White Sox

With two new multi-year deals, what will White Sox lineups look like in 2020, 2021 and 2022?

With two new multi-year deals, what will White Sox lineups look like in 2020, 2021 and 2022?

The White Sox just spent $123 million in two days. But there's still a lot of work left to do.

Even after adding Yasmani Grandal on a four-year contract (the richest deal in team history) and giving face of the franchise Jose Abreu a three-year extension, Rick Hahn's front office still has problems to solve in the starting rotation and in right field. The South Siders aren't closing the door on adding a more "everyday" style DH, either.

But those long-term contracts do cement a pair of middle-of-the-order hitters on the White Sox roster for the foreseeable future, growing a core that looks rather formidable after breakout seasons for Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jimenez in 2019.

So while the 2020 picture still has some holes in it, let's gaze into the future and try to figure out what the White Sox lineup will look like in the coming years.

2020

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Tim Anderson, SS
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Yoan Moncada, 3B
5. Eloy Jimenez, LF
6. Yasmani Grandal, C
7. RF
8. DH
9. Nick Madrigal, 2B

Two big question marks still exist when it comes to forecasting the White Sox lineup for the upcoming 2020 season: Who will play right field, and what will the team do at DH?

The first is a total mystery, as Hahn will almost certainly search the free-agent and trade markets for a new right fielder. Nicholas Castellanos is the best available free-agent outfielder — though some prefer Marcell Ozuna — but comes with questions about his defense and will surely cost a pretty penny. If the White Sox are hell bent on adding a left-handed hitter in that spot, the most discussed options are Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson. The trade market has countless options, depending on what the White Sox are willing to give away in prospect capital. Don't expect them to deal away any of their highest rated prospects in a trade for a player with just one year of control remaining like Mookie Betts. Whether the White Sox go after a long-term or short-term fix in right field also is an unknown. The former is preferred, but the latter could be an option depending on how the rest of the offseason plays out.

The second of the question marks, DH, at least has comes with an in-house option now that Grandal is in the fold. If the White Sox can't find a better external option, they could be comfortable with a rotation of Abreu, Grandal, Zack Collins and James McCann at DH. But as Hahn said Thursday, there's "a lot of offseason left." Abreu, it should be noted, is expected to contribute as a DH on as regular basis as he did in 2019. Even though he has expressed a dislike for the position, he played 34 games there this past season.

It might not be realistic to expect Robert and Madrigal to be installed at their respective positions on Opening Day, but both project to be everyday players for much of the 2020 season, Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. Jimenez isn't going to a new position for now, with Rick Renteria saying over the summer, "it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball." Moncada has a lot of athleticism and versatility, allowing the White Sox to at least consider a potential pursuit of star free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. But Hahn said last week the team has no desire to switch Moncada's position for the second consecutive year.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. new SP
3. new SP
4. Dylan Cease
5. Reynaldo Lopez/Michael Kopech

The White Sox are going to add two starting pitchers this offseason. They're already rumored to be in pursuit of Zack Wheeler, who would slot in nicely alongside or just behind Giolito at the top of the rotation. His arriving on the South Side is no lock at the moment, so I won't ink him into the long-term projection just yet. But he's a kind of pitcher who would line up with the team's planned contention window. Hahn could look for two pitchers who fit that description, or he could go long-term with one and short-term with another. He's got options, and there's no knowing which options will end up the final results right now.

Hahn said in September that Giolito, Cease and Lopez have rotation spots for 2020. Kopech, meanwhile, will be on some kind of innings limit next season in his return from Tommy John surgery. After missing the entirety of the 2019 campaign, the White Sox could limit his big league usage in a number of ways: starting him in the minor leagues, skipping some starts or having him throw out of the bullpen. Bottom line: Kopech will not make a full 30-plus starts in 2020. Lopez is an interesting case, as he struggled mightily to find consistency in 2019. How long will he be allowed to keep searching for it if the White Sox are intent on contending for a playoff spot in 2020?

