There might be nothing higher on the White Sox offseason to-do list than starting pitching. That’s why I ranked the free-agent pitchers a little while back before moving on to other positions.
But the team's to-do list has multiple items on it, with general manager Rick Hahn counting right field and designated hitter as areas in need of upgrades this winter. So let’s move on to that vacancy in right field, shall we?
Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert figure to be entrenched in left field and center field for the better part of the next decade, but that right-field spot is a mystery. The White Sox seemed to have a wealth of options in the minor leagues, but 2019 saw a rash of injuries and under-performances hit that once impressive outfield depth. Add the woeful production from those manning the position at the major league level, and the pursuit for a right fielder this offseason makes plenty of sense for a team looking to vault into contention mode as soon as 2020.
As you’ll notice, the right-field/outfield market isn’t as jam packed with superstars as the starting-pitching market is. That list starts with Gerrit Cole and moves on to Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and plenty other attractive options. Scanning this list, you might not find a guy you believe would be a great fit for these White Sox and you might turn to trade possibilities. That could happen. Just remember that those aforementioned injuries and under-performances affected many of the White Sox mid-tier prospects, making it difficult to envision a trade package that could net an impact player in return. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but free agency looks the more realistic route for Hahn’s front office to fill these holes.
One more thing: Hahn has talked about the desire, in an “ideal” situation, to add some left-handedness to an almost exclusively right-handed lineup. The only forecasted everyday player who can hit lefty is Yoan Moncada, a switch-hitter. The White Sox could probably use some balance, and the search for a right fielder might be the perfect opportunity to add some. Hahn said, however, that the White Sox won’t be signing a lefty just to sign a lefty.
“Ideally, that would be nice. Ideally, you'd like to balance that out and that would require adding some left-handed power,” he said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “We don't want to get too hung up strictly on handedness in the end and sign an inferior, say, left-handed hitter when a better right-handed hitter is available and fits. But it's a consideration, and in an ideal world we would balance it out.”
Not a deal-breaker. Just something to keep in mind.
All right, let’s get on with it.
1. Nicholas Castellanos, age 27
2019 stats: .289/.337/.525, 27 home runs, 73 RBIs
White Sox fans should be plenty familiar with Castellanos, who spent the majority of the last seven years raking with the division-rival Detroit Tigers. He’s particularly fond of hitting against the South Siders, with a .293/.343/.477 line to go along with 13 home runs, 26 doubles and 60 RBIs in 95 career games. In 2018 alone, he drove in 20 runs in 19 games against the White Sox.
But the familiarity shouldn’t end there, as Castellanos played in Chicago for the final two months of the 2019 season, joining the Cubs for their ill-fated playoff chase. He was far from the problem on the North Side, though, hitting 16 home runs and 21 doubles and driving in 36 runs in just 51 games. That late-season surge — perhaps aided by getting away from a home ballpark in Detroit he called “a joke” — kicked his pending free agency up a notch as teams search for a bat to stick in the middle of their lineup. Castellanos fits the bill, with 76 home runs, 140 doubles and 263 RBIs over the last three years.
As for a potential fit with the White Sox, Castellanos would definitely fill the need in right field and fill the need in the middle of the order. He’s got a great track record of hitting at Guaranteed Rate Field, too. There have been questions about his defensive ability — as his minus-nine Defensive Runs Saved would indicate — and with Jimenez looking like he has work to do in left field, putting another defensive question mark around Robert as he gets his first taste of the major leagues might not be the greatest idea. But the name of the game is scoring runs.
2. Marcell Ozuna, 28
2019 stats: .241/.328/.472, 29 home runs, 89 RBIs
The hot stove has already started cooking, with a rumor listing the White Sox as one of many teams interested in Ozuna. Certainly there’s reason all the teams mentioned in that report should have interest in Ozuna, who’s only two years removed from a monster season in his last year with the Miami Marlins: a .312/.376/.548 slash line, 37 homers and 124 RBIs. Since being traded, the numbers haven’t been quite that good, but they’ve haven’t been bad, either: a .262/.327/.451 line with 52 homers and 177 RBIs in two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ozuna did a little to help his free-agent cause with a nice postseason as the Redbirds made it to the NLCS. In nine October games, he hit .324/.359/.595 with a couple homers, four doubles, five RBIs and six runs scored.
