Baseball bracketology: 2020 White Sox’s Final Four, Cinderellas, Upsets, and Bubble Watch


Selection Sunday has now come and gone, with gone being the operative word, as the entire Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments were outright canceled due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19.

Pair that with the fact that Major League Baseball’s Opening Day now has no definitive start date, with the initial two-week being delay usurped by the CDC’s recommendation to not conduct nationwide gatherings of more than 50 people for at least eight weeks. That would make the soonest that Opening Day could theoretically happen May 11.

My “bracket” is a little dubious on that date being a reality, but you never know. With all that said, with everyone self-quarantined, working from home, running to the stores with more raw speed than Adam Engel, and finding themselves with more free time than ever, we all could use a respite and also a way to fill the void.

From where I sit behind my keyboard, there’s no better way to do that than fill the vacuum of both no baseball and no March Madness with one composite article.

This clocks in at just more than 4,500 words, but we all have some free time on our hands and we have an itch for White Sox baseball, March Madness, and sports in general. And if not sports, then even text on a screen about sports. So this is broken into sections. Read it in full, or parse it out, consume it in bits, and wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot water for each hot take in-between sections (especially after the Upset section, as you may need to cleanse). We don’t have sports, but we have the game of words and through that we can have some strange version of White Sox March Madness –– in a real world that currently doesn’t have either.

With that said, I’m going to lay out my picks for the Chicago White Sox’s Final Four –– a core of players that will be the most valuable in 2020 –– who may surprise (Cinderellas) or underperform (Upsets), projected regression that may not happen, (think the annual trendy expert upset pick), and outline which prospects will see the big lights this season (“on the bubble”).

I tried my hand at a similar piece over at another publication back in 2016. Like any bracket, I had my share of red (losses), but also some notable prognostications in the green (wins) as well.

My Final Four consisted of Chris Sale, José Abreu, Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana.

Sale made it to the final weekend, turning in an 3.34 ERA All-Star season and setting career highs in wins (17) and innings pitched (226 ⅔) that may have been driven by his league-leading six complete games. He’d ultimately finish fifth in Cy Young voting and notch MVP votes despite being on a non-playoff team. 

Abreu got bounced after the Sweet 16. He had a decent enough year, but it took a potent second half to bounce back from a fairly dreadful first two months to salvage his season. He failed to hit the 30-home run mark or make the All-Star team but still ripped 100 RBIs for his fourth straight season and finished with a respectable .820 OPS.

Frazier didn’t make it out of the Sweet 16, either. He made a lot of shots –– 40 home runs, to be exact –– but overall did not live up to expectations or his seed line. His final line was .225/.302/.464, with clear shortfalls in average and OBP. He was worth 2.8 fWAR, which fell short of a projected four-win season.

Quintana, my outside Final Four pick, delivered in earnest. He joined Chris Sale at the All-Star game, put together a 3.20 ERA over 200-plus innings, got a 10th place Cy Young vote and had what to date has been the best season of his career.

I also identified two Cinderellas: Adam Eaton and Carlos Rodón.

Eaton surely did not disappoint. He actually edged Sale and led the 2016 White Sox in fWAR with a 5.9 mark. He got on base at a .362 clip, swiped 14 bags, but most importantly flashed an absurd glove after a position shift to right field –– propped up by an arm that could hit triple-digits on release and nail runners like clockwork. He also led the AL in triples and garnered a 19th-place MVP vote at years end.

Rodón didn’t quite have a “breakout” year, but he did have what unfortunately remains the best season of his White Sox career thus far by racketing up 168 innings over 28 starts while posting playable numbers in a 4.04 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in what was really his first big-league season as a full-time starter.

For upsets, I thought Adam LaRoche would be downed by a back injury. It turns out he got “upset” by something entirely different: His 14 year-old son Drake LaRoche not being allowed in the clubhouse. This set off what was quite truly an international firestorm when he retired over the matter, and it oddly sparked a broader discussion about the place of children in the workplace. You can’t make this stuff up, and no my bracket did not have the details –– only that he’d have an early exit.

I had Jacob Turner upsetting John Danks for a rotation spot, predicting that the White Sox would actually eat Danks’ contract midseason in the midst of contention, a bold call considering the conventional Jerry Reinsdorf behavior. I was dead wrong about Turner, who was absolutely atrocious during just two starts and 24 ⅔ innings pitched in a starter/bullpen hybrid role. Turn down the backlight on your screen so as not to burn your eyes when you read about his 6.57 ERA, near 2.000 WHIP, and a 5.8 BB/9 to just 6.6 K/9. Chicago did release and eat the rest of Danks’ $15.75 million salary in May, so this pick was mixed.

