SAN DIEGO — The White Sox are searching for a new right fielder, but it might end up as more of an excuse to add a big bat to the middle of their lineup.
They’re reportedly interested in both Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna, the top two names on the free-agent outfield market, neither of which comes with a stellar defensive reputation. But they can both swing it, and that’s what the White Sox could be making a priority.
“I think the key thing right now for the Sox is the one more bat they want to get,” MLB.com’s Jon Morosi said on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “They’ve already got (Yasmani) Grandal in house, but they’re very much involved on Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna, as well.
“I think, at this point in time, they’ve got a pretty good chance to land one or the other. It’s hard to say, percentage wise, at this point in time, but they’re very much involved in both those conversations and I think assessing a pretty high priority there.”
A rumor out of the Dominican Republic that Ozuna signing with the White Sox was imminent got a good debunking over the weekend, and the White Sox surprise at the report was still lingering as the Winter Meetings started Monday.
But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Still, he might not be the best fit of the two.
“I would think that Castellanos, between the two, has a better chance to be a fit with the White Sox,” Morosi said. “He knows the ballpark, knows the division. I think he loved playing in Chicago for the Cubs.
“Castellanos has really found something, I believe, in his approach. … He came up to the major leagues at such a young age on a veteran-laden team with (Miguel) Cabrera and (Prince) Fielder and so many big names there at the time with the Tigers, Victor Martinez. And it took him some time to find his way. He has done that. And I think with the Cubs, his approach was really good.”
The White Sox are rather familiar with what Castellanos can do. He shredded South Side pitching in recent seasons with the division-rival Tigers. In 2017, he slashed .303/.387/.561 with four homers, five doubles and 11 RBIs in 17 games against the White Sox. In 2018, he slashed .363/.414/.625 with five homers, six doubles and 20 RBIs in 19 games. In 2019, he slashed .389/.410/.722 with two homers, six doubles and eight RBIs in only eight games.
As Morosi mentioned, Castellanos obviously had something working after a midseason trade to the Cubs, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 51 games for the North Siders. He ended up leading the majors with 58 doubles.
Of course, Castellanos’ defensive reputation is not good, something backed up by the numbers: He had minus-nine Defensive Runs Saved in 2019. Observers say he’s not quite as bad as those statistics would make it seem. But to combine him with a work-in-progress Eloy Jimenez in left ahead of Luis Robert’s rookie season in center field would be a less-than-ideal situation from a defensive standpoint.
Ozuna had two DRS in 2019, though he got them as a left fielder, where he exclusively played in his two years with the St. Louis Cardinals. His reputation as a defender there was not super strong, either, particularly when it comes to his throwing arm, affected by an injured shoulder during his stint with the Redbirds.
So neither, potentially, would provide as much defensive value as someone, for example, like Joc Pederson, who the White Sox have been linked to in trade rumors for the second straight winter. But with interest in both Castellanos and Ozuna, the White Sox are potentially throwing defensive preference out the window in favor of the offensive upgrades they could provide.
Ozuna is not long removed from a sensational 2017 campaign with the Miami Marlins, when he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs. Those numbers fell to Earth a little bit after the trade to St. Louis, where he hit .263/.327/.452 with 52 homers and 177 RBIs over the last two seasons. Of note, new White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino was Ozuna’s hitting coach in Miami.
The longer the White Sox are tied to these two, the longer it will appear that offense is the priority, and there’s nothing wrong with that after the team ranked near the bottom of the game in plenty of different categories in 2019. Robert and Nick Madrigal should provide offensive boosts when they arrive at the big league level, as should the new guy Grandal. But a good way to boost things right away would be to add another sizable bat from outside the organization, and the only positions to do that are right field and DH — and we still don’t know, after the Grandal signing, whether the White Sox even consider DH a need anymore.
Sacrificing defense? It might have to happen for the White Sox to build a fearsome lineup. We’ll see.
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