La Pantera has arrived

Cat power: We’ll all get to witness how dangerous Luis Robert will be, as early as the end of March. (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


What is about panthers? They are, for all intents and purposes, just leopards and jaguars with a melanism. Still we find them magnetizing and assign some mystical properties to them.

It’s hard to not get caught up in the mysticism surrounding surround Luis Robert. Perhaps we feel the need to halt ourselves when considering his rocket to the top combined with his injuries and age. Could this money be spent elsewhere?

Luis Robert has already lived more life than many of us here, and is mystical in that regard alone:

  • Age 14: Starred for Cuba’s 16-and-under team
  • Age 15: Began his professional baseball career in Cuba (batting average: .325)
  • Age 16: Hit four home runs in the COPABE 18U Pan American Championship (batting average: .383)
  • Age 19: Defected from Cuba and was declared a free agent five months later (batting average: .393)
  • Age 20: Signed with the Chicago White Sox
  • Age 21: Worked his way up through– i.e. dominated– the Winston-Salem Dash and Birmingham Barons.
  • Age 22: Joined the Charlotte Knights; became a member of the 30/30 club; hit 30 home runs and stole 36 bases throughout the season.

As I write them, I sit on my couch in my underwear, tortilla chips strewn down my shirt, and read about the news of Robert’s six-year, $50 million deal with the White Sox, before I turn to the mirror and say “Damn, what are any of us doing, really?”

We have watched a transformation from Luis Robert to LuBob. However, La Pantera, at age 22, has ARRIVED.

By finally calling up La Pantera and other big money moves, the White Sox have embraced a transformation and sense of urgency — some might feel it is with wreckless abandon while others are riding this roller coaster. The management seems to feel a bit of both: In a story from USA Today regarding the current Winter Meetings, Rick Hahn mentioned “there’s more than one conversation every week when [Jerry Reinsdorf] reminds us how old he is and wondering how much longer he has to wait to get to the promised land. He’s ready to get to the winning stage.” Us too, Jerry.

It’s hard not to consider what is going on in Jerry’s head. Hahn confirmed that Jerry is feeling restless, but at what cost?

Duke_Snider_1953.jpg

Perhaps Jerry, who grew up a Brooklyn Dodger fan, sees a young Duke Snider when imagining Robert roaming center field. Now is the time to recapture childhood dreams.

 

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Perhaps Jerry had a long conversation with a bartender named Lloyd at the Overlook Hotel and is selling his soul for a drippy sip from the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Or maybe, just maybe, he is just padding the team for an inevitable sell.

What’s your guess?

Regardless, Reinsdorf has a plan, and sees something in Luis Robert that will tie up the loose ends of any one of these possibilities.

And what is it about panthers? Famed researcher W.H. Hudson found that indigenous peoples believed panthers were an entirely separate species that has mystical properties.

The White Sox management and fans seem to take confidence in numbers, but there is still a fine layer of mysticism surrounding La Pantera. Let’s see the magic come alive on Opening Day, at bat and in center field.

Mind the gap at second base

The waiting is the hardest part: What do the White Sox do at second base, while we all wait for Nick Madrigal to arrive? (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


Hello everyone, and welcome to 2020! Thanks to James and everyone who wished for Luis Robert to be locked in for the New Year — you are scholars, and I salute you.

With all the excitement going around on the recent free agent and Luis signings, I’m hearing no chatter but still seeing a gap around second base.

While (almost) everyone is sad to lose Yolmer and his Gatorade-dumping ways, the Sox have yet to really puzzle out how they’re going to fill the hole. If all goes according to whatever plan Rick has, Nick Madrigal should be gracing the field one day in the future. In the meantime, I don’t think he’s going to be up from Charlotte by Opening Day, or even September, so here are some potential options we have until Madrigal is ready, in a little thing I like to call …


… former enemies become our friends

Image result for brian dozier
(Wikipedia)

Brian Dozier is available, and he possessed the highest 2019 WAR out of the crop of remaining free agents at second base, with a hearty 1.7. He’s 33, so age-wise he’s in an OK spot if the Sox want to pick him up for a couple of years. There’s an added bonus of being familiar with the AL, because he was part of the dreaded Twins for years (if you care about the AL/NL sort of thing) before he got a ring with the Nats last season on a one-year/$9 million contract. There’s not a lot of chatter coming on Dozier, as second base seems like a low-priority across the league, so if the Sox play their cards right they have a veteran out there for the taking. It looks like second base is low on the list for the Nationals, so the environment is there for Dozier to get snapped up by another team. The nice thing about Dozier being on the older side of things is he may not be willing to take something short-term while we wait for Madrigal to mature.

Image result for jason kipnis
(Wikipedia)

Local boy Jason Kipnis is out there as well, for those of you that want to yell at me about a left-handed bat in the lineup (keep yelling, I don’t care about lefty/righty). Staying with the argument of being familiar with the AL, Kipnis has been a good middle-of-the-lineup guy for the Tribe since 2011, and had a 2019 WAR of 1.1. The problem with Kipnis is that he started and ended 2019 on the IR. He had $16.5 million option for the 2020 season, but Cleveland opted instead for a $2.5 million buyout, most likely due to decline and injuries. There’s some upside with Kipnis, but the risk is that he could become our latest Jimmy Rollins or Orlando Hudson.


Stealing from the other Sox

Image result for brock holt
(Wikipedia)

Brock Holt is another lefty bat, with a batting average slightly higher than Kipnis and Dozier (.297 vs. .238 and .245, respectively) with a WAR of 1.0. Holt is at a good age (31), so if the Sox want to snap him up for a couple of years to not only fill a hole but allow Madrigal time to develop, they would get a player with solid production in offense and defense. His 2019 deal with the Red Sox was one-year/$3.5 million so he’d be the cheapest out of the three options, with a higher potential return: He’s healthy and budget-friendly. Red Sox have been pushing for Michael Chavis to be the star starter (speaking of players struggling with health…) and are counting pennies to keep Mookie Betts, so re-upping Holt is not a big priority right now. Holt did say almost a year ago that he’d want to retire a Red Sox, so time will tell on how willing the Bosox front office is to play ball with him.


If the White Sox are looking internally and trying to save money at this point, depth charts have Leury García and Danny Mendick projected for second base, neither being a perfect fit: Mendick has mostly filled in at shortstop and third while we all know Leury as our resident fill-in-the-blank outfielder choice. Given how quickly the White Sox moved Yoán Moncada off of second base, I’m really hesitant to trust the team rolling the dice with someone who isn’t a tried and true second baseman.

Depending on what the White Sox want to spend and what they’re still looking to prioritize or add, there are three solid outside options for 2020. While Madrigal shot through the minor leagues like a rocket, I would be absolutely stunned if he were ready for Opening Day, so there’s still a hole to fill in the meantime.

 

Penned in: A look at the 2020 bullpen options on the South Side

Top target: Will Harris is on the short list for several teams, as a veteran, trusted bullpen hand. (@Astros)


Ken Williams and Rick Hahn have been lauded of late for their successful offseason shopping spree in an attempt to turn the Chicago White Sox into a contender in 2020. They’ve accomplished their stated goals in acquiring two starting pitchers, a designated hitter, help in right field and one of the best catchers in baseball.

While there’s been some chatter about the need to further upgrade their outfield mix, it seems as if the bullpen might be the next area of focus.

Possible targets

The best remaining relief option on the free agent market currently is Houston Astros righthander Will Harris. The 35-year-old Harris posted a 1.50 ERA in Houston last year despite a FIP of 3.15. In 60 innings pitched, the 6´4´´, 240-pounder averaged 9.30 K/9 and 2.10 BB/9. Harris is likely looking for a multi-year commitment, and his Baseball Savant page really tells the story of his success.

Harris only falls in the 25th percentile in terms of fastball velocity. He doesn’t throw that hard, but he is impeccable in every other way. His fastball spin rate falls in the 96th percentile in baseball and the curveball spin rate is in the 86th percentile. The righty ranks highly in xWOBA (89th percentile), xSLG (81st percentile) and hard-hit rate (84th percentile). Harris hasn’t been linked to any particular teams yet in free agency.

Steve Cishek is another veteran right hander whose fastball velocity is only in the 18th percentile range. He doesn’t possess a high-octane fastball but he’s in the 77th percentile in fastball spin rate. The 33-year-old sidearmer pitched 64 innings with the Cubs last year and posted a 2.95 ERA. His FIP wasn’t as good (4.54), but he held righties to a .583 OPS on the season. The 6´6´´, 215-pounder averaged just more than 8 K/9 and falls in the 99th percentile in both hard hit rate and exit velocity.

Cishek knows how to get people out, and he’s made a career of doing so. Similarly to Harris, Cishek is likely holding out for a multiyear pact from a club. He hasn’t been linked to any team specifically, but he would fit nicely as a piece in the White Sox’s evolving bullpen.

Two other names on the market who could be potential options are Daniel Hudson and Craig Stammen.

