If you thought the COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on the 2020 season, just wait until you see what kind of impact it has on the offseason.
Spending might be scarce following a fan-less campaign, and owners that predicted big financial losses and have already cut jobs could head into the offseason amid a new economic reality that could keep the hot stove ice cold for months.
Francisco Lindor, who will be one of the game’s most discussed names this winter on the trade front, was right to question why there might be a dearth of big-money contracts while baseball continues to be projected to rake in billions in national-TV money.
So then what sort of outlook is there when it comes to the White Sox?
They’re fresh into the offseason after being eliminated from the postseason Thursday afternoon, dropping the third game of their best-of-three AL Wild Card Series with the Oakland Athletics. That game, and the way it played out, might send some fans steaming toward a petition for an offseason overhaul, but the truth is the White Sox have very few areas of need heading into 2021 after their busy offseason a year ago.
Indeed, there are a few big edges the White Sox have over other teams who might be prevented from making some necessary moves this winter. One, they spent big last offseason, giving new multi-year contracts to Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, José Abreu, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada and Aaron Bummer. Two, the rebuild set them up to have long-term answers at pretty much every position on the field. Both spending and development — and in some cases, a combination of both — have made it so there aren’t many spots that need addressing in the short or long term.
Here’s how long the White Sox have every position of player under team control.
— Catcher: Yasmani Grandal, through 2023
— First base: José Abreu, through 2022
— Second base: Nick Madrigal, through 2026
— Shortstop: Tim Anderson, through 2024
— Third base: Yoán Moncada, through 2025
— Left field: Eloy Jiménez, through 2026
— Center field: Luis Robert, through 2027
— Starting pitcher: Lucas Giolito, through 2023; Dallas Keuchel, through 2023; Dylan Cease, through 2025; Dane Dunning, through 2026; Michael Kopech, through 2025; Garrett Crochet, through 2026
— Relief pitcher: Aaron Bummer, through 2026; Evan Marshall, through 2022; Codi Heuer, through 2025; Matt Foster, through 2025
That looks pretty darn good.
But after watching the White Sox rise out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode — and experience a late-season slide that, including their three playoff games, saw them drop 11 of their final 15 contests — it’d be wrong to say there’s nothing the team needs to address this winter.
The starting-pitching situation
The White Sox entered the season with question marks in their starting rotation. What would they get out of Cease, Reynaldo López, Carlos Rodón and Kopech?
Well, Kopech decided not to play in 2020 due to personal reasons. López missed much of the season with an injury and then was left off the playoff roster. Rodón missed almost the entire season with an injury and then had a pair of awful relief outings during the final week of the regular season and the playoffs. Cease put up fine numbers but had season-long struggles with walks, homers and jams. Additionally, Dunning came up in the middle of the season and impressed before having a rough last couple outings in the regular season and being allowed to face just four batters in his postseason start.
None of those guys used 2020 to establish themselves as sure things. For some of them, it wasn’t necessary, as they’re still developing into the major league pitchers the team hopes they’ll one day be. For others, this was a prove-it season that didn’t go well.
When it comes to Cease, Dunning and Kopech, the White Sox would not figure to give up on any of them with so much promise ahead. Well, that right there fills a five-man rotation for 2021, when you add the two elite arms at the front of the staff in Giolito and Keuchel. Would that prevent the White Sox from making an addition to the rotation this winter? Maybe not, as they’ve now got championship expectations after ascending to the realm of baseball’s contenders in 2020.
If they’re serious about winning, it’d be nice to have something more reliable than the back end of the rotation as currently constructed. Of course, all three of those guys could prove themselves as good as any addition the team might make.
Fans will clamor for the biggest-ticket item, and that’s Trevor Bauer, who just wrapped up a Cy Young caliber campaign with the Cincinnati Reds. Bauer would be a good fit in 30 rotations across Major League Baseball, of course, as he’s that kind of elite talent. But how many of those 30 teams will be willing to meet his asking price after a season without paying customers in the stands?
You can never have too much pitching, as Rick Hahn is fond of saying, and that would certainly apply to the White Sox, who didn’t have enough in 2020. If any starting pitcher behind Giolito and Keuchel was truly dependable in an elimination game, Thursday’s loss would not have gone the way it went. But the White Sox didn’t have one of those by the end of the season, and the season is over because of it.
