Grazzini still without a new contract

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Grazzini still without a new contract

All season long the Fire has downplayed the possibility of attacking midfielder Sebastian Grazzini leaving the club after his contract expires in July. Grazzini's departure, however, seemed a distinct possibility after Tuesday's training session at Toyota Park.

Grazzini made it clear that he and the club have an unresolved contract issue, and the possibility of getting it resolved seemed cloudy after Brazilian midfielder Alex went through his first training session in Bridgeview.

Alex, like many Brazilian players, prefers to go by only his first name in the soccer world. His full name is Alex Monteiro de Lima. Like Grazzini, he's also an attacking central midfielder but also says he's comfortable on the left side.

The Fire took a good look at Alex in preseason training, when he was under contract with FC Wohlen of Switzerland's second division. He signed with the Fire on April 26 but couldn't report until Wohlen's season was over, and he can't get into a match for the Fire until June 27 when the transfer window opens. He could make his Fire debut on June 29 at Sporting Kansas City.

Grazzini could still be on the roster then, too, but could be done shortly thereafter. He signed a one-year contract on July 13, 2011. So far his Argentina-based agent and the Fire have not reached agreement on a new deal.

The Fire brought in Grazzini in hopes of averting a second-straight disastrous season, and Grazzini did his part to bring respectability back to the franchise. He had five goals and four assists in 11 games, helping the Fire to a 7-2-1 finish that salvaged a.500 season (9-9-16).

Though more talented players have come on board this season the Fire is only a mediocre 5-5-3 heading into the resumption of the MLS season in Sunday's home match against the New York Red Bulls. The Fire lost its last three games prior to a two-week break, and Grazzini didn't play in two of them. He was on the field for Tuesday's training session while playing an uncomfortable waiting game with his contract.

"If the financing there, a good contract offer, I'm willing to stay,'' said Grazzini, speaking through the same translator that Alex used moments later, "but they've taken a little longer to decide.''

He is not happy about that.

"It bothers me because I have a family and am 20 days out of a contract,'' he said. "I don't want to leave on a bad note on anything, especially because I've done well on the pitch. I don't understand why it's taken so long. Thankfully I have offers from Argentina, but I like it here.''

Following MLS policy, the Fire doesn't disclose contract information but the MLS players union reports Grazzini as the lowest-paid Fire starter. According to the players group he was paid 48,000 in 2011 and has a base salary of 50,400 for 2012. There are players on the roster earning more than twice that.

Coach Frank Klopas might have been able to explain the contract delay, but he was missing from the session and said to be on a scouting trip at an undisclosed location. He spoke highly of Alex during the preseason and felt that his participation during three weeks of February sessions in Florida would help familiarize Alex with his future teammates.

"I know most of the players,'' said Alex. "Now I'm working on my fitness. I haven't been doing anything for two weeks, but by the 27th I should be ready again.''

Alex had offers from Dubai and Switzerland and his decision to choose the Fire came after discussions with his wife and other family members. He said his contract is for six months, which means just the rest of this season. According to sources, though, his loan agreement includes an option to extend the deal for three years. More financial details weren't disclosed.

There will be some pros and cons if the Fire decides on a midseason change at the critical attacking midfield spot. If Grazzini goes the Fire will lose experience. Grazzini has played for teams in Argentina, Spain, Belgium, Venezuela and Italy. He joined the Fire after a stint with the Argentine club All Boys.

If the Fire goes exclusively with Alex, the youth movement will get a boost. Alex is only 23, while Grazzini is 31. But Alex has only played professionally in Switzerland. He had two goals in 18 games for FC Gossau in the Swiss Challenge League to start his pro career and had seven goals in 48 matches for the last two seasons for FC Wohlen. He will wear No. 71 for the Fire.

Klopas wasn't the only absentee from the Fire coaching staff on Tuesday. Leo Percovich guided the reserve team in a match at Real Salt Lake. Arne Friedrich (hamstring), Chris Rolfe (ankle) and Dominic Oduro (hamstring) shook off their recent ailments and went through the whole training session, which was directed by assistant coach Mike Matkovich.

Jose Quintana on Tuesday opponent Chris Sale: 'He was the best teammate I ever played with'

Jose Quintana on Tuesday opponent Chris Sale: 'He was the best teammate I ever played with'

The majority of the talk surrounding Tuesday night's pitching matchup at Guaranteed Rate Field will be focused on the guy pitching against the White Sox.

