Hahn keeping patient approach in Sox rebuild

Sox back Renteria's 'don't quit' culture amid Machado rumors Hahn lauds veteran value as reports tie Sox to Happ Reports link Sox to Corbin, Happ, Cruz CARLSBAD, Calif. — More than one report out of baseballs GM Meetings this week in Southern California have the White Sox in pursuit of free-agent starting pitcher J.A. Happ.

White Sox very busy checking in on free agent players . Pitching key . Veteran J.A Happ falls into role of productive pitcher with playoff experience and leadership skills. He is one of several players they are working to sign.

Sources: #WhiteSox active in starting pitching market, with interest in Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, among others. The reason: Reynaldo Lopez is the only current White Sox pitcher who threw 50+ IP this year with a sub-4.00 ERA. @MLB @MLBNetwork

Perhaps we could trust Hahn some if there were any evidence that the White Sox operated in this manner, but the last two times it came to a managerial change, they came well after things took a turn, and with great disorder. Maybe Ozzie Guillen’s acrimonious exit could be written off because the World Series ring generated a generational attachment, but Jerry Reinsdorf effectively made Robin Ventura fire himself, and years after the sell-by date. The White Sox’ inability or unwillingness to make normal, clean breaks with non-uniformed personnel has defined the franchise over the last decade far more than on-field accomplishments.

The 36-year-old Happ, an Illinois native who attended Northwestern, might not be at the top of fans wish lists. Hes not Patrick Corbin nor Dallas Keuchel, the two big-name free-agent starters on the market. But he does seem to make sense after hearing Rick Hahn rave about what a veteran starting pitcher could bring to the White Sox rotation in 2019.

When Hahn says the managerial and executive contracts don’t matter, he only adds to the vague yet pervasive lack of accountability. When he says it on the same day the Blackhawks fired the most successful coach in their history and the Cubs remain inscrutable about Joe Maddon’s future, he’s only adding to the divide between the White Sox and the city’s actually successful teams. Maybe this is a Reinsdorf thing and Hahn is powerless in this regard, but as long as he’s going to pretend the Sox have a standard chain of command, we ought to take him at his word.

We have short-term needs that we cant ignore, Hahn said, referencing the two holes in the teams starting staff heading into next season. We have to augment the pitching staff, both the rotation as well as the bullpen. Those most likely will come via free agency. Theres a chance via trade, but most likely via free agency given the supply of whats out there and given that we do have some economic flexibility.

It’s hard to take any one rumor seriously in an environment where the White Sox make for such great leverage fodder — clean payroll! better days ahead! significant organizational gaps! — so I’m holding off on reacting to individual items. That said, given that the White Sox just bought low on their manager under a shroud of mystery, committing to the DH spot with a 38-year-old before other roster issues are solved is also a very White Sox thing to do, so I suppose I should register my objection just in case.

So you will see some veterans added, in part to address our short-term needs but also with an eye toward how they can play a role in the clubhouse in mentoring some of our younger guys. Theres definitely an important role, one we havent shied away from being a part of this at some point.

Hes extended into the future, Hahn said. I dont think the Chicago White Sox ever said we signed Ricky Renteria to a three-year deal. We extended him a while back. Personally, I know its been a story in the local market recently, but from my standpoint, the length of contracts for pro sports executives or managers or anything, is it really that relevant? Eventually you are retained because we feel youre the right guy or ownership feels the front office are the right people to win, or they make a change.

It would be marvelous if we could be the first team in history to win a World Series with 25 homegrown players. Were realistic. We know theres going to have to be additions from outside the organization, the veterans who can play a role in mentoring the young players certainly have some appeal.

Its a role that James Shields served in during the 2018 campaign, earning rave reviews as a mentor to Lucas Giolito and others. Shields made a big impact off the field and ended up tremendously reliable on it, one of 13 big league pitchers to throw 200 innings.

For his part, Hahn said Eloy Jimenez will likely be spending “the bulk of the season, if not all of the season” in Chicago, which sets my internal expectations for “worrying about the extra year, but not Super Two.” Whenever the Sox stop manipulating Jimenez’s service time, Renteria’s job will be less about getting blood from a stone.