My two players on the bubble, Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer, both made it to the majors, so there’s that.

Now that I’ve proven at least a modicum of credibility in my baseball bracketology, here’s a similar exercise for 2020. It is going to be semi-challenging given the uncertainty of baseball this season and how disrupted conditioning and a late and shortened season may impact performance and sample sizes, but here goes.

Final Four

C Yasmani Grandal

This was a move White Sox fans have been waiting for ever since A.J. Pierzynski was forced out of town only to be supplanted by the polarizing Tyler Flowers. Not only was the four-year, $73 million dollar Grandal deal the largest free agent outlay in White Sox history, but the backstop has been an absolute turnstile for essentially the last four seasons. There’s not better way I can demonstrate how much of an upgrade Grandal will be than this:

That 5.2 fWAR made Grandal the second-most valuable catcher in the majors last year and would have also made him the second-most valuable player in Chicago by that same metric. He posted an absurd 17.2% walk rate, per FanGraphs, which helped him achieve a .380 OBP.

Pair that with a career-high 28 home runs and a glove that gets rave reviews from both the pitch-framing eye test and advanced metrics, to say nothing of his ability to be a beacon for a staff, and Grandal looks like he’ll be a linchpin for the White Sox and deliver a massive season. If we weren’t looking at a truncated year, I’d say 25-30 home runs would be in the cards.

Either way, Grandal will provide pop and on-base percentage from both sides of the plate and be the perfect steward for Chicago’s rotation. He’s what we’d call a blue-blood No.1 seed –– a lock –– and your best bet to reach Chicago’s Final Four from a composite value perspective.

LF Eloy Jiménez

Jiménez had his first taste of big-league action from the jump last season after signing a winter extension. He ended up missing some time with a pair of IL stints, one for a right ankle sprain and another one for sustaining a nerve contusion in his arm during an outfield collision.

Through 122 games, Jiménez still managed to break the 30-home run mark with 31 bombs, and some of them were truly tape-measure shots. There was a little swing-and-miss to his game (26.6% K-rate) but he slashed .267/.315/.513 on the whole with a .246 ISO.

Jiménez is like that upstart program that is suddenly elevated with a slew of top recruits but is felled by injuries and exits earlier than expected. Not in 2020. The roster of prolific batting tools will be coming back, so to speak, and with an expectation of health.

Jiménez barely tapped into the value of Guaranteed Rate Field as a hitter’s park last season (.748 home OPS compared to an .892 away) which is an aberration that is unlikely to be in play again. His torrid pace to end the season (.340/.383/.710 slash line with nine home runs in September) could very well be a prelude of what’s to come. Eloy will simply mash in 2020.

SS Tim Anderson 

Anderson had a breakout campaign last season in a full-fledged attempt to #changethegame You could call it akin to mid-major that ends up leaving a lot of red in its wake and rubs teams and their fans the wrong way in its run to the Final Four; but at the same time also exhilarates a whole new brand of play and ends the tourney with much more name recognition. Anderson invented the “Javelin Bat Flip,” after all.

In 2020, he’ll make good on last year’s run and be a favorite to repeat the performance. Anderson got his title game of sorts last season by leading all of baseball with a .335 batting average. That hardware came with 32 doubles and 18 home runs in just 123 games, as the shortstop battled an ankle sprain.

Had he not missed the time, he likely would have produced his second consecutive 20/20 season. Anderson ended up being worth 3.5 fWAR last year despite the injury bug and the fact that he was actually negative on the other side of the game, committing a league leading 26 errors –– many of the throwing variety.

Expect the Chicago shortstop to clean that up this season as defense has been mentioned publicly as a priority for him, and no one on the club has a more tenacious work ethic. People looking for an upset might point to the fact Anderson walked at just a 2.9% clip and posted an unsustainable .399 BABIP.

But Anderson has proven that he’s going to play his game, from the javelin bat flips to his aggressive approach at the plate. Net-net, his game plays up due to plus raw speed, plus plate coverage, and the fact that he hits the ball to all fields with minimal infield fly outs –– all ingredients that will aid in his maintaining at least an above-average BABIP.

Regression there could be offset by someone who hasn’t even turned 27 yet and likely still has more playable power in his game. Once again, if this were a full season, a 25/25 year could have been on the table, with an outside shot at a 30/30 year if he really broke out.

Given Moncada’s in-game speed has not played as much in the way of base stealing, Anderson along with Robert could be Chicago’s best shot at a 30/30 player. The shortened season makes it much more unlikely, but expect Anderson to be a star nonetheless and both cut down the errors and the nets as his visibility as a face of the game becomes even more high-profile.

