Michael Brantley

White Sox chances at signing Michael Brantley might have improved

White Sox chances at signing Michael Brantley might have improved

LAS VEGAS — In addition to reportedly being in on Bryce Harper, the White Sox are reportedly in on Michael Brantley, a less-heralded though still quite good free-agent outfielder.

And their chances of signing him might have just gotten better.

According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, the White Sox were one of the three teams trying to sign Brantley, the longtime Cleveland Indian who South Side fans are very familiar with. One of the others, the Philadelphia Phillies, just signed free-agent outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and while that move might not end up creating a seismic shift in the Harper sweepstakes, it might knock them out of the running for Brantley.

This isn't the first time the White Sox have been mentioned as angling for the 31-year-old, with them reportedly even making him a contract offer.

Brantley isn't quite as obvious a long-term fit as Harper, a full five years older. He doesn't bring the no-brainer alignment with the organization's wave of highly touted prospects.

But it's not like he's ancient, either, and he's coming off another fine season in which he slashed .309/.364/.468 and made his third All-Star team. His veteran experience could be a valuable addition to a young team trying to grow into a perennial contender, and he fills an obvious need in the outfield after the White Sox non-tendered starting right fielder Avisail Garcia. Of course, Brantley hasn't played anywhere but left field since 2015, the position that seems to be the destination for top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez.

So would Brantley be a bridge to the outfield of the future or a part of it? The kind of contract he would get would likely best describe his fit.

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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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White Sox free-agent focus: Michael Brantley

White Sox free-agent focus: Michael Brantley

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

White Sox fans know Michael Brantley all too well.

Brantley spent the first decade of his major league career as a Cleveland Indian and faced off against the South Siders on a regular basis. For the most part, he did quite well against them, the owner of a .280/.326/.418 slash line, 12 home runs and 59 RBIs against them in 116 games. So the best reason for the White Sox to sign Brantley this winter might be so they don’t have to pitch to him anymore.

Seriously, though, Brantley has put together a quietly strong big league career to this point. He’s slashing .295/.351/.430 in his career with a trio of All-Star appearances under his belt and a top-three AL MVP finish from 2014. There are certainly bigger names on the outfield market — Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock come to mind — but Brantley would be a nice fit just about anywhere.

The main concern with Brantley is his health. He played in just 101 games over the 2016 and 2017 seasons. But he played in 143 games in 2018, a positive sign.

The White Sox don’t need an outfielder like Brantley, necessarily. They’re not expected to contend for a championship in 2019, and the outfield is perhaps the deepest area in their minor league system. If they’re content to keep playing the waiting game in 2019 while all those prospects develop into the team of the future, the outfield would figure to stock itself over the next couple seasons. Eloy Jimenez, the team’s top-ranked prospect, figures to reach the majors early on next season and would figure to command an everyday corner-outfield spot. Brantley played all but seven of his games last season in left field, the same spot where Jimenez spent most of his time in the minors.

But the White Sox current major league outfield leaves a lot to be desired, with subpar offensive seasons from Adam Engel, Nicky Delmonico and Avisail Garcia in 2018 and Daniel Palka seemingly best suited for a DH role. Brantley would be an obvious upgrade from an offensive standpoint.

Plus, Brantley would bring some veteran experience to a very young team and could act in a mentor-type role among position players that James Shields was able to fill among starting pitchers last season.

But Brantley is also 31 years old, and it would be a worthwhile question to wonder whether he would align with their long-term plans.

Like with any potential signing, the White Sox have the financial flexibility to make a Brantley addition work. But it seems there are more pressing needs that need addressing and additions that could make a greater long-term impact.

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