Curtis Granderson

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Marlins (hint: pretty darn well)

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Marlins (hint: pretty darn well)

The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.

The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolster their roster this offseason. 

But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Miami Marlins

2018 record: 63-98, 5th in NL East

Offseason additions: Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Jorge Alfaro, Sergio Romo, Riley Ferrell, Austin Brice, Julian Fernandez, Pedro Alvarez, Hector Noesi

Offseason departures: J.T. Realmuto, Derek Dietrich, Kyle Barraclough

X-factor: Derek Jeter?

Does it matter anymore? Poor Starlin Castro and Curtis Granderson, having to hang out on this team all year (or until they're traded, too). 

With how good the rest of the NL East is, a realistic projection for the Marlins might actually be the 2018 Balitmore Orioles (115 losses). This roster is that bad and the rest of the division is much improved this winter.

So there's no X-factor with the 2019 Marlins, beyond their famous owner who is in the midst of a complete teardown, especially now that Realmuto is gone.

Projected lineup

1. Curtis Granderson - LF
2. Starlin Castro - 2B
3. Brian Anderson - 3B
4. Neil Walker - 1B
5. Peter O'Brien - RF
6. Jorge Alfaro - C
7. J.T. Riddle - SS
8. Lewis Brinson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Jose Urena
2. Wei-Yin Chen
3. Dan Straily
4. Trevor Richards
5. Pablo Lopez

Outlook

Let's put it this way: The "rebuild" (or whatever it is Jeter and Co. are doing) is not going well. 

How bad? Well their projected Opening Day starting lineup 1-through-8 has an average age of 29.1 years old. The Cubs' projected starting lineup 1-through-8 has an average age of 28.5 years...and that's including soon-to-be-38-year-old Ben Zobrist.

So the Marlins have a bad roster...AND an old roster. Yikes.

That's not to say Castro and Co. won't have a big impact on the NL playoff race, however. They're going to be so bad, they'll give every other team in the NL East a big bump up over a division like the NL Central, where all five teams figure to be competitive. 

So the Cubs will absolutely have to take advantage during the 7 games they play against the Marlins (in Miami April 15-17, and then at Wrigley May 6-9). The Cubs would be best served going at least 5-2 against the worst team in the NL if they're going to use the schedule to their advantage.

Prediction: 5th in NL East

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

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With Avisail Garcia gone, here are 10 free-agent options to be the White Sox right fielder in 2019

With Avisail Garcia gone, here are 10 free-agent options to be the White Sox right fielder in 2019

The White Sox decided to move on from Avisail Garcia, opting not to tender a contract to their right fielder of the past six seasons.

So there’s now a pretty big hole in the White Sox starting lineup.

Losing Garcia does not mean the South Siders are losing a ton of production. During an injury-ravaged 2018 campaign, Garcia’s numbers plummeted from his All-Star season just a year earlier, and he finished with a .236/.281/.438 slash line in 93 games.

But the internal options to replace him are not too appealing from a statistical standpoint, either. While top-ranked Eloy Jimenez is expected to reach the major leagues early in the 2019 campaign and to provide quite a boost to the lineup, he spent most of his time in left field last season. If that’s where he ends up once he arrives on the South Side, the internal candidates for playing time in right field are Daniel Palka, Nicky Delmonico and Ryan Cordell. Palka hit 27 home runs as a rookie but had an on-base percentage under .300 and might be better suited as the team’s primary designated hitter in 2019. Delmonico also battled a significant injury and came nowhere close to matching the nice showing he had at the end of the 2017 season. Cordell mustered just four hits in a brief taste of major league action in 2018.

In other words, the White Sox might need to go outside the organization to find an everyday right fielder for next season. The free-agent market has plenty of options, though they vary in how excited they’ll make the fan base. Here’s a look at some options.

Bryce Harper

We’ll start with the biggest name on the free-agent market and a guy the White Sox reportedly have interest in. Harper is one of the best players in baseball, and his coming to the South Side would change the franchise’s present and future. Would it make them a playoff team in 2019? Not sure I’d go that far. But it would make them a playoff contender for years to come once the organization’s fleet of highly touted prospects grew up around him. White Sox fans don’t need to be convinced that signing Harper would be a good idea. Harper needs to be convinced that signing with the White Sox is a good idea. Their financial flexibility could do a good deal of that convincing. But is planned future success enough to defeat a pitch of the ability to win multiple championships starting right now?

Michael Brantley

The hype around a Harper signing would be massive compared to almost any player in baseball, so it’s not surprising that the excitement level drops off significantly, even when you move to just the second-best available outfielder this winter. But respect Brantley’s credentials. He’s a three-time All Star, including in each of the last two seasons. Back in 2014, he finished third — third! — in AL MVP voting. He’s got a career .295 batting average and a career .351 on-base percentage, numbers raised by his .309 and .364 marks in those categories, respectively, last season. But unlike Harper, there’d be questions about Brantley’s long-term fit with the rebuilding White Sox. He’ll be 32 in May and despite a 143-game workload in 2018, he played in just 101 total games in the prior two seasons. Signing Brantley would be an obvious upgrade for 2019, but is he the guy to still be roaming the outfield when this team transitions into contention mode?

