Feb 27, 2014, 2:08 PM EST
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 2014 season. Next up: The Chicago White Sox.
The Big Question: Can the White Sox rebuild the league’s worst lineup on the fly?
Chicago went from 85 wins in 2012 to 63 wins last year for the White Sox’s worst season since 1970. Their pitching got worse, but it was nothing compared to the offense falling off a cliff by going from fourth in the league with 748 runs to dead last with 598 runs. It was ugly.
Instead of stocking up on prospects with an eye toward several years down the road general manager Rick Hahn has instead tried to rebuild the lineup in the short and long term, acquiring MLB-ready young talent in Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, and Avisail Garcia. In doing so he traded away a young closer in Addison Reed and a young mid-rotation starter in Hector Santiago, and the White Sox previously parted with Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Jesse Crain, and Matt Thornton in the middle of last season. Toss in Paul Konerko fading into a part-time role and this is a very different lineup than the .680 OPS crew, but will the results be much different?
Not so long ago Eaton looked like one of the best leadoff prospects in baseball, Abreu has immense upside after putting up monster numbers as a slugger in Cuba, and both Davidson and Garcia have the potential to be solid contributors offensively. But for the White Sox’s lineup to go from horrible to respectable immediately they need just about everything to click and holdover bats Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, and Tyler Flowers have disappointed after once showing promise as youngsters themselves.
Chicago’s offense can’t help but be better in 2014, but the White Sox don’t look capable of making the leap into contention and the success or failure of the season depends largely on Abreu living up to the hype and 2-3 other young bats emerging as long-term regulars (plus Chris Sale staying healthy and remaining one of the elite starters in the league, of course). If they can accomplish those things and win 70-something games Hahn and company should be pretty happy with the offseason moves.
What else is going on?
- Thanks to a misleadingly poor win-loss record last season it’s possible that a lot of people don’t realize just how amazing Sale has been as a starter. Among all MLB starting pitchers since 2012–when he moved into the rotation–Sale ranks ninth in ERA and third in ERA+, which adjusts for ballparks and leagues. He’s also fifth in strikeout rate, fourth in K/BB ratio, and ninth in opponents’ OPS. He’s one of the best 5-10 pitchers in baseball and he’s still just 25 years old.
- Much is being made about the decision to trade away a 24-year-old closer coming off a 40-save season, but Reed wasn’t all that great once you get past the save total. He has a 4.17 career ERA, is more fly-ball prone that is ideal in the ninth-inning role, and has mediocre control. And while he’s piled up plenty of saves his actual save conversion rate of 85 percent is nothing special. The wisdom of the trade obviously depends on whether Davidson proves to be a valuable regular, but the idea of cashing in Reed was a smart one. Closers are made, not born, and Nate Jones or Matt Lindstrom likely can handle the job without much dropoff.
- Exactly how good can Abreu be? Projecting foreign players is always tough, but Fan Graphs’ reliable ZiPS system pegs Abreu as a .273 hitter with 26 homers and an .858 OPS as a rookie. To put that in some context, an .858 OPS would have ranked sixth among MLB first basemen last season, one spot behind Freddie Freeman. If the White Sox get that, they should be thrilled with their $68 million investment. (The bad news? Abreu is the only White Sox hitter projected by ZiPS to be above average.)
- Overshadowed by the young, MLB-ready bats brought into the mix is that the White Sox also already had a very good infield prospect in Marcus Semien. Last season between Double-A and Triple-A he hit .284 with 19 homers, 24 steals, more walks (98) than strikeouts (90), and an .880 OPS, including a studly .401 on-base percentage at age 22. Semien getting on base and Abreu knocking him in could be a very nice combo for a long time, perhaps as soon as midseason.
Prediction: Better–and a whole lot more interesting–but still nowhere near good. Fifth place, AL Central.
Dec 26, 2014, 10:25 PM EST
The Braves’ one-year deal with catcher A.J. Pierzynski is for $2 million.
Dec 26, 2014, 9:20 PM EST
Rafael Furcal has suffered another injury, this time a torn hamstring which will keep him out of the Dominican Winter League playoffs.
Dec 26, 2014, 8:03 PM EST
If Wandy Rodriguez passes his physical, the Phillies are expected to sign him to a minor league deal.
Dec 26, 2014, 7:10 PM EST
Jeff Manship will begin the spring with the Indians after signing a minor league deal.
Dec 26, 2014, 6:05 PM EST
According to Peter Gammons, some GMs think the Giants will eventually trade for Ben Zobrist.
Dec 26, 2014, 3:49 PM EST
After seven years in the United States, Hiroki Kuroda is heading home.
Dec 26, 2014, 11:32 AM EST
Uggla hit .179 in 2013 and .149 this year.
Dec 26, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
And it’s all thanks to a man named George Mukhobe.
Dec 26, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
He threw 64 innings with a 3.96 ERA and 44/16 K/BB ratio for the Giants in 2014.
Dec 26, 2014, 9:35 AM EST
Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.
Dec 26, 2014, 7:32 AM EST
Actually, no, he probably wouldn’t have, Curt.
Dec 25, 2014, 3:05 PM EST
Japanese righty Chihiro Kaneko might have been one of the top starters on the open market this winter had he been posted by the Orix Buffaloes, his Nippon Professional Baseball team.
Dec 25, 2014, 1:23 PM EST
Your one-stop shop for all of the offseason signings.
Dec 25, 2014, 8:47 AM EST
And a very special friend of HBT
Dec 24, 2014, 10:00 PM EST
A good way to finish off our Christmas Eve coverage on HardballTalk …
Dec 24, 2014, 8:04 PM EST
The sought-after 26-year-old right-hander has now officially re-signed with the Hiroshima Carp for the 2015 season, according to the Japan Times.
Dec 24, 2014, 6:17 PM EST
Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that the Rockies have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with outfielder Roger Bernadina.
Dec 24, 2014, 4:21 PM EST
A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town. Well, except for Mr. Potter. That guy is LOADED.
Dec 24, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
No, really. The news broke on line at a Honeybaked Ham store.
Dec 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Based on these results, no, we will not stick to baseball. Because you clearly don’t want us to.
- Merry Christmas from HBT! 74
- THE YEAR IN REVIEW: HBT’s most commented-upon stories of the year 86
- The Yankees are treating Alex Rodriguez differently than they treated Derek Jeter. So what? 40
- Braves sign setup man Jason Grilli to two-year contract 15
- My Imaginary Hall of Fame Ballot 120
- Phil Hughes signs a three-year extension with the Twins 27
- The Padres have talked to the Phillies about Cole Hamels 23
- Why is John Smoltz a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame? 65
- Curt Schilling goes after Obama, says Ronald Reagan would watch “The Interview” (227)
- My Imaginary Hall of Fame Ballot (120)
- Today’s specious anti-Mike Piazza-for-the-Hall-Fame argument (96)
- THE YEAR IN REVIEW: HBT’s most commented-upon stories of the year (86)
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” (85)