White Sox

Who will the White Sox sign? A preliminary ranking of the top free-agent outfielders

Who will the White Sox sign? A preliminary ranking of the top free-agent outfielders

There might be nothing higher on the White Sox offseason to-do list than starting pitching. That’s why I ranked the free-agent pitchers a little while back before moving on to other positions.

But the team's to-do list has multiple items on it, with general manager Rick Hahn counting right field and designated hitter as areas in need of upgrades this winter. So let’s move on to that vacancy in right field, shall we?

Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert figure to be entrenched in left field and center field for the better part of the next decade, but that right-field spot is a mystery. The White Sox seemed to have a wealth of options in the minor leagues, but 2019 saw a rash of injuries and under-performances hit that once impressive outfield depth. Add the woeful production from those manning the position at the major league level, and the pursuit for a right fielder this offseason makes plenty of sense for a team looking to vault into contention mode as soon as 2020.

As you’ll notice, the right-field/outfield market isn’t as jam packed with superstars as the starting-pitching market is. That list starts with Gerrit Cole and moves on to Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and plenty other attractive options. Scanning this list, you might not find a guy you believe would be a great fit for these White Sox and you might turn to trade possibilities. That could happen. Just remember that those aforementioned injuries and under-performances affected many of the White Sox mid-tier prospects, making it difficult to envision a trade package that could net an impact player in return. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but free agency looks the more realistic route for Hahn’s front office to fill these holes.

One more thing: Hahn has talked about the desire, in an “ideal” situation, to add some left-handedness to an almost exclusively right-handed lineup. The only forecasted everyday player who can hit lefty is Yoan Moncada, a switch-hitter. The White Sox could probably use some balance, and the search for a right fielder might be the perfect opportunity to add some. Hahn said, however, that the White Sox won’t be signing a lefty just to sign a lefty.

“Ideally, that would be nice. Ideally, you'd like to balance that out and that would require adding some left-handed power,” he said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “We don't want to get too hung up strictly on handedness in the end and sign an inferior, say, left-handed hitter when a better right-handed hitter is available and fits. But it's a consideration, and in an ideal world we would balance it out.”

Not a deal-breaker. Just something to keep in mind.

All right, let’s get on with it.

1. Nicholas Castellanos, age 27
2019 stats: .289/.337/.525, 27 home runs, 73 RBIs

White Sox fans should be plenty familiar with Castellanos, who spent the majority of the last seven years raking with the division-rival Detroit Tigers. He’s particularly fond of hitting against the South Siders, with a .293/.343/.477 line to go along with 13 home runs, 26 doubles and 60 RBIs in 95 career games. In 2018 alone, he drove in 20 runs in 19 games against the White Sox.

But the familiarity shouldn’t end there, as Castellanos played in Chicago for the final two months of the 2019 season, joining the Cubs for their ill-fated playoff chase. He was far from the problem on the North Side, though, hitting 16 home runs and 21 doubles and driving in 36 runs in just 51 games. That late-season surge — perhaps aided by getting away from a home ballpark in Detroit he called “a joke” — kicked his pending free agency up a notch as teams search for a bat to stick in the middle of their lineup. Castellanos fits the bill, with 76 home runs, 140 doubles and 263 RBIs over the last three years.

As for a potential fit with the White Sox, Castellanos would definitely fill the need in right field and fill the need in the middle of the order. He’s got a great track record of hitting at Guaranteed Rate Field, too. There have been questions about his defensive ability — as his minus-nine Defensive Runs Saved would indicate — and with Jimenez looking like he has work to do in left field, putting another defensive question mark around Robert as he gets his first taste of the major leagues might not be the greatest idea. But the name of the game is scoring runs.