2021

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
3. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
4. Yoan Moncada, 3B
5. Eloy Jimenez, LF
6. Yasmani Grandal, C
7. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH
8. RF
9. Tim Anderson, SS

It's impossible to say right now what kind of position the White Sox will be in after the 2020 season, but it's perfectly fair to assume that even if the contention window doesn't open in 2020, it should be fully open by 2021 — if everything goes according to plan, of course.

There are so many things that are difficult to predict, such as whether someone takes a step backward and the team needs to address a position they didn't think they'd have to, or if a breakout season from someone I've placed further down in the batting order necessitates them being the new cleanup hitter. If Hahn takes a short-term approach to right field or DH this winter, does he search for a long-term solution next offseason? Does one of the myriad outfield prospects who were plagued by injuries and under-performance in 2019 explode for a huge season in the minor leagues in 2020, forcing himself into the long-term forecast?

What we do know if that all the guys currently projected to play everyday roles in 2020 are under contract for 2021, too. Robert, Madrigal, Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, Grandal, Anderson. They're not going anywhere. (I flip-flopped Anderson and Madrigal in the batting order just because Madrigal's elite bat-to-ball skills, should they stay that way once he reaches the big leagues, would figure to make him a valuable hitter near the top of the order behind Robert and ahead of the big boppers. And Anderson could fill that "second leadoff hitter" role that has been used by teams in the past. Renteria and the White Sox could certainly have different ideas.)

The big change, though, could come in the form of Vaughn's arrival at the major league level. The White Sox made him the No. 3 pick in June's draft, and as an advanced college bat, he could be on a similar path to Madrigal, who went from No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft to the doorstep of the majors by the end of his first full season as a pro. If that's the case, a 2021 arrival date for Vaughn is not at all out of the question. Maybe he arrives even earlier, at the tail end of the 2020 season, if he has a monster campaign in the minors and the White Sox could use some late-season thump in the middle of a playoff push. But that would go against how the White Sox have patiently handled their prospects during this rebuilding process.

As for where Vaughn is forecasted to play, don't think that the Abreu extension is a bad sign for him. He's a first baseman, like Abreu, but both have questions about their defense there. Abreu is a diligent worker when it comes to his defense, even if the defensive metrics don't show entirely positive results. Abreu doesn't like to DH but will. Vaughn was drafted with questions about his defense, and some speculated he'd end up a DH down the road. The White Sox don't like talking about youngsters as full-time DHs — see the comments on Jimenez — so maybe they can finally pull off the first base/DH platoon with Abreu and Vaughn they tried with Abreu and Yonder Alonso at the outset of 2019. Or maybe Abreu is convinced by 2021, his age-34 season, that he's best suited as a regular DH and hands the first-base reins over to Vaughn.

There's still that mystery in right field, only because we don't know who will be there in 2020. Prospects like Micker Adolfo or Luis Basabe or Blake Rutherford could prove themselves major league ready by the time spring training 2021 rolls around, and if this winter's addition is a short-term one, the door will be open for one of those guys. Or maybe a short-term addition simply yields to the search for another free-agent replacement a winter from now. Or maybe Hahn adds a right fielder on a multi-year deal this offseason, and that guy is in the plans beyond 2020, as well.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. 2020 SP
3. Michael Kopech
4. Dylan Cease
5. 2020 SP/new SP/Dane Dunning/Jimmy Lambert/Carlos Rodon/Reynaldo Lopez

I would not be at all surprised if the two starting pitchers Hahn adds this offseason are on multi-year deals and the rotation doesn't require any additions next winter. In fact, we might be debating who the White Sox have to exclude from the big league rotation, as Dunning and Lambert will be fully recovered from their Tommy John surgeries by then. Don't forget, too, that Rodon will be in his final season of team control come 2021. It's difficult to figure out what to expect from any of those three Tommy John recipients in 2020, but even if none of them makes an impact then, they'll all be options for 2021.

