Rick Hahn laid out a pretty specific offseason to-do list for his front office: Get a right fielder, get a designated hitter, get some starting pitching.
The White Sox need to accomplish those goals this winter after seeing woeful levels of production in right and at DH, positions that appear to have no internal solutions. The rotation remains full of promising young arms, but it also remains littered with question marks.
The free-agent market contains plenty of options, of course, and pledged aggressiveness from Hahn and his front office has the potential to end in a spending spree. But that same free-agent market has some really good players who don't fit nicely into those three categories. What if the opportunity comes along to add one of those players? Would the White Sox reshuffle their priorities? Here's a look at guys who could force the South Siders to change plans on the fly this winter.
Anthony Rendon, 3B
The White Sox decidedly do not need a third baseman. Yoan Moncada transitioned to the hot corner in 2019 after an error-filled 2018 season at second base and performed very well. His bat was the more important development, with Moncada going from 217 strikeouts and a disappointing first full season in the majors in 2018 to the status of the team's best all-around hitter in 2019. Moncada slashed .315/.367/.548 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs in just 132 games, confirming that he's a cornerstone of this rebuilding process and one of the most important members of the White Sox young core.
But Moncada's emergence shouldn't prevent the White Sox from doing their due diligence on Rendon, who would provide the kind of middle-of-the-order bat the South Siders could very much use. While that core of Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and, in all likelihood, Jose Abreu has plenty of offensive promise, adding Rendon would cement it as a potential force to be reckoned with, and soon. Rendon has somewhat quietly put up MVP-level production on an annual basis for the last several seasons and had a career year in 2019: a .319/.412/.598 slash line to go along with 34 home runs, 126 RBIs, 44 doubles, 117 runs scored and a nearly 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, with 86 strikeouts compared to 80 walks. Oh, and a World Series championship.
Rendon might play a position the White Sox have covered, but that same situation didn't stop them from chasing Manny Machado last winter. So why wouldn't they try it again in the name of adding one of the best bats in the game?
"The talent pool is a little different free agent-wise this offseason, but I'm not going to say we won't be creative in a couple elements, whether it's via trade or free agency," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Our roster does have a little bit of flexibility in it, and we hope in the coming years to have more flexibility built in in terms of different positions that guys can go out and play."
Rendon is the caliber of player you realign your defense for. In addition to the incredible offensive production, he plays a very good defensive third base. No easy answer springs to mind when discussing what that would mean for Moncada. He likely wouldn't return to second base, not with Madrigal's major league arrival likely to come in the early portion of the 2020 season. The outfield?
“As far as he's concerned, he said he can play center, as well,” manager Rick Renteria said of Moncada in August. “He's a tremendously athletic individual. I think he has the ability to do whatever he wants, probably, like a lot of our guys. It's a simple game, but a lot of these guys have physical skills that allow them an opportunity to do a lot of different things.”
The White Sox will cross that bridge if they come to it, which obviously would only happen if they landed Rendon, one of the two or three biggest fish on this winter's free-agent market. But maybe they should try to get there and create one of those "good problems to have."
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Everything just talked about with Rendon applies to Donaldson, as well, another heavy-hitting third baseman on the market.
Donaldson is older than Rendon; he turns 34 next month. But he's similarly productive. After taking the richest one-year contract in baseball history last offseason, he was excellent for the Atlanta Braves, finishing the regular season with a .259/.379/.521 slash line to go along with 37 home runs, 94 RBIs, 33 doubles, 96 runs scored and 100 walks.
Like Rendon, Donaldson would be an incredible addition to the middle of the White Sox batting order. Like Rendon, Donaldson plays third base and plays it very well. Both guys were Gold Glove finalists.
While Rendon is the more obvious long-term fixture, Donaldson showed in 2019 that he's not going anywhere, and bringing him aboard could certainly be worth the defensive realignment it would necessitate.
Yasmani Grandal, C
Unlike with Moncada at third base, it's not quite as easy to say that the White Sox absolutely do not need a catcher. It's very possible they don't, but it's hard to say that with nearly as much confidence, which I understand strikes as potentially bizarre considering that James McCann was an All Star in 2019. Signed last winter to be a backup catcher for a year, McCann transformed his offensive game and turned into an incredible find for Hahn's front office. After slashing .240/.288/.366 in his five seasons with the Detroit Tigers, he slashed .316/.371/.502 during the first half of 2019.
But what happened in the second half is the cause for concern: McCann slashed just .226/.281/.413 after the All-Star break. Couple that with Zack Collins' .186/.307/.349 production in just 102 major league plate appearances, and it's difficult to say exactly what the production is going to look like from those two in 2020.
It's far easier, though, to forecast what Grandal will do. A two-time All Star, he's fresh off a strong season with the Milwaukee Brewers, reaching base at a .380 clip thanks in part to 109 walks, the fourth most in the majors. He banged out a career-high 126 hits, launched a career-high 28 home runs, drove in a career-high 77 runs and scored a career-high 79 runs. He's got a reputation as a very good framer behind the plate and is a switch-hitter, which would help add some balance to a heavily right-handed White Sox lineup.
Most importantly, though, Grandal on the South Side would provide some stability at a position that while not without its internal long-term possibilities still counts those possibilities as question marks. McCann gained rave reviews for his work with pitchers, particularly staff ace Lucas Giolito, and had one fantastic half season at the plate. But what if that half season was more mirage than permanent transformation? Collins still has the faith of the organization to be a long-term piece, but the questions about his defense that have existed since he was drafted still linger, with increasingly frequent conversation about what other positions he could play so the White Sox can get his bat in the lineup more often.
