White Sox

The White Sox don't have an in-house answer to their DH question

The White Sox don't have an in-house answer to their DH question

The White Sox are looking for a new designated hitter this winter. That's not speculation, rather a stated objective from the mouth of the general manager, Rick Hahn listing DH alongside right fielder and starting pitching on the team's offseason to-do list.

And they need one, too. The production out of that spot was hideous in 2019. Yonder Alonso was DFA'd in June. Daniel Palka was sent to the minors in April. The parade of fill-in options that followed their departures was ineffective. All in all, it ended in a .208/.284/.362 slash line from a position that is designated to hit. The White Sox .647 OPS from their DHs was the worst in the American League by far, trailing the 114-loss Detroit Tigers by 34 points.

But there has been a suggestion from certain White Sox fans on social media that the team doesn't need to look past its own roster to plug its hole at DH.

Certainly the reasoning for such arguments is understandable, stemming from the offense-first, defense-second skill set of some of these White Sox. Eloy Jimenez, a favorite target of certain Twitter complainers, did not look graceful in left field during his rookie season, and he posted minus-11 Defensive Runs Saved, which as you might guess is not very good. Jose Abreu isn't getting any younger, and his minus-four DRS wasn't a particularly pleasing mark, either. Zack Collins has been dogged by questions about his defense since he was drafted and didn't really answer any of them during his two big league stints in 2019.

But as much as some might want to see defensive upgrades across the diamond as the White Sox try to make their transition from rebuilding to contending, none of those guys, right now, seems to be ticketed for a full-time DH-ing role anytime soon.

Abreu is, at present, a free agent, and the White Sox need to actually sign him to a new contract before we can officially ink him in anywhere in the projected 2020 lineup. But his return to the South Side has seemed so long like a foregone conclusion that talking about him as if he'll be back at first base on the South Side next season isn't exactly tempting fate. That's the thing, though, his return figures to be as the team's primary first baseman. Abreu has never been shy about expressing his distaste for DH-ing, and an advancing age and defensive metrics aren't likely to change his opinion.

Now, Abreu is a team player, and he's done plenty of DH-ing while with the White Sox, 146 games' worth to the tune of a .284/.340/.494 slash line. He played 34 games there in 2019. But even if Abreu were keen to move into a mainly DH role — unlikely, given his past comments — that opens another hole, at first base, and the free-agent options there are even less appealing than the ones at DH (the latter market upended with J.D. Martinez deciding to stay with the Boston Red Sox). Howie Kendrick, fresh off a postseason's worth of heroics with the world-champion Washington Nationals, is perhaps the only player worth a look, and he's only been a part-time player in recent seasons.

The bottom line with Abreu is no matter what you think of his defense, he's probably coming back as a first baseman first and a sometimes DH second.

So what about Jimenez? Fans rolled their eyes when Hahn said in late 2018 that Jimenez, who tore up the minor leagues with his bat, still had to work on his defense. But Hahn's comments were proven accurate once Jimenez started playing left field at the major league level. Now, Jimenez was just a rookie, and he did improve as time went on, but he frequently had onlookers wincing and holding their breath with his play out there. His two injured-list stints were tied to less-than-stellar defensive performances. The first came when he attempted to rob a surefire home run and sprained his ankle by planting his foot into the left-field wall at Guaranteed Rate Field. A couple months later, a communication issue with center fielder Charlie Tilson ended with Jimenez suffering a ulnar nerve contusion when he crashed into Tilson in the outfield in Kansas City.

We talked about Jimenez's long-term defensive future a lot during his rookie campaign, and those questions will linger, at the very least, into 2020. Might he be a full-time DH one day? Sure. But the White Sox don't seem intent on moving the young slugger to another position anytime soon, hoping that more experience will be the main thing that helps him cut down on the questionable plays he made during his first taste of the major leagues.

"He's too young for me to view him as a DH, to be honest," manager Rick Renteria said in late July when Jimenez returned from that second stay on the injured list. “And I think he's shown so much improvement in the outfield that 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.

"He's an extremely hard worker, he's very conscientious, he's been going through a lot of the things that we need him to go through. He sincerely has improved out there a lot. And so we want to see if we can maximize his ability to do everything he can as a Major League Baseball player.

"And then time will tell us. If that ends up ultimately being his lot — I don't foresee that. But if that ultimately becomes his lot, that becomes his lot. But I think right now we're going to continue to use him on both sides of the baseball, for sure."

So it doesn't look like Jimenez, who that same day confirmed he doesn't like DH-ing, either, will be anywhere besides left field in the White Sox plans for the immediate future.

Collins, meanwhile, remains too much of an unknown at this point to create expectations of him shouldering the load at designated hitter in 2020. While the sample size was small, his .186/.307/.349 slash line in 102 plate appearances shouldn't have anyone confident enough to give him an everyday role, even though the White Sox remain dedicated to his long-term future and getting him at-bats at the big league level.

