Rick, you have three choices.

Disclaimer:  I haven’t posted to Channeling Shoeless Joe for a while. When the Sox were ailing during the rebuild, for whatever reason, I felt I had more to say.  Now that they have a chance to separate from pretty good to great, I feel compelled to share once again.

Either you were surprised by the White Sox 2020 abbreviated season playoff qualification or you expected it.  For those of you that were surprised, what did you think was still missing?  For those of you that expected it, will essentially maintaining the status quo (allowing for some like Luis RobertNick Madrigal, Dane Dunning, and Garrett Crochet et al. to further improve) yield a championship in 2021 or 2022?

In my estimation, the architect of this rebuilding project, Rick Hahn, a.k.a. The Man Who Traded Fernando Tatis, Jr., has three choices.  They are:

  • Stand pat: The only glaring holes right now are at designated hitter, in right field, and in the #3 spot of the starting rotation.  The number three overall pick in the 2019 draft, Andrew Vaughn, is essentially a one spot player defensively. That spot is first base, yet it is currently occupied by the man that deserves the 2020 MVP Award for the American League, Jose Abreu.  By all accounts, other than an emergency start on the mound (he began his career at The University of California as a two way player), Vaughn isn’t going to play any other position.  However, a certain $12 million designated hitter will most certainly not have his option picked up after a horrendous season at the plate. Thus, Vaughn can slide in here and occasionally offer Abreu rest at first.  No huge expenditure needed.

Hahn might also assume that Nomar Mazara’s power outage was an aberration, as he hit 79 home runs between 2016-2019, despite only hitting one this season.  Additionally, he will only be 26 years old (April) for the 2021 season, so in theory there is still room for growth and development. (For those at home shaking your head, you need only look at our shortstop, who didn’t hit his stride until his age 26 season, when he raised his batting average 95 points and his on base percentage 76 points.)

Finally, the three spot in the rotation.  Lucas Giolito has solidified himself as the number one.  Dallas Keuchel exceeded expectations in his first year with the Sox, recording a 1.99 earned run average over 63.1 innings pitched.  Then…the number three spot.  Dylan Cease still can’t command his healthy fastball (his four seamer averaged 97.5 miles per hour this season according to Baseball Savant), Dunning has seven career starts in the majors (not including his abbreviated 15 pitch effort against Oakland in the playoffs; thanks for the confidence Ricky the Departed), Gio Gonzalez was a complete non-factor, and Reynaldo Lopez had (past tense?) no confidence in himself whatsoever and that translated to his performance on the mound.  And, oh ya, Michael Kopech is still on the team, I guess.  Minus Gonzalez, is it possible one of these aforementioned players can compete for the three spot in the rotation next year, and once there, solidify it? Absolutely.  Cease and Kopech are currently 24 years old, Dunning is 25, and Lopez is 26.  The question is, at this point, are the Sox willing to be patient?

The only free agent of consequence (I believe James McCann is a consequential free agent, but the Sox are very unlikely to keep him, unless…) is closer Alex Colome.  If the Sox choose not to invest in him with a three or four year deal, they have a wealth of choices to anoint as the next closer, including Aaron Bummer, Matt Foster, Codi Heuer, Crochet, and even Kopech.

  • Tweaks: As stated, the biggest needs are at DH, right field, and an additional starter in the rotation.  This is true provided the Sox resign Colome, which we’ll assume in this scenario and the next that they are fully prepared to do. 

Realistically, all signs point to the Sox not investing in another aging and declining one dimensional DH and going with the young bat in Vaughn.  However, Mazara in RF and Cease/Dunning/Lopez/Kopech in the three spot in the rotation to begin 2021 are far less likely.  So in the tweak section, we’ll default to the realistic rather than the bombastic.

The Sox have pursued Joc Pederson from the Dodgers for the last two years. Annually, the Sox covet a powerful left handed bat and Pederson fits the bill, as well as his ability to play any outfield spot capably and efficiently.  However, his slash line of .190/.285/.397 with 7 home runs and 16 runs batted in doesn’t differ much from Mazara’s extremely underwhelming .228/.295/.294 line with 1 home run and 15 runs batted in.  It’s more likely that the Sox would seek to poach a veteran bat from an organization that may want to restock its farm system a bit.

