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+.
I’m hearing the #WhiteSox are strongly pursuing Nick Castellanos in free agency. They saw plenty of him over six years inside the AL Central and have always been a fan. Good energy in clubhouse, great attitude and the bat obviously plays.
— Sam Panayotovich (@spshoot) November 6, 2019
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.
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.
— MLB Trade Rumors (@mlbtraderumors) December 3, 2019
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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