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.


 

 

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.