All offseason, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s 2020 season and looking forward at what moves each team might have to make to set themselves up for improvement in 2021. Today, Thatcher Zalewski takes a look at the Chicago White Sox!
The last offseason for White Sox fans was a fascinating and eventful one. Sox fans are expecting this one to be just as exciting; if not, it will go down as a disappointment. I will be going over the 2020 season and what improvements need to be made with this team going forward. What will it take for the White Sox to reach the ultimate goal of winning the World Series?
2020 Record: 35-25, 3rd Place in AL Central
Team MVP: Jose Abreu
Team Cy Young: Lucas Giolito
Biggest Positive Surprise: Jose Abreu
Biggest Negative Surprise: Yoan Moncada
2020, what a year for baseball this was. We had our first ever 60 game season; the NL adopted the DH and many weird crazy things due to Covid. In this 2020 season, the Chicago White Sox made the playoffs for the first time since 2008! Yes, it took them 12 years to make it back to the playoffs.
Some might say they only made it due to expanded playoffs or a 60 game season, but based on records, the White Sox would have been a wild card team no matter what. This young White Sox team was led by veteran Jose Abreu and rising star Tim Anderson. Jose Abreu, in my opinion, should be the MVP of the American League. He had a stat line of .317/.370/.617 (.987 OPS) with 19 HRs and 60 RBIs in just 60 games. Abreu played every single game of this 60 game season – even when the White Sox played 17 games in a row without an off day to end the season, Abreu was in there every day. Some people do not like those stats above, so here are some advanced numbers from Abreu’s 2020 campaign. Abreu had an OPS+ of 166, which is the highest of his career since his rookie season in 2014. He had a wOBA of .411 and a wRC+ of 167. All of these numbers have Abreu at the top of the leaderboards. After hearing all this, you may be wondering why I have Jose Abreu as the most significant positive surprise; well, most people were expecting Abreu to regress and not deserve the contract he earned. White Sox fans on Twitter thought that the White Sox overpaid to bring Jose back to the Southside! Well, he proved everyone wrong, as he still is at the top of his game and the prime of his career. That is why I have Jose Abreu as the Team MVP and Biggest Positive Surprise!
Next up, we have the team Cy Young, which I gave to the ace of the staff Lucas Giolito. Some might argue it could have been Dallas Keuchel. Still, I think Giolito throwing a no-hitter and his dominant performance in Game 1 of the playoffs against the Oakland Athletics gives him the edge. Picking up from where he left off, Giolito continued his dominance and proved his 2019 season was not a fluke. Giolito had some shaky starts, but hey, everyone has a bad day once in a while. Now here are some stats to prove that Giolito was the White Sox’ Cy Young. Giolito finished the year with a record of 4-3 in 12 games started. Lucas had 72 IP, with a 12.07 K/9 and an ERA of 3.48. Another very dominant year for Giolito. Again, I know those stats don’t sit well with the sabermetric heads. Here are some advanced stats, Giolito had a FIP of 3.19, a WHIP of 1.04, and an ERA- of 80. It is very safe to say Lucas Giolito deserves to be the team Cy Young!
Before we wrap up the 2020 season, we have the winner of the Biggest Negative Surprise, and that award goes to – drum roll please – Yoan Moncada! There were many different candidates for this award; some honorable mentions include Edwin Encarnacion, Steve Cishek, and Nomar Mazara; almost everyone the White Sox added in the 2019-2020 Offseason. Moncada, though, put up All-Star numbers in 2019. He had an incredible year, batting .315 with 25 home runs and 79 RBI’s. You’d think that would carry over to the 2020 season like how Anderson, Giolito, and Abreu carried over their great 2019 years into the 2020 season. Well, it didn’t. In 2020, Moncada had a batting average of .225, only 6 home runs, and 24 RBI’s. What happened exactly? Well, Yoan Moncada, unfortunately, got COVID, and that affected his play greatly. It led to Moncada being fatigued almost all season and feeling the effects nearly every day. I have to give him credit that he pushed through it, but combine this with his BABIP dropping from a historically high .406 in 2019 to a still good but not so lucky .315 in 2020 and it’s understandable that his offense wasn’t great. The main reason that Moncada won this award is that no one expected his poor performance on offense, and he was rightfully expected to be the team’s best player before the season began.
