After back-to-back sub-.500 seasons, the ChiSox were one of the busiest teams this offseason as they looked to upgrade their mediocre lineup and woeful pitching staff.
Chicago got rid of some dead weight, added Jeff Samardzija to the starting five, and upgraded many of their positions of need but will that be enough to move them from the basement of the AL Central into contention in one of the most competitive divisions in the game?
Batting Average: 16th
1B: Adam LaRoche, Jose Abreu
With a well-past-his-prime Paul Konerko gone, the White Sox brought in another aging veteran to man first, albeit one coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Though LaRoche has sacrificed some of his extra-base hits for power in his later years, his walk rate and strikeouts have actually significantly improved.
Last season, LaRoche posted an impressive .259/.362/.455 line with 26 home runs, 92 RBI, 73 runs, and 82 walks to 108 strikeouts. That’s the fewest strikeouts LaRoche has posted since 2005 and the most he’s walked in his career. If he can continue to improve his already solid on-base numbers his shelf life could be a lot longer than your average 35-year-old power hitting first baseman.
Speaking of power, they don’t get a lot stronger than Jose Abreu who is expected to handle the everyday DH duties. In his first season in the league, the home run happy Cuban blasted 36 home runs, though just seven came in the second half.
In his first 83 games, Abreu posted a .292/.342/.630 line with 29 home runs, 73 RBI, and 20 doubles with 82 strikeouts to 22 walks. In the final 63 games of the season, Abreu’s power dipped but almost every other number improved as he posted a .350/.435/.513 line with seven dingers, 34 RBI, and 15 doubles with 49 strikeouts to 29 walks.
Abreu seems like a lock to hit 30+ home runs but it’ll be interesting to see if he can master the other aspects of the game, as he appeared to down the stretch last season, while still hitting for power.
Second base is wide open and spring training will feature an interesting battle between two young up-and-comers and two experienced veterans.
Sanchez has been in the ChiSox farm system since he was 17 and showed a great ability to get on base (.362 career OBP). He has good speed and can steal a lot of bases but also got caught a lot in the minors (91 SB to 46 CS). He can also hit the gaps for extra-bases. He’s only got 28 Major League games under his belt, however, so the 22-year-old will have to prove his worth this spring.
Johnson has never tasted the Big Leagues but the 24-year-old has speed that would make any fantasy owner’s mouth water. In three seasons in the minors, Johnson owns a very impressive .297/.366/.424 line with 128 steals (including 87 in 2013). He doesn’t strike out as much as Sanchez but also doesn’t have his ability to put up a ton of extra-base hits. They both get caught stealing a lot (Johnson has been caught 46 times in 174 attempts) but both have a ton of ability to contribute immediately.
Of course, if neither youngster wins the job, which seems increasingly unlikely, it may be Beckham’s to reclaim after the team shipped him to Los Angeles last year before signing him again this January.
Beckham has the best glove of the group but lacks a lot on the offensive side. He has failed to put up an OPS over .700 since his rookie year in 2009 and has batted .234 or lower in three of his last four seasons. After showing double-digit home run power early in his career, Beckham has just 14 homers in 230 games over the last two seasons. He seldom walks and offers minimal speed. He’s here for the glove, not the bat.
Bonifacio will likely play all around the infield and outfield regardless but he too has an outside chance to claim the everyday second base job. Like Beckham, he lacks a strong average and rarely walks but he’s a singles hitter with a lot of speed. He has stolen 26 or more bases in four straight seasons and will give the Sox even more speed off the bench.
3B: Conor Gillaspie
Gillaspie doesn’t have the best glove but his bat is good enough to be an everyday player at a fairly weak position. Gillaspie improved just about every stat outside of home runs last year, going from a .245 BA, .695 OPS, 13 HR, 40 RBI, and 14 2B in 2013 to a .282 BA, .752 OPS, seven homers, 57 RBI, 31 2B (and five 3B).
A .260-.280 BA with a ~60 RBI sounds about right for the coming season.
SS: Alexei Ramirez
Ramirez has proven a pretty consistent bat and, though he posted similar stats as previous years, reached the All-Star game for the first time in his career last year.
Ramirez’s consistency is quite impressive. He has now batted between .265 and .284 in six straight seasons, has posted an OPS of .690 or better in six of his seven Big League seasons, hit 15 or more home runs in five of his seven seasons, hit 29+ doubles in four of his last five seasons, and has stolen 20+ bases in three straight years.
You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Ramirez, and that’s a good thing.
C: Tyler Flowers, Geovany Soto
Flowers is quickly becoming one of the game’s better catchers, which, really, isn’t that hard to do given the competition. Aside from a strong glove, Flowers put up a .693 OPS with 15 home runs (eighth among catchers) and 50 RBI (16th among catchers) last season. He’s not elite but he’s “good.”