Hudson was a fifth round pick of the White Sox way back in 2008, and made his major league debut with the club before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The righthander has had an extensive history of arm troubles but is still just 32. The 6´3´´, 225-pounder posted a 2.47 ERA with a FIP of 3.97 last year. He pitched 73 innings with the Blue Jays and Nationals and completed high-leverage stints on a World Series winner. Hudson has some familiarity with catcher Yasmani Grandal from their days in Los Angeles together with the Dodgers.

According to Jon Morosi of the MLB network, the White Sox have shown interest in righthander Craig Stammen. The 35-year-old was a bit overused in the first half of last year, and some of his numbers reflect that. The 6´4´´, 230-pound reliever posted a 3.29 ERA with a 4.12 FIP, but pitched the majority of his games at the arm-friendly PETCO Park in San Diego. He averaged around 8 K/9 and 1.65 BB/9 over 82 innings last season. Stammen has great command, and surrenders lots of soft contact. In 2018, the big righty posted a 2.73 ERA and accumulated 2.2 fWAR in 79 innings.

The White Sox could also look to the trade market to acquire relief help if necessary. Three of the bigger names out there are Ken Giles of the Blue Jays, Mychal Givens of the Orioles and Ian Kennedy of the Royals. But Giles and Kennedy both have just one season of team control remaining — and Kennedy comes with a significant salary cost of $16.5 million.

Kansas City’s closer was superb in relief last season, though. In 63 ⅓ innings, Kennedy posted a 3.41 ERA with a 2.99 FIP. The converted starter has found a role in relief that works for him and while he’s expensive, he could really help a contender. Kennedy also averaged 10.37 K/9 and just 2.42 BB/9 on the season as well.

Giles, on the other hand, should cost a pretty significant prospect return, and it’s unclear whether Toronto is still open to making a deal before the season. The 29-year-old posted a 1.87 ERA with a 2.27 FIP for the Blue Jays last season. The 6´3´´, 210-pound righty averaged a whopping 14 K/9 with 2.89 BB/9 as well. He threw 53 innings and would be a huge upgrade for the White Sox. Givens is in a similar spot on a bad AL East club, but the Orioles would definitely trade him under the right circumstances. The 29-year-old posted a 4.57 ERA with a 3.62 xFIP in 63 innings for the Orioles in 2019. He also averaged 12.3 K/9 on the year and his stuff is still a factor.

Current Mix

The White Sox bullpen fared decently in 2019 and finished the season in the middle of the pack of the American League in most statistical categories. Arb-eligible Alex Colomé and Evan Marshall don’t have their 2020 salary figures yet, but they seem likely to return to the club. They’ll be joined by righthander Kelvin Herrera and southpaws Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry.

Colomé is expected to earn around $10 million in his final season of arbitration. The 30-year-old righty posted a 2.80 ERA last year, but his peripherals weren’t kind and he’s likely in for some regression. Colomé’s strikeout rate was down as he averaged 8.11 K/9 and 3.39 BB/9. In 61 innings, he posted a 4.08 FIP with a 45% ground ball rate, and his stuff deteriorated some over the course of the season; his Baseball Savant page illustrates that some trouble could be on the horizon.

Given his overall performance in 2019 Colomé will return as the closer in 2020, but his numbers indicate that an upgrade might be essential. He finished in the 30th percentile in fastball velocity and 23rd percentile in fastball spin rate. Colomé’s strikeout rate falls in the 45th percentile, while his hard-hit rate was in the 12th percentile range. He still gets outs, but he was also in the 2nd percentile in exit velocity last year — a huge concern going forward.

Under contract for $8.5 million next year is 29-year-old righthander Kelvin Herrera, and he’ll be counted on in some capacity as well. The 5´10´´, 200-pounder struggled last year working his way back from a lower leg injury, posting an ERA of 6.14 with a 4.58 FIP. He did throw 51 ⅓ innings and averaged 9.29 K/9, but also 4.03 BB/9. Herrera has a long track record of success, and was clearly battling last year. He should be better in 2020 based on his late season results, but counting on him as an integral part of the bullpen mix might be foolish.

Former 19th-rounder Aaron Bummer had his breakout campaign in 2019 with the White Sox. The 26-year-old southpaw posted a 2.13 ERA with a 3.41 FIP and compiled 1.3 fWAR on the season. The 6´3´´, 200-pound lefty averaged 8 K/9 while displaying a stellar 72.1% ground ball rate in almost 68 innings pitched. Bummer was very good vs righties last year, but was death on lefthanders (.178/.213/.233).

Jace Fry was a third round pick of the White Sox out of Oregon State in 2016. He’s strictly a reliever now after undergoing two Tommy John surgeries, and he struggled in 2019 after a breakout season the year prior. The 26-year-old has elite spin on his fastball but posted a 4.75 ERA with a 4.41 xFIP in 2019. The southpaw averaged 11.13 K/9 but also 7.04 BB/9 in 55 innings with the Sox last year. Left-handed pitching is an organizational weakness at the moment, and Fry should lock up a spot on the 2020 squad fairly easily.

Evan Marshall was a bit of a revelation last season. The 29-year-old righthander posted just a 4.30 FIP but his statcast data was very positive as well. The 6´2´´, 225-pounder posted a 2.49 ERA and averaged 7.28 K/9 in 2019. Marshall threw 50 ⅔ innings and should be a lock to return once pitchers and catchers report. Marshall is projected to earn just more than $1 million in arbitration. Marshall falls in the 81st percentile in curveball spin, 78th percentile in fastball spin, 90th percentile in exit velocity and 89th percentile in hard-hit rate.

Internal Options

Non-roster invitees to spring training haven’t been announced yet, but the organization has gotten lucky finding contributors from that pile in recent years. Looking at the 40-man roster, Zack Burdi, Jimmy Cordero, Dylan Covey, Matt Foster, Carson Fulmer, Tayron Guerrero, Ian Hamilton, Kodi Medeiros, and José Ruiz will be given an opportunity to make the 2020 club.

Cordero pitched well last year after being claimed on waivers in June. The 28-year-old righty throws really hard (95th percentile in fastball velocity). The 6´4´´, 222-pounder posted a 2.89 ERA with a 3.69 xFIP in 2019. Cordero was very solid to close out the year and he threw almost 38 innings down the stretch. He has a solid shot to pitch for the 2020 club, but he’s out of options at present.

Another hard thrower and recent addition that is also out of options is former Marlins flamethrower Guerrero. Guerrero was claimed off of waivers earlier this offseason, and he’ll have an opportunity this spring as well. The 28-year-old falls in the 100th percentile in fastball velocity but he posted a 6.26 ERA last year. He was hit hard and often, and averaged 7.04 BB/9 with Miami.

Fulmer was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Things haven’t gone well since for the former Commodore. The 26-year-old righthander posted a 6.26 ERA with a 6.29 FIP with the White Sox last year. He averaged 8.23 K/9, but 6.59 BB/9 as well. Carson threw 34 innings with the Charlotte Knights as well and averaged 13.5 K/9, 5.5 BB/9 and a 3.24 FIP. Fulmer’s spin rates are elite (88th percentile in curveball spin and 91st percentile in fastball spin) but his command is too erratic to put them to use consistently. Fulmer is also out of options, and could find himself on another team soon.

Covey, like Fulmer, has gotten lots of chances and the White Sox just can’t decide what role is best for him. He could be outrighted off of the roster once further additions are made and offer depth in Triple-A. Kodi Medeiros is a young lefty who will be given an opportunity in spring training. The first-rounder has failed as a starter, but met some success after transitioning to the bullpen last season.

Ruiz is another young, hard thrower who is short on experience but long on stuff. He was given a pretty decent-sized leash last year and likely gets an opportunity again. Ruiz possesses minor league options and could help to fill out the Knights bullpen to start the season. Foster was protected in advance of December’s Rule 5 draft, and he’ll be in the mix as well. The 24-year-old threw 55 innings for the Knights and posted a 3.76 ERA while averaging more than 10 K/9.

There will be many options for the 2020 Chicago White Sox to use out of the bullpen. Any of Reynaldo López, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón could pitch some meaningful relief innings at some point, however unlikely that seems. Chances are, the South Side decision makers will make a couple of additions to the bullpen before the start of the season to enhance their chances of holding leads and winning games. Some prospects could shine and force their way into the mix as well.

The higher-leverage options in the bullpen appear to be set until upgrades can be made, possibly not until the summer. The best outcome for this club, though, would be getting serious help from within. Burdi and Hamilton are hard-throwing righties coming back from injuries in 2018. If either pitcher can round themselves into form, they could be mainstays in Chicago for a long time. After them, Tyler Johnson and Codi Heuer are fairly recent draft picks who could be knocking on the door to a bullpen audition as well.

 

What’s next on the shopping list for the White Sox?

