White Sox

Expect a busy winter on the South Side: A big ol' White Sox offseason primer

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USA TODAY

Expect a busy winter on the South Side: A big ol' White Sox offseason primer

Rick Hahn doesn’t often get into too many specifics, especially when it comes to discussing moves that he might or might not make. But the White Sox general manager laid out a pretty cut-and-dry offseason to-do list for his front office as the regular season entered its final days.

The bottom line: Expect a busy winter on the South Side.

As the White Sox move into what the general manager called the “next stage” of his rebuilding project, the types of offseason moves the team will make are expected to be as different as it hopes the results on the field will be.

In other words, don’t anticipate another offseason like last one, at least from the standpoint of the kinds of players the White Sox ended up acquiring: Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay, Ivan Nova, that sort of thing. Instead, expect the White Sox to remain as aggressive as they were in attempting to land Manny Machado and expect bigger additions.

Where? Well, Hahn laid that out during his end-of-season press conference Friday, signaling the team’s intent to add two starting players to the lineup and potentially multiple arms to the starting rotation.

“We've had a fair amount of meetings in terms of where we think we need to go,” Hahn said. “I think it's no secret that as strong as some of the offensive performances have been this year, we obviously haven't gotten much production out of certain positions — right field, designated hitter — over the course of the year.

“We're very pleased, going into the offseason, projecting out (Lucas) Giolito, (Dylan) Cease and (Reynaldo) Lopez as part of that rotation, but that leaves a couple spots. Obviously, Michael Kopech's coming back from injury, Carlos Rodon at some point next year, at some point next year Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert. But it still leaves the opportunity to solidify that rotation either through free agency or trade, and that will likely be a priority in the coming months.”

A right fielder, a designated hitter, a starting pitcher or two. That’s the to-do list for Hahn and his front office. As for which players will end up filling those holes, that obviously remains to be seen.

Why do the White Sox need to make these specific moves?

Certainly those needs are justified ones. Hahn went as far as saying “many of our young outfielders aren’t quite ready to fill that void in right field,” pointing to the hit the organization’s depth took with myriad injuries and under-performers in 2019. And with Alonso and Daniel Palka both floundering dramatically, the White Sox were basically left with no viable DH options all season. Zack Collins might wind up an option there, but he’s hardly a sure-thing middle-of-the-order presence right now.

The numbers explain things perfectly. White Sox right fielders slashed .220/.277/.290 this season, with White Sox designated hitters posting a similarly disappointing .203/.282/.346 line.

In the rotation, starting pitching has long been discussed as an offseason priority for Hahn and his front office. The team’s major league ready depth was worn bare in a hurry this season, with a parade of mostly ineffective fifth starters. While Giolito developed into the ace of the staff, Cease arrived at the major league level with high hopes and Kopech is expected to return from his Tommy John surgery, there’s work to be done to eliminate some of the rotation’s question marks heading into next season.

Will the White Sox plug these holes via free agency or trades?

In all areas, it’s perhaps likely free agency will be the main route to plug those holes. It doesn’t mean it will be the only one, but pulling off a trade for an impact player seems, at the least, more difficult than it might have been a year ago. The aforementioned injuries and under-performances throughout the minor leagues make it difficult to envision what kind of package could be built out of players who aren’t slated for key roles in the White Sox long-term future.

Hahn addressed that Friday, though, saying that teams were interested in injured players during the season and that with those players closer to health, the interest could be there again this winter.

“If you're talking more specifically about do injuries to certain players affect their trade value, I can say that at the trade deadline when we were targeting some major league add-ons, we were asked about some players who were out for the year. Not that we were necessarily looking to move them, but they still had some level of value,” he said. “Obviously their value will continue to climb as they get closer to return and once they do return and perform, we'll be back to where we were.

“So we'll have to see how the market plays out. It was probably, initially, one area we felt it most with the injuries was having trade capital stored up. But as we get closer to these players returning, I think we're going to return back to that level of having a decent stable to draw upon for Chicago or trades to improve Chicago.”