Giolito, Kopech and Cease all figure to be the owners of secure big league rotation spots by then. Lopez could be, too, though he's the biggest long-term question mark after his rough 2019 season. At least one of this winter's additions should be a long-term one, so he'd take that No. 2 spot, or perhaps lower if Kopech or Cease really break out in 2020 the way Giolito did in 2019. Should the White Sox make a short-term move with their second starting-pitching addition this winter, they might be on the hunt for another free-agent or trade acquisition next winter.

If everything goes right, it points to Hahn finally having that "good problem" he's always referencing of too many quality starting pitchers. That could make the White Sox able to upgrade their roster with trades involving the guys who don't make the cut, though depth would remain important, as the parade of ineffective fifth starters showed in 2019.

2022

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
3. Yoan Moncada, 3B
4. Eloy Jimenez, LF
5. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
6. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH
7. Yasmani Grandal, C
8. RF
9. Tim Anderson, SS

Again, same situation as the 2021 forecast. Robert, Anderson, Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, Grandal, Madrigal and Vaughn will all still be under club control. There could be plenty of variation in the way the batting order shakes out depending on who's not and who's not by then. Vaughn, in particular, would figure to be placed in a spot that takes advantage of his power should he meet the expectations that accompanied him when he was drafted. Abreu, in his age-35 season, might be surpassed by Moncada and Jimenez as the primary offensive threats in this lineup, though Abreu has been so consistent in his major league career so far, that minimal regression wouldn't be a shock.

The right-field question can't be answered until we know the plans for 2020 and what kind of bounce-back seasons might occur among the prospect group over the next two years. There's a possibility Hahn could be going back to the free-agent or trade drawing board, even two offseasons in the future. Who knows?

The 2022 season should be the thick of the White Sox contention window, and they figure to be a team with realistic championship aspirations by this point. Teams like that tend to make big upgrades every winter (not to mention at the trade deadline), so it's quite possible there's a huge future piece that we're not accounting for just because this is what we're projecting in the present. And that could shake things up dramatically.

But thanks to the contracts announced in the last two days, we know that Abreu and Grandal will be part of these lineups.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. Michael Kopech
3. 2020 SP
4. Dylan Cease
5. 2020 SP/2021 SP/new SP/Dane Dunning/Jimmy Lambert/Reynaldo Lopez

Again, there's too much mystery to make a true projection. Maybe that free-agent pitcher signed this winter eclipses Giolito and is the staff ace. Maybe Kopech rises to that No. 1 spot. Maybe Lopez or Dunning or Lambert or, heck, even Jonathan Stiever become a rotation lock. Maybe there's a future free agent in an offseason to come who the White Sox can't pass up the opportunity to sign. (Rodon is set to hit free agency after the 2021 season, which is why he's not on this list.)

I'll put Giolito and Kopech and Cease in there now. But there are so many possibilities, which is both a good thing and a potentially precarious thing for the White Sox. Best-case scenario: They have too many good starting pitchers and are able to trade one or more of them away to upgrade the roster elsewhere. Worst-case scenario: They have to repeatedly return to the free-agent and trade markets to find new solutions.

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Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

SAN DIEGO — “We belong at the table in these negotiations, we belong as part of negotiations for premium talent. And regardless what happens over the next several weeks with either of these two players, we plan to be at the table and continue to attempt to convert on these guys.”

That was Rick Hahn in January, talking about his front office’s pursuits of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on last winter’s free-agent market and two guys who landed $300 million contracts. Neither, obviously, is playing for the White Sox. But Hahn set forth expectations last winter that the White Sox were going to try to land that kind of top-of-the-market talent.

Fast forward to the current free-agent cycle, and the biggest names on the market have all signed. None of them signed with the White Sox. The Winter Meetings saw a tidal wave of spending, with Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon all coming off the board, all inking huge deals that figure to transform their new teams (or old team, in the case of Strasburg).

The White Sox, meanwhile, headed home with nothing more to show for their efforts than Nomar Mazara. No word came from any of the usual baseball news-breakers connecting the South Siders to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon.

Why not?

Hahn spent this week, and has spent his media availabilities this offseason and in the months prior, talking about fit. The White Sox are looking for players who fit their long-term plans. The 2020 season might be the year the long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending comes. It might not be. So the White Sox are searching for players who align with a contention window far into the future.

