Nomar Mazara

More moves? Nicholas Castellanos? 'Heavy lifting' over, but White Sox might not be done

More moves? Nicholas Castellanos? 'Heavy lifting' over, but White Sox might not be done

More? Really?

No, White Sox fans, you’re not being greedy if you’re looking for Rick Hahn’s front office to keep adding to the roster. But maybe pause just a bit to congratulate the general manager on an offseason well done.

Hahn has added an incredible amount — and in an incredible amount of time, considering the way some baseball offseasons of recent vintage have played out — to a White Sox team that lost 89 games last year and 100 games the year before that. Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Steve Cishek and Gio Gonzalez have come to the South Side, bringing playoff experience and veteran know how to a young group that, despite that lopsided record, broke out in a big way in 2019.

It’s all added up to realistic playoff expectations for the first time in a long time.

But continuing to add is what playoff teams do. So no, it’s not outlandish to suggest that more pieces might make sense, especially with certain markets still boasting plenty of options for teams searching for more depth and more oomph to make a seven-month run at a championship.

But Nicholas Castellanos? That’s probably not going to happen.

“We're probably done with any major acquisitions,” Hahn said during his pre-SoxFest press conference Thursday. “The reality of our day-to-day is that we're still, down the hall, debating various potential smaller additions, and there's still the occasional trade idea or free-agent signing that picks up a little steam. So never say never.

“The nature of the job is you always feel like there's one more addition you can make, so I'm probably never going to stand up here and say we're finished. But in reality, I think the safe assumption is the bulk of our heavy lifting for this winter, at least, is over.”

Castellanos — who feasted on White Sox pitching as a member of the division-rival Detroit Tigers — is still out there, and right field is still a much discussed position for the South Siders.

Nomar Mazara has the everyday job out there right now after he was acquired in a trade with the Texas Rangers during the Winter Meetings. But he hasn’t fared well against left-handed pitching in his big league career, and even Hahn has described him as a possible platoon candidate, something the general manager might be attempting to downplay these days, consistently talking up Mazara up as someone with untapped potential, which certainly could end up being the case.

“You need to look at the roster holistically. You need to look at everything and how it all fits together,” Hahn said when asked why Mazara is the superior option to some of the bigger names that were or remain on the free-agent market. “Mazara's 24 years old, he already has five years of experience in the big leagues, he's a left-handed power bat who does significant positive offensive contribution against at least right-handed pitching and that our scouts and coaches think there's more upside to. Given the control of a couple of years and the price points that he comes with, we think it's a nice fit within the other things that we wanted to accomplish on that roster.”

Regardless of how good Mazara might end up being, fans have adjusted their energy to lobbying for Castellanos, the pendulum of public perception swinging wildly from “the White Sox will never spend on free agents” to “look at the White Sox spending on free agents, they should sign every available player.” Hahn threw cold water on that idea Thursday, though dashing dreams of Castellanos isn’t the same as saying the White Sox are closed for business until the season starts March 26. It’s also unlikely to stop fans from bombarding the GM with Castellanos-related inquiries this weekend at SoxFest.

On the more realistic fronts, though, the White Sox could probably still use some starting-pitching depth, especially now that Dylan Covey is no longer part of the organization, a minor league free agent after he rejected an outright assignment to Triple-A Charlotte on Wednesday. While the rotation is in much better shape than it was when the 2019 season ended, thanks to the additions of Keuchel and Gonzalez, if one of the five pitchers expected to make up that starting staff when camp breaks gets hurt in April, who is there left to turn to?

Hahn reiterated Thursday that the team will wait until reaching Glendale, Ariz., to determine what the plan will be for Michael Kopech, considering the desire to limit him in some fashion as he returns from Tommy John surgery and the accompanying yearlong layoff. Ross Detwiler might be better served starting in Charlotte than pitching as the long man out of the White Sox big league bullpen. But the starting-pitching depth, while the team waits for Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert to recover from their own Tommy John surgeries, isn’t particularly populous past Detwiler.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that a minor league signing or two not unlike the Ervin Santana acquisition last spring would make an awful lot of sense. Just, you know, hopefully with better results than the ones Santana turned in last season.

It's also worth noting that the White Sox bullpen, while looking strong at the back end, doesn't have a long man in it. Someone who could eat up some innings and make the occasional spot start would figure to be of value.

How right field will shake out is still somewhat of a head-scratcher, though it seems with each answer about Mazara, Hahn is signaling an increased likelihood that Mazara will get everyday at-bats. That might douse the notion of a platoon partner unless proven necessary a few months into the campaign.

