White Sox

White Sox scored rebuilding win in avoiding Kris Bryant style headaches

White Sox scored rebuilding win in avoiding Kris Bryant style headaches

The White Sox will never have to deal with this Kris Bryant service-time grievance business. And that's a good thing.

For a bit there, service time was all we were talking about, first with Eloy Jimenez, then with Luis Robert. Would the White Sox treat their star prospects like the Cubs treated Bryant in 2015, keeping them in the minor leagues for a few weeks at the start of their respective rookie seasons in order to ensure one more year of team control?

Certainly they could have, as the outcome of Bryant's grievance against the Cubs shows. The ruling was in the Cubs' favor, and Bryant will be a free agent after the 2021 season, instead of becoming a free agent after the upcoming 2020 campaign, as he argued he should be. However unfair to the player, the Cubs didn't break any rules. The White Sox wouldn't have, either.

But the White Sox did away with all this service-time stuff when they inked both Jimenez and Robert to big-money contract extensions that will keep them on the South Side through the 2026 and 2027 seasons, respectively.

Were those deals risky? Sure. Neither player had played in a major league game when they signed, and Robert obviously still hasn't. But if those guys live up to the hype that's accompanied them through their young pro careers, those contracts will look like a bargain.

That's one area where Rick Hahn has excelled during his rebuilding effort and an area where Theo Epstein didn't take what's now proving to be beneficial action. Of course, Bryant might not have ever signed such an extension, as players earn their right to hit the open market as free agents. Bryant's star rose immediately upon his arrival in the big leagues, giving him all the reason to believe his eventual free-agent payday would be sky high. But the Cubs, once believed to be primed for a dynastic run, are now seeing their championship window shrinking as they face franchise-altering decisions on which players to keep for the long term.

Hahn might face criticism one day down the road for not locking up Lucas Giolito or Yoan Moncada in similar fashions — deals that could certainly be attempted before those two head to free agency after the 2023 season and something already on the minds of White Sox fans — but he won't face simultaneous choices between Jimenez and Robert.

The White Sox have long had a track record of these kinds of team-friendly, long-term deals. Tim Anderson has been in the majors for four seasons and is still under team control for another five. Before him, it was team-friendly deals for Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana that allowed Hahn to acquire such massive hauls in the trio of trades that jump started the rebuild in the first place.

The contracts for Jimenez and Robert are not just the latest in that line, but they aim to keep the White Sox window propped open for as long as possible. Not only can Hahn ink Jimenez and Robert into the lineup for the better part of the next decade, but he can take advantage of these team-friendly deals to make the roster even better with outside additions, increasing the team's championship chances.

The window has to actually open first, of course. Jimenez has to leave his rookie-year growing pains behind him, and Robert needs to adjust to life in the majors. But the ceilings for these guys are so high, they're viewed as potentially the two most important pieces of the White Sox long-term puzzle.

Hahn has glued those pieces in, and he doesn't have to worry about the same kinds of things the Cubs have spent their offseason worrying about with Bryant.

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After two busy years with Joe Maddon, 'beautiful man' Steve Cishek ready for more with White Sox

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USA TODAY

After two busy years with Joe Maddon, 'beautiful man' Steve Cishek ready for more with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Joe Maddon called on Steve Cishek an awful lot during the right-handed reliever’s two years on the North Side.

Cishek wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“You get paid a lot of money to play this game, I want to make sure that I’m keeping up my value,” Cishek said Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. “You get paid to go out there and pitch and perform. I take a lot of pride in that, I want to make sure I’m going out there and giving everything I possibly have. Hopefully my teammates and organization reap the benefits of that.

“That’s always been my approach. I always try to make myself available. I prepare every day and take care of my body to the best of my ability using the staff that we have to hopefully give the manager the option to use me during the game.”

Cishek’s pitching on the South Side now, one of the many veterans Rick Hahn’s front office brought in to complement the young core and build realistic postseason expectations for the 2020 campaign. During his two years with the Cubs, Maddon called on Cishek a combined 150 times. In 2018, only one pitcher in baseball, Brad Ziegler, made more appearances. In 2019, Cishek again ranked in the top 25.

That’s a lot, but it never seemed to make Cishek any less effective: In those two seasons, he had a combined 2.55 ERA.

While plenty have suggested that Maddon's use of Cishek had some sort of detrimental effect on the pitcher, as Cishek's words illuminate, he’s always game to head to the mound. That attitude is what made Maddon use Cishek so much. It’s what made Maddon love the guy.

“'Shek is one of the finest teammates you’re ever going to find,” Maddon, now managing the Los Angeles Angels, said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. “I love him because he’s so durable, but he’ll tell you when he needs a day, which is important. He’s fearless.

“This guy, you’ve got to be careful because he’ll keep wanting to go out. This guy wants to play all the time. So you have to have a conversation to know when he needs a day.

“But he’s a beautiful man, and I’m going to miss him.”

It’s hard to find many better compliments than that. When told about what his former skipper said, Cishek laughed and said: “Thanks, Joe.”

But even though Cishek is no longer playing for Maddon and the Cubs, he’s ready to continue the same kind of thing he was doing up north. Rick Renteria can expect to have at his disposal a pitcher who’s ready to go every day.

“That’s what the offseason’s for. I don’t really mess around much. I prepare and try to get my body to endure a long season,” Cishek said. “I do everything that I’m able to do because I don’t want to go out there and not be able to perform or be hurt, not able to help the team win. So that’s what I focus on when I prepare for these games.”