And so it’s likely back to the free-agent waters for these White Sox, who ventured out there last season in search of Machado, only for the All-Star infielder to sign with the San Diego Padres. This winter’s free-agent market isn’t as stacked as it once was thanks to a flurry of extensions signed last winter and spring that kept names like Chris Sale, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Justin Verlander and others in the employ of their current clubs. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options.

The question is whether Hahn will be able to end up with a different outcome than the one he did last spring, when the White Sox missed out on Machado.

“I really think we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need to sell the team or talk about the future because it’s evident to everyone around the league what’s coming,” Hahn said. “I’ve heard from my peers in other organizations, I know I’ve heard from players in the clubhouse, what their peers have said. The coaches talk.

“There’s a lot of positive buzz about where this team is headed. When you are talking to some free agents, last year, we were probably a year too soon. You had to map out what it was going to look like and educate them a little bit about who was coming and how we saw this thing coming together. Over the course of this year, we saw a lot of it come together before our eyes, and it’s fairly easy to project out who is going to be joining us from our system and what’s that going to potentially look like.

“The excitement is there, not just in our clubhouse but around the game right now.”

Who will the White Sox pursue?

On the starting-pitching front, Gerrit Cole will be the biggest and most expensive name out there. One of the Houston Astros’ two Cy Young candidates could end up fetching the richest pitching contract in baseball history. Whether the White Sox want to swim in those waters or not, we’ll find out. But even if they don’t, players like Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Jake Odorizzi, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and perhaps even Stephen Strasburg will be available. The White Sox could opt to top their rotation with a veteran ace type or fill in behind Giolito, who turned in one of the best pitching seasons in the American League in 2019.

There are a few very attractive corner-outfield options. Nicholas Castellanos has upped his value and should get a huge payday after playing so well with the Cubs since the trade deadline. He crushed the ball at Guaranteed Rate Field when he was a member of the division-rival Detroit Tigers. Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna are also heading to the open market.

It’s perhaps here where we should address the idea of the White Sox needing a certain type of right fielder, a category that neither Castellanos, Puig nor Ozuna fit into: Will the White Sox be looking to add a right fielder who bats left handed? Those will be much more difficult to find — Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson would be the top two options on the free-agent market — if Hahn believes he needs to add a left-handed bat to balance out a heavily right-handed lineup.

James McCann, Jose Abreu, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are all right-handed hitters. Yoan Moncada is a switch hitter, and Collins is a lefty. What does Hahn think about the need for another left-hander in that group?

“Ideally, that would be nice,” he said. “Ideally, you'd like to balance that out, and that would require adding some left-handed power. We don't want to get too hung up strictly on handedness in the end and sign an inferior, say, left-handed hitter when a better right-handed hitter is available and fits. But it's a consideration, and in an ideal world we would balance it out.”

Maybe something to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses.

Finally, designated hitters can really come from anywhere, so it’s hard to pick out a list of guys. One player, though, who’s expected to be available is J.D. Martinez, the Boston Red Sox slugger who is expected to opt out of his deal with the BoSox in a bit of a financial pickle. If Martinez hits the open market, he’ll be hotly pursued, but he’s a perfect fit for a team looking to solidify the DH spot.

What about someone who doesn’t fit into one of those holes?

Last offseason, the White Sox pursued Machado because he would have been an impact addition as a middle-of-the-order bat for the next decade. They already had a shortstop, of course, but the opportunity to land Machado meant they were perhaps willing to do a little shuffling with their current roster.

That opportunity might pop up again this winter in the form of Anthony Rendon, the player expected to be the biggest bat on the market. He’s a third baseman, and a good one, as well as a guy who’s been a quiet MVP candidate in recent seasons. He’d be a heck of an addition to any lineup.