So that’s a strong case for adding more.
But the White Sox also believe in the players they’ve acquired and developed to fuel this rebuilding project. Kopech came over in the Chris Sale trade, Dunning in the Adam Eaton trade and Cease in the José Quintana trade. These guys have long been building blocks, and it’d be unlike the long-term-focused White Sox to effectively give up on even one of them by taking away an opportunity to become the pitcher they’ve always thought they could be.
The in-house solution at designated hitter
The White Sox didn’t get what they hoped for out of Edwin Encarnación in the production department, the power-hitting veteran hitting just .157 in 2020. Though they have an option on his contract for 2021 — and Encarnación received rave reviews as a clubhouse and dugout presence — it would seem very unlikely the team would bring him back for another year.
And that has perhaps more to do with what’s in the minor leagues than what Encarnación did to upend his track record in 2020.
Andrew Vaughn would seem to be ticketed for the majors very soon. And while it’s no stretch to suggest he could get the Nick Madrigal treatment, the White Sox waiting a few weeks into the 2021 season to call him up, it’s very probable that Vaughn would play a starting role for the team for the majority of the campaign.
The most logical place for that to happen is as the everyday DH or at least splitting time between DH and first base with Abreu. We know that Abreu doesn’t love DH’ing, but he did it six times in 2020, or in 10 percent of his games, so Rick Renteria could get other players’ bats into the lineup. The reverse idea might send Abreu to DH more often than we’ve seen in the past come 2021, with the White Sox needing to get Vaughn playing time in the field.
Vaughn’s power bat would be an ideal add at DH for the White Sox this offseason, and they don’t need to go anywhere but their own organization to find it.
What happens in right field?
The only position on the diamond without a long-term solution is right field, and that’s a bit of a head-scratcher.
Nomar Mazara disappointed in his first season with the White Sox after coming over in a December trade with the Texas Rangers. His OPS was down nearly 200 points from where it was with the Rangers in 2019. Most surprisingly, he didn’t hit for any power, with just one home run after averaging just about 20 of them in his first four seasons in the majors.
Mazara is under team control for another season, and it’s likely the White Sox still believe the untapped potential they touted in Mazara remains there, even if they weren’t able to tap into it in 2020. Adam Engel had a nice season and emerged as the team’s third best outfielder, from an offensive standpoint. After his .295/.333/.477 season, there’s an argument to be made that he could get a shot as the everyday right fielder in 2021.
The White Sox still have several outfield prospects whose names became known during the rebuilding seasons, guys like Blake Rutherford and Micker Adolfo, but none have ever made the kind of “get them to the big leagues now” splashes that Jimenez and Robert did and aren’t screaming for a big league job at the moment, either.
A rotation of Engel, Mazara and Leury García — whose option the White Sox would figure to pick up for 2021 — might get the job done. There are two big names on the free-agent market in George Springer and Marcell Ozuna, but again, the financial realities would play a factor there. Perhaps the White Sox would head back to the trade market for another shot at a solution in right.
A new closer?
Alex Colomé was fantastic for the White Sox in 2020, no matter how many times it might have seemed he was making fans nervous. He was a shut-down closer, finishing the regular season with a 0.81 ERA and 12 saves in 13 chances. He’s a proven ninth-inning man, with 138 saves since the start of the 2016 season.
But this might be the end of his South Side tenure.
Colomé is a free agent, and the White Sox contract extension for Bummer seemed to set him up as the team’s new closer. Certainly Bummer has earned a shot at the job, with a sub-2.00 ERA in the last two seasons.
But the White Sox might also want to consider the effects of taking that kind of multi-inning weapon out of a setup role. The emergence of Codi Heuer and Matt Foster have given the White Sox some more late-inning options that could make them comfortable enough to slide Bummer out of the setup mix and into the closer’s role.
Colomé has pitched well enough to earn closer’s dollars, but who knows what will happen on this winter’s free-agent market. If the White Sox can bring him back on a steal of a deal, it would be worth it and make the bullpen all the more excellent.