Grandal, who will almost certainly get a lengthy contract after turning down a four-year deal last winter and signing up for a prove-it year with the Brewers, would take the mystery out of things. And the opportunity to do that might be an enticing one for the White Sox, who with an expanded roster starting next season could afford to also keep McCann and Collins and benefit from the positives they bring.
Catcher is certainly not a hole like right field and DH are for this team. But the opportunity to upgrade there might be too good to pass up.
Mike Moustakas, 2B/3B
Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference that ideally the White Sox would add some left-handed power this winter.
"Ideally, that would be nice," he said. "Ideally, you'd like to balance that out and that would require adding some left-handed power."
He threw the word "ideally" in there a couple times because he wanted to make sure it was known that the offseason was not going to be a Thanos-esque quest for balance and that he'd be perfectly fine adding another good right-handed hitter to the roster instead.
"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."
There are few better free-agent sources of left-handed power, though, than Moustakas, who launched 35 home runs with the Brewers in 2019, a left-handed total eclipsed by just seven players. Moustakas, quite familiar to the White Sox from his lengthy tenure with the division-rival Kansas City Royals, hit a combined 101 home runs in the last three seasons.
But he doesn't fill a specific positional need for these White Sox. After J.D. Martinez opted to stay with the Boston Red Sox and not hit the free-agent market, Moustakas' bat seems like an ideal place to turn in Hahn's search for a designated hitter. But Moustakas has played just 35 games as a DH in his career, not exactly the professional DH that Martinez and few others are. The White Sox have had some bad recent history trying to fit players with limited DH-ing experience into the designated hitter spot, including Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche and Yonder Alonso.
Moustakas has long been a good third baseman, but he's not that Rendon-level superstar the White Sox would blow up their defensive alignment to add. He also played 47 games' worth of second base with the Brewers in 2019. Hahn has said to expect Madrigal to be the White Sox starting second baseman for the majority of the 2020 season, but that leaves some time where Madrigal won't be there.
Would the White Sox leap at the opportunity to add Moustakas' left-handed power bat and figure out how to divvy up playing time on the infield later? Would they try again to roll the dice on a DH who hasn't done much DH-ing? Moustakas swings a pretty good stick.
Howie Kendrick, 1B/2B/3B
Kendrick figures to be a popular man after his spectacular age-35 season with the Washington Nationals that saw him post a .966 OPS, hit an NLDS-winning grand slam and get a World Series ring. He's an aging veteran but one who showed he's plenty capable of producing at a high level, playing a variety of positions and playing a positive clubhouse role for a contending team.
That all sounds like something the White Sox would be interested in, but it again doesn't necessarily address any specific positional needs. Kendrick's played just three career games in right field and only 26 career games at DH. While he swung a quality bat for the Nationals in 2019, he didn't do so as an everyday player, making just 70 starts despite playing in 121 games. So any addition of Kendrick would likely be as a reserve of some kind.
But what a reserve he would be, one the White Sox might want to think about, especially if the rest of the offseason features the kinds of big-name additions that could vault the team from rebuilding mode to contending mode right away. Kendrick might be more of a title-chasing piece, but it's not impossible, depending on other moves, for the White Sox to be in that position in a few months.
Bonus bullpen bonanza! Will Smith, Will Harris, Drew Pomeranz, Daniel Hudson
This winter's free-agent market is light on closers. That's fine for the White Sox, as they don't need a closer, with Alex Colome under team control for another season. Aaron Bummer, the team's eighth-inning man who was excellent in 2019, is a potential Colome successor and is under team control for another five seasons. Affordable price tags on Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero and the general effectiveness of the South Side 'pen in 2019 means fortifying the relief corps isn't exactly a pressing concern.
But could the White Sox do it anyway?
Hahn forecasted further addition to the bullpen during his end-of-season press conference, repeating a point he's made often about the difficult-to-predict nature of relief pitching and the constant desire for more of it.
"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," he said. "Obviously, the way Colome and Bummer have done over the course of the year makes you feel real good about their spot going forward. A now-healthy Kelvin Herrera is the kind of guy who's probably a pretty good reliever bounce-back candidate bet, if it hasn't already happened here in terms of seeing what he's capable of doing when he's 100 percent. Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or minor league free agents like Marshall.
"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."
So expect some new bullpen arms on the South Side next season. But adding guys via waiver claims and minor league deals is quite different from spending big on relievers in free agency. While the White Sox have the late innings seemingly spoken for, would the opportunity to add to that equation, either to strengthen the back end or provide insurance in case things go awry, be a tough one to pass up?
Smith is the only real closer on this list; he saved 34 games for the San Francisco Giants in 2019 and combined for a 2.66 ERA in the last two seasons. Harris had a pencil-thin 1.50 ERA for the Houston Astros in 2019. Pomeranz was terrific after a midseason trade to the Brewers, with a 2.39 ERA in Beer Town. Hudson, the former White Sox pitching prospect, was sensational after a midseason trade to the Nationals, with a 1.44 ERA and some time as the team's closer in the postseason.
None of those guys necessarily scream "must buy," but the opportunity to reinforce the back end of the bullpen might be an intriguing one for the White Sox.
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