White Sox

State of the White Sox: Designated hitter

1015_jd_martinez.jpg
USA TODAY

State of the White Sox: Designated hitter

Previous: Right field | Center field | Left field | Catcher | Shortstop Third base  Second base | First base

The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and some time still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to designated hitter.

What happened in 2019

White Sox DHs were woefully ineffective in 2019, with Yonder Alonso’s midseason departure leaving few reliable options to turn to.

Alonso was scheduled to split time at both DH and first base with Jose Abreu, keeping both their productive bats in the middle of the lineup on a regular basis and allowing Abreu to rest a bit by playing in the field less. Things, of course, didn’t turn out that way when Alonso scuffled hard. Just two years removed from an All-Star appearance, Alonso batted .178/.275/.301 in his 67 games with the White Sox, contributing seven home runs and 27 RBIs before being released at the beginning of July.

Daniel Palka hit 27 home runs as a rookie in 2018, and though he was ticketed for the outfield when the season started, he always seemed best suited as a DH. But he couldn’t provide any help there, either, in 2019, sent to the minors far earlier than Alonso departed after a miserable 1-for-35 start to the season. He was dispatched to Triple-A and stayed there, with the exception of a handful of games in the middle of the summer, until September.

Without either of those guys making much of an impact, the DH spot was stocked with fill-ins for much of the season’s second half. Alonso still ended with the most games played at the position, with 42, and Abreu spent 34 games there, much to his chagrin as he doesn’t like DH’ing. Catchers Welington Castillo, Zack Collins and James McCann were third, fourth and fifth on the list at 21, 14 and 13 games, respectively. Matt Skole and A.J. Reed got their opportunities but were unimpressive in their production.

All in all, the offensive numbers from the DH spot were hideous in 2019: a collective .205/.285/.356 slash line from a position designed to add offensive damage to the lineup.

What will happen this offseason

And in digesting that rapid-fire history, it should come as no surprise that Rick Hahn has DH on his shopping list this winter.

In the long term, the best option might be Andrew Vaughn, the slugging first baseman who the White Sox took with the No. 3 overall pick in June’s draft. With questions about his defense accompanying that selection, perhaps his long-term spot is DH. But he’s not going to be ready for the 2020 team after finishing his first taste of pro baseball with five home runs between Class A affiliates in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. Still, a rapid rise through the farm system, a la Nick Madrigal, wouldn't be out of the question for 2020.

And so the DH fix will have to come from outside the organization. And, as has been discussed here many times before, the most realistic route appears to be free agency. A rash of injuries and under-performances significantly impacted the White Sox minor league depth, and past the top-ranked prospects in the organization, it’s difficult to envision the kind of package that could bring an impact player to the South Side via trade.

Looking at the free-agent market, then, there’s one superstar bat that figures to be available in J.D. Martinez, the Boston Red Sox designated hitter who’s been one of the most productive guys in the game in recent seasons. He finished fourth in the AL MVP vote after a sensational 2018 season for the world champs, slashing .330/.402/.629 with 43 homers and a baseball-best 130 RBIs. He won not one but two Silver Sluggers for his efforts. This season, his numbers weren’t quite as out-of-this-world: a .304/.383/.557 line with 36 homers and 105 RBIs. But that’s still some high-level production that would look really good added to the middle of the White Sox lineup.

Martinez is also much more than his “Just Dingers” nickname suggests — despite the 184 home runs he’s launched since the start of the 2015 season — apparently a terrific clubhouse influence who helped turn Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts into stars in Boston.

Of course, Martinez figures to be an expensive addition. The White Sox have the financial flexibility to afford him, but even Hahn has acknowledged that fans will remain skeptical about the team’s ability to land a big-name free agent until his front office proves them wrong. One thing working in the White Sox favor could be a limited market, with few other teams out looking for a DH. But the markets were shockingly small for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper last winter, too.

If Martinez isn’t the guy come 2020, there are other options, though few with as much potential impact or experience DH’ing. Other hitters on the market this winter include Josh Donaldson, Mike Moustakas, Eric Thames, Hunter Pence and Brian Dozier.

We don’t know who it will be yet, but the White Sox will have a new DH in 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

As mentioned, there will be a new name supposed to take up the majority of the at-bats at DH, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that person entrenched there for multiple seasons to come, especially if the White Sox are after a hitter the caliber of Martinez.

But this is a team that, like many others, values versatility, and it wouldn’t be a shock either to see other players rotated into DH’ing on a regular basis. Abreu is expected to be back, and surely the White Sox still have the same wish to keep him off his feet they did when they trumpeted the pending timeshare with Alonso before the 2019 season.

Similarly, Hahn continues to talk of the team’s desire to get Collins’ bat in the lineup more often. With defensive questions still dogging him as a catcher and McCann seemingly locked in as the No. 1 backstop for now, Collins making appearances as a DH would be a way to accomplish that goal.

