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.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:25 AM EST
Aardsma pitched exclusively in the Cardinals minor league system last year, but he’s hoping to get back on the radar in 2015.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
While MLB still needs to give their approval, it appears that Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada is one step closer to finally signing with a team.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:56 AM EST
Buxton repeats as MLB.com’s top prospect despite an injury-plagued 2014.
Jan 30, 2015, 10:50 PM EST
Neal Cotts battled numerous injuries and nearly called it quits before the Rangers signed him to a minor league deal in 2012.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:40 PM EST
Joe Kelly has some bold words for non-believers.
Jan 30, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
Yasiel Puig meant it in a good way!
Jan 30, 2015, 7:20 PM EST
The Rockies addressed their depth on Friday, signing reliever Rafael Betancourt and utility infielder Omar Quintanilla to minor league deals.
Jan 30, 2015, 6:10 PM EST
The Red Sox are willing to trade reliever Edward Mujica, according to a report.
Jan 30, 2015, 5:11 PM EST
This is gonna turn some heads.
Jan 30, 2015, 4:55 PM EST
MLB has been suspending guys by the truckload lately.
Jan 30, 2015, 4:26 PM EST
He hit .293 with 21 homers and a .930 OPS in 102 games last season, topping 200 plate appearances for the first time at age 31.
Jan 30, 2015, 4:10 PM EST
A couple of pitchers who don’t profile well in a hitters’ environment for a couple of catchers who have shown a little at the plate. Advantage: Braves.
Jan 30, 2015, 3:49 PM EST
Ogando posted a 3.12 ERA in 381 innings from 2010-2013.
Jan 30, 2015, 3:07 PM EST
The lack of a DH and the health of Miguel Cabrera are the determining factors.
Jan 30, 2015, 1:04 PM EST
Baker has struggled to regain his form after missing all of 2012 following Tommy John elbow surgery.
Jan 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EST
And he’s not selling jeans here.
Jan 30, 2015, 12:19 PM EST
He’s back on the open market.
Jan 30, 2015, 11:21 AM EST
“Operation Foul Ball” was actually a thing.
Jan 30, 2015, 10:49 AM EST
Paulino was once a young power with lots of upside, but injuries have repeatedly derailed his career.
Jan 30, 2015, 10:20 AM EST
LaHair looks destined to go down as one of the least successful All-Stars of all time.
- MLB.com names Byron Buxton as baseball’s top prospect for second straight year 5
- Yasiel Puig says the Cardinals are the Dodgers’ “principal rivals,” not the Giants 76
- Jayson Werth to serve five days in jail for reckless driving 47
- Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list is out 39
- Great Moments in Media Arrogance: Marshawn Lynch edition 173
- Nationals sign former Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen 11
- Ichiro Suzuki’s deal with the Marlins is worth $2 million 35
- Orioles acquire outfielder Travis Snider from Pirates 37
- Great Moments in Media Arrogance: Marshawn Lynch edition (173)
- Rob Manfred, new Major League Baseball commissioner, suggests ban on defensive shifts (118)
- Why “Deflategate” would never happen in baseball (96)
- The Yankees are going to try to get out of paying A-Rod his contract incentives (83)
- Yasiel Puig says the Cardinals are the Dodgers’ “principal rivals,” not the Giants (78)