So the White Sox do not already have three DHs on their roster. They have a 22-year-old left fielder who's still learning his craft, a 24-year-old backup catcher with 27 games of major league experience and a 32-year-old first baseman (assuming he re-signs with the White Sox) who doesn't like to DH.

Given the frequent talk of how difficult DH-ing is for players — they say it takes a special skill to sit around for an hour, go bat, sit around for another hour, go bat, and do it all effectively — simply assigning players to the position because of their sub-optimal defensive performance elsewhere is perhaps not the best approach.

Ask Alonso, who had seven games' worth of DH-ing experience before joining the White Sox ahead of the 2019 season. Or Adam Dunn, who had 18 games' worth of DH-ing experience before joining the White Sox ahead of the 2011 season. Or Adam LaRoche, who had seven games' worth of DH-ing experience before joining the White Sox ahead of the 2015 season. Dunn, LaRoche and Alonso hit .200, .187 and .170, respectively, as DHs in their careers.

Obviously, the opportunity to find a professional DH needs to exist, and Martinez taking himself off the free-agent market this winter severely limits Hahn's ability to simultaneously find a capable, comfortable DH and make a big splash. But simply dragging and dropping current White Sox into that spot doesn't seem like a realistic alternative. Things can change, of course, but expect Abreu at first base, Jimenez in left field and Collins joining James McCann behind the plate for Opening Day 2020 — and a new face as the everyday designated hitter.

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Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s almost like Jose Abreu never left.

He was only a free agent for a week and a half, Abreu bringing his brief time away from the White Sox to an end Thursday, when he accepted the qualifying offer of a one-year deal with $17.8 million.

It’s not the multi-year contract that was expected, but MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported that the sides will continue to discuss a long-term pact. Still, the decision is a rare one, with Abreu becoming one of the few players ever to accept the qualifying offer. But he’ll get a nice payday for the 2020 season with a chance to do this whole free-agency thing again a year from now, if he chooses.

There was speculation that Abreu could accept the qualifying offer because of a potentially weak market for his services league-wide. If Abreu rejected the qualifying offer and things fell apart in discussing a multi-year deal with the White Sox, any team that signed him to a contract would have lost a draft pick in doing so. That deterred teams from signing free agents just in the last year, with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel notably going unsigned until June.

Who knows if that — or just the desire to earn $17.8 million before a potential dip in his annual salary as he ages — had anything to do with Abreu’s decision, but it’s what was being speculated.

Regardless, the White Sox have their first baseman back, great news after he turned in one of the more productive seasons of his six-year big league career in 2019. Abreu led the American League with a career-best 123 RBIs and came three home runs shy of matching a career-high in that category, as well.

Abreu’s return always seemed a foregone conclusion, with the three-time All Star spending the entire 2019 season talking about how badly he wanted to remain on the South Side, going as far as to pledge that if the White Sox didn’t re-sign him, he’d sign himself to a contract and play here anyway.

The feeling was mutual, too, with general manager Rick Hahn, manager Rick Renteria and teammates praising Abreu as a model player and a mentor for the team’s young stars in the making. Eloy Jimenez said Abreu had been like a father during the rookie’s first season in the majors. Abreu revealed that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him he’d never wear another uniform.

He’s as giddy about the team’s future as anyone and has cited the planned shift into contention as the reason he wants to stick around. Tim Anderson said “it’s only right” that Abreu return for 2020, a season in which the long-awaited transition out of rebuilding mode could take place. Hahn said earlier this season that it’s “very likely” Abreu would be around for the franchise’s planned good times.

Abreu’s been incredibly productive at the plate, though his off-the-field contributions are just as important, of course, and he’s been a mentor to players like Jimenez and Yoan Moncada as they’ve gotten their first taste of the major leagues. Luis Robert, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, figures to find his way under Abreu’s wing when he reaches the bigs next season.

Abreu has long seemed to be held in the same esteem as players who have their numbers retired and statues standing at Guaranteed Rate Field, earning the title of “Mr. White Sox” for this generation. It’s no surprise the White Sox are keeping him in that role moving forward as they plan to start seeing brighter days on the South Side.

After capturing the RBI crown, Abreu made his final prediction of the 2019 campaign, saying he did believe he'd be back with the White Sox for 2020. It might not have been terribly difficult to be prescient in this case, but he was nonetheless.

"Everybody knows my wishes and my desire to stay here," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "This is an organization I respect. This is an organization I really honor.

"I want to be here, and you know guys, I’ve been telling you that. Hopefully I’m going to be here."

Hope no longer. It might not have gone down exactly as was expected, but Abreu isn't going anywhere.

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Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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