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2021 White Sox Season Preview

by Jordan Lazowski

Can you hear that, Sox fans? The roar of the crowd as the team takes the field. Can you smell it – the grilled onions, the hot dogs. Can you taste it – ice-cold beer as it hits your lips before (and during) the game. What’s it all mean?

It means it’s Opening Day 2021. Let’s get you ready for 162.


2020 Offseason Review

Additions:
Lance Lynn: Acquired from Rangers for Dane Dunning and Avery Weems
Adam Eaton: 1 year, $8M
Liam Hendriks: 3 years, $54M
Carlos Rodon: 1 year, $3M
Jake Lamb: Contract Details Unknown

Losses:
James McCann: Via Free Agency to the Mets
Nomar Mazara: Via Free Agency to the Tigers
Edwin Encarnacion: Via Free Agency
Dane Dunning: Via Trade for Lance Lynn
Alex Colome: Via Free Agency to the Twins

OFFSEASON GRADE: B/B-

Let’s start here, because this is higher than most other writers on Sox Twitter are willing to give it – though it falls in line with how most fans thought of the offseason:

Unless you’re @YasmaniGrandal, of course:

To get a B-level grade from me, you have to make significant improvements to your team while still leaving room to want more. In this case, the White Sox did exactly that – they added where they needed to, improving the team, but also left much to be desired in who they chose to fill certain roles.

In Economics, you learn about maximizing utility (in this case, wins) given a series of constraints. When White Sox fans talk about a “successful offseason,” they often miss this second part. Here are the restraints that Rick Hahn worked under this offseason:

  1. $30M in additional salary
  2. Must add: RF, RP, SP3, SP5
  3. RP MUST INCLUDE an established CP

Does George Springer give this offseason an A? Yeah, probably. But, was this an attainable goal, given the above restraints? I don’t know – I really don’t think so. The biggest wrench is constraint #3 because that is a direct result of who fills out the lineup card every day. #1 is expected – though much lower than what is necessary. But when evaluating the offseason, I am obligated to keep these constraints in mind.

Without paying an exorbitant amount of money or trade capital, Lance Lynn was easily the best player the White Sox could have acquired to be their #3 starter. Over the past two seasons, only four pitchers have accumulated more fWAR than Lance Lynn (8.1): Jacob deGrom (9.6), Gerrit Cole (8.8), Shane Bieber (8.8), and Max Scherzer (8.3). That’s an insane group of pitchers to be up next to – I think Lance Lynn is undervalued because of his contract and age.

Dane Dunning is a nice piece, but here’s the reality: given what we’ve seen, there’s no reason to project Dunning as more than a back-end starter. Additionally, with Dunning coming off of Tommy John Surgery, he is going to be on an innings limit – he is already part of a tandem SP crew in Texas. The difference between Lance Lynn and Dane Dunning is about 60 IP in a win-now season. That’s HUGE. Adding Lance Lynn – with one year left on his deal – signifies the risk/reward type move that every win-now team is going to make. For years, I was told not to get too attached to prospects because the team will need to make win-now moves. Well, the White Sox did just that, because they realized you can’t always have it both ways.

Let’s talk about Eaton and Hendriks. First of all, with Eaton: Joc Pederson was given a higher offer. However, from reports, it came with the stipulation that he would be a platoon player. Pederson wanted to start full-time and turned down the Sox. He overplayed his market and accepted less money to take a full-time role on the North Side that was not available to him on the South Side. Given the information available, I have no issues pivoting to Eaton. If healthy, he’s a 2-2.5 fWAR player this year between his offense and defense. I’ve warmed up to this signing, and I think it’ll pay off this year.

But, alas, why go dumpster diving for Pederson and Eaton when George Spring is available?? Because, if your manager wants a proven closer, might as well get the best one in baseball. The difference in price between a Tier 2 CP and Hendriks (~$5M) was not enough to make up the difference in price between Adam Eaton and George Springer (~$17M). Again, remember the constraints above: simply naming Aaron Bummer or Codi Heuer the closer wasn’t a viable option.

Finally, Carlos Rodon. Given the budgetary restraints, there was clearly more value in paying Hendriks his salary and finding a cheap option like Rodon to be the fifth starter. Consider this as well: the market rate for a #5 starter was about $10M this offseason. Should Rick Hahn have spent 1/3 of his offseason budget on a #5 starter?

Rodon has looked excellent this Spring as well – he is commanding his fastball and using the lower half of his body to do so. Here’s my hot take: Rodon ends up well outperforming his $3M contract, and we will be happy the Sox brought him back.

