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.
Aug 28, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Chris Heston will return to the Giants’ rotation to replace the injured Matt Cain on Sunday.
Aug 28, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Yasiel Puig is back on the disabled list with his second hamstring strain this season.
Aug 28, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
AL West teams, including the Athletics, get the short end of the scheduling stick again in 2016.
Aug 28, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
An unknown team claimed Padres closer Craig Kimbrel on revocable waivers.
Aug 28, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
Will the Red Sox exercise his $13 million option for 2016?
Aug 28, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT
This is from an incident in June 2014
Aug 28, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT
An important manifesto from a woman who is both a serious baseball fan and who does not deny the bleeding obvious.
Aug 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Rough timing for the impending free agent.
Aug 28, 2015, 1:44 PM EDT
Hours after firing general manager Jack Zduriencik the Mariners have demoted one of his worst draft picks.
Aug 28, 2015, 11:42 AM EDT
Overall the Mariners went 505-595 (.459) with Zduriencik as GM.
Aug 28, 2015, 11:27 AM EDT
Two months ago, in the wake of the Astros database hacking scandal, the Cardinals fired scouting director Chris Correa.
Aug 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Pedro Martinez is one of the smartest baseball players in living memory, but he’s sniffing up the wrong tree here.
Vote of non-confidence: Reds owner says manager Bryan Price won’t be fired before the season is over
Aug 28, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
He looks like a goner after the season.
Aug 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
I hate to use the word “classy” because its so overused in sports. But this is classy.
Aug 28, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT
Oh, and if you didn’t know: ESPN is a tool of ISIS.
Aug 28, 2015, 8:02 AM EDT
Zack Greinke is doing things guys have not done since the Dead Ball era. And I do not mean making scary faces like that.
Aug 27, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT
Just your standard 1-3-1 putout.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:52 PM EDT
Brutal news here for the Nationals.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
After losing Yunel Escobar on a hit-by-pitch, Michael Taylor left tonight’s game against the Padres when he crashed into the outfield fence.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT
So, that thing about the Nationals’ projected Opening Day lineup finally being in place?
- The Athletics have a travel-heavy 2016 schedule and unsuccessfully tried to have it altered 5
- Mariners fire general manager Jack Zduriencik 58
- Pedro Martinez wonders if bad chemistry is the reason the Tigers and Mariners are out of contention 46
- Vote of non-confidence: Reds owner says manager Bryan Price won’t be fired before the season is over 21
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 86
- Denard Span headed back to DL with hip inflammation, unlikely to return this season 10
- Report: Barry Bonds loses collusion case against MLB 40
- Jessica Mendoza to sit in for Curt Schilling on Sunday Night Baseball this week 80
- Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports” (248)
- Dan Patrick: When does ESPN cut ties with Curt Schilling? (200)
- Curt Schilling taken off of Little League World Series duty for making a really bad tweet (169)
- Curt Schilling taken off of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast this week (134)
- Phillies announcer calls Mets fans “obnoxious” (122)