30 Clubs in 30 Days: Chicago White Sox

Posted: March 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

white soxIt might not be fair. But, third year manager Robin Ventura has the hottest seat in Chicago heading into the 2014 season. After a surprisingly successful first year on the job, in which his rag tag bunch of White Sox surged to the top of the AL Central halfway through the year only to finish in second at 85-77, the former third baseman’s club faltered into the division’s basement in 2013. At 63-99, the White Sox were only better than the Astros in the entire American League. Things aren’t likely to be quite that bad in 2014. But, all their offensive improvements will mean nothing if the pitching staff can’t stay healthy, unlike the last three years.

A year ago, the White Sox saw an aging lineup break down early and often. In fact, Chicago had the worst offensive production out of their infield in the A.L. Paul Konerko saw his OPS drop to a career low of .669, and none of the trio of Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, and Conor Gillaspie finished with an OPS at or above .700. With that level of production, one would hope at least that the White Sox infield was near the top of the league in defensive efficiency. That was far from the case, as Chicago ranked second to last (again above only Houston) in fielding percentage. How else does one explain LHP Chris Sale putting together one of the most dominant campaigns in a White Sox uniform (226 strikeouts, 46 walks, 3.07 ERA) and only coming away with an 11-14 record. The offense needed to get drastically better, and GM Rick Hahn and Executive Vice President Kenny Williams went out in search of improvements this winter.

What they came back with was one of the more dramatic one year rebuilds in recent memory. Chicago, over the course of four months, unloaded a couple of young, improving pitchers (Hector Santiago and Addison Reed) to land even younger, more cost controlled offensive talent. In December, the front office shipped Santiago and Brandon Jacobs as part of a three team deal with the Angels and Diamondbacks to acquire Adam Eaton, one of the top young outfielders in Arizona’s system. No, this isn’t the Adam Eaton who made Phillies fans fume in 2007-08. The outfield Eaton was one of the top prospects in baseball heading into 2013. The numbers never came in Arizona, where Eaton struggled with injuries as well as the Diamondbacks’ dramatic outfield depth. He’ll hope that a starting spot in a young Chicago lineup will propel the 25-year old to reach expectations.

Joining Eaton in the lineup is 3B Matt Davidson, who was also acquired from the Diamondbacks less than a week after Eaton in exchange for Reed. An even more heralded prospect than Eaton, Davidson was the 35th overall pick in the 2009 draft. The 22-year old broke into the bigs last year, hitting .237-3-12 in 31 games with Arizona. A top-100 prospect each of the last three seasons, Davidson hit .280-17-74 with AAA-Reno in 2013.

But, the biggest offseason acquisition for the White Sox might have been Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu. The first baseman is built like a young Ryan Howard, and hits like the former MVP as well. At 27, Abreu isn’t a young pup. So, he’ll be expected to contribute significant power numbers immediately. RotoChamps predicts that Abreu will hit 30 homers in his first stint in the big leagues. That type of success could be just what the doctor ordered for a team that handed the unproven slugger a 6 year, $68 million deal in October. Outfielder Avisail Garcia was the key cog in a midseason deal that sent Jake Peavy to the Red Sox. He will man centerfield to begin the season and is one of the most exciting young players in baseball.

The White Sox didn’t focus too intently on improving their staff. Sale is the uncontested ace. But, after the 25-year old, things get a little dicey. Gone is longtime mainstay Gavin Floyd. Replacing the now Atlanta starter in the rotation will be young Erik Johnson, who looked strong with AAA-Charlotte in 2013. Joining that duo will be holdovers John Danks, Jose Quintana, and Felipe Paulino. The bullpen without Reed will be young and electric. RHP Nate Jones is expected to get the nod as the team’s closer after going 4-5, 4.15 a year ago as Reed’s primary setup man. Matt Lindstrom returns to pitch the eighth.

Key Acquisitions

1B Jose Dariel Abreu (Cuba)
3B Matt Davidson (Diamondbacks)
OF Adam Eaton (Diamondbacks)
RHP Felipe Paulino (Royals)
RHP Ronald Belisario (Dodgers)

Key Departures

RHP Gavin Floyd (Braves)
LHP Hector Santiago (Angels)
RHP Addison Reed (Diamondbacks)

Projected Lineup and Rotation

OF Adam Eaton – .262-7-43
OF Alejandro de Aza – .266-13-53
1B Jose Dariel Abreu – .270-30-81
DH Adam Dunn – .209-26-66
OF Avisail Garcia – .265-14-55
SS Alexei Ramirez – .269-9-58
2B Gordon Beckham – .252-10-44
3B Matt Davidson – .234-12-40
C Tyler Flowers – .208-9-25

LHP Chris Sale – 13-9, 3.26
LHP John Danks – 7-10, 4.79
LHP Jose Quintana – 10-8, 4.05
RHP Felipe Paulino – 4-5, 4.33
RHP Erik Johnson – 8-9, 4.68

RHP Nate Jones – 3-2, 3.34, 24 Sv

Outlook

White it’s unlikely that the White Sox lose 99 games again, the likelihood of a major improvement is also rather low. I liked what Chicago did in the white sox 2offseason by acquiring young, cost controlled offensive talent to infuse a prospect pool that was rather bleak heading into October. But, the success of those deals is not going to be judged by the team’s ability to compete in 2014. Alas, Chicago in fact likely crippled their chances of contending this year for the chance to be a real threat in the AL Central come 2015. Addison Reed may not be a top-5 closer. But, the right hander saved 40 games on a team that won only 63 in 2013. That’s a level of trust and reliability that isn’t seen out of a 24-year old arm. Jones may be just as proficient. But, one would have to think otherwise until he proves it in real regular season action.

The starting rotation is largely the same as a year ago, as Floyd missed much of the year due to injury. Sale should again prove to be a pearl in a sea of shells. But, the depth behind him is weak, and that doesn’t bode well in a division that includes the dynamic offense of Detroit. Offensively, the White Sox should be miles better than a year ago. But, the youth and inexperience of their lineup from top-to-bottom begs the question as to how disciplined they’ll be during the first half of the season. Once Abreu, Garcia, Eaton, and Davidson get their “sea legs,” Chicago should see a big improvement from their offense.

In the end, the White Sox are an improved club. If only because, after a 63 win campaign, there’s little room to go but up (tell that to the Astros). I love the White Sox in 2015 and beyond. But, for 2014, they’re still quite a few steps behind the likes of Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City. I see Chicago winning between 70-76 games, competing with Minnesota for the cellar in the A.L. Central.

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