As for Jake Lamb: I like the move in theory, but I don’t want him to be the first option to replace Eloy Jimenez on this team. If he is, that’s a problem. Time will tell – and I’d bet his leash is short (at least it should be).

Take it all into account, and it’s a B/B- offseason for me. I’ve already described where it could’ve been better, but whether or not that was attainable given constraints is a completely different story and article. The White Sox made significant improvements that left them much better than they were in 2020. That, in principle, is B-worthy.

I’ll say this though: even taking into account who’s managing games, I’d give the new Sox staff a solid A. I have a world of confidence in this new group – they’re a great mix of old-school and new-school that is balanced enough to work incredibly well.

Alright, enough about the offseason. Let’s get to the good stuff.


2021 Season Preview

Position Players:
C: Yasmani Grandal, Zack Collins, Yermin Mercedes
1B: Jose Abreu, Andrew Vaughn
2B: Nick Madrigal, Leury Garcia
SS: Tim Anderson
3B: Yoan Moncada, Jake Lamb
OF: Luis Robert, Adam Eaton, Billy Hamilton

Later Additions: Adam Engel (Injury), Eloy Jimenez (Injury)

Pitchers:
SP: Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodon
RP: Matt Foster, Jose Ruiz, Evan Marshall, Michael Kopech, Codi Heuer, Garrett Crochet, Aaron Bummer, Liam Hendriks

Projected Opening Day Lineup:
Tim Anderson – SS
Adam Eaton – RF
Jose Abreu – 1B
Yoan Moncada – 3B
Yasmani Grandal – C
Leury Garcia – LF
Luis Robert – CF
Zack Collins – DH
Nick Madrigal 2B

I’ve already talked about the loss of Eloy Jimenez in a previous article, but my opinion hasn’t changed: it sucks. As for depth, I say the same thing I always do: “I want the Sox to have more depth too, but who?” Still waiting on that answer.

I got in a nice Twitter argument yesterday though. Basically, I feel pretty confident that the White Sox can withstand an Eloy Jimenez injury because they are not nearly as top-heavy of a team as they were in the past – they spread their value all throughout the lineup.

As an example, consider the top 3 players in fWAR from both the 2016 White Sox and 2020 White Sox. Those top 3 players made up 50% of the team’s total fWAR in 2016. That’s insane – it means half the team’s value came from three players. In 2020? Only 34% of the team’s total fWAR came from the top 3 players. This means that the White Sox are a deeper team than they’ve been in the past from a purely value-added standpoint. Am I trying to say the loss of Eloy Jimenez won’t hurt the White Sox? Of course, I’m not. At the same time, I hesitate to call the loss of Eloy a death sentence to this White Sox team.

As for the Opening Day lineup: I try my hardest not to overreact to lineup construction (aka who’s batting third versus fifth). However, it’s time for the White Sox to put the best lineup out there every day – this isn’t Spring Training anymore. I HATE the idea of Andrew Vaughn in left – however, the best lineup is constructed when both him and Collins are in the lineup. The last thing I want is for the White Sox to go with a Collins/Vaughn platoon and give Garcia all the starts in LF. Time will tell on all of this – but, Rick, go get us an OF bat.

On paper, this offense is still REALLY good, and they’re only going to get better. Remember, the White Sox mashed their way to the playoffs last season without meaningful contributions from Yoan Moncada while also weathering the growing pains from both Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. I feel the pitching staff comes incredibly underrated by most fans as well. This team got better from within, too, and I think that fact is missed by a lot of people. There’s plenty of talent there, and that’s why I still have good feelings about this season.


2021 Season Predictions

Let’s start with some bets for those who are feeling risky. Feel free to win some money with some of these predictions below that I’ll be following along with (all odds based on DraftKings):

  • AL MVP Odds: Yoan Moncada +2500
  • AL Cy Young Odds: Lucas Giolito +450, Dylan Cease +4000
  • AL Rookie of the Year Odds: Andrew Vaughn +1100
  • RBI Leader: Jose Abreu +1500
  • Hits Leader: Nick Madrigal +3300

There’s some good money to be won there, folks. I’d put a little something on those Dylan Cease odds if you’re looking for a nice payout with a fraction of the input costs (in true White Sox fashion).

