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Post-Lockout Targets for the White Sox

by Noah Phalen

As the clock struck midnight ET on the night of December 1, Major League Baseball’s free-agent frenzy came to a screeching halt. In what may have been the busiest free agent week in MLB offseason history, several stars found new homes. The Mets, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Mariners certainly made their share of headlines before the beginning of the lockout.

Much to the disdain of White Sox fans, the team was mostly quiet while other teams binged. The Sox did add reliever Kendall Graveman and brought back utility man Leury Garcia, both on three-year deals, but the team enters the lockout with several needs still remaining. Fortunately for Rick Hahn & company, several good players still remain available.

Let’s take a look at the remaining players who could be a good fit to fill the White Sox needs.


What Are the Needs?

Before we dive into specific players, we need to take a look at what needs need to be filled. Let’s start with the two obvious holes in the lineup: right field and second base.

In terms of right field, last year began with another round of the Adam Eaton Experiment, and also featured Adam Engel, Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn, Brian Goodwin, and Leury Garcia. As you can see, the Sox spent most of the 2021 season trying to plug different guys into the position and hoped one of them caught fire. Although Vaughn, Sheets, Goodwin, and Engel all showed flashes of good production, Vaughn and Sheets were clearly playing out of position defensively, Engel had trouble staying healthy, and Goodwin tapered off after a hot start. Vaughn and Sheets have upside with the bat, but neither of them are true right-fielders, and the Sox could use somebody that can be penciled in out there every day without having to worry about bad defense or an injury due to playing out of position.

Going into 2021, nearly every Sox fan would’ve penciled in Nick Madrigal as the 2nd baseman of the future for the Sox, but a season-ending injury, followed by a midseason trade that sent Madrigal to the Cubs for Craig Kimbrel derailed those plans. The White Sox traded for 2B Cesar Hernandez at the deadline, and although his OBP and AVG were consistent with his pre-deadline numbers, the power he showed with Cleveland never really came for the White Sox. Hernandez’s club option was declined at the beginning of the off-season and he ended up signing with the Nationals before the lockout. The internal options for the White Sox at the position don’t look great. Danny Mendick would figure to take a good portion of the starts at 2B if the season began today, with 2021 breakout minor-leaguer Romy Gonzalez and newly re-signed utilityman Leury Garcia in the mix as well. None of those options really inspire fans with confidence about the future of the position. Unfortunately, 2B options, especially in free agency are limited. It will take some creativity on the part of Rick Hahn, but solutions are out there.

The White Sox current pitching rotation looks something like Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Dallas Keuchel, Michael Kopech. As is, this rotation seems like it is a step back from last season, as breakout star Carlos Rodon is a free agent and may be headed elsewhere. Adding Michael Kopech to the rotation has high-risk high-reward potential. Kopech’s stuff is as good as anybody on the team, maybe anybody in baseball, but Tommy John surgery and a year off to focus on mental health have set Kopech’s development on a different track, and he threw just 69.1 innings last year in a relief role. Counting on 150+ innings from a guy who has never done that in his career is extremely risky. Dallas Keuchel is also a bit of a wildcard. It’s no secret that he struggled mightily last season, and though he swears next year will be better, Keuchel will be 34 this year, and could definitely be hitting his decline. In my opinion, the White Sox need to acquire at least one mid-rotation starter, and two would be ideal.

The team could also use a defense-first backup catcher and more bullpen help, but for the sake of this article, I want to focus on 2B, RF, and the starting rotation. Now let’s look at some potentially available options.


RIGHT FIELD

Sign Free Agent OF Michael Conforto

The former Mets OF hits free agency before his age 29 season and comes off a down year where he hit 14 homers and had a .729 OPS in 406 ABs. Despite what many would consider a “bad” season, Conforto still finished with a 101 OPS+, which is right at league average. I don’t believe his 2021 season is anything to be concerned about. He struggled with nagging injuries and adjusting back to the full season. In fact, Conforto has been consistently a very solid offensive player for most of his career.