But there are obstacles to any potential White Sox interest. Apparently someone out there thinks Ozuna can get a seven-year deal worth $160 million. That seems … high. But more concerning, perhaps, is the fact that Ozuna just hasn’t played much right field. He’s a left fielder with just 1.1 innings in right since the start of the 2017 season. Ozuna is productive, but is he the kind of guy worth blowing up the defensive alignment over?
3. Starling Marte*, 31
2019 stats: .295/.342/.503, 23 home runs, 82 RBIs
Marte gets himself an asterisk because he might not be available. The Pittsburgh Pirates have an $11.5 million option they have to make a decision on, and while Marte remains a useful player, the Bucs are in search of a new manager and coming off a season of major dysfunction. If they’re thinking about blowing things up — despite somehow hanging around in the NL Central standings on a fairly regular basis — then maybe they’d move on from Marte.
Marte carries a reputation as a strong defender, at least he did when he won back-to-back Gold Gloves primarily as a left fielder in 2015 and 2016. But the numbers haven't been good since he took over in center field. He was a minus-nine DRS fielder in center this season, as bad, statistically, in center as Castellanos was in right and one of the worst, statistically, center fielders in baseball. In other words, perhaps a team looking for a right fielder might be able to find some defensive improvement by moving Marte back to a corner spot.
Marte’s bat, on the other hand, was the best it’s been in his career in 2019. He posted career bests with 23 homers, 82 RBIs and a .503 slugging percentage. His .295 batting average and 159 hits were the second best totals in his career. He also banged out 31 doubles and six triples, reached base at a .342 clip and stole 25 bases. All of those numbers are good, and he’d be worth a look — should he reach the market.
4. Yasiel Puig, 28
2019 stats: .267/.327/.458, 24 home runs, 84 RBIs
Like Castellanos, Puig was traded midseason to help a playoff charge that didn’t end in a playoff berth. Puig went from one Ohio team to the other, dealt from the Cincinnati Reds to the Cleveland Indians, and he fared much better after the trade than before it, turning in a .297/.377/.423 slash line in 49 games. He only hit two of his 24 home runs with the Indians but saw a big improvement in his walk-to-strikeout numbers: In 100 games with the Reds, he walked 23 times while striking out 89 times, but in his time with the Indians, he walked 21 times and struck out 44 times.
But regardless of the offensive numbers, Puig is known for other things. In the good times, that’s his base-hugging, tongue-wagging energy that can spark a team. In the bad times, that’s uncontrollable outbursts that lead to and then worsen on-field confrontations between teams. Of course, the Pirates — whose clubhouse was an absolute mess this season — deserve their fair share of the blame for the ugliness between the NL Central rivals that spilled out multiple times during the 2019 campaign. But it’s hard to forget the scene of Puig getting ejected for his wild behavior at the center of a fracas after news of his trade to Cleveland had already broke.
The White Sox would obviously have to weigh those two extremes in any pursuit of Puig, who unlike Ozuna does play right field, and is better, statistically, at it than Castellanos, with zero DRS during the 2019 season. But Puig hasn’t hit over .270 since his second year in the league in 2014, and he’s reached base at a clip north of .330 just once since then. His .785 OPS in 2019 was the third-lowest of his big league career.
5. Kole Calhoun*, 32
2019 stats: .232/.325/.467, 33 home runs, 74 RBIs
We’ve found our first lefty. If the White Sox bring in a heavy-hitting, right-handed DH (cough, cough, J.D. Martinez, cough, cough), then right field could be their only opportunity to add a left-handed bat to the mix. If that’s what they’re thinking — and Hahn’s words indicated it might not be — then Calhoun is one of the leading candidates. He certainly fits the description of “lefty power” after blasting a career-high 33 homers and slugging at a career-high .467 clip in 2019.
