The White Sox’ season ended earlier than I wanted it to, but the team fought hard and turned in an impressive year overall. In all honesty, I am more upset by the fact that there will not be any more White Sox games for almost six months than by their loss, as it feels like there should still be another 100 games left in 2020. Before the season began, my primary expectation or goal was for the team to make the playoffs. They met that expectation, so as a result, it is difficult for me to be disappointed with the series loss in Oakland. However, beginning with the 2021 season, a championship should be the goal.
Of course, it goes without saying that the front office needs to make some additions for this goal to be viable. Once you factor out the potential salaries of players whose options will likely be declined, such as Edwin Encarnacion, one would hope that there will be enough room in the budget for a starting pitcher, right fielder, and relief depth. Credit where credit is due: Nomar Mazara showed up for the playoffs, but it would be foolish for the team to hand him the starting right field job based on a few games. As things stand, the 2021 White Sox are a team without many holes, but their few holes will be major liabilities if additions are not made.
That brings me to my main point, and the primary reason I was so impressed by the White Sox this year: the team finished with the fifth-best record in the American League essentially without their best player. I am referring to Yoan Moncada and his candid remarks regarding his COVID-19 battle in July. Moncada played, of course, but it was clear to anyone who has watched him that he was not healthy all season, as he suffered from frequent leg soreness that made itself apparent through a 5.3 MPH drop in exit velocity from 2019 — such a decrease between seasons from an athletically gifted twenty-five-year-old player is almost undoubtedly a sign of injury/fatigue. The only other explanation would be some sort of swing change that backfired, but Moncada’s mechanics appeared unchanged. Moncada began to look like his 2019 self toward the end of the 2020 regular season, and while the box scores will not show it, he was rocketing the ball all over the field in the playoffs. One cannot say for sure if his COVID-19 symptoms will vanish by next season (there is no point of reference for the longevity of possible side effects such as Moncada’s recurring leg fatigue). However, that he rounded into form at the end of the season certainly is a positive sign. It is a testament to Moncada’s resilience that he was able to appear in 55 games (including playoffs) and still turned in a decent year, but a return to his MVP-caliber production would make Moncada the most impactful “addition” to the 2021 lineup.
Another reason to be optimistic about 2021 is the progression of Luis Robert. Robert was one of the best players in baseball over the first half of the 2020 season but suffered a nasty slump in September during which he stopped barreling up the ball and began to frequently hit weak pop-ups and choppers with regularity. This stretch watered down his overall numbers, but he recovered during the last week of the season and then delivered a 487-foot blast in the playoffs. If the White Sox can get a full season of Luis Robert’s first-half production, the team will find itself with yet another MVP-caliber player.
I mention a bounce back from Moncada and continued improvement from Robert because it will be a long offseason of hearing about how Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu will not be able to sustain their 2020 production going forward. Granted, one should not feel comfortable penciling in Abreu to have a career year at thirty-four years of age, but chances are that he will still be a dangerous middle-of-the-order slugger. As for Anderson, it is clear that he was not complacent after winning the batting title; he emerged in 2020 as a more intelligent and powerful hitter, then broke a league record with nine hits in his first three career postseason games. Much like Abreu, he figures to still be a plus player on offense, and his batted ball profile suggests that another .300+ season is well within reason.
All of this is to say that the 2021 White Sox offense will be loaded once again, and any potential regression from some players could very well be offset by improvements from young sluggers like Robert and/or Moncada staying healthy. The front office only needs to provide better options in right field and at designated hitter, but it is quite possible that the latter spot will be Andrew Vaughn’s for the majority of the season.
On the pitching side, the needs are obvious. The bullpen is stacked with high-leverage options, even with the possible loss of Alex Colome in free agency, but some more relief options (perhaps a back-end arm and depth pieces) would be ideal. Two starting spots are filled, and Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease figure to take one or two more. Michael Kopech has been training throughout the season, and he could easily make an impact in the 2021 rotation. In his lone televised appearance back in March, Kopech looked just as electric as he did in 2018. However, the rotation would greatly benefit from one established veteran in one of the top three slots.
The bottom line is that the 2021 White Sox will be extremely talented, and should make the playoffs even as is. However, the front office needs to make a few additions in order for the team to have legitimate championship aspirations. The conclusion to the 2020 season was painful, but the young White Sox gained valuable postseason experience and should be in position to make a deeper run in 2021 with some shrewd acquisitions.