Chicago White Sox

White Sox designate John Danks for assignment

White Sox designate John Danks for assignment

Any questions or doubts one might have about the White Sox and their plans to compete this season should be long gone now.

The first-place White Sox made their intentions for 2016 crystal clear Tuesday as they announced plans to cut ties later this week with starting pitcher John Danks. The longest-tenured player in the organization, Danks, 31, will officially be designated for assignment on Thursday.

In the interim, right-hander Erik Johnson will start Thursday in place of Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ERA in four starts, general manager Rick Hahn said. But nothing is set in stone beyond that as to how the White Sox will handle the fifth spot in the rotation.

“(Danks) was an important part of some very good White Sox teams,” Hahn said. “This is about putting us in the best position to win ballgames going forward. We feel we have a pretty special thing going on in this clubhouse right now. We have the opportunity to build off some of the momentum we already have created for ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in the best position to win games going forward.”

The White Sox -- who will eat roughly $11.75 million of the veteran’s $14.25 million salary with the move -- have been in a dicey spot with Danks. With an American League-best 18 wins, the club is playing its best baseball in four seasons despite the ongoing struggles of Danks, a very popular figure in a clubhouse only seven weeks removed from the Adam LaRoche ordeal.

Hahn said the front office heavily considered how the transaction would play in the clubhouse if they decided to move on from Danks, who was acquired in a December 2006 trade that sent Brandon McCarthy to the Texas Rangers.

While players are sad to see their friend go, several talked about not being surprised.

“It doesn’t matter if he has six days, six years or 10 years,” starting pitcher Chris Sale said. “You never want to see it happen, especially a guy like him. He was a big part of the chemistry we had going on in here. He was a personality. He was a character.

“But we need to keep moving. This game stops for nobody. It’s the greatest job in the world. I’ll be the first to tell you. But it can be cutthroat at well.”

Sale has been in constant contact with Danks, who learned of the team’s plans several days ago. The four-time All-Star said he convinced Danks to stop by the White Sox clubhouse early Tuesday to see his teammates one last time.

“Saying goodbye to him was tough for all of us, but like I said it's part of the game,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “It's sad to see him go.”

Danks was an integral piece on the 2008 AL Central champions, pitching the White Sox into the postseason with eight scoreless innings in the Sept. 30 “Blackout Game” in which they topped the Minnesota Twins, 1-0.

From 2008-10, Danks went 40-31 with a 3.61 ERA in 97 starts and looked as if he’d develop into a front-of-the rotation starter. Danks’ performance led to him receiving a five-year, $65-million extension from the club in December 2011.

But his shoulder started to bother him in 2012 and by August Danks required shoulder surgery, from which his performance never fully recovered. He went 22-44 with a 4.84 ERA in 88 starts since he returned in 2013.

Danks’ struggles weren’t for a lack of effort, however. He and the White Sox worked tirelessly to reinvent the pitcher and this spring they were cautiously optimistic his fastball command and consistency had improved.

“As far as work ethic and just guts, he had all of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That was never a question. He’s always been able to do that and there’s a lot of respect for him in the clubhouse for all the things that he did and one of them’s coming back from an injury and trying to gut through it.”

But the results didn’t match the effort.

Because he gave them so many innings -- he averaged 185 2/3 frames the past two seasons -- the White Sox were open to running Danks out to pitch as long as he stayed competitive. But the team went 32-56 in Danks’ starts since 2013, losing all four of this season. Whereas they went 13-17 in Danks’ starts last season, they were only competitive in his April 21 start this season, a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Those poor results led to Tuesday’s decision, one that demonstrates the White Sox willingness to improve even at a great cost. Hahn said the White Sox never really considered a long man role in the bullpen and Danks didn’t want to go to the minor leagues, which left the club in a difficult position.

Ultimately, Hahn acted in a way he feels best suits the club’s current needs.

“We weren’t getting the production we needed out of that spot,” Hahn said. “Given the fact that we feel like this could well be a very special summer around here, there certainly was heightened scrutiny to all the areas where we weren’t performing. But that fifth spot was one where we felt it was imperative we made a move.”

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Yoan Moncada wrapped up his first Crosstown Series — in front of the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere he’ll experience in, likely, a while — with an 0-4 showing in the White Sox 6-3 loss to the Cubs on Thursday. 

The 22-year-old had mixed results facing the defending World Series champions, striking out four times in five at-bats on Monday and hitting his first career home run off Jake Arrieta on Wednesday. His final numbers for these four Crosstown games: 17 plate appearances, two hits, two walks, two runs, eight strikeouts and one hit by pitch. 

