AL Central Big 3: The offenses

Big boost: Thanks in part to the acquisition of Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox now trail only the Twins in fWAR among its offensive roster. (@WhiteSox)


It’s been quite the interesting offseason in the AL Central.

The White Sox have added a number of solid veterans to its young core, while also granting extensions for veteran slugger José Abreu and phenom outfielder Luis Robert. The Twins added Josh Donaldson to its already potent offense while adding rotation depth in the forms of Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Cleveland, in the meantime, has basically maintained their status quo with the exception of trading pricey hurler Corey Kluber for reliever Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields Jr. as they hope to maintain their success by simply staying healthy.

Of course, based on last season, there’s quite a bit of separation among the three teams: The Twins are coming off a 101-61 season, Cleveland a 93-69 record, and the White Sox a 72-89 mark. But as there should unquestionably be some better bunching at the top this season (PECOTA projects 93, 86 and 82 wins, respectively), we’re ramping up to the start of Cactus League play with three looks at the Big 3 ball clubs, on offense, pitching and intangibles. 

Projected 2020 stats are per Steamer, and players’ ages listed in parentheses are as of Opening Day.


Minnesota Twins

Outfield
Eddie Rosario, LF (27) .284/.320/.499, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 5 SB, 2.4 fWAR
Byron Buxton, CF (26) .262/.317/.461, 20 HR, 73 RBI, 23 SB, 3.2 fWAR
Max Kepler, RF (28) .260/.343/.490, 30 HR, 93 RBI, 6 SB, 3.7 fWAR
Marwin Gonzalez (31) .269/.334/.444, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 1 SB, 0.8 fWAR
Jake Cave (27) .256/.315/.423, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 0.1 fWAR

Infield
Miguel Sano, 1B (26) .246/.337/.519, 37 HR, 97 RBI, 1 SB, 2.3 fWAR
Luis Arraez, 2B (22) .312/.369/.415, 6 HR, 57 RBI, 6 SB, 2.5 fWAR
Jorge Polanco, SS (26) .281/.344/.453, 19 HR, 82 RBI, 7 SB, 2.9 fWAR
Josh Donaldson, 3B (34) .267/.379/.527, 36 HR, 103 RBI, 4 SB, 5.3 fWAR
Ehire Adrianza (30) .256/.317/.389, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB, 0.2 fWAR

Catchers
Mitch Garver (29) .254/.333/.464, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 1 SB, 1.9 fWAR
Alex Avila (33) .214/.342/.379, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, 1.1 fWAR

Designated Hitter
Nelson Cruz (39) .282/.363/.547, 40 HR, 114 RBI, 1 SB, 2.9 fWAR

Certainly, some regression is expected after nearly everyone on Minnesota’s roster enjoyed career years offensively in 2019. The above numbers reflect this, especially when looking at Garver’s anticipated drop-off from last year’s .273/.365/.630 slash line with 31 homers. Even so, this is an extremely dangerous offense and arguably the best in the American League. With the acquisition of Donaldson, third catcher and contact maestro Willians Austudillo will likely begin in the minors, but should still receive some playing time if an injury occurs.The only weakness to this offense may be the ability to manufacture runs if they’re not hitting bombs, as the only player who’s projected to steal in double digits is the oft-injured Buxton. The above roster above posted an aggregate 3.5 defensive bWAR last year, spearheaded by Donaldson (1.7) and Buxton (1.3, despite missing 75 games); the defense’s Achilles heel last year was Rosario (-1.1).


Cleveland

Outfield
Domingo Santana, LF (24) .248/.345/.441, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 5 SB, 0.4 fWAR
Oscar Mercado, CF (25) .256/.313/.402, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 15 SB, 1.0 fWAR
Greg Allen, RF (27) .246/.310/.362, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 7 SB, -0.1 fWAR
Jordan Luplow (26) .250/.333/.449, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB, 0.7 fWAR
Delino DeShields Jr. (27) .231/.313/.338, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 9 SB, 0.2 fWAR

