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Grading the White Sox 2021-2022 Offseason

by Jordan Lazowski

The Major League season gets underway today, and while the White Sox will not play until Friday, for all intents and purposes, I’m considering the offseason just about done at this point for the South Siders. This was quite the elongated offseason, thanks in big part to the lockout, but just how good of an offseason was it for Rick Hahn and the rest of the front office? I always wanted to be a teacher, so let’s grade it.

For grading, I’ll use the following rough grading scale:

A: These moves significantly move the needle towards improved play on the field over the course of the year.
B: Above-average moves that fill a hole and provide an argument for improved play on the field.
C: Average moves that fill a hole on paper, but don’t move the needle much in terms of improved play.
D: Moves that are either hard to understand or put the White Sox in a worse off position than before the move.
F: I’ve never given one, so I really am not sure yet what would warrant an F. I’ll know it when I see it though.

With that, let’s get to grading!

The Grades

Carlos Rodon No Qualifying Offer: D

I’ll be honest, this came very close to being my first ever F. To be clear: I’m not upset at the idea that the White Sox did not bring Carlos Rodon back – that’s a decision the team has to make when allocating its budget. What I believed deserved the D grade was not giving Rodon the Qualifying Offer in what was truly a win-win situation. If he took it, then the White Sox would’ve had some extra reinforcements in the rotation – and all it would’ve meant is they probably couldn’t sign Leury Garcia and Vince Velasquez. If he didn’t take it (which was likely), then the White Sox would’ve gained an extra draft pick for doing absolutely nothing. Perhaps that would’ve allowed the team to feel better about signing a guy like Michael Conforto, who would’ve cost them a draft pick but would’ve had the Sox back at even for 2022 draft picks. Then, Kimbrel could’ve been traded for another position… all hypothetical, but at the same time, is a hypothetical that was worth exploring.

The reason I can’t give an F is because I’m not sure what led the White Sox to make this decision. Did they not like something in his medicals? That would be hard for me to believe, given the Giants gave him $22M a year. Did they have concerns about his work ethic, or how he would fit in the rotation? Again, all things that I can only speculate on and have no insight into. Hence the D grade, but the unfortunate feeling that fans will have wished they at least gave Rodon the QO.

Kendall Graveman (3/$24M): B+

Both this move and the Joe Kelly move would’ve been graded differently had Craig Kimbrel not been traded. However, in a vacuum, I really liked this move. Graveman was both signed away from a competitor in the Astros, and has expressed the ability to pitch whenever and wherever in games. Those are two valuable things that make Graveman a welcome addition to the back end of a bullpen that was not as good as had been advertised for parts of 2021. His 1.77 ERA/3.19 FIP signal some potential regression, but would still make him a more than solid bullpen arm.

The risk is obvious in that last season was Graveman’s first in the bullpen role, and although it was a success, bullpen pieces can be extremely volatile at times. However, I’m more willing to trust a veteran bullpen piece than I was to trust a guy like Matt Foster to repeat his 2020 success in 2021, so I look forward to what Graveman and his Postseason experience can bring to this ballclub. He seems to be a great clubhouse guy too, which is always a plus.

Leury Garcia (3/$16.5M): B-

*Sigh* I just won’t see the end of you, will I? I get the reasoning for the White Sox bringing back Garcia – they needed a versatile bench bat who could provide serviceable innings as a start in case someone got hurt. I get that, I really do. That being said, there are a lot of players who could fill that role who won’t cost $5.5M a year over 3 seasons. I think a lot of this contract is rewarding Garcia for being a stalwart through the rebuilding days, which I understand. All said and done though, I would’ve preferred the White Sox give Romy Gonzalez a chance at the big league level and use this $5.5M to sign a back-end starter (Michael Pineda, Drew Smyly, Matthew Boyd, Dylan Bundy, and Martin Perez are among those making $5.5M or less this season).

This move is fine, though. It insulates against injury, but doesn’t move the needle too much. Leury Legend stays the longest-tenured White Sox player while he and I carry on our one-sided feud (in case you’re unaware, Garcia does something good every time I am critical of him – you can thank me for the ALDS Game 3 homer).

Josh Harrison (1/$5M): C

The Josh Harrison move made the Leury Garcia move a bit better, because it allowed Garcia to play the role on paper that suits him best: super-utility that can play whenever needed without overplaying. Putting players in the best position to succeed is important to me, and the signing of Harrison did that for Garcia.

Harrison is a well-know clubhouse guy who had two different seasons in 2021. With the Nationals, he was awesome: .294/.366/.434. With the Athletics, he was not: .254/.296/.341. At the end of the day, his July and August were as hot as his September and October were cold, so we can assume he’ll fall somewhere in the middle at the end of the day. The good things about Harrison: (1) only 13.4% strikeout rate, (2) Baseball Savant liked his defense a lot (8 OAA). The bad things: he’s 34 and doesn’t provide much more than a stop-gap at the position. He’s a completely solid ballplayer who doesn’t move the needle much for contention, but still gives you a good, stable, veteran presence at the position. That’s what the C grade was made for.

