- Lucas Giolito sees his trade to the White Sox as “an immediate breath of fresh air,” the young righty tells USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. The highly-touted Giolito struggled in his MLB debut last season, posting a 6.75 ERA and walking 12 batters (against just 11 strikeouts) over 21 1/3 innings with the Nationals while being promoted and demoted multiple times. “Every start was like I have to do well or I’m going to get sent down to Triple-A. The team wanted to win, and if I wasn’t going to give them an opportunity to win, then they wouldn’t want me there. It made sense,” Giolito said. With the Sox in more of a rebuilding phase, Giolito is looking forward to getting more for an opportunity to properly acclimate himself to the majors.
- If Pablo Sandoval doesn’t reestablish himself as a capable third baseman this year, the Red Sox could eventually swing a trade for Todd Frazier of the White Sox, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Chicago will have paid more than half of Frazier’s $12.5MM salary by the trade deadline, which should make the 31-year-old an attractive target for Boston or other contenders, Cafardo observes. Given that the White Sox are amid a rebuild, it seems they’d prefer to ship out established veterans like Frazier sooner than later, as general manager Rick Hahn implied in an interview with MLBTR contributor Brett Ballantini earlier this week.
- White Sox center fielder Charlie Tilson suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and will cease impact activities for at least 10 days, tweets Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. If healthy, the 24-year-old Tilson figures to start in center this season for the Sox, who acquired him from the Cardinals last July for reliever Zach Duke. In his big league debut in August, Tilson tore his hamstring and missed the remainder of 2016 as a result.
- The White Sox are bringing back left-hander Scott Snodgress on a minors pact, tweets Zach Links of MLBTR and ProFootballRumors. The 27-year-old Snodgress went to the White Sox in the fifth round of the 2011 draft and broke into the majors with them in 2014, when he logged the only 2 1/3 innings of his big league career. He then spent 2015 with the Angels organization before playing independent ball last season.
Plenty of players are still looking for opportunities as Spring Training gets underway in earnest. Among them is former White Sox lefty Scott Snodgress, who worked out for teams this week and will likely choose his landing spot tomorrow, per MLBTR’s Zach Links (via Twitter). Snodgress played indy ball last year after a rough 2015 season in the upper minors with the Angels.
Here are the latest minor moves from around the game, featuring a host of other southpaws:
- The White Sox have added lefty Tyler Matzek on a minors pact, per Matt Eddy of Baseball America (via Twitter). A 2009 first-rounder, Matzek worked through control problems and showed promise upon reaching the majors in 2014 with the Rockies. But his struggles with the strike zone returned with renewed vigor the next year, and Matzek was ultimately diagnosed with anxiety. Though he was able to make 33 minor-league appearances in 2016, he was outrighted off of Colorado’s 40-man and ended up issuing as many walks as strikeouts (11.1 per nine) on the year.
- Former first-round pick Chris Reed has decided to retire from the Marlins, Eddy tweets. Just 26 years of age, Reed worked to a 3.65 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 81 1/3 innings in the upper minors last year. That represented progress after he struggled badly with control in 2015, but it seems that Reed will move on to other pursuits. The Dodgers, who originally took him 16th overall in 2011, will still get something out of their investment, though, as the trade that sent Reed to Miami netted southpaw Grant Dayton.
- Outfielder Slade Heathcott has landed with the Giants on a minor-league deal that includes a camp invite, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). The 26-year-old, who was taken after Reed in the first round in 2009, has long been viewed as a talented player but hasn’t yet earned a full MLB opportunity. He showed well in his lone stint in the bigs, in 2015, but hit only .254/.359/.380 in his 247 Triple-A plate appearances last year.
- Lefty Hung-Chih Kuo is attempting a comeback with the Padres, as Bill Plunkett of the Orange County-Register reports on Twitter that he has struck a minor-league deal with San Diego. Now 35 years of age, the Taiwanese native provided the division-rival Dodgers with 292 1/3 innings of 3.73 ERA ball over 2005 through 2011. Kuo has been pitching in Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League for the past two campaigns.
