Flowers has 'no intentions' of playing second fiddle behind the plate

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Flowers has 'no intentions' of playing second fiddle behind the plate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the last eight seasons, A.J. Pierzynski has been a rock behind the plate for the Chicago White Sox; a durable, dependable presence whose status on the South Side is nothing short of iconic.

But with signs pointing to the White Sox not re-signing the free agent backstop, somebody will likely be taking Pierzynskis place.

Tyler Flowers wants to be that guy.

As it sits right now, theres a chance to go to the spring and win the job and be the starting catcher, Flowers said by phone on Monday. The hope is that Ill have the opportunity at spring training to have a level playing field to win the job and be the starting catcher. Thats what I hope for. Hopefully it will stay that way.

That all depends on the thinking of new White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. Here at the MLB winter meetings, he might find a trading partner for a veteran catcher. If the market drops on Pierzynski, the White Sox might even consider bringing A.J. back.

Theres still a chance of that. But yeah, Im hoping not, said a frank Flowers, who finds himself in a competitive pickle. He wants the best for Pierzynski, but he also wants the White Sox starting job.

I have no intentions of being a backup catcher the rest of my career, said Flowers, who turns 27 in January. My career is getting shorter and shorter every day that goes by. So I feel like Id like the chance to be a starter.

What are the White Sox thinking? We dont know exactly. Neither does Flowers. He says the last meaningful conversation he had with the front office happened halfway through last season when they told him to relax in his role as back-up.

They havent promised me the starting catcher position, he said. I wish they would, but thats not how it works.

Monday, I asked Hahn if the White Sox are comfortable with Flowers being their starting catcher.

If we wind up with Tyler behind the plate? Yes, absolutely," he said. "We arent there yet and we are still exploring other options, including A.J. However, if in fact we wind up with Tyler as the opening day catcher, we think that we will not lose anything defensively and we have a good young hitter capable of hitting for power and getting on base fairly regularly.

Pierzynski is coming off his best hitting season as a big leaguer. He set a career-high with 27 home runs and tied a career-high with 77 RBIs. Flowers finished with seven homers, 13 RBIs and a large blank space of the unknown.

What kind of numbers can he produce as an everyday catcher?

I have no idea, Flowers admitted. Ive never had the chance to play every day. I kind of think thats what Im hoping to get the chance to do. Everyone would find out at the same time. Id like to think I could do better than Ive done as a backup. Playing every day is a lot different than playing twice a week.

"It gives you a chance to do some things, work on things, tweak some things, instead of trying to get in position once a week to say, Hey, I better get a hit today. This is my one chance in seven days. I better make it count. When you know youre playing tomorrow, that changes the math, that chances your mind-set, that changes everything. I cant really put any numbers on it. I can tell you that Ill do better than what Ive done.

Flowers thinks the MLB Network can do better as well.

Friday, the channel aired the top 50 home runs of the 2012 season. On Aug. 15 in Toronto, Flowers crushed a homer off the Blue Jays' Aaron Laffey which might still be in the air.

It was estimated at 452 feet. Flowers thinks it traveled more than 475.

I dont know if Ill hit one again as far as I hit that one, he said.

Tyler got flooded with texts and emails from friends and family members wondering if his home run would make the list.

They all thought Id be in the top 10, said Flowers, who figured hed be somewhere around fifth, sixth or seventh. So they actually got me excited to watch it. I was like, This is pretty cool.

That was until Flowers watched the whole show -- and his home run didnt even make the program.

So then I had to deal with all the repurcussions of all my friends saying, What the heck?" Flowers explained. Does the home run not count because it was in a different country or something? Maybe they dont air Canadian home runs. Im not sure.

So Monday morning, Flowers sent an email to MLB Network -- half-joking, but definitely half-serious.

I dont appreciate the embarrassment for not including my home run, Flowers wrote.

As of Monday evening, Flowers had not heard back from MLB Network, but one of its on-air talent wanted to express his deepest apologies to the White Sox catcher.

If I have to go to human resources, Mr. Flowers, we will get that taken care of, said Dan Plesac, MLB Network analyst and former analyst at Comcast SportsNet. I dont make the decisions on the longest home runs, but anything to do with the White Sox, Ill go ahead and pull the strings if I have to!