2. Marcell Ozuna, 28
2019 stats: .241/.328/.472, 29 home runs, 89 RBIs

The hot stove has already started cooking, with a rumor listing the White Sox as one of many teams interested in Ozuna. Certainly there’s reason all the teams mentioned in that report should have interest in Ozuna, who’s only two years removed from a monster season in his last year with the Miami Marlins: a .312/.376/.548 slash line, 37 homers and 124 RBIs. Since being traded, the numbers haven’t been quite that good, but they’ve haven’t been bad, either: a .262/.327/.451 line with 52 homers and 177 RBIs in two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ozuna did a little to help his free-agent cause with a nice postseason as the Redbirds made it to the NLCS. In nine October games, he hit .324/.359/.595 with a couple homers, four doubles, five RBIs and six runs scored.

But there are obstacles to any potential White Sox interest. Apparently someone out there thinks Ozuna can get a seven-year deal worth $160 million. That seems … high. But more concerning, perhaps, is the fact that Ozuna just hasn’t played much right field. He’s a left fielder with just 1.1 innings in right since the start of the 2017 season. Ozuna is productive, but is he the kind of guy worth blowing up the defensive alignment over?

3. Starling Marte*, 31
2019 stats: .295/.342/.503, 23 home runs, 82 RBIs

Marte gets himself an asterisk because he might not be available. The Pittsburgh Pirates have an $11.5 million option they have to make a decision on, and while Marte remains a useful player, the Bucs are in search of a new manager and coming off a season of major dysfunction. If they’re thinking about blowing things up — despite somehow hanging around in the NL Central standings on a fairly regular basis — then maybe they’d move on from Marte.

Marte carries a reputation as a strong defender, at least he did when he won back-to-back Gold Gloves primarily as a left fielder in 2015 and 2016. But the numbers haven't been good since he took over in center field. He was a minus-nine DRS fielder in center this season, as bad, statistically, in center as Castellanos was in right and one of the worst, statistically, center fielders in baseball. In other words, perhaps a team looking for a right fielder might be able to find some defensive improvement by moving Marte back to a corner spot.

Marte’s bat, on the other hand, was the best it’s been in his career in 2019. He posted career bests with 23 homers, 82 RBIs and a .503 slugging percentage. His .295 batting average and 159 hits were the second best totals in his career. He also banged out 31 doubles and six triples, reached base at a .342 clip and stole 25 bases. All of those numbers are good, and he’d be worth a look — should he reach the market.

4. Yasiel Puig, 28
2019 stats: .267/.327/.458, 24 home runs, 84 RBIs

Like Castellanos, Puig was traded midseason to help a playoff charge that didn’t end in a playoff berth. Puig went from one Ohio team to the other, dealt from the Cincinnati Reds to the Cleveland Indians, and he fared much better after the trade than before it, turning in a .297/.377/.423 slash line in 49 games. He only hit two of his 24 home runs with the Indians but saw a big improvement in his walk-to-strikeout numbers: In 100 games with the Reds, he walked 23 times while striking out 89 times, but in his time with the Indians, he walked 21 times and struck out 44 times.

But regardless of the offensive numbers, Puig is known for other things. In the good times, that’s his base-hugging, tongue-wagging energy that can spark a team. In the bad times, that’s uncontrollable outbursts that lead to and then worsen on-field confrontations between teams. Of course, the Pirates — whose clubhouse was an absolute mess this season — deserve their fair share of the blame for the ugliness between the NL Central rivals that spilled out multiple times during the 2019 campaign. But it’s hard to forget the scene of Puig getting ejected for his wild behavior at the center of a fracas after news of his trade to Cleveland had already broke.

The White Sox would obviously have to weigh those two extremes in any pursuit of Puig, who unlike Ozuna does play right field, and is better, statistically, at it than Castellanos, with zero DRS during the 2019 season. But Puig hasn’t hit over .270 since his second year in the league in 2014, and he’s reached base at a clip north of .330 just once since then. His .785 OPS in 2019 was the third-lowest of his big league career.