- White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier tells reporters that the sprained finger, for which he was wearing a splint late last month, is healed (via Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun Times). Frazier said that he’s been hitting every day, and it doesn’t seem as if he expects the issue to hamper him this season. Set to hit free agency next winter, Frazier declined to speak at length about his future. “Chicago is a nice place to play and I’d like to play here,” he said after noting that his focus is primarily on the upcoming season.
- White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters today that the Sox are open to trades but aren’t likely to make another addition to the roster, barring injuries (Twitter links via Colleen Kane of the Chicago Trib and Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago). Hahn said he’s had “extensive conversations on various fronts,” but at this point, “there’s nothing that’s gnawing at us or appealing enough to make us move.” The Sox will keep an open mind throughout the spring, though Hahn also noted some of the team’s focus will inevitably shift to prepping for the season as opposed to making deals. Hahn recently spoke with MLBTR contributor Brett Ballantini about his offseason rebuilding efforts in a two-part Q&A (Part 1, Part 2).
This is the second half of an interview with White Sox GM Rick Hahn, conducted by MLBTR contributor Brett Ballantini. Click here to read Part I.
In the second part of the conversation, Hahn addresses the disappointing 2016 season that drove his team’s rebuild, the Hall of Fame chances for all-time favorite Mark Buehrle, and a truly unexpected text received last July:
You were best in the bigs along with the crosstown Chicago Cubs on May 9, but plummeted from there, as the seventh-worst team in the majors after May 9. Was there a specific moment during the free-fall where the brain trust said, “we know what we have to do,” or did the season end with you still unsure whether it would be another all-in winter?
We knew what we wanted to accomplish [as of] last July. However, we did not feel the opportunities were quite robust enough at that time to pull the trigger on multiple fronts. The desire to make dramatic moves to more rapidly further this rebuild was strong. But we had to resist the urge to make deals that might have declared that we were embarking in a new direction, but really didn’t provide us with what we felt were adequate returns for some of the players we were discussing back then.
When the team got off hot, what were you feeling? Was it, “Jeez, this is great, smiles all around,” or are you more a worrywart concerned that Mat Latos’ BABIP is unsustainable?
I don’t want to make it sound like we did not enjoy the 23-10 start last year. We did. We were winning a lot of ballgames late and were getting some tremendous pitching performances up and down the staff. However, all of us are trained to kind of be prepared for what could go wrong.
Even in the midst of that run, we made the decision to let John Danks go. Even while six games up [in first place], we felt that the back end of our rotation needed some sort of further reinforcement beyond the addition of Miguel Gonzalez, and that the bullpen was getting severely taxed. We were concerned about some areas of depth where we lacked sufficient reinforcements in the minors. Unfortunately, each of those areas of concern turned out to be valid as spring turned to summer.
Noting that injuries did not help matters, was the 2016 White Sox catching production anything more than a black hole scenario from your perspective? Framing appeared to crush the starting staff, particularly lefties Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon. Clearly releasing a plus-framer in Tyler Flowers on the hunch that Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro would be an overall-plus move did not work out. Has your analysis of catchers/catching changed or evolved coming out of 2016?
We obviously did not get what we were hoping for out of our catching last season, but that extended beyond a framing issue. I do have to say, for all the abuse that Tyler took from certain segments while he was with us, it is nice that he is at least now getting some credit for his framing ability, which he worked very hard at.
The decision last offseason was based upon a desire to inject some added run-scoring ability into an offense that badly needed it, without too many feasible avenues open to doing such. We knew that would come at the expense of some of the framing numbers, but we also view a catcher’s defensive contributions more broadly. Framing is certainly important, but so is the ability to throw out runners, block balls in the dirt, know our pitchers, and adjust game plans on the fly, among other things. In the end, we did not get as much out of the change as we anticipated because we did not get the performances that we expected—not because we were oblivious to the exchange we were attempting to make.
