White Sox

The PECOTA projection for the White Sox win total seems a little low

The PECOTA projection for the White Sox win total seems a little low

The PECOTA people (new band name I call it) have released their projections for the 2019 season. If you're a White Sox fan, you're not going to like them.

The latest edition of the annual preseason projections have the White Sox losing just eight fewer games than last season, when they went 62-100. The projected 70-92 record places them fourth in the weak American League Central and is the fifth-worst projected record in baseball, better only than the projected records for the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles.

That's right: The PECOTA projections have the Kansas City Royals finishing with a better record than the White Sox. Hmm.

That win total seems a little low, if for no other reason than the AL Central just doesn't provide a lot of intimidating foes, and therefore it could provide many an opportunity for wins. The Royals and the Detroit Tigers are further behind in their rebuilding process than perhaps the White Sox ever were. The Minnesota Twins have been busy this winter but shouldn't scare anyone. The Cleveland Indians are expected to run away with the division — and they should with two MVP candidates and a terrific starting rotation — but they've got their own holes, chiefly in the outfield, where their Opening Day trio would look like this: Greg Allen, Leonys Martin and Tyler Naquin.

Obviously the White Sox are part of that group of non-intimidating clubs that make up this weak division, and they did lose 100 games last season to post the third worst record in baseball. So it's not like this is some outrageous slap in the face.

But they've made some quality upgrades this winter while a lot of other teams have spun their wheels. Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay, Ivan Nova, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera should do a lot to make this team better. But PECOTA sees statistical slides coming just about everywhere, projecting Alonso — who has put together back-to-back 20-homer seasons — to hit just 13 home runs this season, both Colome's and Nova's ERAs to jump up half a point and Herrera, who finished with a 2.44 ERA in 2018, to leap all the way to a 4.48 ERA.

PECOTA also projects that Jose Abreu will not return to his old levels of production, with a projected 22 homers and 79 RBIs. Last season, an uncharacteristic slump and a pair of freak injuries prevented Abreu from making it five straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs.

PECOTA projects a big dip in power across the board for the White Sox, who were one Avisail Garcia home run away from having five members of the 20-homer club. But PECOTA only projects two guys to reach that number in 2019.

One of last season's 20-homer guys, Daniel Palka, is projected to take a big step back after hitting 27 home runs in his rookie season. He's expected to see fewer opportunities at designated hitter with Alonso in the mix, and how he'll end up fitting in the outfield puzzle remains to be seen. PECOTA projects he'll go from .240/.294/.484 with 27 homers in 2018 to .219/.280/.408 with 19 homers in 2019.

Of course, it seems Eloy Jimenez would make a huge difference in the lineup. PECOTA projects Jimenez's rookie season to look like this: a .281/.321/.475 slash line with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs.

But the thing that PECOTA hates the most is the starting rotation, with high ERAs projected for all White Sox pitchers. The most drastic regression is projected for Reynaldo Lopez, who finished his first full season in the majors with a 3.91 ERA but is projected to have a 4.99 ERA in 2019. Lucas Giolito is projected to have a 4.89 ERA, Nova a 4.62 ERA and Carlos Rodon a 4.41 ERA.

Where's Dylan Cease, you ask? One of the top pitching prospects in the game figures to make his big league debut at some point during the upcoming campaign. PECOTA projects him to make eight starts for the White Sox in 2019 and turn in a 4.16 ERA.

So there's almost no good news to be found. Perhaps Jimenez does count for the bulk of that eight-game improvement.

PECOTA has a recent string — six years long, in fact — of projecting better fortunes for the White Sox than they ended up having. The fan base probably won't be too happy if the White Sox finish a third straight season with at least 90 losses. But sometimes that's life in a rebuild.

And so it wasn't surprising to hear general manager Rick Hahn once again place a focus on development of young players rather than the win-loss record.

"Regardless of what the win total ends up being at the end of the year, how we get there is going to be more important than that actual total," he said at SoxFest. "If it’s short-term veteran stopgaps that are carrying the bulk of the water and getting us to a higher win total, that’s great and makes for a more enjoyable summer, but it doesn’t necessarily reinforce the long-term progress.

"If the win total happens to be a little bit lower but some of these young players are taking that necessary step forward, then a year from now we can sit here and be even more optimistic about what the future holds. How we get there’s going to be almost if not more important than the actual win total."

Of course there's one thing that could throw all of this up for grabs: if Manny Machado decides to sign with the White Sox. That would likely make for some revised projections.

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Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s almost like Jose Abreu never left.

He was only a free agent for a week and a half, Abreu bringing his brief time away from the White Sox to an end Thursday, when he accepted the qualifying offer of a one-year deal with $17.8 million.

It’s not the multi-year contract that was expected, but MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported that the sides will continue to discuss a long-term pact. Still, the decision is a rare one, with Abreu becoming one of the few players ever to accept the qualifying offer. But he’ll get a nice payday for the 2020 season with a chance to do this whole free-agency thing again a year from now, if he chooses.

There was speculation that Abreu could accept the qualifying offer because of a potentially weak market for his services league-wide. If Abreu rejected the qualifying offer and things fell apart in discussing a multi-year deal with the White Sox, any team that signed him to a contract would have lost a draft pick in doing so. That deterred teams from signing free agents just in the last year, with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel notably going unsigned until June.

Who knows if that — or just the desire to earn $17.8 million before a potential dip in his annual salary as he ages — had anything to do with Abreu’s decision, but it’s what was being speculated.

Regardless, the White Sox have their first baseman back, great news after he turned in one of the more productive seasons of his six-year big league career in 2019. Abreu led the American League with a career-best 123 RBIs and came three home runs shy of matching a career-high in that category, as well.

Abreu’s return always seemed a foregone conclusion, with the three-time All Star spending the entire 2019 season talking about how badly he wanted to remain on the South Side, going as far as to pledge that if the White Sox didn’t re-sign him, he’d sign himself to a contract and play here anyway.

The feeling was mutual, too, with general manager Rick Hahn, manager Rick Renteria and teammates praising Abreu as a model player and a mentor for the team’s young stars in the making. Eloy Jimenez said Abreu had been like a father during the rookie’s first season in the majors. Abreu revealed that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him he’d never wear another uniform.

He’s as giddy about the team’s future as anyone and has cited the planned shift into contention as the reason he wants to stick around. Tim Anderson said “it’s only right” that Abreu return for 2020, a season in which the long-awaited transition out of rebuilding mode could take place. Hahn said earlier this season that it’s “very likely” Abreu would be around for the franchise’s planned good times.

Abreu’s been incredibly productive at the plate, though his off-the-field contributions are just as important, of course, and he’s been a mentor to players like Jimenez and Yoan Moncada as they’ve gotten their first taste of the major leagues. Luis Robert, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, figures to find his way under Abreu’s wing when he reaches the bigs next season.

Abreu has long seemed to be held in the same esteem as players who have their numbers retired and statues standing at Guaranteed Rate Field, earning the title of “Mr. White Sox” for this generation. It’s no surprise the White Sox are keeping him in that role moving forward as they plan to start seeing brighter days on the South Side.

After capturing the RBI crown, Abreu made his final prediction of the 2019 campaign, saying he did believe he'd be back with the White Sox for 2020. It might not have been terribly difficult to be prescient in this case, but he was nonetheless.

"Everybody knows my wishes and my desire to stay here," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "This is an organization I respect. This is an organization I really honor.

"I want to be here, and you know guys, I’ve been telling you that. Hopefully I’m going to be here."

Hope no longer. It might not have gone down exactly as was expected, but Abreu isn't going anywhere.

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Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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