If you believe in Romy Gonzalez or Jose Rodriguez as the future of this team at 2B, then this move won’t concern you much. If you don’t, then you’re probably one of the people who wanted the Sox to find a long-term solution at 2B this offseason. Me personally? I view 2B as a weaker position around the league, so it doesn’t bother me that they didn’t address it beyond Harrison. But, hey, he doesn’t strike out a lot, so he’s basically Nick Madrigal, right?

Joe Kelly (2/$17M): B+

Much like the Kendall Graveman move, in a vacuum, I like this signing a lot. Kelly has expansive Postseason experience thanks to the benefit of playing on the Red Sox and Dodgers during his time in the league. He had a 2.86 ERA last season with an almost 28% strikeout rate, so he fits the profile of a high-end back of the bullpen reliever. He featured a ground ball rate of nearly 60% that fits nicely with the White Sox profile as well, with players such as Aaron Bummer and his power sinker currently taking up an eighth inning role.

Kelly is currently rehabbing and will be out for about the first month of the season, but once he comes back, he will be a welcome addition to the back end of the bullpen that has closing experience. Once again, you can never have enough arms, and I don’t mind the $8M salaries to players who have a bit more of a proven track record than Matt Foster, Jose Ruiz, Bennett Sousa, and Tanner Banks. The last thing we want as fans is the bullpen to be an issue heading into the Postseason, and guys like Graveman and Kelly prevent that from happening.

Vince Velasquez (1/$3M): C-

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the newest $3M Ethan Katz project. Last year, it was Carlos Rodon. This year, it’s Vince Velasquez.

On the surface, Velasquez has some talent. He has had a strikeout rate as high as 30% in his career, and features a decently high-spin fastball and curve combination with an above-average Whiff Rate. The first thing Katz will have to do, though, is teach him how to throw a pitch called a strike: he had a walk rate above 11% in the past two seasons, which has prevented him from getting really good Chase Rates on his pitches. There is also some work that needs to be done on the shaping of his pitches in order to unlock their full potential. All of this being said, I have no issue giving Ethan Katz his own dedicated project every year and giving him a chance to see what happens. That’s his prerogative as a pitching coach.

However, we’re now up to $8.5M that I feel could’ve been spent better. I’m still very open to the idea that Katz can help unlock some of Velasquez’s untapped talent, and the White Sox have enough hypothetical space between them and the rest of the AL Central to make that happen. I’m curious to see what Velasquez can bring and what Katz can unlock; I’m cautiously optimistic. That being said, until I see otherwise from Velasquez, this move doesn’t move the needle at all for me. I also wish the White Sox had put themselves in a better position that wouldn’t give Velasquez the potential home opener start.

At the end of the day, it’s only $3M. But as a result, the move doesn’t do much for me right now.

Trade Craig Kimbrel for AJ Pollock: A

When putting together hypothetical trade scenarios for Craig Kimbrel, I always assumed that he would be going for minor league guys who were either high upside plays or had some sort of track record that made them worth a flyer. Instead, Rick Hahn was able to pull off easily his best move of the offseason and trade Kimbrel for a legitimate RF with a track record of success.

Pollock may be right handed, but he absolutely checks the box of hitting RHP well that the White Sox are lacking: .301/.353/.548 with a 140 wRC+ in 2021, and .279/.337/.464 with a 113 wRC+ for his career. He doesn’t have extensive career in RF, but he has a Gold Glove in CF, and the transition from one outfield spot to another isn’t nearly as difficult as, say, moving from the infield to the outfield like Andrew Vaughn had been attempting to do.

Pollock is a short-term solution over the next 1-2 seasons who provides the bridge to Yoelqui Cespedes and/or Oscar Colas, should that bridge ever develop for either of them. There was a clear vision in making this move that is both win-now and doesn’t close the door on sustained success in the future. Pollock checks all the boxes of what most people were looking for in RF: short-term, good at hitting RHP, and solid defense. Easy A for me.

Plus, he’s a Notre Dame guy. Easy A for the Michigan man in Hahn who realizes talent even comes from rivals.

Trade Zack Collins for Reese McGuire: B+

This may not have been the highest profile move of the offseason, but it’s one that I enjoy a lot and I think will go under-the-radar for a lot of fans. McGuire is a former first round draft pick whose defense has never been questioned – it’s always been about whether or not his offense would develop at the highest level.

McGuire’s appeal is absolutely still behind the plate – the reason why the White Sox traded for him – as a solid defense catcher. He ranked 11th in MLB last season in Baseball Savant’s Catcher Framing statistics, Framing Runs Above Average (+4). He posted sub-2.00 section pop times as recently as 2019 (when Baseball Savant last tracked this statistic), which was among the top in the majors as well. He threw out 11 of the 31 potential base stealers he faced last season (35% CS-rate).

Offensively, McGuire has been both really solid and has really struggled in small sample sizes. In 138 PA from 2018-2019, McGuire hit .297/.343/.539. However, in 269 PA from 2020-2021, he hit just .222/.272/.310. The more recent and larger of the smaller sample sizes would lead you to believe McGuire might not truly make that much of an impact with the bat. But, the more dated and smaller of the sample sizes gives you hope that for small stretches, he might be able to catch fire.

