White Sox

White Sox can still hope to follow Astros' rebuilding model — without coming close to doing what they've done off the field


White Sox can still hope to follow Astros' rebuilding model — without coming close to doing what they've done off the field

Being like the Houston Astros seemed like a good thing.

It turns out looks can be deceiving.

One of baseball's dreamiest rebuilds, the transformation of 100-game losers into perennial World Series contenders, turned into a nightmare Monday, when commissioner Rob Manfred handed out yearlong bans to Astros general manager Jeff Lunhow and manager A.J. Hinch, the result of their inaction in the face of sign-stealing during the team's run to the 2017 World Series title.

The harsher punishments came shortly thereafter, when Astros owner Jim Crane fired them both.

So much for a lack of consequences. While the Astros, with their extraordinarily talented roster still intact even while their two bosses sat on the sidelines for a season, seemed capable of winning another World Series in 2020, Crane's upheaval of his organization casts a longer, darker shadow.

It remains true that no players are getting caught up in this, despite Manfred outlining the elaborate sign-stealing scheme as mostly "player driven." For the uninitiated, the Astros were found to have used a live feed from the center-field camera to decode signs given by opposing catchers to opposing pitchers, then banging on a trash can in the dugout to indicate to the batter what type of pitch was coming. They were found to be doing this during that postseason, as well, en route to a world championship. Lunhow and Hinch were both punished — and eventually fired — for not doing anything about it. There's speculation baseball's punishment could be even more significant for current Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros' bench coach in 2017 and had a hand in masterminding the entire operation. The Red Sox are currently under investigation for stealing signs during their run to a World Series title in 2018.

The punishments initially seemed to allow the Astros to remain well equipped to win it all again in 2020. Hinch's successor, at least on an interim basis, will be bench coach Joe Espada, a major league caliber manager who interviewed for multiple opening this winter, including the one on the North Side. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer will all still, presumably, be able to hit. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke will still, presumably, be able to pitch.

But a year of familiar faces at the helm seemed weatherable. An uncertain future accompanied by a significant culture change is something else entirely. Manfred's actions were unprecedented, sure. But Crane, it turns out, was the one who handed out the earth-shattering punishment, a seemingly necessary course of action to reboot a culture that even Manfred called out Monday.

"While no one can dispute that Lunhow's baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analytics," the commissioner wrote, "it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the ways its employees are treated, its relations with other clubs and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic."

Obviously, a full-scale rebuild does not require a toxic culture, and no one is accusing any other rebuilding squad of trying to emulate that aspect of what the Astros built in Houston. The Astros were not the only ones to undergo such a teardown and eventually reach the promised land. Look to the Kansas City Royals and Cubs before them.

The White Sox are trying to be the latest to make that kind of thing work, and after the kinds of loss-heavy campaigns the Astros experienced when Lunhow came aboard, they seem on the verge of using their own homegrown core of youngsters to power a surge into contender status. The White Sox likely hope their ascent mirrors that of the Astros.

Like the Astros' core built of Altuve, Bregman, Correa, Springer, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez, the White Sox have amassed their own stockpile of homegrown position players: Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Michael Kopech and Nick Madrigal.

Like the Astros' moves for proven veteran pitchers Verlander, Greinke and Gerrit Cole, the White Sox have already added an accomplished front-of-the-rotation type from outside the organization in Dallas Keuchel, coincidentally a homegrown Astro who was a member of that 2017 World Series team.

Like the Astros' rise from a combined 416 losses from 2011-2014 and a nine-year playoff drought to World Series winners, the White Sox hope they can emerge from a combined 284 losses in the last three years and a playoff drought that's lasted more than a decade to reach similar heights.

But for all those parallels on the field, the White Sox will be happy if no parallels exist off the field.

Monday's actions by Manfred and Crane will dominate the headlines and conversation around the game for some time. But this isn't the first fallout of the Astros' ghastly behavior, not even the first in the last few months. The team's assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, thrust himself into the spotlight in bizarre fashion when he taunted a group of female reporters, celebrating closer Roberto Osuna, who had previously served a domestic-violence suspension. The team then besmirched the reporter by saying it never happened before eventually — and clumsily — fessing up. (Taubman, by the way, was also punished by Manfred on Monday, placed on baseball's ineligible list.)

Teams don't need to act like this because they achieve success, and there should be no concern or any shred of anticipation that this could happen to any team seeking success via the rebuilding model. It's merely all laid out to show what's been going on in Houston, an organization that seemed to have everything figured out when it came to winning baseball games.

Things went from "be like the Astros" to "don't be anything like the Astros" pretty quick.

It's not impossible to do both at the same time. The White Sox can win like the Astros and not act like the Astros. In fact, they'll be expected to do just that.