5. Kole Calhoun*, 32
2019 stats: .232/.325/.467, 33 home runs, 74 RBIs

We’ve found our first lefty. If the White Sox bring in a heavy-hitting, right-handed DH (cough, cough, J.D. Martinez, cough, cough), then right field could be their only opportunity to add a left-handed bat to the mix. If that’s what they’re thinking — and Hahn’s words indicated it might not be — then Calhoun is one of the leading candidates. He certainly fits the description of “lefty power” after blasting a career-high 33 homers and slugging at a career-high .467 clip  in 2019.

Of course, Calhoun might not even hit the free-agent market, with the Los Angeles Angels holding a $14 million option on his services for the 2020 season. The Angels are obviously gearing up for a run of some kind after hiring Joe Maddon as their new manager. With Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani already in the fold and Gerrit Cole’s pending free agency providing some interesting speculation, maybe the Angels just hold onto Calhoun. But their top prospect, Jo Adell, is an outfielder and is on the doorstep of the majors, potentially making Calhoun expendable.

If he does end up on the market, the White Sox would most likely be interested in his left-handed bat — not to mention the Gold Glove on his resume. But that’s not going to prevent them from having the same amount of interest or more in a right-handed player.

6. Corey Dickerson, 30
2019 stats: .304/.341/.565, 12 home runs, 59 RBIs

Dickerson hasn’t played right field since 2016, and he only played in 78 games during the 2019 season. But that’s where the negatives, at least in comparing him with Calhoun, the other free-agent lefty outfield bat of significance, end. Dickerson compares rather favorably to Calhoun everywhere but in the home-run department. But he even has an edge in slugging percentage, with a 2019 output 100 points higher than Calhoun’s. Dickerson boasted an OPS more than 100 points north of the number Calhoun finished with. Dickerson is also two years younger and won a Gold Glove more recently, in 2018.

Dickerson spent much of the 2019 season injured, out of action for two months with a shoulder strain and then fracturing his foot in September. That’s obviously not great, and White Sox fans got a firsthand look at how badly a foot injury can linger with relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera this season.

Again, it depends on how badly the White Sox front office wants to add a left-handed bat. If it’s a high priority, Dickerson could get a look. If not, then maybe the eyes stay near the top of this list.

7. Cameron Maybin, 32
2019 stats: .285/.364/.494, 11 home runs, 32 RBIs

Maybin doesn’t strike as the middle-of-the-order type, but his .364 on-base percentage would likely be of interest to a team that had one of the lowest on-base percentages (.314) in baseball during the 2019 season. Maybin spent 2019 with the 100-win New York Yankees, playing in only 82 games after joining the team via trade in late April and then missing most of July with a calf injury. But when he was in the lineup, he fared well, with a career-best slugging percentage. He also smacked a solo homer in the playoffs, helping the Yanks sweep the Minnesota Twins out of the ALDS.

Maybin’s long been a center fielder, but his role with the Yankees this season had him bouncing around the outfield, including the most right he’s played in his career, 36 games’ worth. He’ll turn 33 shortly after Opening Day 2020, but like with some of the other names on this list, his inclusion in the White Sox plans wouldn’t look at all bad if the DH spot gets upgraded in a big way.

8. Nick Markakis*, 35
2019 stats: .285/.356/.420, nine homers, 62 RBIs

Markakis had himself a somewhat shocking late-career resurgence in 2018, making his first All-Star team, winning both a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove and finishing in the top 20 of the NL MVP vote at age 34. The 2019 season didn’t go quite as well, with Markakis limited to 116 games, missing a month and a half late in the season with a fractured wrist. He actually hit .292 in September after returning for the season’s final couple weeks before picking up just three hits in the ALDS.

Markakis has, surprisingly, been in Atlanta for five years now, and the Braves will have to decide whether they want him back or not with a $6 million option. His 2019 production certainly still qualified as good, and you’d figure he’d be an asset for a contending team like the Braves. But if he gets to the market, perhaps the White Sox could import some veteran leadership in the form of the three-time Gold Glover.