Of course, Calhoun might not even hit the free-agent market, with the Los Angeles Angels holding a $14 million option on his services for the 2020 season. The Angels are obviously gearing up for a run of some kind after hiring Joe Maddon as their new manager. With Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani already in the fold and Gerrit Cole’s pending free agency providing some interesting speculation, maybe the Angels just hold onto Calhoun. But their top prospect, Jo Adell, is an outfielder and is on the doorstep of the majors, potentially making Calhoun expendable.
If he does end up on the market, the White Sox would most likely be interested in his left-handed bat — not to mention the Gold Glove on his resume. But that’s not going to prevent them from having the same amount of interest or more in a right-handed player.
6. Corey Dickerson, 30
2019 stats: .304/.341/.565, 12 home runs, 59 RBIs
Dickerson hasn’t played right field since 2016, and he only played in 78 games during the 2019 season. But that’s where the negatives, at least in comparing him with Calhoun, the other free-agent lefty outfield bat of significance, end. Dickerson compares rather favorably to Calhoun everywhere but in the home-run department. But he even has an edge in slugging percentage, with a 2019 output 100 points higher than Calhoun’s. Dickerson boasted an OPS more than 100 points north of the number Calhoun finished with. Dickerson is also two years younger and won a Gold Glove more recently, in 2018.
Dickerson spent much of the 2019 season injured, out of action for two months with a shoulder strain and then fracturing his foot in September. That’s obviously not great, and White Sox fans got a firsthand look at how badly a foot injury can linger with relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera this season.
Again, it depends on how badly the White Sox front office wants to add a left-handed bat. If it’s a high priority, Dickerson could get a look. If not, then maybe the eyes stay near the top of this list.
7. Cameron Maybin, 32
2019 stats: .285/.364/.494, 11 home runs, 32 RBIs
Maybin doesn’t strike as the middle-of-the-order type, but his .364 on-base percentage would likely be of interest to a team that had one of the lowest on-base percentages (.314) in baseball during the 2019 season. Maybin spent 2019 with the 100-win New York Yankees, playing in only 82 games after joining the team via trade in late April and then missing most of July with a calf injury. But when he was in the lineup, he fared well, with a career-best slugging percentage. He also smacked a solo homer in the playoffs, helping the Yanks sweep the Minnesota Twins out of the ALDS.
Maybin’s long been a center fielder, but his role with the Yankees this season had him bouncing around the outfield, including the most right he’s played in his career, 36 games’ worth. He’ll turn 33 shortly after Opening Day 2020, but like with some of the other names on this list, his inclusion in the White Sox plans wouldn’t look at all bad if the DH spot gets upgraded in a big way.
8. Nick Markakis*, 35
2019 stats: .285/.356/.420, nine homers, 62 RBIs
Markakis had himself a somewhat shocking late-career resurgence in 2018, making his first All-Star team, winning both a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove and finishing in the top 20 of the NL MVP vote at age 34. The 2019 season didn’t go quite as well, with Markakis limited to 116 games, missing a month and a half late in the season with a fractured wrist. He actually hit .292 in September after returning for the season’s final couple weeks before picking up just three hits in the ALDS.
Markakis has, surprisingly, been in Atlanta for five years now, and the Braves will have to decide whether they want him back or not with a $6 million option. His 2019 production certainly still qualified as good, and you’d figure he’d be an asset for a contending team like the Braves. But if he gets to the market, perhaps the White Sox could import some veteran leadership in the form of the three-time Gold Glover.
Again, the outfield market is not shaping up to be as bountiful as the starting-pitching market. But there will be other players available, such as Maybin’s Yankee teammate Brett Gardner and former White Sox right fielder and now-20-homer guy Avisail Garcia. Another former White Sox right fielder, Adam Eaton, could hit the market if the Washington Nationals don’t pick up his option, though flashbacks to 2016 are probably not what the White Sox are looking for right now.
There will be a new man in right field for the White Sox next season. As for who, that’s for the offseason to tell us.
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