At second base, the general manager said that, at the moment, the answer is “some combination of Leury García, Danny Mendick and Nick Madrigal” before instructing the inquiring reporter to “ask me again on March 25.” Madrigal’s chances at an Opening Day job aren’t looking favorable at the moment, pending him blowing the doors off the Cactus League. Does that mean there’s a veteran addition coming at second base? More likely, it means Garcia is your Opening Day starter, even if there’s a bounty of options on the open market.

So no, Hahn is probably not completely finished working the White Sox into the transaction log. A signing or a trade is hardly out of the question with still more than two months before Opening Day.

But those dreaming of yet another huge splash to add to a long list of them this winter might have to wait until … well, July, maybe?

Yes, fans ought to be pleased, too, with Hahn’s comments on adding at the deadline, should the White Sox find themselves in the playoff chase. He said they can do it.

“I do feel like we put ourselves in a position to have that type of flexibility,” Hahn said, “as well as it's been my experience here over the last couple of decades that when we've been in a position to truly win and add impactful pieces around the deadline, we've been able to find the wherewithal to get that done.”

If the White Sox have truly made the transition from rebuilding to contending — something we won’t find out until they start winning games and, you know, contending for things — then Hahn and his front office might never be done adding.

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White Sox avoid arbitration with five players as 2020 payroll comes into focus

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USA TODAY

White Sox avoid arbitration with five players as 2020 payroll comes into focus

The White Sox will not go to arbitration this year, avoiding the process by agreeing to terms on one-year contracts with their five remaining arbitration-eligible players Friday.

Closer Alex Colome got the biggest payday, $10,532,500 for the 2020 season. In his first season with the White Sox in 2019, he saved 30 games, bringing his total since the start of the 2016 campaign to 126. His first- and second-half splits were noticeable: a 2.02 first-half ERA followed up by a 3.91 ERA after the All-Star break. But he remains an accomplished ninth-inning man and a valuable piece of the South Side relief corps as the team looks to make a run at a playoff spot in 2020.

Newly acquired right fielder Nomar Mazara will make $5.56 million this season. At the moment, he figures to be the White Sox everyday right fielder, an upgrade from a group of players who struggled to make much of an impact in 2019. Mazara is just 24 years old though has four big league seasons under his belt already, with an average of nearly 20 homers and exactly 77 RBIs in that span. Rick Hahn's front office traded for Mazara during the Winter Meetings, and the general manager has repeatedly discussed what the team believes to be untapped potential in the left-handed hitter. Mazara has struggled against left-handed pitching in his career, with a .231/.272/.361 slash line versus southpaws, leading to the possibility of the White Sox seeking a platoon partner. But as of this writing, Mazara is slated to get the bulk of the at-bats in right.

Starting pitcher Carlos Rodon will make $4.45 million in 2020, though he likely won't pitch during much of the season. He's on the mend from Tommy John surgery, which the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft underwent last May. That leaves a total mystery as to what kind of impact he'll be able to make this season, though he could conceivably provide, at the very least, starting depth later in the season, if not more. Rodon is only under team control for two more seasons, so he'll have a limited window to prove he belongs in the White Sox long-term plans once he returns to full strength.

Utility man Leury Garcia will make $3.25 million in 2020. He played a ton during the 2019 season, finishing with a .279/.310/.378 slash line in 140 games, primarily as a starter in the outfield. He can play all three outfield positions and at three of the four spots on the infield, as well. He could see a lot of time at second base until the White Sox deem highly ranked prospect Nick Madrigal ready for the big leagues. Garcia figures to be a versatile and valuable piece for Rick Renteria, and Garcia's ability to play outfield — plus a mighty affordable price tag — keeps the White Sox bench in good shape despite the decision to non-tender Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sanchez earlier this offseason.

Relief pitcher Evan Marshall will make $1.1 million a year after joining the White Sox as a minor league free agent. He came up to the big league club in May and turned in some stellar numbers out of the 'pen: a 2.49 ERA in 50.2 innings over 55 appearances. While the volatility of relief pitching makes it difficult to bank on that kind of production again in 2020, he remains part of the back-end group of that bullpen, along with Colome, Aaron Bummer, Jimmy Cordero and Steve Cishek, who is reportedly signing with the team, though his deal has not yet been announced.

Catcher James McCann also entered the offseason as arbitration eligible, but he and the White Sox agreed on a one-year, $5.4 million deal to avoid arbitration more than a month ago.

RosterResource.com estimates the White Sox payroll for the 2020 season to be nearly $128 million, an increase of more than $30 million — or more than 33 percent — from the 2019 payroll. Spending doesn't always equal wins, but the White Sox have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're willing to spend to improve the roster and attempt to make the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode. They've handed out big free-agent contracts to Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnacion, as well as rich extensions to Jose Abreu and Luis Robert.

