White Sox

White Sox pending decisions on Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia made all the tougher by their 2018 seasons

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White Sox pending decisions on Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia made all the tougher by their 2018 seasons

What to do, what to do.

Since the December 2016 trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton that kickstarted their rebuilding effort, the White Sox have mostly been in a waiting game, waiting for all those highly touted prospects to develop in the minor leagues. There's been one big decision: to make another huge trade, of Jose Quintana, to accomplish the same task that was accomplished with the Sale and Eaton deals. The big league team since has been young and getting younger, in a holding pattern until the Eloy Jimenezes and Luis Roberts and Dylan Ceases and Dane Dunnings and Nick Madrigals of the world make their way to the South Side.

But while 2019 might end up looking a lot like 2018 at the major league level — give or take the presence of a top-three prospect in baseball — there are some important decisions to be made. And they start this winter.

The contracts of a couple of the team's lone veterans are moving toward their expiration dates, with both Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia set to hit the free-agent market a year from now. Both guys have the unfortunate distinction of coming off injury-plagued seasons. Garcia's hurt knee led to a hamstring injury and kept him on the disabled list for a huge chunk of the season, not to mention that it helped cause his numbers to plummet — save the home run total, which actually improved from his All-Star campaign in 2017. Abreu's pair of freak injuries — a procedure to relieve testicular torsion and then an unrelated infection in his thigh — didn't cause him to miss as much time as Garcia's ailments, but they kept him out long enough to make sure his midseason slump sank his numbers to unprecedented levels in his big league career.

And with all that, the White Sox now have decisions to make: Are Abreu and Garcia going to be a part of this team's long-term plans?

The decisions are different animals than they were a year ago, when Abreu was coming off his fourth straight 25-homer, 100-RBI season and Garcia was coming off a season in which he ranked among the league leaders with a .330 batting average and a .380 on-base percentage. Then, it seemed that no offer for Abreu could return the same amount of value the White Sox saw in his consistent production and his off-the-field mentorship of the franchise's young players. It seemed Garcia had finally figured things out, and some considered him a long-term centerpiece.

Rick Hahn is convinced that the down seasons for the team's current middle-of-the-order hitters don't change what his front office knows they can do. But he realizes that decisions are coming.

"There’s multiple decision points, with the last one being essentially a year from now when they would hit free agency under the normal course of business. We obviously have some decisions to make this offseason," Hahn said during his end-of-the-year press conference last month. "I think we know from the track record of performance what these players are capable of doing and can project with some level of certainty, given the health of each of them, what it’s going to look like going forward.

"We don’t need to make long-term decisions on either just yet. We’ll go into this offseason and look at our options and talk through where each of them are from a performance and health standpoint and what we project going forward and act accordingly."

It might be vague, but Hahn is right: The White Sox don't need to move either of these guys this winter, nor do they need to lock either up with contract extensions this winter. There's still time for different scenarios to play out. No trade interest in Garcia this offseason? Well, maybe he gets off to a good start in 2019, the White Sox can make a deal at the deadline and they can further bolster the rebuilding effort with the return. All those injuries to prospects last season casting uncertainty on the timeline of the rebuild? Maybe Abreu — who will be 33 by Opening Day, 2020 — no longer seems like the no-brainer long-term piece he might have a year ago.

Not to mention that the 2019 performance of both players might help make the White Sox decision for them, one way or the other.

Abreu's value beyond 2019 is certainly more obvious than Garcia's at this point. His age is advancing, but given a full season last year, he might've been able to chase down the milestones he hit in each of his first four season in the majors. And his relationship with Yoan Moncada and example for all the team's young players who either have arrived or will soon be arriving on the South Side provides a ton of off-the-field value. The down side is that age and, often, the decreased production that comes with it for older players. How many years of a new multi-year contract for Abreu would feature the same kind of production he's put up to date, with the caveat that the White Sox are hoping to be competing for championships?

Garcia, meanwhile, remains a bit of a mystery, despite the fact that he's played parts of seven big league seasons and has been on the White Sox for the past six years. He was, statistically, one of baseball's best hitters in 2017, but the question was whether he could do it again. There was no way to answer that question as Garcia only played in 93 games and played hurt in all of them. Then there's the fleet of outfield prospects developing in the White Sox loaded farm system, which makes Garcia look a bit more expendable, simply from a depth standpoint.

Will we see Abreu or Garcia depart this winter? Will we see them traded next summer? Will we see them walk off into the free-agency sunset? Or will we see them in the Opening Day lineup in 2020?

The White Sox need to decide.

Yoan Moncada has gone from 'strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven'

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Yoan Moncada has gone from 'strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven'

Yoan Moncada is finishing off a breakout season and he has gotten there with a different approach at the plate.

When Moncada came up through the minors and even in his first two years in the majors, he was known for drawing plenty of walks. At every stop of the minors and in each of his first two seasons with the White Sox, Moncada walked in well north of 10 percent of his plate appearances.

This season, which is inarguably his best in the majors, he has 39 walks in 510 plate appearances. After Moncada added three hits in Sunday’s 11-10 loss to the Mariners, he is now hitting .308/363/.537 with 23 home runs, 72 RBIs and 75 runs scored.

Sunday's 3-for-5 game added to his red-hot September. Moncada is hitting .436/.492/.636 in 14 games this month. He's not the only White Sox hitter on fire this month.

Before the game, White Sox manager Rick Renteria talked about Moncada’s different approach.

