Toronto Blue Jays

Even with Nicholas Castellanos, can the Reds — or anyone — challenge the White Sox for baseball's best offseason?

Even with Nicholas Castellanos, can the Reds — or anyone — challenge the White Sox for baseball's best offseason?

Winning the offseason is meaningless if you don't win in the regular season and the postseason.

Everyone knows this, particularly the big league clubs who are making all these offseason moves. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn talked just last week about this very thing.

“Quite candidly, we haven't accomplished anything yet, we haven't won yet,” he said during his pre-SoxFest press conference last Thursday. “This whole process was about winning championships, was about finishing with a parade at the end of October down Michigan Avenue. Until that happens, I don't think any of us are really in a position to feel satisfied or feel like we've accomplished anything.

“We've had a nice winter. ... We think very bright days are ahead of us, and we look forward to enjoying them. But in terms of feeling like we've accomplished something or feeling satisfied, ask me after the parade.”

That being said, the White Sox seemingly have won the offseason. By adding a slew of accomplished veterans to a young core that broke out in a big way in 2019 there are justified playoff expectations on the South Side. Look no further than an extremely excited fan base buzzing during SoxFest over the weekend.

But, you know, other teams have had good offseasons, too. Here's a look at some baseball's best winters. Let's make sure the White Sox really have earned the fictional and totally meaningless title of "offseason champions."

White Sox

Before we reach across the league, let's run through what Hahn & Co. have done since the book closed on 2019's 89-loss campaign:

— The White Sox signed Yasmani Grandal to the richest contract in team history, adding an All Star behind the plate for the next four years. Obviously, he's one of the better offensive catchers in the game. And as we've seen, Grandal's skills as a totally committed guiding force for the pitching staff are already having an effect,

— They gave a three-year contract to Jose Abreu, the face of the franchise. While Abreu rightfully earns a ton of credit for his off-the-field work with the White Sox younger players, which will remain important over the next three seasons, especially with fellow Cuban Luis Robert hitting the majors this season, let's not pretend like he's washed up or anything like it. Abreu just had one of the most productive seasons of his career as a 32-year-old in 2019, leading the American League in RBIs and coming three homers away from a career high.

— They traded for a new everyday right fielder in Nomar Mazara, who has hit 79 homers in four big league seasons. He might just be a "bridge" (a descriptor Hahn unleashed last week) to the organization's still-developing outfield prospects, but White Sox brass keeps touting the untapped potential they think they can coax out of the one-time top prospect, who's still just 24 years old.

— They added Gio Gonzalez to the starting rotation, a reliable back-of-the-rotation piece who will finally get his chance to pitch for the organization that drafted him a decade and a half ago — then traded him, twice.

— They signed Dallas Keuchel to a three-year contract (with an option for a fourth), bringing in the accomplished front-of-the-rotation starter they needed to team with Lucas Giolito this winter. Keuchel has a Cy Young Award, a World Series ring and a closet full of Gold Gloves on his resume and brings the winning experience this roster was lacking. With question marks in the middle and back of the rotation, Keuchel's steady hand figures to be of great benefit.

— They signed Edwin Encarnacion, the veteran slugger, to a one-year deal (with an option for a second) that not only added the thump they needed to the lineup but signaled that these White Sox are indeed trying to win and win big in 2020. The other, longer term deals could have pointed to a solid though perhaps more cautious belief that the contention window might still be a little ways off from opening. Not the one-year pact with Encarnacion, though, which showed the White Sox are serious about contending this year with a 37-year-old bopper hitting a bunch of dingers.

— They gave a six-year contract extension (with a pair of options that could push it all the way to eight) to Luis Robert, the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball. For the second straight offseason, the White Sox locked up a young player who's yet to play a game in the majors. But Robert and Eloy Jimenez figure to be powering this team for the better part of the next decade. The extension cleared the way for the five-tool Robert to be the White Sox starting center fielder come Opening Day, and 162 games' worth of a guy expected to be a superstar is better than any lesser alternative.

— They added Steve Cishek to the bullpen, complementing back-end pitchers Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer with a veteran who proved both effective and dependable in his two seasons on the North Side, posting a 2.55 ERA in a whopping 150 appearances.

So that's all pretty good. Can anyone else can compete with that? Let's see.

Cincinnati Reds

If anyone's coming close to challenging the White Sox for that ridiculous title of "offseason champs," it's the Reds. Much like the White Sox, the Reds are a team with some great young talent looking to capitalize on a weaker division and make some noise. The Reds have positioned themselves to do just that, adding the biggest piece of their offseason haul Monday morning with the signing of outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. He was on a lot of White Sox fans' wish lists, particularly the ones not sold on Mazara as a confidence-inspiring option in right field. But Castellanos is finally off the market, getting a four-year deal from the Reds (that includes opt-out clauses after each of the next two seasons).

