White Sox

What Michael Kopech skipping season means for White Sox in 2020 and beyond

What Michael Kopech skipping season means for White Sox in 2020 and beyond

After being without Michael Kopech for the entirety of the 2019 season, the White Sox will be without him again for the entirety of the 2020 campaign.

And suddenly, they're faced with having one of the big pieces of their rebuilding puzzle go at least 31 months between major league appearances.

The team announced Friday evening that Kopech, the 24-year-old flamethrower, decided not to participate in the shortened 2020 season, a decision made in regard to the personal matters Kopech was said to be dealing with last week, when he did not report to "Summer Camp" at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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Other players around the league have made the decision to "opt out" of the 2020 season, one scheduled to be played in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but there's an important distinction to be made between opting out and deciding not to participate. Players who have the option to opt out are those in high-risk health categories, and they will receive payment even while not playing. Players who aren't high risk but still have concerns about exposing themselves or their family to the virus, can elect not to play, but they will not be paid, nor will they accrue major league service time.

Kopech, it should be noted, might have made his decision for reasons not related to the ongoing pandemic. The White Sox cited only "personal reasons" when it came to Kopech's decision. Certainly fears of contracting the virus would be personal reasons, but there are infinite other personal reasons that have nothing to do with COVID-19. And so without further word from Kopech or the team, we can't be sure whether Kopech's decision is similar to those who have given health concerns as their reason for sitting out in 2020.

Regardless of the reasoning, the White Sox will be without Kopech once again, the promising pitcher now following up the 2019 campaign he missed in full while recovering from Tommy John surgery with another lost season. While his absence will not create a void in the White Sox pitching staff gaping enough to derail their postseason push before it even begins, Kopech showed how tantalizing a weapon he could have been back in the spring, when in his lone inning of Cactus League action, he lit up the radar gun with triple-digit readings.

Had the season progressed as normal, Kopech was expected to begin in the minor leagues, where he could strengthen his arm after going so long between competitive appearances, a plan that would have also allowed the White Sox to monitor, if not limit, his overall usage in his first season back from the surgery. Joining the big league roster some time later, he would have been viewed as a midseason addition that could have bolstered the pitching staff as the team made a run at a playoff spot.

But the months-long layoff due to the pandemic seemed to change that calculus a little, and Kopech — along with other pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John, such as Carlos Rodón, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert — was suddenly capable of being a full-season option for Rick Renteria. Who knows what role he might have played, as how Renteria will handle his pitching staff once the regular season begins remains a mystery. Kopech's triple-digit fire would have been an intriguing late-inning option, but he might have been equally effective as a starter or used in "piggybacking," where he might have come in for multiple innings after a few innings tossed by another member of the rotation.

Now, he'll be nothing but a spectator in 2020.

RELATED: White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

Because of the aforementioned returns of Rodón and the like, the White Sox do have the luxury of increased depth in their pitching staff. A six-man rotation of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López, Gio González and Rodón might end up the most logical approach when the season begins. While Kopech could have finally emerged as the pitcher who was promised when he arrived in the major leagues in August 2018, the White Sox continue to have an ample amount of pitching options heading into this season.

The bigger question is what becomes of Kopech beyond the 2020 campaign, when things hopefully return to normal for the White Sox, who have long included Kopech as a sizable part of their long-term contention strategy. It was a big enough mystery what Kopech would be like after missing all of 2019, even if he did dazzle during that one Cactus League inning. The mystery grows exponentially when trying to figure out what he'll be like with two full seasons missed.

Player development, in general, has had a massive wrench thrown into it with the pandemic, the entire minor league season canceled and only a handful of players even able to participate in team-monitored activities due to the size of major league player pools and taxi squads. Kopech's development, however, has the potential to fall even further behind, as he did not have the benefit of pitching in any minor league games during the 2019 season, either. Even if he feels comfortable returning for spring training and the entirety of the season next year, what sort of game shape will he be in? And how does that impact the White Sox decisions when it comes to constructing a pitching staff as part of a contending roster?

Those decisions were going to be difficult anyway with the 2020 season squeezed down to just 60 games. Who knows how Cease or López will perform in 2020, and what sort of grip they'll have on spots in the rotation heading into 2021? Who knows if the White Sox will see enough from González to pick up his option for 2021? Giolito and Keuchel would figure to have spots locked down, and Rodón will be heading into his final season before free agency. The White Sox might end up with a good problem, too many pitching options, and that'd be a headache they'd be willing to suffer through.

But there's another possibility, as well, that the strength of the White Sox rotation in 2021 depends on Kopech's presence. And it will be impossible to guarantee his effectiveness heading into that season after two full seasons with no major league action. As time moves forward, the White Sox hope to be deeper into a contention phase, and winning becomes paramount. There's less and less ability to allow someone to figure things out at the major league level, as there was ample time to do just that during the recent rebuilding seasons — something Kopech could have benefitted from had he not spent all of 2019 in recovery mode.

The White Sox could find themselves in the unenviable position of relying on someone who has four major league appearances under his belt and hasn't pitched in two and a half years. What happens if that doesn't work out? That uncertainty could send Rick Hahn's front office on an unanticipated search for starting pitching during the offseason, or force it to hold onto some younger arms, no longer as able to afford dealing them to address other areas of the roster. Does it change the White Sox opinion on when just-drafted hurlers Garrett Crochet and Jared Kelley might reach the major leagues?

Kopech obviously still has the talent and the ability to play a starring role for the White Sox for years to come, and the starting rotations of the future still, at this point, figure to be better off with him than without him. Heck, they could feature him at the very top.