When we talked a year ago, you acknowledged that one regret about your former first-rounder Gordon Beckham is that he never tasted failure until the majors, which ultimately worked against him. Tim Anderson was expected to play all of 2016 in Charlotte, but got the call at midseason and impressed across the board. Assuming that players getting a taste of failure is a key element in your decision to give him the call up to the White Sox, it can’t be as simple as waiting until a guy has a 15-K week or gets bombed in two straight starts. Is there an element of a player’s makeup that most impacts your decision to “rush” him to the bigs?
The makeup element to this is huge. You are correct that we, like most clubs, view failure in the minors as part of a player’s development. More precisely, learning to respond to adversity outside of the glare and scrutiny of the majors will likely serve a player well once he inevitably encounters similar hardships in the big leagues.
With Tim, he did have some small slumps during his time in the minors, and he certainly had to make some adjustments along the way. But from an ability standpoint, it was clear he was ready for the final stages of his development, which occurs at the big league level. Prior to bringing him up, we had a number of conversations with Buddy Bell, Nick Capra (who was our farm director at the time), and others in player development about whether anyone had any doubts that Timmy could handle it. Everyone believed in Timmy’s makeup and ability to cope with the adjustments required as any player makes that transition. Obviously, his performance was strong, but how he handled himself was even more impressive.
Pitching coach Don Cooper has had remarkable success with diagnosing even the smallest quirks preventing a pitcher from maximizing his potential. Is Lucas Giolito just a Coop camp away from resetting himself back into a breakout MLB arm?
Sure. I like that. Look, we’re excited to see all these new guys work with our coaches. Not just in the coming weeks in ML camp, but throughout the season. They each have some development left ahead of him, but we have the luxury of being patient with them, to allow our coaches to work with them, and to give the player time to be put in the best position to maximize their abilities.
Rick Renteria had a sneaky-great season managing the Cubs in 2014, and got a really tough break losing that job when Joe Maddon became available. Was Rick already on your radar by that time, as a guy who would project as a great pilot? What did he show you with the Cubs that made you want to get him in a White Sox cap—and how were your observations or hunches confirmed when he worked under Robin?
Ricky had a sterling reputation with coaches, players, and front office people alike going back to his San Diego Padres days, and was likely on a list somewhere in most front offices at that time. We had heard about his work ethic, ability to teach, passion for the game, openness to new ideas and debate, and communication skills over the years, but it is difficult to really appreciate that until you are working with him. Sox fans are really going to like and appreciate what he brings to dugout over the coming years.
You worked closely with Mark Buehrle for years, and in 2003 and 2007 you negotiated extensions with him in turbulent waters. With his almost-stealth efficiency, Buehrle comes in around 52 WAR across Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus measures, with a no-hitter, perfect game, and win-save in the World Series. Is he a Hall-of-Famer?
I’m allowed to still be a fan sometimes, right? Good. Sure, Mark Buehrle is a Hall-of-Famer. I say that with complete bias and 100% based upon the fact that I loved watching him pitch. Objectively, I realize that the true answer may be a little different, but for these 30 seconds, I don’t care. Mark was a great White Sox, a tremendous teammate, and a joy for all of us to watch during his time with the club.
What is the weirdest moment you’ve had as GM?
One afternoon last summer, I was filling in as first-base coach for my son’s Little League team because one of his coaches had a conflict. It was playoff game, the team was making a nice late rally, and the whole thing was a great little escape for me.
Then my phone started blowing up. After a text from [manager] Robin Ventura that read, “No. Actually, he’s cut up all the jerseys,” I knew my little escape was over….
Follow Brett Ballantini on Twitter @PoetryinPros
In our Q&A one year ago, GM Rick Hahn admitted that he considered a full rebuild for his Chicago White Sox. But with the encouragement of executive vice president Ken Williams and owner Jerry Reinsdorf, he reloaded the team in 2016 for one more run at a title. That effort got off to a scorching start, with the White Sox surging to a 23-10 record in early May that found them second only to the Cubs in all of baseball.