Castellanos now anchors a lineup that already included a pair of newcomers: slugging infielder Mike Moustakas, who White Sox fans know well from his days with the Kansas City Royals, and center fielder Shogo Akiyama, who came over from Japan this winter. Add those guys to an already potent group of hitters that included Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, Aristides Aquino and highly rated prospect Nick Senzel (coming off shoulder surgery), and you've got yourself a contender — if not the favorite — to win the NL Central crown. And, oh yeah, their pitching staff ain't half bad, either, with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer as perhaps the best 1-2-3 punch in the NL. They added Wade Miley this offseason, too, bolstering (if not in a huge way) that rotation further.

That's a great offseason, no doubt, and if you don't count Robert as a true offseason addition on the South Side — he was already part of the organization — then it's not a stretch to say that Castellanos and Moustakas are a better pair of lineup improvements than Grandal and Encarnacion, though it's close. On the new-pitching front, Keuchel, Gonzalez and Cishek make for a more appealing group than Miley by himself. It seems like the White Sox addressed more areas — and more glaring needs — than the Reds, but both teams are well positioned to challenge for a Central Division title.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves, like the White Sox, got to work early and often. They're the two-time defending NL East champs, yet they've been ousted in the NLDS in each of the last two postseasons, then had to watch the division-rival Washington Nationals win the World Series. So they understandably loaded up this winter. They added perhaps the biggest name on the relief-pitching market, Will Smith, to an already significantly remade bullpen that included midseason acquisitions Mark Melancon and Shane Greene. They added Cole Hamels to their starting staff, bringing in the kind of winning experience and veteran know-how the White Sox found in Keuchel.

While White Sox fans spent months debating whether they wanted Marcell Ozuna on the South Side, the Braves found a seeming bargain in getting Ozuna on just a one-year deal. While there were justifiable red flags in Ozuna's numbers during his two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, he has the potential to be an impact bat in the middle of a championship lineup. And with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman already in the Braves' lineup, it's not like Ozuna has to shoulder the load.

The Braves also added a new catcher in Travis d'Arnaud and brought back Nick Markakis. In the same division as the team that just won it all, the Braves might still be the favorites to repeat in the NL East.

Washington Nationals

The reigning champs had their biggest offseason success in retaining Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP who proved during the postseason that he's among baseball's best hurlers. Of course, they couldn't retain Anthony Rendon, one of the most consistently excellent hitters in the game. But had they lost both to greener bank accounts the winter after winning the whole thing, that would have been brutal. Keeping Strasburg counts as a huge win, even if the Nationals have lost their biggest bopper in each of the last two offseasons: first Bryce Harper, now Rendon. But they won the World Series without Harper, so ... 

The Nationals also retained former White Sox pitching prospect Daniel Hudson, who played such a huge role out of the bullpen en route to their championship, and Howie Kendrick, who hit that unforgettable game-winning grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and send the Nationals to the Fall Classic. New guys include Will Harris, who along with bringing Hudson back goes a long way toward solidifying a bullpen that was the team's weakest link throughout the regular season in 2019. Eric Thames and Starlin Castro join the position-player side of things, though they won't be expected to make up for Rendon's departure like the guys who were already there: Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles and the like.

It's hard to say the Nationals are anything but worse, on paper, than they were when they won the World Series three months ago, but hey, that's what happens when you lose a perennial MVP candidate. Still, even with the Braves' big offseason (and status as defending NL East champs), the Nationals remain right in the thick of things in their division thanks to an elite 1-2-3 in the rotation of Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

Philadelphia Phillies

Attempting to keep pace in the NL East, the Phillies followed up their spending spree from an offseason ago by handing out another huge contract, this one going to Zack Wheeler, who turned down a richer offer from the White Sox to pitch on the East Coast. Wheeler provides a nice safety net for a Phillies rotation that needed an infusion after big ERA increases for both Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola last season (though Wheeler's 2019 ERA was still higher than Nola's). The Phillies also brought in Didi Gregorius, who was very good in his tenure with the New York Yankees, to be their new starting shortstop.

The Phillies, especially offensively, appear to be loaded, with Gregorius joining Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Scott Kingery. The pitching staff has its issues but also has some arms that have been/could be very potent. So what's the problem? Well, they play in baseball's most competitive division. They looked loaded last year, too, and finished fourth. They've got to prove they can hang with the Braves and Nationals and horribly underwhelm with a .500 finish like they did in 2019.

