SAN DIEGO — The White Sox traded for a new right fielder Tuesday night, but it doesn’t seem like they’re done finding right-field solutions just yet.
The need in right was perhaps the team’s most pressing entering the offseason, with no internal solutions to speak of after White Sox right fielders posted the worst OPS in baseball in 2019. Nomar Mazara, who the team got in a deal with the Texas Rangers, isn’t the jazzy name fans were hoping for, especially with Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna still on the free-agent market and rumors of a Joc Pederson trade wafting across the internet.
But general manager Rick Hahn admitted Wednesday that Mazara might end up just being part of the fix, asking judgment be reserved until his front office completes its work this winter.
“I wouldn't judge this move necessarily in isolation. I'd wait to see how the entire roster pans out and what we have, ultimately, on a day-to-day basis come this summer,” Hahn said. “Fortunately I don't need to make out the lineup on Dec. 11. We like how this piece fits, and we'll see what we continue to add over the coming months.
“Certainly as you look at our roster today, of course he's the everyday right fielder, based on today's roster. But Opening Day's still a few days away.”
That’s not to undersell how the White Sox feel about their new acquisition. They parted with Steele Walker, the organization’s No. 6 prospect, in order to bring Mazara to the South Side. Hahn used the phrase “untapped potential” in his statement when the deal was announced late Tuesday night. A day later, he was committed to that description and that the White Sox can hopefully get something out of Mazara much greater than what he showed in his four years with the Rangers.
“We view him, our scouts view him, as someone who has some untapped potential and some upside,” Hahn said. “This is a kid who, as you all are aware, has been viewed as having a very high ceiling. We continue to think he has a chance to reach that ceiling and are optimistic about where he goes once he's with us.”
But Hahn was quick to point out that a change-of-scenery style turnaround isn’t the only possible outcome, touting how Mazara improves the White Sox lineup even if his production stays at the same level it was during his time in Texas. And certainly that is true. Mazara had a .786 OPS in 2019. White Sox right fielders had a .565 OPS.
Of course, Castellanos was much better, offensively, and that’s why White Sox fans might be looking at this move with a furrowed brow.
But it doesn’t seem as if Hahn is ready to plug Mazara in at the top of the depth chart and walk away from the situation. In a recurring descriptor of the White Sox offseason, there’s more work to be done.
Does that mean a platoon? Maybe. Mazara has produced well against right-handed pitching, and his left-handed bat was one of his more attractive attributes to the White Sox, who can further balance their lineup. Against righties in 2019, Mazara hit .288/.344/.500. Against lefties, not so good: .220/.252/.394.
“The player that he has been over the last couple years has had some issues with lefties. So the question is: Will those continue? Can we get him better against left-handed pitching? How much was the thumb injury or the oblique that he fought with over the last couple years factoring into those issues? And make an assessment whether we need to complement him,” Hahn said. “If we need to complement him, that's just fine.
“That's a valuable bat against right-handed pitching. Let's see how the rest of the roster comes together before fully assessing how we addressed right field.”
There’s plenty remaining on the White Sox offseason to-do list, chiefly adding a pair of pitchers to the starting rotation. But there are also a lot of “maybe” items, too. Maybe they’ll try to find an everyday-type DH. Maybe they’ll try to add more to the bullpen. And maybe they’ll try to add another right fielder to team with Mazara.
One thing’s certain: Hahn’s not done yet.