Joc Pederson

Will the White Sox make a big splash at the Winter Meetings?

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USA Today

Will the White Sox make a big splash at the Winter Meetings?

SAN DIEGO — At the GM meetings last month in Arizona, White Sox vice president Kenny Williams teased that the team was going to do more business than usual.

We found out later that the White Sox met with Yasmani Grandal while out in the desert. And when the free-agent catcher got the richest deal in club history the following week, it was a sign the White Sox were serious about their intent to be aggressive and make some big splashes this winter ahead of a possible transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020.

The Grandal signing earned nothing short of rave reviews, but there’s still an awful lot on the to-do list for general manager Rick Hahn and his front office as the Winter Meetings get going here in Southern California. The White Sox have designs on adding a pair of starting pitchers to their rotation and landing an everyday right fielder. An everyday-type DH could also be in the cards, though Grandal’s arrival has at least provided a more realistic internal option in the form of a multi-player rotation. Bullpen help is never turned away.

Much of that could be addressed this week, with ample opportunities to cross those items off the list, even if in less headline-grabbing style. You’ll remember back to last year’s Winter Meetings, when the White Sox filled a hole in their rotation by trading for Ivan Nova.

But with no disrespect to Mr. Nova, most fans are waiting for a much bigger splash.

It’s what the White Sox tried to get done before they flew out to the West Coast. Just last week they reportedly made the highest bid in the Zack Wheeler sweepstakes, only for the 29-year-old free agent to take less money to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. Cries of “here we go again” from the fan base — still stinging from the way things played out with Manny Machado a winter ago — were quickly quelled by the financial details, and it sure seems there aren’t any more excuses for anyone to stick to the old talking point that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend. Wheeler’s deal, had he accepted it, would have broken Grandal’s weeks-old record for the most expensive contract in club history.

So will someone else actually take the White Sox money this week?

Certainly the possibilities are out there. Still searching for starting pitching, the White Sox could turn to Madison Bumgarner, who they’ve been connected to since Wheeler’s decision. The 30-year-old three-time World Series champ could play a Jon Lester type role in a different Chicago rebuild. Though plenty have expressed concerns over what effect his 1,948.1 combined regular-season and postseason innings will have moving forward. There are reasons to be skeptical, just as there are reasons to be optimistic.

If the White Sox don’t want to play at the tippy top of the starting-pitching market — they haven’t been heavily linked to either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg — then Bumgarner is the biggest free-agent pitching splash out there. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel are in a similar strata of this free-agent market, but perhaps neither would generate quite as much buzz as arguably the greatest pitcher in World Series history.

The White Sox could also get splashy in their quest to fill the vacancy in right field. Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna are the two biggest names on the free-agent outfield market, and either would slot into the middle of the White Sox order. Neither would make for an ideal defensive selection, considering Castellanos’ ugly defensive stats in right field (which might exaggerate that reputation) and the fact that Ozuna is a left fielder who didn’t play a lick of right during his two years with the St. Louis Cardinals. Both, however, could make a big offensive impact. Ozuna had a ludicrously good season playing for the Miami Marlins in 2017, while the White Sox are plenty familiar with what Castellanos can do after he bludgeoned them in recent seasons with the division-rival Detroit Tigers.

The White Sox could potentially go off the board and chase someone outside of their stated positional needs, Hahn leaving everything on the table when he discussed his offseason approach at length last month. But neither paying a huge sum for Anthony Rendon nor coughing up prospects for Mookie Betts seems too likely at the moment. The fun thing about the Winter Meetings, though, is what seems likely or unlikely can change in an instant.

Speaking of trades, while Hahn signaled the White Sox have little interest in dealing their prized prospects for short-term gain, that market could provide opportunities for heretofore unmentioned splashes. Who knows if the White Sox have any interest in the biggest names being speculated about — Betts, Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, etc. — but they’ve reportedly been chatting with the Los Angeles Dodgers about Joc Pederson. After supposedly trying and failing to get him in a trade last winter, his arrival on the South Side would probably be splashy enough, considering he had a career year at the dish in 2019 that included 36 home runs.

