Feb 27, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
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.
May 22, 2015, 11:59 PM EDT
Mike Trout is pretty good at this baseball thing.
May 22, 2015, 11:40 PM EDT
Bad news for the reeling Marlins: starters Mat Latos and Henderson Alvarez both will take at least a couple of weeks off due to injuries.
May 22, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT
Ichiro Suzuki may be close to the end of a brilliant career, but he’s not done moving up baseball’s all-time leaderboards.
May 22, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT
Nelson Cruz kept pace with Bryce Harper, taking back the MLB lead in home runs shortly after losing it.
May 22, 2015, 9:35 PM EDT
Stephen Vogt has been baseball’s best-hitting catcher and GM Billy Beane plans to hold onto him.
May 22, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT
Athletes aren’t born with an ability to speak with the media. We got a look into a media coaching session between Athletics closer Sean Doolittle and girlfriend Eireann Dolan.
May 22, 2015, 7:51 PM EDT
The Dodgers added some pitching depth on Friday, acquiring pitcher Eric Surkamp from the White Sox.
May 22, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
The White Sox are managing Carlos Rodon’s workload so they pushed the lefty’s start back from Monday.
May 22, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Coco Crisp will go back on the disabled list, but has chosen against having career-ending surgery.
May 22, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
The Mets appear to be heading towards using a six-man rotation after Dillon Gee returns on Saturday.
May 22, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
The Yankees firmly believe that the only people allowed to disparage Alex Rodriguez are the Yankees.
May 22, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Castillo is starting tonight in right field.
May 22, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT
Janssen was signed for $5 million to replace Tyler Clippard as the Nationals’ primary setup man.
May 22, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
When I see you smile, Barry, I can face the world. You know I can do anything. When I see you smile, I see a ray of light.
May 22, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT
21-year-old right-hander Norge Ruiz.
May 22, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
But Major League Baseball’s silliness about these kinds of infractions, however, will continue on unabated.
Quote of the Day: Freddie Freeman inadvertently illustrates the silliness of the foreign substance rules
May 22, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT
Paraphrased: “Smith should be way less obvious about the fact that he’s trying to keep us safe!”
May 22, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Travis has been a huge bright spot for Toronto this season.
May 22, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
At least that’s what Molly Knight reports from Japan, and I’m inclined to agree.
May 22, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Mujica actually managed to pick up the ball and make a throw to first base for the out.
- Video: Mike Trout makes a ridiculous slide to beat the tag at third base 0
- Cuba’s best pitching prospect is on his way to America 17
- Will Smith suspended for eight games for the foreign substance on his arm 58
- Will Smith’s ejection once again shows baseball’s silly approach to foreign substance rules 48
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 95
- Who really owns a home run ball? 65
- The story behind the Nationals squirting chocolate syrup on each other after big wins 43
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 131
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (131)
- Bryce Harper on Marvin Hudson ejection: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump” (130)
- Bryce Harper ejected for second time in a week (122)
- GM Dan Jennings to be named the Marlins new manager. And it’s a terrible idea. (111)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (101)