The following post was written by Ryan Lyle. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @freeryan_10.
The White Sox made the postseason in 2020 for the first time in over a decade and are on an upward trajectory. The positions of need on the team are quite obvious, and I expect them to all be addressed in some manner. It is difficult to envision the White Sox spending an inordinate amount of money to upgrade the team, but I do expect them to be active and spend effectively to find multiple impact players and improve the weaker spots on the roster.
First, I predict the White Sox will decline club options on both Edwin Encarnacion and Gio Gonazalez. Both were major disappointments, especially Encarnacion, and their production can likely be replaced for much cheaper. Leury Garcia should be back as his option is fairly reasonable at $3.5 million. In regards to arbitration eligible players, the White Sox will bring back Lucas Giolito, Adam Engel, Evan Marshall, Jace Fry and Reynaldo Lopez. I expect the White Sox to non-tender Nomar Mazara, Carlos Rodon, and Yolmer Sanchez. Mazara and Rodon were both disappointments in 2020 and frankly would be making too much money to justify keeping them in smaller and insignificant roles. Danny Mendick is a better option as a bench infield piece than Sanchez.
James McCann, Alex Colome and Jarrod Dyson are the team’s impending free agents. I don’t expect any of them to be back with the team. I do think a Colome return is possible depending on how the reliever market shapes up, but after his performance in 2020, I think it is likely he gets paid more than the White Sox would care to allocate towards one reliever.
Coaching Staff: Hire A.J. Hinch as manager
Despite recent rumors, I believe there is very little chance the White Sox would actually hire Tony La Russa. The choice here is A.J. Hinch. In my view, he is the best man for the job. He perfectly fits the description that Rick Hahn used as to what the organization desires in a manager. Hinch has a lot of recent postseason success and experience, is analytically coherent, and is primed to take the White Sox to the next level. If it works out, Hinch is young enough to stay with the team through this potentially extended window, and for years to come. I would expect Hinch to bring along his own pitching coach, but if not, I like the idea that others have discussed which is promoting Matt Zaleski. Zaleski, the current pitching coach of AAA Charlotte, is a rising star in the White Sox organization and has worked with many of their young pitchers, both on the big league club and within the farm system. There are other internal candidates for pitching coach as well, but Zaleski is the name to watch in my opinion. One would assume the rest of the coaching staff will see a shakeup as well, and I for one hope that includes moving on from Nick Capra as the third base coach.
Signing: OF Joc Pederson, 1 year, $16 million with one club option
Pederson is coming off a poor season in which his overall numbers took a nosedive, however this was the case for many notable players across baseball in the shortened season, and I do not believe it to be cause for major concern. The Sox pursued Pederson as recently as 2018, and they have a track record of continuing to pursue players that they have targeted in the past. The White Sox went an incredible 14-0 in 2020 against left-handed starters, but the story was not quite the same against right-handers. The lineup desperately needs a left-handed bat to balance things out, and Pederson crushes right-handed pitching. In 141 games against RHP in 2019, he posted a .252/.349/.571 slash line with a .920 OPS. Even though he is most likely a platoon player, he would still start a majority of the games, due to the fact that over 70% of Major League pitchers are right-handed (per MLB.com). The White Sox also have an ideal platoon partner for him in Adam Engel, who posted a .313/.360/.482 slash line with a .841 OPS against LHP in 2019. Engel’s numbers against LHP dipped a bit in 2020, but in a much smaller sample size.
I really wanted to sign George Springer in this mock plan. Springer is both an excellent offensive and defensive player that addresses several issues for the Sox. While he is not a left handed bat, Springer posted a very strong .277/.376/.553 slash line with a.929 OPS against RHP in 2020. If the White Sox do hire A.J. Hinch, this option becomes more realistic considering their history together with the Astros, and perhaps the potential of Hinch recruiting Springer. Springer likely sees a contract nearing nine figures, which should be a workable acquisition for the White Sox considering their relatively low payroll. However, taking into account the potential budgetary restrictions and uncertainty around baseball as far as potential financial losses, I still see it as unlikely.
Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto of the Mets are two trade options I know many White Sox fans, including myself, would love, but with the Mets’ new ownership, I do not foresee them being sellers. It is also difficult to assemble a trade package that would seemingly make sense for both sides. Kole Calhoun of the Diamondbacks is another name that makes a lot of sense, but I do not see the White Sox giving up any assets when they could simply sign Pederson, who despite a poor 2020, I view as the overall better player. Andrew Benintendi of Boston is a player the White Sox coveted during his draft, and while he would be an intriguing acquisition, his career and overall numbers have dipped significantly since his rookie season. This move would remind me of the Nomar Mazara trade, in which the White Sox were hoping a former top prospect would finally tap into more of his potential, but that is a risky proposition for a team hoping to contend for a championship. Overall, I think trades may prove to be difficult to execute, being that there was no minor league season in 2020, and front offices have not seen any of the minor league talent across baseball play in over a year.