Next up? According to recent rumors, Edwin Encarnación (seen here with the Blue Jays) could be the next major free agent signing for the White Sox. (@encadwin) 


Thus far, the White Sox have enjoyed quite the productive offseason. They’ve inked a four-year deal with All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal, re-signed and extended All-Star José Abreu, signed Gio González for a fifth starter role, and just picked up former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel on a three-year deal with a fourth-year option.

While most of the heavy lifting has been done, there are still needs that the White Sox might address. Included among these are either one or two relievers, and either a platoon right fielder or DH. Below is a list of potential options in these areas that could still be added.   


Relief Pitchers

With the increase to 26-man rosters for the upcoming season, it’s expected that teams will go with 13-man pitching staffs. Assuming the five-man rotation will include Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo López, Dylan Cease and Gio González (with Carlos Rodón and Michael Kopech ready later in the season), the White Sox have six near-locks for the bullpen, barring injury: Alex Colomé, Aaron Bummer, Kelvin Herrera, Jimmy Cordero, Evan Marshall and Jace Fry. When considering these six guys, three are coming off career years (Bummer, Cordero and Marshall) while two suffered through a difficult 2019 (Herrera and Fry) The other two spots, as of now, will be a battle among the likes of Tayron Guerrero, José Ruiz, Carson Fulmer and Dylan Covey (all but Covey have no minor-league options remaining). Thus, with so much uncertainty, it would behoove the White Sox to pursue a reliever or two in this year’s free agent class. Here’s a list of this writer’s top relief choices still available:

Dellin Betances: If he had his prototypical All-Star season in 2019, he’d already be off the board. He basically missed the entire season due to non-elbow related injuries, but according to several reports, should be ready before spring training. Betances possesses wipeout stuff as illustrated by his career 14.6 K%. His career 2.36 ERA and 2.31 FIP are nearly identical. MLB Trade Rumors projected him to receive a one-year, $7 million deal, which seems a little on the light side. Betances would give the White Sox a four-time All Star and power arm who throws more far more strikes than the recently-acquired Guerrero. As an added bonus, as a former Yankee, he likely knows how to get Twins hitters out.

Daniel Hudson: Remember this guy? Hudson was the White Sox fifth rounder who was traded way back in 2010 with David Holmberg for the well-traveled Edwin Jackson. Hudson’s the prototypical six-teams-in-11-seasons reliever, but may have just finished his best season last year, for the world champs. His numbers indicated he pitched in some excellent luck last year (2.47 combined ERA but 3.97 FIP with Toronto and Washington), so Hudson could be in for some regression. His 8.8 K/9 ratio was solid, and it seems he’s only getting better. MLB Trade Rumors projected him for two years, $12 million. He’d be a good acquisition due to his experience in both low and high-leverage situations.    

Will Harris: At 35 Harris is the oldest player on this list, but actually enjoyed the best 2019. For the Astros, all he did was post a 1.50 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. He did pitch in some luck (3.15 FIP), but aside from the freakishly-low ERA, Harris’ numbers were similar to his eight-year career averages. And it’s not like his career ERA is bad (2.84). Despite his gaudy numbers, it’s likely Harris could be acquired for a two-year deal due to his age.

Collin McHugh: McHugh’s a bit of an outlier here, because he had a down year in 2019 with the Astros (4.70 ERA, 4.43 WHIP) although he did post some impressive strikeout numbers in his swingman role (9.9 K/9). He’s just four years removed from a 19-win season, and did provide a nifty 1.99 ERA in 58 relief outings in 2018. He would give the White Sox yet continued depth in the rotation while providing another strikeout-oriented hurler in the pen. 

Steve Cishek: Yet another guy who could likely be acquired for no more than two years due to his age (33), Cishek posted a 2.95 ERA for the Cubs despite an unsightly 4.54 FIP. The sidearmer has a 2.52 ERA over the past four seasons, second only to Kenley Jansen during that time. Cishek’s strikeout and walk rates have been moving in the wrong direction, but he’s a high spin rate guy whose success comes from weak contact. He ranks in the 99th percentile in terms of opponent exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, as in 2019 Cishek’s average exit velocity of 84.5 mph ranked fourth in all of MLB.

Brandon Kintzler: Kintzler is another Cubs free agent who’s long in the tooth (35). He’s been consistently good throughout his career, as his 10-year totals suggest (3.37 ERA and 1.25 WHIP). For 2019, he posted a 2.68 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. While this veteran wouldn’t be a bad choice, all of the above options would be better fits.     


Right Field/DH Options

As of this moment, Nomar Mazara seems penciled in as the team’s right fielder, or at least as the lefty platoon at that position paired with with Leury García or Adam Engel. Zack Collins is the favorite right now as the lefty part of a DH platoon, with fellow catcher James McCann as his counterpart. Last year, the White Sox had among the worst all-time stats at both positions, and while Mazara/García and Collins/McCann platoons wouldn’t help but improve upon last year’s ugly numbers, there are still multiple options that could really add terrific finishing touches to this offseason. 

Edwin Encarnación: Obviously a 1B/DH option at this point of his career, Encarnacion can still rake. Combined with Cleveland and the Yankees last year, he slashed .244/.344/.531 with 34 homers and 86 RBIs in just 109 games. Despite missing time due to injuries, he still posted an impressive 2.5 fWAR and 129 wRC+. With Encarnación turning 37 in June, it’s likely he’ll accept a one-year deal for less than $10 million. As a result, this signing won’t impede Andrew Vaughn from potentially making the 2021 roster. This deal would likely relegate McCann to a backup catcher role and send Collins back to Charlotte.     

Yasiel Puig: Puig’s significantly younger than Encarnación (29), but may be willing to accept a one-year deal on a contending club. He likely won’t do so, however, if assuming a role as a platoon player. If the White Sox added him, it would likely be insert him as the full-time right fielder (thereby creating a potential Mazara/McCann platoon at DH). Puig posted a 1.2 fWAR and 102 wRC+, which pale in comparison to Encarnación’s. His offensive numbers in 2019, though, weren’t bad: .267/.327/.458 in 149 games with 30 doubles, 24 homers, 76 RBIs, 19 stolen bases. As a Cuban, he’d join fellow natives Abreu, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada and Yasmani Grandal. However, the biggest concern for Puig is that his “exuberance” could create friction in the clubhouse, and this in part leads to why he could accept a one-year deal in the right situation. 

Eric Thames: Thames likely isn’t good enough defensively to supplant Mazara in right field, but he could make spot starts there, along with playing first base. In 2019 for the Brewers, the switch-hitter slashed .247/.346/.505 with 23 doubles, 25 homers, 67 RBIs, 1.9 fWAR and a wRC+ of 116. He likely would be the lefty platoon DH on the White Sox, splitting time primarily with McCann.  

Yoenis Cespedes: Cespedes could be available via trade with the New York Mets, and could be had for a relatively minor prospect. Thanks in part to a injury grievance settlement, he’ll only be paid $11 million this year. When healthy, Cespedes has produced big numbers. As recently as 2017, when he played in only 81 games, he posted an outstanding 131 wRC+ with 17 homers and 46 RBIs. With his foot injuries, Cespedes would be best suited for a DH. This would be quite the risk for a one-year deal compared to surer propositions like Encarnación and Puig, but it wasn’t that long ago (2016) that Cespedes posted a 3.7 fWAR and 136 wRC+ by swatting by slashing .280/.354/.530 with 31 homers. He also happens to be a Cuban native.

Hunter Pence: Pence enjoyed something of a renaissance with the Rangers last year, as he slashed .297/.358/.552 with 17 doubles, 18 homers, 53 RBIs, 1.8 fWAR and 128 wRC+ in just 83 games. He fared even better against southpaws: .327/.378/.636. It’s unclear how much the 36-year-old has left in the tank, as he appeared done with the Giants as recently as 2018. However, for a right-handed platoon option at either right field or DH, Pence could be worth a look for an affordable one-year deal.    

Corey Dickerson: In an injury-riddled season split between two teams this year, Dickerson slashed .304/.341/.565 with 28 doubles, 12 homers, 1.0 fWAR and 127 wRC+ in just 79 games. His best year was arguably in 2017 with Tampa Bay, when he slashed .282/.325/.490 with 27 homers and 84 RBIs. His defensive metrics haven’t been that great aside from 2018, but he’s easily better than Mazara though Dickerson has played more frequently in left. His acquisition would shift Mazara to the left-handed DH role.

Kole Calhoun: Often discussed as a potential free agent pick due to his power numbers and left-handedness, Calhoun still could be had for a one-year deal. While not Gold Glove-caliber anymore, the 32-year-old is still better defensively than Mazara. He posted a 108 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR in 2019, thanks in part to 29 doubles and 32 homers. However, he did hit for a low average (.232) and fanned over 160 times.

Nicholas Castellanos: Castellanos enjoyed an outstanding 2019 offensively by slashing .289/.337/.525 with 58 doubles, 27 homers, and 100 RBIs. Despite his rough defensive analytics which have been well-publicized and warranted, Castellanos still posted a solid 2.8 fWAR and 121 wRC+. Most projections have him getting up to a four-year deal somewhere around $65 million, which may put him out of range for the White Sox. He’d be an impressive offensive force and would truly be best served as a DH, possibly playing right field against southpaws so that McCann or Grandal could DH in those instances. The White Sox seem committed to Vaughn and Abreu at DH and first base beginning in 2021, so it’s not likely the team will want to saddle Robert with Jiménez and Castellanos defensivelym either.

