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 1990'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 trio lands on MLB.com's Top 10 RHP prospects list

White Sox trio lands on MLB.com's Top 10 RHP prospects list

The White Sox farm system has taken a complete 180 over the past calendar year.

Gone are the days where the White Sox would be lucky to land a single prospect in Top 100 prospects lists.

After undergoing an overhaul that saw franchise cornerstones Chris Sale and Adam Eaton shipped out for a bundle of prospects, the White Sox are soaring up MLB farm system rankings.

As they will each day until the end of the January, MLBPipeline will release baseball's Top 10 prospects at each position.

To kick off the countdown, the Top 10 right-handed pitching prospects were released on Tuesday, and to no surprise the list is White Sox heavy.

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Lucas Giolito (No. 3) and Reynaldo Lopez (No. 10), sent to the White Sox from the Nationals in a blockbuster deal for Eaton, both cracked the Top 10 list. 

Michael Kopech, who was a key piece along with MLB.com's 2016 top overall prospect Yoan Moncada in the White Sox haul from the Boston Red Sox for Sale, came in at No. 4 on MLBPipeline's rankings.

Check out what MLB.com's Mike Rosenbaum had to say about each White Sox pitcher below:

3. Lucas Giolito, White Sox
The prized right-hander of last year's class, Giolito saw his stock wane over the course of the season and especially in the big leagues, where apparent mechanical issues resulted in diminished velocity and hindered his control. He's shown the ceiling of an ace in the past, with the ability to command a mid-to-upper 90s heater, a knee-buckling curveball and a fading changeup, and now has renowned pitching coach Don Cooper on his side after joining the White Sox as part of the offseason Adam Eaton blockbuster deal.

4. Michael Kopech, White Sox
Kopech began the year on the disabled list with a broken hand but made up for the time lost with dazzling performances in the Class A Advanced Carolina League and, later, in the Arizona Fall League. Acquired in the Chris Sale trade in December, the 20-year-old hits triple digits with ease and backs it up with a plus slider and a promising changeup. As he continues to make developmental strides, Kopech will move quickly in 2017.

10. Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox
Overshadowed by Giolito headed into last season, Lopez proved the more effective of the duo in the big leagues before joining him in the offseason trade to Chicago. A more consistent and linear delivery resulted in improved strike-throwing ability for the 23-year-old righty, who can miss bats with his well above-average fastball, excellent curve and improved changeup.

Ironically, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow and Houston Astros pitcher Francis Martes, two players who have been rumored to be involved in their respective team's talks with the White Sox for starter Jose Quintana, made the Top 10 list on Tuesday.

Heading into the 2016 season, shortstop Tim Anderson (No. 38) and pitcher Carson Fulmer (No. 42) were the only two White Sox prospects on MLBPipeline's Top 100 list.

At the very least the White Sox will double that number in 2017 with the three aforementioned pitchers and Moncada.

Don Cooper's 'eyes lit up' watching White Sox prospect Michael Kopech

Don Cooper's 'eyes lit up' watching White Sox prospect Michael Kopech

There are bittersweet emotions because he's no longer Chris Sale's pitching coach, but Don Cooper is excited about the future of the White Sox.

The team's veteran pitching coach joined the White Sox Talk podcast on Tuesday and said even though he's sad see Sale go, it's hard to overlook the talent the team has received in return. Last month the White Sox traded their five-time All-Star to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for four prospects, including Michael Kopech. The club also added Lucas Giolito and two other pitching prospects in a trade for Adam Eaton. 

"When I saw Kopech, my eyes lit up," Cooper said. "Not only is he a big strong son of a gun, the stuff out of his hand is really good, life, energy stuff. He's just untapped talent right now. He's 20 years old. But he's already moved up the scale. 

"Delivery-wise it was like, 'Whoa.' Everything I like, he does. ...

"If he stays healthy he has a chance to be a killer."

Cooper also has high hopes for Giolito, baseball's top pitching prospect in 2016, who posted a 6.75 ERA in six big league games last season. He discounted Giolito's struggles as a small sample size and hopes to maximize the pitcher's talent.

"He still has his good stuff," Cooper said. "We've got to mix it up. We need more strikes. We need more consistency."

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Cooper also noted that the stuff of Reynaldo Lopez, acquired with Giolito and Dane Dunning from Washington for Eaton, caught his eye. Combined with the pitching prospects already in the organization, Cooper thinks the White Sox have a talented farm system.

"Looking around, all of a sudden, combined with the younger pitchers we had in the system already, the injection of these guys that Rick (Hahn) has traded for, it's giving us a stronger, stronger system," Cooper said. "We’re amassing a lot of good talent."

Cooper said Sale is the most talented pitcher he's ever coached and he'll miss their everyday relationship. He described Sale as one of the 10 best pitchers on the planet. But Cooper hasn't been surprised by any moves since the White Sox allowed Mark Buehrle to leave via free agency. 

"It's sad that Chris is gone because my individual everyday relationship with him is over as a coach," Cooper said. "But the exciting thing is one of the reasons, the excitement of the guys you get back in return.

"It was mixed. 'Listen man, I'm sad you’re leaving because of that, the relationship. The everyday relationship is no longer there. We're friends.' I know this guy. I've seen every pitch in the big leagues he's thrown. 

"When you get to see every pitch and you're with them every single day and that relationship is over, it's sad in some ways. But this has happened before. It happened to Buehrle. If it can happen to Buehrle, it can happen to everybody."