Other guys?

Again, the outfield market is not shaping up to be as bountiful as the starting-pitching market. But there will be other players available, such as Maybin’s Yankee teammate Brett Gardner and former White Sox right fielder and now-20-homer guy Avisail Garcia. Another former White Sox right fielder, Adam Eaton, could hit the market if the Washington Nationals don’t pick up his option, though flashbacks to 2016 are probably not what the White Sox are looking for right now.

There will be a new man in right field for the White Sox next season. As for who, that’s for the offseason to tell us.

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Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

SAN DIEGO — Pitching. The White Sox need it. And their No. 1 target is now a Philadelphia Phillie.

“What's next?” doesn’t quite do the mystery justice.

Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu have all been thrown around as possibilities, mostly because they’re in the same free-agency tier that Zack Wheeler was in. You remember Wheeler, the guy who turned down a superior financial offer from the White Sox to please his family and pitch for the Phillies. Seeking help elsewhere in that same tier makes sense, but it’s possible the White Sox might not be quite as enamored with their backup plans as they were with their primary target.

That’s obviously the case, by definition, but perhaps the gap is bigger than Hahn suggests when he says the White Sox will “move on to the next one.” Not all free agents are created equal.

“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani (Grandal) is we felt he brought a very unique set of tools to the situation, and we wanted to make sure we locked that in. And we found a guy that aligned, not just economically with what he wanted, it was a good fit and something we were able to get done quickly,” Hahn said, pointing to an example of the White Sox acquiring their No. 1 choice. “In other segments of the market, there is some greater fall off, as well. In some, it's not so much of a fall off.

“The guys are the primary targets for a reason, but certainly, there's more than one way to skin a cat and we'll find a different way to get it done.”

The different way could involve none of those free-agent names. While reports have tied the White Sox to Bumgarner and Keuchel to various degrees, they were reported to be after Jordan Lyles, who recently signed with the Texas Rangers. Hahn said his front office was focused more on trades than free-agent signings in its conversations Monday in San Diego.

Trades, though, could be difficult, as the White Sox seem hellbent on hanging on to their top-rated prospects, a completely understandable stance considering the promise they show as impact players. Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech figure to take over as top-of-the-depth-chart guys in 2020. Andrew Vaughn, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert might not be far behind.

What’s certain is those players won’t be going anywhere in exchange for a one-year fix. That’s more relevant to conversations involving Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant than ones involving a pitcher. But it’s important to remember that any trade talk probably starts midway down the list of White Sox prospects, a difficult way to land a truly impact player.

“There’s been, obviously, the pains and suffering that comes along with the early stages of a rebuild. We endured all that so we would be able to be in a position of building something that was going to be able to win on an annual basis, that was going to have some success for an extended period of time,” Hahn said. “Right now, we are in a bit of an interesting spot.

“Fundamentally, as a fan that has dealt with the hardships over the last three years, you want that benefit, that promised-land side of things to come more quickly. At the same time, we have to keep in mind why we started this and that was to build something sustainable. You don’t want to do anything short-sighted that’s just going to, trade wise, give us a quick bump next year but compromise the extended window we foresee coming when this all comes together.

“You need to be cognizant of that temptation to try to accelerate things. We want to get this to where it needs to be as quickly as possible. We don’t want to do that at the expense of shortening the window or making the window more difficult when it does open, whether that’s in the next few months or it takes a little longer.”

OK. So trading for impact fixes in the rotation appears unrealistic. The buzz surrounding the White Sox and free-agent signings diminished significantly as time went on during the first day of the Winter Meetings, and the possibility exists that the backup plans to Wheeler won't be quite as easy to pull the trigger on.

So what do the White Sox do?

