The Bad Guys – The Chicago White Sox

Originally posted to RollTribeNation.com

The Chicago White Sox are a team in transition. After riding a cast of veterans in both the lineup and pitching staff to a second place finish in the Central in 2012, Father Time finally got the best of this group as they struggled to a 63-99 record in 2013. Since then, General Manager Rick Hahn has begun the arduous process of transforming this roster from aged non-contender to young upstart. Let’s take a look at the progress Hahn and co. have made.

2013 Recap

If you want to thank someone for the Tribe’s 2013 playoff berth, look no further than the 2013 White Sox. The Tribe went a staggering 17-2 against the Pale Hose in 2013. The White Sox just barely avoided losing 100 games in 2013, and it’s not difficult to figure out why. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez was the only position player to crack the 1.0 WAR threshold (2.5 WAR per Baseball Reference) and lineup mainstays such as Paul Konerko, Alejandro De Aza, and Adam Dunn came in below replacement level for the season (-0.7, -0.3, and -0.3 respectively).

Things weren’t quite as bad on the pitching side of things. Chris Sale cemented his place among baseball’s premier pitchers, posting a 3.07 ERA and 3.17 FIP, and he was ably supported by Jose Quintana (3.51 ERA, 3.82 FIP) and Hector Santiago (3.56, 4.44). The team struggled to find consistent pitching behind those three however, as Jake Peavy only managed 13 league-average starts before being traded to the Red Sox and guys like John Danks (4.75, 5.06), Dylan Axelrod (5.64, 5.44), and Andre Rienzo (4.82, 5.85) proved they aren’t really viable options to start on a contending team. The bullpen was a bit better, as closer Addison Reed converted 40-48 save opportunities with a 24.4 K% while Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom, and Matt Thorton providing reliable, if inconsistent, set-up options.

New Arrivals: 1B Jose Abreu, CF Adam Eaton, 3B Matt Davidson, LHP Scott Downs, RHP Ronald Belisario, RHP Felipe Paulino

The White Sox made three major moves this past offseason. The first came in October when the team signed Cuban defector Jose Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract, the largest contract ever given to an international free agent. While Abreu was the premier slugger of the Cuban National League, there were doubts throughout baseball regarding whether or not his skills, specifically his bat speed and ability to hit fastballs on the inner half ($), would transfer over to MLB. Well, so far so good on that front, as Abreu is hitting .250/.359/.563 with two homers and four strikeouts to three walks. He’s shown a willingness to go the other way and shorten his swing with two strikes, proving that he’s more than a three true outcomes slugger. It’s still extremely earlier in his career and pitchers will inevitably adjust as scouts put together a book on him, but it looks as though the White Sox have added a middle-of-the-order bat for years to come.

The second major move came on December 10 when the team received center fielder Adam Eaton in a three-team trade that saw the Diamondbacks land slugger Mark Trumbo and the Angels land starters Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. Eaton should be a godsend for a team that is seemingly allergic to getting on base. Eaton has a .450 (!) career minor league OBP, and despite being slowed by an elbow injury in 2013 he should provide much-needed OBP skills to a lineup that desperately needs them. Landing a young leadoff hitter and center fielder with six years of team control remaining for a back-end starter like Hector Santiago is a coup for GM Rick Hahn.

The last major move was acquiring third base prospect Matt Davidson for closer Addison Reed. While Reed is a solid reliever, he is not an elite one in the class of Craig Kimbrel or Kenley Jansen, and is very much expendable as he reaches arbitration this coming offseason. Davidson, on the other hand, is a perfect fit for a team that has been looking for a third baseman since Joe Crede manned the position (and really, if Joe Crede is your third baseman, you’re probably still looking for a third baseman). As for Davidson, ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him as the 88th best prospect in baseball, complimenting his smooth right-handed swing and projecting him as an above-average regular at the hot corner as soon as 2015.

One guy who is not a brand new face yet I still like is infielder Marcus Semien. While the former 34th round pick is struggling a bit so far in 2014 (.243/.300/.376), he managed 19 homers and 24 steals across AA and AAA levels in 2013, and he only has to beat out the currently injured Gordon Beckham for at-bats at second base. Fantasy owners in deeper leagues take note.

Departures: LHP Hector Santiago, RHP Addison Reed, RHP Gavin Floyd, 3B Brent Morel, OF Alex Rios (midseason trade), RHP Jake Peavy (midseason trade)

The White Sox won’t miss a lot of these veterans, as they weren’t going to compete in 2014 even if they kept them all. The Peavy trade landed the Sox outfield prospect Avisail Garcia. Garcia is a toolsy outfielder who can develop into an all-star caliber player if he manages to refine his approach at the plate even a little bit. The Rios deal netted the team Leury Garcia, who looks to be a utility infielder but nothing more. Even with their warts, both Garcia’s are significantly more likely to contribute to the next White Sox playoff team than Peavy or Rios.

They will improve if…

…they get on base. The 2013 White Sox were brutal to watch because it felt like they were always batting with the bases empty. The player with the highest OBP on last year’s roster with more than 150 plate appearances was Alex Rios’ .328 mark, which is pathetic. Newcomers Eaton and Abreu will certainly help in this regard, but it will take some internal improvement from guys that were on the team last year to make a big difference.

As for the pitching, any staff headed by Chris Sale has a chance to be good, but outside of him and Quintana, there’s not much here. Pitching coach Don Cooper is one of the best in the business at getting the most out of retread pitchers, but he will have his work cut out for him with this staff. And as good as the Reed for Davidson trade is in the long run, it will hurt the team is the short term as the team doesn’t have a lot of good options out of the pen. Nate Jones is already on the DL, and while Matt Lindstrom is a decent closer option, Tribe fans should get a big smile on their faces when they see Ronald Belisario come on in the eighth inning of a close game.

They will be worse if…

…Sale, Abreu, and Eaton all get injured? It will be all but impossible for this team to be any worse than they were last season. If Lindstrom proves ineffective as the closer this bullpen will be a mess all year, but they probably won’t lose 100+ games.

Long-Term Outlook

While the White Sox might not be much better this year, they are certainly well on their way towards respectability. Abreu, Eaton, and Davidson are building blocks for what will eventually be the next competitive White Sox team. General Manager Rick Hahn’s more analytically driven approach is already paying dividends, and is a refreshing change of pace from the more traditional approach of former GM and current Executive Vice President Kenny Williams. While the White Sox will struggle again in 2014, they will likely become a force within the AL Central sooner than later.

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About PapaBearJere

Jeremy Klein is an unabashed Cleveland Sports fan who only wants to see a Cleveland team win a title. You can follow him on twitter @PapaBearJere or email him at thenarrativeblog@gmail.com.

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