The White Sox highest Opening Day payroll ever came in 2011, when it stood at $129,285,539. That's less than $2 million more than the estimated Opening Day payroll for 2020, meaning one more addition could make this the most expensive White Sox squad in franchise history.

Possibilities for another addition include one more arm for the bullpen or the aforementioned platoon partner for Mazara in right field. But even if Hahn's work is done for the winter, it will still have been a massive offseason for the South Siders. A massive offseason breeding big, new expectations.

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How the new-look White Sox offense might line up

How the new-look White Sox offense might line up

The White Sox were 13th out of 15 teams in the American League in runs scored in 2019. In order to field a competitive team in 2020, the offense had to get better.

At least on paper, it figures to be much improved. The White Sox have added three bats to their lineup this offseason (Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara and Edwin Encarnacion) and have two prospects (Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal) who figure to become regular starters early in 2020.

Most of the everyday regular lineup figures to be different from what it was last season. Manager Rick Renteria goes from having major question marks in right field and at DH to having to figure out how to fill out his batting order with a number of quality bats.

Forgetting any delays in seeing Robert and Madrigal come up, let’s figure out how the lineup could look like when those two arrive on the South Side. Positionally, it seems somewhat clear.

C Yasmani Grandal

1B Jose Abreu

2B Nick Madrigal

SS Tim Anderson

3B Yoan Moncada

LF Eloy Jimenez

CF Luis Robert

RF Nomar Mazara

DH Edwin Encarnacion

All-Star James McCann can spell Grandal at catcher with Grandal and Encarnacion filling in for Abreu at first base when needed. Abreu played 34 games at DH last season, Grandal made 16 starts at first base and Encarnacion only played 109 games so there will still be openings for McCann to get playing time.

Now for the tricky party: What will be the batting order?

The only sure thing would appear to be Abreu hitting in the No. 3 hole. Abreu hasn’t been anywhere else since 2017 (and even then he made most of his starts batting third) so until we see otherwise, Abreu stays in that third spot.

There aren’t any obvious leadoff candidates. Last year’s primary leadoff hitter was Leury Garcia, but he figures to be a bench or platoon player once Robert joins the team. Robert led off for Triple-A Charlotte, but that’s asking a lot for his rookie season, especially for a player who doesn’t really profile as a leadoff hitter. Robert has leadoff caliber speed and might be able to hit for enough average, but he doesn’t walk much. He’s more of a power hitter than an on-base guy.

Tim Anderson just won a batting title and also has enough speed to put at the top of the order, but also doesn’t walk much. He moved around in the batting order in 2019, including four games at leadoff, but was used most in the No. 2 hole.

Madrigal was often hitting second behind Robert in Charlotte and also could be a decent all-around leadoff hitter, but like with Robert, the White Sox might hesitate to put that much pressure on him so quickly.

For argument’s sake let’s say Renteria goes with Anderson leading off. Robert could go after that, but Moncada played most of his games batting second last season and is the team’s best overall hitter. The top three is Anderson, Moncada, Abreu.

The bottom third is easier than the middle third. Robert, Mazara and Madrigal are the least proven hitters in the lineup so they start at the bottom. Robert can start batting seventh with Mazara behind him and Madrigal batting ninth as a secondary leadoff-type hitter when the lineup rolls around for Anderson and Moncada, who both have some pop.

That leaves Jimenez, Encarnacion and Grandal for the 4-6 spots. Encarnacion had the highest OPS of the trio (.875) last season, but Jimenez has the highest upside and projects as an elite cleanup hitter. It might be aggressive to place him in that spot this early in his career in a strong lineup, but if he takes a step forward in his second year he’s the best hitter of this group. After that, Grandal fifth and Encarnacion sixth to stick the switch-hitter (Grandal) higher in the lineup.

So there you have it, a totally made up lineup for the White Sox to play ball with in 2020:

Tim Anderson

Yoan Moncada

Jose Abreu

Eloy Jimenez

Yasmani Grandal

Edwin Encarnacion

Luis Robert

Nomar Mazara

Nick Madrigal

This doesn’t factor in how different the lineup could look against lefties as opposed to righties. For example, Mazara struggled against lefties last year and is a likely candidate to have someone platoon with him in right field.

As it is listed above, Mazara, the lone lefty, and the switch-hitters, Grandal and Moncada, are spaced out enough. There’s speed at the top, power for the next several spots and no clear weak spots assuming the rookies don’t struggle too much when they come up.

Of course, there are numerous permutations with numerous talented hitters. No matter what order they are in, that will be a pleasant change of pace for White Sox fans.

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