White Sox

A White Sox team with raised expectations was supposed to beat the bottom of the barrel, but they haven't so far in 2019

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USA TODAY

A White Sox team with raised expectations was supposed to beat the bottom of the barrel, but they haven't so far in 2019

The White Sox might not be destined for the postseason in 2019. They might not be destined to finish .500, what with the rebuild still grinding along on the South Side.

But this team spent spring training talking about raised expectations, a logical next step for a group of young players supposed to make up part if not much of the rosters of the future that will carry expectations of a lot more success. And while the individual improvements of Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and and Eloy Jimenez and Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez are more important than whatever the win-loss record ends up being, there was a realistic hope within the fan base for more wins.

In part, that was due to the competition around these White Sox. The AL Central is aggressively weak, the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers further back in their own rebuilding efforts than Rick Hahn's front office ever was and the supposed "upper echelon" of the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins anything but terrifying. Outside of the Boston Red Sox (who to this point have been atrocious in defending their World Series championship), the New York Yankees (with a ridiculous number of players on the injured list) and the Houston Astros (generally taking care of business though not in first place in the AL West), did any other American League team look unbeatable during the preseason?

And yet, 23 games into their 2019 campaign, the White Sox have been knocked around by the American League — the good, the bad and the ugly of it.

Wednesday's 4-3 defeat to clinch a series loss to the Baltimore Orioles was particularly disheartening when it comes to which teams the White Sox will be able to take advantage of this season. The Orioles lost 115 games in 2018, the worst team in baseball, and things aren't exactly looking up this time around, either. Well, they just took two of three against the White Sox, knocking the South Side starting staff around enough that Ervin Santana's 4.2 innings of work Wednesday were the most of a White Sox starter in the series. Manny Banuelos and Ivan Nova went four innings apiece in the first two contests.

The Royals and Tigers? Those two teams combined to lose 202 games last season and seemed good bets to finish with worse records than the White Sox this season. That can certainly still happen, but so far the White Sox have split six games against the Royals and dropped two of three in their first series against the Tigers last weekend.

They've split two games with the Indians. They went a gross 1-5 against two surprise division leaders, the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners. The only team the White Sox have a winning record against is the aforementioned Yankees thanks to taking two of three in The Bronx earlier this month.

A rebuilding team not expected to make the playoffs losing to a smattering of teams including two of the best in the game to this point is not surprising. No one should pretend that other teams aren't seeing the White Sox in the same light White Sox fans see the Royals and Tigers and Orioles. The White Sox lost 100 games last year, too.

But if the expectations have truly increased, if there is progress truly being made, then these are the teams the White Sox should be showing that progress against. They haven't.

Now, individually, things are a bit of a different story. This series in Baltimore featured no starting pitcher that can be considered a part of the White Sox long-term plans, and Nova and Santana turning in losing efforts against the Orioles, no matter how frustrating, doesn't really have negative consequences for the future. Anderson and Moncada are still batting over .300, Jose Abreu could be in the middle of an early season turnaround, and the bullpen only gave up two runs in three games despite pitching more than 12 innings. In the end, what the young guys do will be what's most important, not the White Sox record against any individual team this season.

But the frustrations can be understood — and surely they're being felt inside the White Sox clubhouse as much as they are outside it — because taking care of business against teams expected to be at the bottom of the standings was supposed to be one of the examples of progress, one of the examples of improvement. The White Sox haven't taken care of business against those teams yet this season.

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Watch Luis Robert rope a triple for his first hit of spring training

Watch Luis Robert rope a triple for his first hit of spring training

Of all the excitement surrounding the White Sox entering 2020, Luis Robert might have the most juice right now.

After dominating three levels of the minors last season and fresh off signing a lucrative contract extension before even playing in a big league game, Robert has plenty of buzz around him. On Tuesday, he showed off a little bit of why in Cactus League action.

Robert roped a ball into the right-center field gap and raced to third for a triple.


Robert is known for his power and speed combination, which led to a 30-30 season in the minors last year. This is a good example of it. 

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Any Yoan Moncada extension would be in line with White Sox strategy

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AP

Any Yoan Moncada extension would be in line with White Sox strategy

Is a Yoan Moncada extension in the works?

Moncada's not aware of anything, or so he told reporters Tuesday in Arizona.

"Honestly, I don’t pay too much attention to that," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "My focus is just in the game and preparing myself to be in the best position that I can be for the season. Just work hard. That’s my goal right now. That’s where my focus is right now.

"If my agent calls me and tells me there is something ... then we’ll consider it. For now, I’m just focusing on my game and my preparation."

Whether winds blowing throughout the Twittersphere are onto something or not, indeed it is extension season. The White Sox just announced a long-term commitment to reliever Aaron Bummer over the weekend. It was in the run-up to Opening Day last spring that Eloy Jimenez signed his big-money deal that assured he broke camp with the big league club and could keep him on the South Side for as long as seven more seasons.

The big-money deal for Luis Robert — the second for a player yet to play a major league game in as many years — came well before the first full-squad workout at Camelback Ranch. But it shows the continued commitment by the White Sox to keep this core together as long as possible.

Seeing that kind of commitment to Moncada, who emerged as the team's best all-around hitter last season, after struggling through his first full year in the majors in 2018, would not be surprising.

"This tends to be the most productive time of year in terms of getting extensions done," general manager Rick Hahn said the day pitchers and catchers reported to Glendale. "Doesn’t mean anything is going to happen. But especially early in camp when things are a little quieter, it’s a little easier to have those conversations and certainly not distract the player from their in-season games or their late-camp preparation.

"In terms of whether any of those will materialize, we’ll see."

One already has, with Bummer. Could Moncada be next?

Though purely speculation, the White Sox third baseman would perhaps be less inclined than others to jump at big dollars now. After all, he received a record $31 million signing bonus when he signed with the Boston Red Sox as an international free agent. Since coming over to the White Sox in the Chris Sale trade, he's shown why the other color of Sox invested that much in him in the first place. While dancing around some injury issues in 2019, he slashed .315/.367/.548 with 25 home runs and 79 RBIs. He was considered an All-Star snub by many in the home clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Whether Moncada and his representation want to cash in now or hold off for a bigger payday in free agency — scheduled to arrive after the 2023 season — is up to them.

The White Sox have shown their dedication to extending a contention window by keeping these youngsters on the South Side for a good, long while. Certainly they would be happy to employ Moncada for as long as possible, particularly if his 2019 breakout was merely a sign of things to come.

Take a look at how long the White Sox have their core under club control:

— Through the 2021 season: Nomar Mazara, Carlos Rodon

— Through the 2022 season: Jose Abreu

— Through the 2023 season: Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez

— Through the 2024 season: Tim Anderson, Michael Kopech

— Through the 2025 season: Dylan Cease

— Through the 2026 season: Eloy Jimenez, Aaron Bummer

— Through the 2027 season: Luis Robert

That's a lot of club control, and moving Moncada down on that list a few spots would only make the long-term future look all the better.

"I feel comfortable on this team," he said. "I have been feeling comfortable on this team since the moment I came here. I actually see myself on this team for a very long time."

We'll see, to borrow a Hahn term, if anything materializes before Opening Day. But if something does, that would be right in line with the front office's strategy as they look to open that contention window.

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