It’s almost impossible to envision a parade of ineffective arms the likes of which we saw in 2019, when Ervin Santana and Manny Banuelos and Dylan Covey and Odrisamer Despaigne and Ross Detwiler manned a rotation that was exposed for its lack of big league ready depth. But should the White Sox come up empty on top-of-the-rotation free-agent fixes like they did with Wheeler, it’s not quite as difficult to envision stopgaps of some sort that set up what could still be a deeper pitching staff come 2020. Hahn raved about the potential for homegrown depth in the near future.

“There's still multiple options out there,” Hahn said when asked how the pitching market looks post-Wheeler. “We're going to continue to explore them both via trade and free agency.

“It's funny we talk about 2020, obviously, because that's the most important year we we can currently put our fingers on. We do think that, as we sit here, a year from now we have a chance to have a fair amount of depth on the pitching side. It doesn't mean we don't want to augment it, not only to get better in 2020, but to hedge that bet on the depth a little bit going forward and to create even more options for us going forward.

“But I do look forward to a year from right now and we're sitting up in that suite looking at our board. And I think the viable options in the big leagues are going to be even deeper than they are now.”

That’s true, mostly because Kopech and Dylan Cease should have full major league seasons under their belts and Dunning, Lambert and Carlos Rodon should all be back from Tommy John surgery.

So what does all that have to do with signing Bumgarner right now? If the White Sox are so gaga over the potential of their internal pitching depth a year from now, are they pleased enough to forego a potential impact addition this winter — one they’re not nearly as thrilled about making as compared to how they felt about Wheeler?

A pitching staff built primarily on internal options would not at all be a bad thing, but such an outcome relies on all those young arms hitting the way Lucas Giolito did in 2019. That's extremely difficult. The three models for turning a rebuild into a world championship, the Cubs, Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals, have had almost no luck doing that. The biggest names in those championship runs, from a pitching standpoint, were Jon Lester, Justin Verlander and Jonny Cueto. The Royals are now rebuilding. The Cubs have struggled to find any homegrown pitching since Theo Epstein's regime took over. It's really hard to do.

These are questions with few answers, really. Hahn doesn’t talk about specific free agents, meaning everything is a philosophical discussion rather than a “this is what we’re doing” one. Are the White Sox opposed to adding a top-of-the-rotation pitcher? Absolutely not, they’d love to. Are they going after Keuchel to do it? That’s not quite as open for discussion.

And that’s a fine policy for perfectly understandable reasons, it just leaves so much a mystery. Mystery is all we have regarding the potential additions that could follow Grandal this offseason. The White Sox need pitching, and they’ll get it. But are they jazzed about the remaining options to the point it will top any of the internal options on the depth chart? Stay tuned.

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All quiet on the White Sox front: South Siders showing 'no urgency' to make moves at Winter Meetings

All quiet on the White Sox front: South Siders showing 'no urgency' to make moves at Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO — This is not what White Sox fans wanted to hear during what was supposed to be an aggressive offseason.

“There’s simply no urgency to get anything done here.”

That was general manager Rick Hahn speaking on the first night of the Winter Meetings here in Southern California. It’s true what Hahn says, that the White Sox can accomplish their business just as well next week as they can this week, providing the players they want remain available.

But in an all too apt example of how quickly things can change at the Winter Meetings, the question surrounding the White Sox went from “How big a splash will they make this week?” to “Will they do anything at all this week?”

For a team seemingly so intent on getting business done, on spending to accomplish its goal of acquiring premium talent from outside the organization — like they did last month in signing Yasmani Grandal — the buzz (or lack thereof) in San Diego was that the White Sox weren’t much involved on the bigger names on the free-agent market.

Forget the biggest names. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on Monday. Gerrit Cole seems destined for a bidding war of epic proportions between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. Anthony Rendon hasn’t been tied to the White Sox much at all this winter. But word that they were in the mix for Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna and Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel subsided as the hours went on Monday.

MLB.com’s Jon Morosi started the day by predicting that Keuchel would land on the South Side, by saying there was a pretty good chance the White Sox could end up with either Castellanos or Ozuna. Hahn ended the day by saying this:

“Certainly we would love to get stuff done here. We’ve been known to get stuff done at the Winter Meetings. We’ve also had some quiet Winter Meetings along the way. But there’s simply no urgency to get anything done here.

