White Sox

Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

SAN DIEGO — Pitching. The White Sox need it. And their No. 1 target is now a Philadelphia Phillie.

“What's next?” doesn’t quite do the mystery justice.

Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu have all been thrown around as possibilities, mostly because they’re in the same free-agency tier that Zack Wheeler was in. You remember Wheeler, the guy who turned down a superior financial offer from the White Sox to please his family and pitch for the Phillies. Seeking help elsewhere in that same tier makes sense, but it’s possible the White Sox might not be quite as enamored with their backup plans as they were with their primary target.

That’s obviously the case, by definition, but perhaps the gap is bigger than Hahn suggests when he says the White Sox will “move on to the next one.” Not all free agents are created equal.

“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani (Grandal) is we felt he brought a very unique set of tools to the situation, and we wanted to make sure we locked that in. And we found a guy that aligned, not just economically with what he wanted, it was a good fit and something we were able to get done quickly,” Hahn said, pointing to an example of the White Sox acquiring their No. 1 choice. “In other segments of the market, there is some greater fall off, as well. In some, it's not so much of a fall off.

“The guys are the primary targets for a reason, but certainly, there's more than one way to skin a cat and we'll find a different way to get it done.”

The different way could involve none of those free-agent names. While reports have tied the White Sox to Bumgarner and Keuchel to various degrees, they were reported to be after Jordan Lyles, who recently signed with the Texas Rangers. Hahn said his front office was focused more on trades than free-agent signings in its conversations Monday in San Diego.

Trades, though, could be difficult, as the White Sox seem hellbent on hanging on to their top-rated prospects, a completely understandable stance considering the promise they show as impact players. Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech figure to take over as top-of-the-depth-chart guys in 2020. Andrew Vaughn, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert might not be far behind.

What’s certain is those players won’t be going anywhere in exchange for a one-year fix. That’s more relevant to conversations involving Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant than ones involving a pitcher. But it’s important to remember that any trade talk probably starts midway down the list of White Sox prospects, a difficult way to land a truly impact player.

“There’s been, obviously, the pains and suffering that comes along with the early stages of a rebuild. We endured all that so we would be able to be in a position of building something that was going to be able to win on an annual basis, that was going to have some success for an extended period of time,” Hahn said. “Right now, we are in a bit of an interesting spot.

“Fundamentally, as a fan that has dealt with the hardships over the last three years, you want that benefit, that promised-land side of things to come more quickly. At the same time, we have to keep in mind why we started this and that was to build something sustainable. You don’t want to do anything short-sighted that’s just going to, trade wise, give us a quick bump next year but compromise the extended window we foresee coming when this all comes together.

“You need to be cognizant of that temptation to try to accelerate things. We want to get this to where it needs to be as quickly as possible. We don’t want to do that at the expense of shortening the window or making the window more difficult when it does open, whether that’s in the next few months or it takes a little longer.”

OK. So trading for impact fixes in the rotation appears unrealistic. The buzz surrounding the White Sox and free-agent signings diminished significantly as time went on during the first day of the Winter Meetings, and the possibility exists that the backup plans to Wheeler won't be quite as easy to pull the trigger on.

So what do the White Sox do?

It’s almost impossible to envision a parade of ineffective arms the likes of which we saw in 2019, when Ervin Santana and Manny Banuelos and Dylan Covey and Odrisamer Despaigne and Ross Detwiler manned a rotation that was exposed for its lack of big league ready depth. But should the White Sox come up empty on top-of-the-rotation free-agent fixes like they did with Wheeler, it’s not quite as difficult to envision stopgaps of some sort that set up what could still be a deeper pitching staff come 2020. Hahn raved about the potential for homegrown depth in the near future.

“There's still multiple options out there,” Hahn said when asked how the pitching market looks post-Wheeler. “We're going to continue to explore them both via trade and free agency.

“It's funny we talk about 2020, obviously, because that's the most important year we we can currently put our fingers on. We do think that, as we sit here, a year from now we have a chance to have a fair amount of depth on the pitching side. It doesn't mean we don't want to augment it, not only to get better in 2020, but to hedge that bet on the depth a little bit going forward and to create even more options for us going forward.

“But I do look forward to a year from right now and we're sitting up in that suite looking at our board. And I think the viable options in the big leagues are going to be even deeper than they are now.”

That’s true, mostly because Kopech and Dylan Cease should have full major league seasons under their belts and Dunning, Lambert and Carlos Rodon should all be back from Tommy John surgery.