J.D. Martinez: Martinez, with $62.5 million and three years left in his current deal with the Red Sox, presents a similar situation to Castellanos, with two exceptions. The White Sox would have to trade for Martinez (although they likely wouldn’t have to part with much, as Boston desperately wants to reduce its overall salary) and he has an additional option year after the 2020 season. Martinez is a professional hitter and defensive liability, and even in an off-year, he posted an outstanding 3.2 fWAR and 139 wRC+, slashing .304/.383/.557 with 33 doubles, 36 homers, 105 RBIs and 72 walks. The White Sox could really use that bat, but would the team acquire him knowing that Vaughn may be just a year or two away?

Marcell Ozuna: Unlike Castellanos and Martinez, Ozuna could make a case for being a full-time right fielder despite playing most of his games in left. Though he’s not above-average in the outfield anymore, he’s likely adequate enough to play there while shifting Mazara to the DH spot. In slashing .243/.330/.474 for the Cardinals this year with 29 homers and 89 RBIs, Ozuna posted a 2.6 fWAR and 110 wRC+. It likely would take a three- or four-year commitment to ink him to a deal, but would the White Sox be willing to lose a second-round pick and international bonus pool money to do so? Now that the team’s already acquired Mazara, it doesn’t seem likely.


Summary

Edwin Encarnación on a one-year contract, with a second-year option in case neither Andrew Vaughn nor Gavin Sheets appear ready to begin 2021, is the best option for the White Sox.This would mean Zack Collins would begin the 2020 season in Charlotte, but he should be ready for backup catcher duties in 2021. As for the bullpen, Dellin Betances and Collin McHugh are the smartest picks.

With that said, any one of the players mentioned could only benefit the White Sox for the next year. Imagine the following 26-man roster, once Robert and Madrigal are on the team:

Starters: Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo López, Dylan Cease, Gio González

Relievers: Alex Colomé, Aaron Bummer, Dellin Betances, Kelvin Herrera, Jimmy Cordero, Jace Fry, Evan Marshall, Collin McHugh

Catchers: Yasmani Grandal, James McCann

Infielders: José Abreu, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada, Edwin Encarnación, Danny Mendick

Outfielders: Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Nomar Mazara, Adam Engel, Leury García

Injured List: Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodón

Several players will be off the books after the 2020 season (Colomé, Herrera, McCann, García and possibly González, Betances, McHugh and Mazara depending if options are accepted and/or arbitration is tendered. Many of these guys could be replaced cheaply in 2021 by in-house prospects like Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton, Zack Collins, Codi Heuer, Tyler Johnson and Dane Dunning, to name just a few. Thus, even with extending some of our key players, the White Sox should have plenty of money to splurge on premier outfielders (Mookie Betts and George Springer immediately come to mind) if the need should arise.


 

 

Fixing a Hole: White Sox still looking to patch rotation

Who’s on the South Side starters short list to sign? This guy! (@HyunJinRyu99)


Zack Wheeler is truly the one who got away for the Chicago White Sox.

A swift and sudden deviation from the franchise’s free agent strategy was evident after the embarrassing escapade involving the pursuit of Manny Machado last winter, with many fans sick of hearing about the White Sox settling for second and bragging about being hypothetical bridesmaids.

Atypical to the Machado discussions, the front office handled the Wheeler negotiations like a large-market operation should. With Wheeler, the organization was out in front of the pack and jumped the marketplace in a similar fashion to how they landed free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal in November. Cold, hard cash had more to do with the early signing than anything else, and a similar plan was put together to land the 29-year-old righthander.

There were many reports linking the White Sox to Wheeler prior the Winter Meetings, more fact than fiction as the front office was bearing down on its top pitching target. But after offering five years and $125 million and making a significant gamble on upside, the White Sox were spurned once again. For no fault of their own, Wheeler ended up remaining closer to his family on the East Coast and the White Sox were left pondering what the future would entail without their pitching prize.

The front office had reason to believe that a deal with Wheeler appeared imminent — until he changed course. The South Side decision makers have lost out similarly for pitchers like Jordan Lyles and Wade Miley who chose a destination (Texas) or familiarity (Cincinnati) instead of taking the money to play in Chicago. These things happen every year in free agency, and not only to the White Sox.

The organization will have to take the arrows that they’ve rightfully earned after 11 straight seasons without a playoff appearance. The White Sox just haven’t secured the trust of their fanbase, regardless of how sound their 2020 free agent plan actually was. People don’t like to be told how to act, but irrationality is at an all-time high in response to the perceived inaction by the club on the pitching front. A minor league signing as minute as Ross Detwiler‘s return had social media in an uproar, despite the need for depth at Triple-A Charlotte being an offseason necessity as well.


Salvageable winter for Sox? 

There are still two free agent starters on the market who would offer the White Sox a stabilizing force in the middle of their young rotation going forward. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score has reported on the club’s interest in lefties Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com wrote a detailed piece on Scott Boras’ remaining clients, and the two southpaws are among them.

According to Feinsand, Boras seems to be focused on getting deals completed. “The pitching market has obviously been fast and furious as it was from the start,” Boras says. “Clubs are identifying their needs, and we’re certainly narrowing the corridor of finality. It could happen soon.” While baseball’s most recognizable power agent wouldn’t disclose the names of interested parties, Feinsand listed the White Sox as one of the primary suitors for both pitchers.

Ryu signed with the Dodgers back in 2013 after pitching multiple seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. He just completed his best season as a professional after compiling a 4.8 fWAR and finishing in second for the National League Cy Young Award. The 6´3´´, 255-pound southpaw has battled myriad injuries in his time pitching in the United States. He was mostly healthy in his 182 ⅔ innings last season. The 32-year-old lefty posted a 2.32 ERA with a 3.10 FIP. Ryu only threw 82 ⅓ innings in 2018 but posted a 1.97 ERA in that limited time. That innings total was fewer than 2017, when he threw 126.

Keuchel’s market was nonexistent at a price point that suited him last offseason, so he signed a one-year placemarker deal late and joined the Atlanta Braves after the All-Star break in 2019. The 31-year-old southpaw no longer has a draft pick attached to his services, making his market more vibrant this time around. The 6´3´´, 205-pounder posted a 3.75 ERA with a 4.06 xFIP in 112 ⅔ innings last year. However, Keuchel hasn’t been the same since his 5.7 fWAR campaign for the Astros back in 2015.

Keuchel has a solid reputation as a teammate and has a long history of working positively with younger starters. He still induces lots of ground balls and would fit in nicely as a stabilizing force in the middle of the White Sox rotation. After seeing the deals already inked on the free agent market, it appears that Dallas would be seeking a four-year contract at a similar annual average value to what Madison Bumgarner pulled down in Arizona.

Another rumored name to fill the gaping hole in the rotation is Boston’s David Price. Feinsand and others have also linked the former Commodore to the White Sox in trade discussions. The Red Sox have indicated a need to get under the competitive balance tax, and shedding some of his exorbitant salary could be one way to appease the wishes of ownership. It doesn’t seem likely that new baseball operations chief Chaim Bloom would attach a guy like Andrew Benintendi to move Price’s deal, but Boston could offer to pay down the contract substantially.

The rumor is that Boston might be willing to eat $30 million of Price’s contract, and a three-year, $66 million outlay would be much more palatable for the White Sox. Price is a leader and lauded as a fantastic teammate. The 34-year-old former first overall pick is recovering from wrist surgery but should be ready for spring training. The southpaw posted a 2.3 fWAR with a 3.62 FIP and averaged almost 11 K/9, making him an attractive alternative if things don’t work out on the free agent market.


Insulating the rotation

According to reports, a familiar face will be playing his home games at 35th and Shields for the first time.

The White Sox drafted González with the 38th overall pick back in 2004. He’s never actually pitched a game with the big league club, but this is his third spin with the organization. The 34-year-old lefty offers insulation to a starting rotation in need of two veterans. González is a back-end starter at this point in his career, a fly ball pitcher who walks too many guys, but he posted a 3.50 ERA and accumulated 1.4 fWAR in 87 innings with the Brewers last year. He’s also familiar with new catcher Grandal and is said to be an excellent teammate.

González is a move in the same vein as Wade Miley or Martin Perez would have been. The White Sox need to procure two starters this offseason. The order in which they do so isn’t important. The perceived lack of a Plan B for the organization has ruffled the feathers of an impatient fan base that is ready to win. The organization has a stated goal of adding two starters this winter, and they should be held to that platitude. The quest for another starter should continue as this latest González contract becomes finalized.

Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón will likely pitch at some point for the 2020 Chicago White Sox. Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert are on the mend from elbow surgery and should be knocking on the door as well. The starting rotation at the conclusion of next season will look much different than it looks currently. While the same figures at the top of the organization remain, the franchise as a whole is much different.

The decision makers stated a need for starting pitching, and they meant it. González is a step in the right direction. Will the front office make a trade for a former Cy Young winner, or destroy its Boras narrative instead?

The team’s intention is to add someone to their rotation who is better than what they’ve already added. The time to prove it is now.

 

Thank you, Yolmer Sánchez!

A decade of fun and laughter: The White Sox gave him a chance, and Yolmer Sánchez has capitalized on it for the past 10 years. (Ashley Sanders)


As my favorite Chicago White Sox player, the recent moves surrounding Yolmer Sánchez have been difficult to comprehend. Instead of dwelling on something that I cannot control, I decided to go back and research (with the tremendous help from Baseball-Reference) Sánchez’s progress throughout the Sox organization and celebrate the life that he has given to his team and fans.

Sánchez became a member of the Chicago White Sox organization on May 6, 2009. At the time, Sánchez was known as “Carlos”: A 16-year-old, switch-hitting infielder looking for a chance to make it to The Show. (For respect toward his name, Sánchez will be referred to as “Yolmer” throughout the article.)

The timeline of Sánchez’s impact as a member of the White Sox:

2009-11

For his first two years in the organization, Yolmer played for the Dominican Summer League and the Appalachian League. By 2011, Sánchez made his way out of rookie ball, playing second base and shortstop for the Low-A Kannapolis Intimidators.

For the four months (June-September) that Sánchez was in Kannapolis, he batted .288/.341/.345. He accumulated 76 hits in 63 games, snagged seven bags, and even shot a long ball into the stands! As for his defense, Sánchez had a .980 fielding percentage at second base (53 games) and a .949 fielding percentage at shortstop (10 games).

2012

Sánchez’s early success propelled him to start with the High-A Winston-Salem Dash for the beginning of the 2012 season. From April to July, Yolmer slashed .315/.374/.395 in 92 games. With 19 stolen bases, six triples, and another home run, Sánchez was promoted to the Birmingham Barons (Double-A). In 30 games, Sánchez’s batting line looked like this: .370/.424/.462. On the up-and-up again, Yolmer traveled to his third minor league team in just one baseball year, the Triple-A Charlotte Knights.

At 20, Sánchez was one of the youngest players in Triple-A. The actual youngest at the time? Mike Trout, 19.

In a limited, 11-game window, Sánchez batted .256/.256/.308. Collectively, Sánchez was positioned at shortstop for 68 games and second base for 60, where he was credited with .967 and .982 fielding percentages, respectively. He aided 46 double plays at short and 39 at second. Overall, 2012 saw Yolmer surging through the ranks, as he was firing on all cylinders.

Sánchez did participate in the Sox’s Arizona Fall League, and played winter Venezuelan baseball to cap off his successful 2012 campaign.

2013

Yolmer started and ended his 2013 season with the Charlotte Knights, continuing where he left off the year prior. In 112 games, Yolmer slashed .241/.293/.296. He still saw roughly even playing time at short and second. Playing 52 games at shortstop, Sánchez had a .943 fielding percentage; for the 61 games at second base, Sánchez fielded .983. He was a part of 67 total double plays, and he only committed four errors while playing second.

For the third straight year, Sánchez went on to play winter ball in Venezuela.

2014

For the second straight year, Sánchez started the season with Charlotte. He played 110 games, all the while fighting to not fall back into organizational filler status. After a disappointing offensive 2013, Sánchez performed to the high standards of a .293/.349/.412 batting line. Yolmer played twice at third, 44 games at short and 64 games at second with outstanding fielding percentages across the board.

Establishing himself as a reliable defender and an uprising hitter, Sánchez received the call in July and made his way to The Show!

On July 13, 2014, Sánchez donned No. 77 in his major league debut for the Chicago White Sox, a team who had all the faith in a Venezuelan teenager. Batting second and playing shortstop, Sánchez began a five-year stint in the majors. Unfortunately, he went went 0-for-5, popping out to second base in his first plate appearances and striking out twice. However, Yolmer was perfect in the field, foreshadowing his incredible skill that would eventually earn him a Gold Glove in 2019.

In his second major league baseball game on August 2, Sánchez secured his first major league hit, a single to right field off of Detroit’s Shane Greene, in a 3-for-4 performance!

Sanchez Rookie Season.JPG

On September 27, 2014, I snapped a shot of my favorite player for years to come. Note the lack of accent mark on the jersey in those less-enlightened days. (Ashley Sanders)

Sánchez finished the rest of the 2014 season with the White Sox. He played 28 games: one at short and 27 at second base. He recorded an almost-perfect fielding percentage of .992 at second. Offensively, Yolmer batted .250/.269/.300.

Once again, Sánchez went to Venezuela to play winter ball for the Tiburones de La Guaira to finish his 2014 baseball campaign.

2015

When the 2015 season came rolling into view, Sánchez started his year with the Sox (debuting his new No. 5 jersey). However, it was a short-lived stint from April 8 to April 10, heading back to Charlotte from April 12 to May 13. Not losing any hope for a long-term major-league stay, Sánchez put together a .344/.368/.466 batting line back on the farm. With 26 games at second base, Sánchez put together a .980 fielding percentage, and he played perfect defense at third base for three games.

Tearing up the minors as he did, the White Sox brought Sánchez back up to the big leagues. And shortly into his second stint of the season with the Sox, Sánchez made a major impact.

Sanchez 2015.JPG

On July 11, 2015, Yolmer Sánchez signed a baseball for me down in St. Pete, my very first player autograph. (Ashley Sanders) 

Later that month, my man, Yolmer Homer, ripped a long ball to the stands!

The following day, this happened:

Hyping my No. 1:

Selfie Sunday Sanchez

Arguably the best-ever promotion by the White Sox (#SelfieSunday) gave me another chance to meet Sánchez, on Aug. 30, 2015. (Ashley Sanders)

Sanchez Photo Bomb

Sánchez photobombed a picture featuring my Mom, Avisaíl García, and me. (Ashley Sanders)

First Selfie with Sanchez

Sánchez and I snapped a selfie, a tradition for many years to come. (Ashley Sanders)

Sánchez finished the 2015 season playing 120 games with the South Siders. He batted .224/.268/.326, crushing five home runs, notching a triple, and going 2-for-2 in steals. Defensively, Sánchez played all his games at second base, securing a .990 fielding percentage. Overall, he made a lifelong fan.

Winter 2015 was the last time Sánchez ventured back to his home country to play winter ball.

2016

In order to improve his bat, Sánchez started his 2016 campaign with the Knights. He played 61 games, racking up a .255/.309/.421 batting line, with a .984 fielding percentage between short and second base. Staying true to pattern, Sánchez found his way back to the majors … twice!

And after the July 27 call-up, Sánchez was up with Chicago to stay.

He played 53 games with the Sox that season. He put up a disappointing slash line of .208/.236/.357 with four home runs, but Sánchez did not lose hope.

2017

Before the 2017 season, Sánchez was asked, for the first time in his professional career, how he would like to be addressed. He responded with, “Yolmer,” and a resurgence of Sánchez occurred!

#LeadoffYolmerHomer

Sánchez played 141 games in 2017 with a much-improved batting line: .267/.319/.413. He hit a career-high 12 homers on the season (#YolmerHomer) and had a career-high 59 RBIs. Splitting time between second base (78 games) and third base (52 games) (with two outfield appearances and one at shortstop), Yolmer had .981 and .977 fielding percentages, respectively. This was his best season as a South Sider. Overall he established himself as a reliable, dependable player in his first full season with the White Sox.

2018

This influence carried over into the 2018 season where Sánchez earned his first ever spot in the Opening Day lineup! He started at third base, his primary position of the season. Having a solidified spot in the lineup, Yolmer went on to have another impactful year.

Yolmer April 2018

The first Yolmer selfie of the 2018 season (April 23)! (Ashley Sanders)

And Yolmer kicked off the season with the most iconic Gatorade celebration of the century:

Yolmer Father's Day 2018.JPG

Father’s Day selfie. (Ashley Sanders)

Back at St. Pete where it all began:

The goofy shenanigans strike again:

When I thought that I couldn’t love Yolmer any more than I already do:

Silly Yolmer

Sept. 1, 2018 was one of the best days of my life. (Ashley Sanders)

When 2018 came to a close, Sánchez put up a .242/.306/.372 batting line with eight long balls and 55 RBIs. He recorded a hat trick for career-highs in games played, plate appearances, and triples: 155, 662, and 10, respectively. In fact, Sánchez and Mallex Smith led the American League with 10 triples apiece.

Christmas Sanchez

Best Christmas present ever. (Ashley Sanders)

2019

For a second straight season, Yolmer Sánchez earned a spot in the Opening Day lineup. Uncharacteristically, Sánchez made four errors within the first 10 games, but had only five the rest of the season.