In 7 major league seasons, Conforto has just one (2016) where his OPS+ was below league average and has put up season totals of 130, 140, 122, 127, and 154, which are all significantly above league average. In terms of defense, Conforto is nothing special, but he’s a natural RF that you can count on for at least average defense. He’s also left-handed and crushes right-handed pitching, an area that the Sox lacked in 2021. Locking him up for 4 or 5 years seems like a no-brainer for Hahn, and an obvious way to get the answer in RF that the Sox have been needing for several years.

Conforto’s suitors have remained a bit of a mystery, though the Sox seem like the most obvious fit. The Phillies could also be a fit for the OF, and the Astros are also likely to have interest in Conforto. Given some of the early contracts given out in free agency, it will most likely require the largest contract in White Sox history to get a deal done, but Conforto is more than worth it in my opinion.

Sign Free Agent OF Kyle Schwarber

Although not a natural fit defensively in RF, Schwarber is coming off what was by far his best offensive season. The soon-to-be 29-year-old slugged 32 homers with an OPS of .928 and an OPS+ of 148, the latter two career highs. Defensively, Schwarber is not great, but improving. As a catcher coming out of college, he does have a strong arm for RF but doesn’t have great speed or range. Those are bonuses, but with someone like Luis Robert in CF, not necessarily requirements. Schwarber is also a left-handed hitter and crushes right-handed pitching, so his bat would be more than welcome in an already-strong White Sox lineup.

Schwarber probably wouldn’t cost as much as Conforto, but at 29, he’ll also be looking for a 4 or 5-year deal. I think if Conforto doesn’t happen, Schwarber should be the main backup plan to answer the RF position, and Sox fans should be more than happy if he’s the opening day RF in 2022.

Sign Free Agent OF Joc Pederson

The White Sox reportedly made Joc Pederson an offer last offseason for 1-year, $10 million prior to signing Adam Eaton. Pederson declined the offer and may have misjudged his market because he ultimately ended up signing with the Cubs for $2 million less. Pederson wouldn’t be a splashy addition by any means, but his history of postseason success cannot be underestimated. Pederson has demonstrated postseason heroics for both the Dodgers and Braves in his career, so much so that some now refer to the 10th month as “Joctober”. He’s better defensively than Schwarber and is also left-handed. He hits right-handers significantly better than lefties, so it’s possible we could see a platoon situation with Adam Engel getting the starts in RF against lefties.

Joc Pederson would bring postseason experience and leadership to a fairly young team that isn’t too experienced with winning in the playoffs. The 2-time World Series champ should definitely be an option for the White Sox when the lockout is over.


SECOND BASE

Trade for 2B Jean Segura from the Phillies

The second-base situation is going to be a bit trickier for Rick Hahn & company. The White Sox have a couple of internal options for RF that are at least serviceable in case something happens. That is not the case with 2B. The free-agent market for second basemen is also significantly thinner. Marcus Semien and Chris Taylor were easily the best options at the position, and both have already signed elsewhere. Semien got a 7-year, $175 million deal from the Rangers, and much to the disdain of Sox fans, the Sox were never matching that price for Semien. Chris Taylor’s deal with the Dodgers was a little more reasonable, at 4-years, $60 million, but Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Taylor wanted to go back to LA, and that money was not the driving factor.

The White Sox will likely need to pivot to the trade market to fill the hole at 2B. A common name being brought up in rumors is Phillies 2B Jean Segura. The most common scenario being mentioned is a trade sending Craig Kimbrel to Philadelphia and Jean Segura to the Sox. I think this trade would mutually benefit both clubs. For the Sox, Kimbrel’s salary is off the books, and although Segura is making almost as much money, it fills a position of need, and the White Sox already have Kimbrel’s replacement in Kendall Graveman. For the Phillies, they fill their need for late-inning relief help and clear a spot for top IF prospect Bryson Stott, who is on the cusp of being major league ready.

Segura is a 1-year rental and is coming off a solid season where he hit .290 with a .784 OPS. He’s not a superstar by any means, but he’s a solid player who fills a need.

