It’s Feb. 1. Pitchers and catchers report in but a fortnight.
And yet the White Sox are one of only a handful of teams that can consider themselves ready for the season ahead.
Sure, they have plenty of room for improvement, because they look like a 70-win team. The problem is that two areas where they can improve are ones that should be improved by high-profile prospect promotions, and potentially during the first half. The Sox have lanes available if their farm system delivers.
Rick Hahn and Co. more or less accomplished what they set out to do, which isn’t a lot by default. Nevertheless, they’re in the top half of baseball’s most active teams.
- C: Welington Castillo
- 1B: Jose Abreu
- 2B: Yoan Moncada
- 3B: Yolmer Sanchez
- SS: Tim Anderson
- LF: Nicky Delmonico
- CF: Leury Garcia
- RF: Avisail Garcia
- DH: Matt Davidson?
There’s nothing wrong with at least five of these positions, which represents progress. Welington Castillo is the lone addition from the outside, and the White Sox made him baseball’s first free agent acquisition with a two-year, $15 million deal.
If the White Sox had a lineup worthy of contention, two of Sanchez, Delmonico and Leury Garcia would be above-average bench depth, and Davidson would be on the outside looking in. As it stands, the first three will get a chance to show what their ceilings truly are, and DH is like the pressure valve in case there are somehow too many players deserving of everyday action.
The bench should be a spring-training slugfest. I’d give Omar Narvaez the inside track for backing up Castillo because he’s a lefty, and Tyler Saladino will probably get one more crack at utility infield work despite slugging .229 last year, although the newly acquired Jose Rondon lingers behind him as a true shortstop. Adam Engel‘s future depends on whether the Sox think there’s a possibility he can hit, or if they’ll be content to use his defense and speed off the bench. He could keep the seat warm for Ryan Cordell or Charlie Tilson, both of whom are coming off injuries and might need to use Charlotte as extended spring training.
The rotation is the single biggest obstacle between the White Sox and the second wild card. You can look at the lineup and see the faintest possibility of bench guys turning into passable starters. It’s hard to look at this lineup and see 200 innings from anybody.
Giolito and Lopez shouldn’t have any restrictions. The former threw 174 innings between Charlotte and Chicago, and the latter threw 168, so they should get enough starts to make a run at 200. The quality may be the problem, especially if the strikeouts are lacking because they still can’t find their big curveballs.
James Shields will be trying to avoid being the least effective pitcher in White Sox history, at least among those who pitched so many innings. He’s logged 231 innings and has a 70 ERA+ to show for it, and that’s the worst of any pitcher with a comparable amount of action. Jaime Navarro used to be the worst in this department with a 76 ERA+. Shields did post a 4.33 ERA over the final two months of the season, which is also the time he started dropping down and throwing three-quarters. The hope is that the novelty hasn’t worn off.
Gonzalez is the most credible pitcher on the staff, but shoulder problems caused him to miss a month last year. That’s the reason he signed for just one year and $4.75 million.
Fulmer might not be guaranteed to open the season in the rotation, but he has the inside track after going 3-for-3 in September starts, posting a 1.64 ERA over 22 innings during the season’s final month. One of these pitchers will be looking over their shoulder for Michael Kopech, with Carlos Rodon hopefully ready to go at some point before the All-Star break.
The three-way trade with the Dodgers and Royals helped the White Sox solidify their bullpen with credible major-league relievers Soria and Avilan. There’s ostensibly only one spot open during spring training, which would be best filled by a second lefty or a multi-inning reliever, although Jones will have to prove he can pitch on a regular basis.
Among prospects, Aaron Bummer outpitched Jace Fry during their first exposures to MLB hitters, but they’re probably on equalish ground overall. Thyago Vieira throws triple-digits from the right side, but ideally he’d get time in Charlotte to work on missing more bats. You can add Tyler Danish, Connor Walsh and Brian Clark as guys who could see some time in Chicago at various points.
The White Sox have also amassed a fair amount of veteran non-roster depth to sift through in Arizona. Jeanmar Gomez is the latest veteran to enter the fray on a minor-league contract, joining Rob Scahill and Gonzalez Germen from the right side, and Xavier Cedeno and T.J. House from the left. Holdovers like Chris Beck and Michael Ynoa also remain.
On the Patreon Request Line, Daniel asked:
With the lack of signings this offseason and so many free agents remaining with just two weeks to go before P/C, which players should the Sox seriously begin considering? And at what price points? Eventually there have to be 3-4 year deals that make sense and fit with the rebuild timeline.
My feeling here is that the players who work at price points that make sense for the White Sox make more sense in other places. For instance, if they could sign Mike Moustakas to a three-year deal below $50 million (so they don’t give a draft pick to a division rival), I’d guess that other teams would jump on that, and Moustakas would pick a team that isn’t subject to dramatic turnover. The same can be said for somebody like Jarrod Dyson, who would bring some order to the center field depth chart, but could also do the same around the league.
So I’d guess the White Sox are done with the major acquisitions, and the rest of the next two months will be devoted to non-roster contracts, and maybe looking at out-of-options guys from other clubs who could work off the bench.
If that’s the case, then the only thing the White Sox have to do is agree to contracts with Avisail Garcia and Yolmer Sanchez. Both were in good spirits at SoxFest, which I’d take as a positive sign, especially since arb-eligible players used to only be added to the festivities after signing.
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