Sanchez Selfie 2019

Another season, another Sánchez selfie (June 15, 2019)! (Ashley Sanders)

Another year, another trip to St. Pete:

Game recognizing game:

Game Recognizes Game

Icons

Sanchez Autograph

Sánchez wrapped up the 2019 season hitting .252/.318/.321 and came in clutch a few times this season:

His fielding percentage was .987, and he aided in a career-high 108 double plays, and he made many beautiful plays like this:

With his tremendous showing as a second baseman, Sánchez earned the Rawlings Gold Glove Award for 2019, beating out finalists DJ LeMahieu and José Altuve.

From his 10 years playing baseball as a member of the White Sox organization, Yolmer Sánchez brought an infectious personality, a reliable glove, and a guy who meets with the fans before every single baseball game. He has accumulated a 8.6 WAR in his major league career. He’s batting .244/.299/.357, and he has hit 31 #YolmerHomers. His career fielding percentage sits at .986 for second base, and he helped turn 330 double plays. At 27 years old, there is still room for growth. His personality and glove-dependability almost ensured himself as a piece to this team’s future … until the bad news dropped:

It’s a bitter business, and it’s a shame that Sánchez has become a free agent. Forever the optimist, I hope by some miracle that Yolmer is signed back into the South Side. Regardless, he is a player who deserves to be on a team by the time spring training rolls around. I’ll be rooting for him no matter where he goes.

I would like to thank Yolmer for bringing life to the organization, hustling during every play, and for being a fan’s favorite player. He gave me someone to root for, and for all his kind acts, this is the least I can do to illustrate my gratitude.

Here’s to Yolmer Sánchez!

 

A weird and wonderful fit: Edwin Encarnacion in Pale Hose

All business: Encarnación is all about mashing. Think he’d fit in a weak White Sox offense? (@desusnice)


While the decision-makers at 35th and Shields are likely working feverishly to fill vacant spots in the starting rotation, another offensive upgrade is ready to be fitted in black and white.

Nomar Mazara was added to the outfield mix recently, and while the acquisition didn’t aptly whet the appetite of White Sox fans, it’s an upgrade nonetheless. White Sox right fielders accumulated a -1.3 fWAR last year with Leury García rounding out as the only positive contributor. The only thing worse than the club’s production in right field in 2019 was their production at designated hitter however.

The White Sox as a collective finished 17th in baseball, including dead last in the American League in fWAR (-3.5 fWAR) at the DH position. Two National League clubs performed better (albeit in a much smaller sample)! In 773 plate appearances, White Sox batters slashed .197/.275/.342 with a 64 wRC+ and .266 wOBA in the designated hitter role. Players presiding in this precarious position hit just 25 homers on the year as well. It’s not the most glamorous spot on the roster by any means, but putrid production stinks, no matter how it’s shaken.

During his media scrums in the initial stages of this important offseason, GM Rick Hahn bemoaned the production in right field and designated hitter. The architect of the 2020 roster made it a point of emphasis to state that those areas would be priorities this offseason, along with numerous additions to the pitching staff. The thirst for pitching hasn’t been quite quenched yet, but the club went away from its publicized target list with the signing of switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal. Grandal’s addition was welcomed and warranted, but it didn’t solve the stated trouble spots.


Multiple transactions weren’t officially filed while the front office vacationed in San Diego for baseball’s annual winter meetings, but that doesn’t mean work wasn’t being done. Veteran hardball scribe Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported on Thursday that the team’s brass met with the representatives for designated hitter Edwin Encarnación. EE is a free agent after spending last year with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. He would be an interesting roster fit if added, but provides a definitive upgrade at the dish.

Encarnación was a ninth-round pick of the Texas Rangers in the 2000 draft and made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2005. The 6´1´´, 230-pound, then-third baseman carved out a career after moving north of the border to play with the Blue Jays. The 36-year-old slugger has hit more than 30 homers in every season since 2012 and has compiled 414 during his career. Edwin possesses immense raw power but also has posted walk rates around 12% throughout his big league tenure.

In 2019, the Dominican hit .244/.344/.531 in 486 plate appearances for the Mariners and Yankees. Encarnacion’s season was cut short with a fractured wrist, but he still came to the plate 486 times. He posted a .363 wOBA with a 129 wRC+ and once again eclipsed the 30 home run-mark. He posted a 2.5 fWAR, largely attributed to his success vs LHP: a .969 OPS with a 152 wRC+ vs southpaws. The power presence is substantial from both sides but in 2019, Encarnación posted a staggering ISO% of .349.


Roster Gymnastics 

As the roster currently stands, the 26-man rule makes it easier to utilize a third catcher in the big leagues. Grandal will join José Abreu, James McCann and Zack Collins in Chicago’s DH mix. If Edwin Encarnacion were added, he would likely be the primary designated hitter and play most days. His bat would be essential in the lineup against left-handed pitching. According to Baseball Savant, Encarnacion places in the 69th percentile in exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. He’s also elite in xWOBA (78th percentile) and xSLG (83rd percentile).

It’s not likely that a club has ever truly had too many hitters or too much offense. Versatility is important, however, and while Encarnación can absolutely mash, the White Sox would be left with a multiplicity of the same type of performer to deal with. It seems likely that at the current juncture, McCann would either be catching or used in the DH spot against all lefties. McCann posted a 132 wRC+ vs southpaws during his All-Star campaign last year. Collins is in the mix as well and while he’s not a roster lock, he would likely serve as the DH vs righties if the season were to start tomorrow.

As the club’s first round pick in 2016, Collins likely gets a look in the big leagues in 2020. The 24-year-old, left-handed slugger posted a 140 wRC+ with the super ball in Triple-A Charlotte last year. He has big-time power potential and plate discipline (14% walk rate in Chicago) and could do some damage immediately vs. right handers.

Grandal has a long history of hitting all pitchers adequately. In 2019, the switch-hitting catcher posted a 138 wRC+ vs LHP to go along with a 114 wRC+ vs RHP. Grandal signed a $73 million contract with the White Sox this offseason, and his ability to hit and also play first base ensures him of a full season of plate appearances. Abreu is entering his seventh season with the club and his offensive profile is similar to that of Encarnación.

Encarnación gets on base more often, and Abreu hits for a higher average at this point. Both players possess premium power and they both destroyed lefties in 2019 (Abreu posted a 168 wRC+ vs left handers last year). It’s imperative that Abreu be in the lineup against all southpaws going forward. José was a league-average performer (99 wRC+) vs righties, though, and tough decisions on who gets into the lineup might have to be made if Encarnación were to be added to the mix.

When tough righties take the mound, Abreu should probably take a seat and wait for pinch-hitting opportunities. He wasn’t signed for $50 million last month to be a platoon player, though. There could be real lineup construction issues with Encarnación needing a spot for games where McCann ends up catching. But those are probably good problems for a team as offensively-challenged as the White Sox, though.

Dingers are fun, and Edwin Encarnación hits lots of them. As a subscriber to the methodology of the phrase, “Ball Go Far, Team Go Far,” EE would enhance the White Sox’s chances in 2020. Lineup construction can be worried about at a later date.

 

State of the White Sox bullpen as the Winter Meetings approach

Tag sale: The White Sox to take on Wade Davis’ salary, they likely can pick up a former elite closer for free. (YouTube)


With the news that Marcell Ozuna could be signing with the White Sox on Monday, it certainly looks as if the team has a chance to compete for a playoff spot in 2020. Adding Ozuna and Yasmani Grandal, along with the possibility of adding a couple of starting pitchers makes adding bullpen help a priority for the Sox this offseason.

While the 2019 edition of a bullpen wasn’t bad for the Sox, they lacked an ability to miss bats on a regular basis. Alex Colomé and Aaron Bummer were the back end options for the Sox in 2019, and while they were good, both of them pitch to contact and don’t pile up Ks. They both could be due for regression in 2020.

The Sox have a couple of other pieces on the roster that could be good options in 2020, such as Jimmy Cordero, Evan Marshall, and bounce-back candidates Kelvin Herrera and Jace Fry, but none of them beyond Herrera have track records as dominant bullpen pieces on a yearly basis in the bigs. Putting too much trust into those pieces without adding some outside help with upside could prove costly for the 2020 team.


Free agents

The free agent bullpeners who had the best years in 2019 look to be a bit redundant given what the Sox currently have in house. Will Harris (9.30K/9), Sergio Romo (8.95K/9), Sam Dyson (7.94K/9), Daniel Hudson (8.75K/9), and Brandon Kintzler (7.58K/9) are good pitchers, but might not be the smartest options for the Sox in free agency, at least as a main option. When the Sox are in late-inning, close-game situations, they need have guys that can get big strikeouts.

