turned 21. In theory, it would a perfectly acceptable developmental season at age 21 to spend the whole year at Birmingham in a tough, tough league, the Southern League, and do well. That’s great. That’s what puts him on track to be a potential impact big leaguer for a long time.

“Similarly with Kopech. He has 16 innings in Triple-A at 20 years old. If he spent the whole year in Triple-A and did well, fantastic. At age 21, that’s a real good season for a pitcher in the International League. Up the innings total he has under his belt, continue to refine his off-speed pitches and be ready to make an impact in the big leagues next year. That’s fine.

“That said, the good ones, and you’ve heard me say this many times, have a way of forcing your hand, changing that timeline. … Conceivably, they could blow right past that given their ability and given their upside. We’re not putting any cap on what they’re going to do this year, but we have a sense of what’s a reasonable development year for each of them.”

That might not be exactly what White Sox fans want to hear, considering there are plenty hoping Kopech, in particular, can dazzle in Arizona and make the big league roster out of spring training. But remember that the rebuilding White Sox are blessed with time, and there’s no reason for Hahn & Co. to order a promotion before any prospect is done cooking in the minor leagues.

2. How close were the White Sox to trading for Manny Machado — and will he eventually come to the South Side?

The buzz of the Winter Meetings was the supposed derby for Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, a young star who the O’s reportedly put on the market last month when baseball was gathered down at Walt Disney World. The White Sox were one of the teams reported to be interested in landing Machado, and he’s a player the team’s fans have long coveted in social-media discussions.

Obviously, the White Sox didn’t end up making a trade for Machado. No team has yet, as the 25-year-old is still an Oriole. But the debate still rages whether trading for Machado would’ve been a good move. Netting him obviously would’ve cost Hahn a sizable portion of the prospect capital he’s built in the last year plus, a risky move to say the least considering Machado is slated to hit the free-agent market after the 2018 season. That said, Machado is a special talent, and if the White Sox could have given themselves a leg up in that upcoming sweepstakes, perhaps that would’ve been worth consideration.

Unsurprisingly, Hahn was asked about it Saturday morning. In fact, the rebuild-loving questioner explained how he had hoped Hahn wouldn’t make such a move. But plenty more are wondering if the White Sox will still compete in the bidding war for Machado next winter — with questioners even bringing up the team’s history of not signing players to the kinds of monster deals that have popped up around the game.

So what’s the latest? A tough question to answer considering Hahn can’t talk about players on other teams.

“I’m going to try and avoid a tampering fine at SoxFest. I don’t think that’s in our budget,” Hahn joked.

“Everything we’re doing right now for the past year plus has been aimed at putting ourselves in the best position for the long term. And we absolutely are not going to do anything that’s going to compromise that for a short-term gain. Over arching, there’s a plan in place that we’re not going to deviate from.

“That said, when intriguing talent becomes available, we are going to at the very least check in, have conversations, understand the value of our players that are asked about … and if we feel like we can acquire something that’s controllable on a shorter term that we might be able to extend for a longer term, we’ll take that opportunity seriously. Obviously there was no transaction this offseason that involved us giving up prospects for short fixes.”

Hahn reiterated what he’s said a few times this winter, that the team has shattered expectations in what it’s done during the last year plus, starting a full-scale rebuild and making a trade with the Cubs being two examples of Hahn doing things fans thought the White Sox would “never do.” There’s a certain assumption that the White Sox also won’t shell out the big bucks that it would take to land Machado, who’s expected to get one of the larger contracts in baseball history. Hahn said again Friday that fans shouldn’t expect the team to conform to those kinds of expectations.

So there’s that.

3. What was the cost of trading for Christian Yelich?

Another big name the White Sox were tied to at various points this offseason through a variety of rumors was Christian Yelich, the now-former Miami Marlins outfielder who was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week.

Much like the discussion surrounding the White Sox and Machado, it figured that the price would be steep in terms of prospect capital, and that ended up being the case for the Brewers, who traded away a four-player package headlined by their No. 1 prospect to bring Yelich to Wisconsin.

Where could the Marlins have got that sort of idea?

“You’ve seen some teams extract pretty high prospect prices in the last year or so,” Hahn deadpanned, sparking plenty of applause.

The thing with Yelich, however, is his contract, which unlike Machado’s, keeps him under team control for another five seasons. That made for a much different argument when it came to the White Sox, considering their contention window is expected to open before the end of those five years, making him a long-term acquisition like Hahn talked about.

At this point, it’s all just for discussion purposes considering Yelich has a new home, but fans were interested in what it might have cost to bring Yelich to the South Side.

Hahn said Friday that the White Sox “had an understanding of what it was going to take” to acquire Yelich and added that it was “not a level we were comfortable with.”

Upon seeing what the Brewers gave up, you’d have to figure the Marlins were asking for at least one of the White Sox highest-rated guys, perhaps a Kopech or a Jimenez, though of course that’s just speculation. If that was the case, fans should be happy Hahn didn’t pull the trigger on a trade for Yelich.

The bottom line appears to be — and Hahn has even hinted at the possibility of next offseason being a much different one for the White Sox — the team doesn’t yet appear to be in the position where they’re adding big-time pieces from the outside.

One thing Hahn said repeatedly over the past two days is that the White Sox have enough major and minor league talent where they could project out a "championship-caliber" player at every position on the big league team. And that’s true, with the caveat that all those prospects need to blossom into what they’re projected to be. But until they do or don’t, there’s no knowing what holes will exist and which ones will need filling.