Signing: SP Marcus Stroman, 4 years, $76 million
It is difficult to predict how the pitching market will play out in these unusual circumstances, but Stroman at this price would be a steal for the White Sox in my opinion. He is another player the White Sox have been rumored to covet in the past, and he would be an excellent addition to this pitching staff. A model of consistency, Stroman has posted an fWAR of 3 or higher in 4 of his past 5 seasons. He is a personality that I believe would blend perfectly in the White Sox clubhouse, and by all accounts is a high character individual. Many White Sox fans are clamoring for Trevor Bauer, understandably so, but Bauer is much more of a wild card. His ceiling may be higher than Stroman’s, but there is more variance to his performance, and with that also comes a lower floor and more overall risk. It is heavily rumored that Bauer is seeking just a one year contract, in which case he is less appealing to me, considering the unpredictability of pitchers year-to-year. Rick Hahn also consistently talks about having long-term control on players, so a one year deal seemingly would not coincide with his plans. I think concerns about Bauer’s personality and character are a bit overblown, but it is fair to question how he would fit in the White Sox clubhouse.
Signing: LHP Jose Quintana, 2 years, $18 million
Jose Quintana should be an affordable and attainable acquisition for the White Sox this offseason. “Q” is not the top of the rotation arm that he was with the White Sox a few years ago, but make no mistake, he is still a quality starting pitcher. There is likely to be mutual interest, and Quintana would serve well in the back end of the White Sox rotation. While he is not an overly exciting option, he should project to be an upgrade over Gio Gonzalez in the swingman role. With uncertainty about Michael Kopech after not pitching since 2018, Dylan Cease after his up and down season, and Dane Dunning only having a handful of starts under his belt, Quintana could provide some much needed stability. As long as Quintana is not the primary pitching acquisition, this is a move I think White Sox fans would be happy about.
There are other names on the free agent starting pitching market that could serve in a similar role for the White Sox, such as Jake Odorizzi, but with Quintana’s ties to the team and likely affordable price, I think he’s the most plausible option here.
Signing: C Kevan Smith, 1 year, $1.1 million with one club option
White Sox fans and the organization alike love James McCann, but it is very unlikely that he returns due to the fact that the catching market is very shallow. After J.T. Realmuto, McCann is by far the best available at the position. McCann has also earned the opportunity to be the primary starter somewhere, and with Yasmani Grandal in the fold, that just will not be the case for him in Chicago. I expect him to receive a sizable deal from one of the New York teams or perhaps Philadelphia if they lose the aforementioned Realmuto. Kevan Smith is someone that Chicago is very familiar with, and he has posted reasonably good numbers in relatively limited playing time over the past few seasons. I do not believe the Sox will trust Zack Collins to be the primary backup catching option to Grandal, so Smith adds some veteran insurance.
I do expect the White Sox to add a veteran relief arm or two to supplement their stockpile of young arms, but I won’t predict any names here.
Promotion: 1B/DH Andrew Vaughn
Andrew Vaughn will likely be in the White Sox lineup for the majority of 2021. Whether that begins on opening day or a few weeks into the season depends on if the organization views him as an extension candidate, and if so, then being able to execute a deal. I think Vaughn will get an offer from the White Sox similar to the Eloy Jimenez (6 years, $43 million with options that could grow it to $78 million) and Luis Robert (6 years, $50 million with options that could grow it to $88 million) contracts, but a bit lower in terms of overall money. Vaughn projects to be both an excellent power and contact hitter, but does not boast many tools beyond that and plays a position of less value (first base). Considering those factors and that he is not quite as highly regarded as Robert and Jimenez were, I will say Vaughn gets a 6 year offer for around $40 million, perhaps with options potentially rising the overall value to around $70 million. I did consider adding a veteran to handle the designated hitter role if the Sox choose to bring along Vaughn slowly, but there are very few intriguing options available that make much sense. With Adam Engel and Leury Garcia in the fold, the Sox could simply rotate Jimenez and Pederson at DH and still field a more than competent lineup. I would not be surprised to see Hahn and company add someone cheap, however.
The upcoming winter is very difficult to predict with the uncertainty around baseball in terms of financial losses and what teams will be willing to spend. I would not be surprised to see the Sox try to lock up a target or two early on in the process, similar to the way they signed Yasmani Grandal early in the offseason last year. I think we are in for a surprise or two as far as the moves the front office will make, but as long as the starting pitching, right field and overall depth are addressed, I see no reason that this team won’t be primed for playoff contention in 2021.
Lineup: SS Anderson, 3B Moncada, LF Jimenez, 1B Abreu, C Grandal, CF Robert, RF Pederson, DH Vaughn, 2B Madrigal
Rotation: Giolito, Keuchel, Stroman, Quintana, Kopech/Cease/Dunning
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Featured Photo: Mets/Twitter