As the White Sox finally take the field in spring training, and fans finally get to complain about more normal things like the inability of the team to pay an extra $50,000 to Lucas Giolito…wAIT WHAT?
Look, much like any long term relationship there are things that need to be expected that will honk you off. Nickels being tossed like manhole covers at 35th and Shields is the ear-shattering sleep apnea of getting into bed with the White Sox. Notwithstanding the team-record payroll, which is the ONE TIME the dishes were done without asking.
That is a digression. The real headline is that barring moves made at the end of the spring, which could happen, the team is on the field. That was an old Rick line though, wasn’t this year something along the lines of an assurance that the team would be better at the start of the season? Sounds familiar.
Better than last year was the presumption. Hitting the team up position by position, let’s see if they are better than 2021.
Last year it was Yasmani Grandal flanked by Zack Collins, with Seby Zavala getting reps when Yas was hurt. There was at least one appearance by Yermin Mercedes but that was inconsequential. This year, Yas returns! But the backup backstops are…oh. Collins, Zevala, Mercedes, and minor leaguers Carlos Perez and Xavier Fernandez. Perez and Fernandez aren’t exactly exciting prospects, though Xavier was once thought of as a guy that could push Sal Perez to DH more. Yeah, that Sal Perez. Really. Figure, though, that Collins will back up Grandal. So it isn’t better, unless Yas stays healthy all year and Collins suddenly becomes everything he was supposed to be. So, no…not better at all. But Grandal remains a Top-5 catcher so there’s no need to be too worried.
Last year it was Jose Abreu with guys like Jake Lamb, Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn spelling him. This year it’ll be all those guys except Jake Lamb. There could be some Grandal sightings there too. Frankly, it wasn’t broken so there was no need to fix it, but is it better? No. In fact, Jose is another year into his slight decline but he doesn’t seem the type to let himself just absolutely fall off a cliff. So little cause to worry that it isn’t better, but hope for the same.
Last year it started great with Nick Madrigal getting better as he went, until his leg just exploded. Then it was a problem. Cesar Hernandez, who was previously a decent all around player, had morphed into a sellout for power and didn’t hit for any power as Madrigal’s replacement. Leury Garcia reminded everyone that he isn’t great there, Andrew Vaughn played there for some reason, and at season’s end Romy Gonzalez looked like a guy that was up too early. This year, Josh Harrison is here to help. Help the fact that there is a giant gaping hole where tiny Nick Madrigal used to be. Is it better? Better than the trash fire that was there at season’s end, sure. Harrison is still a good all around player, if not much more than perfectly cromulent. Better than 2021 overall? No. The only way it gets better is if someone takes the reins and has a career year; either a late career bounce from Harrison, an emergence from Leury as a viable everyday player, a position change for Jake Burger or Andrew Vaughn, or the position being outlawed.
Yoan Moncada was there, Yoan Moncada is here. Yoan Moncada is the only one who can make this better. The problem is that there’s no telling whether he’ll rebound to 2019 or if 2021 was more telling. Jake Burger isn’t taking this over from him, nor is Andrew Vaughn who also played there.
There are better shortstops than Tim Anderson, but not many. Here’s to his continued health and prosperity.
Eloy Jimenez will actually make this better!! Because he won’t miss a big chunk of time!! RIGHT??? That failed attempt at being menacing aside, Eloy defensively remains a misadventure waiting to happen but his bat in the lineup all year would greatly improve things. As would his power not being sapped by just coming off injury before the playoffs. Andrew Vaughn wasn’t terrible considering his rookie-ness and playing a brand new position, but absent those qualifiers he was kinda pretty bad. So consider this an upgrade by default.
Presuming that Luis Robert also remains healthy, and finds yet another level of greatness, this is an MVP candidate. That doesn’t get much better. But backing him up is either Adam Engel, who is also very good, or Leury Garcia, who is not. They could miss Billy Hamilton. But just a little. MVPantera!!!!