And that’s an admirable goal. The White Sox should stick to those plans. They’ve suffered too much to make a handbrake turn to try to rush things, certainly at the expense of their bright future. That’s completely understandable.

But didn’t Cole, Strasburg and Rendon fit into that box? Aren’t they the type of premium talents Hahn has talked about wanting to add to a burgeoning young core? Wouldn’t the long-term deals they got insert them right into that contention window?

“Probably a guy the fans see out there and see fits with what we're doing and, ‘Hey, they should pursue him,’ maybe we did,” Hahn said Thursday. “Maybe we have extra information where it shows that would’ve been a fruitless pursuit in the end, just based on the player’s preference for where they want to be, league or locationally. Perhaps it’s something that we did get after and just weren’t able to convert on.

“We obviously operate best when there’s less noise around what we’re doing. Certainly we recently showed that on (Yasmani) Grandal. It would be temporarily nice or fulfilling for me to stand here and say like, ‘Yeah, we didn’t go after Player X because we knew for a fact this thing about why he wasn’t coming here,’ or, ‘We did go after Player X and we came up short.’ That might satisfy some sort of desire to show that we were active if people didn’t think we were.

“But I would hope after all this time that people understand our approach tends to err on the side of being aggressive. And if there’s a high-quality player that seems like a fit for us, we probably went down that path to some extent, and if it didn’t wind up converting, there’s usually a pretty good reason why.”

That quote hit the Twitterverse not long after it left Hahn’s mouth, and the reactions were, generally, less than favorable. Plenty saw it as an excuse. But while vague, there’s a lot of truth in those words.

The White Sox cannot control everything when it comes to free-agent pursuits. They can control how much money they offer, but as we saw with Zack Wheeler, that doesn’t always win the day. Wheeler spurned the White Sox richer offer to please his family and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cole, meanwhile, was long expected to choose between a preference for the West Coast or his childhood fandom for the New York Yankees. It helped, of course, that the Yankees offered him a stupifying contract. Strasburg was long expected to return to the Washington Nationals, and that’s just what he did, with folks wondering if there was any consideration given to pitching somewhere else.

Those are mighty difficult things to overcome, and they could have made the White Sox — and plenty of other teams — jumping into the fray a potential non-starter.

“More often than not, early in the process, you hear why it’s a potential non-fit for either side,” Hahn said Monday, speaking in the wake of Wheeler’s decision. “Again, that doesn’t mean anything was mishandled or anything was wrong with this. In the end, when offers are on the table and it's decision time, guys can make that decision based upon any factor that they view as important. You’ve got to respect that. And they’ve earned that right.”

That’s not really supposed to make anyone feel any better. As Hahn often says, you either sign the guy or you don’t.

What’s probably got some fans stewing as much as the eventual free-agent destinations is the White Sox complete lack of attachment to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon in the typical stream of rumors that flows during baseball’s busiest week. As Hahn mentioned, all being quiet doesn’t mean the White Sox weren’t pursuing those players. But after years of discussing financial flexibility, the team seems to have the economic means to play in the deepest end of the free-agent pool, so it’s not unreasonable to expect to hear about it doing so.

"The money will be spent,” Hahn said in February, after Machado picked the San Diego Padres. “It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in best position to win some championships.”

With that in mind, plenty assumed the White Sox would be able to afford even the gargantuan contracts that went to this winter’s three free-agent superstars. But simply having money to spend doesn’t mean they believed Cole was worth the $324 million he got from the Yankees. It doesn’t mean they believed Strasburg was worth the $245 million he got from the Nationals. It doesn’t mean they believed Rendon was worth the $245 million he got from the Los Angeles Angels.

That’s where that discussion of fit comes in again. It’s easy for us to see a player and believe him a fit for what the White Sox are building. But we’re not the ones defining the fit. The White Sox are. And while they might have pursued all three, might have wanted to pursue all three, might have been willing to back a truckload of money up to all three, it’s also possible that, for whatever reasons, they didn’t see them as the same kind of fit they see other players at different price points.