Ultimately, it cannot be overlooked that the overall 2020 season for the White Sox was a good one. The White Sox exceeded most expectations, including my own. My prediction was a 32-28 record for the White Sox, but they ended up winning 35 games. Ricky Renteria, who is now fired, led this team to its first season over .500 since 2012. We saw a great rookie season which ended with a Gold Glove award from Luis Robert despite his September slump. Eloy Jimenez put together a promising sophomore season on offense, while his defense, on the other hand, well, had its moments. Overall the 2020 season for the White Sox can be seen as nothing but a building block for the 2021 season to come.
2020-2021 Offseason Preview
Key Losses: James McCann, Edwin Encarnacion, Gio Gonzalez, Jarrod Dyson
Areas of Greatest Need: Starting Pitching, Right Field, Designated Hitter
The White Sox have three major free agents departing this offseason: James McCann, Alex Colome, and Jarrod Dyson. Don’t worry too much about Dyson; if the Sox bring him back, it will be on a minor league contract. The big question mark for the Sox is catcher James McCann, who has completely revived his career in Chicago. The White Sox made it pretty clear with the signing of Yasmani Grandal last offseason that McCann would not be their starting catcher moving forward. James McCann is not an everyday starting catcher: he was exposed in the second half of the 2019 season as he regressed significantly from his first-half performance that earned him an All-Star appearance. McCann will get starting catcher money this offseason, and the White Sox will not give him that type of money to be the backup to Grandal. Some will raise the argument that McCann has served as a personal catcher for Giolito, and that’s valuable enough to bring McCann back, but a personal catcher is not nearly important enough to justify the contract that McCann will receive, and Giolito will do just fine with Grandal, another All-Star, behind the plate.
The White Sox already declined the options on Encarnacion and Gonzalez, so they won’t get too much love here as they were both pretty bad in 2020. At the very least we finally saw Gonzalez pitch for the White Sox and the parrot flew a few times, but both are definitely past their primes and won’t get deals like they did in 2020.
Who will the Sox non-tender this offseason? Well, I only have two players not getting tendered a contract, and that is Starting Pitcher Carlos Rodon and Right Fielder Nomar Mazara. This should be an easy decision for the White Sox: with the outfield options in free agency, Mazara should not be brought back as he is projected to make over 5 million in free agency. Carlos Rodon’s tenure with the White Sox has been plagued with injuries, and he hasn’t been able to have a fair chance to show his stuff. Rodon’s next opportunity should not be with the White Sox. If I’m calling the shots, his time on the south side is up. Other than those two players, I believe every other player will be tendered a contract.
Offseason Wish List
The White Sox have the same needs to address in free agency that they did last offseason: SP, RF, and DH. I will be going over who I think the Sox will sign and not all the players that we could potentially sign.
Desired Targets: George Springer, Charlie Morton, Alex Colome, and Tyler Flowers
The first big fish I have the White Sox signing is George Springer to a 4 year, 105 million dollar contract. That is right, the Sox break the bank and give out the first triple-digit contract in franchise history. Keuchel plays a significant influence in this signing and convinces Hahn and Jerry to pay Springer to be the 2021 opening day. The White Sox were very disappointed with the production they got from Nomar Mazara. Instead of bringing him back, they Sox sign Springer to take the reigns of being the every day Right Fielder. He has a career stat line of .270/.361/.491/.852 and 174 home runs with 458 RBI’s. It is safe to say this would be a good signing for the White Sox.
Next up, I have the White Sox bringing in veteran Starting Pitcher Charlie Morton on a one year 12 million dollar deal, with a club option for a second season. A big part of why the White Sox lost in the playoffs was due to the lack of solidified arms in the starting rotation. Well, Morton knows how to pitch in the regular and postseason. Morton has made the playoffs a total of 5 times in his long career, pitching very well each time out. His overall postseason record is 7-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 61.1 IP. Morton is also excellent during the regular season: in 2019, he finished third in Cy Young voting and was an All-Star. In 2020, we didn’t see 2019 Charlie Morton. He had a record of 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA. Those stats do not do Morton justice, though, as his FIP was 3.45, which is very good. I think Morton would be a perfect addition to this White Sox rotation for 2021 and maybe even 2022.
The third signing I have the White Sox making is bringing back Closer Alex Colome. In his two seasons with the White Sox, Alex Colome has been, without a doubt, a very reliable closer out of the bullpen. In 2020 Alex Colome had only 1 blown save while accumulating 12 saves. He only allowed 3 runs in 2020 and 0 home runs. He was a finalist for Reliever of the Year. I am a firm believer in bringing back Colome to be the closer for 2021 and 2022; I think a 2 year, 14 million dollar contract would get the job done. I feel the reliever market will be crashed this winter, and we will see many relievers not getting their actual value.