Infield
Carlos Santana, 1B (33) .260/.375/.482, 29 HR, 93 RBI, 3 SB, 2.7 fWAR
Cesar Hernandez, 2B (29) .277/.355/.399, 11 HR, 56 RBI, 9 SB, 2.0 fWAR
Francisco Lindor, SS (26) .289/.354/.531, 35 HR, 95 RBI, 22 SB, 6.0 fWAR
José Ramírez, 3B (27) .277/.362/.523, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 23 SB, 5.1 fWAR|
Christian Arroyo (24) .247/.301/.395, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 0.1 fWAR

Catchers
Roberto Perez (31) .219/.303/.399, 14 HR, 43 RBI, 1 SB, 2.2 fWAR
Sandy Leon (31) .217/.278/.346, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, 0.5 fWAR

Designated Hitter
Franmil Reyes (24) .260/.329/.517, 36 HR, 93 RBI, 1 SB, 1.5 fWAR

There’s still some uncertainty in this lineup, particularly in the outfield. Jake Bauers is not expected by FanGraphs to make the Opening Day roster thanks to the recent signing of Domingo Santana, but he still has a shot to beat out either Allen or DeShields in spring training. When Reyes does spend some time in the outfield this year, he and Santana could be the modern-day defensive equivalent of Greg Luzinski and Dave Kingman at the corners. If the Indians get off to a rocky start, expect trade talks regarding Lindor to intensify. Offensively, the strength of this team is clearly the infield with Lindor, Ramírez and Santana. Defensively, this roster posted an aggregate 6.3 defensive bWAR last year, led by Perez (2.6) and Lindor (1.7); the weakest defensive player in 2019 on this year’s roster was easily Domingo Santana, with a -1.9 mark. This team is loaded with switch-hitters and platoon possibilities, so Cleveland could definitely post match-up difficulties to opposing pitchers. With several guys capable of double-digit steals, the Indians should be able to manufacture runs when the offense isn’t entirely clicking.    


Chicago White Sox

Outfield
Eloy Jiménez, LF (24) .279/.329/.520, 33 HR, 95 RBI, 1 SB, 2.7 fWAR
Luis Robert, CF (22) .273/.317/.488, 26 HR, 83 RBI, 23 SB, 2.9 fWAR
Nomar Mazara, RF (24) .255/.318./.467, 25 HR, 77 RBI, 3 SB, 1.4 fWAR
Leury García (29) .261/.300/.374, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 10 SB, 0.4 fWAR
Adam Engel (28) .221/.281/.352, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 3 SB, 0.0 fWAR

Infield
José Abreu, 1B (33) .275/.332/.497, 32 HR, 101 RBI, 3 SB, 1.8 fWAR
Nick Madrigal, 2B (23) .287/.337/.392, 5 HR, 47 RBI, 19 SB, 1.5 fWAR
Tim Anderson, SS (26) .275/.308/.441, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 17 SB, 2.0 fWAR
Yoán Moncada, 3B (24) .267/.340/.475, 27 HR, 86 RBI, 12 SB, 4.0 fWAR
Danny Mendick (26) .243/.310/.376, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB, 0.2 fWAR

Catchers
Yasmani Grandal (31) .239/.358/.459, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 3 SB, 5.0 fWAR
James McCann (29) .238/.297/.390, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB, 0.3 fWAR

Designated Hitter
Edwin Encarnación (37) .246/.346/.499, 35 HR, 92 RBI, 2 SB, 1.9 fWAR

Because of their high BABIP last year, Steamer expects Anderson’s and Moncada’s batting averages to drop significantly in 2020. And because of the volatility of rookies and youngsters, it’s hard to project guys like Robert and Madrigal will fare when they make it to the big show. Thus, there’s a great degree of variance between upsides and floors for the White Sox overall. The numbers seem respectable for Robert but a little down for Madrigal; of these three teams, the White Sox are the only team to expect to have two rookies earn regular playing time. The defense posted an aggregate of -0.6 defensive bWAR, despite the additions of Madrigal, Robert and Grandal. Unsurprisingly, the biggest culprits are Jiménez and Abreu, but the White Sox’s defensive value should still be higher in 2020 providing that Anderson commits fewer errors and Moncada continues his improvement at the hot corner. As a side note, while FanGraphs expects García to begin the Opening Day roster as the team’s second baseman, I have Madrigal listed as the starter as there’s a chance he’s given an extension and/or enjoys a solid spring.


