White Sox

The White Sox have had a home-run offseason, all while sticking to their rebuilding plans

The White Sox have had a home-run offseason, all while sticking to their rebuilding plans

The expectations for this White Sox offseason were sky high.

And though Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon are playing elsewhere in the American League, the sheer volume of White Sox additions — as well as new contracts for a couple key guys who were already part of the organization — has made it easy to argue that this offseason has been nothing short of a home run.

The White Sox entered the winter with the memory of how the Manny Machado saga played out fresh in every fan’s mind, and a certain segment of those minds seemed sure the team was unwilling or unable to spend big enough to land impact talent. Rick Hahn said in the wake of Machado’s decision last February that “the money will be spent.” Plenty seemed unconvinced.

Well, Hahn’s never going to phrase it this way, nor would he even want to, but I guess the most apt segue would be: “How do you like me, now?”

Remember, spending that money was never about proving anybody wrong, but that’s exactly what’s happened, as the White Sox shelled out a franchise-record $73 million contract for free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal in November. Then they gave free-agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel a deal that, if the team picks up a fourth-year option, could end up worth $1 million more than Grandal’s. Thursday’s contract extension for Luis Robert could reach $88 million, a new franchise record, should everything play out that way.

There’s the reported — though not yet announced — signing of free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion. There’s the trade that netted the White Sox right fielder Nomar Mazara from the Texas Rangers. There’s the signing of free-agent pitcher Gio Gonzalez — back with the team that traded him twice as a minor leaguer. There’s the new deal for face of the franchise Jose Abreu.

The amount of activity, particularly at this point in the calendar, is downright astounding.

But it hasn’t merely been activity for activity’s sake. Hahn’s front office has followed its rebuilding plans to a T, adding Grandal and Keuchel on long-term deals that mesh perfectly with what’s expected to be a lengthy contention window. Obviously, the Robert extension is a move for the long, long term, one that could keep him in a White Sox uniform through the 2027 season. Eloy Jimenez, who signed a similar contract last March, could be in the lineup with Robert through the 2026 season.

Only the moves for Gonzalez and Encarnacion haven’t been long-term adds. (Mazara is only under team control for two more seasons, but he’s just 24 years old, aligning him with the other youngsters in a different way.) And those two, though specifically Encarnacion, speak to where this franchise has traveled by following those rebuilding plans and staying committed to a long-term vision. Breakouts for Jimenez and Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson allowed the White Sox to enter this offseason with the ability to make a couple win-now moves. That’s something they couldn’t do last offseason, even while pursuing Machado. They weren’t there yet.

Hahn has also accomplished every goal he established, positionally, at the outset of the offseason, filling two holes in the starting rotation with Keuchel and Gonzalez, finding a new everyday right fielder in Mazara and finding a thumper for the DH spot in Encarnacion. And that’s in addition to bringing in a new everyday catcher who will also bat in the middle of the lineup, locking up the face of the franchise at first base and keeping his bat in the middle of the order and making sure Robert is in center field and in that lineup beginning on Opening Day.

And he’s not done.

Hahn said the White Sox focus will be on improving the bullpen now that the calendar has turned to 2020, and there’s still a possibility of another addition in right field that could form a platoon with Mazara. And let’s not forget Nick Madrigal, who will, at some point, join Robert, Grandal, Mazara and Encarnacion as another everyday player added to this roster.

Plenty wanted this kind of offseason. I’m not sure how many expected it. Well, the White Sox have done it.

Now, winning the offseason does not put a ring on anyone’s finger, nor does it put a trophy in the case. The White Sox have plenty of questions that will need to be answered, a lot of them in a mostly unproven and back-from-injury group of starting pitchers. Their two best hitters from a season ago benefitted from some extraordinarily good luck. The bullpen is on Hahn’s to-do list for a reason. The Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians figure to have something to say about the outcome of the AL Central. And the White Sox have to get to October first before we can compare them to the New York Yankees and Houston Astros.

But the White Sox future has indeed arrived, with realistic playoff expectations and a contention window that has the potential to stay open for a very long time.

Just like Hahn & Co. drew it up.

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Nick Madrigal left out of Keith Law's top 100 prospect list

Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights

Nick Madrigal left out of Keith Law's top 100 prospect list

There are plenty of prospect rankings in the baseball world and typically some level of consensus is formed among where prospects fall.

As far as the White Sox are concerned, Luis Robert is a top 10 prospect in baseball by just about everyone, Michael Kopech is usually in the top 20 or 30 and Andrew Vaughn and Nick Madrigal aren’t too far behind.

Keith Law of The Athletic sees it differently for one of those four. Law released his top 100 prospects on Monday and featured just three White Sox prospects.

Robert came in at No. 6, Kopech was at No. 16 and Vaughn was ranked 28th. There was no Madrigal though.

Madrigal is ranked 40 by MLB Pipeline, 48 by Baseball America, 41 by Fangraphs and even as high as 13 on Baseball Prospectus. Law is the outlier here and he got plenty of questions about it.

The argument against Madrigal is fairly obvious. He has almost no power. The question is can he overcome that and still bring value to a team? Most scouts have said yes.

Madrigal’s notable skill is his elite contact rate. He almost never strikes out, which tends to lead to a high batting average. Madrigal is also a good defender who is noted as a smart baserunner. Throw those things together and you have a solid contributor to a big league team, but far from a star.

