White Sox

State of the White Sox: Right field

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USA TODAY

State of the White Sox: Right field

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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 a little bit 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 right field.

What happened in 2019

In a word, disappointment. The guys who were supposed to man the position at the big league level barely did.

Daniel Palka went from a 27-homer rookie season to 0-for-his-first-32 and then to Triple-A Charlotte after picking up his first hit of the season. He briefly returned for an 0-for-10 stint in the middle of the summer and then went 8-for-his-last-39 as a September call-up. Even if his defense in the outfield was a huge question mark heading into the season, his bat wasn’t supposed to be. But after his breakout rookie year, he fizzled and ended up being a non-factor in 2019.

The same status befell Jon Jay, one of the team’s veteran offseason additions who was, at the very least, supposed to bring a strong presence to the clubhouse and better on-base skills to the lineup. But an injury suffered in spring training kept him from even entering a major league game until late June. He played in 47 games, with an underwhelming .267/.311/.315 slash line, before hitting the injured list again at the end of August, undergoing season-ending surgery on his hip.

All that led to a rotating cast of right fielders, few of whom produced in any significant way at the plate. Ryan Cordell and his .221/.290/.355 slash line played by far the most games out there, 72. Leury Garcia’s trip around the outfield included 45 games in right. Jay played 33 out there, Charlie Tilson played 30 and Palka played 23.

And so at season’s end, it was unsurprising to see some horrific numbers from the position: a .220/.277/.288 slash line, numbers that ranked 23rd, 29th and 30th, respectively, among baseball’s 30 teams.

As bad as that was, though, the even more concerning developments for the long-term fortunes of the team took place at the minor league level. The White Sox future in right field was always less certain than elsewhere on the field, but until this season that was because of the sheer volume of possibilities to emerge from a promising second tier of prospects.

Nearly all those outfield prospects — save Luis Robert, of course, who’s ticketed for center field — fell victim to an organization-wide rash of injuries and under-performance, leaving few promising options left standing:

— Luis Basabe broke his hamate bone in spring training and slashed .246/.324/.336 at Double-A Birmingham.

— Blake Rutherford slashed .265/.319/.365 at Birmingham, big dips in all three averages from his strong 2018 campaign at Class A Winston-Salem.

— Micker Adolfo had Tommy John surgery in 2018, only to have another season-ending surgery in 2019, this one arthroscopic surgery on his elbow.

— Luis Gonzalez went from a batting average north of .300, an on-base percentage north of .360 and a slugging percentage around .500 in 2018 to a .247/.316/.359 line at Birmingham in 2019.

The only one to emerge relatively unscathed was Steele Walker, who slashed .284/.361/.451 with 36 doubles in 120 games split between Class A squads in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. But success in A-ball won’t put Walker on a track to help the big league team anytime soon, leaving the cupboard relatively bare in right field for the time being.

What will happen this offseason

So it’s no shock that Rick Hahn has right field as one of the biggest items on his lengthy offseason to-do list.

The White Sox will almost certainly have an outside addition starting in right field when the 2020 season begins. The question now is just who it will be.

As that sampling of the fortunes of the second-tier prospects in the organization illustrates, it might be difficult for the White Sox to pull off a trade for a truly impact player at any position this winter, right field included. That leaves free agency as a more realistic option, and there are definitely some interesting names set to be a part of that market.

Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna make up kind of a “big three” in that department. All three would be big-time adds to the middle of the White Sox lineup. Castellanos was obviously excellent with the Cubs in the second half of the season after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers, with whom he made a habit of crushing White Sox pitching. Puig’s numbers were also good following his intra-state trade to the Cleveland Indians, slashing .297/.377/.423 in 49 games there. Ozuna had a down year by his standards, but his excellent performance in the NLDS is part of the reason the St. Louis Cardinals are still playing October baseball.

All three of those players have another thing in common besides their pending free agency, and that’s their right-handedness. The White Sox lineup of the present and future is almost exclusively right-handed, meaning Hahn might take the opportunity this winter to balance that out a bit by adding a left-handed bat. He talked about it at his end-of-season press conference, expressing a desire to do so while also saying getting good players regardless of where they stand at home plate is a bigger priority.

“Ideally, you'd like to balance that out and that would require adding some left-handed power,” Hahn 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.”

If Hahn sees the hole in right field as his best opportunity to add that left-handed hitting, the best free-agent options available who fit such a description are Kole Calhoun, who hit 33 home runs for the Los Angeles Angels this season, and Corey Dickerson, who slugged .565 splitting time between the two Pennsylvania teams. Neither player really revs the engines like Castellanos, Puig or Ozuna would, but that shouldn’t override their potential usefulness. Either would probably look like a pretty solid addition if Hahn were to fill the hole at designated hitter with a star like J.D. Martinez.

And then there’s the trade market, which could also bear fruit if Hahn’s able to cobble together an attractive package. That list of candidates is a mile long, and we went through a number of possibilities on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

The bottom line is that this offseason will almost surely feature the White Sox acquiring a brand-new everyday right fielder.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

It’s hard to figure out what to expect next season before we know who the White Sox right fielder will be. You’d have to expect significant offensive improvement at the position as a whole simply because there’s nowhere to go but up.

If Hahn makes a splash in right by adding someone on the Castellanos/Puig/Ozuna level, even if it’s not one of those three guys, that would figure to be a longer-term solution. But a shorter-term fix is possible, too, with an eye kept on the minors to see who among that list of prospects could have an entirely plausible bounce-back campaign that thrusts their name back into those long-term projections.

In other words, the future in right field remains the mystery it’s been all along.

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White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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