Well, Hahn obviously didn’t address whether the White Sox were thinking of chasing Rendon. But if they are, they’ll encounter the same issue as last winter, as they’ve already got a third baseman. Moncada has been excellent offensively and defensively in 2019, blossoming into the team’s best all-around hitter while playing strong defense at the hot corner. But would the chance to sign Rendon mean a second position switch in as many years for Moncada?

Hahn was not talking in specifics here, but he was asked whether the team would consider pursuing a player who played a position that’s already spoken for on the White Sox roster.

“The talent pool is a little different free agent-wise this offseason, but I'm not going to say we won't be creative in a couple elements, whether it's via trade or free agency,” he said. “Our roster does have a little bit of flexibility in it, and we hope in the coming years to have more flexibility built in in terms of different positions that guys can go out and play.

“That said, if we wind up breaking with Moncada at third, TA at short and Eloy in left, McCann behind the plate. If Jose is back, him at first or DH, we're going to feel real good about that initial start. It's going to be a matter of augmenting them at those specific positions I didn't name.”

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With Nicholas Castellanos on the market, how important is defense in White Sox search for new right fielder?

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USA TODAY

With Nicholas Castellanos on the market, how important is defense in White Sox search for new right fielder?

We’ve talked about this before.

The White Sox are looking for a new right fielder after getting some of the worst production in the majors out of that spot in 2019. The free-agent market looks to be the most realistic source of any new everyday player considering the team’s potentially weakened trade potential after a season of injuries and under-performance in the minor leagues.

The best outfield bat on that free-agent market? It belongs to Nicholas Castellanos, who long feasted on White Sox pitching as a member of the division-rival Detroit Tigers. He showed just how impactful his bat could be in a playoff race after a midseason trade to the Cubs, posting a 1.002 OPS in 51 games on the North Side. All told, he hit a major league leading 58 doubles in 2019, the 10th highest single-season total in baseball history.

The bat is no question, and it would look terrific in the middle of the White Sox order. But Castellanos’ tremendous offensive reputation is accompanied by a poor defensive reputation. Whether that reputation is deserved or not is another aspect of this discussion, with folks who followed his time on the North Side saying things weren’t that bad in right field. Though certain defensive metrics tell a different story.

And so we continue to wonder, as the White Sox have already been linked to Castellanos this winter, just how much that glove means to them.

Well, we’ve got some new insight from Rick Hahn, and yes, defense does matter. But like everything involving the White Sox offseason, it’s not going to close any doors.

“It’s a legitimate consideration,” Hahn said during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “We don't want to send somebody out there and it's going to, you know, tax our center fielder too much or tax the pitchers too much by not making plays. So it's a legitimate consideration.

“I pause half a step because we have discussed some pretty good offensive contributors who might not quite be up to snuff to what you want defensively that conceivably at some point in the offseason we wind up saying, ‘They're the best option, so let's move on it.’ So I don't want to just say it's the end all be all.

“But as we sit here today, the prototypical guy that we add to that position will be an above average defender to help lighten the load on the rest of the fielders and our pitchers.”

While that’s hardly an ironclad commitment one way or the other, Hahn voiced a definite preference for someone who can provide some defense in right field. While Luis Robert, who’s expected to spend most of the 2020 season as the team’s starting center fielder, receives positive reviews for his defense up the middle, Eloy Jimenez is still a work in progress in left field. Putting another less-than-stellar defender in the other corner-outfield spot would put a heck of a lot of pressure on Robert as a rookie center fielder.

"You're asking a lot of (the center fielder) if you put a poor defender in right and Eloy continuing to develop and left," Hahn said. "It's a real consideration when we're putting together this outfield.

"We think Eloy's got a real special bat, and even though he's a work in progress and still improving defensively, we like having him out there in left field, even though he's not going to be mistaken for an everyday center fielder defensively. If we're looking and we absolutely had our pick of the litter, we're looking for a guy in right who can contribute with the glove, as well.”

Castellanos might not fit that description. But his offensive abilities could certainly outweigh that and push the White Sox to bring him aboard. Of course, he’s going to command a pricey contract, with his agent, Scott Boras, already talking him up last week with this gem: “Ol’ St. Nick delivers once a year. Young St. Nick delivers all season.”