As the numbers above reflect a combination of offense and defense, the Twins clearly have the best combined non-pitching roster among these three teams, at 29.3 fWAR. If Minnesota’s hitters avoid their expected regression offensively, that number could easily climb another five points or more. The White Sox actually rank behind the Twins at 24.1 fWAR despite their unproven youth, thanks in part to its dynamic catching tandem of Grandal and McCann. Interestingly, Minnesota’s acquisition of Donaldson essentially makes up the projected fWAR difference between the White Sox and Twins — at least offensively. Cleveland has the weakest roster offensively of the three teams, despite having an excellent infield on paper. That team is hampered by its lack of outfield thump, as the combined 2.2 fWAR in that area brings their expected total to 22.3 (despite having the best defensive numbers and two of the best players in the division). For the White Sox to rank second in the division offensively isn’t a slap in the face, as the Twins are arguably the best offense in the American League, if not all of baseball.


 

 

 

 

 

               

 

          

Non-tendered players on the market: Which make sense for the White Sox?

Heating back up: After recovering from Tommy John, Taijuan Walker now has his eyes set on joining a new team (@Dbacks)


Monday night was the deadline for MLB teams to decide whether to tender a contracts to eligible players. For the White Sox, they avoided arbitration with James McCann, as the two parties agreed to a one-year, $5.4 million contract that will keep McCann on the South Side for the upcoming season. The club also agreed to tender contracts to Alex Colomé, Leury García, Evan Marshall, and Carlos Rodón. Additionally, Yolmer Sánchez, Caleb Frare, and Ryan Burr were all declined contracts for this upcoming season and Thyago Vieira was released. According to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, Vieira agreed to a deal with the Yomiuri Giants, giving him the opportunity to head to Japan for his next destination.

While there were no huge surprises for the White Sox on Monday, the same can’t be said about some other teams. There are now a lot of new names to hit the market who could benefit many clubs. The White Sox are in the process of filling holes on their roster, and some newly-nontendered names make sense as potential additions.

Let’s take a look at some players who would make sense for the White Sox:

Taijuan Walker, RHP

It’s no secret that the White Sox need to add to their starting rotation this offseason. Walker seemed like he was going to be a sure thing in the Diamondbacks rotation after being acquired from the Seattle Mariners in 2016. The following year, Walker put together some pretty impressive numbers: 28 starts, 157 ⅓ innings, 61 walks, 146 strikeouts, a 3.49 ERA, his lowest since becoming a full-time starting pitcher at the MLB level.

Unfortunately for Walker, Tommy John surgery in 2018 has limited him since the 2017 season, but he was activated off the 60-day injured list and now has an entire offseason where he will be healthy and able to continue working on his comeback. Walker’s arsenal consists of a four-seam fastball, sinker, split-finger, cutter, and curveball. He throws in the mid-to-low 90s and has shown the ability to limit walks throughout his career.

While the White Sox already have four starters (two tickets for the major league rotation) coming back from Tommy John this season, it might not make much sense to add another to that list. However, given the fact that Walker is still only 27, it might be worthwhile to check in with him. He still has a lot of innings left on his arm, with potential as a solid middle- to back-of-the-rotation starter. If the White Sox were able to land one of the bigger starting pitching names on the market, Walker would be a good second-tier signing to fill out another rotation spot, assuming that his health checks out and there aren’t any red flags.

Steven Souza Jr., OF

Sticking with the Diamondbacks, Steven Souza Jr. was another player who was non-tendered on Monday night. His time in Arizona has been injury-riddled and one to forget. Souza Jr. has played less than half a season over the last two years. He missed all of 2019 with a knee injury that occurred during an exhibition game at the end of spring training. Talk about a tough break. Even though Souza pairs power with good defense in the outfield, it seems like the recent string of injuries made the Dbacks feel like it was best for both parties to move on.