3B Yoán Moncada

Moncada was like Anderson last season in the sense that he was more of a No. 3-to-4 seed that made his way to the final weekend. Imagine a very talented team that doesn’t see things click as a group until their junior season.

That’s what happened for Moncada last year as he slashed .315/.367/.548 en route to a team-leading 5.7 fWAR, in part thanks to a glove that played up at third base as opposed to the keystone. He cut his strikeout rate from an abysmal 33.4% in 2018 to a very playable 27.5% in 2019.

Moncada smashed 25 home runs, 34 doubles, and five triples despite missing a chunk of time with a hamstring strain. There are some regression worries due to a high BABIP, which will be addressed later, but there’s more ceiling for Moncada in 2020 — and that should be a scary thought for opponents.

He showed a solid walk rate during his pro ball days in the minors and in his 2017 debut (12.6 %) which fell to just 7.2% in 2020. With excellent plate discipline, there’s certainly reason to believe that number reverts a little closer to above-average range or at least the double-digits, which will raise his OBP. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old will likely continue to show even more in-game power, as he can certainly hit moonshots and the long ball should come with more regularity.

Finally, someone with 70-grade speed should quite frankly be swiping more bags. Moncada made just 13 attempts last year despite a 76% success rate. Moncada should be swiping 20 bags with ease in a full season and possibly even in a shortened season.

So tapping into more in-game power, more playable speed, and just natural growth for the White Sox’s most tool-ridden and physical specimen outside of Robert, Moncada will have more than “One Shining Moment” in 2020 and potentially make an MVP bid. He is the odds-on No. 1 seed for 2020.


SP Reynaldo López

López makes for a very interesting cinderella pick as he could very well “bust” some brackets in 2020, especially brackets that are labeling him a “bust.” Will 2020 truly be the year of “hindsight is 2020” for these fans and pundits alike? Here are a few reasons why the slipper, or rather cleat, may fit for López.

He absolutely has the former prospect pedigree. Coming up with the Nationals, some evaluators painted López as even more of a star than his often more-touted teammate Lucas Giolito. That seemed to prove true as he flashed nastier stuff than a struggling Giolito and ended 2018 –– his first full season as a big league starter –– on a high note.

Rather than López carrying that over into 2019 for a breakout, it was instead Giolito who had a surge, and López ended up being an unmitigated disaster –– “good” for a 5.38 ERA over 33 starts and an unforgiving FIP of 5.04 that wasn’t noticeably better.

López quite frankly was all over the plate, even showing lack of concentration at times. His HR/9 clocked in at 1.71, which is eye-popping bad, while he also walked more than three batters per nine innings. There wasn’t obvious bad luck either, as he had a pretty in-line .316 BABIP against and a 69.2% strand rate.

So what could possibly be the positives? Well the raw stuff is certainly still there. López’s fastball velocity still runs up regularly over 95 mph while his curveball can still look sharp at times. His K/9 was actually a full batter improvement from 2018, settling at 8.27 per nine, and despite his struggles he’s been durable with two consecutive seasons of more than 180 innings pitched and such durability has led to two straight two-WAR seasons as well. So it’s not all entirely bad.

Sometimes these things just take time. Grandal has already been reported to have a positive effect on López, apparently identifying some ways López can leverage his off-speed stuff better; this being one of the paramount reasons Grandal was a good add.

We’ll see if it carries over into the season, but for López the stuff is there and so is the durability. Now it’s all about that elusive control and command, which if realized, could give the White Sox a very solid power righty. If not, maybe he’s a two-pitch pitcher who plays up in the pen. The 2020 season will be a litmus test, but one worth giving for sure.

OF Adam Engel

Engel has been a trendy Cinderella for years. When you get body and tool comps to Mike Trout, that tends to happen. These types of comps are always unfair, but not unusual this time of year when a team is regarded as “the Butler, VCU, or Davidson of year X.”

I don’t think Engel will be a Cinderella in the traditional sense, where he parlays his myriad of tools, build, and athleticism into some huge Elite Eight run as a double-digit seed, but he can be a Cinderella in the sense that he carves out a niche on this roster.

The glove has always been playable — more than playable actually; in fact, plus. He’s the perfect roving outfielder to come in as a late defensive replacement or pinch-runner where his plus speed can play up late in a game during a crucial moment.

It’s not worth getting into the annual narrative of mechanical adjustments and swing changes, but the fact remains that Engel can fill a role in 2020 and be of value. It was a small sample, but Engel hit .313/.360/.482 versus LHP in 2019 and he’s always been better against southpaws in his career. Not as flashy as that line, more like a .679 OPS type, but still –– better.

Given Nomar Mazara will be manning right field, Engel could be a serviceable platoon partner for him and generate additional value defensively and on the basepaths, with some occasional pop here and there.