David Peralta is an under the radar veteran right fielder with the Diamondbacks.  The Diamondbacks underachieved this year, despite a massive investment in left handed starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, and they may be looking to trim some excess dollars from their 25 man roster.  Peralta looks especially expendable as the Diamondbacks premium asset in their minor league system is without question their depth of blue chip outfield talent.

Peralta’s .300/.339/.433 line with 5 home runs and 34 runs batted in looks mighty healthy compared to that of Mazara and Pederson.

Trade:  The Sox obtain RF David Peralta from the Arizona Diamondbacks for the #20 and #21 ranked prospects in their farm system (OF Benyamin Bailey and LHP Konnor Pilkington, respectively) and C/1B/DH Zack Collins.

Bailey is only 19 years old and years from major league relevance.  Pilkington, a former third round pick out of Mississippi State, is somewhat of an afterthought behind bigger, more pedigreed arms in the system, and it is obvious due to his usage this year (and Yasmani Grandal’s signing) that the Sox don’t see a long term fit for former first round pick Collins. 

The rotation tweak and replacing McCann could both be done by adding old friends. Free agent LHP Jose Quintana is coming off injuries to both his thumb and back and could be had for a reasonable one year, bounce back deal. From 2013-2016 with the White Sox, prior to being traded to the Cubs for Cease and Eloy Jimenez, ‘Q’ never threw fewer than 200 innings and never started fewer than 32 games.  During that time frame, his earned run average stayed between 3.20 and 3.51 and he never walked more than 56 hitters in a season. 

If Quintana can find that mojo again, Cease/Dunning/Lopez/Kopech and perhaps even Jimmy Lambert, Jonathan Stiever or Crochet could battle it out for the final two rotation spots.

Lastly, with Collins jettisoned to Arizona, the Sox could bring back catcher Tyler Flowers, who played with the Sox from 2009 to 2014.  Together, ‘T-Flo’ and Grandal would form the best pitch framing duo in baseball. 

  • 2021 has to be the year or Hahn starts to panic about having ‘The Man Who Traded Fernando Tatis, Jr.’ spray painted on his tombstone: 2020 wasn’t enough, right?  It can’t be another 12 years until the Sox make the playoffs again. That would be an overwhelmingly disheartening waste of ‘The Core’.  If 2020, God forbid, was the apex, then Hahn is going to have to sell his home in Winnetka and move to Greenwich, Connecticut and commute every day to Wall Street.  Kenny Williams might have to transition to a gig with the Board of Trustees at Stanford. Jerry Reinsdorf, well, he’ll be really really old 12 years from now.

That is unless Hahn and Company employ *a little radical abandon in their off season moves.

Trade 1:  The Sox obtain P Joe Musgrove and RF Josh Bell from the Pittsburgh Pirates for the #7, #8, #10, and #14 ranked prospects in their farm system (P Stiever, P Matt Thompson, 1B Gavin Sheets, and OF Blake Rutherford, respectively) and IF Danny Mendick.

The Sox have an abundance of young arms at the major and minor league levels.  They just can’t afford to be patient with all of them, nor can they covet them so much that they neglect trade opportunities. Sheets is blocked by Abreu and Vaughn and two thirds of the Sox outfield is set for the next decade, so Rutherford’s potential can be molded elsewhere.

The Pirates aren’t going to contend, well, ever, so Musgrove and Bell are expendable. Musgrove, 28 years old for the 2021 season and Bell, who turned 29 in August, are both controllable for two more years each.  Musgrove is a former blue chip prospect of the Astros.  The 2011 first round pick had a 3.86 earned run average in 2020 and struck out 55 hitters in 39.2 innings pitched.  He is an extremely solid number five starter for a competitive team.  As a matter of fact, in that spot, he would most likely be the best number 5 starter in Major League Baseball. 

Bell had a down year in 2020, which makes his availability seem more likely. However, his big left handed bat destroyed all comers in 2019, which his .277/.367/.569 slash line with 37 home runs, 116 runs batted in, and 37 doubles clearly illustrates.  He is the left handed power that Mazara was not. 

