Whether or not the White Sox are done adding players for the winter remains to be seen, but left-handed ace Chris Sale said he’s pleased with the moves that’ve already been made this offseason.
While the additions of third baseman Todd Frazier and second baseman Brett Lawrie drew most of the December headlines, Sale will experience a significant change in who he’s throwing to this coming summer. Sale hasn’t thrown to a catcher not named Tyler Flowers since 2013, and the now-former White Sox backstop caught 62 percent of Sale’s career innings. In place of Flowers, who signed with the Atlanta Braves, the White Sox brought in a pair of veterans in Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, who combined have caught 11,827 2/3 innings in the major leagues.
Both Avila and Navarro are here at the Hilton Chicago for SoxFest, which will provide Sale an early opportunity to begin to develop a relationship with each backstop.
“This is definitely a good platform to be able to spend a weekend away from baseball to get to know each other a little bit,” Sale said. “And then you get to spring training and start building that relationship on the field, getting acquainted with each other. We’ll be bouncing ideas and leaning on (pitching coach Don Cooper) and figuring some things out together to make that relationship good.”
While Flowers was a plus as a defender, game manager and pitch caller behind the plate, especially for Sale, his offense — a career .665 OPS — is why the White Sox decided to replace him. Both Avila and Navarro have consistently been rated by FanGraphs as above-average defensive catchers as well.
Improving the team’s overall defense was a focus of this offseason for the White Sox, too, which should directly benefit Sale. The additions of Frazier and Lawrie brought defensive upgrades to third and second base, and Tyler Saladino can be expected to play better defense than Alexei Ramirez did in 2015, too.
Sale’s gulf between his ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was the fifth-highest among qualified starting pitchers in 2015, which for a strikeout machine of a pitcher who gave up an average number of home runs can be connected to the White Sox sub-optimal defense last summer.
“You got a guy (Frazier) who’s one of the best in the business at what he does both offensively and defensively,” Sale said. “That’s something I think we’ve needed for a while.”
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The additions made by the White Sox this offseason have led some advanced projections to peg the club to win around 84 or 85 games in 2016, which, if a few things break right, could blossom into a legitimate playoff push. Sale, from his perspective, sees a similar possibility.
“(General manager Rick Hahn) has put us in a situation to be able to go out there and fend for ourselves and fight for a division title,” Sale said. “That’s all you can ask. When your guys up top are doing everything they can, that puts some fire underneath us to go out there and do what we need to do.”