Chicago White Sox: Kevin Youkilis
During the White Sox's recent surge in the win column, the home run ball has been a part of the process. Chicago has won eight of its past nine games, while hitting 11 long balls.
"The home runs come from us collectively having better at-bats," hitting coach Jeff Manto said. "When people seize the opportunity to get better at-bats, you will see us hit more home runs."
The Sox lost 43 home runs combined with the free-agent signings of Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski elsewhere. The only two players who will come close to their career home run averages are Alejandro De Aza and Adam Dunn.
"I don’t think there is any team that doesn’t like [home runs]," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "We haven’t hit that many early in the year. Earlier, when we did hit them, they were not at the right time. Lately, they have been coming at important times. [Dayan] Viciedo, Dunn and [Jordan] Danks have had big homers for us lately."
Reports revealed Tuesday evening that Youkilis had agreed to a one-year deal with the New York Yankees. Youkilis was reportedly considering a free-agent deal with the Cleveland Indians as well.
The White Sox were interested in keeping Youkilis and have the same feeling for Pierzynski, but the price tag for both was and is too high. Even with Youkilis out of the picture, the White Sox still don’t figure to have the resources to keep Pierzynski.
When Rick Hahn was hired as the club's new general manager late in October, it appeared that a new day had dawned for the White Sox. Hahn, after all, has a more stoic, controlled approach, while former general manager Kenny Williams (now club president) has been known to respond in a more fiery, from-the-gut fashion.
So have those crafty, creative and often daring moves the White Sox are known for seen their last days? Hahn says, not so fast.
"We have worked together for a long time and from a cultural standpoint that really hasn't changed," Hahn said this week. "We're going to continue to pursue any opportunity to make us better, now or in the future, aggressively. Even though (the person) who is having the conversation will be different, the priorities and the intent remains the same."
Williams' past moves, which were more calculated than he sometimes gets credit for, were never a one-man show anyway. The White Sox are still leaning on the same scouts and statistical analysis crew as they once did. And both Williams and Hahn will be in the decision room as well, as they always have been, with a slight difference.
Viciedo, who started out as a third baseman but was moved to the outfield two offseasons ago, won’t completely be removed from consideration, though.
“I don’t want to rule out anything at this point because we’re sitting here a week before Thanksgiving so it’s foolish to close off any options,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “I will say that we are exploring a lot of options that we rank ahead of moving Viciedo in from the outfield.”
Options through both trade and free-agent routes are still in play, although a less-than-stellar crop of free-agent third baseman is making things difficult. That lack of third-base availability is making Kevin Youkilis a hot commodity on the open market which would likely move him out of the White Sox’s price range.
“We knew when free agency hit it would be more challenging to sign our guys,” Hahn said. “It’s a rather thin free-agent market in certain spots, starting pitching among them, as it would have been for Jake (Peavy), and certainly at third base as it is for Kevin.
“It’s not a shock that he’s heard form a bunch of teams, it’s not a shock that he’s popular and it’s not a shock that it’s going to be hard to bring him back, but we continue to have dialog with him and other options and it’s still early so we’ll see where it goes.”
Hahn said that moving Dan Johnson to third base would be a long shot.
The club’s new GM, who moved into his role when Kenny Williams was moved to club president, was asked if he’s had more dialog with other general managers regarding trades or player representatives regarding their free agents.
“Boy, it’s probably about even right now,” Hahn said. “The agents, obviously, after (the GM meetings in) Palm Springs, want to follow up and see how their guys rank and compare vs. what they are hearing from other clubs so it has probably been very even between clubs and agents.”
Hahn leads his staff into these meetings with a clear vision of winning the division next season. At this time last season, former GM Ken Williams said the team was rebuilding.
"We expect to contend in 2013," Hahn said Wednesday. "I certainly wouldn't go down that (rebuilding) path. At the same time, we are looking to build on our foundation for long-term success. There is a bit of a balance -- trying to win in the immediate future as well as having a club that we feel will be a playoff contender for years to come. So we are really building along two fronts this time."
Hahn's re-signing of pitchers Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd should reassure Sox fans that winning in 2013 is paramount to Sox brass.