Soto is your typical veteran backup with decent pop and a decent glove off the bench.
Adam Eaton: After struggling with injury and inconsistency with Arizona, Eaton finally gave us a glimpse of that long-discussed potential in his first full season in the league last year. Eaton posted a strong .300/.362/.401 line with 37 extra-base hits, 76 runs, and 15 steals.
The former top prospect showed 40+ steal speed in the minors so we’d like to see more of that but with a good glove and good on-base numbers, he already has the makings of an excellent leadoff hitter.
Melky Cabrera: After a down year in his first season with Toronto, Melky looked as good as ever in 2014 as he batted .301 with an .808 OPS, 16 homers, 73 RBI, 81 runs, and 35 doubles. After a slow start to his career, Cabrera has really blossomed into a very good hitting outfielder, though his fielding is still mediocre.
Avisail Garcia: Injuries ruined what was supposed to be Garcia’s first full season but the 24-year-old was still able to rack up seven home runs and 29 RBI in just 172 at-bats. Over a 160-game season, that number would have been closer to 20+ home runs and 90+ RBI.
His average dipped to .244 last season and his strikeouts spiked but Garcia showed an ability to consistently hit .260-.280 with solid pop and good speed in the minors. If healthy, Garcia could be a 20-20 guy on a regular basis.
Chris Sale: Though injuries limited him to 26 starts last season, Sale still finished third in Cy Young voting as he posted the best season yet of his young career. Sale went 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 208 K/39 BB in 174 innings. Sale is as good as they get and will continue to challenge the likes of Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez for AL pitching supremacy.
Jeff Samardzija: After years of waiting for Samardzija to establish himself as an elite pitcher, the 30-year-old broke out last season for the Cubs – and was subsequently trade to the A’s before being shipped back to Chicago.
Samardzija posted a 2.99 ERA, 1.07 WHIP (career best) and 202 K/43 BB (career best) in 219.2 innings. Between Sale and Samardzija, the Sox have a wicked one-two punch atop the rotation.
Jose Quintana: Quintana has improved in each of his three seasons. His ERA went from 3.76 in 2012 to 3.51 in 2013, to 3.32 last season. His walk totals have dropped from 2.8 per nine to 2.5 to 2.3 last season while his strikeouts per nine have increased from 5.3 to 7.4 to 8.0 last season. He also gave up just 10 home runs in 2014 after giving up 23 the previous season. The 26-year-old has done everything right and appears to be closing in on an All-Star caliber season.
John Danks: Look, it’s been a while since Danks was good. He gave the Sox a few good years between 2008 and 2010 but has been disappointing ever since but Chicago just keeps clinging on. At this point, last season’s 4.74 ERA and 1.44 WHIP isn’t just to be expected but it may be the best you’re going to get from him.
Hector Noesi: Noesi spent 2014 between Seattle, Texas, and Chicago and wasn’t good anywhere. His career 5.16 ERA is only slightly worse than the 4.75 he posted last season and his 1.37 WHIP is only made worse by his league-leading 28 home runs allowed. The top three pitchers in this rotation look very good, the back end is UGLY.
David Robertson: Robertson is a good but not great pickup. His 39 saves last season were tied for eighth best in the league but he did blow five saves and posted a 3.08 ERA after putting up a 2.04 the previous season. His seven home runs allowed should also give fans pause. Still, he’s a good-but-not-great closer and is a significant improvement over last season’s Petricka/Belisario/Putnam/Lindstrom mess.
Zach Duke: Aside from 12 ugly games in Washington in 2013, Duke has now posted a 1.32 ERA in 2012 with the Nats, a 0.84 ERA in 14 games with the Reds in 2013, and a 2.45 ERA in 74 appearances for the Brewers last season. His WHIP was down to 1.13 but he has been known to struggle with inconsistency and injuries.
Zach Putnam: Of the White Sox’s many part-time closers, Putnam proved the best. In 54.2 innings in his first Big League season, the 26-year-old put up a 1.98 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. The bullpen is clearly one of the team’s strengths.
Jake Petricka: Petricka blew four saves in just 18 opportunities and struggled to keep runners off the bases, putting up a 1.37 WHIP (still, an improvement over his 1.55 in 2013). His 2.96 ERA is good but there’s still a lot of questions about his ability to put up clean innings.
Javy Guerra: After two strong seasons with the Dodgers, Guerra was sent packing following an injury-riddled 2013. He bounced back nicely last year, though, putting up a 2.91 ERA. Like Petricka, his high WHIP is cause for concern but Guerra tends to limit the damage and could be a very solid arm if he can stay healthy.
Offense: B to B+
Starting Pitching: C+ to B-
Overall: B- to B