Once he’s no longer overexposed in a starting role, Engel may go from a liability to a competent utility piece, and that would certainly be a Cinderella story for someone who otherwise would be on the fringe of being out of the game entirely. Maybe 2020, is Adam Engel’s Sweet 16 –– where he was once regarded as an intriguing prospect.


Upsets: you love them and you hate them, depending on your bracket and allegiance of course, but they always happen. In this context, upsets are always negative –– well, mostly. You’ll see a few qualifiers. Upset will be ranked as most likely to happen to least likely as described by traditional NCAA Tourney seed vernacular. A 16-over-1 is historically unlikely while a 10-over-7 is a relatively safe bet and really anything 12-over-5 and less isn’t mind-blowing, at least to those who dig into the numbers.

Roster Spot Crunch (10) over Zack Collins (7)

With the signing of Grandal, the White Sox now have not one but two All-Star catchers on their roster when you factor in holdover James McCann. The fact that Abreu is still manning first base, Grandal can also play that corner infield spot, and the additional fact that Edwin Encarnación was signed with the explicit intent of full-time DH duties, the roster composition is not looking kind to Collins, a former Top 10 draft pick back in 2016 who has hit for power and OBP in the minors but whose profile has been dampened by a poor hit tool and subpar defensive outlook as a backstop. The shortened season means even less chance for opportunity, as a limited schedule may not be as taxing for players. Factor in that with the logic of getting Collins regular ABs at Charlotte, and he does not look to get a lot of time under the bright lights in 2020.

Bullpen Role (11) over (6) Carlos Rodón

This would be an upset in the sense that Rodón was not taken with the No. 3 overall pick out of N.C. State back in the 2014 draft to be used as a bullpen piece. He was drafted to be a front-end starter. But Rodón has been a disappointment no matter how you frame it. Save for a 2016 season in which he made 28 starts to compile 165 innings of respectable 4.04 ERA ball with a 9.2 K/9 as a 23 year-old, it’s all been a massive slide from there.

You can blame injuries, underperformance, or a combination of the two, but Rodón has just not gotten it done from the mound. After those 165 innings in 2016, he’s thrown just 224 ⅔ combined in the three years since with a 4.33 ERA, 4.66 FIP, and 4.1 BB/9 over that span.

Now coming off Tommy John Surgery and with a shortened season ahead and a crowded rotation, it makes loads of sense to take Rodón’s fastball and slider, which have looked like a deadly combo in the past, and see how they play in the bullpen.

A lefty coming out of the pen with nasty stuff could be just the trick for Rodón. It would be less taxing on his arm and possibly lead to actual, tangible value. Chicago has just one year of control on the pitcher after 2020; they might as well get something out of him.

As a Scott Boras client, Rodón seems like a change of scenery guy when he hits free agency. Rodón and Boras may be “upset” by this upset, but White Sox fans may be pleasantly surprised. And if he does turn into Chicago’s version of Andrew Miller –– a modern-day, two- or three-inning bullpen slicer with explosive stuff –– then he may have an even better chance at a payday.


Shortened Season (13) over Luis Robert (4)

Robert is dripping with talent. If well-rounded prospects are tool sheds, then he’s five top-of-the-line toolboxes inside of a tool shed. Robert may be the best player of the whole critical mass when all is said and done.

He has the bat, mammoth power, leopard speed, and platinum glove. But Robert also has zero big league experience and despite video game numbers in Charlotte, the hit tool is still a bit raw. It is quite possible there will be a lag, a period of adjustment.

The 2020 season had a good chance to shake out as a coming-out party for Robert with real Rookie of the Year potential, but a shortened season won’t help in masking early struggles. If those make up a disproportionate portion of the 2020 campaign, then Robert’s road to true stardom may have to wait until 2021.

COVID-19 (15) over Major League Baseball (2)

There’s something that’s been eating at my mind, and that’s the possibility that baseball doesn’t happen at all. With every waking day, the value of social distancing and flattening the curve with COVID-19 rises even more to the forefront. And with it usually comes new CDC recommendations on limiting crowds to smaller numbers and for longer periods.

Speculation is abound and there’s been some lines of thinking that baseball may not start until midsummer and that even if it does, it may have to occur without fans or with limited attendance. The systems to properly screen and re-integrate into society may simply not be in place.

There’s also conjecture that if baseball were to be canceled entirely by the league due to a “national emergency,” the MLBPA may not be able to stave off contracts being invalidated. That’s a win on overhead for the owners.

Sure, there’s boatloads of money on the table to be lost. Out of sight, out of mind is at play, too. But at some point –– especially if a decent chunk of games would have to be played with no fans –– then the ROI, not the revenue, but the actual income over fixed operating costs may be very minimal — or worse, projected to be negative.