Marwin Gonzalez

Gonzalez makes a bunch of sense for the White Sox, just as he makes a bunch of sense for 29 other teams across the major leagues. Gonzalez can play every position on the diamond besides pitcher and catcher and has plenty of experience with a rebuilding success story, with the Houston Astros for the past seven seasons as they climbed from baseball’s basement to the game’s model franchise. His ability to play seven different positions — including right field — should make him a popular man this winter and overshadow a significant statistical slide from a sensational 2017. During the Astros’ championship season, he slashed .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs, but with more playing time in 2018, those numbers dropped to .247/.324/.409 and 16. Still, the best way to plan for an uncertain future is to get a guy that can plug seven different holes.

Andrew McCutchen

McCutchen is now three seasons removed from the end of an incredible four-year run that saw him finish in the top five in NL MVP voting four times, including a win of the award in 2013. But that doesn’t mean he’s washed up. McCutchen is just a few months older than Brantley (he turned 32 in October) and got on base at a slightly higher clip than the now-former Cleveland Indian in 2018, with an on-base percentage of .368 while playing for both the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees. McCutchen didn’t play a lick of center field last season, so those days seem to be behind him. But he still hit 20 homers and 30 doubles and walked 95 times, the second-highest single-season total of his career. That last skill would be very much welcome in the White Sox lineup, but he carries with him the same questions Brantley does about being a long-term solution. Is it worth it to spend on a name like McCutchen if he’s not a part of the long-term plan?

A.J. Pollock

If it was November 2015, people would be lining up for a shot at the then-27-year-old Pollock, who slashed .315/.367/.498, hit 20 homers, banged out 39 doubles, stole 39 bases, went to the All-Star Game and won a Gold Glove. But three years and a whole bunch of missed time later, Pollock isn’t looking like a franchise cornerstone anymore. He played in just 12 games in 2016, just 112 games in 2017 and just 113 games last season. His most recent crop of numbers, from 2018, look like this: a .257/.316/.484 slash line with 21 homers, 21 doubles and 13 stolen bases. He’ll be 31 next week, and he’s a center fielder. In fact, he hasn’t played corner outfield since 2014. Not that he couldn’t, of course.

Adam Jones

A five-time All Star and three-time Gold Glover in center field, the 33-year-old Jones was finally moved to the corners in his last season with the Baltimore Orioles. He perhaps isn’t as attractive an offensive upgrade as Brantley or McCutchen, though his .281 batting average in 2018 was significantly higher than McCutchen’s. Still, his power numbers nosedived last season, with only 15 homers (four fewer than Garcia) and a .419 slugging percentage that ranked as his lowest in a decade. Jones would likely not be a part of the long-term planning on the South Side, but — and this very well applies to Brantley and McCutchen, too — he’d figure to be a valuable clubhouse presence in the short term, a veteran player who’s at the very least been to the postseason.

Derek Dietrich

Here’s a name that probably won’t generate much excitement but is an interesting option. The 29-year-old Dietrich cleared waivers just a few days ago, becoming a free agent after spending the first six seasons of his big league career with the Miami Marlins. Like the aforementioned Gonzalez, he’s a jack of many trades, playing five different positions during the 2018 season: first base, second base, third base, left field and right field (he DH’d, too). The offensive numbers don’t scream “sign this man immediately,” but they’re far from bad. Dietrich slashed .265/.330/.421 with 16 homers in 2018. However, he also struck out 140 times last season, a 42-strikeout increase from 2017, when he had just 93 fewer at-bats.

Carlos Gonzalez

Had he been a free agent after the 2016 season, Gonzalez would’ve got a huge contract last winter. Instead, he was a free agent after a bad 2017 season, and he didn’t sign till late and with the same team. He didn’t find much redemption with the Colorado Rockies in 2018, with a modest growth in batting average and a .010 slide in on-base percentage. But he improved on his power numbers enough (two more homers, from 14 to 16, and four more triples, from zero to four) to grow his slugging percentage more than .040 points. Still, the 33-year-old’s best days might be behind him. After mashing a combined 65 homers in 2015 and 2016, he hit just 30 in 2017 and 2018, while still playing his home games at Coors Field.

Curtis Granderson

Bring the Chicago guy home? The Grandy Man might be better suited as a part-time or bench option, given that he only made 70 outfield starts last season. But even in his age-37 season he mustered a .351 on-base percentage and 13 home runs, not to mention he helped the Milwaukee Brewers come within a win of the World Series after he went there in a midseason trade. He played in the postseason for the fourth straight season and would figure to be a great addition to the clubhouse. But is he an everyday right fielder at 38 (the age he’ll be by Opening Day)?