So what does all that have to do with signing Bumgarner right now? If the White Sox are so gaga over the potential of their internal pitching depth a year from now, are they pleased enough to forego a potential impact addition this winter — one they’re not nearly as thrilled about making as compared to how they felt about Wheeler?

A pitching staff built primarily on internal options would not at all be a bad thing, but such an outcome relies on all those young arms hitting the way Lucas Giolito did in 2019. That's extremely difficult. The three models for turning a rebuild into a world championship, the Cubs, Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals, have had almost no luck doing that. The biggest names in those championship runs, from a pitching standpoint, were Jon Lester, Justin Verlander and Jonny Cueto. The Royals are now rebuilding. The Cubs have struggled to find any homegrown pitching since Theo Epstein's regime took over. It's really hard to do.

These are questions with few answers, really. Hahn doesn’t talk about specific free agents, meaning everything is a philosophical discussion rather than a “this is what we’re doing” one. Are the White Sox opposed to adding a top-of-the-rotation pitcher? Absolutely not, they’d love to. Are they going after Keuchel to do it? That’s not quite as open for discussion.

And that’s a fine policy for perfectly understandable reasons, it just leaves so much a mystery. Mystery is all we have regarding the potential additions that could follow Grandal this offseason. The White Sox need pitching, and they’ll get it. But are they jazzed about the remaining options to the point it will top any of the internal options on the depth chart? Stay tuned.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Dallas Keuchel apologizes in wake of Astros' sign-stealing scandal: 'I personally am sorry'

Dallas Keuchel apologizes in wake of Astros' sign-stealing scandal: 'I personally am sorry'

Dallas Keuchel started his White Sox tenure with an apology.

Keuchel said he was sorry Friday, the first player to do so in the aftermath of baseball busting Keuchel’s former club, the Houston Astros, for using technology to steal signs during their run to a world championship in 2017.

Keuchel didn’t get into too many specifics, nor did he reveal whether he played any kind of role in the Astros’ process of relaying the signs of opposing catchers via a center field camera and a monitor near the dugout, then alerting teammates to what sort of pitch was coming by banging on a trashcan in the dugout.

But he did apologize, doing so, perhaps, in an effort to speak for that group of players who have been the subject of much discussion since Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were fired earlier this month.

“I think, first and foremost, I think apologies should be in order,” Keuchel said before the opening ceremonies of SoxFest at McCormick Place. “When the stuff was going on, it was never intended to be what it’s made to be right now. I think when stuff comes out about some things that happen during the course of a big league ball season, it’s always blown up to the point of, ‘Oh my gosh, this has never happened before.’

“I’m not going to go into specific detail, but during the course of the playoffs in ‘17, everybody was using multiple signs. For factual purposes, when there’s nobody on base, when in the history of Major League Baseball has there been multiple signs? You can go back and watch film of every team in the playoffs, there were probably six out of eight teams with multiple signs. It’s just what the state of baseball was at that point in time.

“Was (what the Astros did) against the rules? Yes, it was, and I personally am sorry for what’s come about, the whole situation. But it is what it is, and we’ve got to move past that. I never thought anything would’ve come like it did, and I, myself, feel sorry. But you’ve got to move on.”

While no players have been punished for their roles in what happened in 2017, it remains somewhat head-scratching as to why the uber-talented Astros thought they even needed to do this sort of thing to reach the top of the baseball mountain.

Keuchel said Friday that sometimes the sign-stealing did give the Astros an edge and sometimes it didn't.

"To the extent of the whole situation back then, I can tell you that not every game there was signs being stolen," he said. "Some guys did a really good job. And sometimes we did as a group have signs, but we still couldn't hit the pitcher. So it wasn't like every game we had everything going on so at that point that's when the whole system, it really works a little bit, but at the same time there was a human element where some guys were better than our hitters."

In addition to offering up his own apology, Keuchel ever so briefly weighed in on the still-hot-button topic of whether former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers was right to act as a whistleblower and reveal details of the sign-stealing to the commissioner.

"That's a tough subject because it's such a tight-knit community in the clubhouse and in baseball, especially," Keuchel said. "You're playing 162 games, at least, in the regular season, plus spring training and then maybe in the playoffs, if you're lucky. So you're pushing 185 to 200 games (with each other), and it sucks to the extent of that the clubhouse rule was broken. And that's where I'll go with that. I don't have much else to say about Mike."