The most intriguing and talented option is Dellin Betances. Dellin has a big arm, is still young, and could be the perfect fit for the White Sox. Betances has a career 12.36 K/9, and from 2014-18 was absolutely dominant, posting a 1.40 ERA/1.64 FIP in 2014, 1.50 ERA/2.48 FIP in 2015, 3.08 ERA/1.78 FIP in 2016, 2.87 ERA/3.22 FIP in 2017, and 2.70 ERA/2.47 FIP in 2018. The problem? After dealing with shoulder and lat injuries that cost him most of 2019, Betances came back in September 2019 and promptly tore his Achilles after getting two outs. It was said to be a partial tear, and as far as Achilles injuries go, it shouldn’t be too serious of a recovery. But Jake Burger’s Achilles debacle was tough for the organization to swallow, so it may be hesitant to sign someone coming off of that type of injury. The injury also could present the Sox an opportunity to land an elite reliever at a non-elite price, which might be a chance they’re willing to take.


Minor league options

The White Sox do have some intriguing options in their system as it stands. Zack Burdi was taken after Zack Collins in the 2016 draft because of his huge arm. He elevated quickly through the system, and seemed primed for a chance to pitch in the bigs in 2017, before he tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. Burdi has had bumps in the road trying to come back from elbow surgery. He had a tough time regaining his big velocity, and tore his right patella tendon in June 2019. While Burdi has some work to do to prove he deserves to be with the big club in 2020, if he’s healthy and regains that big velocity, he has a chance to be a good one.

Tyler Johnson was another relief prospect who was elevating quickly through the system before a knee injury sidelined him for the first few months of 2019. Tyler finished last year with Birmingham, and had pretty good success. He has the ability to miss bats with his big fastball and good slider, and could be a midseason call-up candidate.

Ian Hamilton was another pitcher who was on the rise before injuries really hurt his status. He was dominating in hitter-friendly Charlotte in 2018 before he got a call-up. He didn’t have much initial success with the big club, but looked like 2019 was going to be a chance for him to shine. But freak injuries derailed his 2019, first with a car accident in spring training, then being struck with a line drive in the head after he made it back to action. Before the bad luck, Hamilton was impressing with a big fastball, and a pretty good slider. Maybe 2020 will be a bit kinder.

Zach Thompson is the other reliever who seems to have a chance. The big righthander was dominant in Birmingham to start the 2019 season, but hit a snag when he got to Charlotte. The hitter’s park and juiced baseball really hurt Thompson, as he gave up 14 homers in 75 ⅔ innings. The Sox converted Thompson to relief in 2018, and he dominated from the moment the change was made … until Charlotte. If Thompson proves he can make the adjustment in Charlotte at the beginning of 2019, a trip to Bridgeport could be in the works.


Trades

If the Sox are looking to trade for a relief pitcher, they would be looking at teams that probably aren’t looking to compete in 2020. If they want to find bullpen help, a trade might be the best route.

Elite Options include Josh Hader (2.62 ERA/3.10 FIP, 16.41 K/9), Liam Hendricks (1.63 ERA/1.82 FIP, 13.23 K/9), Brandon Workman 1.88 ERA/2.46 FIP, 13.06 K/9) and Ken Giles (1.87 ERA/2.27 FIP, 14.09 K/9). If the Sox decide to go this route, it will be costly in prospect capital. Of these pitchers, Hader would probably be the most costly because of age and contract status. A trade for Hader would probably cost the Sox their best prospect not named Luis Robert, and thus wouldn’t make sense. The other elites could possibly be obtained for a package centering around a tier-2 prospect like Dane Dunning or Jonathan Stiever. These types of deals would be more realistic at midseason, as the Sox would probably want to confirm that the team is competing before giving up real prospect capital in exchange for a relief pitcher.

Buy-low candidates are the type of guys who would make the most sense in the offseason. They fit the track record of the types of moves that the Sox front office likes to make as well. Andrew Miller (4.45 ERA/5.19 FIP, 11.52 K/9) and Wade Davis (8.65 ERA/5.56 FIP, 8.86 K/9) would be interesting options. Miller has been trending downward for the last couple of years, and has a lot of miles on his arm. Plus the Cardinals are a team with playoff aspirations. I wonder if they would welcome the salary relief, along with an interesting prospect in return like Luis Gonzalez or Blake Rutherford. Wade Davis’ second year with the Rockies was a miserable one, after signing a big contract in 2018. All of his numbers are down, and age could be catching up with him. But 2019 was a weird year: The ball was juiced, Denver is juiced, and there was some time on the IL for Davis as well. Two years ago with the Cubs, Davis was a much different pitcher (2.30 ERA/3.38 FIP, 12.12 K/9). Maybe getting out of the thin air would be just what the doctor ordered for Davis and the Sox. It wouldn’t take much to get Davis if the Sox offered to take on most of the contract.

Starter to reliever options would entail, for example, the Sox deciding to use Michael Kopech as a relief pitcher as he recovers from Tommy John. The Sox have a track record of using young starters in the bullpen before they start full-time, and Kopech could be a big weapon in a late-inning role. Reynoldo López would be another candidate to move to the bullpen. He has a big fastball, but has had trouble developing his secondary pitches. A move to the bullpen might allow López to focus on developing just one plus secondary pitch, as opposed to worrying about developing multiple secondaries. Plus López struggled with his concentration at times in 2019, so maybe one inning per outing would be a better option. Carlos Rodón also could be a bullpen option whenever he’s able to come back from his arm injury; another lefty in the pen is always good, and with Rodón’s injury history, a change in roles could be in the works.

 

What, if anything, should the White Sox offer Tsutsugo?

Potential target: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo could supply the White Sox with a reliable, left-handed bat. (Kyodo)


The White Sox have had an unusual amount of difficulty finding a viable player whose primary focus is hitting. The lineup appears to be on solid ground, but right field and designated hitter are exceptions. Another gap on the roster is the lack of solid bats from the left side of the plate.

Luckily, the White Sox understand the need to address these issues this offseason. Also, the White Sox have an opportunity to sign a player who can patch up both of those gaps without offering prospects or a nine-figure contract.

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who turned 28 last month, has been a force to be reckoned with in Japan’s Central League for several years. Tsutsugo broke into Japan’s highest level of play in 2010 at age 18, and though his career got off to a slow start, Tsutsugo has posted some supersized numbers at the plate near the tail end of the decade.

Season AVG OBP SLG wRC+
2019 .272 .388 .511 138
2018 .295 .393 .596 155
2017 .284 .396 .513 148
2016 .322 .430 .680 199
2015 .317 .400 .522 166

Source: Deltagraphs

Tsutsugo had a relatively quiet season on offense last season, with his lowest OBP since 2014. The good news is that even in a down year, Tsutsugo still posted a .388 OBP. Tsutsugo’s slash line last season was .272/.388/.511 (138 wRC+) with 29 home runs, which was still terrific by NPB standards. So far, the high point of Tsutsugo’s career was his 2016 campaign, when he slashed .322/.430/.680 (199 wRC+) with 7.5 WAR, easily a career high, per Deltagraphs. Though the NPB is not comparable to major league baseball, Tsutsugo has shown his potential to get on base and hit for power like very few others in Japan.

Defense is Tsutsugo’s largest issue, and that cannot be ignored. Near the beginning of his career, Tsutsugo’s ability at the corner outfield positions was decent, but that part of his game has declined. In 2019, his defensive value was an insane 25.0 runs below average.

Season Offensive RAA Defensive RAA WAR
2019 25.2 -25.0 1.5
2018 41.1 -20.6 3.6
2017 30.5 -11.3 3.6
2016 61.6 -4.7 7.5
2015 40.7 -19.0 3.9

Source: Deltagraphs

Based on FanGraphs positional adjustments, a full-time designated hitter over a 162-game season would earn a defensive value of 17.5 runs below average. NPB seasons are shorter (143 games), so if we apply the same rule there, the automatic penalty for DHs would be about 15.4 runs per full season (Tsutsugo has played between 131 and 139 games in each of the past five seasons). In other words, in both 2018 and 2019, Tsutsugo would have been more valuable as a designated hitter (the Central League, where Tsutsugo played, does not use a DH).

Though Tsutsugo can play right field in a pinch, he is not someone the White Sox should feel comfortable putting there on an everyday basis. However, Tsutsugo does not have to be an everyday right fielder to be useful for the White Sox. The White Sox’s hole at the DH slot is massive. According to FanGraphs, the White Sox got the least amount of production from designated hitters out of every team. With a .197/.275/.342 slash line (64 wRC+) and -3.5 fWAR, White Sox designated hitters were dreadful in every way, and the club desperately needs a player who can provide a reliable, left-handed bat without any other major responsibilities. Tsutsugo should fill that role admirably.

Tsutsugo will be 28 next season and should have quite a bit of good baseball remaining. Given Tsutsugo’s age, his slight decline in production at the plate last season should not be a cause for concern going forward. Finishing the rebuild will require some risk, and I would be happy to take a risk on Tsutsugo. The approximate value of 1.0 WAR on the free agent market is $8 million, and most are expecting Tsutsugo’s future contract to have an AAV of about $10 million. During the SB Nation offseason simulation, we managed to win the bidding for Tsutsugo by giving him a 5-year, $55 million contract.