The last free agent signing I have the White Sox making is a reunion story. Tyler Flowers is coming back to Chicago and will be the backup to Yasmani Grandal. Yes, the White Sox have Zack Collins. However, I don’t see him getting the trust of the White Sox to be the primary back up for 2021. Sometimes he will catch and sometimes he will DH, but I don’t see him being ready for the role that may be expected of him with the roster as it’s currently constructed. For Flowers contract, I have it as a 1-year deal worth 2.5 million.
Beyond free agent signings, I believe we may hope for two extensions this off-season, the first being Starting Pitcher Lucas Giolito. These past two seasons, Giolito has defined himself as the ace of this White Sox team, and he isn’t looking to slow down. He has earned an extension, and I think this will be in the range of a 6-year deal worth $90 million. Rick Hahn will be backloading this contract like the other extensions players have signed in the past. The other extension Sox fans can hope for is Andrew Vaughn. Another player who would earn a long term contract before he even plays a Major League game. This has been a pretty common theme for the Sox these past few off-seasons, and I think it will continue this winter with Vaughn getting a 7-year deal worth $45 million, which will land him on the opening day roster.
The White Sox made headlines this offseason as they fired manager Rick Renteria immediately after his first successful season at the helm. Instead of getting former Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a favorite of many fans for the opening, the team made a controversial signing by bringing back Tony La Russa, who last managed the team in 1986. Some liked the hiring, but most hated it and felt there was no reason to fire Renteria to bring in La Russa. I, for one, was starting to warm up to the idea of La Russa managing the team in 2021 until Jeff Passan dropped a bombshell tweet, reporting that Tony La Russa was arrested in February on suspicion of driving under the influence and was charged with a DUI the day before the White Sox hired him. This news is very unsettling, and confirms without a doubt that Tony La Russa should not be in an MLB clubhouse in 2021. In the short term, this news hurts the White Sox heading into free agency, and because of that, I’m hopeful that the White Sox will give La Russa the Carlos Beltran treatment and fire him before he gets a chance to manage another game.
Now, who would be the replacement for Tony La Russa? Here comes another reunion with a former catcher, because AJ Pierzynski would be my pick to replace Tony La Russa as the new manager of the Chicago White Sox, just like the Cubs hired former catcher David Ross to be their new manager. Pierzynski wants to manage a ball club, and the White Sox would be an excellent fit for him to start his managerial career. I think Pierzynski would gel very well with this club and can be a fiery coach that would benefit this young team, just like his former head coach Ozzie Guillen.
With all of those signings, that wraps up my offseason wishlist and predictions for the 2020-2021 offseason. If all goes according to my plan, AJ Pierzynski will have a phenomenal club to manage in 2021 and should bring them back to the playoffs again.
2021 Projected Roster
1) Tim Anderson SS
2) George Springer RF
3) Jose Abreu 1B
4) Eloy Jimenez LF
5) Yoan Moncada 3B
6) Luis Robert CF
7) Andrew Vaughn DH
8) Yasmani Grandal C
9) Nick Madrigal 2B
C- Tyler Flowers
UTL- Leury Garcia
OF- Adam Engel
C/DH- Zack Collins
- Lucas Giolito
- Charlie Morton
- Dallas Keuchel
- Dane Dunning
- Dylan Cease
Manager: AJ Pierzynski
I feel this is the potential lineup that will give the White Sox the best chance to succeed in 2021. Luis Robert will finally have better protection in the lineup with Yasmani Grandal, Andrew Vaughn, and Nick Madrigal behind him. Since Vaughn will be a rookie, I feel 7th is the right spot for him to start the season. With the bullpen and rotation, you will notice that Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech are not included: I have both of them starting the year in Triple-A. Kopech should start in the minors to get him some starts and help him get back into a groove since he hasn’t pitched in over two seasons. Lopez may start the year off in the minors in hopes of fixing his stuff to get back on track to help contribute to the team at the Major League level. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have some good depth in Triple-A.
Hopefully, I did not kill Jerry with all the money I spent, but Hahn said it himself, “the money will be spent.” I expect this team to make the playoffs and do some damage. You saw what this team did on offense in a 60 game season; adding Springer and Vaughn to that lineup makes it even scarier, especially if it is a full 162 game season. My preliminary final record prediction for a 162 game season is that the White Sox will finish 97-65.