Offensively, Madrigal will have to consistently hit for a high average to overcome his lack of power. He has four home runs in 163 games in the minors. He won’t be an OPS hero by any stretch. That said, he hit .311 across three levels of the minors in 2019, including a .331 batting average in 29 games in Triple-A.

If Law thinks Madrigal’s contact skills are very good as opposed to elite and doesn’t believe in growth in other parts of his game, it’s reasonable to think he’s not a top 100 prospect. Still, this is the minority opinion at this point.

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Yasmani Grandal hard at work molding pitching staff that drew him to White Sox


Yasmani Grandal hard at work molding pitching staff that drew him to White Sox

It should come as no surprise that Yasmani Grandal is already making a big impact, even in the early weeks of spring training.

After all, his impact was being felt before anyone even showed up to Camelback Ranch.

But the team’s new No. 1 catcher — perhaps its most important acquisition during a busy offseason — has expectedly gotten to work with a White Sox pitching staff that helped draw him to the South Side.

“I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff,” he said back in November, after he signed his team-record contract. “If I see that I can help that pitching staff, for me, that's pretty much No. 1. So their sales pitch was that: ‘Look at the young arms we have, look at the guys we have coming up. We have an opportunity here to win, and we think you can help them out.’”

Certainly there’s a ton of promise with these young pitchers. Lucas Giolito already morphed himself from the pitcher with the worst statistics in baseball to an All Star last season. Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez all have front-of-the-rotation potential, as well.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks. Giolito has to show his transformation was a permanent one. Kopech is finally returning from Tommy John surgery, and though he’s still ranked as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, he’s got just four big league starts under his belt. Cease and Lopez could be the White Sox biggest mysteries heading into the 2020 campaign after they put up some ugly numbers in 2019.

Grandal should be able to help move all those guys in positive directions, and he’s started on that work early this spring. After catching bullpen sessions from Kopech and Lopez, he stuck around for lengthy chats to discuss what he saw. The same was true after Cease threw live batting practice last week, sitting in the dugout for an extended talk.

This might not be incredibly unusual behavior, especially for a catcher who hasn’t caught any of these guys before, getting to know his pitching staff ahead of the regular season. But Grandal’s desire to help develop these pitchers into the type of hurlers the White Sox believe they can be has been evident.

For him, that’s business as usual.

“We’re as strong as our weakest link, right?” he said in the early days of White Sox camp. “I feel like we need to make everybody better, it doesn’t matter if you’re a reliever or a position player. I’m going to do my homework on everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page and then we’ll go from there. We’ll make adjustments as the year goes on.

“The quicker we can do it, the better.”

Grandal figures to help these White Sox in a lot of different ways, hence why they handed him a four-year deal that, until options are exercised on some of the other contracts the team gave out this winter, is the richest in club history. He’s fresh off a career year at the dish that could land him right in the thick of Rick Renteria’s lineup. After ranking in the top five in baseball with 109 walks in 2019, he’s hoping some of his on-base skills might catch on with his new teammates. There’s the pitch-framing, a skill which is still valuable as we await baseball’s robot revolution. Grandal’s one of the best in the game at it. And his work ethic and love of baseball-related homework leaps out at anyone who talks with him.

It all adds up to a guy who can’t help but make his presence felt right away.

“I could tell right off the bat that it was going to be great for us,” Giolito said. “Obviously, he’s proving that to be true, even in these early days of spring training. Very in-depth conversations with each pitcher that he’s working with. … He’s kind of introducing us to some things that he’s learned along the way, which is exactly what we need for an organization trying to turn that page. He’s coming from winning organizations. He knows what it takes, and he’s implementing that whole-heartedly.”

“The conversations he has with the coaches, the conversations he has with some of the young starters, in terms of preparation, in terms of adjustments, in terms of game-planning, he’s just a pleasure to have around and an outstanding baseball guy who’s going to help this team not just with what he does offensively or even from the defensive-metrics standpoint, but just from an all-around culture and environment standpoint, as well,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “And that’s come through early.”

As Giolito mentioned, Grandal’s winning experience could prove one of his bigger contributions as the White Sox look to snap a playoff drought that’s lasted more than a decade. A talented roster has legitimate postseason expectations in 2020, and considering Grandal’s played in the last five postseasons, that’s a valuable asset to have in the fold.

Making a team-wide jump from rebuilding mode to contenting mode happens on a day-by-day basis, sometimes an inning-by-inning or pitch-by-pitch basis. That’s the kind of work Grandal can help the White Sox do and do well.

“He’s been around the block,” Renteria said. “He’s got a lot of high-impact, high-leverage type experiences in his major league career, and that helps, in many instances, slow things down a lot. So right now, when we’re focusing on trying to clean up and do things that will help our pitchers and any other aspect of the game get better, he’s able to step in and do certain things that allow us to do that.”

“Stuff at game speed goes a little bit quicker,” Kopech said. “It can kind of get away from you if you don’t take control of it. And I think that’s what he’s going to be able to help us with, at game speed, because he’s been there at game speed for a long time. He’s going to help be able to slow the game down for us and stuff like that.”

Considering Grandal is under contract for the next four seasons and that he is set for a prominent role both at and behind the plate, his signing could be the biggest deal among a ton of big deals during the just completed White Sox offseason. His part in the big league portion of development for these young pitchers — and remember, there’s more of them on the way, like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever — will be just as crucial.

Grandal will touch much of the final stage of this rebuilding project. And if the results are as positive as his first impression has been at Camelback Ranch, then the White Sox will probably consider that team-record contract well worth it.

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