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Kenny Williams shuts down rumor connecting free agent Yasiel Puig to White Sox


Kenny Williams shuts down rumor connecting free agent Yasiel Puig to White Sox

You can put to bed the rumors about free agent outfielder Yasiel Puig possibly signing with the White Sox. It’s not happening.

The two sides did get together during the MLB Winter Meetings in December. Kenny Williams, Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria met with Puig for about 90 minutes to discuss the possibility of the 29-year-old joining the White Sox as their everyday right fielder.

But instead, the White Sox chose to take a different route. That same week, they acquired Nomar Mazara from the Texas Rangers for minor league outfielder Steele Walker, ending any chance of Puig coming to the South Side.

“After our meeting we came away big Yasiel Puig fans, but he wasn’t the right fit for us then and he isn’t right now,” Williams said.

With spring training games starting this weekend and the regular season a little over a month away, fellow Cuban Jose Abreu says he’s surprised the flashy 29-year-old outfielder remains a free agent.

“Yes, I am (surprised). That’s one of those things that happen that you don’t understand. A guy with his talent. He’s still so young,” Abreu said through a translator. “He doesn’t have a team yet. It’s a surprise. I’m confident he’s going to find something this year.”

Even with Puig’s talent, Abreu looks around the White Sox clubhouse and agrees with the decision by the White Sox not to sign the former All-Star, who hit .267/.327/.458 with the Reds and Indians last season.

“I don’t think he would be a good fit here. Don’t get me wrong. He has a lot of talent, but we’re full," Abreu said. "Our outfield is looking great with Nomar (Mazara), Eloy (Jimenez) and (Luis) Robert. There’s no reason for us to make more moves in that area of our team. He’s someone who would fit in with any major league ball club because he has the talent to help any of those teams.”

What about possibly platooning Puig with Mazara in right field? On paper, that might sound like a good plan, although Puig has traditionally hit better against righties than lefties in his career. But a larger issue could be the timeshare. The idea of Puig, nicknamed “Wild Horse,” being forced to the stable for half the season could spell problems, not only for him, but the chemistry inside the clubhouse.

“It would be difficult, especially for him being an everyday player,” Abreu said about Puig being a platoon player.  “When you have to make that decision, it’s not easy.”

So, where will Puig end up?  No one knows for sure, but it won’t be with the White Sox.  

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White Sox lock up Aaron Bummer with record five-year extension

White Sox lock up Aaron Bummer with record five-year extension

PHOENIX — The White Sox have locked up a key part of their bullpen and did it in record fashion.

The team is keeping Aaron Bummer on the South Side for the next half decade. The deal contains a pair of team options that could keep Bummer in a White Sox uniform through the 2026 season. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, it’s the biggest extension for a pre-arbitration, non-closer reliever in baseball history.

According to the team’s announcement, Bummer will receive $1 million in 2020, $2 million in 2021, $2.5 million in 2022, $3.75 million in 2023 and $5.5 million in 2024. The White Sox hold options for $7.25 million in 2025 and $7.5 million in 2026, with $1.25 million buyouts for either season.

The White Sox have good reason to want to keep the 26-year-old Bummer around. He was excellent during the 2019 season, emerging as one of the team’s most reliable late-inning options. He finished the campaign with a 2.13 ERA in 58 appearances. A left-hander, he was effective against both right- and left-handed hitters, holding righties to a .188 batting average and lefties to a .178 average.

“Any time you’re looking at relievers, there’s the capacity to come in in key situations, in high-leverage and be that guy that you can count on in any situation. That’s what we have with Aaron," White Sox assistant GM Jeremy Haber told reporters Saturday in Glendale. "In addition, the nature of the position — there’s ups and downs, and he’s experienced that in his career on and off the field, demonstrated that resiliency that you look for in that position."

Bummer will continue playing a prominent role in the White Sox ‘pen in 2020, likely starting the season as Rick Renteria’s primary eighth-inning option and forming a formidable back end of the bullpen alongside closer Alex Colome and new addition Steve Cishek.

But with Colome slated to hit free agency after the 2020 season, it’s possible Bummer could be a candidate to take over the closer’s job.

"The reliever role and coming in in the seventh, eighth, ninth inning — it takes a certain type of temperament," Haber said. "Not to just deal with and thrive in those, but handle the ups and downs whenever they come, and Aaron’s shown that."

Add Bummer’s name to the list of young, core players the White Sox have under team control for a long time. Now there’s an exciting bullpen arm to go along with locked-up stars in the making such as Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson and Luis Robert, among the other youngsters like Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, who aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

You need a strong bullpen to compete, and with their eyes on competing long into the future, the White Sox are trying to build just that for the long term.

"Every organization seeks to acquire and develop and retain championship-level talent," Haber said. "We’re very pleased to have been able to accomplish that today with another piece."

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