Before coming over to Arizona, Souza was making a name for himself during his final season in Tampa Bay. In 2017, he slashed .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBIs, 84 walks, and 179 strikeouts in 148 games. His performance that year was good for a wRC+ of 121 and a 3.8 fWAR, and he paired that with a 7 DRS in right field. Aside from 2015, Souza has posted a positive DRS every season, making him an average fielder at the very least.

Time will tell if Souza can continue that trend of being a good fielder, especially after his knee injury this past season. However, right field is a glaring hole on the White Sox roster and Souza would be a welcomed addition given the fact that he’s a two-way player. If he was a left-handed hitter he’d be almost a perfect fit, but Souza is still an intriguing option. He would have the ability to DH, of course, and wouldn’t have to wear down his knee by playing in the field every game. He wouldn’t be a huge upgrade, but he would be a good gap-filler for a few years until the White Sox decide if they want to go in another direction.

Blake Treinen, RHP

Treinen is probably the biggest name who was added to the free agent market on Monday, and this was a move we saw coming a few days prior. There were rumblings that the Athletics had interest in trading him and if they were unable to, he was a non-tender candidate.

In 2018, Treinen was elite, one of the best bullpen arms in baseball. That year, he posted a 0.78 ERA with 100 strikeouts and 21 walks over 80 ⅓ innings. Those numbers were good for a 11.2 K/9 and a 2.4 BB/9. Treinen was lethal out of the back of the bullpen, and he looked like one of the most exciting bullpen arms for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately for Treinen, 2019 was a very tough year. He lost some velocity on his fastball, cutter, and sinker. His hard-hit percentage increased by more than 6% and he was walking hitters at a much higher rate than he usually does. In 2019, Treinen posted an uncharacteristic 4.91 ERA (a career worst) with 37 walks and 59 strikeouts in 58 ⅔ innings. The sudden regression, and being projected to make around $8 million this upcoming season, was reason for the Athletics to move on, even though he was not far removed from a stellar season.

There’s a very good chance that he will get signed quickly, most likely by a contending team that needs bullpen help. The Yankees were linked to him before Monday’s deadline and and could have the inside track to signing him. However, Treinen is a player that not only the White Sox, but most teams, shouldn’t even think twice about signing. Solid bullpen arms are always tough to find on the market, and it’s common to see those signings backfire. However, Treinen has put together a very impressive six-year career and is a good bet to get back on track in 2020.

Domingo Santana, OF

After finding a new home in Seattle for the 2019 season, Santana will be on the move again as the Mariners decided not to tender him a contract. Known for his bat more than his glove, Santana has hit 20 or more home runs in two of the last three seasons. Before that, with less at-bats, he hit just 19 combined home runs over his first three seasons in the majors.

Santana started to make a name for himself in 2017, which marked the first time he played in more than 100 games. That year, he slashed .278/.371/.505 with 29 doubles, 30 home runs, 85 RBIs, 73 walks, and 178 strikeouts. After splitting time between the minors and the show due to Milwaukee’s outfield jam after the Christian Yelich trade and Lorenzo Cian signing, in 2018, Santana saw himself as a regular in the Mariners lineup during the 2019 season. It was a tale of two halves for Santana in 2019: The first half boasted a slash line of .286/.354/.496 with 19 doubles and 18 home runs, but the second half was the polar opposite, hitting worse than .150 with just three homers. Santana was battling an elbow injury, which could’ve led to the significant decline. However, he still posted a 107 wRC+ on the season, making him slightly above average in 2019. Santana would finish the year slashing .253/.329/.441 with 20 doubles, 21 home runs, 69 RBI, 50 walks, and 164 strikeouts.

His career splits are fairly even against lefties and righties, but his power numbers have been significantly better against right-handed pitchers throughout his career. Santana’s career average exit velocity of 89.5 mph and hard-hit percentage of 41.8 are both better than league average. Now, with Santana, you are sacrificing defense by keeping his bat in the lineup. But he’s still only 27 years old, and his power potential makes him an interesting option for the White Sox. With his age, there might still be some room for improvement defensively, but he will still be somewhat of a liability in the field throughout his career.


All of these players would help improve the White Sox roster, and while none of these guys should be Plan A or B, they would be solid additions to fill out the roster as “finishing touches” this offseason.