While Shields is available, a free agent after the White Sox declined his pricey option, perhaps its Happ who Hahn & Co. hope can serve in a similar capacity.

Sources: #WhiteSox active in starting pitching market, with interest in Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, among others. The reason: Reynaldo Lopez is the only current White Sox pitcher who threw 50+ IP this year with a sub-4.00 ERA. @MLB @MLBNetwork

Having someone in there who provides a level of stability for the rotation and dependability every fifth day has some appeal that you would allow young players to go through some of the growing pains that are inevitable in their development, Hahn said. Having someone who can play that veteran, mentor role who can help teach guys whether its from a game prep standpoint … or any level of alteration with certain pitches, which is where James had the biggest impact in the minors.

The same can be said about the Sox improving the roster at positions Jimenez won’t occupy. As the GM meetings continue, the Sox continue to be tied to free agents, including more who aren’t Manny Machado.

Having a guy who can play that role has appeal. Its not just what a guy can do between the white lines, its what a guy can do for you in the clubhouse, is part of this equation.

When it comes to skepticism about the White Sox’ commitment to the rebuild, Rick Hahn likes to point out all the ways the club has defied doubters over the last two years.

As for what happens between those lines, Happ was excellent after a midseason trade from the Toronto Blue Jays to the New York Yankees, where he posted a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts. The results werent nearly as good prior to the trade: a 4.18 ERA in 20 starts with the Jays. But he had an ERA under 4.00 in each of the three seasons prior, playing in Toronto in 2016 and 2017 and splitting time between the Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015.

All of which is true, and helps add at least a little substance to the idea that the White Sox could indeed be major players in free agency.

Last season, he struck out a career-high 193 batters. Perhaps more importantly, he walked only 27, a number worth noting considering the White Sox rotation led baseball in walks in 2018.

Now, if only the White Sox could stop being such GD weirdos when it comes to their managers. Instead, they’re somehow getting weirder.

While plenty of Twitter-using White Sox fans have their sights on big-ticket items this offseason, Happ is an addition that would fit in more with what the team is doing with their rebuild. He could serve as a short-term fill-in while the White Sox wait for Michael Kopech to recover from Tommy John surgery and for Dylan Cease to complete his development in the minor leagues. If a deal were to be for multiple years, that would also be sensible, with Happ serving as both a bridge to those younger players and a safety net of sorts should they go through some to-be-expected growing pains on a team looking to contend in 2020.

James Anthony Happ started in the Yankees’ Opening Day game in Toronto, albeit as the opposing starter. Like his final start of the year, it featured a home run from the new middle-of-the-order addition and a loss for the veteran lefty.

But in between, Happ provided the Yankees with exactly what they needed after the trade deadline, solidifying a constantly changing spot in the Yankees’ rotation. He did enough to earn the start in ALDS Game 1 and perhaps an extended look in pinstripes next season.

In his age-35 season, Happ continued his late-career renaissance while adding a new chip to his resume: an All-Star appearance, earning the save in extra innings. While his AS bid came as the Blue Jays’ lone representative, it was well deserved in the context of his full career as a journeyman fighting to stick in the league before latching on as a mainstay for Toronto in recent seasons.

The Jays were out of contention by midseason, so trading their spare parts became the logical next step. Happ had posted a 10-6 record with a 4.18 ERA over 114 innings for Toronto in 2018. While that ERA was merely league-average, he posted those numbers (which included a career-best strikeout rate) in the AL East, making multiple starts against both the Yankees and Red Sox. He quickly became one of the bigger starting pitching targets at the deadline, particularly with Jacob deGrom off limits in Queens.

Happ would be one of only three 2018 All-Stars dealt before the deadline, with Manny Machado and Brad Hand being the others. Happ became the first starting pitcher to earn an All-Star appearance and be traded in the same season since Drew Pomeranz in 2016.

On July 26, the Yankees dealt Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney to the Jays to acquire Happ. The trade marked the second straight year that the Yankees had acquired a starter at the deadline (Sonny Gray, Jaime Garcia). This deal would turn out much better than those.