Cishek figures to be a big factor at the back end of the White Sox bullpen in 2020, someone who can provide durability and reliability to a unit, regardless of team, that could always use more of that.

The White Sox bullpen was pretty good in 2019 and returns many of the arms that made it that way: Aaron Bummer, Alex Colome, Jimmy Cordero and Evan Marshall. But as Hahn will tell you, there’s a good deal of volatility with relief pitching. So bringing in someone with Cishek’s track record of not just pitching a lot but pitching a lot and pitching well figures to be a successful addition.

“You always anticipate a good result when he pitches,” Maddon said. “Always.”

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The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Home runs simply don’t sound like this.

“We were all in awe.”

Those who were there say they’ve never seen one hit like this, either.

“It just disappeared into the night. The ball just kept on truckin’.”

Last August, White Sox prized outfield prospect Luis Robert grabbed a brand new bat in the Charlotte Knights dugout. From the on-deck circle, he joked to his teammates he was going to hit a home run.

“Because when I get a new bat I usually hit homers,” Robert said.

What happened next on this memorable night in Durham, N.C., only adds to the legend of Robert. He is still in the infancy of his young baseball career, but is already telling a special, even mythical story that will soon be adding many chapters when he makes his major league debut this spring in Chicago.

Those who witnessed Robert completely obliterate this one helpless baseball say they will never forget what they saw. They’re still talking about it six months later.

“I think everyone just looked at each other like, did that really just happen?” said Nick Madrigal, who was standing on first base.

Robert’s towering home run went so far into the darkness, nobody has any idea where it actually landed, which is even more perplexing considering what stands in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Triple-A stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

First, there’s a 32-foot high fence they call the Blue Monster, named after the famous Green Monster at Fenway Park. Beyond that, there’s a concourse and concession area. And even beyond that, stands a massive 25-foot high snorting bull, made famous in the 1988 movie, "Bull Durham."

Durham Bulls players win a free steak whenever they hit the bull with a home run.

Robert’s homer sailed high over everything: the fence, the concession stand, even the enormous bull. Nothing but gravity could stop it.

“That was honestly the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He should have gotten a steak for hitting it over the bull,” catcher Zack Collins said.

Robert believes it was the hardest contact he made on a baseball last year. Watching as the ball left the stadium (and possibly the city of Durham) in a heartbeat, his teammates aren’t going to disagree with him.

“One thing that stands out about that home run is how fast it got out. It got out in what felt like a matter of seconds,” Madrigal said. “It was still going by the time it got over the bull. That was one of the hardest hit home runs I’ve ever seen.”

Everyone in the ballpark watched in awe as the ball rocketed into infinity, everyone except Robert, of all people.

“When I hit that ball, I didn’t follow it. I didn’t know how far the ball went,” Robert explained through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Then my teammates told me how far it went and then I saw the video and I was impressed with myself. I saw in the news that they didn’t know if the ball has landed yet.”

Maybe it still hasn’t.

“The pitcher knew it immediately,” said Danny Mendick, who was playing shortstop that night. “And everyone (on the Bulls) just put their head down and was like, ‘Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen.’”

Robert began to realize the sheer enormity of his home run as soon as he trotted to first base.

“I remember I was running the bases and the first baseman said, ‘Damn bro,’” Robert said. “And the Latinos from the other team were saying, ‘You are an abusador.’”

That’s Spanish for the word “beast.”

“What I remember about that game was that homer. He hit the ball really high and it was over the bull,” said Yoan Moncada, who happened to be on a rehab assignment and batted in front of Robert that night. “It was impressive. When I played in Triple-A, I didn’t see anybody hit a homer like that.”

Which begs the question: has anyone ever hit a ball that far at that ballpark?

Scott Strickland is the assistant general manager of operations for the Durham Bulls. He’s worked there for 16 years. Is Robert’s home run the farthest ball he’s ever seen hit there?

“Yes. I would agree with that. I would absolutely agree with that,” Strickland said. “The way it disappeared, everyone was in shock. It was very quiet in the ballpark because it was so shockingly well struck.”

How far did it actually travel? No one will ever know, but what about an estimate?

“That ball more than likely landed on the street that’s behind the office building,” Strickland said.

So for the record, that would mean Robert hit the baseball over the fence, over the concession stand, over the 25-foot bull and now over an office building.

“I would estimate that he hit it north of 450, but probably between 450 and 475," Strickland said. "The hard part there is, that ball was still going up. It’s not like it was coming down as it was going over the bull’s head. It was still going up.”

That sounds more like over 500 to me.

And here’s the crazy part. Robert doesn’t think this was the longest home run he hit last season.

“The farthest I think was the one I hit in Birmingham. It was over the scoreboard,” Robert said.

If you’re wondering whatever happened to the bat Robert used to launch this majestic home run, it didn’t have much of a shelf life.

He says it eventually broke.

Robert played 47 games for Charlotte last season, slashing .297/.341/.634. The rest of the International League likely rejoiced when he signed that big extension with the White Sox this offseason, basically punching his ticket for the major leagues on Opening Day.

“He had played so well against us. The question was already going around, ‘What in the world is he doing down here?’ And then he hit that one,” Strickland said of Robert’s home run. “If there was a debate at all of whether or not this kid is a future star or a future big leaguer, then that question was 100 percent answered in that one swing.”

Somewhere somebody probably has the baseball from that one swing.

That is, unless it’s still going.

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