"The last two weeks have been a blur," said Hahn, who made several moves while presiding over the team's organization meetings immediately prior to the GM meetings. "This is all new to the territory, but I am looking forward to getting back to Chicago to continue to work on the actual job itself.”
The Sox's new front office chief has been upfront about his interest in free agents A.J. Pierzynski and Kevin Youkiliis.
"We have had pretty good contact with our own free agents and agents for other guys out there," Hahn said. "Our guys (free agents) do know us. They know what we are about. They know we are fairly direct but at the same time there will be a fairly robust market out there. It is a matter of them exploring their value and if they are a fit for us going forward."
Hahn was happy for former bullpen coach Juan Nieves, who was hired as the Red Sox's pitching coach Wednesday.
"It is bittersweet," Hahn said. "You like to see your guys and good guys rewarded. He will be missed, he is a hard worker, intelligent, creative and a real fun guy to have around."
According to Hahn, an in-house replacement from the minor league system will be named to the big league staff. Former White Sox stars Bobby Thigpen and Richard Dotson, both minor league pitching coaches, should be on the short list of possible replacements for Nieves.
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This offseason, there are 46 players with either club or mutual options. The White Sox are at the center of the option frenzy, as they have the most players (five) with options, as well as the most money ($62.5 million) on which to make decisions. With the option decisions due soon after the conclusion of the World Series, Chicago has some big decisions to make awfully quickly.
Option decisions can be complex because they can amount to little more than a guessing game. Not necessarily in terms of the value the team believes a player will deliver -- though there is some of that -- but rather what the value of a win will be on the free-agent market. We generally think of a win purchased on the free agent market as valued somewhere between $4 and $6 million, but this week, Cleveland Indians president Mark Shapiro said that he believes a win on the free-agent market costs $9 million.
That seems aggressive, but with new television contracts -- both on a local and national level -- potentially flooding the free agent landscape with money, it is certainly reasonable to forecast that the price of free agents will go up this winter. Viewed in that light, perhaps some of the club options the White Sox hold aren't as weighty as they would appear. Either way, the decisions are not necessarily easy.
The veteran infielder was basically run out of town by Boston Red Sox management, which traded him to the White Sox late in the spring.
His return to Chicago next season is in doubt despite the fact he solidified a troubled spot for the White Sox at third base. The White Sox have an option on a contract for Youkilis for 2013 at $14 million, and it's assumed the team will not pick it up. And it is unclear if Youkilis wants to return to Chicago.
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How it happened: Sox starter Jose Quintana put himself and the team in a four-run hole in the first. The rookie left-hander walked two and made a bad error on a simple bunt play. All three of those runners scored. Quintana faced nine batters and threw 37 pitches in the inning. Paul Konerko got a run back in the second, driving a 3-2 breaking ball out of the park off Angels starter Dan Haren for his 24th home run. Manager Robin Ventura was ejected for arguing a balk called on Quintana and Konerko for trying an illegal pick-off. It was the fourth ejection for Ventura this season. The Sox added a run on a Dewayne Wise groundout in the seventh, scoring Alex Rios.
What it means: Although the White Sox are technically a half game ahead of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, the division is back to a virtual tie. Both teams are even in the loss column. Detroit’s 8-0 win against Minnesota on Saturday put the Sox’s magic number on hold. Detroit plays a double header on Sunday to make up for a Friday rainout .
Outside the box: The hitting slumps for Kevin Youkilis, Konerko and Adam Dunn were at 10-for-72 on the current road trip before Konerko’s home run. White Sox pitchers made two errors on easy bunts. Expect extra pitchers fielding practice the rest of the season.
Up next: The final game of the series Sunday matches the White Sox’s Gavin Floyd (10-10, 4.50 ERA) against Angels ace Jered Weaver (18-4, 2.79).
“We have had a few (hitters slumping),” Ventura said. “It is more about doing the simple things.”
The Sox have hit the wall with runners in scoring position. In their last 15 games the Sox are hitting under .190 with RISP, after leading the league in that department all year. During this nine-game road trip the No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters have slumped collectively. Both Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn are 3-for-21 on the road . No. 2 hitter Kevin Youkilis is 4-for-28. Coincidently, all three recently shaved assorted mustaches and beards in hope of some change of luck.