After last year’s Machado and Bryce Harper bonanzas, expectations have been raised. After the collective breakout of so many of the White Sox core players in 2019, expectations have been raised. The White Sox seem to have the ingredients to make their long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020. Money allocated for free agents is one of those ingredients. While there’s more than one way to build a championship roster, including leaning heavily on the wealth of young talent already in the White Sox possession, those raised expectations have fans craving a splash.

So will the White Sox cannonball into the Pacific Ocean this week? Stay tuned.

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White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

Right field, designated hitter and starting pitching.

The White Sox, despite handing out the richest contract in team history already this offseason, have yet to address any of their previously stated positional needs. (OK, maybe Yasmani Grandal ends up factoring into the solution at DH.)

That's not for lack of trying, though, with the team offering more money to Zack Wheeler than he took to stay on the East Coast and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. They've been linked to Madison Bumgarner since Wheeler made his decision Wednesday.

The White Sox will surely continue to pursue starting-pitching help, but what's going on in their search for a new right fielder? The need is arguably the most critical on the roster and is certainly pressing after a mixture of players combined for some of the worst production in the game there last season. There are options, and supposedly the White Sox are looking at a few of them.

Earlier this week, we heard the White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers were in "preliminary trade talks" surrounding Joc Pederson, who the South Siders reportedly tried to acquire last offseason. Pederson played more left field than right field last year for the NL West champs, but he had a career year at the plate, with new highs in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, hits and RBIs. There's only one year of team control remaining on the 27-year-old's contract, but the White Sox would be getting a big-time upgrade in their lineup — and a left-handed one, at that.

That same report, from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, also mentioned the White Sox expressed interest in Nicholas Castellanos, perhaps the best hitting outfielder on the free-agent market. Castellanos was stellar last season, leading the major leagues with 58 doubles. He was particularly good after being acquired by the Cubs in a midseason trade, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 51 games for the North Siders. Castellanos long terrorized White Sox pitching while with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, and he's the kind of impact bat that would bolster the middle of the lineup. But he comes with defensive questions that Pederson does not — minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, compared to five for Pederson as a right fielder.

The White Sox were reportedly interested in the other top outfielder on the free-agent market, Marcell Ozuna, early in the offseason. A little older than Pederson and Castellanos, he's just a couple years removed from a dominant 2017 campaign, when he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs for the Miami Marlins. Since being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals, Ozuna hit .263/.327/.452 with 52 homers and 177 RBIs in two seasons. He played left field exclusively in his time with the Redbirds.

Now, enter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who White Sox Talk Podcast aficionados will remember from a discussion in mid-October. The Japanese import has been posted, and according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, the White Sox are among four interested teams. Tsutsugo was described by reporter Jim Allen as "a quality bat in Japan, but he’s really not the elite bat," which might raise concerns. A left fielder, Tsutsugo brings good on-base skills and slashed an incredible .322/.430/.680 with 44 homers during the 2016 season. But his defense seems to be an issue in left, with Morosi writing "scouts question whether Tsutsugo has the range to be an average defensive left fielder in the majors." If that's a concern at his actual position, might there be even further worries moving him to a different spot in the outfield? Perhaps the White Sox could be eyeing him for that aforementioned vacancy at DH. He's also a lefty, which would bring some balance to the lineup.

But it's a different nugget in Morosi's report on Tsutsugo that should catch White Sox fans' eyes. Morosi added that "the White Sox likely won’t attempt to sign Tsutsugo immediately, while waiting for decisions from free agents Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna."

Now, we already heard the White Sox connected to those two top-of-market players, but their potential interest in Tsutsugo hinging on what Castellanos and Ozuna have to say could illustrate just how seriously they're considering either of those heavy-hitting free agents. Or maybe all three are secondary targets should a trade with the Dodgers fail to materialize (again).