As for where things go from here, that remains to be seen. The Boston Red Sox remain under investigation for allegations of similar behavior during their run to a World Series title a year later. Alex Cora was the bench coach with the 2017 Astros and the manager of the 2018 Red Sox, and though baseball has not levied any specific punishment toward him yet, the Red Sox fired him. Carlos Beltran, the only player from the 2017 Astros mentioned in commissioner Rob Manfred's summary of the investigation, was fired from his briefly held post as the manager of the New York Mets.

"There are a lot of people who are sorry in that organization, including myself, for what happened," he said. "Do pitchers benefit from any of that? I mean, not really. But at the same time, we might've had a few runs more per game.

"In my instance, I did not. I was actually pretty mad about that, I didn't really enjoy that sometimes, but it is what it is and it just happened to come out that Mike said something and who knows.

"I don't think anybody else is going to come out and say anything from other teams. They see what happens now."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Eloy Jimenez has high praise for Luis Robert: 'He's going to be the next Mike Trout'

Eloy Jimenez has high praise for Luis Robert: 'He's going to be the next Mike Trout'

Last spring, Michael Kopech said Eloy Jimenez was the Babe Ruth of this generation. Jimenez returned the favor by calling Kopech this generation's Nolan Ryan.

Well, start blocking out a wing of the Hall of Fame for members of the 2020 White Sox, because we've got another comp for the ages.

Obviously, everyone's very excited to see Luis Robert hit the major leagues. Jimenez is cranking that excitement up to 11.

"Some people are going to call me crazy," he said Friday before SoxFest kicked off at McCormick Place, "but he’s going to be the next Mike Trout.

"He has five tools, and he plays hard like Mike Trout."

Well then.

Trout has long been considered the best baseball player on the planet, someone who's putting up hall of Fame numbers on an annual basis to the extent that folks wonder if he's the best to ever play.

Should Robert come anywhere close to that, White Sox fans will be quite pleased.

Certainly the praise is not entirely unwarranted, with Robert boasting a full toolbox of baseball skills. He's fresh off a 2019 campaign that saw him set the minor leagues on fire: a .328/.376/.624 slash line to go along with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 108 runs scored, 31 doubles and 36 stolen bases. Along the way he sent highlight after highlight back to his adoring public on the South Side, clips of him blasting balls into the Charlotte sky, making eye-popping catches and using his blazing speed to great effect.

The defensive skill ought to be especially intriguing to Jimenez, who's going to play next to Robert in the White Sox outfield. But while Jimenez's defensive improvement will continue to be a big focus in 2020, so will Robert's range in center field. Jimenez has a plan, though, if Robert tries to steal away any of his fly balls.

"I’m going to draw a line," Jimenez said with a smile. "If he goes over the line, I’m going to punch him. It’s going to be like that this year."

It was just the minor leagues, of course, but those descriptions aren't terribly dissimilar from the ones frequently assigned to Trout out in Anaheim.

You likely won't hear Rick Hahn or Rick Renteria comparing Robert to the best player in the game, not wanting to put too much pressure on the 22-year-old. Jimenez knows as well as anyone how difficult the transition to the majors can be, even for the most talented athletes in the world. He set the minors ablaze in 2018, only to experience growing pains as opposing pitchers attacked him like a proven veteran.

So seeing something similar from Robert would not be surprising.

"Last year, I was a little bit anxious," Jimenez said, "and I know he’s going to be, too.

"The first year of your contract, you play on Opening Day, it’s going to be a little bit tough for him, too. It’s not going to be (tough) just for him, it’s for anybody who makes the Opening Day roster. It’s a little bit tough because it’s different pitching, it’s different stuff and the pitchers are a lot better at this level.

"He’s going to need someone. But he’s got (Jose) Abreu, he’s got (Yoan) Moncada and he’s got me. So he’s going to be good."

One of the biggest differences between Jimenez's ascent to the major leagues and Robert's is that Robert is joining a White Sox team with playoff expectations. Between the young core that broke out in such a big way last season and all the newcomers Hahn's front office brought in this winter, the White Sox look ready to vault into contention mode. Robert's arrival is a factor in those expectations, too, so while it might seem like the spotlight can be lured away by other players, Jimenez said it will be tough for Robert to adjust to the big leagues in relative obscurity.

"When you have five tools," he said, "everybody’s going to have their eyes on you."

Well put.

If he truly is the next Trout, then he'll never lose that spotlight. Though playing alongside the next Ruth and the next Ryan, a couple fellow future Hall of Famers, ought to help.

That might sound a little crazy, as Jimenez well knows. But he's sticking to that comp.

"You will see."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.