Baseball is always going to be full of unknowns, but by deciding not to participate in 2020 and missing a second straight full season of action, Kopech is making himself as unknown a quantity as ever. And that could have drastic effects for the White Sox as they move deeper into what's expected to be a lengthy contention window.


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Ozzie Guillén hates Nick Swisher, with his whole heart

Ozzie Guillén hates Nick Swisher, with his whole heart

If you didn't know, Ozzie Guillén has strong opinions and that includes former players he dealt with.

On the White Sox post-game show, host Chuck Garfien asked Guillén who he disliked more, Carlos Gomez or Nick Swisher.

"Oh my God, nobody can compare that with Nick Swisher," Guillén responded. "I hate Nick Swisher with my heart."

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Guillén declined to elaborate, but then added: "I think he hates me back, there's nothing wrong with that."

And finally Ozzie gave some kind of reason.

"I never talked to him, I was managing him, but I don't like the way his attitude was all fake. And I don't like fake people."

Then Chuck pointed out Swisher was only with the White Sox for one year and Guillén had thoughts about that to.

"It was one year too long," Guillén said.

Guillén doubled down and said he thinks others players would agree if they were honest, while clarifying he didn't hate him as a person and thought he was a good player.

The White Sox way wasn't the Swisher way, and there was friction.

Ozzie also admitted he might of misused Swisher.

"I played him center field and batting first or second, that guy has to be in right field batting tenth."


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White Sox end streak, stay confident: 'We are going to do the pushing around'

White Sox end streak, stay confident: 'We are going to do the pushing around'

The White Sox winning streak is over.

So why was Danny Mendick so chipper after a 1-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night?

His three hits might have had something to do with it. He was just about the only offense the White Sox mustered against Adrian Houser and a pair of relievers.

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But it seemed to stem more from the different feeling surrounding this year's White Sox team.

Mendick got a taste, however small, of the rebuilding years at the tail end of the 2019 season. After Yoán Moncada and Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jiménez broke out the way they did during that campaign, Rick Hahn's front office complemented them with a host of impact veteran additions during the offseason. Throw it all together, and these White Sox have the look of a potential contender, something backed up by the way they played during their six-game win streak.

That's over now, though Wednesday's game had the same kind of playoff feel that the first two games against the Brewers did on Monday and Tuesday nights. The White Sox might not have played any games that felt like these in the last three years. Now there have been three in three nights.

So yeah, something's changed.

"I’ll tell you what, just the energy in the clubhouse," Mendick said Wednesday, asked about the difference between 2019 and 2020. "When we show up to the field, there’s more confidence.

"It’s not like we are going to get pushed around. It’s more like we are going to do the pushing around.

"Everyone is just prepared. Everyone shows up to the field ready. They know the opponent. We know what they are going to bring. I feel there’s just more, how do I say this, more education. We have more veterans. We have guys who are really focused on baseball, and it brings a lot to everybody."

RELATED: White Sox manager Rick Renteria finally has talent — and knows what to do with it

The six-game win streak turned the White Sox slow 1-4 start around in a hurry. In this shortened, 60-game season, every game means so much and even modest winning or losing streaks could tug the entire season in one direction or the other. The White Sox went from getting their brains beat in by the class of the AL Central to the third best record in the American League as of Wednesday morning.

They've showed what they're capable of, too. They blew out the Kansas City Royals, scoring a combined 20 runs and knocking out a total of 35 hits in back-to-back wins last weekend. Then they went to Milwaukee and won a pair of nail-biters, getting clutch hits from José Abreu and Jiménez to back strong efforts by the bullpen Monday and Giolito on Tuesday.

Wednesday, it was one of those newly arrived veterans, Dallas Keuchel, who shone. He logged seven one-run innings, the first White Sox starter to pitch in the seventh inning this season. If it weren't for the unusually cool conditions on the South Side, the outcome might have been different. Luis Robert and Moncada dialed up back-to-back deep fly balls in the eighth inning that both could have easily gone as go-ahead homers on a normal summer night.

The clutch hits could have kept on coming. And the knowledge of being competitive — the "belief," as Giolito keeps putting it — prevented the White Sox from feeling down after another fine effort Wednesday. It will likely do so every night for the remainder of this short season.

"The thing that probably has impressed me the most is the resiliency of the club," Hahn said Wednesday. "Obviously, those of us who have watched this team over the last several years, and certainly in the early phase of the rebuild, knew that feeling that you would get early or midway through games where you would feel the lead was perhaps insurmountable. I think looking at this club through the first 10 or 11 games so far, it feels like we're not out of any ballgame, regardless of what the deficit may be.

"I think that's a great testament to not just the veterans that have been brought in, but the growth of the young guys and the mentality I'm sure you've all picked up on going back to (spring training in) Glendale."

Part of the reason additions like Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnación looked so good during the winter was the playoff experience these guys have. While the White Sox core doesn't know what it's like to win at the big league level — not even Abreu does, who played for six losing White Sox teams before signing a new multi-year deal in the offseason — these guys do. They're all veterans of pennant races and playoff runs that go all the way to the end of October. Keuchel's got a World Series ring on his resume.

Experience with the highs and lows of a winning season might not be quite as valuable in this most unusual of seasons. But before the White Sox can be championship contenders, they actually need to do some winning. After a combined 284 losses in the last three seasons, even a six-game winning streak can mean a lot.

But whether they won or lost Wednesday, it didn't seem like the result was going to sway their belief. These White Sox are here to compete and live up to the high expectations they set for themselves dating all the way back to the end of an 89-loss season in 2019.

"We've been hot, and eventually it's going to come to an end. But man, we were right in the ballgame. That's all we can ask for," Keuchel said. "Game in, game out, we know that we're going to be in those contests.

"If we can win series, that's a playoff recipe."


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