2015 Preview: Chicago White Sox

15 Comments

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Chicago White Sox.

The Big Question: Should we be taking the rebuilt White Sox seriously as contenders?

It got largely overshadowed by the non-stop wheeling and dealing in San Diego, but the White Sox also had an extremely busy offseason as general manager Rick Hahn attempted to turn an 89-loss team into a potential contender in one winter.

Hahn beefed up the rotation behind ace Chris Sale by trading for impending free agent Jeff Samardzija, remade the bullpen by signing closer David Robertson and setup man Zach Duke, added a pair of good bats to the lineup in first baseman Adam LaRoche and outfielder Melky Cabrera, and even gave manager Robin Ventura a bit more bench versatility in utility man Emilio Bonifacio.

Hahn had a busy, productive, high-impact offseason, but will it be enough to pull the White Sox up from 73 wins to the 85-plus typically required to be a factor deep into September? Fortunately for the White Sox they were starting with two hugely valuable, young building blocks in Sale, who finished third in the Cy Young balloting at age 25, and first baseman Jose Abreu, who won the Rookie of the Year award and finished fourth in the MVP balloting at age 27. Not many 73-win teams have two elite players around which to build.

Sale won’t be ready for Opening Day after breaking his foot in late February, but assuming he’s back in the rotation by mid-April the White Sox top three of Sale, Samardzija, and Jose Quintana is one of the best in baseball. Their bullpen, which was a major weakness last year, now has a shutdown closer in Robertson, allowing guys like Duke, Jake Petricka, and and Zach Putnam to settle into setup roles. And within a couple months last year’s No. 3 overall pick, stud left-hander Carlos Rodon, should be ready for his call-up.

The turnaround offensively won’t be as dramatic, but it doesn’t need to be. Chicago ranked in the middle of the AL pack in run scoring and is essentially replacing the corner outfield/designated hitter trio of Adam Dunn, Dayan Viciedo, and Alejandro De Aza with LaRoche, Cabrera, and Avisail Garcia, who returned from injury to play 46 games down the stretch. Toss in center fielder Adam Eaton’s on-base skills atop the batting order, plus Alexei Ramirez having more pop than the average shortstop, and even with second base and catcher being question marks this has a chance to be a much deeper, more dangerous lineup surrounding Abreu.

Going from 73 wins to 85-plus wins in one offseason is extremely difficult, but the White Sox absolutely look like a team that should have a winning record and contending in a relatively mediocre AL Central division is entirely doable.

What else is going on?

  • For a long time Carlos Rodon was the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, but then his stock dipped a bit and both the Astros and Marlins passed on the North Carolina State ace. Six months later it’s probably safe to assume both teams would do things differently, because Rodon struck out 38 batters in his 24-inning debut, ranked as a top-20 prospect by both Baseball America and MLB.com this offseason, and then impressed this spring with a 19/3 K/BB ratio in 12 innings. He looks just about ready and has top-of-the-rotation upside.
  • Because he was 27 years old and a superstar in Cuba it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to put Abreu’s numbers up against other “rookies” … but why not. He had a 169 OPS+ last season. Here’s a list of all the other first basemen in MLB history to top a 150 OPS+ as a rookie: Mark McGwire, 164 in 1987. That’s it. That’s the entire list. Even setting aside the whole rookie thing, the last 27-year-old first basemen with a higher OPS+ than Abreu were Miguel Cabrera in 2010 and Frank Thomas in 1995. And then no one else since 1962.
  • Adam Eaton played so well in his first season with the White Sox–hitting .300 with a .362 on-base percentage and solid defense in center field–that Hahn signed him to a long-term contract extension that keeps him under team control through 2021. Eaton lacks power, but his on-base skills and speed are top notch and are an ideal fit atop the lineup and in front of Abreu. Eaton hit .348 in the minors, including .364 with 40 steals in 133 games at Triple-A.

Prediction: One of the biggest improvements of any team in baseball, going from 73-89 to at least .500 in a division where four of the five teams figure to win 80-something games. But just short of the playoffs.

