The White Sox are on a quest for power this offseason after their offense finished last in the American League in runs, home runs and slugging percentage in 2015.
Not counting the strike-shortened 1994 campaign, last season’s 136 round-trippers represented the fewest by a White Sox offense in a full season since 1992, when they hit 110. Over the past 20 seasons, the White Sox have averaged 192.4 home runs per season.
While general manager Rick Hahn wants to improve upon an offense that averaged 3.89 runs a game in any way possible, it’s clear that power has been a priority with the additions of Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie. The White Sox could be in the market for even more as recent reports have suggested they have shown interest in high-profile outfielders Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes.
“Honestly, it’s about getting better any way we can, whether it’s scoring more runs or preventing the other club from scoring as many as they have,” Hahn said. “We’re not going to close off any avenue from a run-scoring standpoint, whether it’s power, on-base capabilities or speed or from a defense, pitching or run-prevention standpoint. In the end, we have to outscore the other club, and there’s multiple ways to do that. We’re going to continue to look at ways to address that.”
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Frazier and Lawrie should present immediate help.
Frazier, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds last week in a three-team deal, hit 35 homers last season and has 64 over the past two campaigns. Last season, White Sox third basemen belted 16 homers en route to a .612 OPS, the worst production from the hot corner of any team in baseball.
The two-time All-Star, who turns 30 this season, is projected to hit 25 homers with a .767 OPS for the White Sox next season, according to fangraphs.com.
At second base, Lawrie is projected by fangraphs.com to hit 15 homers with a .716 OPS for the White Sox in 2016.
The White Sox are hopeful a change of scenery for Lawrie (who hit 16 homers in 2015) means those projections are low. But even if they’re correct, it would be a vast improvement as White Sox second baseman hit five homers and had a .564 OPS that ranked 30th among 30 teams last season.
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While catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro might not match the 18 home runs hit by Geovany Soto and Tyler Flowers in 2015, the White Sox expect contributions in the form of a higher on-base percentage by the new duo and tougher plate appearances.
The club is also hopeful Adam LaRoche can return to form after he finished with a disappointing 12 homers and a .634 OPS in 2015. LaRoche averaged 26.3 homers in the previous three seasons and has reached 20 on 10 occasions. They’d also like for Avisail Garcia to tap into the pull power that Paul Konerko once predicted could result in 40-home run seasons. Garcia hit 13 homers last season and his .108 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) ranked 115th among 141 qualified batters in the majors last season.
Of course, the addition of either Cespedes or Upton would provide a major upgrade.
Hahn never gets into specifics, and with the payroll already in the neighborhood of $114.5 million, a major signing would come as a surprise. But Hahn didn’t rule anything out when he last spoke Wednesday.
“We shall see,” Hahn said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive on numerous fronts and certainly continue to talk to various free agents as well as other clubs about trades, and we’ll have to see how the coming weeks unfold.”
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Manager Robin Ventura wouldn’t mind another big bat in the lineup.
Currently, the 2016 White Sox lineup features a combination of Jose Abreu and Frazier in the middle backed by Garcia and LaRoche. But the lineup would become much more of a threat with the addition of Upton — who has averaged 23.5 homers with a .354 on-base percentage since 2008 — or Cespedes, who has averaged 26.5 homers with a .319 on-base percentage in four seasons.
“I don’t think you ever not want another power bat in your lineup,” Ventura said Thursday. “Right now you’re dealing with what you have and, you know, again, we knew we had some spots in there in the last couple years that might not have power or certain things. Now you’re trading that off and bringing in Frazier. That different bat, that different element having that guy go out — a true all-around player — that becomes a different thing. But you dare say no to more power or better players, adding a quality player.”