White Sox

White Sox have a secret weapon in next offseason’s pursuit of Manny Machado

White Sox have a secret weapon in next offseason’s pursuit of Manny Machado

Next year at SoxFest, if the stars align, a gargantuan contract is offered and a certain free-agent shortstop/third baseman believes his baseball future belongs on the South Side of Chicago, the White Sox will introduce Manny Machado as the grand prize to their rebuild to a frenzied crowd of Sox fans at the Hilton Chicago.

If it happens (and we’ll get to the “if” in a moment), you’ll be able to credit chairman Jerry Reinsdorf for giving Rick Hahn the enormous funds to make it happen.

But you’ll also be thanking their new catcher Welington Castillo for being the White Sox ace in the hole in luring Machado to 35th and Shields.

“He’s my friend. We are tight,” Castillo told NBCSportsChicago.com about Machado. “I called him a few weeks ago. We were texting and I was doing FaceTime with him.”

Really …

So, were you FaceTiming him about possibly signing with the White Sox next offseason?

“Just to play around, I said, ‘I hear that you’re going to go to Chicago.’ He said, ‘That’s what I hear, too. That’s a rumor.’ I said, ‘Hey, I want you to be in Chicago, too.’ He said, ‘I’m going to play whatever they want me to play.’”

Shortstop? Third base? I don’t think the White Sox will mind where. The larger question is how?

With big-spending teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers potentially in the mix next winter for Machado, who could command a contract of $300 million or more, how will the White Sox be able to compete considering the largest free-agent contracts they’ve ever signed were to Jose Abreu (six years, $68 million) and Paul Konerko (five years, $60 million)?

Hahn revealed in a SoxFest seminar on Friday that the White Sox have actually made multiple offers to players in the past that exceeded $100 million.

Asked about signing big-time free agents next offseason in the media session earlier in the day, Hahn let it be known that money will not be an issue.

“I can certainly assure you that the resources will be available,” Hahn said. “Can I assure you we’re going to be able to convert on every target? No. Unfortunately, it’s a going to be a robust and competitive market. I get that question a lot, and I get it, because it would seem to break with our past practice to be aggressive or to be at the top of the market.”

That’s mythbuster No. 1. Hahn then listed a few more.

“I would say over the last 18 months we’ve sort of busted a lot of the myths about how the White Sox go about their business. There was certainly a lot out there that the Chicago White Sox would never rebuild. Obviously we did. There was a lot written a year ago that we would never make a trade with the Chicago Cubs, even if it made us better. And obviously we did.

"Additionally, people touted that we would never incur a significant tax or penalty in order to sign a player like we did with Luis Robert. Each of those steps along the way reinforced this process and put us closer to being in position to win championships. Being competitive in free agency and targeting big-ticket items and hopefully converting on them is going to be the next logical step when the time is right.

"Anyone who doubts that this organization will break from past perception or past process, I think the evidence is there over the last year that the old standard has fallen apart.”

When Machado becomes a free agent, he’ll be asking a lot of questions.

“How much money are they offering?” That’s probably No. 1. After that, he’ll likely want to know about the culture, climate and talent inside each clubhouse. That’s likely the biggest reason the White Sox tried acquiring Machado this offseason, to give him a first-hand look at what the White Sox are all about before he hits free agency.

But he’s got a close friend in Castillo who admits he had “a lot of offers” from other teams but specifically chose to play for the White Sox, partly because of their young talent.

“I know this team is going to be good, really soon.”

The other factor in his decision was Rick Renteria, who managed Castillo when he played for the Cubs.

“I like everything (about Renteria). He has the players’ back. You want to give everything you have for him,” Castillo said.

Will the White Sox be able to sign Machado next winter? Who knows?

But with the franchise trending in the right direction, and with waves of talent either in Chicago or starting to knock on the door, they’ve got Machado’s close friend already in his ear.

Castillo signed with the White Sox to catch baseballs. Helping to reel in Machado would be his biggest catch of all.

Reynaldo Lopez outdueling Jose Quintana shows why White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was

Reynaldo Lopez outdueling Jose Quintana shows why White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was

White Sox fans have been great at buying in to Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort.

But if there were controversies along the way, they stemmed from the dealing away of two of the best young pitchers in the American League.

Chris Sale and Jose Quintana represented the White Sox in the All-Star Game back in 2016, perhaps as good a 1-2 punch as there was in the Junior Circuit and a dream tandem to throw in a playoff series, if the South Siders could ever get there. But they couldn’t. Not in the state they were in. And so Hahn shifted from win-now mode to rebuilding mode, with the trading away of Sale the move that jumpstarted the whole thing.

Half a year later, Quintana was shipped across town to the win-now Cubs. Fourteen months after that, Quintana faced his old mates for the first time at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The other big trade that’s gone heretofore unmentioned was the Adam Eaton deal, which brought back a trio of pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Lopez got the head-to-head matchup with Quintana on Friday to kick off the second Crosstown series of 2018, and while the Cubs and White Sox couldn’t be in more different spots in terms of competing for this season’s World Series title, it was Lopez who flashed why the White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was.

Lopez dominated the Cubs’ offense, the team that still owns the best record in the National League made to look completely incapable by the hard-throwing 24-year-old. He struck out eight batters in a lineup trying desperately to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central race. After Daniel Murphy led off the game with a solo homer, Lopez held the Cubs to a scattered quartet of hits over seven innings.