The biggest reasons the White Sox were able to make this move were: (1) McGuire is out of options, and was not going to make the Blue Jays Opening Day roster, and (2) Zack Collins had one option year remaining because the White Sox chose to save his option towards the end of last year, when fans were quite upset Seby Zavala was sent down. This option created enough value for Collins that the Blue Jays were willing to take a chance on him. The credit goes to Hahn on this one for understanding the value of Zack Collins’ extra year of control last season, and saving it wisely. The credit also goes to Hahn for seeing the situation occurring in Toronto and capitalizing on it. This is a really good move that solidifies the White Sox catching depth.

Johnny Cueto (1/$3M): C+

C+ is the ultimate grade given for, “You did your job by recognizing a need and putting a warm body in its place.” Cueto was signed shortly after Lance Lynn underwent knee surgery as a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency,” signing. To his credit, Cueto had a 4.08 ERA in 114.2 innings last season – though, much of this might be attributable to the giant ballpark that the Giants play in out in San Francisco, as evidenced by his 4.99 xERA. However, on the surface, he appears to be better than Keuchel currently, and he’s a true “pitcher” rather than a “thrower,” if you’ve ever seen the way he messes with hitters’ timing.

The White Sox will probably need his innings once he gets ramped up in a few weeks, and Cueto will likely be serviceable. He doesn’t move the needle, but rather, he ensures that the bullpen doesn’t get too tired out having to bail out any ineffectiveness from Vince Velasquez or Dallas Keuchel too often. Plus, he might be able to teach the young guys a thing or two. Low-risk, high-reward.

The Final Offseason Grade

Here’s what it looks like the White Sox will roll out on Opening Day. Reminder, Joe Kelly, Yoan Moncada, and Lance Lynn are currently hurt:

Catcher (2): Yasmani Grandal, Reese McGuire
First Base (1): Jose Abreu
Second Base (3): Josh Harrison, Leury Garcia, Danny Mendick
Shortstop (1): Tim Anderson
Third Base (1): Jake Burger
Outfield (4): Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, AJ Pollock, Adam Engel
Designated Hitter (2): Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets

Starting Rotation (5): Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Vince Velasquez, Dallas Keuchel
Bullpen (9): Liam Hendriks, Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, Kyle Crick, Reynaldo Lopez, Tanner Banks, Bennett Sousa, Jose Ruiz, Matt Foster

Projected Starting Lineup (once healthy):

  1. Tim Anderson – SS
  2. Luis Robert – CF
  3. Jose Abreu – 1B
  4. Yasmani Grandal – C
  5. Eloy Jimenez – LF
  6. Yoan Moncada – 3B
  7. AJ Pollock – RF
  8. Andrew Vaughn – DH
  9. Josh Harrison – 2B

Whether or not you liked the offseason, this is an incredibly talented baseball team. Offensively, this team improved. Reese McGuire > Zack Collins, AJ Pollock > whatever was in RF, Josh Harrison/Leury Garcia <= Nick Madrigal/Leury Garcia (guys, Madrigal isn’t that big of a loss – this will practically be equal value). This is the most complete 1-9 the White Sox have had in a very long time, and it’s awesome to see. They also have depth at every position, which is something we aren’t used to as fans.

On the pitching side, that bullpen will look even better when Joe Kelly’s name replaces someone. The rotation will look better with Lynn and, if you squint and tilt your head hard enough, will look better with Johnny Cueto too. The good news is that the White Sox have plenty to stay afloat during the first half, and barring injuries, there is one clear need for the team at the deadline that they can focus all efforts on: one more starting pitcher.

Many fans were ready to proclaim this was Rick Hahn’s worst offseason ever, as if pre-2016 didn’t exist. That being said, Hahn saved any further conversations such as those from happening with the Pollock and McGuire moves, and by doing so, set the White Sox on a much better trajectory through both the first half and the trek towards the trade deadline. Now, come July, his efforts can be focused in one place. Overall, I ended up okay with this offseason, and my final grade reflects that.

I’ll be the first to say that I like Rick Hahn as a GM, but overall, I don’t understand a lot of what happened this offseason. For the team to publicly – and correctly – state that left-handed power and starting pitching were their weaknesses, yet do little to nothing to address them, doesn’t make sense to me. They wanted to get left-handed and add starting pitching. Instead, they spent all their free agent money on relievers and utility players. Where did the disconnect lie? Why say one thing in press conferences, but do something completely different? Does Tony La Russa want a stacked bullpen that badly? The answer to that third question is pretty easily yes, but the first two questions are the ones that will continually puzzle me. Just some things never seem to make sense, yet despite that, the outcome is good-but-not-great on this offseason.

But, we have months to ponder that front office topic once again at the end of the season. For now, it’s baseball season baby. Sox in 4, doesn’t matter who they play. Let’s ride.

Final Offseason Grade: B

Have any thoughts on the White Sox offseason? Leave them in the comments below!

Featured Image: White Sox / Twitter

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