New York Yankees

I'm going to fly through these next three teams, not because they didn't have good offseasons but because their good offseasons are based on the addition of one superstar player. The Yankees reeled in the biggest fish in the free-agency pond, adding Gerrit Cole, who showed during the postseason that he might just be the best pitcher in baseball. It looked like he was going to land on the West Coast. Instead, he landed on the East Coast, giving the Yankees a much-needed dominant force at the top of their rotation. The AL pennant — thanks in part to Cole's defection and in part to the Astros losing their general manager and manager in the wake of their cheating scandal — looks like the Yankees' to lose.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins did more than just signing Josh Donaldson. They brought back Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda and added Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. That's four starting pitchers, and yet their starting rotation is still a question mark. What's not a question mark is their lineup, which last season set the record for the most home runs hit in a single campaign. They might hit even more of them now that they've got Donaldson, a perennial MVP candidate who the White Sox now have to worry about trying to get out 19 times a year for the next half decade. The White Sox had a better offseason than the Twins, yes. But the Twins are still looking like one heck of a challenge in the AL Central, not because they won 100 games last season and still employ Nelson Cruz, but because they now also employ Donaldson.

Los Angeles Angels

The aforementioned Rendon is now in the same lineup as Mike Trout. Dear god. Of course, this is the Angels we're talking about, a team that has made the postseason all of one time in Trout's eight full major league seasons. The guy who's arguably the best baseball player ever has played in just three playoff games and won zero of them. So is Rendon going to single-handedly change that? No, probably not. Joe Maddon might, though, and the new skipper in Anaheim could prove a bigger addition than his new middle-of-the-order bat. But if there's ever been a time to jump up and dethrone the Astros, it's now, considering they could be in for a season of disarray in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that cost them their GM and their manager. The Angels have a big-time outfield prospect coming up in Jo Adell. But how have they fortified their worrisome starting rotation? With Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy. Ok, maybe the Astros will be fine.

Toronto Blue Jays

Certainly, the Blue Jays have been active, most of their efforts directed at remaking their rotation. They landed one of the bigger fish on the starting-pitching market in Hyun-Jin Ryu, as well as bringing in Chase Anderson, Tanner Roark and Matt Shoemaker. How good those moves are remain to be seen, as those three have plenty to prove. Ryu is obviously a nice acquisition after he won the NL's ERA crown last season. Travis Shaw was the big addition to the lineup.

The thing with the Blue Jays is not only are most of these moves not terribly exciting, they do little to make a dent in the AL East race. The Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays still seem much better after their playoff appearances last season, and though the Boston Red Sox suffered a crippling World Series hangover last year — and face a ton of questions about their future, given their financial commitments — they still have the kind of talented roster to win more games than the Blue Jays. So, in the end, how effective was this offseason for Toronto?

———

The verdict: The White Sox won the offseason.

As established, of course, that means nothing until it turns into on-the-field success. But it allows for some changing expectations in certain places, the South Side included, which gets to reap realistic playoff hopes from the work of the front office.

But as for whether the team has actually accomplished anything, do what Hahn says and ask him after the parade.

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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Toronto Blue Jays

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Toronto Blue Jays

As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

There are brighter days ahead for the Blue Jays, no doubt about it.

The Toronto farm system is stacked, headlined by the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball, some guy you might have heard of named Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Yes, another Canadian team is set to reap the benefits of a Vladimir Guerrero, the younger version who hit a combined .381/.437/.636 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs in 2018. But here's the real jaw-dropper: Vladdy Junior struck out just 38 times.

White Sox fans will recognize the situation surrounding Guerrero, one that won't involve him breaking camp with the Blue Jays as that team, much like the White Sox, is operating within the rules and dealing with the financial realities of the game. That pending uncomfortableness, though, has potentially been negated North of the Border, as Guerrero is currently being bothered by an oblique strain. A healthy Eloy Jimenez will just have to wait a little longer.

But the Jays' loaded system goes beyond just the guy at the top of the rankings. Keeping in the tradition of guys whose dads mashed back in the day, Toronto's No. 2 prospect is Bo Bichette, son of Dante. He's a shortstop who had a fine season at Double-A last year and a much better one in 2017 as a Class A player, when he finished with a .988 OPS. Further down the list is Cavan Biggio, son of Craig. Like his pops, he can play a variety of positions. Unlike his pops, he's got some significant pop and launched 26 dingers at Double-A last season. And there's even more where those came from. Biggio's ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the Jays' system, behind five of MLB Pipeline's top-100 prospects (including Guerrero and Bichette) and a couple more infielders.