If Plesac is tight with the White Sox front office, maybe he can pull some strings there, too.

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

Bobby Howry wasn't aware of the fact he was part of one of the more infamous transactions in White Sox history until a few years after it happened. 

In 1997, with the White Sox only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, general manager Ron Schueler pulled the trigger on a massive trade that left many around Chicago — including some in the White Sox clubhouse — scratching their heads. Heading to the San Francisco Giants was the team's best starting pitcher (left-hander Wilson Alvarez), a reliable rotation piece (Doug Drabek) and a closer coming off a 1996 All-Star appearance (Roberto Hernandez). In return, the White Sox acquired six minor leaguers: right-handers Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, left-hander Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Only Foulke had major league experience, and it wasn't exactly good (an 8.26 ERA in 44 2/3 innings). 

Howry was largely oblivious to the shocking nature of the trade that brought him from the Giants to White Sox until, before the 1999 season, he was featured in a commercial that referenced the "White Flag trade."

"I don't even know if I knew it was called that before then," Howry recalled last weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago at Cubs Convention. 

The trade was a stark signal that youth would be emphasized on 35th and Shields. Both Alvarez and Hernandez were set to become free agents after the 1997 season, and the 40-year-old Darwin wasn't a long-term piece, either. With youngsters like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee rising through the farm system, the move was made with an eye on the future and maximizing the return on players who weren't going to be long-term pieces. 

Sound familiar? 

It's hardly a perfect comparison, but when the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December for four minor leaguers — headlined by top-100 prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — it was the first rebuilding blockbuster trade the organization had made since the 1997 White Flag deal. Shortly after trading their staff ace at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox shipped Adam Eaton — their best position player — to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects featuring two more highly-regarded youngsters in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. 

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And there still could be more moves on the horizon, too, for Rick Hahn's White Sox (Jose Quintana has been the subject of persistent rumors since the Winter Meetings). But for those looking for an optimistic outlook of the White Sox rebuilding plans, it's worth noting that the club's last youth movement, to an extent, was successful.

Only Howry (3.74 ERA over 294 games) and Foulke (2.87 ERA, 100 saves over 346 games) became significant long-term pieces for the White Sox from those six players brought over in 1997. And it wasn't like Schueler dealt away any of the franchise's cornerstones — like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Robin Ventura — but with future starters in Lee, Ordonez and Chris Singleton on their way the White Sox were able to go young. A swap of promising youthful players (Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko) proved to be successful a year and a half later. 

And with a couple of shrewd moves — namely, dealing Jamie Navarro and John Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin — the "Kids Can Play" White Sox stormed to an American League Central title in 2000. 

"It was great," Howry said of developing with so many young players in the late 1999's and 2000. "You come in and you feel a lot more comfortable when you got a lot of young guys and you're all coming up together and building together. It's not like you're walking into a primarily veteran clubhouse where you're kind of having to duck and hide all the time. We had a great group of guys and we built together over a couple of years, and putting that together was a lot of fun."

What sparked things in 2000, Howry said, was that ferocious brawl with the Detroit Tigers on April 22 in which 11 players were ejected (the fight left Foulke needing five stitches and former Tigers catcher/first baseman Robert Fick doused in beer). 

"About the time we had that fight with Detroit, that big brawl, all of a sudden after then we just seemed to kind of come together and everything started to click and it took off," Howry said. 

The White Sox went 80-81 in 1998 and slipped to 75-86 in 1999, but their 95-67 record in 2000 was the best in the league — though it only amounted to a three-game sweep at the hands of the wild-card winning Seattle Mariners. 

Still, the White Flag trade had a happy ending two and a half years later. While with the White Sox, Howry didn't feel pressure to perform under the circumstances with which he arrived, which probably helped those young players grow together into eventual division champions. 

"I was 23 years old," Howry said. "At 23 years old, I didn't really — I was just like, okay, I'm still playing, I got a place to play. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into three veteran guys for six minor leaguers." 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox 2016 first round pick Zack Collins joins the podcast to talk about his future with the White Sox, when he hopes to make the big leagues and the doubters who question whether he can be a major league catcher.   He discusses comparisons with Kyle Schwarber, his impressions of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, why his dad took him to a Linkin Park concert when he was 6 years old and much more.