“He’s going to be a 30-homer type guy,” Renteria said. “I think his on-base percentage is good. I think people look at the numbers in terms of the base-on-balls, the total numbers that are down, but he’s gone from strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven, so to speak, and I think there’s going to be a balance in between where he’s going to continue to have those walk numbers, on-base numbers and be a pretty significant impactful player as a third baseman.”

That strikeout heaven Renteria referred to is another big difference for Moncada this year. After striking out in 32 percent of his plate appearances in 54 games with the White Sox in 2017 and whiffing a whopping 217 times last year (33.4 percent), Moncada has cut down on that number. He has 139 strikeouts this year, which is down to 27.2 percent.

So the strikeouts have gone down along with the walks. Moncada’s overall numbers are clearly better so it appears the tradeoff has been worth it.

“I think he’s taking into account more situational type things,” Renteria said. “Instead of taking that borderline pitch that they would call a strike, for example, he might be more inclined to create a productive out and drive in a run and put the ball in play.

"It’s more baseball-oriented, not just numbers wise. It’s a baseball situation in which he is now understanding a little bit more, I have a chance to impact this in a positive way. (If) I don’t swing the bat, it’s a called third strike, I’m walking into the dugout and my guys are still out  there on the bases. I got a pitch I can handle, I can still manage. Put the ball in play, score that run and we score another point, it puts us in a better position. Ultimately it’s about scoring runs.”

Renteria emphasized that he didn’t want Moncada chasing pitches as he tries to be more aggressive. However, going after borderline pitches that are hittable instead of trying to work a walk as one of the most dangerous hitters on the team isn’t always the best approach.

“If you look at his at-bats, he’s not a chaser,” Renteria said. “He doesn’t put balls in play that are a foot (outside), he doesn’t do that. There are balls that are manageable, hittable, things that he can either get a base hit out of or put in play to create a particular run. It’s more situational awareness that he’s become better at, which I think has helped him improved some of his numbers offensively.”

In other Moncada news, he got hit by a throw after stealing a base in the seventh inning .The throw bounced and hit Moncada in the side as he was sliding into second. After being in obvious pain, Moncada stayed on the bases, later came around to score and finished the game.

 

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The biggest pieces of the White Sox rebuild are on absolute fire in September, great news for 2020

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The biggest pieces of the White Sox rebuild are on absolute fire in September, great news for 2020

“The 2020 season, it starts in September.”

Jose Abreu said that before August was even over, looking toward the final month of yet another losing season, yet another season without a playoff appearance on the South Side. Of course, everyone involved with this organization is hoping that changes in 2020, and with his sights on that campaign, Abreu talked about using the last month of this one to get ready for next year.

Well, if this month is really the first month of what’s next, the guys who figure to play the biggest roles on that 2020 team — in this rebuild, in general — are off to a heck of a start.

Friday night, it was the quartet of Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez powering a high-scoring win over the Seattle Mariners. The four combined to go 8-for-18 with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, seven RBIs and six runs scored.

It was a nice microcosm of what’s been happening all month.

In the dozen games the White Sox have played in September, Abreu, Anderson, Moncada and Jimenez have combined for a .363 batting average, a .431 on-base percentage, a .687 slugging percentage, 13 home runs, 18 doubles, a triple, 42 RBIs and 40 runs scored. They’ve accounted for more than 58 percent of the runs the team has scored and more than 61 percent of the runs the team has driven in.

Considering Anderson, Moncada and Jimenez are three cornerstones of Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort and the elder statesman Abreu, with his constant declarations of his desire to remain with the team, seems a safe bet to be back in black for 2020, this is the core of this lineup moving forward playing at an extremely high level.

It’s exactly what the White Sox and their fans want to see.

Anderson is going to be dominating the headlines the rest of the way as he chases a batting title. He woke up Saturday with the best batting average in baseball, a .334 mark for the 2019 season. In September alone, he’s hitting .400.

Moncada has steadily had the best all-around offensive season of anyone on the team, quite the transformation from a year ago, when he struck out 217 times in a disappointing first full campaign as a major leaguer. In September, he’s hitting even better than Anderson, with a .435 batting average to go along with an insane .500 on-base percentage.

Jimenez has had an up-and-down rookie season, but he’s closing in on 30 home runs after smashing No. 27 on Friday night. He’s definitely in the midst of one of his better stretches right now and owns a .694 slugging percentage with five homers in September.

Abreu has been criticized by certain segments of the fan base for the noticeable dip in his on-base percentage this season. Thanks to a hot finish, it is higher than last year’s at the moment, but if the season ended today, it would be lower than the figures he posted during his first four seasons in the big leagues. But what those critics aren’t focusing on is one of the most productive seasons of Abreu’s career. He also homered Friday and is up to 33 bombs on the season, three off the career high he set as a rookie in 2014. And he’s blasted past his career high in RBIs from that same season, up to 116, which leads the American League. He's got five September homers and a .784 slugging percentage on the month.

In a season judged from the outset based on the development and performance of the team’s core players rather than its win-loss record, that’s all spectacular news for the organization moving forward into 2020. Combine all that with the strides made by Lucas Giolito and James McCann, the arrival of Dylan Cease, the expected return of Michael Kopech, the expected arrivals of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, plus what’s expected to be an active offseason, and this team is shaping up to have a very promising outlook for 2020.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” manager Rick Renteria said after Thursday’s game, asked if he believed the White Sox string of sub-.500 seasons would end next year. “We are trying to win. I think we talk about it, we are going through it. I know there’s still refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you. We are finishing this season, we are talking about coming into next season ready to battle, period, exclamation point. That’s what we are looking to do.”

If these four guys keep swinging the bats like this straight on into next March, that would go a long way toward proving their manager right.

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