The lingering notion that the White Sox shy away from handing out long-term deals to pitchers is likely more of a general caution than the edict it’s often portrayed to be. It’s also not reserved to the White Sox.

“In general, the investment in a position player is less risky than an investment in a pitcher,” Hahn said. “Those things vary. We are talking just about generic players, you generally err on the side of a position player being less risky.”

“Is anybody worth $300 million?” USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said Tuesday on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Say the White Sox signed Gerrit Cole, it doesn’t make them an automatic winner. He’s a good pitcher, but hey, good pitchers get hurt, too.”

OK, so what about Rendon? The White Sox were willing to offer a reported $250 million in guaranteed money to Machado last winter. Rendon got less than that to play for the Angels. Of course, Machado’s free agency came before Yoan Moncada blossomed into the team’s best all-around player at third base. Machado was 26 during his sweepstakes. Rendon is 29. These are not necessarily defenses, they are simply truths.

“As a general thought, when you are making a long-term commitment, doing that to a player who is in their mid 20s, in general, is a more appealing alternative then doing that with a player who is in his 30s at the start of the contract,” Hahn said. “Everyone is familiar with aging curves and risk and how that balances out as you get older. So yeah, the idea of devoting big money to someone who is younger versus older is certainly more appealing.”

And then there’s the clarifying Hahn did on those “money will be spent” comments from 10 months ago. Basically: That money doesn’t all have to be spent in one place to make the White Sox better.

“I think it would be awfully foolish to say we're going to go out and spend whatever the amount of the offer (to Machado) was immediately,” he said Wednesday. “The point of that comment was there's other ways for us to allocate this money, and it's going to be allocated toward player acquisitions.

“You could argue some of it went to Grandal, you could argue some of it went to the Eloy (Jimenez) extension or re-signing (Jose) Abreu or whatever we have coming down the pipe next.

“That offer was over an eight- to 10-year period, so to say it's all going out the door in Year 1 just because it's sitting there, maybe, but it's got to be for the right players.”

None of this will satisfy the critics. And that’s a product of the frustrating on-field success of the big league team during the rebuild and the expectations that came into this offseason. The White Sox pursued the talent at the top of the free-agent market last offseason, so they must be willing to do the same thing again this winter, right? They might have. But it didn’t work out, and now there are two offseasons where fans wanted Machado and Harper and Cole and Strasburg and Rendon and watched all those players go elsewhere.

It’s important to remember the White Sox did sign Grandal, that they do still have that young core that broke out in a big way in 2019. The future is still blindingly bright, and Hahn & Co. see that. It’s why they remain so committed to their long-term plans — because they could very well work.

Those plans might mean that the consolation prizes for teams that didn’t land one of the top three prizes on the free-agent market aren’t quite as appealing fits. It’s not as easy as just moving down to the next name on the list. The White Sox are being picky, and they can afford to be picky. Not adding a huge free agent — and, again, remember they did sign Grandal — doesn’t mean Moncada and Jimenez and Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are suddenly all bad. The future is snowballing for the White Sox, in a good way, and the melting process is nowhere near starting.

Yes, the South Siders left San Diego without Cole, Strasburg or Rendon. Perhaps it wasn’t for lack of trying. Perhaps they weren’t able to get past the bouncer, no matter how big the checkbook was. Perhaps they didn’t see these guys as good fits. Perhaps they saw these guys as expensive in a way that would jeopardize their carefully laid plans.

The biggest takeaway from this week: Those plans are the driving force for these White Sox. Do not, for any reason, expect them to deviate.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

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NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

Ford Frick winner and Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson joins Chuck Garfien on the podcast.

(3:15) - People that have congratulated Hawk on his induction, including some people you would never guess

(12:24) - Origin of some of your favorite "Hawk-isms"

(15:29) - Great story about the late great Harry Carey

(18:46) - His life growing up in Savannah, Georgia

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

 

White Sox Talk Podcast

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