Based on Tsutsugo’s market price, a contract of that size is likely to be more than enough to land him in real life, too. Five years and $50 million should also get the job done. That length and AAV would both figure to be mighty close to the top in terms of what clubs will offer. We should feel confident that Tsutsugo would post more than the 1.25 WAR per season, making the signing worth the price.

While Tsutsugo is far from the only option, having him on the South Side would bring the White Sox closer to completing the rebuild. Make it happen, front office.

Filling the South Side’s crater in right field

Running down a dream: The White Sox begin their second year of serious Joc pursuit this offseason. (Wikipedia)


Paltry production has been prevalent in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field in general over the past few years, but the crater  in right field specifically has become a larger issue. The White Sox were 29th in baseball in right field production last season, according to FanGraphs. The hodgepodge of Leury García, Charlie Tilson, Ryan Cordell, Jon Jay and Daniel Palka combined for a total of -1.3 fWAR in 2019. The only positive contributor was García, with an fWAR of 1.3, and he posted a putrid wRC+ of 83 in more than 600 plate appearances.

Rick Hahn has discussed the outfield vacancy ad nauseum and it’s a near-certainty that someone else will be on display for the fine folks in Section 108 next year. Luis Robert is a Top 5 prospect in the sport and profiles in center field. He should spend the majority of the 2020 baseball season in Chicago. Besides him, though, the once-promising group of outfield depth in the White Sox’s minors have suffered from setbacks and poor performance.

Micker Adolfo, Luis Basabe and Blake Rutherford are all on the 40-man roster but aren’t ready to play games in Chicago. Luis González and Steele Walker are other options, but not on the 40-man. Adam Engel could carry his steady glove back into a reserve role on the South Side and Eloy Jiménez will be a fixture in left.

The rest of the outfield is an empty canvas screaming to be colored.


Dollars to spend

Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna are the top names available on the open market, and the White Sox could have some level of interest in both players. The market for Ozuna has been quiet in the early going, and his derby is a bit of an unknown at this point. The 29-year-old received a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals after posting a 110 wRC+ in 2019. He provides above-average power after launching 29 balls over the fence last year and 148 total over the course of his young career.

But the White Sox need to fill their hole in right field, and one potential issue with Ozuna is the fact that he hasn’t played the position recently. With the Cardinals, he’s been strictly in left as we recently surmised. One thing that the Dominican does have going for him is his history with new hitting coach Frank Menechino. The White Sox’s recently appointed swing master oversaw Ozuna’s 5.0 fWAR season in Miami, when he posted a 143 wRc+.

Interest in Castellanos was reported back at the start of November. Jon Morosi of MLB Network chimed in and echoed similar sentiments, in addition to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. The White Sox would prefer to add lineup balance in the form of a left-handed hitter, but it’s imperative to not be slaves to handedness in this regard. The 27-year-old former first-rounder can really hit. Castellanos is also quite familiar with the AL Central after spending the majority of his career in Detroit with the Tigers.

The 6´4´´, 200-pounder was a different player after a deadline trade to the Cubs, and the performance may have caused some value inflation. Castellanos is regarded as a subpar defender in an outfield corner and he’s also a client of superagent Scott Boras. After hitting 27 homers in 2019, Castellanos has racked up 120 in his career. He was death to southpaws last year, posting a wRC+ of 190, and has destroyed lefties in general during his career. In 2019, Castellanos slugged .525 with a 121 wRc+ and .357 wOBA. His .236 ISO was stellar after posting a 130 wRC+ with a .363 wOBA in 2018.

Yasiel Puig, Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson are tertiary options on the market who are readily available as well. Puig is cantankerous at times and full of shenanigans, but he’s Cuban and really fun. The 28-year-old hit 24 home runs in 2019 but was a league average offensive player (101 wRC+) for the Reds and Cleveland. He posted a 123 wRC+ in 2018. He’d likely be a backup plan at best for the 2020 White Sox.

Calhoun and Dickerson are both lefties with some power, and would offer lineup balance for the Sox. Calhoun is 32 years old, plays above-average defense and hit 33 homers in 2019. He also struck out a ton, selling out for his most productive power season to date. The former Halo posted a 108 wRC+ with a staggering .236 ISO and performed admirably vs. right-handed pitching. Dickerson is 30 years old and only hit 12 homers in 2019, but posted a 127 wRC+. He reached base a ton, with a .367 wOBA and smashed righties to the tune of a 136 wRC+.

Dickerson and Calhoun are solid players, but the White Sox are likely looking for more.


Trade winds are blowing

The elephant in the room this offseason is Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts. The Carmines are in a tough spot with their budget, and new president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom may be obligated to trade his star player. The 27-year-old outfielder is one of the very best players in the sport and he’s looking to cash in on a free agent contract in excess of $300 million next off-season. Betts has accumulated 37.2 fWAR in six big league seasons while compiling 17 fWAR over his last two years. It would be a surprise to see the White Sox meet the perceived asking price for him at this juncture.

Another former All-Star on the trade market is Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates. With Ben Cherington looking to put his stamp on the organization, it’s highly likely that Marte moves to a new organization at some point. The 31-year-old center fielder has two years left on his contract and has an arm strong enough to play in a corner. Starling put up 3.0 fWAR with a 119 wRC+ and 23 homers in 2019. He doesn’t walk a lot and he hits from the right side. He doesn’t solve the White Sox’s left-handed problem, but he’d be a solid acquisition nonetheless.

Charlie Blackmon and Shin Soo-Choo are two more veteran names on the trade market. The White Sox have been linked to Blackmon in the past. His contract is abhorrent, but some of it could be paid down by Colorado. The 33-year-old has declining defensive ability, and his splits away from Coors Field are quite troubling. The Rockies outfielder hit .314/.364/.576 with 32 home runs. Blackmon posted a 2.0 fWAR with a 125 wRC+ and .387 wOBA. Choo is a platoon player at this stage, but a very good one. The 37-year-old posted a 127 wRC+ vs righties last year.

Two young lefties who might be growing out of favor with their current clubs could be available as well. Gregory Polanco hasn’t lived up to the hype in Pittsburgh, and the new management team could look to move the 28-year-old right fielder. Polanco slumped through 167 plate appearances last year but he posted a 123 wRC+ in 2018. He has struggled against lefties throughout his career, though, and selling low may not be the best idea for the Pirates at this time. Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara is another player who has been linked to the White Sox in the past. The 24-year-old hits from the left side and has three years of contract control remaining. Mazara’s overall 2019 numbers aren’t promising, but he did post a 110 wRC+ vs righties.


Likely outcomes

The decision-makers for the Chicago White Sox will embark to San Diego this weekend for next week’s Winter Meetings. Pitching will likely remain a priority for the Pale Hose after narrowly missing on preferred target Zack Wheeler. The market is moving a little quicker this year, though, and the outfield hole could be filled at any time. Nick Castellanos has an uncertain market right now, but he could be an option to sign next week. Trade talks will likely continue as well.

Jerry DiPoto has begun his annual reshaping of the Seattle Mariners, and outfielder Mitch Haniger could be a White Sox target after being bandied in trade proposals in recent seasons. DiPoto has downplayed the rumors in regards to Haniger and is reportedly reluctant to sell low on the 28-year-old. The outfielder missed most of last season with a ruptured testicle and related back issues following the procedure. He did display mostly league average offensive production with 15 bombs last year in 63 games, however.

In limited time in 2019, Haniger’s .244 ISO was stellar and he possesses big raw power. The 6´2´´, 215-pounder posted a 137 wRC+ with a .367 wOBA in 2018. He compiled 4.5 fWAR after hitting 26 home runs while displaying a 10% walk rate. The Mariners have a collection of young outfielders who are approaching the majors and something will have to give soon enough. DiPoto loves making deals, and Haniger could be on the move next week.

According to Nightengale, the White Sox have again inquired with the Los Angeles Dodgers on the availability of outfielder Joc Pederson. The 27-year-old outfielder was a trade target last year as well before talks were halted due to twitter and Joc remained in La La Land. Pederson would be a great fit for the White Sox’s roster. He’s a solid defender in right field and he possesses immense power potential from the left side.

The 6´2´´, 220-pounder is in his final year of arbitration and he hit .249/.339/.538 with the Dodgers last season. Pederson murders righties to the tune of a 137 wRC+ and would be a force in the middle of the Chicago lineup. He posted a 127 wRC+ with a .362 wOBA and accumulated 3.0 fWAR in 2019 as well. It’s unknown how serious the talks have become, or what Andrew Friedman and his staff would even be looking for in return for the slugger at this point.


The White Sox will have a new right fielder in 2020. The bigger questions are where that player comes from and how much it costs to acquire him. The front office could rub elbows with Boras and keep Castellanos in the Second City. They could make a trade for one of the readily-available bats on the market. They could even go off the board entirely and break that story on the team’s official twitter.

The good thing for the organization, though, is that a plethora of solid options exist and anything will likely be an upgrade.

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