This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the White Sox, who with a barrage of offseason moves have risen from the basement of the AL Central into the thick of the playoff discussion. There are no secrets here: the Sox are going for it.
Projected Lineup: CF Adam Eaton, LF Melky Cabrera*, 1B Jose Abreu, DH Adam LaRoche*, RF Avisail Garcia, 3B Conor Gillaspie, SS Alexei Ramirez, C Tyler Flowers, 2B Micah Johnson
Projected Rotation: LHP Chris Sale, RHP Jeff Samardzija*, LHP Jose Quintana, LHP John Danks, RHP Hector Noesi
* new additions
The White Sox had an exciting offseason, having landed more free agents than you probably were aware of. Now they’re the answer for every time the casual fan in the cubicle next to you asks, “Oh yeah I heard that guy was a free agent, where did he end up?”
It started with a big splash, when the White Sox traded for Jeff Samardzija. This move alone vaulted them into the discussion as serious contenders, and with this newfound respectability, free agents started flocking to Chicago. In quick succession, the Sox signed journeyman reliever Zach Duke, designated hitter Adam LaRoche, outfielder Melky Cabrera, new closer David Robertson, and even old fan favorite Gordon Beckham.
The most intriguing signing out of that group might be Zach Duke. Playing last year in Milwaukee, he made a strong bid for Comeback Player of the Year as he posted a 2.45 ERA to go along with a ridiculous 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. The White Sox were so impressed with the reliever’s dominance that they inked him to a three-year deal, and he figures to be a major part of Chicago’s drastically revamped bullpen.
The new offensive pieces help fill a need that became apparent last season: finding protection in the lineup for Jose Abreu. Abreu was intentionally walked 15 times last season, the fifth-most in baseball. It may not seem like a lot, but that number is only expected to increase, especially now that the rest of the league knows that he’s the greatest hitter on the planet. This year, he’ll be sandwiched between Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche in the lineup, making it a lot riskier for opposing pitchers to hand out free bases.
And let’s not understate the offensive threat that is Melky Cabrera. Last season, the White Sox got almost no production from their 2-hole hitters, who hit for just a .237/.279/.355 slash line. This year, the Melk-man will change that. He’s generally always good for a .300 average, a fair amount of walks, and between 15-20 homers. If he performs up to expectations, it will mean many more opportunities for Abreu to bat with multiple runners on base, something that happened in only 79 plate appearances last season. If you’re keeping score at home, that will mean a lot more three-run dingers for Abreu, and therefore a lot more reasons to be excited if you’re a Sox fan.
Another guy the Sox are excited to have is Adam Eaton, whose picture shows up on Wikipedia when you look up “scrappy”.
Although Eaton hit .300 last season and became a fixture in the leadoff spot, he hasn’t fully broken out yet. Being a real stolen base threat was something that eluded him, because even though he did steal 15 bags on the year, he got caught or picked off far too often to be effective. Stealing came naturally for him in the minors, where he stole as many as 44 bases in a single season. Expect him to figure it out sometime this year and to add that trick to his arsenal.
In the rotation, Chris Sale is a straight up beast. He led the American League with a 178 ERA+ last season, and held opponents to just a .205 batting average. And guess what? Today is his 26th birthday. Twenty-six! Chris Sale is younger than last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom. That means there’s a very real chance that he’s still getting better, which is a scary proposition.
Sale is backed up by Samardzija and Jose Quintana, one of the most underrated pitchers in the league. Here’s how Quintana ranked among American League qualifying pitchers in the following stats: ERA, 13th. Opponents’ OPS: 12th. FIP, 8th. Forget the label of #3 starter, Quintana is a guy who could be an ace on most other teams.
The only concern in the rotation is with fifth starter Hector Noesi, the main problem being that he owns a career 5.16 ERA. If Noesi is allowed to start as many games as he did last year (27), and he performs to his usual level (poorly), that could be the difference between the Sox making or missing the playoffs. The Sox aren’t going to want to take that risk, especially when they have a killer arm waiting in the minors…
Carlos Rodon is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He’s had a great showing in spring training, in which he has shown that he can handle real big league hitters, with an ERA of 3.65 through four starts, and a ridiculous 19 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. If the Sox want to win this year, they’ll bring Rodon up sooner rather than later.
Yes, “win this year” seems to be the plan. With all the chips they pushed in for 2015, it’d be foolish for the team not to use every tool at their disposal. And watch out, because I wouldn’t put it past them to make a splash at the trade deadline too, as they continue to do whatever they can to make that playoff dream a reality.
Projected Finish: 88-74, First place in AL Central