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 shortstop.
What happened in 2019
There was perhaps no better story on the South Side than the transformation of Tim Anderson, from a .240 hitter to the big league batting champion.
Anderson entered the season facing legitimate questions about whether the guy who hit .240 and reached base at a sub-.300 clip in 2018 could do enough offensively to cement himself as the team’s long-term shortstop. He spent the offseason fending off questions about where he stood in relation to the White Sox pursuit of free-agent shortstop Manny Machado. But Machado went to San Diego, the White Sox were left with Anderson as their shortstop, and Anderson went to work proving that he was indeed a cornerstone of this rebuild.
He started strong but made more headlines for the things that didn’t show up in the box score. His April bat flip grabbed national attention as he declared himself a crusader for a more fun version of baseball, becoming a face of the “let the kids play” school of thought in the face of the old-schoolers, like Kansas City Royals pitcher Brad Keller, who beaned Anderson after that bat flip.
Though he maintained his swagger, Anderson let his play do the talking for the majority of the remainder of the season, and it spoke volumes. He finished the season with a .335 batting average, the highest in the majors and a number nearly 100 points higher than the one he finished 2018 with. He joined Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada and James McCann in making extreme transformations and elevating themselves to the status of some of the best players at their positions in the game.
All along, Anderson remained a critically important member of the White Sox off-the-field, bringing energy they noticeably lacked during his extended stay on the injured list while recovering from a high ankle sprain. The team’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, Anderson also continued to establish himself as a presence in the community on the South Side.
“If we had 26 guys playing the way Tim Anderson plays, we'd be thrilled,” general manager Rick Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last week. “From a makeup standpoint, from an energy standpoint, from a will to win standpoint, you can't ask for anything more. That coming with a little bit of flair and emotion on the field, that's great. Fantastic. Give me 25 more guys like that.
“The jump in batting average has obviously been remarkable. I think it's a historic improvement from one year to the next, at least for this organization. He's always had the hands and the quickness to do damage in and around the zone as we've seen. I think a little added level of confidence has come this year, as well as some modest tweaks mechanically that have helped unlock that.
“Obviously the baseball gods have smiled upon him too, for the most part, and it's been a sensational year for Timmy. He should go into this offseason very proud of what he's accomplished and at the same time knowing he's also capable of doing even better.”
Jose Abreu might still be the face of the franchise, but Anderson is right there with him, not to mention, at 26 years old, a valuable piece of the puzzle as the White Sox look to make their transition from rebuilding to contending.
What will happen this offseason
Anderson is the guy at shortstop now, and it’s highly unlikely we’ll have to have the same conversations we had last year about where he’ll go and whether the White Sox look for an upgrade like they did last winter with Machado.
But if there is an area that everyone, Anderson included, knows needs improvement, it’s on defense, where he led baseball with 26 errors this season. Errors have long been a bugaboo for Anderson, and he’s committed 88 of them in his four big league seasons.
“I’ve got to continue to get better defensively and keep growing offensively, as well,” Anderson said last month. “I think I’m going to keep getting better and continue to have fun.”
Manager Rick Renteria said multiple times during the season that Anderson’s high error total is due in part to his range and that he was attempting plays many wouldn’t have been able to. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s evident that improvement in necessary. Anderson showed this year what an offseason of work could do for his offensive game. Perhaps he’ll try to make a similar jump defensively leading up to 2020.
What to expect for 2020 and beyond
It might not be terribly realistic to expect Anderson to repeat his 2019 performance next season, but then again, no one expected a 100-point jump in his batting average this season, either. So we’ll wait until 2020 to determine just how repeatable 2019 was.
What we can expect is for Anderson to be a fixture at shortstop for the foreseeable future. He’s under contract for three more seasons, with multiple team options after that.
Anderson’s 2019 turnaround — along with Giolito’s and Moncada’s and McCann’s, plus the performance of Abreu, plus the arrival of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, plus to the soon-to-arrive Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, plus what’s expected to be a busy offseason for the White Sox front office — has 2020 looking like the year in which the White Sox can make that long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending.
Anderson’s expecting exactly that.
“We’re in a good spot right now,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep the same energy and keep the same focus going into next year. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”
He’s got a batting title in hand, but he’d like something more.
“I think it's time to get on the winning side of things and hopefully we can continue to be playing at this time next year,” he said Sunday. “We've just got to keep coming together as a team and keep having fun. We're getting there.
“(Winning the batting title is) huge, obviously, but I prefer to be playing for something I can share with the whole squad, which is playing for the World Series.”