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.

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

1119_nicholas_castellanos.jpg
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.

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.

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. 

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.