White Sox

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

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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.

MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

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USA TODAY

MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

If Major League Baseball gets its way, there could be seismic changes coming to the minor leagues.

According to a report from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, the league has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the minor leagues, including the elimination of 42 affiliated teams.

The proposal is merely the beginning of what are expected to be lengthy negotiations over a new version of what’s called the “Professional Baseball Agreement,” basically the contract that keeps the major and minor leagues connected and minor league teams stocked with players employed by major league clubs. The existing edition expires at the end of the 2020 season, and so a new one will need to be hashed out.

Major League Baseball is looking for control over how the minor leagues are organized, with an eye on improving facilities and clustering affiliates and leagues from a geographic standpoint to cut down on travel costs. There’s also expected to be an increase in salaries for minor league players, which has long been a talking point thanks to the increasing number of descriptions of how financially difficult life can be for those trying to reach the majors.

To accomplish those goals, Major League Baseball is proposing drastic solutions.

The one that will grab the most attention is the elimination of more than a quarter of the existing affiliated teams in the minor leagues, removing affiliated minor league teams from more than three dozen cities across the United States and getting rid of more than 1,000 jobs for minor league players. Simply, the entire short-season rookie ball (excluding squads that play at team-owned facilities in Arizona and Florida) would be eliminated, leaving only four levels of affiliated teams: Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

If you’re wondering what would happen to those 42 teams, the proposal is for them to form something called a “Dream League,” which would essentially serve the same purpose as an independent league, allowing players without jobs to keep playing and try to get a job with a major league team.

Additionally, Major League Baseball is proposing radical restructuring of existing leagues in order to cluster teams closer together. That could include changing the level of certain teams, such as making a Class A team a Triple-A team based on the quality of facilities and what makes the most geographic sense. Leagues could also gain or lose a large number of teams, with the Triple-A International League growing to 20 teams and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shrinking to just 10 teams. One Class A league was described as being reduced to just six teams, while the rest of its current teams would be put into a brand-new league.

As for how the White Sox and their affiliates would be affected, team-specific information was not included in the report. One read of the details of this proposal could see something such as the White Sox affiliates being relocated to Midwestern cities. Another, however, could see the White Sox affiliates mostly staying how they currently are, given those teams are all geographically close to one another, with all but one located in North Carolina.

Buried in all of this is another big change, a proposed move of the draft from June to August, giving players a couple more months to show off for major league teams, and a reduction in the number of rounds from the current 40 to somewhere between 20 and 25. That, and the elimination of short-season rookie ball, would likely prevent draftees from playing minor league baseball in the same year they’re drafted.

It’s all something to keep an eye on, for sure, as many fans across the country who closely follow minor league teams in their hometowns could experience a dramatic shakeup.

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State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re wrapping things up with the manager and the coaching staff.

What happened in 2019

While it’s easy to cruise through the statistical production of players and determine just how well they performed in 2019, that’s a little more difficult when it comes to manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.

In the end, managers and coaches are evaluated on win-loss record — or at least how close they came to meeting the expectations in that department. While the White Sox are a gruesome 83 games under .500 in Renteria’s three years at the helm, that’s not really falling outside the expectations he had when he took over a rebuilding club. So it’s pretty hard to argue that because the White Sox lost 89 games in 2019, Renteria did a poor job.

Truly, his performance as a manager can’t be determined until he’s managing a team with expectations of winning. Renteria more than anyone has been the one setting such expectations for 2020, spending much of the waning weeks of the 2019 campaign voicing his opinion that all this losing stops next season.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Renteria and his staff did plenty in 2019 to continue developing the team’s young players into the core of the future. But the skipper's most memorable on-field moment came in September, when even after he stopped making mound visits because of shoulder surgery, he went out to the mound and had an animated conversation with Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez made a habit of following up stellar performances with ugly ones, lacking consistency in a fashion that made even the optimistic Renteria throw up his hands at times. Renteria utilized that frustration on the mound in Detroit in an attempt to get some points across to the pitcher.


When it comes to Renteria’s staff, certainly they deserve some credit for some of the breakout seasons on the roster. Hitting coach Todd Steverson did offseason work with both Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson ahead of 2019 campaigns that saw them transform into the best all-around hitter on the team and the big league batting champ, respectively. Pitching coach Don Cooper helped oversee Lucas Giolito’s transformation into an All Star. Infield coach Joe McEwing worked with Moncada, who made a smooth transition from second base to third base.

But if the coaches earn some of the credit for the things that went right, they must also be mentioned alongside the things that went wrong. Steverson coached an offense that ranked near the bottom of the game in most categories. Cooper coached a starting rotation that finished the season with a 5.30 ERA. McEwing coached Anderson, who committed a major league high 26 errors.

None of that is to say those guys are wholly responsible for those negative outcomes. Just as the players have to be the ones to turn in the good results, they’re the ones who have to turn in the poor ones, as well. Steverson, however, along with assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, will not be back for the 2020 season.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have already made their coaching moves this offseason, parting ways with Steverson and Sparks and replacing Steverson with Frank Menechino, who after several seasons on the Miami Marlins staff took over as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019.

Menechino impressed the White Sox with his work there, spent September with the big league club and was quickly promoted once the season was over. At Charlotte, he worked with top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who both had fantastic seasons playing at three different minor league levels and figure to be everyday players for most of the 2020 season.

The change, in the end, seemed to be more about how the White Sox felt about what Menechino could bring to the table than a reaction to the offensive production from a team that didn’t have expectations of doing much more than it did during another rebuilding season.

General manager Rick Hahn announced that the rest of the staff will be back in 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

There will be a change in the expectations game come 2020. That should be mostly because of the breakout 2019 seasons from so many young players, the pending arrival of Robert and Madrigal and the offseason additions anticipated to be made by Hahn’s front office. But if nothing else, the expectations, when it comes to Renteria, will be different because he’s already said they will be.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said just last week, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

And so judging him and his staff can reach another level, too, because it will no longer solely be about hard-to-define development but the cold, hard wins and losses. Plenty of fans have taken to Twitter and complained about Renteria during this losing stretch, suggesting he’s not the one to manage this team into a winning era, but those were conclusions that cannot be drawn considering the quality of the rosters he’s managed in his three years on the South Side. How can you judge a manager’s ability to contend when he doesn’t have the tools to do so?

That’s about to change, so there will finally be some actual evidence to back up either side of that argument.

It’s clear where the White Sox stand in that discussion. They’ve been praising the job Renteria has done for three years now, and they’ve expressed nothing but confidence that he’ll be the guy to get it done.

“When Ricky was put in that role, it wasn't with the idea that he was just going to be the right guy for the first stage, the stage that is coming toward an end here, or is at an end here,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “Obviously, the history and teaching and communicating and holding guys accountable is very important now. But even at the time we hired him, we felt he had the ability to not only set the right winning culture but to put guys in the best position to win.

“His ability to communicate with all 25 or 26 guys on a daily basis, to know where they're at, to know what they're capable of doing and putting them in the best position, makes us fairly confident that once that roster is deep enough and strong enough that he's going to be able to maximize the win potential with that roster when the time comes.”

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