Chris Sale returned to the South Side for the first time since being traded to the Boston Red Sox this past offseason, and he'll take the mound against his former teammates Tuesday. But the White Sox, who traded away one of the best pitchers in baseball, will be sending another All-Star hurler to the mound to oppose Sale.

Jose Quintana gets the ball for the White Sox, and while the attention will be squarely on Sale — and the emotions he does or does not show and the reaction he receives from the fans — Quintana will have his own emotional roller coaster going on, pitching against a guy who served as a mentor of sorts for the first five seasons of his career.

"Throwing on the same day will be a different feeling for me because he was the best teammate I ever played with," Quintana said. "It will be a different feeling watching him go against me after the last four years when he was my teammate. We talked last night. He said, ‘Hey, I’m in town. I can’t wait to see you guys.’ So I’m excited to play against him."

Sale had a few years on Quintana in major league service, but the duo looked like they would be a near-untouchable 1-2 combo at the front of the White Sox pitching rotation for years to come.

They both represented the White Sox at the All-Star Game last season and both finished in the top 10 in voting for the American League Cy Young Award.

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Sale was shipped to the Red Sox to start the White Sox rebuilding effort, breaking up that duo leading the staff. But as is often the case, it's not the performances and the statistics that Quintana misses the most about Sale but rather the qualities he brought as a teammate.

"I learned from his focus on the game and his passion for baseball," Quintana said. "We talked a lot over the years. But the first thing I learned from him was focus.

"I miss him. He was one of my best teammates ever that I played with. I understand it was part of the game. It’s a business and that happens. ... I miss his energy. We have a lot of guys here with energy too, but I miss the energy he had every time we talked in the dugout, watching the game."

Sale is having one of the best campaigns of any pitcher in baseball through the season's first two months. And while Quintana's start has been shaky at times, he's still the White Sox ace. It's that standing, though, that has had his name the subject of plenty of trade rumors during the offseason, spring training and since Opening Day. There is an expectation, warranted or not, that he will soon join Sale in departing the White Sox for a big prospect haul.

Until then, though, Quintana is taking over for Sale as the team's No. 1. The two old mates will go head to head Tuesday night in a monumental matchup, and Quintana is already projecting that focus he learned from Sale.

"I have just one game, and I have my focus on throwing the ball well for my team, to get a 'W.' That’s my focus every time, to do my job," Quintana said. "It will be a different feeling because I’m pitching against him, but I don’t want to pay attention to the other team. I just want to do my job."

White Sox second-round pick from last year's draft struck out 15 guys Sunday night

White Sox second-round pick from last year's draft struck out 15 guys Sunday night

Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez are household names to White Sox fans after the organization bolstered its farm system this past offseason with a couple blockbuster trades. Luis Robert is already ranked as the team's No. 3 prospect after signing Saturday.

But there were a few top prospects already kicking around the organization before those moves, and one of them struck out 15 batters Sunday night.

Alec Hansen, currently ranked as the organization's No. 10 prospect and last year's second-round draft pick, punched out 15 Greensboro Grasshoppers, allowing just one run in seven innings in the Kannapolis Intimidators' 8-1 win.

It was the continuation of an impressive trend for Hansen this season. He lowered his ERA below 3.00 down to 2.96 on Sunday and has struck out 67 hitters in his 10 starts.

“It was pretty much, for the most part, like my last starts have been going," Hansen said after the game in an interview with team radio. "I’ve been throwing strikes. Just got a lot of swing and misses tonight, really. I think if you back and look at it, they had a lot of swing and misses, it wasn’t a lot of backwards Ks. I guess my stuff was just better tonight than it had been.”

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Hansen has put up tremendous numbers since joining the White Sox organization after what was a challenging junior season at Oklahoma that ended with a 5.40 ERA.

But in 12 minor league starts in 2016, he turned in a pencil-thin 1.32 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 54.2 innings.

He gave up nine earned runs in his first four starts of this season — two of which lasted fewer than four innings — but in the six starts since, he's got a 2.23 ERA in 36.1 innings.

"I’ve been pitching pretty well, and I think I’ve just been going out there and pitching, really," Hansen said. "It sounds simple, but that’s really all it is.

“(What happened) tonight, I’m not expecting that next time out. I just want to keep working and just keep getting outs. I think the biggest thing was no walks tonight. If I can keep doing that, getting deep in games, I think that’s my focus going forward.”

Normally, a 15-strikeout outing like Hansen's would be the organization's minor league highlight of the week. But Giolito, ranked as the team's No. 2 prospect, stole Hansen's thunder with a no-hitter that earned him International League Pitcher of the Week honors Monday.