Let’s get into some other predictions, mostly ones I’ve seen around Baseball Twitter that everyone’s been doing:

Team MVP: Yoan Moncada

In order for the White Sox to be a successful team this season, they are going to rely heavily on Yoan Moncada. Moncada’s 2021 season is going to need to reflect a return to 2019 form after battling with COVID in 2020. I believe that his ceiling of potential is still untapped, and if we are celebrating in October, it’s because Yoan Moncada has a main role in the season’s success.

Honorable Mention: Yasmani Grandal

Team Cy Young: Lucas Giolito

I’m not sure we’ve seen the best of Lucas Giolito yet – based on his Spring Training performance, I’m pretty positive we haven’t. Giolito is going to lead this team throughout the season, and I am confident that he will only get better with Yasmani Grandal behind the plate. Working together with Ethan Katz will allow Giolito to refine his repertoire throughout the season, and by the end of the year, Lucas Giolito should be a consensus top 5-7 pitcher in Major League Baseball.

Honorable Mention: Dylan Cease

Breakout Player: Dylan Cease

The Lucas Giolito Breakout of 2021 is going to go to Dylan Cease. They’re similar pitchers on the surface: great raw stuff with an inability to consistently harness it. Dylan Cease has commanded the fastball throughout the Spring – usually, we’d see every other fastball 5 feet above the hitter’s head. That simply wasn’t the case in Spring Training, and more than the results, the process was incredibly encouraging to see.

I’ve been on the “Dylan Cease Breakout Player” train for a while. I think this is the year we finally leave the station, full steam ahead. I’m talking All-Star and Cy Young votes. Dylan Cease, top 5 Cy Young – let’s ride.

Honorable Mention: Zack Collins (#ZackCollinsTruther)

Reliever of the Year: Codi Heuer

This is absolutely no disrespect to either Garrett Crochet or Liam Hendriks, who I think are both going to be absolutely lethal in the White Sox’ bullpen. However, there’s something about Codi Heuer’s stuff that I think is absolutely incredible. He harnesses it perfectly, and I think by the end of the season, he’s going to wind up being the best setup guy in baseball – putting himself in contention for one of the top bullpen arms in all of baseball.

Honorable Mentions: Garrett Crochet, Liam Hendriks

Comeback Player of the Year: Michael Kopech

The definition of a “Comeback Player” is so incredibly vague that I feel there is no problem giving this one to Michael Kopech. The journey he’s been on is certainly a worthy one – Tommy John Surgery, on top of battling his own demons, only to come back and be an absolutely integral part of the White Sox’ 2021 campaign and beyond. That’s the kind of story I can get behind.

Honorable Mention: Adam Eaton

Record & Results: 90-72, Lose in the ALCS

I don’t care that Eloy Jimenez is hurt – I mean I do, but not for this. The White Sox are a very good ballclub, with or without Jimenez. The depth may not be impressive, but there are few lineups that can compete top to bottom with the one that the White Sox can put together. Once La Russa and staff figure out how they’re going to fit Andrew Vaughn into the picture, I don’t see a world where the White Sox aren’t in the playoffs. However, I think losing Jimenez might be the difference for the White Sox in winning the division – I think it’ll be a close battle, but I think the Twins might still pull this one out by 2-3 games.

This team is built for short series though – the depth over 162 hurts a bit, but this team has the ability to win whatever 5 or 7-game series they want to in October. Just get there, and let’s see what happens. I expect big things in the playoffs because of the roster construction – they just have to get there first.


Bold Predictions

What’s a season preview without some good old fashioned BOLD predictions?!? Here are my top 5:

  • At the end of April, Zack Collins will lead the team in home runs.
  • Nick Madrigal breaks Buck Weaver’s record for third-most hits in a season in franchise history (208) but falls just short of Shoeless Joe Jackson (218) and Eddie Collins (224).
  • Carlos Rodon garners Cy Young votes at the end of the season.
  • Luis Robet will join the 30-30 club this season.
  • The White Sox will throw one no-hitter this season – and it will come from Dylan Cease.

Let’s Play Ball

I’m looking forward to starting my fifth season of White Sox coverage with Sox On 35th, and I’m grateful to have all of you along for the ride with us. We’ve always said the best is yet to come – for both Sox On 35th and the White Sox.

Now the games count. Forget what’s happened to this point in the year – what matters is what comes in the next 162.

Here’s to a great season. Go White Sox – I’ll see you at the ballpark.


Make sure to follow us @SoxOn35th for all the latest highlights and analysis throughout the season!

Featured Photo: Brandon Anderson (@bson_4) / Twitter

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