Arguably, the White Sox latest contention window was from 2020-2023. Success has varied throughout this time period, but the one constant is the White Sox’s front office’s inability to find stability in the corner outfield position, most notably right field. Part of the reason for the Pale Hose’s lack of success points directly back to General Manager Rick Hahn and the rest of his staff. That has been emblematic of not only the Sox record during this time frame but also the lack of on-field success from Sox corner outfielders.
From Nomar Mazara and Adam Eaton to AJ Pollock and Andrew Benintendi, I wanted to explore the Sox’s failures in various ways through basically the same position.
Acquired December 11, 2019 – Traded from Texas Rangers for OF Justin Steele
At the time of the trade, Nomar Mazara was just 24 years old. Having underperformed expectations in Texas, the Rangers shipped him off to Chicago for basically nothing. From 2016-2019, Mazara had a triple slash line of .261/.320/.435, good for a wRC+ of 92. Those aren’t terrible numbers, and considering Mazara’s age and his low cost of acquisition, the Sox trade was easily justifiable in a vacuum.
However, acquiring young players knowing you need to develop them is a problem for a White Sox organization that has not shown a consistent ability to develop players. Past 2020, the vast majority of the White Sox roster is full of either elite-acquired prospects, elite-acquired international players, first-round draft picks, or a combination of the three. The Sox have not shown a positive or consistent ability to bring out a player’s natural ability and/or allow them to take the next step in their game in ways the Tampa Bay Rays or Cleveland Guardians have. Unsurprisingly, the Nomar Mazara experiment was not a successful one.
Granted it was only 42 games thanks to the pandemic-shortened season, but Mazara slashed .228/.295/.294 with one home run, good for a wRC+ of 65 in 2020. It also didn’t help that Mazara was consistently getting at-bats over Adam Engel, who was having a breakout season offensively. In 36 games, Engel slashed .295/.333/.477, with three home runs, good for a 120 wRC+.
The White Sox were not the only team that took a chance on an eventually unsuccessful Nomar Mazara. In 2021, Mazara signed with the Detroit Tigers where he slashed .212/.276/.321, good for a wRC+ of 66. In 2023, Mazara isn’t even in the majors, currently playing with the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
Signed December 10, 2020 – 1 year/ $7M
After Adam Eaton was traded to the Washington Nationals for a handful of players, including Lucas Giolito, he returned to the South Side as one of the last remaining pieces to a supposed vaunted White Sox lineup. Being a lefty, the apparent plan was to platoon Eaton with Adam Engel (who ended up spending much of the 2021 season on the IL).
After getting off to a hot start, Adam Eaton’s bat quickly crashed and burned, causing the White Sox to designate him for assignment in early July 2021.
Adam Eaton is another name in a long line of veterans that Rick Hahn and former GM and current Executive Vice President Kenny Williams couldn’t wait to acquire that unsurprisingly did not work out. Even though Eaton technically won a World Series in Washington, the Nationals won despite Eaton, not because of him. Eaton’s numbers were trending in the wrong direction since he debuted for the Nats in 2017. His wRC+ in his four years in our nation’s capital were 124, 123, 108, to 76 in the COVID-2020 season. Eaton was 32 years old when the Sox re-acquired him, and while the obvious hope at the time was that Eaton had one more season left in him, as we now know, he did not.
Acquired April 1, 2022 – Traded from Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Craig Kimbrel
After a risky trade in 2021 which saw the White Sox ship away 2B Nick Madrigal and RHP Codi Heuer for Craig Kimbrel, only to have Kimbrel fail to meet expectations, the White Sox decided to double down on the trade and pick up Kimbrel’s $16M option for the 2022 season. As the Dodgers needed a closer and had a spare outfielder lying around, and as the Sox still needed a right fielder after the Mazara and Eaton experiments flamed out, this seemed like a good fit on paper. However, if you’re trading a distressed asset like the Sox were doing with Craig Kimbrel (5.09 ERA in 23.0 IP for the Sox), chances are you’re going to get a distressed asset in return. And that’s exactly what happened.
AJ Pollock had a year left on his contract with a player option for the 2023 season, and the Dodgers clearly saw a decline in his performance in a way the White Sox didn’t – or they were just too desperate to unload a bad contract that a player like Pollock was the best they could do.
Despite coming off back-to-back seasons where Pollock finished with a wRC+ over 130, the newly acquired Sox outfielder completed his 2022 season with one under 100 (92). Despite being a former Gold Glover for his work in centerfield, Pollock seemingly could not figure out how to handle the corners for the Pale Hose. He had a -1 OAA for his work in right and -2 OAA for his work in left last year. Though, when he was tasked to play center last year when Luis Robert went on the IL, he managed to do that as shown by his 1 OAA in center.
Pollock’s decline was not just a blip at the end of his career and the result of seemingly Guaranteed Rate Field being cursed, as Pollock is having an even worse season during his tenure for the Seattle Mariners. As of this writing, he is slashing .148/.220/.333 with a wRC+ of 53. However, his acquisition by the South Siders is representative of Hahn’s and Williams’ love of acquiring formerly good players past their prime.
Signed January 3, 2023 – 5 years/ $75M
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the Chicago White Sox acquired a left-handed corner outfielder who is having one of his worst seasons while on the South Side. To Benintendi’s credit, it’s only mid-May and his past ten games (as of the writing of this post) are quite good (slashing .314/.400/.457). As such, I’ll reserve full judgment until after this season is over. However, all games count, and in all of the games Benintendi has played for the White Sox (so far), he has been definitionally below average both offensively and defensively. Andrew Benintendi has a wRC+ of 91 (average is 100) and an OAA of -2.
Andrew Benintendi’s acquisition should have been different. He was not a potential work-in-progress or an outfielder who is on the downside of his career. This was a player in the prime or post-prime of his career. He’s on the right side of 30 (He’s 28). This was a player to whom the Sox gave the largest contract in franchise history. With his playing style, I never expected him to be Mike Trout, but it would be nice if he could provide positive output on offense and defense.
In hindsight, Benintendi’s stumbles should have been obvious, not only for the lack of success the Sox have had in their corner outfielders and poor talent acquisition of late, but our own Nik Gaur highlighted what a bad fit the former Red Sox and Royal would be when he was a popular trade candidate in 2022. Even if Benintendi turns his offensive woes around, which I’m confident he will, he’s still not an ideal fit for how the White Sox’s team was assembled.
The Sox needed power and defense, neither of which are Benintendi’s strong suit. The Minnesota Twins gave lefty Joey Gallo $11M to play for them this year. Currently, Gallo has 11 home runs, a wRC+ of 138, and has posted 0 OAA in left and center this year. The San Francisco Giants gave Michael Conforto a two-year/$36M contract this past offseason. While Conforto does have a -1 OAA in right, he also has nine home runs and a wRC+ above 100.
The Chicago White Sox are not in a good position as a franchise. They do not have a good farm system, they do not develop well, they almost always do not acquire elite free-agent talent, and they’re terrible at choosing free agents who do become available in their price range. This is in large part why the White Sox failed to miss the playoffs in 2022, and are sure to do the same in 2023, despite having a core group of players most organizations would kill for.
The ineptitude of the Sox organization can be seen in the poor quality and on-the-field performance of their major corner outfield acquisitions over the past four years. The Sox have tried different approaches to their corner outfielder position, whether it’s through a young player they hope can take the next step or a veteran who the organization hopes has one good year left in them, and they’ve all failed. With the consistent failures, it stands to reason that no matter how hard this franchise tries to improve its corner outfield situation, things will never change until organizational changes are made.
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