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.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:39 AM EDT
But it probably doesn’t matter because a reinstated Rose would be pretty limited to begin with.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:14 AM EDT
And 15 MLB teams are now worth at least $1 billion, according to Forbes.
Mar 27, 2015, 8:42 AM EDT
Dave Righetti thinks it may have to do with weight training.
Mar 27, 2015, 7:47 AM EDT
Kudos to Epstein for a good answer. Kudos to Schilling for a couple of more probing questions.
Mar 26, 2015, 11:02 PM EDT
In a first-person essay for The Player’s Tribune, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz came out swinging against his critics.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:50 PM EDT
The Mets are keeping an eye on the Dodgers and Rockies as they look to replace Josh Edgin.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
Are they ready to contend?
Mar 26, 2015, 8:29 PM EDT
Robertson signed a four-year, $46 million deal with the White Sox over the winter to be their new closer.
Mar 26, 2015, 7:31 PM EDT
After failing to reach an agreement with the Astros last year, unsigned No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery.
Mar 26, 2015, 6:25 PM EDT
It will be Gallardo’s sixth straight Opening Day start and first as a member of the Rangers.
Mar 26, 2015, 5:32 PM EDT
Even after all of these years, baseball’s preeminent B.S. shoveler remains on top of his game.
Mar 26, 2015, 4:07 PM EDT
Which doesn’t mean that Citi Field has gotten less safe. It does mean, however, that the Mets will have a much harder job convincing people of that.
Mar 26, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Burton had a 4.36 ERA and 46/25 K/BB ratio in 64 innings for the Twins last season.
Mar 26, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
Archer will be the first pitcher other than David Price or James Shields to start Opening Day for the Rays since 2007.
Mar 26, 2015, 2:51 PM EDT
The pitching is great and the offense should be better. But is better good enough?
Mar 26, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT
“I’ve had enough of St. Louis.”
Mar 26, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
The Rays and Marlins have some challenges a lot of teams don’t.
Mar 26, 2015, 12:55 PM EDT
We shouldn’t forget about the 28- and 29-year-olds getting sent down, too.
Mar 26, 2015, 12:33 PM EDT
Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus all ranked Lindor as a top-10 overall prospect this year.
Mar 26, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Buck was trying to win a job with the Braves on a minor-league contract.
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” 64
- 2015 Preview: Chicago Cubs 11
- Unsigned 2014 No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken undergoes Tommy John surgery 46
- 2015 Preview: Seattle Mariners 15
- Cardinals add “OT” patch for Oscar Taveras 76
- 2015 Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates 13
- 2015 Preview: San Diego Padres 22
- MLB is looking into some strange gambling tweets involving Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart 47
- College baseball player cut after making offensive tweet about Mo’ne Davis (115)
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (115)
- Cardinals add “OT” patch for Oscar Taveras (76)
- Andrew McCutchen cut his hair for the first time in eight years (75)