Gerardo Parra​​​​​​​

Parra doesn’t swing too heavy a stick, with just six homers in 2018. But he hit .284, reached base at a .342 clip and has two Gold Gloves on his resume. He’ll turn 32 in May, just like Brantley. He’s perhaps not an exciting offensive addition, but he’d be an upgrade over Garcia.

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Pitching tops White Sox offseason to-do list, but what about the outfield?

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USA TODAY

Pitching tops White Sox offseason to-do list, but what about the outfield?

The White Sox outfield is a region of mystery.

If ancient cartographers were charting the green expanse at Guaranteed Rate Field, they might put a scary sea monster in there, just to put off the question of what the future could possibly hold.

The White Sox have plenty of options when it comes to discussing how their outfield will look in 2019 and beyond. But the question remains of whether any of them are reliable ones.

Last season, only one player logged more than 100 games in the outfield. That was Adam Engel, who despite a continued flashing of elite defensive prowess, managed just a .235/.279/.336 slash line. It was an upgrade from his 2017 season, sure, but was it enough of one to inspire much confidence moving toward the point where the White Sox shift from rebuilding to contending?

After Engel, the outfield was marred by injuries, with Avisail Garcia, Nicky Delmonico and even Leury Garcia limited due to significant stays on the disabled list. Because of various ailments, Avisail Garcia and Delmonico weren't able to prove much of anything after their positive 2017 campaigns, making their long-term value a question. In-season call-ups Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell weren't able to make the kind of quick impact Delmonico did a season before, and one wonders if they're part of the 2019 plan.

One of the brightest spots on the team was Daniel Palka, who played outfield in 68 games. His 27 home runs as a rookie made him a lock for the 2019 lineup, but his defensive skills, which he worked on constantly throughout the season, might make him more of a mainstay at designated hitter than a big piece of the outfield puzzle.

Of course, the long-term future of the White Sox outfield figures to be very bright, and the brightest of that future should arrive very quickly in 2019. Eloy Jimenez figures to be up a few weeks into the season after mashing at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2018, and he'll be a primary focus if not the primary focus next year on the South Side. Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Luis Basabe, Blake Rutherford and Luis Gonzalez aren't likely to join him next season, but that incredible outfield depth gives the White Sox one of those good problems to have down the road, when it comes time to find a spot for all of their talented young outfielders.

But 2019 isn't expected to be that time.

So how does the outfield puzzle get put together next season? Jimenez, once he arrives, figures to get a majority of the playing time in one of the corner outfield spots, probably left field, as that's where he spent much of his time in the minors last season (71 games in left compared to 19 in right). If the White Sox hang on to Avisail Garcia, he'd be the no-doubt starter in right field. But his future is murky, too. With just one year of team control remaining on his contract, the White Sox could opt to trade him either during the offseason or in the middle of next season. They could even choose to not tender him a contract at all, clearing room for some of those younger guys, but that's merely an option. As things stand, Engel would again figure to be the starting center fielder while the waiting game continues for the players in the minor leagues.

However, could offseason additions change things up?

The White Sox are obviously not in win-now mode, and while no one is hoping for a repeat of 2018's 100-loss campaign, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a similar kind of outcome in 2019 as those prospects continue to develop throughout the system. But there are free-agent options out there that could provide value beyond what they would put on a stat sheet in 2019. Veterans could be brought in to help the team win but to more importantly help the young players learn to win. They could fill short-term holes, leave behind some long-term lessons and maybe perform well enough to generate midseason trade interest that could fetch a future piece or two.

Our Chuck Garfien listed veteran outfielders Adam Jones and Curtis Granderson, both free agents, as potential additions who could accomplish those goals, and the names make sense. Jones is coming off a .281/.313/.419 season with the Baltimore Orioles (that slugging percentage was his lowest since 2008) and might not have the same kinds of suitors he would have during his stretch of four consecutive All-Star appearances. Meanwhile, Granderson — a South Side native — has bounced around a lot lately, though he always seems to find himself in the playoffs, making him a potential midseason trade candidate. Both guys would be low-risk additions that could serve as placeholders until the prospects are ready.

There's another route the White Sox could go, too, and that's the route of adding a bit bigger name, someone who not only could keep the outfield grass warm while the young guys develop but who could factor into future contenders. What about Marwin Gonzalez, the utility man extraordinaire of the Houston Astros? He's hitting the free-agent market, too, and he's likely to draw plenty of interest considering he played everywhere besides pitcher and catcher in 2018. Gonzalez only put up a 247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs in an expanded role for the Astros in the follow-up to their championship season. But 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. In addition to helping solve the outfield puzzle in the immediate, Gonzalez could be a regular option at third base, where Yolmer Sanchez hit under .200 against left-handed pitchers in 2018, and anywhere else on the field he'd be needed.

The White Sox haven't publicly said they want to retool their outfield in such a drastic fashion, and they could be perfectly content to go into another season of waiting with the guys they have, letting Jimenez be that huge addition when he arrives in the majors.

Like with everything, the rebuilding White Sox have plenty of flexibility. It will be interesting to see which way they navigate with their outfield this offseason.