White Sox

While White Sox fans look toward free agency, playoff teams show value of adding 'finishing pieces' via trades

1009_sale_yelich.jpg
USA TODAY

While White Sox fans look toward free agency, playoff teams show value of adding 'finishing pieces' via trades

It's hard to give up what you've got.

For baseball teams, players have been part of the organization for years. Teams had enough faith in guys to draft them and then spent years watching them develop, with the hopes that those guys would end up being the ones to raise a World Series trophy.

And those guys still get traded.

The rebuilding White Sox are moving toward the eventual phase of their rebuild where they'll have to add what general manager Rick Hahn calls "finishing pieces" from outside the organization, the player or players who will take the South Siders from what's planned to be a good young team stocked with homegrown talent to a championship contender.

Because of the flexibility this rebuilding franchise has created for itself, that could come at any time in a number of different ways. But fans and observers are looking toward free agency, be it this offseason or next offseason, as the method in which the White Sox would be best equipped to do that. Maybe some folks don't want to see Hahn deal away some of the organization's prospects, which have gained a tremendous following in Chicago. Maybe some folks see it as the quickest way to add a player. Maybe some folks look at the White Sox payroll and see the opportunity to take on salary.

But flip on this fall's postseason, and you'll see that free agency isn't always the most important route.

The results of trades are dominating these playoffs, with some of the most important players on the teams still chasing a World Series title arriving on their current squads via high-profile swaps that sent top prospects the other way: Christian Yelich in Milwaukee, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in Houston, Chris Sale in Boston, Manny Machado in Los Angeles, Giancarlo Stanton in New York.

Not all those trades were the same — and it's a credit to Hahn and his front office that the one with the most costly return package was the deal that sent Sale from the South Side to Beantown — but they embodied the eventual bridge a team must cross on its journey from rebuilding to chasing championships. And for the most part, they all worked. But that didn't mean the prices weren't high at the time.

The Brewers gave up their top prospect in the Yelich trade. The Dodgers gave up one of their highest-rated minor leaguers in the Machado deal. The three guys the Astros sent to the Tigers for Verlander now rank in the top 12 prospects in that farm system. Three of the four guys they sent to the Pirates for Cole are already in the majors. And White Sox fans of course know what the Red Sox gave up to get Sale.

Heck, even a ghost of a similar trade past is on display this fall. The Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman in 2016 and won the World Series. They traded away Gleyber Torres, now a Yankee (as is Chapman, again).

So will the White Sox have to do that one day if they want to win the World Series? They maybe won't have to. But they might want to.

The good news for the White Sox in almost every decision they face is that they have created for themselves an incredible amount of flexibility. The rebuilding process in general affords them some, as they weren't expected to contend in 2017 or 2018 and they likely won't be expected to do so in 2019, either. They have no long-term commitments to older players, with even the not-that-old Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia set to come off the books at the end of next season, if the team decides they don't want them to be part of the long-term future.

And they have so many prospects that they can one day, perhaps, trade a few away for a proven star.

That day still seems a long ways off. Would adding a player even the caliber of those discussed to this point make the White Sox a playoff contender right now? That it's not a slam dunk of an answer is the point. There's still time needed for this rebuilding process to progress, for the White Sox to figure out what they have and what they don't, for them to discover which prospects are surefire long-term pieces and which they would be willing to relinquish in a potential trade for a star that could get them over the hump.

In the best-case scenario, the White Sox would be able to fill every slot on a championship roster with a homegrown talent. But that's just not how these things work. Even the Astros, an overwhelming rebuilding success story, needed to go outside the organization for the majority of their starting rotation. The Cubs, a rebuilding success story, as well, at this point have only a few important homegrown players after spending so much in free agency and trades over the past several years.

So even if things go mostly according to plan — and there's a homegrown core of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon, Dylan Cease, Yoan Moncada and Nick Madrigal — the White Sox will still need to add those "finishing pieces."

Free agency is speedy, splashy and "only" costs money. But the White Sox have the prospect depth to pull off the kind of trade that's made this year's playoff teams championship contenders. Down the road, they could vault themselves to that status with a big deal of their own.