But ideally the White Sox would add a bat of some sizable significance this winter, someone that would slot into the middle of the lineup on a daily basis. If they can do that, there’ll be a brand new “State of the Sox: DH” come Opening Day.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

White Sox 2005 Rewind: The rotation starred, but the bullpen was championship caliber, too

0329_dustin_hermanson.jpg
AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: The rotation starred, but the bullpen was championship caliber, too

Even in the handful of games we’ve shown from the early portion of the 2005 season, one thing is abundantly clear: This starting rotation was very, very good.

But while the game has evolved to place greater emphasis on relief pitching, no team, not even 15 years ago, could win the World Series without a strong bullpen. And certainly the White Sox had a strong bullpen, their 3.23 relief ERA one of the three best in baseball in 2005.

April 13 against the Indians, the White Sox got the kind of performance from their relief corps that signaled the pitching staff as a whole, not just the rotation, was championship caliber.

Jose Contreras wasn’t really that bad in this one, despite issuing five walks. He gave up just four runs in 6.2 innings, hardly something to overly bemoan. But once he surrendered a hammered home run to Grady Sizemore that tied the score at 4 in the seventh inning, he got the hook. It was the bullpen’s job to keep an Indians lineup that to that point had put 10 men on base, five hits and five walks against Contreras, from doing anything else.

And that’s exactly what happened. Three different pitchers — Damaso Marte, Luis Vizcaino and Dustin Hermanson — retired 10 of the 11 hitters they faced.

An early season blow up stood out as an outlier, perhaps clouding judgments at the effectiveness of the ‘pen. As Adam Hoge wrote about Saturday, closer Shingo Takatsu gave up three homers in one appearance against these Indians in the third game of the season, the kind of performance that haunts fans’ memories forever. The bullpen, in general, was hideous in that game, with Neal Cotts tagged for a run and Vizcaino roughed up for a whopping six tallies in the 11th inning.

But that game was truly an outlier. After the 4.1 shutout frames April 13 and excluding the April 7 disaster, the White Sox bullpen had a miniscule 1.76 ERA, allowing just three runs in their 15.1 innings of work.

Contreras was shaky in this game, but kept the Indians from running up a huge run total. The bullpen locked the Indians down and allowed the White Sox hitters to pull ahead for good on a Juan Uribe sacrifice fly in the 10th.

And providing a bit of foreshadowing, Hermanson got his first save of the season. Takatsu was jettisoned from the role not long into the campaign, and Hermanson bridged the gap between Takatsu and Bobby Jenks. Hermanson racked up saves into September and had 34 of them on the season.

This rotation was excellent, no doubt about it, and it’s probably the No. 1 reason why the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. But even the best rotations can be limited by a bad bullpen. Fortunately for the South Siders, they had a good one.

What else?

— Five walks is a lot of walks. While Contreras had himself a good season, he walked 75 batters in 2005, the fourth highest total in the American League. It’s perfectly obvious why pitchers should limit their walks, but certainly this game could serve as Exhibit A. Contreras walked the leadoff man in each of the first two innings, with both runners coming around to score. That helped put the White Sox in a 3-0 hole after two. Contreras had more days like this as the season went on, with three more games in which he walked at least five opposing hitters, including a start on July 1 where he walked seven. The White Sox went 2-2 in those four games, though they lost the seven-walk start against the Oakland Athletics.

— “It’s his job to keep them right there, let the team get back into it. He’s perfectly capable of going six innings and at least giving the hitters an opportunity to get back into it.” Darrin Jackson looked prescient, because despite the walks, Contreras did keep the Indians at bay enough for his offense to engineer a comeback, pull ahead and later pull out a win in extra innings.

— “It’s really amazing that a little thing like a leadoff bunt can shake things up for an offense.” Perfect analysis right there from DJ. Just as I discussed Scott Podsednik making things happen and starting a White Sox rally with a bunt single in the April 11 game against this same Indians team, Pablo Ozuna did the exact same thing to leadoff the fourth inning, starting a three-run frame. That disrupted Cliff Lee enough after retiring the first nine hitters he faced that he gave up three straight hits, the third from Carl Everett (an infield single that featured a ridiculously airmailed throw by Lee) driving in the White Sox first run. Maybe that game-tying rally doesn’t happen without Ozuna’s small-ball start.

— Bob Wickman got his revenge, this time. In the second game of the season, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye dramatically hit back-to-back homers off the Indians closer to erase a three-run deficit and set up a thrilling comeback win on the South Side. This time, not so much. Facing Konerko and Dye again to lead off the ninth inning, he retired them both, as well as Aaron Rowand, for a 1-2-3 innings that briefly preserved a 4-all tie. Wickman had a huge 2005 season, making the All-Star team and leading the AL with 45 saves.

