White Sox

Fantasy Baseball Preview: 2016 Chicago White Sox

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Fantasy Baseball Preview: 2016 Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are one of the more interesting teams to follow in spring training from a fantasy baseball perspective.

Of course, there's the whole Adam LaRoche drama, but even staying out of the controversy, LaRoche's retirement opens the door for another 450+ at-bats that are going to have to go somewhere.

The veteran slugger probably wasn't being drafted in many leagues after posting a career-worst 2015 campaign. Now that LaRoche is gone, however, the Sox may turn to a different full-time designated hitter (who suddenly may become fantasy relevant) or allow manager Robin Ventura to rotate his star position players into the spot to give them a breather (meaning 3-4 more at-bats instead of just a complete day off).

It also ensures all four outfielders - Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson - are now worth a look in leagues because they should all be playing most of the time with the DH spot wide open.

[RELATED - Fantasy Baseball Preview: 2016 Chicago Cubs]

Let's break down the fantasy prospects for the rest of the 2016 White Sox by position:

Catchers

Catcher is never really a very good fantasy position, but you might as well keep moving when it comes to Sox backstops. Nothing to see here from a fantasy perspective.

Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila are fine real-life catchers, but not guys you want to be on your fantasy roster all season.

Avila is 29 and has a stellar season (19 HR, 33 2B, 82 RBI, .295/.389/.506 slash line in 2011) on his resume, but that's been it. In four years since, Avila's put up a .694 OPS, averaging 16 doubles, nine homers and 39 RBI. He's also an injury risk after missing almost 100 games last season and has failed to reach even 400 at-bats since '11.

Navarro's not much better, despite having a three-homer game on his resume against the White Sox in 2013 as a member of the Cubs. The 32-year-old has an underwhelming .688 career OPS and he has only reached double-digit homers twice in 12 years in the big leagues.

These guys are no more than short-term injury replacements in fantasy leagues where only offensive numbers matter.

Infielders

Of course, Jose Abreu leads off the category here. He's a stud worthy of going in the first five rounds and you could make the case he could even be a third-round pick. Power is in short supply around the game today and Abreu is a 29-year-old slugger in the prime of his career with two 30-homer and 100-RBI seasons on his resume. He's hit no lower than .290 in the big leagues and while he doesn't walk much, all those taters help inflate his career OPS to a .904 mark. With a better lineup around him, Abreu could turn in his best season yet.

Todd Frazier may be hitting behind Abreu much of the season, forming a dynamic 1-2 punch in the middle of the White Sox order. Frazier, 30, has broken out in a big way over the last two seasons with 64 homers and 33 steals. He doesn't walk much either and his average probably won't climb above .280, bringing his overall OPS down. After posting a .922 OPS with 25 homers before the All-Star Break last season, Frazier slumped big-time in the second half (.664 OPS, 10 HR). But there aren't too many guys with his power-speed combo, especially at a surprisingly shallow third base position.

Brett Lawrie is also bringing his talents to the South Side this season. He hasn't put up the monster numbers most projected for him over his first five seasons in the majors, but the former top prospect could hit 20 homers while qualifying for second and third base on your fantasy roster. That's some solid value, even if he posts low AVG and OBP numbers and doesn't steal many bases.

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At age 37, who knows how much Jimmy Rollins has left in the tank. He hit only .224 last season, but still managed 13 homers and 12 stolen bases and he is only a season removed from hitting 17 bombs with 28 steals in 2014. Don't expect much from J-Roll, but you could do worse than rolling the dice with the former MVP in the last couple rounds.

Outfielders

Here's where LaRoche's absence really helps. Instead of having to move four outfielders in and out of the lineup, manager Robin Ventura can now play all four guys just about every day.

Eaton is the main prize in the Sox outfield, but there is also a ton of risk. The 27-year-old hit 14 homers last year, but all evidence points to that as a fluky total. In his previous three big-league seasons spanning 821 at-bats, Eaton totaled just six homers and he hit only 26 dingers in 349 minor-league games. Eaton also looks like he'd have 25-30 stolen base upside, but he's only managing a successful steal about two-thirds of the time in the majors. He hits for a high average, posts a great on-base percentage and can contribute across the board (including triples for leagues that have that as a category), but he doesn't jump off the board in any one category except for maybe runs hitting in front of Abreu and Frazier.

Garcia has put up disappointing numbers in his career and though he has 20-homer power and an ability to hit .290, it's hard to feel confident he'll reach either mark in 2016. He strikes out too much and doesn't walk enough, but he's still young (he turns 25 in June).

Cabrera earns a bump in leagues that account for doubles and rewards players who don't strike out much, but beyond that, don't expect much more than 10-12 homers, 70 RBI, 70 Rs and a .280 AVG - so basically a repeat of his 2015 season.

Jackson has seen his average, power and stolen base totals drop over the last three years, so don't be surprised if he isn't drafted in your leagues. But Jackson is still only 29 and could wind up taking advantage of a decent hitter's park in U.S. Cellular Field and he has plenty of playing time coming his way as by far the best defensive outfielder on the White Sox roster. Keep an eye on him on the waiver wires or take a late-round flier on him.

Starting pitchers

Chris Sale is a stud and a contender for the AL Cy Young every season. He struck out a whopping 274 batters last season and is probably the top strikeout pitcher in the game not named Clayton Kershaw. Sale should be one of the first five pitchers off the board and you can feel safe selecting him as early as the second round.

Jose Quintana is one of the more underrated fantasy stars out there mainly because he doesn't pick up many wins due to his insane no-decision luck. Quintana has been remarkably consistent and you can pencil him in again for 200 innings, 175 strikeouts and an ERA in the low 3.00s, but that's just his floor; his ceiling is even higher. All that for a guy you could pick up in the late rounds of drafts as your fourth or fifth starting pitcher? Sign me up.

Carlos Rodon is the x-factor in fantasy on this staff. There's not much of a book on the 23-year-old, but he has all the makings of a future ace. Expect some ups and downs this year, but he could easily average a strikeout per inning with 10-15 wins and an ERA in the mid-high 3.00s. If he cuts his walks down, those numbers can soar even higher.

John Danks and Mat Latos are both in very similar boats entering fantasy drafts. Each guy has had success in the past and it wouldn't be altogether shocking to see them put together a solid stretch or two in 2016, but both should be available on the waiver wire.

[MORE - John Danks on hot streak after Dioner Navarro's tip on tipping pitches]

Relief pitchers

David Robertson has a pretty solid stranglehold on the closer's job for the Sox after signing a big deal prior to 2015. He saved 34 games and struck out 12.2 batters per nine innings with a WHIP under 1.00. But he also blew seven saves, gave up seven homers and a 3.41 ERA won't help you in that category. Expect more of the same this season, though his ERA will probably drop with a little better luck.

If Robertson falters for some reason, Nate Jones is intriguing as a possible replacement for the ninth inning, but neither he nor Zach Duke or Zach Putnam are really worth owning in fantasy unless they're closing.

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.