White Sox free-agent focus: Dallas Keuchel

White Sox free-agent focus: Dallas Keuchel

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

The White Sox need starting pitching, so why not bring in a guy with a Cy Young Award sitting on his mantle?

Dallas Keuchel is one of the two biggest names on the starting-pitching market this winter, along with Patrick Corbin, who will get more attention — and likely more dollars — because he's two years younger. But Keuchel's the guy with the track record, the AL Cy Young winner in 2015 (when he was also a top-five MVP finisher), a two-time All Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner and the owner of a 3.28 ERA over the past five seasons, during which he helped the Houston Astros transition from rebuilding to one of baseball's perennial contenders. You might have heard something about them winning the World Series in 2017.

It's true that things have been somewhat up and down for Keuchel since his Cy Young win. After posting a 2.48 ERA with a career-high 216 strikeouts in 33 starts during that 2015 season, he had a 4.55 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 26 starts in 2016, then a 2.90 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 23 starts in 2017 and a 3.74 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 34 starts last season. But three times in the last five years he's finished with an ERA under 3.00. In other words, he's pretty darn good.

How might he fit with the White Sox? Well, in terms of whether or not he lines up with their long-term plans. Keuchel's older than Corbin, but it's not like he's old. He'll be 31 on Opening Day 2019, and a long-term deal, which he's expected to fetch, would keep him around for another planned transition from rebuilding to contention. Keuchel — a veteran who's accomplished a lot already, including putting a World Series ring on his finger — could be viewed as a Jon Lester type for these rebuilding White Sox, a big name who buys into the front office's long-term plan and helps make those plans become reality.

And there's no doubt the White Sox are in the market for starting pitching this winter. Michael Kopech is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the White Sox decided not to pick up James Shields' option for 2019. That leaves two holes in the starting rotation. An addition like Keuchel would be a long-term one, which means the White Sox would opt to make him a safety net for their still-developing fleet of young pitchers and choose not to roll the dice on a homegrown starting staff for 2020. However, if they're confident in a quintet of Kopech, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease, then maybe they opt for a couple one-year fill-ins in 2019. Keuchel would not be a one-year fill-in.

Keuchel could also fill the role vacated by Shields, a veteran who could help bring along the young guys in an off-the-field mentor role. His experience going through the dark days of a rebuild — he was a member of Astros teams that lost a combined 310 games from 2012 to 2014 — and coming out the other end a world champ would also figure to be of value.

Of course, the White Sox wouldn't be alone in a pursuit of Keuchel, if they were interested. Thanks to Clayton Kershaw signing a new contract extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he's one of the two biggest names on the market when it comes to starting pitchers. The White Sox would likely have to go through the same bidding war and pitch of planned future success they would with other big names like Corbin, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

But there's no doubt Keuchel would be an upgrade to this rotation in 2019 and could provide plenty of value for years beyond.

ESPN forgot about the White Sox again, and the Big Hurt let 'em hear about it

1031_frank_thomas.jpg
USA TODAY

ESPN forgot about the White Sox again, and the Big Hurt let 'em hear about it

ESPN forgot about the White Sox again.

The Worldwide Leader in Sports has made a habit of failing to remember the South Siders in recent years, most notably forgetting (on multiple occasions) that the White Sox did in fact win the 2005 World Series.

It happened enough times that A.J. Pierzynski had some opinions about it.

This time, the omission came in an effort to illustrate how good Mike Trout is, with ESPN researcher Paul Hembekides listing baseball players who appeared in the top four in MVP voting three or more times. Trout, the Los Angeles Angels superstar, has already done it seven times, and boy that is terrific.

But Hembekides left someone out. And that someone let him hear about it.

You tell 'em, Frank.

Yes, the Big Hurt finished in the top four of the AL MVP vote on six separate occasions: 1991 (third), 1993 (first), 1994 (first), 1997 (third), 2000 (second) and 2006 (fourth, while playing for the Oakland Athletics).

ESPN's blind spot for the White Sox doesn't end up meaning much of anything, though it's amusing that they've now managed to leave out a relatively recent World Series champion and a relatively recent first-ballot Hall of Famer.

We all make mistakes. But it's a little funny that ESPN's are, repeatedly, White Sox related.