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.


 

 

 

 

 

               

 

          

Great Expectations, out of a Bleak House

A funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs: Minnesota brought in a Bringer of Rain. (@680TheFan)


A funny thing happened on the way to the Chicago White Sox winning the Central Division in 2020: The Minnesota Twins went out and signed big-hitting third baseman Josh Donaldson to a mega-deal bigger than any individual deal the White Sox have ever shelled out. 

The resulting storm on social media led me to think that many Sox fans, while certainly excited about the prospects of the coming season, are thinking with their hearts instead of with their heads.

Let me be clear about something first: High expectations are a good thing. They help drive someone or something to work and strain to be the best. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and sometimes miracles do happen — just look at the 1969 New York Mets.

But you also need to be realistic, which is why I can’t understand the social media meltdown from some Sox fans. Even if the Twins hadn’t signed Donaldson, the Sox probably weren’t going to win the division, anyway!

The Sox won 72 games last year, and showed marked progress on a number of fronts. But to think that they could “somehow” win another 20 games to put themselves into real contention is stretching belief.

Could it happen? Sure, just look at the 1990 White Sox, who incredibly won 94 games, “Doin’ the Little Things” under manager Jeff Torborg. But remember the Western Division back then wasn’t close to being as strong as the current Central Division and the American League as a whole.

With the 2020 White Sox, you’re asking a bunch of kids to take a next leap into greatness basically overnight and asking a franchise to keep said guys healthy. If the last three seasons at both the major and minor league level have shown anything it’s that the White Sox are having serious problems in the health department, whether it’s because of bad luck or something else going on with strength and conditioning.

To me, it’s too much to think everything is going to break right for the Sox, which is one reason I advocated in a previous column getting at least two starting pitchers to help protect themselves from what is almost a certain bad injury or slump.   

Again, it’s fine to dream, and every Sox fan should certainly be doing that given the generally awful baseball the Sox have put on the field since the start of the 2007 season, but if the Sox don’t make the playoffs this year that doesn’t mean the season was a failure if they can:

  • Win at least 82 games. That means a winning season, the first since 2012. Anything over and above that is gravy.
  • Continue to develop the core group of young players.
  • Play meaningful baseball at least through August — and hopefully into September.
  • Continue to develop and emphasize all aspects of the franchise both on and off the field: advertising opportunities, season ticket sales, attendance in general, fan and media public relations, TV ratings.

Do these things, see what you can add in the offseason before the start of the 2021 campaign (if some pieces weren’t already added at the trade deadline this July), and then let’s really rock and roll.

The table should be set and ready for the White Sox. But 2020 is still probably too soon.

Deep Dive: Free agent third basemen

The prize: Anthony Rendon may be the top of this year’s third base free agent class, but Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas aren’t too far behind. (@masnNationals)


“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position


Third base seems to be in good hands for 2020, with Yoan Moncada having such a great year in 2019. Aside from perhaps Danny Mendick, the White Sox have very little depth at the position, however. Would the White Sox consider utilizing Moncada’s athleticism and move him over to right field, if it meant that the White Sox added one of the best third basemen in the game, Anthony Rendon, via free agency? Or could any of these free agents be a DH for 2020 and beyond? Are there hot corner specialists who could be a reserve infielder for the Sox next year? Here are the potentially available options in this year’s free agent class.

(age as of April 1, 2020)


Anthony Rendon
Washington Nationals
B/T: R/R
2019 bWAR: 6.3
Stats: .319/.412/.598, 545 AB, 44 2B, 34 HR, 126 RBI, 5 SB, 80 BB, 86 K
Other positions played: Second base
Age: 29

Josh Donaldson
Atlanta Braves
B/T: L/R
2019 bWAR: 6.1
Stats: .259/.379/.521, 549 AB, 33 2B, 37 HR, 94 RBI, 4 SB, 100 BB, 155 K
Age: 34

Mike Moustakas
Milwaukee Brewers
B/T: L/R
2019 bWAR: 3.2
Stats: .254/.329/.516, 523 AB, 30 2B, 35 HR, 87 RBI, 3 SB, 53 BB, 98 K
Other positions played: Second base
Age: 31

Todd Frazier
New York Mets
B/T: R/R
2019 bWAR: 2.2
Stats: .251/.329/.443, 447 AB, 19 2B, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 1 SB, 40 BB, 106 K
Other positions played: First base
Age: 34

Asdrubal Cabrera
Washington Nationals
B/T: B/R
2019 bWAR: 1.7
Stats: .260/.342/.441, 447 AB, 25 2B, 18 HR, 91 RBI, 4 SB, 57 BB, 103 K
Other positions played: Second base, First base
Age: 34

Pablo Sandoval
San Francisco Giants
B/T: B/R
2019 bWAR: 1.5
Stats: .268/.313/.507, 272 AB, 23 2B, 14 HR, 41 RBI, 1 SB, 18 BB, 67 K
Other positions played: First base
Age: 33

Sean Rodriguez
Philadelphia Phillies
B/T: R/R
2019 bWAR: 0.4
Stats: .223/.348/.375, 150 AB, 5 2B, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 1 SB, 19 BB, 41 K
Other positions played: Left field, Shortstop, Center field, Second base, Right field, First base
Age: 34

Kaleb Cowart
Angels
B/T: B/R
2019 bWAR: -0.2
Stats: .160/.192/.280, 25 AB, 0 2B, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SB, 1 BB, 7 K
Other positions played: Second base
Age: 27

Ryan Flaherty
Cleveland Indians
B/T: L/R
2019 bWAR: -0.2
Stats: .143/.143/.238, 21 AB, 2 2B, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, 0 BB, 7 K
Other positions played: Second base
Age: 33

Jedd Gyorko
Los Angeles Dodgers
B/T: R/R
2019 bWAR: -0.5
Stats: .174/.248/.250, 92 AB, 1 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 2 SB, 9 BB, 24 K
Other positions played: First base, Second base
Age: 31

Jung Ho Kang
Pittsburgh Pirates
B/T: R/R
2019 bWAR: -0.7
Stats: .169/.222/.395, 172 AB, 7 2B, 10 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB, 11 BB, 60 K
Other positions played: Shortstop
Age: 32

Martín Prado
Miami Marlins
B/T: R/R
2019 bWAR: -1.3
Stats: .233/.265/.294, 245 AB, 9 2B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB, 12 BB, 41 K
Other positions played: First base
Age: 36

Prado is reportedly retiring.