If 2020 season is canceled, which players would be hurt the most?

Miguel Cabrera
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
1 Comment

Last week, I went over a few teams that stood to be hurt most if there were to be no 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, we will look at some players who may be adversely effected by a lost year.

Milestones

Players chasing milestones, especially those towards the end of their careers, would be stymied by a lost season. Tigers DH and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is the first one that comes to mind. He is 23 home runs short of joining the 500 home run club. Though he hasn’t hit more than 16 in a year since 2016, he would likely have at least hit a few this year and would have had an easier time getting there in 2021. He turns 37 years old in 10 days. Cabrera may be under contract through 2023, but it is not clear that his age and his health would allow him to play regularly such that he would be able to reach 500 home runs if the 2020 season were to be canceled. (Cabrera is also 185 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.)

Mike Trout has 285 home runs for his career. It’s almost a given that he would get to 300 and beyond in 2020. He is currently one of only 13 players with at least 250 home runs through his age-27 season. The only players with more: Álex Rodríguez (345), Jimmie Foxx (302), Eddie Mathews (299), and Ken Griffey Jr. (294). Trout likely would have also reached 1,000 runs for his career, as he is currently at 903. Losing a full season could really make a difference where he winds up on the all-time leaderboards at the end of his career.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent at season’s end, though he and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a contract extension. He turns 38 this summer and is 37 hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Even if this season never happens, Molina will likely join the 2,000 hit club in 2021 whether or not he signs a multi-year extension. Molina is also 84 RBI shy of 1,000 and 21 doubles shy of 400.

Free Agents

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto headline the free agent class heading into the 2021 season. Even if there eventually is a 2020 season, or something resembling it, teams are losing money across the board and that will result in stinginess in the free agent market. Make no mistake, Betts and Realmuto, as well as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, and Marcus Stroman will still get paid handsomely, but they likely won’t get as much as they would following a typical year. The players that really stand to get hurt are the mid-tier free agents, whose cost won’t match their relative upside — players like James McCann, Howie Kendrick, Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner, Michael Grantley, Marcell Ozuna, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jay Bruce, and Josh Reddick.

2020-21 Draftees and International Free Agents

At the end of March, MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a deal covering issues including service time, pay during the pandemic, and the amateur draft. In exchange for players on active rosters getting credit for a full year of service time whether or not there is a 2020 season, the league got the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds. The league also gained the right to delay the start of the 2020 and 2021-22 international signing periods.

The MLBPA effectively sold out what will be their future union members. A shortened draft this year and/or next year would mean that players who would otherwise have been drafted this year will go undrafted and thus will either become unsigned free agents or return to the draft next year as part of a crowded pool of players. Likewise, pushing back the international signing period will add more players to the market at the same time. This, obviously, benefits ownership as a surplus of labor diminishes those laborers’ leverage.

Bounce-back Candidates

Players coming off of injuries or otherwise down years in 2019 were hoping to use 2020 to bounce back, reestablishing themselves in the league. Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani didn’t pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in the first half of a normal 2020 season. We learned yesterday that Ohtani is expected to throw off a mound “soon.” If a 2020 season does happen, it likely wouldn’t begin for another couple of months at minimum, which should afford him enough time to get into pitching shape.

Ohtani’s teammate and perennial Gold Glove Award candidate Andrelton Simmons played in only 103 games last season due to an ankle injury. He mustered a meager .673 OPS as well, compiling just 1.9 WAR, his lowest total in any season since debuting in 2012. In 2017, he peaked at 7.8 WAR and put up 6.3 the following season. Simmons will become a free agent after the 2020 season, so he most certainly needed a healthy and productive 2020 to maximize his leverage on the market.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, now 36 years old, is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career. He hit .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 608 plate appearances, continuing a downward trend. He registered a 167 adjusted OPS as recently as 2017, but that declined to 126 in ’18 and 98 last year. The Reds, back to being competitive, were definitely banking on a bounce-back year from Votto. (Votto, by the way, is also 56 RBI short of the 1,000 milestone for his career.)