The White Sox let Tyler Flowers go Wednesday night in the name of offensive improvement and they sound hopeful to have someone lined up.
The team’s starting catcher for the past three seasons is one of two arbitration-eligible players to whom the White Sox didn’t offer a contract ahead of Wednesday’s 11 p.m. CST deadline. The club tendered contracts for outfielder Avisail Garcia and relievers Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings and Nate Jones.
General manager Rick Hahn said the need for more offense was the driving force for letting Flowers — who hit .239/.295/.356 with nine homers and 39 RBIs in 361 plate appearances in 2015 — become a free agent.
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“The decision basically came down to we saw an opportunity to improve the club from an offensive standpoint,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “While we're not able to get into specifics as to what the next move will be to fill the roster spot vacated by Tyler, this move was done as part of a plan and we're just not in a position to announce what the next move's going to be.”
The White Sox were last in the American League in runs scored and home runs last season and finished 14th in on-base percentage. Their catchers combined for a .656 OPS, which ranked 17th among 30 major league teams.
Last week, the club signed free-agent catcher Alex Avila to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million in hopes of an offensive upgrade. Though he figured he might see less playing time next season, Flowers was on board because he thought the platoon could be good for the White Sox. But on Tuesday, Flowers heard from Hahn that the club was leaning towards making him a free agent.
“It’s definitely surprising,” Flowers said. “I have a good relationship with Rick so we talked a little bit. I knew this was a possibility, more so just recently, but still very surprising. In my understanding of the business we’re in, it seems a little surprising to make this move with the player the caliber that I am. I think it’s more than just surprising to me, I’m sure it’s surprising to a lot of people and teams.”
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Hahn said Wednesday the White Sox have more work ahead, indicating they don’t intend to head into the season with Rob Brantly or Kevan Smith as their No. 2 option.
While the White Sox have always lauded Flowers for his work with the pitching staff, and more recently his pitching framing, the catcher’s offense hasn’t been on the same level.
Flowers struggled in his first full season as the starting catcher, hitting .195/.247/.355 with only 10 homers and 24 RBIs before he revealed he had played through a shoulder injury that required surgery in September 2013.
Fully healthy, Flowers bounced back in 2014 and hit .241/.297/.396 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs and continued to earn the trust of his pitching staff.
While he never found consistency at the plate last season, Flowers excelled at pitch framing and was constantly lauded by pitchers for his game-calling skills. He finished among the game’s top catchers in framing metrics and Chris Sale has often credited much of his success to his trust in Flowers.
Hahn said everything had been taken into consideration when making the move. But ultimately, the need for offense prevailed.
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“One of the things we need to improve upon is our run-scoring ability,” Hahn said. “While Tyler certainly had some strengths from the defensive side of the game, and it's an area of importance, we did see the opportunity to make us a little bit stronger, along with Alex Avila, from an offensive standpoint.
“We’re looking to improve the club offensively at a number of positions and this move was part of potentially doing that at catcher.”
Jacob Turner, who was claimed off waivers from the Cubs this offseason, also was non-tendered. Hahn said the White Sox still hope to work out a deal with Turner.