If that’s what the tea leaves start to say, then there is at least a chance the owners lobby with Major League Baseball to pull the plug on the 2020 season entirely. This would be an upset for the ages, but it’s not one to write off entirely.

The Trendy Upset That Won’t Happen

BABIP (12) over Yoán Moncada (5)

Every year there is one team that all the pundits pick to shock the world, and the shock is that it doesn’t happen. In recent years, think any South Dakota State team with Mike Daum on it, or a New Mexico St. team that could always crash the boards but instead crashed dreams of bracket perfection instead (Thanks Aggies!)

The trendy upset pick this year in the baseball world is that the league leader in BABIP, Moncada, will see massive regression and that this said underlying number was a key driver of his breakout season.

Moncada had a .406 BABIP last year, up from a .344 BABIP the year prior. That screams regression, until you look at the fact that Moncada also lowered his infield fly ball rate, raised his hard contact rate, and increased his line drive rate. Those are all immediate explanations for why he had a higher BABIP, and again, his baseline in a down year was .344.

Want to dive deeper into the stats? He increased his exit velocity between 2018 and 2019 from 90.6 to 92.8 (seventh in baseball) and his barrel % from 9.6 to 12.2, per Baseball Savant. That barrel % is nearly twice the league average of 6.3.

Moncada also brings other drivers that can make a BABIP more sustainable, like hitting to all fields, possessing raw speed to leg out infield hits, and the fact that he actually is hitting the ball out of the park way more than before. You don’t have to worry too much about your BABIP when your ball isn’t in play as often, and it’s less in play for the good reasons like home runs and walks, not the bad one: strikeouts.

Another interesting note: speaking of those infield hits, Moncada had an 8.9% rate in 2018 and only a 4.6% in 2019, so he may actually leg out more infield hits in 2020, making the sustainability of a higher BABIP all the more buyable.

The bottom line is this –– even if Moncada’s BABIP recedes, his overall ceiling may not. The best is yet to come and over-inflating one statistic that isn’t as alarming as it seems will do a disservice to your baseball bracket. Avoid this trendy upset pick.

On the Bubble

2B Nick Madrigal (IN)

Madrigal was likely going to be here by mid-April at the latest. The high-IQ player who simply does not strike out is an easy at-large bid despite the small stature. Service time considerations and how they will apply to a shortened 2020 are still up in the air, but it won’t matter with Madrigal. The mature rookie with the slick glove will be manning second at some point.

1B Andrew Vaughn (OUT)

Vaughn has impressed mightily in his initial taste of pro ball. He is an extremely polished college bat who may be the best pure hitter in the whole organization. He truly could be a 60 hit/60 power guy which could shake out to a perennial near-.300 average and consistent 30-bomb player. But the shortened season will make a September (November?) call-up unlikely even if Chicago is in contention. He just won’t have enough requisite ABs in the minors to make the jump.

SP Dane Dunning (OUT)

The crowded rotation already put Dunning in a dangerous position on the bubble, and that’s without even referencing that he’ll be coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’ll need more than just a tuneup in the minors before seeing the big leagues. He may find his way in if there are injuries, or the season actually starts in May rather than July, but if not, Dunning will have to wait until 2021 to hear his name called.

SP Michael Kopech (IN)

You could actually say Kopech is in a somewhat similar boat as Dunning given the developing circumstances, but he’s had his time in the minors –– and a short stint in the bigs –– so it’s more about purely rehabbing. While we’ll see less of Kopech in 2020 than we would have without COVID-19, we will see Kopech –– or the lightning power arm I like to call “Zeus” –– in 2020 at some point. If not, it will be a major snub.

I hope this fulfilled the gaping black hole that’s a result of the lack of sports during what is an unprecedented global crisis. From me to you the reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and remember: There are sunnier days ahead. Days where the sun will be beaming down on ballplayers.

Patience is a virtue, and hope is currently our best medicine.



Meet the Players: Owen Schoenfeld

Owen Schoenfeld was born in Chicago but grew up in the North Side burbs, being the rare White Sox fan in a sea of blue before finishing high school in Austin, Texas, where his fandom was even more a rarity. He has his father and grandfather to thank for making sure he grew up donning the right Chicago cap.

His writing career began in college when he studied business at the University of Texas at Austin. Owen’s written for a barrage of publications, including FanSided and FutureSox, where his work was regularly featured on Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports team sites.

In 2017, Owen co-founded the Chicago-centric sports website The Loop Sports, which grew to be a notable player in the Chicago media landscape for three years before recently running its course and dissolving into separate projects.