Certainly the White Sox would enjoy that kind of season-long delivery. They also happen to have a hole that needs filling at designated hitter. If we’re playing fantasy baseball or creating video-game lineups, slotting Castellanos into that spot would make an awful lot of sense. But a guy looking for a long, expensive contract and doing so at just 27 years old probably doesn’t want to do it as a DH.

Maybe the White Sox end up throwing enough money his way that it doesn’t matter. But there’s also the risk of putting someone who doesn’t have DH-ing experience at the position, potentially continuing the not-so-great track record of the likes of Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche and Yonder Alonso. Castellanos has been a DH in just 41 of his 839 career big league games.

It’s all stuff to think about. It might end up, simply, that Castellanos swings a big bat and the White Sox would like that, no matter what comes with it. Hearing that they prefer a right fielder with a good glove might only apply if they have to move further down their wish list.

Time will tell.

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Lucas Giolito’s most impressive feat of 2019

Lucas Giolito’s most impressive feat of 2019

From the highest ERA in the Majors in 2018 to an All-Star appearance in 2019, Lucas Giolito had a season that nobody could’ve imagined possible.

As Giolito worked a pair of shutout masterpieces during the season, you knew you were watching something special. Then as the season unfolded, for the first time in MLB history four teams reached the finish line with at least 100 wins.

The White Sox, at 72 wins certainly were not among the ranks of the 100-win teams.

But the Astros and Twins both DID reach 100 wins, and something else those teams have in common is a 2019 shutout defeat at the hands of Giolito. Not only were those complete game shutouts the only ones thrown against those teams this past season, but they were the only complete game shutouts tossed against a 100-win team PERIOD. Nobody hurled a CG shutout against the Yankees and nobody pulled it off against the Dodgers.

So Lucas Giolito was the only pitcher in 2019 to toss a complete game shutout against a team that finished the season with 100 or more wins.

But let’s take it a bit further.

From 2012-2019 there were 12 teams who won at least 100 games in a season. And there were only five combined complete game shutouts against those teams. Giolito owns two of the five; Sean Manaea (against the 2018 Red Sox), Luis Severino (against the 2018 Astros) and Jason Vargas (against the 2017 Indians) have the other three.

Going back even further, from 2000 to present, 26 teams won 100 games in a season and there were 25 combined complete game shutouts tossed against those teams. Lucas Giolito & Jason Vargas (2017 vs. Indians and 2011 vs. Phillies) are the only two pitchers to have more than one. But Giolito is the only one to do it twice in a season.

To find the last pitcher with two shutouts against eventual 100-win teams in the same season, you need to go back to 1999 when José Jiménez of the Cardinals did it against the 100-62 Diamondbacks, which in itself is impressive given that Jiménez was only 5-14 with a 5.85 ERA that season. But Jiménez had both of his against the same team. What about the last pitcher to toss complete game shutouts against MULTIPLE 100-win teams in the same season?

Well, the last time THAT happened was 1980, when both Larry Gura and Moose Haas had one shutout apiece against the 103-59 Yankees and the 100-62 Orioles. Gura’s shutout against the Orioles came against eventual 1980 Cy Young Award winner Steve Stone.

As far as White Sox history is concerned, Giolito was the first White Sox pitcher to toss a CG shutout against an eventual 100-win team since both Melido Perez & Eric King shut out the 103-59 Athletics in 1990. And before that, Steve Trout had one apiece in both 1979 (against the 102-57 Orioles) and 1980 (against the 103-59 Yankees). But for the last time a White Sox pitcher did it twice in the same season, it’s Tom Bradley, who remarkably blanked the 101-60 A’s THREE TIMES in 1971.

So while Lucas Giolito’s shutouts were awfully impressive at the time, they become even more incredible when you look back at the season and realize that he was the only pitcher to shut out a 100-win team this season.

And he did it twice. 

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