The Sox staff is trying to impart the idea that no one player should try to carry the team during this crucial time.
“I don’t think one guy has to carry us,” Ventura said. “That is what they have to realize. It is about nine guys going out there and having tough at-bats.”
Within the framework of this current three-game losing streak the Sox are 3-for-30 with RISP. They have also left 28 men on base in that three-game span.
“You look at yesterday’s game, there were a lot of strikeouts and pop ups,” Ventura said. “It is more about putting the ball in play and putting pressure on the defense rather than swinging as hard as you can and hoping something happens.”
“Over the past several weeks, we have had a number of our fans communicate their concerns with the game’s start time on Sept. 25,” White Sox senior vice president of sales and marketing Brooks Boyer said in a statement. “Along with the Cleveland Indians, we have agreed to move up the start time of the game to 1:10 p.m. to accommodate many fans’ interests.”
Youkilis, who is Jewish, said prior to Tuesday’s game he was pleased with the White Sox’s decision.
“I guess that means I can play,” Youkilis said. “I really didn’t know. I know there was talk that there was something about maybe changing it for the fans and stuff like that on that day. It’s a good thing for the playoff stretch.”
Youkilis said he has always skipped games that have conflicted with the holiday.
“I haven’t played,” Youkilis said. “It’s been one of those things. I’ve played the night after.”
Dunn originally suffered the injury against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 31 and missed the following two games. He returned to play three games against the Minnesota Twins from Sept. 1-3 and has since been out again.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said prior to Monday’s game against the Tigers that he is unsure whether Dunn will play in the four-game series at U.S. Cellular Field.
“He has a chance at some point, but again you don’t know until he’s moving around, swinging the bat, then you find out,” Ventura said.
Dunn is hitting .208 with 38 home runs and 88 RBIs this season. He leads the majors with 96 walks and 194 strikeouts and is tied for second in home runs.
Youkilis missed the White Sox’s series against the Kansas City Royals to be with his wife. He has hit .242 with 12 home runs and 38 RBIs in 59 games with the White Sox this season.
“Baseball always comes second to family,” Youkilis said. “It’s been a great weekend. It’s good to be back with the team. We’re just excited. The family is excited for me to come back and keep this team in first place.”
CHICAGO -- The White Sox will be without their No. 2 and 3 hitters for a second straight game on Saturday.
Both Adam Dunn and Kevin Youkilis will be missing from the lineup. Dunn reinjured his right oblique on Wednesday coming back too quickly from the initial injury. Youkilis went back home for the birth of his son on Friday.
“Youk (and his wife) had a baby boy,” said manager Robin Ventura. “Hopefully he will return tomorrow or Monday. Dunn still has a strained oblique he will be out a couple days.”
Dunn initially strained his side in Baltimore on Aug. 30. He played one more game in the Oriole series before sitting out two games last weekend on Saturday and Sunday. At that point, the team went on Dunn’s opinion on when he felt ready to return. This time he will have to face a more stringent test in order to be deemed game ready.
“I think we have a better idea of watching him (this time),” Ventura said. “I know he wants to play but (trainer) Herm (Schneider) has a better idea this time and watching him we will know a little better how he is feeling.”
In his initial comeback, Dunn was quick to return from what is normally a 5-7 day recovery depending on the degree of the strain. This time around, Dunn will have to pass certain tests by the training staff before he is allowed to go back to baseball activities.
Beginning on Monday and with an end date undetermined, a majority of the White Sox have followed Youkilis’ example and turned the clubhouse into your ordinary state police department with dozens of mustaches on display.
“I came up with it about a month ago, but no one got to it,” Youkilis said. “Finally I just did it, and the guys jumped onboard. “
White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko likes the idea to change things up a bit as they try to hold off the Detroit Tigers for the American League Central title.
“Guys are having fun with it right now,” Konerko said. “This time of year you kind of have to have some goofiness to get through it. It becomes a grind. We've been going at this for 6 1/2 months now from spring training. It gave everybody some life (in Monday’s win.) We're 1-0, so we'll ride it out and see what happens.”