You might know Owen as @The_Xsport on Twitter, or for his Photoshop mashup of SI predicting the White Sox as 2020 champions. He still thinks a title is a non-zero possibility (with the right offseason), and hopes his edit can give Chicago some positive mojo.

On a similar note, he also published a fiction book with his identical twin brother called “It Isn’t Just a Game,” featuring a sci-fi twist on the 2005 season, where two kids control the real-life season through their gaming console. That was back when he was 12, but the rumor is that there are still some copies lurking around at the stadium’s Chicago Sports Depot.

Hometown Chicago

White Sox fan since 01/12/1996

First White Sox memory First game was at a mere six months old, but my first memory was when I was about three and at a summer game. My family would play a game where you’d pick a player at the start and if they hit a home run, you’d get a crisp dollar bill. My favorite player “Magglio Ordoñez” hit a deep drive to left field in the seventh inning. I still have the dollar.

Favorite White Sox memory World Series Game 2, hands down. I was lucky enough to be in Section 143 and witness Konerko’s grand slam and Podsednik’s walk-off bomb in person. Those moments are the loudest I’ve ever heard a pro stadium — and I’ve been to a Texas Longhorns football game with 100,000-plus fans.

Favorite White Sox player Magglio as a little kid, Konerko as my all-time favorite, and José Abreu on the current roster. Although Eloy, with his patented red batting gloves, is a fast-approaching second.

Next White Sox statue Mark Buehrle

Next White Sox retired number Abreu, if he keeps production up and plays an integral role in a championship. He’s a Jerry favorite.

Go-to concession food at Sox Park The strawberry-stuffed churros. Used to be the popcorn chicken, when they had it.

Favorite Baseball movie Little Big League. It’s every kid’s dream to be the manager, GM, or the owner of a major league team at one time or another. This kid got to be all three –– and all in the same classic film.

Hall of Fame: Speed Round

Mark Buehrle Yes
Joe Jackson No
Paul Konerko No
Minnie Miñoso Yes
Omar Vizquel Yes
Chris Sale Yes, but with the wrong cap

South Side Hit Pen on the field Center field (see photo). I played CF in Cooperstown at age 12 as part of the Dreams Tournament. I could chase down anything, throw out runners from the wall, and swipe bags in a pinch. My OBP was also .100 so …

True or false: Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that wonders what the part that isn’t thinking isn’t thinking of: True


Joc of all trades: Pederson a perfect fit for Chicago’s right field woes

Rock n’ Joc: Reviving a trade for this fella could solve a lot of problems for the White Sox. (Rawlings)

The MLB Hot Stove usually takes a slow-roll, kindling approach before exploding –– especially when it comes to the last few winters. The 2020 offseason was presumed to be no different, until the Chicago White Sox dumped $123 million worth of gasoline onto the stove top, bringing Yasmani Grandal, a premium two-way catcher into the fold, and extending hometown star José Abreu.

These early moves put the accelerant on a publicly-stated desire by the front office to address holes at DH, C, RF, and in the starting rotation. Chicago’s dotted transaction history to begin the offseason places even more of an onus on smoothing out the rough edges of a roster that suddenly looks on track to do some damage in 2020.

SSHP’s own James Fox has already written about the next logical step in the process: Securing a front-end starter in the form of free agent Zack Wheeler.

Dipping into free agency and deploying cash have been the avenues of choice in player acquisition thus far, but Rick Hahn and Co. have been transparent in that the trade market is a viable route as well when it comes to certain upgrades.

That may not ring truer than in the context of right field, where the free agent inventory isn’t exactly thin, but is riddled with case-by-case complications, especially when it comes to finding a fit lacking warts.

There’s Nicholas Castellanos, who would surely be a spark in the lineup — but his glove in right is sure to douse some of those contributions in terms of overall net gains. Plus, his price tag is such that similar funds in the Brinks Truck could be wheeled elsewhere, if you catch my drift –– particularly if it’s an either-or scenario budget-wise.

Kole Calhoun is a reasonable enough stopgap, but given that DH is starting to look like a timeshare between Grandal, Abreu, James McCann, and Zack Collins, that’s not a significant enough addition for a right field position that now needs to feature more of a consistent lineup cog. After all, Chicago right fielders combined for a dismal .220/.227/.288 line in 2019, serving as their most glaring roster blemish.

Marcell Ozuna could provide some pop, but he’s far removed from his spectacular 2017 campaign with the Miami Marlins, in which he pounded 37 home runs and featured a slugging percentage 100 points better than his career average. At the right price, he’s a potential free agent fit, with some upside to go along with a very playable floor in the high ~700 OPS and two-WAR range.

But that would mean paying for more than you might actually get, eating the draft compensation consequences, and not spreading dollars elsewhere across the diamond, like the pitcher’s bump.