From that point, things went downhill. From bizarre controversies like superstar lefty Chris Sale refusing to pitch in a throwback uni to underperformance from key acquisitions like catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, by midseason Hahn knew it was time to chart a different course.
The 45-year-old exec was the belle of the ball at the 2016 Winter Meetings, swapping Sale and breakout outfielder Adam Eaton in bang-bang deals that netted Chicago four players who dot Top 100 prospect lists from MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and ESPN: uberinfielder Yoan Moncada and fireballer Michael Kopech from the Red Sox for Sale, and ace-caliber arms Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from the Nationals for Eaton.
After those lauded swaps, the full rebuild was stopped in its tracks, as 29 other GMs decided to let Hahn’s hand cool at the trading table. With admittedly four deals that still need to be made in 2017, Hahn took his ear from the Batphone long enough to chat a bit about where the White Sox are, and where he hopes they’re heading.
In the first part of our conversation, Hahn addresses the decision to rebuild, and how important it is for him to “win” trades:
After the 2015 season, a rebuild was on the table. But you and Ken, with Jerry’s backing, felt close enough to a title to add to the core. While the 2016 record didn’t show improvement, at season’s end the core was unchanged, and arguably strengthened by Todd Frazier and Tim Anderson. But this offseason you’ve traded your two top WAR players in Sale and Eaton, and the direction is decidedly different. Why?
While obviously this offseason we decided to take the club in a different direction, the decision was the result of the same analysis we do virtually every offseason. Each offseason we attempt to look at where we are as a franchise as objectively as possible.
This involves asking ourselves are we close, realistically, to winning a championship? What are the areas we need to improve upon in order to get to where we want to be, and how available are those pieces—either internally or externally? Based upon a series of these discussions, we felt taking a longer-term view would be more beneficial to the franchise overall than attempting once again to piecemeal the thing together with a shorter-term view.
While we certainly felt the same frustrations as any Sox fan with our recent attempts falling short, the decision to pivot now was based more on an objective evaluation than emotion.
Ken was renown as an all-in GM, and you spent your first four offseasons as GM in some form of win-now mode. Knowing how hard it has been to accept the reality of a rebuild, that to whatever degree it represents organizational failure, was it hard—even depressing—to arrive at this offseason’s rebuild?
As I talked about earlier this offseason regarding the congratulations we were receiving from other clubs at the Winter Meetings after the Sale trade, it’s actually a quite humbling feeling. The fact is that we were not able to win with Chris, among other talented players, heading up the top of our roster. We all regret that fact, and none of us relished the idea of moving him.
However, despite that regret, seeing the talent that is starting to come in the door is exciting. The idea of building something from the ground up energizes not only those of us in the front office, but our scouts and player development people, as well as employees in other departments throughout the club as well. There is a certain level of excitement that comes with new direction, and it’s something we look forward to building upon over the coming weeks and months.
The Cleveland Indians are tough and appear to have used this offseason to get a lot tougher. For a variety of reasons, the rest of the AL Central is wide open. When you see how the offseason has wrangled out, does any part of you want to say, “Uh, Dave Dombrowski, Mike Rizzo — want to flip Sale and Eaton back to Chicago?”
No. We’re trying to build a team that can contend for championships on an annual basis. As much as we want to put ourselves in that position as quickly as possible, last year’s club won 78 games, and to believe that the same group was suddenly going to morph into a perennial powerhouse without augmentation would require a level of wishcasting that we’re trying to avoid.
You’ve been cool at the poker table this offseason. Perhaps too cool, because it seems that while you still have a stack of chips, all the other GMs got a little jittery and left. The Sale and Eaton deals came quick, and then, crickets. You’ve admitted that you intended to continue turning over the roster, but so far, no dice. Ken is famed for his “we were five minutes from going another direction,” and you yourself handled at least one such deal where A.J. Pierzynski had essentially bought his bus ticket to L.A. before you ushered him back to the White Sox for 2011 with some cocktail-napkin negotiations. Were there some deals this winter that were one dropped signal or one email to spam from happening?