"Their pitcher was good. Give him some credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He threw the ball really well. I was watching him on video yesterday and even some this morning. He's got good stuff. His last three outings, he went seven, six and seven and he did it again, so a big part of why we didn't look so good was him. He was that good."

Indeed, it was the latest in a string of dominant starts Lopez is putting together to close out his first full major league season. The campaign hasn’t always gone smoothly for him, his ERA still above 4.00 when Friday began, but he’s finishing it off in a way that should have fans real excited for his long-term prospects. In his last five starts, he’s got a pencil-thin 0.79 ERA, a stretch that’s dropped his season ERA from 4.66 to 3.94.

“It’s very important for me,” Lopez said, through a team translator, of closing the season on such a strong note. “I set my goal to finish this season with my ERA below 4.00, and now I know my ERA is below that number. That’s all that I want to do. I want to finish the season strong and finish with my ERA below 4.00.

“When you see all the work that you have put in day in, day out to get that result have shown, you feel very satisfied. Because that's what you work for. You work to get good results. You work to get better and to perform. To be able to do that and to know that you're doing something like that, it's special and you feel good.”

Meanwhile, the White Sox offense did to Quintana what it could never do for him: scored a ton of runs.

Quintana’s recent stretch of high-quality starts came to an end — he entered with a 2.10 ERA in his previous six outings — as his former team touched him up for five runs on nine hits and chased him from the game before the first out of the sixth inning. All in all, the White Sox had one of their best offensive days of the season, pouring it on against the bullpen and finishing with 10 runs on 19 hits.

Quintana remains a very good pitcher, and he could very well help the Cubs to another championship. But instead of having just Sale and Quintana, the White Sox now have five or six or seven guys either here or developing in the minor leagues, Lopez being just one of them. The future will continue to be on display this weekend when Giolito and Carlos Rodon pitch in the second and third games against the Cubs.

Friday’s results are not to say that Lopez is a better pitcher than Quintana now or that he ever will be. But it was probably a little bit of vindication for the White Sox, a sign they made a good decision in pushing the rebuild button. The era of White Sox baseball in which Quintana pitched never ended in a postseason appearance. Hahn & Co. are hoping the era Lopez is pitching in ends in a championship.

Friday, at least, it ended in a win.

Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease still in the minors, but White Sox end of the Jose Quintana trade looking real good right now

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USA TODAY

Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease still in the minors, but White Sox end of the Jose Quintana trade looking real good right now

Who won the Jose Quintana trade?

It’s still way too early to actually answer that question. But a trade that seemed so beneficial for both the White Sox and Cubs when it was completed last summer seems to have a South Side lean at the moment, even if it’s a very slight one.

That’s not a knock against Quintana, who faced his former team for the first time Friday afternoon. He’s doing his part in the mission the Cubs acquired him to accomplish. A rocky start that afflicted most of the North Side starting rotation means Quintana’s season-long numbers aren’t dazzling, but he’s been excellent as the Cubs’ division race with the Milwaukee Brewers has heated up, with a 2.10 ERA in his last six starts heading into Friday’s Crosstown opener.

They acquired him to help them win another World Series, and he’s pitching well enough as the postseason nears to be a big piece of that equation this October.

But the team that traded Quintana away probably isn’t having second thoughts at the moment. While the return pieces in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades haven’t exactly hit the big leagues in dominant fashion — the ceilings of Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are all still very high — the two biggest return pieces in the Quintana trade are perhaps the two biggest reasons to be excited about the White Sox future at the moment.

Eloy Jimenez is being discussed as a superstar in waiting. His eventual promotion to the majors was the biggest discussion topic of the season, and though it didn’t end up happening in 2018, it doesn’t figure to be long into the 2019 campaign before he’s playing big league ball.

He lit the minors on fire this season with a .337/.384/.577 slash line and 22 home runs in 108 games split between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. After being promoted to Triple-A, he posted a .355/.399/.597 slash line and 12 homers in 55 games. He’s currently ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the game.

Dylan Cease, meanwhile, was good enough to be named MLB Pipeline’s minor league pitcher of the year. He posted a 2.40 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 23 starts between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. That includes a sparkling 1.72 ERA in 10 starts following a midseason promotion to Double-A. He went to the Futures Game and pitched in the ninth inning on that All-Star stage.

Coming into the season, Cease was maybe the fourth most highly thought of White Sox pitching prospect, trailing Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning — not to mention big leaguers Giolito and Carlos Rodon. But where the question then was whether Cease could find a place in a crowded rotation of the future, the question now is: Could he lead it? Cease’s magnificent 2018 has sparked thoughts of him being the pitcher with the greatest promise in the organization.

And so that sounds like a pretty good state of the trade for the White Sox. Of course, the win-now Cubs probably feel similarly about their end of the deal, Quintana’s performance of late helping to answer what was a glaring question earlier in the season.

It’s worth repeating that it’s extremely early to be making any definitive statements about the “winner” of this deal. It’s also very early to be able to say with certainty what impact Jimenez and Cease will finally have when they reach the majors. The two most exciting White Sox youngsters at this time last season were Moncada and Kopech, and while the organization still thinks the world of both, fan expectations have shifted as Moncada’s first full big league season has been an up-and-down one and Kopech is days removed from Tommy John surgery that will wipe out his 2019.

In other words, things can change. And fast.

But right now, Jimenez and Cease are arguably the two brightest parts of the White Sox future. There’s plenty of questions to be answered over the coming years, but in the moment, the South Side half of this win-win deal is living up to the billing.