Whether talking about Ozuna or Tsutsugo, it's unlikely the White Sox would do any rearranging in their outfield to keep them in their current positions. They've discussed Eloy Jimenez as a long-term left fielder, talking multiple times about his improving defense out there (where he sparked more than a few grimaces with his play during his rookie season). For those who see what they consider an easy fix by just moving Jimenez to the DH spot and allowing someone else to play left, manager Rick Renteria went as far as saying this summer that "it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball." So don't expect Jimenez to move any time soon.

Like with everything these days, the White Sox seem to have plenty of options to consider. With offseason activity coming a bit faster than it did in recent years, perhaps the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in San Diego, will provide an answer as to which way they'll end up going.

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White Sox reportedly after Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos for right field vacancy

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USA TODAY

White Sox reportedly after Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos for right field vacancy

Joc Pederson, again?

The rumors have returned for a second straight offseason, the ones linking the White Sox to a trade for the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder. This time, it's USA Today's Bob Nightengale reporting that the White Sox and Dodgers have "engaged in preliminary trade talks" involving Pederson, the same guy the South Siders were reportedly after last winter but obviously didn't land.

Nightengale also reported that the White Sox have "inquired" about free-agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, arguably the top outfielder on the market. Either would splendidly fill the team's vacancy in right field, a position where a combination of White Sox hitters produced at some of the worst levels in baseball in 2019. The .565 OPS from White Sox right fielders was the worst mark in the game. Both players would fill the need for more power in the White Sox lineup. Pederson, though, would give the White Sox the left-handed power the team would "ideally" like to add, without the same questions about defense that Castellanos has been dogged by in recent seasons.

Pederson launched a career-high 36 home runs in 2019, setting new career bests in RBIs (74), batting average (.249), slugging percentage (.538) and OPS (.876). The 27-year-old has one year of team control remaining, not the perfect situation for a White Sox team looking to add players to its core for a planned long-term window of contention. There's nothing saying, of course, that the White Sox couldn't sign Pederson to a longer-term deal if they were to acquire him in a trade.

Figuring out the cost of such a deal is not as easy as simply suggesting that a free-agent contract, like the one that would go to Castellanos, would cost simply a boatload of money. The White Sox aren't interested in parting with their highest ranked prospects, especially not in a trade that would fetch them a player with just one year of control remaining. Meanwhile, the organization's mid-tier prospects suffered health- or performance-related setbacks in 2019, potentially making it difficult to find an attractive centerpiece for a deal. But while Pederson would be a quality addition to the White Sox lineup and produced at career-best levels in 2019, he wouldn't figure to command the same type of return packages that usually go the other way in deals for the best players in the game. Perhaps that would make such an acquisition easier for the White Sox.

Castellanos, meanwhile, would simply cost money — and perhaps quite a bit of it. The White Sox, though, seem intent on paying big dollar figures for an impact talent, with Nightengale writing in the same report that they're intent on doing so for free-agent starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, who was forecasted earlier Tuesday to receive a contract worth more than $100 million over five years. Nightengale wrote "it's a price the White Sox are willing to meet."

Castellanos is coming off his own career year, one in which he slashed .289/.337/.525 with a major league leading 58 doubles to go along with 27 home runs and 73 RBIs. He was especially fantastic after joining the Cubs in a midseason trade, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs and 21 doubles after reaching the North Side. He should be familiar to the White Sox, whose pitchers he battered in recent seasons as a member of the division-rival Detroit Tigers. Castellanos, also 27, has faced questions about his poor defensive statistics in right field, though that would hardly seem to be a deal-breaker for any team that desires his bat in the middle of its lineup. Pederson, for what it's worth, finished the 2019 campaign with 5 Defensive Runs Saved in right field. Castellanos had minus-9 DRS.

Speaking of Pederson's defense, he actually played more games in left field in 2019 than he did in right field. But the White Sox have been adamant about keeping Eloy Jimenez in left field as he continues to evolve into the all-around player the South Siders believe he will be.

Again, both players would be big-time upgrades for the White Sox in right field. With the team supposedly intent on landing Wheeler on an expensive free-agent contract, perhaps a trade involving Pederson is the way they'll go to try to fill that hole in right field.

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