By now, we are all aware of the moves Rick Hahn made this winter. He added Samardzija, LaRoche, Duke, Robertson, Jennings, Cabrera, and recently, Bonifacio. These moves in addition to the core of Sale, Quintana, Garcia, and Abreu, have made the White Sox into a team to watch. The question is, are they legitimate contenders?
The bullpen of the White Sox was the thorn in their side. I cannot even count how many times the bullpen blew the game. The biggest problem was that the White Sox did not have the appropriate personnel in the correct situations. Despite the lack of success, a few arms emerged that could contribute in the future. Daniel Webb, Zach Putnam, and Jake Petricka emerged to be building blocks in the bullpen. The silver lining of the disaster was that they gained late game experience that can only help them in the future.
The addition of Zach Duke and David Robertson not only solve the need for a left hander in the bullpen and a closer, they have a trickle down effect by putting Webb, Putnam, and Petricka in 7th inning or situational positions where they can thrive. Putting these young relievers in early game situations can better harness their talent before putting them in late game situations later in their careers. Also, do not discount the acquisition of Dan Jennings. An unheralded left-hander from Miami had a good season last year. He posted a 1.34 ERA with a 1.537 WHIP in 40.1 innings. He isn’t mechanically sound yet, but Don Cooper said at the Winter Meetings that he can fix Jennings and take him to the next level.
Another early season addition to the White Sox bullpen should be Carlos Rodon. He pitched 12 innings in AAA and looked very good. With a full spring training, he may start the season in the bullpen before moving to the starting rotation in the second half of the season, a la Chris Sale and Mark Buehrle. His start in the bullpen allows for the White Sox to “acquire” a top pitcher at the trading deadline to strengthen their starting rotation while also strengthening the bullpen for the first half of the year. This allows some younger pitcher to develop in AAA before being promoted to take his spot in the bullpen.
Speaking of the starting rotation, the White Sox have one of the strongest in majors. The 1-2-3 punch of Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana is devastating because all three pitchers are among the best in the majors. Beyond that, there is a huge drop-off. Danks is a shell of his old self while Noesi is far from a sure thing. Although he showed some flashes last year, he isn’t the ideal fifth starter. Yes, Rodon is a midseason acquisition for the starting rotation, but the rotation becomes left-handed heavy. Most likely Noesi gets bumped out of the rotation, and that would leave the rotation with four lefties. It isn’t the worst thing, but ideally you would have more balance in the rotation.
From 2013 to 2014, the White Sox offense scored 62 more runs with the addition of Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia (for a limited period of time), and Jose Abreu. With a year of experience and an offseason to focus on baseball instead of rehabbing from injuries or immigrating to the country, those three players should improve heading into 2015. Rick Hahn bolstered the offense by adding Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera. Cabrera offers a high on base percentage and he has hit for power at US Cellular in the past. Cabrera offers Abreu more opportunities to hit with men on base. LaRoche has consistently hit 20-25 home runs and entering a hitter’s ballpark for 81 games should only help him. He offers Abreu more protection as pitchers cannot elect to pitch around him without having to face LaRoche.
A name that no one has talked about all winter is Matt Davidson. He was acquired last year for Addison Reed and he was viewed as the future third baseman as early as opening day 2014. He went to AAA and struggled immensely. His power number (20 home runs) were at his average, but he hit .199 and struck out a ton. I believe that Davidson should bounce back in 2015 and be the player that he was expected to be last year. In a recent interview with Dan Hayes, Davidson claimed that his struggles last year were mental. He was putting too much pressure on himself to perform and instead regressed. This is absolutely plausible because he showed consistency at every minor league level and showed that he can play at the AAA level when he was in the Arizona system. I don’t think its realistic to expect him to be the opening day starter, but I think that at some point in 2015, Davidson will be another power bat in the White Sox lineup.
The biggest question in the White Sox lineup is at second base and catcher. The competition at second base will be between Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez. Micah Johnson is the more superior baseball player. He has a wider defensive range, hits more consistently, and has base stealing power. I think that Johnson wins the competition and at some point in his career, he will be a top of the order hitter. For 2015, he will probably hit in the 8 or 9 slot to take some pressure off of him.
My biggest concern is at catcher. Tyler Flowers does a decent to above average work calling a game and he is defensively sound, but his offensive production has been underwhelming. He hit .241 with a .297 OBP last year, which doesn’t fit the scope of offensive production for most teams in baseball. Can he improve? Potentially, but I don’t think he can improve to the level that is needed. The White Sox acquired former top prospect Michael Brantley who projects to be the backup catcher. Can Brantley overtake Flowers? Maybe, but that is not a realistic expectation. I think that a trade for the Cubs’ Wellington Castillo. Castillo hit .237 with a .296 OBP. Those numbers are worse than Flowers, so why trade for Castillo? Castillo hit .274 with a .349 OBP in 2013 and showed improvement every year since being a pro. Flowers showed gradual improvement every year before dipping in 2013 and rebounding in 2014.
When all is set and done, I don’t think the White Sox trade for Wellington Castillo and stick with Flowers. What the White Sox lose in offensive production from Flowers, they gain in his defensive and game management. He is the weak link on the offensive side, but he is the best option for the White Sox. Within the system there isn’t a catcher who is ready to take over for Flowers. There really isn’t a catcher on the free agency market or via trade that is worth bringing in. Flowers will be the catcher for this team, but he should be able to hold his own. All championship teams have some hole on their team. I believe that catcher is the hole for the Sox.
All in all, Rick Hahn made a legitimate contender of this team in a year and a half. He acquired a lot of talent that eliminated deficiencies and gave Abreu the most opportunities to maximize his talents. He also managed to take some pressure off of Chris Sale. I think he gave too much money to Robertson, but all his moves were calculated and effective. I did not expect this team to be contenders this quick. This winter’s moves took the team to the next level and there should be some baseball being played on the South Side this October.
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