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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)?
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.