Then there’s Avisaíl García, who is simply not returning to the White Sox. They had the opportunity to retain him for $6-$8 million last offseason but chose to non-tender him instead. That says everything about their current interest. He’s a passable corner outfielder with steady tools, but low defensive value. And despite a potent frame and occasional bursts, García not been a benefactor of the juiced-ball era’s power dividends.

Same applies for Yasiel Puig, who is just not meant to wear black and white. For whatever reason, this oft-rumored and volatile target hasn’t found a place on the South Side, despite the ever-present Cuban-connection narrative and positional need. The White Sox are placing a premium on clubhouse culture, and there seems to have been and likely continues to be a mismatch here.

Corey Dickerson typically mashes when healthy while also sporting non-sinking defense. Despite an injury-riddled 2019, he’d be the go-to option in the free agent market and may very well be what the White Sox pursue.

But can Chicago do better on the trade circuit?

There’s no Christian Yelich-style deal to be had this offseason, and there’s a strong case for why Chicago’s not even at the point where trading from the upper echelon of their prospect pool for a single prized fixture would even make sense.

Funneling multiple upside assets into one premium proven player comes at that “final piece” stage, which is at least a year or two down the line. It dooesn’t help that right fielders like Cody Bellinger, Max Kepler, and Austin Meadows aren’t available, anyway.

Mookie Betts is available, but now that’s a move more than a year down the line, seeing as front office actors don’t even consider rentals until they’ve paid off their rebuilt suburban mortgage and suddenly want to live in a high-rise on Parade Ave. in Championship City for a year.

However, there is one player who won’t cost an “arm and a bat” plus Hahn’s first-born, whose performance is just a tick below the top-tier.

That would be Joc Pederson, who sits below the Bellingers of the world but was still better than just about two-thirds of the league’s right fielders with a 3.0 fWAR in 2019 –– an output that also outpaces every available free agent at any outfield position not named Brett Gardner (who can’t be expected to end up anywhere other than back in New York pinstripes).

Pederson himself has had an interesting MLB career, going from the 15th-best prospect in baseball in 2014 while flaunting a 30/30 ceiling, to a 2015 full-season stint that saw him parlay initial explosiveness into an All-Star selection, only to sputter out as the season dragged on.

The depth and versatility of the Los Angeles Dodgers outfield has always made them a matchup smorgasbord, which limited Pederson’s playing time at various moments due to his poor splits against left-handed pitching. Such curated and maximized deployment resulted in an .847 OPS with 25 bombs in 2016.

An injury-riddled 2017 was rock bottom of sorts, where Pederson turned in a .212/.331/.407 line with just 11 home runs.

He got back to the 25-home run threshold in 2018 with an .843 OPS and slugging percentage above .500, but it still didn’t make him a lock to be a Dodgers stalwart moving forward.

Entering his age 27 season, he started to look like the odd man out in an increasingly crowded Dodgers outfield that included Chris Taylor, Bellinger, the newly signed AJ Pollock,  emerging top prospect Alex Verdugo, and rumored aspirations of splashing on Bryce Harper.

Chicago read the tea leaves and immediately got on the phone lines despite still apparently pursuing Harper themselves, which turned out to be overplayed in its own right. Here was the first scoop from FanSided’s Jason Kinander:

Legend has it that this trade was actually pretty darn close to being filed for print. But deals are susceptible to “leaks,” and those leaks can seemingly manifest into floodgates of competition from other clubs. In the case of the Pederson deal, the flood rose L.A.’s price tag for Pederson beyond Chicago’s comfort zone –– something Hahn essentially alluded to at an NBC Chicago Summer podcast interview at Reggie’s Chicago, despite his usual couched language.

Yet, when the dust settled, not only wasn’t Pederson traded to Chicago, he wasn’t traded at all, so who’s to say why the I’s and T’s could never be officially dotted. Maybe it’s still possible to get “cold feet” in LA despite the beachy weather.

As history would have it, Pederson would go on to produce arguably the best year of his career in 2019, with a .249/.339/.538 slash line and a career-high 36 home runs to go along with his highest fWAR since 2016. Not to mention top career marks in HR/FB ratio backed by a career-high hardest-hit rate (45.2% per FanGraphs).

What’s interesting, though, is that the crowded outfield of 2019 hasn’t really changed in the context of 2020. Bellinger, Verdugo, and Pollock are the tailor-made starting outfield and there’s still Taylor and Matt Beaty to take reps out there as well. Instead of Harper potentially on the horizon like last offseason, the Dodgers are exploring another prize in Mookie Betts via trade –– which in theory could involve Pederson. Yet ultimately, the script is very similar to last winter where smoke was almost met with fire.