Now, unlike the White Sox, who are experiencing more of a one-by-one arrival of top prospects at the major league level, the Blue Jays could see a good number of these heralded youngsters up by the end of the 2019 season. Guerrero is the preseason Rookie of the Year favorite, but Bichette, Biggio and some of the others could join him, eventually, on this year's squad. That includes Danny Jansen, the team's No. 3 prospect (and an Elmhurst native) who saw some time at the end of last season and figures to be the Jays' Opening Day catcher.

But while it's great that Jays fans like Geddy Lee will have something to be excited about in 2019, is there really any amount of top prospects arriving at the big league level that could make this team a threat to the uber teams at the top of the AL East? The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees combined for 208 wins and a World Series championship in 2018. The Red Sox are sans closer but still as much a contender to do it all again as anyone. The Yankees have only gotten better — including capitalizing on the Jays' most headline-grabbing offseason decision, the forking over of around $40 million to make Troy Tulowitzki go away; he's making league minimum with the Yanks.

And while Guerrero and Bichette and Biggio and Jansen and the still-around and still-powerful Justin Smoak could make for a fun lineup by September, none of them will do anything to improve a starting rotation that is currently a hodgepodge of two holdovers, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and three aging additions in Clay Buchholz, Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard. It's not to say those were bad additions. Those are the kinds of pitchers rebuilding teams sign when they're waiting on prospects. But how will that rotation fare against the Aaron Judges and Giancarlo Stantons and Mookie Bettses and J.D. Martinezes of the AL East? Only the 34-year-old Buchholz had himself a good 2018: a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Those prospects that are on the way and on the way soon? Mostly position players. The pitchers — and there are highly ranked ones like Nate Pearson, Eric Pardinho, Adam Kloffenstein and Sean Reid-Foley — are a little further off, as a group.

So, no, the Jays are not bad and they will only get better. But the ceiling can only be so high when you play in the same division as the Yanks and the Saux. Bring on Vladdy Junior's rookie season, just don't expect it to end in his first postseason appearance.

2018 record: 73-89, fourth place in AL East

Offseason additions: Clay Buccholz, Freddy Galvis, Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richard, Bud Norris, John Axford

Offseason departures: Troy Tulowitzki, Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte, Marco Estrada, Tyler Clippard, Oliver Drake

X-factor: Bichette still hasn't played above Double-A (where last year he led the Eastern League in hits, extra-base hits, doubles and total bases), but MLB Pipeline thinks he'll make his big league debut before the 2019 season runs out. He's only 21 years old but has been hitting up a storm for two full seasons now in the minor leagues. Like his dad was part of the legendary Blake Street Bombers with the Colorado Rockies, perhaps Bichette can team with Guerrero and Biggio and Smoak and whoever else to form the Bremner Boulevard Bombers in Toronto. Doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well, but hey, what were the odds of the street next to the Rogers Centre starting with a "B"? Oh, wait. Maple Leaf Mashers sounds way better, let's go with that.

Projected lineup:

1. Billy McKinney, LF
2. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 2B
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
4. Kendrys Morales, DH
5. Randal Grichuk, RF
6. Kevin Pillar, CF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Brandon Drury, 3B
9. Danny Jansen, C

Projected rotation:

1. Marcus Stroman
2. Aaron Sanchez
3. Clay Buchholz
4. Matt Shoemaker
5. Clayton Richard

Prediction: Fourth place in AL East

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Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

According to MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the Cubs are one of the teams interested in free agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The 5-time All-Star will be holding a workout soon, with Chicago being one of the six teams reported to have a scout present at his workout.

Heyman did mention that while the Cubs aren’t necessarily the favorites right now, we will know how good of a chance they will have soon. Tulowitzki and his team are reported to be narrowing down their list to (at least) 6 teams.

Last season Tulowitzki played 66 games for the Blue Jays, batting .249 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI. For his career he is a .290 hitter and is looking for a bounce-back season after dealing with complications from bone spur injuries in both heels over the years.

Toronto has to pay the $38 million left on Tulowitzki's contract, freeing up other teams to sign the veteran to a more reasonable deal. Since the Blue Jays went the route of cutting him, teams can offer Tulowitzki a league minimum salary.

For the Cubs, he represents-however small-a chance to extract great value from a veteran player, which would be a big bonus considering how the Yu Darvish signing backfired in year one.

Tulowitzki is likely to be searching for playing time on a legit title contender, so if he can provide any solid offensive production going forward, he and the Cubs could be a solid match.