— Another arm brought on from the Cleveland ‘pen wasn’t so lucky. It was familiar face Bob Howry, who pitched for the White Sox from 1998 to 2001. He took the loss in this one, the leadoff double he gave up to A.J. Pierzynski to start the 10th the critical blow. Pierzynski moved to third on a Joe Crede bunt and scored on Uribe’s sacrifice fly. And that was the ballgame.

— In the top of the 10th, famous Indians fan Drew Carey caught a foul ball! Cleveland rocks, baby.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Monday, when you can catch the April 19, 2005, game against the Twins, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. El Duque on the mound for the South Siders.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Scott Podsednik and the art of making things happen

podsednik_thumb.jpg
AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Scott Podsednik and the art of making things happen

An awful lot of energy is spent these days discussing the leadoff spot.

Offense struggling? Maybe there needs to be a new leadoff hitter. Offense doing fine but the leadoff man isn’t of the stereotypical variety? Better think about making a change.

While teams certainly don’t need a stereotypical leadoff hitter who specializes in speed and small ball to be successful — the school of thought that your best player should get the most plate appearances possible is not a bad one — Scott Podsednik showed how guys at the top of the order can simply make things happen and win you ballgames because of it.

On April 11, 2005, the White Sox were once again having trouble figuring out Kevin Millwood, who was throwing his second gem against the White Sox in as many starts to begin his season. But after five scoreless innings, Podsednik made something happen.

He popped up a bunt that went so awry that it went over Millwood and behind the pitcher’s mound. It was a bad bunt, maybe, but it worked. He reached first with a single. Not long after, he used that blazing speed of his to swipe second base and put himself in scoring position with nobody out.

In a one-run game, the White Sox down 1-0 at the time, Podsednik changed everything. He scored the tying run two batters later, when Carl Everett drove him in with a single. It’s a run that doesn’t happen without Podsednik’s skill set. Call it the best argument in favor of the stereotypical leadoff man. Or just call it making things happen.

Podsednik did it again two innings later, driving in the winning run to cap a two-out rally against Millwood. After two quick outs, Chris Widger and Joe Crede delivered back-to-back singles. Podsednik made it three in a row, driving in Widger — who went from first to third on Crede’s hit up the middle — to put the White Sox in front.

Podsednik’s work 15 years ago isn’t likely to do much to sway any ongoing arguments over who should lead off for the 2020 White Sox or any of the 29 other teams. But it sure paid big dividends for the 2005 White Sox.

He made it happen.

What else?

— Millwood pitched extraordinarily well against the White Sox for the second time in 2005. After throwing six shutout innings on April 6, he allowed just two runs over seven innings in this one. Millwood ended up making five starts against the White Sox in 2005, logging a 1.32 ERA in 34 innings, but went just 0-2 in those five games. He had himself an excellent season overall, with a 2.86 ERA that led the American League and was the second lowest single-season ERA of his 16-year big league career. He finished sixth in the AL Cy Young vote that season, tying with White Sox pitcher Jon Garland and finishing behind Mark Buehrle.

— Freddy Garcia was pretty darn good in this one, too, throwing eight innings of one-run ball. He retired the final 13 batters he faced. Garcia allowed just three runs in 14 innings in his first two starts of the season. This one was the first of a whopping nine outings he made that season of at least eight innings.

— Garcia threw a pair of wild pitches with Grady Sizemore at the dish in the second inning, two of the 20 he ended up throwing in 2005. That total led the major leagues. In the following season, his second full campaign with the White Sox, he only threw four in the same number of starts, 33.

— Podsednik threw Ronnie Belliard out at third base in the third inning, preventing what might’ve been another run in the inning the Indians scored their lone tally. Podsednik had three outfield assists in 2005.

— “Aaron’s going to get hit a lot in his career.” Hawk Harrelson chalked up Aaron Rowand getting hit by a pitch in the fifth inning to the center fielder’s approach at the plate. Well, Rowand did get hit by a lot of pitches in 2005, 21 of them, to be exact. Only Shea Hillenbrand of the Blue Jays got hit by more that season. This one that caught Rowand in the hand looked like it hurt like hell.

— Remember when the Indians played at The Jake? Good times.

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

April 10, 2005: The White Sox got shut down by the reigning AL Cy Young winner, Johan Santana, who allowed just two runs in his seven innings, striking out 11. The Twins tagged Buehrle for five runs, including four in the third inning alone. Torii Hunter’s three-run homer was the big blow in that frame. White Sox lose, 5-2, drop to 4-2.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Sunday, when you can catch the April 13, 2005, game against the Indians, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. It’s an extra-inning affair with some heroics from Juan Uribe.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.