By Chris Emma–
(CBS) While White Sox spring training opens Tuesday with pitchers and catchers due to report, general manager Rick Hahn will still be working the phones with yet another blockbuster trade in mind. After moving left-hander Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton for major hauls of prospects in December, he’s hoping to do the same with left-hander Jose Quintana, closer David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier.
White Sox spring training will have an awkward feel for this trio, with each well aware of what could be coming. Quintana is expected to be moved in the coming weeks, 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine has reported. That move could return close to the haul that the White Sox received for Sale in the trade with Red Sox. Robertson and Frazier are veteran trade chips.
The focus on this camp will be on youngsters like second baseman Yoan Moncada, one of baseball’s top prospects who was acquired in the Sale deal. Young pitchers Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez join the likes of Carlos Rodon, Carson Fulmer, Zack Burdi and more in a potentially promising rotation down the road.
Then there’s the veteran group of players expected to make up the majority of this roster. Just months removed from their latest failure in an attempt to contend, the White Sox still have a cast of veterans on a team Hahn candidly conceded wouldn’t likely be fighting for the playoffs in 2017. For a rebuilding team, many can be considered placeholders.
These are unique circumstances for a team headed in a different direction after a decade of attempting to piece together a contender. As spring training opens, there will be plenty to watch on this team.
The White Sox entered the 2015 season with what they believed to be a core ready for contention in the AL Central. That offseason’s haul included the additions of Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera and Robertson. After that team failed, Chicago tried again by bringing in Frazier and Brett Lawrie ahead of the 2016 campaign. The White Sox then went 78-84 and didn’t renew manager Robin Ventura’s contract, promoting Rick Renteria to fill his place.
Last season started with promise, with the White Sox opening with a 23-10 record and running to the front of the division. Their surge quickly ended, with Hahn later summarizing the season by saying the organization was “mired in mediocrity.” Because of their failures, the White Sox decided to move forward with a rebuild.
Todd Frazier, Carlos Rodon
For different reasons, Frazier and Rodon are important figures for this White Sox team.
Frazier turned 31 on Sunday and is a proven slugger coming off a career-high 40 home runs in 2016. He also hit .225, the worst mark of his career. That followed a tough second half in the 2015 season, raising concerns to his plate approach. There’s no denying Frazier’s talent, but the concerns to his average may scare away potential trade suitors.
Frazier will likely be moved at some point, with the trade deadline looking like an option. The White Sox would love to see him post a strong first half of the season at the plate, which would make him a more attractive trade chip.
Then there’s Rodon, the 24-year-old who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. Assuming Quintana is moved, Rodon would become the new White Sox ace. He has a 3.90 ERA in 304 1/3 innings during his first two seasons, and struggles with his command have been an issue.
Rodon is a key figure to the White Sox’s future. They would love to see him look like an ace in 2017.
Key to 2017
The focus this season is on the future. While the White Sox’s veterans will come out and say they believe it’s still all about winning, it’s just not realistic.
Development will be the key for this White Sox organization. Veterans like Frazier and Cabrera will be considered trade chips, and Quintana’s fate could be sealed. James Shields could be moved if he responds from a disastrous 2016 season. This season will be about seeing progress from the likes of Rodon, Fulmer, shortstop Tim Anderson and outfielder Charlie Tilson. Giolito wants to make the Opening Day roster and will figures to be up at some point whether he does or not, while Moncada may make his debut as soon as mid-May.
Ideally, the White Sox can finish this season with young prospects established at the major league level. With more coming in 2018, that would make this season a success.
“The focus of our scouting department, of our player development people, of our major league staff is on building something that’s sustainable. In the short term, we might have to pay some price at the big league level.” — White Sox GM Rick Hahn.
2017 White Sox 40-man roster
Notable non-roster invitees
Geovany Soto, C
Michael Kopech, RHP
Zack Collins, C
Cody Asche, INF
Everth Cabrera, INF