Trade for 2B Tony Kemp from the Athletics

Another trade option that hasn’t received as much coverage is A’s 2B/OF Tony Kemp. Kemp is coming off a surprisingly good season in Oakland, where he put up an .800 OPS in 330 ABs in 2021. He’s versatile and can play several different positions. He even makes catches like this:

The A’s are always a team who’s willing to listen to trades on just about everyone, so if Rick Hahn called about the 30-year-old Kemp, the A’s would listen. Just like Segura, this wouldn’t be a super flashy addition, but Kemp at 2B for 2022 is better than the other free agent and in-house options. It would be an upgrade at a position that needs to be upgraded.


STARTING PITCHER

Trade for Chris Bassitt/Sean Manaea/Frankie Montas from the Athletics

Given the contracts that free-agent starters have signed so far and the quickness of the market movement, I think the White Sox are better off trading for a starting pitcher to fill that need. While they’re on the phone discussing Tony Kemp, I think they should ask the A’s about one of their starters as well. All three of Bassitt, Manaea, and Montas are coming off solid seasons, and have come up in potential trade rumors this offseason. Of the three, my preference is Manaea. He’s a lefty, which would be ideal for replacing Carlos Rodon, and he has only one year left on his contract, making him likely less pricey than the other two. Manaea went 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA and a 3.66 FIP in 2021. He’ll be entering his age 30 season in 2022. He’s also a native of northwest Indiana and may enjoy coming closer to home. Bassitt and Montas would be solid additions as well, but I think Manaea is the guy to target.

Trade for Sonny Gray/Luis Castillo/Tyler Mahle from the Reds

The Reds appear to be entering a period of transition. With Nick Castellanos likely walking in free agency, the Reds may be opting to get younger and trade some of their veterans. Should they choose to enter a full rebuild, they have several starting pitchers that many teams may covet. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the Reds are listening on Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle:

A trade did not materialize before the lockout, and Cincinnati is likely to re-visit this once the league reopens. Once they do, I think the Sox should be an active participant. Luis Castillo is likely to be the most costly of the three, and the White Sox are unlikely to be able to beat potential offers from the other team given the thinness of their farm system. Tyler Mahle may be the most realistic option. The 27-year-old was worth 4.9 WAR in 2021, almost identical to Carlos Rodon’s 5 WAR. Any of these trades may require a package starting with Garrett Crochet, which is costly for the Sox, but would provide a significant boost to their starting rotation.

Bring Back LHP Carlos Rodon

The most obvious way to fill the hole that Carlos Rodon has left is to simply bring back Carlos Rodon. The White Sox decided against offering Carlos Rodon a qualifying offer, to which his agent Scott Boras responded with a thank you. Despite rumors of other teams being interested, Rodon did not sign before the lockout, and is still on the board should the White Sox opt to bring him back. Rick Hahn mentioned at his end-of-season presser that the organization would love to have Rodon back if possible. Rodon and his wife have both expressed their love for Chicago on social media, and it would seem that if the money is right, a reunion could happen.

Rodon put up 5 WAR last season after finally staying largely healthy. He began to fatigue toward the end of the season, likely due to throwing a career-high in innings. There are many reasons to believe that his 2021 breakout was real and that he is truly an all-star caliber pitcher. The White Sox need to give strong consideration to bringing him back for 2022 and beyond.


Sox fans were understandably frustrated at the lack of action from the team in the week leading up to the lockout, but Rick Hahn’s comments were encouraging. He understands that this team has needs, and he “fully expects” more additions to be made before opening day. There are still several players available that could be major contributors to the 2022 White Sox and remove some of the question marks around the team.

It will undoubtedly be a restless couple of months while MLB is in a lockout, and for now, all we can do is speculate. The moves will be made and the holes will be filled. As Rick Hahn also said in his press conference, “The Opening Day roster isn’t due in December” – boy, aren’t we all glad for that.


Featured Photo: Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) / Twitter

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