Manny Machado has signed. Bryce Harper has not.
Machado had two other feasible suitors besides the White Sox. Harper is seemingly struggling to get anybody up to the Phillies’ level.
The White Sox were supposedly interested in both. Now with Machado in San Diego, it’d seem like the time is nigh to simply pivot their interests and funds to the other marquee free agent.
Alas, there are no such reports keeping hope alive:
If you don’t want to take these reports at face value, perhaps the White Sox have no interest in getting pulled into Scott Boras’ cyclone of misinformation, and will conduct a pursuit at the latest moments.
Or it could be that they indeed won’t go over $250 million, and so they’re not even waste their time because making an effort would only raise player salaries. Perish the thought!
Harper is front of mind for Dan Szymborski, too, as he posted his ZiPS projections for the White Sox today. They’re predictably ugly, although they’d be less so with Harper, who could at least solve one of the two gaping holes on the roster.
The only player to really like is Eloy Jimenez, whose pedestrian WAR projection stems more from playing time and iffy defense. As Szymborski writes:
Don’t be alarmed by the “1.9” next to Jimenez’ name on the depth chart. The reason that number is so low is that ZiPS has questions about Jimenez’s outfield defense, and the depth chart is only projecting Jimenez for 455 plate appearances. More boxes to check and all that! ZiPS has no questions about Jimenez’s ability to rake, however. A .289/.338/.525 projected line with a 133 OPS+ and 28 home runs would get Eloy Rookie of the Year votes even if he played defense like Todd Hundley in an Ambien daze.
There aren’t any other such rosy views, but there are a couple of projections that are easy to see as overly skeptical. Reynaldo Lopez is saddled with a 4.85 FIP due to a lack of bat-missing, putting him only on track for a 1.2 WAR. If you buy his late-season improvement and his increased confidence on the mound as more than results-based, that seems bearish and easily improvable (more on him in a bit). Likewise, Jose Abreu’s numbers are probably hampered by a couple of intimate injuries that shouldn’t be chronic, and God help him if they are.
The problem is that some of the other top projections come with caveats. Michael Kopech is the team’s most valuable pitcher, and he’s out for the season. Carlos Rodon still gets a favorable treatment from ZiPS partially because of the time he’s missed. If the guy who got hammered by lefties at the end of last season shows up in 2019, an average pitcher is difficult to see. Yoan Moncada has the makings of a regular, but with 200 strikeouts still on his plate, he stands to be a frustrating one unless or until something clicks.
When the roster’s best center fielder is Luis Basabe, and when Basabe’s start is going to be delayed because of a broken hamate bone, it becomes rather apparent that outside help was needed, and ZiPS says Rick Hahn didn’t deliver it. None of the White Sox’ offseason improvements really register as improvements:
- Yonder Alonso: .245/.333/.441, 1.2 WAR
- Jon Jay: .249/.316/.321, 0.0 WAR
- James McCann: .231/.284/.348, 0.4 WAR
There’s not much more upside from the pitchers:
- Ivan Nova: 89 ERA+, 4.77 FIP, 1.2 WAR
- Alex Colome: 8.72 K/9, 3.52 FIP, 1.0 WAR
- Manny Banuelos: 89 ERA+, 4.77 FIP, 0.6 WAR
- Kelvin Herrera: 8.76 K/9, 4.02 FIP, 0.4 WAR
Colome’s projection is the only real triumph of the bunch. Herrera might have more to offer if he can bounce back from the couple of physical issues he battled in 2018, but Nova has a low ceiling and Banuelos has to prove he’s more than a spot starter.
Fortunately, two of the teams in the White Sox’ division project to be as bad as they are. When the Tigers and Royals comprise a quarter of the schedule, some Sox might be able to pad their numbers a little.
The question is whether this explains Lopez’s success. For instance, over the last two months, Lopez faced the Royals, Yankees, Tigers, Royals, Tigers, Yankees, Tigers, Angels, Orioles, Cubs and Twins. Probably not entirely by coincidence, he posted a 2.70 ERA with 65 strikeouts over 67 innings over that time.
I like Lopez’s chance of repeating his season — a sub-4.00 ERA and 180 innings — but I can understand wanting to see him replicate the kind of strikeout success he showed late in the season against a more random string of opponents before completely buying in.
(Programming note: Szymborski will talk about the White Sox’ ZiPS projections on the upcoming episode of the Sox Machine Podcast.)