“We objectively have options at every position, guys who could, if they max out and hit their ceiling, provide us with championship-caliber players at every position on the field and on the pitching staff,” he said Friday. “Unfortunately, player development isn’t always linear and cruel things happen and the baseball gods likely have some hiccups in store for us along the way, so ultimately not everyone is going to hit those ceilings in all probability. Once we know more, which could be a year from now, it could be 18 months from now, about which of these players are truly going to come close to approaching their ceilings, then we’ll be able to more aggressively address what remaining holes may exist at that time.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: What has James McCann meant to the White Sox? Everything

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: What has James McCann meant to the White Sox? Everything

Chuck Garfien and Vinnie Duber talk about James McCann's breakout season with the White Sox (1:15).

Then Chuck speaks with McCann about all the preparation he does for every game (9:20), why he'll never use a cheat sheet scouting report behind the plate like many catchers do (11:30) and what McCann has been badgering Lucas Giolito about since spring training (14:30).

Plus, why Evan Marshall and Aaron Bummer have been so successful out of the bullpen (16:30), why McCann acts as a karaoke host on the team bus (17:40) and more.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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Buckle up, White Sox, here come the best two teams in baseball

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USA TODAY

Buckle up, White Sox, here come the best two teams in baseball

Things are about to get tougher for the White Sox. Much tougher.

The upcoming road trip features seven straight games against first-place teams, the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins. Those two teams are, by their winning percentages as of this writing, the two best teams in baseball.

The much-bemoaned makeup of this season’s American League means seeing top-shelf competition is a rarity for any team playing outside the AL East. The Astros are a mile ahead of the rest of the AL West. The Twins have appeared, so far, as the only team capable of winning an aggressively weak AL Central. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays — three teams the White Sox have already seen one time apiece — will battle it out for the AL East crown all season long, but let’s be honest, they all seem safe bets to make the postseason.

The fact that the five teams likely to make the playoffs have already put themselves ahead of the competition and it’s not even Memorial Day is its own discussion topic as the rebuilding trend sweeps through the Junior Circuit. But for the 2019 edition of the Chicago White Sox, specifically, it just means that this week is not likely to be a good one.

In the 10 games they played against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, the White Sox went 3-7. They were pasted by the Rays and Red Sox, who combined to outscore them 58-18 in seven games on the South Side, and they took two of three from the Yankees in The Bronx.

Of course, any expectations can be dashed in a small portion of a 162-game season. Cast your mind back to 2017, when the White Sox swept a three-game series from the soon-to-be world-champion Astros. The South Siders finished with 95 losses that season, but for three games in August, they had the champs’ number.

Will this week go similarly? Maybe. But it doesn’t seem likely.

The Astros are on fire, or at least they were before the Red Sox snapped their 10-game winning streak Sunday. That doesn’t change the fact that the Astros boast a plus-92 run differential that counts as the best in the game. Or their 3.43 team ERA (second in the AL). Or their .279 team batting average and jaw-dropping .353 team on-base percentage, both marks the best in baseball.

The Twins, the division rivals the White Sox will see for the first time in 2019 beginning Friday, aren’t far behind. That offense has been sensational, too, through the season’s first two months, owning baseball’s second best run differential (plus-77) and its second best team batting average (.270). No team in either league has hit more homers than the Twins, who have launched 87 of them in 45 games.

The White Sox, meanwhile, have a fragile, injury-affected starting rotation — after Sunday’s game, manager Rick Renteria did not share who’s starting Monday’s game — and a pitching staff with a 5.09 ERA that’s given up 68 homers this season. Sunday, Reynaldo Lopez made it through six innings of one-run ball, only for the White Sox bullpen to cough up a pair of two-run homers to the Toronto Blue Jays (one of baseball’s worst offenses) in the game’s final two innings. It was the sixth time this season the White Sox bullpen has allowed multiple home runs in a single game.

“Gulp” might be an appropriate reaction to hearing the White Sox have to go up against the Houston and Minnesota offenses seven times in the next seven days.

This isn’t to say the White Sox are merely a punching bag for these two giants of the American League right now. Certainly most of the teams the Astros and Twins have faced have suffered less than desirable fates. But the gaps between the rebuilding White Sox and this pair of contenders are not small.

The White Sox are trying to accomplish the same thing the Astros did, spending several frustrating years being patient during a rebuilding process only to come out the other side a perennial contender and World Series champion. These same Astros who are now bullying the rest of the AL lost a total of 416 games in the four seasons prior to their first playoff season in a decade in 2015. By the end of the 2017 campaign, they were world champions. That’s the template the White Sox are trying to follow.

But the White Sox aren’t to the mountaintop yet, and that might end up being painfully clear by the end of the upcoming road trip. It doesn’t mean their climb won’t get them to that same point, but don’t try to compare the 2019 White Sox to the 2019 Astros this week. That’s not the comparison that counts.

The Twins are a little different, having revamped their lineup over the offseason with free-agent acquisitions who have paid huge dividends. C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz (currently on the IL) have combined for 31 homers in 45 games. But homegrown guys like Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler are all playing well, too. That quintet has accounted for 43 of the Twins’ 87 homers this season. That’s a strong core of homegrown young hitters, the kind of thing the White Sox hope to have real soon, the kind of thing that’s taking shape with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson off to good starts and Eloy Jimenez at the major league level (and likely to come off the injured list Monday).

The White Sox have obviously had their positives this season, and they’re clearly in a better place now than they were at this point last year (a 21-24 record after Sunday’s game compared to 14-31 through the first 45 games of 2018). But their rebuilding process hasn’t yet reached the point where they’re going to be trading blows with the two best teams in baseball.

There could be some surprises on this road trip. But they don’t figure to be easy to come by. Buckle up, here come the two best teams in baseball.

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