Trade 2:  The Sox obtain P Jack Flaherty from the St. Louis Cardinals for 2B Madrigal, P Dunning, and (unranked) prospect IF Zack Remillard.

Madrigal lovers:  How many 31 foot squib hits to the left or the right of the mound can one man accumulate over the course of a year?  Eventually, Madrigal’s luck is going to run out and his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is going to plummet.  At that point it will be revealed that he is a former 4thoverall pick that has become a utility infielder for a non-contending team.  In other words, sell high.

Dunning can mature with the Cardinals (he actually had a better year statistically than Flaherty in 2020) and Flaherty can slot nicely behind Keuchel to form the playoff trio the Sox were missing in 2020.  In 2019, Flaherty was 11-8 with a 2.75 earned run average, 33 starts, only 135 hits allowed in 196.1 innings pitched and an unreal strikeout to walk ratio of 231 to 55.  If he replicates those numbers in 2021, the Sox will not be one and done in the post season.

He is only 25 years old and still has three years of team control.  And if you didn’t know, he played high school baseball with a pitcher named Lucas Giolito at Harvard-Westlake in California. Giolito-Keuchel-Flaherty.  Oh, sounds nice.

Trade 3:  The Sox obtain P Patrick Corbin and the #29 ranked prospect in the Washington National system, OF Nick Banks for C Grandal and P Lopez.

Raise your hand if you’re a devout Sox fan and you’ll miss Grandal.  Ok, to the four of you, get over it.  Grandal was an extremely underwhelming, overpaid addition in 2020.  The Sox have a starting catcher that is better defensively and better handling a pitching staff.  This is addition by subtraction.  Getting rid of Grandal assures the Sox will keep McCann.  But Grandal is expensive (he still has about $55 million on his deal), so the Sox would have to take a likewise inflated contract for a player that underperformed in 2020.  Enter Corbin, an integral part of the 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals. 

His numbers were pedestrian in 2020:  2-7 with a 4.66 earned run average.  But if Corbin can revert to his 2019 form (14-7, 3.25 earned run average, 202 innings pitched, 238 to 70 strikeout to walk ratio), the makings of a championship team will be set. 

Corbin is 31 years old and is signed through the 2024 season.  He would become the Sox highest paid player at $23 million per year.

Free agent signings:  The Sox sign SS Didi Gregorius to a 3 year/$52 million deal.  The Sox sign IF/OF Kike Hernandez to a 2 year/$10 million deal. 

The Sox would need to replace Madrigal at second base.  Could 52 million enticements convince the uber talented and ridiculously likeable Gregorius to move to second base to accommodate the shortstop incumbent Tim Anderson?

Gregorius is the left handed bat (along with Bell) that the Sox have long coveted. He had a solid .284/.339/.488 slash line in 2020 with 10 home runs and 40 runs batted in (the 40 rbi would have placed him third on the Sox behind Abreu and Jimenez).  In his last significant full season in 2018, Gregorius hit .268/.335/.494 with 27 home runs and 86 runs batted in.  His defensive skills would transition nicely to second base as he ages (31) and those power numbers are enormously attractive for the two hole.  The athleticism up the middle (Anderson, Gregorius, and Robert) would be unique and entertaining.

Finally, due to Leury Garcia’s inability to stay healthy and Yolmer Sanchez’s inability to hit a baseball, the Sox would bring in Hernandez to do what he does best off the bench-put up pedestrian offensive numbers in the regular season, play well defensively at seven different positions, and hit unbelievably clutch home runs in the post season. (Remember what he did to the Cubs in 2017?  Did you see his pinch hit home run this year against the Braves in Game 7?!)

What do this line up and rotation look like?

SS Tim Anderson

2B Didi Gregorius

1B Jose Abreu

LF Eloy Jimenez

RF Josh Bell

3B Yoan Moncada

CF Luis Robert

DH Andrew Vaughn

C James McCann

Starting rotation:  Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Jack Flaherty, Patrick Corbin, Joe Musgrove

With the rotation bumping some young starters to the bullpen, your power arms include Foster, Heuer, Crochet, Cease, Kopech, and Bummer.

Why not?

*Ok.  A lot of radical abandon.

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