5 key questions facing the Chicago White Sox heading into spring training
There was a lot of White Sox love late last month.
At SoxFest, fans packed the Hilton Chicago and offered overwhelming support for a team that hasn't had a winning record in five years and hasn't been to the playoffs since 2008.
Why were White Sox fans so pumped up? Rather than looking back on a peaked past, they turned their eyes to a future flush with promise.
Well over a year into a needed rebuild, Sox pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Wednesday. The first full-squad workout at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., is Feb. 19.
Here are five questions heading into camp:
1. When will the White Sox be legitimate contenders?
Plenty of players were talking playoffs this season during SoxFest week.
Anything is possible -- just ask the Minnesota Twins -- but the White Sox are at least a year away from playing postseason baseball.
The goal this year is to get Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez more major-league experience and get top prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen and Zack Collins to Guaranteed Rate Field by September.
2. Is Jose Abreu going to be traded?
He's far and away the Sox's best hitter, and Abreu has 100 or more RBI in each of his first four seasons while averaging 31 home runs.
Under contract for two more years, Abreu would be an asset for the White Sox on two fronts.
First, he's an established bat and production is the name of the game. Second, Abreu relishes being a mentor to all of the Sox's young players, particularly fellow Cubans Moncada and top prospect Luis Robert.
On the flip side, Abreu is 31 years old and entering the stage where skills start slipping.
General manager Rick Hahn has already traded quality veterans like Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana for premium prospects. If he gets a similar offer for Abreu before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, Hahn's likely to take it.
3. Is manager Rick Renteria in for the long haul?
If you listen to Hahn, 100 percent yes.
"There is a way this team has been playing this game under Ricky and this coaching staff over the last year or so that not only is contagious but is the kind of thing that can endure year in and year out as the player personnel changes," Hahn said. "I've heard from many Sox fans over the course of the off-season about how they've never been as excited over a team that lost 95 games or whatever it was. I think it is a testament not just to the excitement they have about what's coming and understanding what's coming, but I think almost as importantly is how the team fought on a nightly basis and the whole 'Ricky's boys don't quit' thing sort of took on a life of its own.
"It was a theme that Ricky and the coaches emphasized at the start of spring training and they carried it through. Again, player talent is going to change over the course of the next couple years, perhaps the ability to contend is going to change over the coming years, but that kind of environment and that kind of culture is the thing that we wanted to make sure was in place so that every young player, as they started joining that in Chicago, they know what we're about and they're in a position to fight on a nightly basis."
4. Is Avisail Garcia going to be traded?
Last season, the right fielder finally put it all together and finished second in the American League with a .330 batting average while also establishing career highs in home runs (18) and RBI (80).
Jimenez is the White Sox's right fielder of the future and he could be on the 25-man roster by June.
If Garcia picks up where he left off, he could move to left field or even designated hitter, although he struggled in that role in 2016.
More likely, Garcia gets traded for prospects.
5. What's up with Carlos Rodon?
After missing most of last season with a shoulder issue that finally required surgery, Rodon started throwing in late January.
April was the best case return scenario for the left-handed starter, but don't be surprised if Rodon is out until June.
With the Sox still in rebuild mode, there is no rush to get Rodon back into the rotation.