Ideally, Rick Hahn said, the White Sox would add some left-handed pop this winter.
Things don’t always go ideally, but there’s a pretty obvious need for some left-handed presence in the White Sox lineup of the future. Go around the diamond. James McCann, Jose Abreu, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert. The only guy who bats lefty among them is Moncada, a switch hitter who only sometimes bats lefty.
For all of Rick Renteria’s talk of balance when it comes to his managerial style, there isn’t a lot of balance, in this one regard, at least, projected in this White Sox lineup.
But with declared intentions to plug the offensive holes in right field and at designated hitter, there’s certainly an opportunity for Hahn to add a left-handed bat of great consequence this offseason. Of course, that opportunity might pale in comparison to the one(s) to add a right-handed bat of even greater consequence. An all-righty lineup isn’t really that big a deal if all the righties are good. At least that’s an idea Hahn referenced during his end-of-season press conference last month.
“Ideally, that would be nice. Ideally, you'd like to balance that out and that would require adding some left-handed power,” he said. “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.”
Hahn stopped short of saying the White Sox truly need a lefty bat this winter like they need starting pitching and offensive upgrades at the two aforementioned positions. And maybe that’s because the left-handed options aren’t the most glamorous.
We can talk about trade possibilities till we’re blue in the face — and we did on the most recent episode of the White Sox Talk Podcast — but there’s the overarching concern about the White Sox minor league depth and whether a package for an impact lefty bat is even able to be constructed out of the injured and under-performing prospects behind the top guys in the organization.
And so free agency, like with so many other parts of the White Sox offseason, looks the more realistic route. Looking for a left-handed hitting right fielder on that market? Your options are mostly limited to Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson. Useful players those might be, but it’s doubtful they’re revving White Sox fans’ engines at this moment in time.
Perhaps, then, the White Sox will look elsewhere. And that brings us to Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the Japanese slugger who will be posted this offseason as he looks to play big league ball in North America. Like with most Japanese stars who get to take their talent overseas, there’s been a decent amount of excitement over the coming derby, if not in front offices across the game then at least on White Sox Twitter.
Tsutsugo is a 27-year-old, left-handed hitting corner outfielder who has a career .284/.382/.525 slash line to go along with his 205 career home runs in NPB. This past season, he hit .272/.388/.511 with 29 homers, but fans chomping at the bit for an injection of left-handed power on the South Side will point in the direction of his 2016 numbers: a .322/.430/.680 with 44 homers.
Yeah, that’d be all right.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the world of Japanese baseball, so it’s a good thing Our Chuck Garfien talked with Jim Allen, who covers NPB for the Kyoto News, on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast. You’ll find his comments on Tsutsugo far more illuminating. But if you’re a part of the Committee to Bring Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to the South Side, this might throw a little bit of rain on your pending parade.
“He’s a quality bat in Japan, but he’s really not the elite bat,” Allen said. “The whole question is how much of his power is going to play in the United States, and the big question is how is he going to adapt to seeing 100-mile-an-hour fastballs, which he hasn’t seen regularly because very, very few pitchers in Japan throw that hard. And he’s 27 years old. So it’s like taking a guy who’s basically played college-level ball most of his life and suddenly at 27 he’s in the major leagues.
“(Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei) Ohtani was a bit of an outlier. There are hitters who are that good in Japan. Tsutsugo is not quite one of them. He is relatively adaptable. In other words, I expect him to make some adjustments to MLB, I expect him to find some solutions to MLB. But I also don’t see him getting a guaranteed contract.
“He’s flexibile, adaptable, good leader, good teammate. But if you’re looking at the skills, I don’t think he’s going to blow anybody away with his skills.
“My guess is he’ll agree to a minor league contract, he’ll get a camp invite and that he’ll win a major league job out of camp because he’s just a really useful guy to have. But nobody’s going to be throwing guaranteed money at him. If they do, I would be surprised.”
Based on that evaluation, Tsutsugo doesn’t sound like he’d slide into the middle of the White Sox lineup and mash a ton of homers, providing the pop the team needs to help vault itself out of rebuilding mode and into playoff contention. At the same time, a projection of a minor league deal makes him sound like an intriguing option considering the potentially low cost. A minor league contract would make for a much smaller release fee than the ones you might typically associate with the biggest names to come out of Japan.
The biggest question in my mind is how he compares to Calhoun and Dickerson, other guys the White Sox could look at if they truly crave a left-handed bat. And after Calhoun just hit 33 home runs for the Angels and Dickerson just posted a .906 OPS splitting time between the two Pennsylvania teams, they’d figure to warrant something more than minor league deals this winter.
But Tsutsugo or no Tsutsugo, the White Sox might still have a dearth of reliable left-handed options they can stick in the middle of the lineup, and the attribute that’s been missing from their offense since Jim Thome left the South Side might still be missing heading into 2020.
Will that matter? If the team goes out and signs J.D. Martinez to fill the DH spot, no it might not. An all-righty lineup isn’t a big deal if all the righties are good, remember? But Hahn has also spent years trying to build an ideal contender, and he says, ideally, the White Sox would have some left-handed pop. Let’s see if he goes after some this offseason.