We’ve been clear throughout that if we had our druthers, we would knock out four more transactions that would advance the organization towards our goal as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for us, it’s not only our desire that drives the timing of these deals. My eagerness, or Kenny’s or Jerry’s, cannot be a factor in determining when to pull the trigger on a deal. It has to be based upon feeling like we are maximizing the value in a deal—not just forcing something home.
But, yes, we did have two deals—with different clubs, involving different players—die at the ownership approval stage when the other clubs decided in the end that the deal did not work for them. That’s unfortunate, but it happens. It’s also part of the reason that I never handicap the likelihood of a deal taking place when asked—nothing is completed until that final call is made. Far more deals fall apart for one reason or another than ultimately get consummated.
When you look back on these two blockbusters in years to come, what will it take for you to judge either trade a win?
We really aren’t looking to “win” deals. Instead, hopefully, all of our deals work out well for both sides. Given that we are at a different spot in our competitive cycle than the Red Sox and Nationals currently enjoy, there is certainly the chance of them to reap significant benefits now, and for us to do the same later.
In terms of judging deals from our own perspective, we try to look at the process and the decision as opposed to the result. That is, based upon everything we knew at the time, was it a good decision? Now, obviously, it’s pretty much impossible to ignore the performance after the fact, but ideally we use that performance to illustrate what we did right—or unfortunately, at times, wrong—in making the decision to move player X for player Y.
Part two of MLBTR’s Q&A with Rick Hahn will run tomorrow afternoon.
Follow Brett Ballantini on Twitter @PoetryinPros.
The White Sox and Nationals seemed to be closing in on a trade that would’ve sent David Robertson to Washington last week, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale and Jose L. Ortiz report. According to a Nats official, however, “the two sides have hit a stalemate and no trade is imminent.” The Sox, for their part, continue to feel “optimistic” that a trade will be finalized.
It isn’t known what caused this holdup in talks, though earlier this week, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that Nationals ownership didn’t want to absorb the $25MM owed to Robertson over the next two seasons, nor did the front office want to give up quality minor leaguers. The Nats already surrendered several top prospects to the White Sox earlier this offseason as part of the trade that brought Adam Eaton to Washington; the Nats tried to include Robertson along with Eaton as part of that trade package but were unsuccessful.
On the surface, one could argue that the White Sox could be asking for too much in demanding that the Nationals (or other suitors for Robertson) pay a big price in both prospects and in taking on the closer’s entire contract. That said, Chicago has already scored a massive influx of young talent in the Eaton trade and in dealing Chris Sale to the Red Sox — Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech are all ranked within the top 32 on Baseball America’s 2017 listing of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Between these deals and the asking price for Jose Quintana, White Sox GM Rick Hahn has clearly put a premium on his top trade chips as part of his effort to bring a “critical mass” of talent into Chicago’s organization.
Unless Robertson gets injured or has a dip in form, the Sox can also bide their time and wait until the trade deadline to find a suitable return for the closer. Given the Nationals’ uncertainty at the back of their bullpen, Washington may not have that luxury. As Nightengale and Ortiz point out, however, the Nats could make do with Blake Treinen or Shawn Kelley as closer for now and then pursue another ninth-inning option later in the season, as they did in acquiring Mark Melancon from the Pirates at last summer’s deadline.
- “Critical mass” is what White Sox GM Rick Hahn hopes to achieve in terms of stockpiling young talent during the team’s rebuild, MLB.com’s Scott Merkin writes. The Sox want to add as many good minor leaguers as possible both to give them options now and in the future as depth. “The last few years we’ve had a very top-heavy roster and the reason we haven’t won had nothing to do with the quality players at the top end of that roster,” Hahn said. “When the time comes that we are in a position to contend again, we are going to be approaching that with ideally a much deeper, more thoroughly balanced roster than what we had. It had to do with what was going on with not just one through 25, but one through 35 or 40. So now as we approach this, we have to build that organizational quality depth, not just insurance policies, but real high-caliber depth.”