Moncada is off to a slow start in his second stint in the majors, but he’s drawing plenty of walks (12.5 percent) and probably has been victimized by some bad luck (a .118 batting average on balls in play which, to say the least, is exceedingly low). 

Manager Rick Renteria, though, likes Moncada’s even-keeled demeanor and his ability to handle the ups and downs of the day-to-day grind of the regular season. 

“What he’s going to be able to do is minimize how much he gets wrapped up in frustration, as opposed to taking the at-bat, the last at-bat, going through pitch by pitch and trying to figure out what it was he wrapped in his approach,” Renteria said. “Younger players usually get very, very frustrated and lose that moment to gain some knowledge. Failure is not in and of itself a bad thing. It’s actually something that can produce a lot of positives. The thing is to try to get them to understand as quickly as possible so they can take those moments and gain information. 

“That’s why his even-keeled approach and even-keeled attitude (will help). He’s got fire. It’s not that he doesn’t care. That’s where people — for a lot of players who are calm or even-keeled, they have fire, they have desire, but they know how to compartmentalize and separate those things and try to gain something from every moment, positive or negative.”

Moncada already took that clear-eyed approach to self-evaluation in the minor leagues, and said that hasn’t changed now that he’s at baseball’s highest level. 

“I’m just keeping the same routine that I was using in the minors,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “And the whole year, I’m just keeping with the things that have been giving me results.”

There’s not much of a common thread between Moncada’s brief call-up with the Boston Red Sox last September and his first few games with the White Sox. Moncada was overmatched in his 2016 debut, striking out 12 times in 20 plate appearances and only drawing one walk. He had four hits, though, so his way-too-small-sample-size BABIP was .571. 

Moncada looks like a different player this year, carrying over his strong Triple-A walk rate (13.6 percent) to his nascent tenure with the White Sox. Eventually, the hits are likely to start falling as long as he doesn’t get out of the approach that got him here — and made him baseball’s biggest prospect in the process. 

“He’s been doing all the work that he has to do to adjust to this level,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “He’s been doing his same routine from Triple-A and I think that’s something good because you have to stick with the things that are giving you good results.” 

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

Nearly eight months into their rebuild, the White Sox have accrued an eye-popping amount of young talent. The franchise continues to receive kudos even in trading a pair of relievers this week to add depth to what might be the best farm system in baseball.

But having the best farm system -- the White Sox have eight of MLBPipeline.com’s top 100 prospects -- won’t mean much until it’s realized.

Well versed on the subject having experienced it on his own, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo acknowledged before Thursday’s 6-3 win over the White Sox just how uncertain the rebuilding process can be. In Rizzo’s eyes, it wasn’t just talent that got the Cubs over the hump, it was timing, too.

“It happened fast, but it could have went the other way, too,” Rizzo said. “We’re lucky with how everything turned out. Plus, a lot of hard work has gone into it.”

[MORE: Aaron Bummer on what it's like to get called up to the majors]

Similar to Yoan Moncada’s arrival last week, Rizzo was the first [hyped prospect to be promoted] after Theo Epstein’s plan went into place. Acquired the previous winter from San Diego, Rizzo reached the majors midway through the 2012 season with the Cubs only a few months into their rebuild. The three-time All-Star didn’t know it at the time, but he was the first new face the Cubs would introduce to their audience. While Rizzo often [was aware of skepticism of Epstein’s plan], he said he never felt the same pressure from fans. Rizzo also said he can understand why not all the Cubs faithful were on board.

“I think I was naïve and happy to be back in the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “You’ve just got to focus on playing baseball and not worry about everything else that you can’t control.

“I didn’t feel (pressure) at all. I know people were calling for the upper front office’s jobs. But they had a plan and they had a vision and they preached it the entire time.”

“As a fan I can understand why you get upset because you want to win. As a fan of football or whatever sport, if my team doesn’t win, I get mad. But obviously they knew what they were doing.”

So far the White Sox fan base has been mostly supportive of Rick Hahn’s efforts and embraced the idea of building through the farm system. But not everyone is on board with a 25-man roster teardown that appears to have the club hurtling toward its first 100-loss season since 1970.

This week’s Crosstown series is a reminder there are tough times ahead for the White Sox.

The Cubs lost a combined 197 games in 2012 and 2013 and 89 games in 2014. The second half of the 2017 season could be extremely difficult for a White Sox club that has traded Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings all since December.

Rizzo thinks the way the Cubs handled those difficulties played into their success in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s life,” Rizzo said. “There are tough times in anything. There are going to be good times and bad times so it’s all about how you approach it and how you handle it.

“We always knew the potential we had, it was just a matter of going out and doing it. Ball’s bouncing your way, calls going your way and staying together.”