Happ stepped into the rotation spot initially vacated by Jordan Montgomery when he went down with a UCL injury. Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa tried and failed to grab hold of the spot, making the Yankees’ need for a starter. That trio combined for a 5.16 ERA and just south of five innings per start before the trade deadline, though the Yankees went 11-9 in those games.

Beyond Happ’s ability to pitch in the AL East, his historic success against the Red Sox made him an easy target. Before the Yankees acquired him, he had made 19 appearances against Boston and was 7-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 105 2/3 innings. He’d made two starts vs. the Sox in 2018 while with Toronto with one good (7 IP, 1 run, 10 Ks) and one bad (3.2 IP, 5 R, 0 ER, 6 K).

Your browser does not support iframes.But Happ’s cheap cost and expiring deal added to his appeal for the Pinstripers. Drury had fallen out of a favor in the Bronx while McKinney was stuck behind a handful of outfielders. Dealing McKinney ended up being a case of bad timing as Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier were soon lost for an extended period right after the trade became official.

Happ debuted as a Yankee on July 29 with six frames of one-run ball against the Royals at Yankee Stadium. He’d soon go on the DL for the minimum 10 days with hand, mouth and foot disease (Curse you, Mets!), so he missed his first opportunity to face the Sox.

Once he came back, he was as dominant as a relatively soft-tossing lefty can be. He went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA over 11 starts with the Yankees, who went 9-2 in those games. The bullpen blew leads in the sixth and ninth inning, respectively, in the two losses.

Happ was especially strong at Yankee Stadium, where he went 4-0 over seven starts. He struck out just under a batter per game in the Bronx, though he allowed eight home runs.

The veteran went six or more innings in eight of 11 starts. He kept his strikeout rate above career norms, though it wasn’t quite as high as his 2018 numbers in Toronto. He lowered his walk rate, but his home runs rose, allowing 10 in pinstripes.

The Yankees went 2-0 in his regular-season starts vs. Boston. He allowed only four earned runs in 12 innings and all of them came on one swing, a grand slam by World Series MVP Steve Pearce. Eight hits, five walks, 13 Ks, 1 grand slam. The last part isn’t ideal, but he got the job done.

Your browser does not support iframes.Ultimately, Happ was exactly what the Yankees needed in the regular season. The team needed length out of their starters and some more reliability, both of which he had in spades. While Yankees certainly make playoffs without his contributions, it’s easy to argue that a different deadline acquisition to fix the rotation leads to the Yankees playing the AL Wild Card in Oakland.

His lone playoff start sucked from the start. Happ is a pitcher that relies on his fastball and it was clear he couldn’t command it three batters in. After walking Steve Pearce, J.D. Martinez’s three-run homer put the Yankees on the ropes early. Happ lasted just 11 batters, unable to complete two times through the order.

Aaron Boone made a smart move to pull Happ early when it was clear the then-35-year-old didn’t have it in Game 1. The decision gave the Yankees a chance to win, even with Chad Green allowing two inherited runners to score. They just didn’t come through with the big hit needed in the later innings.

Happ likely wouldn’t have started Game 5 of the ALDS since Masahiro Tanaka would have been available on full rest. Therefore, his next playoff start would have been presumably been Game 1 in Houston if the Yankees made it that far.

Happ is a free agent coming off a three-year, $36-million deal. The Yankees couldn’t issue him a qualifying offer since he was traded mid-season and he likely wouldn’t have gotten one anyway.

With Yankees looking to upgrade the rotation, he may be on his way out and could be replaced by an upgrade like Patrick Corbin. Still, with CC Sabathia returning and Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka the only other starters under contract, the Yankees could add back Happ while bringing in another starter.

Happ turned 36 on Oct. 19, but his age isn’t a reason to give up on him. He has never been the type of guy to blow people away and his fastball velocity actually increased in 2018. It’s not hard to see him sustaining his recent gains, even while pitching at Yankee Stadium.

He’d made sense on a one- or two-year deal, even after the disastrous postseason cameo. Three years, which MLB Trade Rumors has him getting, might be a little rich, even if Rich Hill got a three-year pact going into his age-37 season. Happ would certainly be a nice middle-of-the-rotation piece for 2019.


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