If there is one position on the team that was neglected more than 2B, this is it. Sure, last years’ plan was Adam Eaton and was terrible. Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn deserve credit for trying to make themselves into viable outfielders to make the team. As fans, that is something to cheer on, and certainly both guys learning on the job means that they still could get better. But the ceiling is probably competent, not good. Fans would take Sheets or Vaughn just not doing whatever Tik Tok dance Leury did out there in Houston. But they also have bats to sort out. Vaughn has the talent, no doubt, but he didn’t produce nearly enough last year and the minor league track record is small and bland. Sheets produced power at a very solid clip, and lefty which is always cool. But he’s a platoon guy until he proves otherwise, and needs to show he’s the goods over a full season. Adam Engel remains in the mix, but other than the best non-Robert glove on the team, hard to say what he is. Optimism? Sheets plays about 120 games and cranks out 30 bombs, or Engel plays about 150 games and hits like he did in 2020 and the healthy parts of 2021, or Vaughn’s pedigree emerges at the plate and it turns out that he’s just a massively talented guy and makes himself a solid fielder because that’s what talented guys do: whatever they think they can do. Pessimism? Vaughn and Sheets look like two DH/1B types miscast as outfielders and Engel proves to be nothing more than a valuable 4th OF. Better? No. But of all the positions, the one that could surprise.
Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, and a battle between Reynaldo Lopez and Carlos Rodon is how the Sox entered last spring. At the time, Keuchel had a good 2020, Lynn had been great in 2019 and 2020, Giolito was the ace, Cease the up-and-comer, and Lopez/Rodon were dart throws. Since then, Lynn had a solid 2021 with a bad ending, Giolito remained the ace, Cease showed more but not enough, Keuchel was a massive disappointment, Lopez looked like his 2018 version and Rodon was a major stud that got hurt, again. And left. Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, and a battle between Reynaldo Lopez and Dallas Keuchel is how the Sox entered this spring. Kopech is now Cease, Cease needs to be Rodon without the spun sugar ligaments, Giolito and Lynn need to be themselves, while the battle between Dallas and Reylo is literally a battle to time travel back to better days. There’s no way the Sox rotation is improved unless Cease and Kopech exceed expectations and Giolito finds another gear. To expect Lopez to be the savior is maybe too much of a reach, even with his vision restored. To expect Keuchel and Lynn to get better in their dotage isn’t realistic. The fact that the minors are pretty barren isn’t helpful. Better? No. Worse? Maybe. Good? Yeah. Good enough to take the whole thing? (pouring very stiff drink)
The additions of Joe Kelly and Kendall Graveman are improvements over relying on Codi Heuer, Matt Foster or Evan Marshall (even as good as Marshall had been). Ryan Tepera was just a stand in for Evan Marshall at year’s end. Returning Garrett Crochet and Aaron Bummer is a good thing as they are as solid a lefty duo as the league has, although Tony and the staff need to learn how to position the infield around Bummer. Ahh…and then there’s Liam Hendriks. Wonderfully sweary and dominating closer. And then there’s the Maria from the Sound of Music in the pen: Craig Kimbrel. Cue the nuns in black Sox jerseys singing “How Do We Solve a Problem like Craig Kimbrel?” His tenure with the Sox has been just awful. His market is somewhere between non-existent and an embarrassment to Rick Hahn. If he finds himself and pitches well, he’s an asset. But if he continues to flail helplessly and look like powdered toast, he’s going to be an issue that hurts the team. Best case scenario? He’s the Shingo Takatsu of the team…like in 2005 when Shingo started the year terribly and by the end no one remembered he was on the roster that year. 31 games!! Did Rick make the bullpen better? Actually, yes. But there’s one guy that could change that. Vince Velasquez. Just kidding. It’s Kimbrel, and the nuns.
Last year there were veteran names like Lamb and Hamilton. This year the non-roster invitees are fewer in camp. But Leury and Josh Harrison are both established utility guys, that helps. Likely there will be one of Sheets or Engel there each game, and maybe a Danny Mendick. Younger perhaps? More flexible ideally? The bench may yet have a Billy or extra Jake on there, both were grabbed at the end of the spring. This one is TBD…but leaning towards better because of Harrison.
So for those keeping track, the team improved in one position during the offseason, the bullpen. Otherwise this is a better White Sox team than the one that we last saw getting bounced by Houston only by the grace of getting better health, minimal regression and maximum progression. For a team and fandom that needed a transfusion and some major wounds sewn up at the end of the year, settling for “rub some dirt on it and walk it off” isn’t ideal. But that’s where the team stands. Heal thyself…and be not like an unskilled doctor, fallen ill, who loses heart and cannot discover by which remedies to cure their own disease.
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