“We’d love to knock off everything on our list while we are all together here, but that’s no different than how we were approaching our business last week or the week before or the week before Thanksgiving when we signed Yasmani.

“We will remain engaged in conversations. In terms of predicting whether something happens, it’s really sort of impossible to say until we get right on that goal line, which we are not at just yet.”

As mentioned, things can change quickly. Hahn brought up past instances of him meeting with reporters with nothing to report, only for multiple moves to happen in the hours that followed. Considering the sheer volume of needs Hahn has pledged to address — two starting pitchers and a right fielder being the most noteworthy — the White Sox would figure to be exploring enough possibilities that something could come along and change his tone at any second.

But a front office that teased a busier-than-usual offseason sounded unsure about getting anything done this week.

“I’m not trying to hide the ball when I say I can’t predict what’s going to happen over the next few days,” Hahn said. “But I do know no matter what happens over the next few days, we like the position we're in going forward. We like the progress that's been made at the big league level over the last few months of the last season. We like the progress made on a number of fronts with the prospects. And we like the addition of Yasmani Grandal, and obviously having Jose (Abreu) back.

“We know we still have work to do. Ideally we get a good portion of that done here over the next few days, but if we don't, that's fine. We've proven in the past we can acquire a guy next Tuesday just as easily as we can this Tuesday.”

Of course, the White Sox tried to acquire a guy last Tuesday, and Zack Wheeler’s decision to spurn their superior financial offer to pitch for the family comfort of the Philadelphia Phillies was a prominent topic Monday night with the general manager. He’s clearly not feeling much better about this outcome than he did about Manny Machado turning the White Sox down in favor of the San Diego Padres back in February.

This time around was different, though, with the White Sox controlling everything they could control, making the richest offer on the table — and still ending up at the same place.

“A bit of it's Monday-morning quarterbacking, and it doesn't matter if you don't get the guy,” Hahn said. “So I'm not going to go too deep into how fine of an effort or how great of an offer or any of that stuff. You either get the guy or you don't. When you don't, you move on to the next one.”

Trying to figure out who that “next one” is has proven difficult, with seemingly every free-agent starting pitcher not named Cole or Strasburg thrown out as a possibility. The White Sox were reportedly going after Jordan Lyles, who signed a free-agent deal with the Texas Rangers. They’ve been linked to Bumgarner and Keuchel in various fashions. Hahn said the team’s work Monday was more focused on trades than free agency.

It’s evident Wheeler was the primary target. As for the backup plan, you have to wonder how big a gap there was between the White Sox desire for Wheeler and their desire to, as Hahn said, move on to the next one.

“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani is we felt he brought a very unique set of tools to the situation, and we wanted to make sure we locked that in. And we found a guy that aligned, not just economically with what he wanted, it was a good fit and something we were able to get done quickly,” Hahn said, pointing to an example of the White Sox acquiring their No. 1 choice. “In other segments of the market, there is some greater fall off, as well. In some, it's not so much of a fall off.

“The guys are the primary targets for a reason, but certainly, there's more than one way to skin a cat and we'll find a different way to get it done.”

As for when? Good question. The Winter Meetings are certainly not the be all, end all, and Hahn has talked in the past about winning the offseason only for that “W” not to translate to the standings come summer. It was in this very city five years ago when the White Sox made those post-dinner moves to acquire David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija. Things did not play out quite as victoriously once they started playing the games.

But Hahn also talks about the White Sox deserving to play with the big boys, about the White Sox being an attractive destination, about the White Sox moving into the next phase of their rebuilding project. If all that is true — and the team’s desire to spend big is as big as it seems after their (successful) run at Grandal and (unsuccessful) run at Wheeler — then something is going to have to happen eventually.

Right?

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