It almost goes without saying that Pederson checks a lot of boxes for the White Sox.

He’s got the defensive chops to play right field, as he has played center for a good portion of his career and has the arm to handle a corner. He brings true left-handed power to a lineup that desperately lacks it even after the addition of Grandal.

Pederson’s contract situation fits like a glove. He’s got one season left of team control, and would come at an arb rate in the $8-$10 million range. That’s the perfect bridge to an internal option, in case one of Micker Adolfo, Luis Alexander Basabe, Blake Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez, or Steele Walker emerge as a true everyday outfield option to pair with Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert for the long haul.

At just 28, Pederson could excel beyond what he’s presently shown and even become a worthy extension candidate if the farm goes through a drought and other options look undesirable. It’s entirely possible that Pederson takes advantage of the bandbox that is Sox Park, goes off for 40 home runs, and realizes enough of an OBP and defensive value to be a keeper beyond 2020.

The main pitfall is Pederson’s near unplayable splits against lefties, but assuming superutility player Leury García is back for 2020, his career .285/.311 AVG./OBP. splits could cover Pederson semi-competently. That said, a true fourth outfielder and better platoon fit than Adam Engel could be pursued to complement Pederson if a trade with L.A. actually comes to fruition.

So here we are, yet again, with another Dodgers outfielder surfacing, swimming, and downright bobbing around in the sea that is the White Sox rumor mill. It has to happen at some point, right? Books could be written from all the prior trade conjecture surrounding Matt Kemp, Pederson, Puig, and yes, even Andre Ethier at one point, with regard to Chicago’s predilection for a Hollywood outfielder. Even Verdugo was a popular name during Quintana-Dodgers rumors.

So what will it take for a player to finally book their flight from LAX to O’Hare? Kinander gives us some insight into the potential cost, with perspective into last offseason’s deal structure at least:

It’s safe to say the interest in Carson Fulmer is dead. Bryce Bush destroyed rookie ball in his draft year, but was absolutely abysmal last season in A-Ball, with a .201/.285/.346 slash line and K-rate north of 30.

Aaron Bummer was coming off a mixed 2018 campaign when the Dodgers apparently had interest. The good metrics were a 2.40 FIP and 9.9 K/9 while the bad were a 4.26 ERA, 1.579 WHIP, and a 11.4 H/9 metric that gave pause. While Pederson had a career year in 2019, Bummer did so as well. He posted a 2.13 ERA across 67.2 innings, with a 3.41 FIP, sub-one WHIP, and limited hits to just 5.7 per nine.

He’s far from just a lefty specialist, limiting RHB to a .234/.337/.332 career mark. Bummer’s transformation came from increased fastball velocity, the introduction of a cutter, as well as positive regression from previous bad luck. There’s a far more detailed explanation here.

Still, the 82.3% strand rate and .228 BABIP are almost the inverse of the bad luck from 2018 and somewhat unsustainably positive, which means Bummer’s true self might be somewhere in between 2018 and 2019 — but the full package is still a non-specialized, nearly lights-out reliever.

There’s a lot of volatility in relievers, but there’s also five years worth of cheap control in Bummer as well. That seems steep for one year of Pederson, but if the White Sox wanted to guarantee it would get done, then this is a one-for-one that would make ink dry on LA’s end at least.

Maybe at that point, just paying for Dickerson and keeping Bummer makes more sense, but there’s still the chance that net-net in 2019, Pederson outpaces that tandem in wins if a replacement level arm could be plugged in for Bummer.

But between Caleb Frare and Jace Fry, the White Sox are very thin on reliable lefty pen options, and neither the free agent market nor their system provide much in the way of immediate help. At that point, trading five years of a potentially plus-reliever for what could be a one-year stopgap starts to seem ill-advised.

The White Sox could then look to a prospect-only package here, given the leverage of Pederson truly being an odd man out in LA, but he won’t just be given away for nothing.

Something like RHP Jonathan Stiever (No. 7 White Sox prospect per MLB) and RHP Codi Heuer (No. 19) would likely be enough to get it done.

If there was very little competition in Pederson’s trade market, Stiever could be swapped for LHP Konnor Pilkington (No. 16 prospect) and a pot-sweetener like OF Luis Meises. But that’s about the line before a Dickerson deal starts to make more sense, unless Chicago likes Pederson enough to at least consider this the beginning of a longer-term relationship.

Adding Pederson to the existing offensive corps would undoubtedly give the White Sox a playoff lineup –– at least offensively. But Stiever is a legit prospect and one that Chicago is very high on, so parting with him could be the first real sting of this impending transition to the promised land.

This is not the type of trade a rebuilding team makes, but all indications are that the White Sox no longer wish to be a rebuilding team.

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