White Sox

Why the White Sox didn't trade Jose Abreu this offseason

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USA TODAY

Why the White Sox didn't trade Jose Abreu this offseason

On paper, it seemed to make sense: A 31-year-old Jose Abreu was coming off a massively productive season and has two more years left of team control, meaning he isn’t guaranteed to be around when the White Sox expect this rebuilding process to produce a playoff contender. So why not trade him?

Back in November, that was rumored to be a possibility. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reported the White Sox were in “active” talks with the Boston Red Sox, who were one of the four finalists to sign Abreu as a free agent back in 2014. The thought of adding another elite prospect to the team’s bursting-at-the-seams farm system was tantalizing, wasn't it?

It also was never a realistic possibility.

“There was clearly speculation that he conceivably could have been moved this offseason,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “Part of the reason that he wasn’t is that we do put a large value on what he does in the clubhouse, how he represents himself and the organization, what he does for our young players — the way he goes about his business is the epitome of a White Sox player. That probably leads to us valuing him a little more highly than other organizations who haven’t had the pleasure of having him, which makes it that much more difficult to line up on finding value on a trade.”

Abreu’s on-field production speaks for itself. He slugged 33 home runs last year with a .906 OPS and has had a triple-digit RBI total every year of his career. He has the 13th-most home runs since 2014 (124) and has the 13th-highest slugging percentage (.524) in the same timespan, putting him just outside being one baseball’s elite sluggers — which is still a pretty good place to be.

But the real reason why the White Sox didn’t trade him is what Hahn touched on in his quote above. Abreu has blossomed in his four-year career into a pillar of the White Sox clubhouse, someone who’s taken hotshot prospect Yoan Moncada under his wing and leads by example on a team that’s shipped plenty of its veterans away over the last 15 months.

“He’s the face of the organization,” outfielder Avisail Garcia said.

“His standards as a player, as a human being, have been an example for me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I’ve been trying, always, to follow him as an example, as the guy that I want to be.”

Hahn and manager Rick Renteria know this wave of young talent won’t arrive at 35th and Shields as a collectively polished product. There’s a lot of development that still have to happen after a player graduates to the majors, whether it’s in how to handle the grind of a 162-game season or all the media attention that comes with a hot streak or a slump. Having Abreu around, they figure, can be beneficial to those younger guys as they learn what it takes to be a major league player.

“His actions speak for themselves,” Renteria said. “It also crosses an understanding to all the players, whether you’re Latin or American or whoever you are. They see how he goes about doing his business. Is it important? Yes. I think he’s establishing an understanding for a lot of the younger players what it is to go about to prepare for a daily grind and play in the big leagues.”

Abreu’s experience has a slightly more tangible benefit than him being a good clubhouse guy, too. Hitting coach Todd Steverson said he’s an excellent conduit for his message to young players, especially given all the success he’s had mashing the ball for the last four years.

“Young kids being able to see how he goes about it structure-wise lets them know, if I want to be at that level at some point, or somewhere close to that level, it’s going to take me doing certain things,” Steverson said. “He kind of would be like a dad, almost: ‘What are you doing, make sure you do that right.’ It’s good on my end to have somebody able to say hey, be more accurate, be more definitive in what you’re trying to do. It’s not always coming from myself or (assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks).

“It holds a lot of weight when what I say and what he says mirror each other.”

It’s worth noting, though, that the White Sox hardly were in a desperate situation to move Abreu this winter given they still have him under control for two more years. He’s not a move-him-or-lose-him guy, nor does he fit the profile of the cheap, young, successful players traded away for huge hauls since the end of the 2016 season (Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana). If the White Sox were going to deal Abreu now, they'd have to be blown away by a package of prospects.

That doesn’t mean a team couldn’t swoop in and make Hahn an offer he can’t refuse. But the benefits to keeping Abreu just might out-weigh the benefits to trading him at this point.

“I feel I have a responsibility with this organization and a responsibility with the manager and all the people involved in this organization,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “And that responsibility is to step up and set an example for all the guys, especially for the young guys. I know that my English is not so good right now, but I’m trying to get better in that aspect. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be better this year in how I can influence them in the clubhouse. That’s one of my goals, I started doing it last year and I think this year I’ll be more able to do it with more confidence.”

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.