2020 White Sox decision review: Corner outfield

Good news: The White Sox improved their output from their right fielders by 32 percent in terms of Weighted Runs Created Plus.

Bad news: They still finished 30 percent below the league average in Weighted Runs Created Plus.

The White Sox didn’t set a low bar for right fielders the year before — they buried it. Six different players attempted to conquer the corner in 2019, and five of them could be out of baseball after this season.

  • Jon Jay: Hit .160/.211/.240 for the Diamondbacks, but at least he crossed 10 years of service time, so his pension is fully vested.
  • Ryan Cordell: Went 1-for-8 with the Mets, who DFA’d him after the season.
  • Ryan Goins: Went 0-for-9 with the White Sox.
  • Charlie Tilson: Signed with Pittsburgh in January, cut by Pittsburgh in June.
  • Daniel Palka: Hit .214/.279/.365 over 49 games in the KBO.

Leury García is the only one on steady ground for 2021, as the White Sox picked up his $3.5 million option.

Because improving upon the previous year’s production was an incredibly easy task, the White Sox might’ve felt like they could take a chance with how they went about finding a stabler presence. Even though the free agent market was larded with good bats with mediocre gloves, the White Sox acquired the mediocre bat and glove of Nomar Mazara, sending Steele Walker to Texas.

Mazara wouldn’t have been a bad idea for every team. He has plus power (as evidenced by his 505-foot homer off Reynaldo López), but he also has a helluva time tapping into it (as evidenced by his 50 percent ground-ball rate). It’s possible that somebody could figure out how to unlock his might for a Jose Bautista-like transformation, but banking on improvement as part of a team on the rise is a harder sell.

The White Sox did see better results from their right fielders …


… but Mazara barely helped the cause. You can attribute the non-starter of a season to the bout of strep throat that cost him the last week of summer camp and the first week of the season, but however it happened, quality contact was seldom seen. The White Sox probably would’ve been better off playing Adam Engel the bulk of the time, even if his numbers are buoyed by favorable matchups:

  • Engel: .271/.317/.458
  • Mazara: .224/.283/.291
  • Jarrod Dyson: 2-for-4
  • Nicky Delmonico: 1-for-11
  • García: 0-for-5.

The White Sox will look to upgrade right field for the third winter in a row, which is where I’ll point out that Bryce Harper has posted a couple of 4-5 WAR seasons in his first two years in Philadelphia (extrapolating 2020 for 162 games). Sure, the Phillies have paid $55 million for him, but it only looks like $45 million when considering the money the White Sox have paid for solutions that solved nothing.

But that was two winters ago. Last winter’s market shows why Harper got paid the money he did, because such high floors are difficult to find.



The free agent market for corner outfielders featured three talented-but-flawed outfielders, but the Braves lucked out by taking a one-year swing at Marcell Ozuna. Not only did they get a guy who won two of the National League’s three Triple Crown categories, but thanks to the pandemic forcing the designated hitter upon the NL, they didn’t even have to play him in the outfield. He DH’d in 39 of 60 games, and he committed two errors in the 21 games he wore a glove, one of which wouldn’t have fun to watch on a relatively routine basis.

Still, given how well he performed in the other primary area of the game, it’s unfortunate that the early rumors tying Ozuna to the White Sox failed to materialize.

The other prominent outfielders failed to deliver. Nick Castellanos’ production was undermined by a career-low batting average. The .257 BABIP means his 60-game sample could’ve been just an unlucky chunk of a normal season, but the career-high strikeout rate (28.5 percent) didn’t help. He could’ve opted out of his contract and into the free agent market, but that would’ve been unwise.

Yasiel Puig was the last of the headliners, and he didn’t find a deal until coming to terms with the Braves in July after Nick Markakis opted out. A positive COVID-19 test took that deal off the table, and so Puig didn’t play for any team in 2020.

PREVIOUS DECISION REVIEWS: Front-line starter | Starting pitching depth

Among the second-tier options, I was most intrigued by Shogo Akiyama due to his left-handed bat, on-base skills and defensive abilities, even if he didn’t promise to offer much in the way of power. He had a rough start to his stateside experience, but he appeared to figure something out in September, hitting .317/.456/.365 with more walks (15) than strikeouts (12). He also earned an also-ran nod as a Gold Glove finalist in left field. Yoshi Tsutsugo only had left-handed hitting in common with his countryman, and the Rays got the occasional homer out of him over the course of 2020, and not a whole lot else.

Still, the Rays showed that they were right to move on from Avisaíl García, who ran hot-and-cold in Milwaukee in his return to everyday duties. He played a surprising amount of center field, but it didn’t help his value numbers.

When assessing the market, Kole Calhoun struck me as one of those players who did a little of everything, but not enough of anything. I didn’t like the idea of investing in the decline of somebody who’d posted a 97 OPS+ over his last three seasons with the Angels. For at least 37 percent of one season, he proved me wrong. His .526 slugging percentage was a career high by 59 points, and he also finished in the running for a Gold Glove. Corey Dickerson ended up having the season I’d feared from Calhoun — a whole bunch of “meh.” Which is better than what Mazara did, but still.

As for the trade pile, Joc Pederson enters free agency with more abandoned trades (two) than completed trades (zero) in his transaction history. A supposed deal with the White Sox was interrupted because of Twitter or something, and the Angels nixed a later deal. The Dodgers benefited from the inaction, as Pederson made up for a disappointing regular season with a strong October. He hit .382/.432/.559 over the course of the four series to help the Dodgers win their first World Series since 1988.

Speaking of postseason heroics, Randy Arozarena came out of nowhere to light the baseball world ablaze. He hit more homers in October (10 over 86 plate appearances) than he had in his entire career to date (eight over 99). The Cardinals decided to deal Arozarena because they saw a surplus of outfield production, but it turns out that dealing an outfielder to the Rays was a bad idea for a second straight year. The Rays flipped Tommy Pham to the Padres after a successful 1½ years in Tampa Bay, but it turns out that Jake Cronenworth was the bigger loss.

Trent Grisham made up for the production that the Padres didn’t receive from Pham. The Padres seemed to sell low on young second baseman Luis Urias in a multi-player deal with Milwaukee, but Grisham ended up becoming the impact player, on pace for 27 homers and 27 stolen bases while playing a center field that won him a Gold Glove. He could’ve been defined by his costly error in the 2019 postseason, but he rewrote his story well.

That leaves the winter’s biggest trade, in which the Dodgers upgraded their outfield by acquiring impending free agent Mookie Betts and the salary of David Price. The latter lowered Boston’s talent demands, and while Alex Verdugo had a nice season on the other side of the deal, Betts delivered on his end of the trade with an MVP-caliber performance, and he’ll have the opportunity to post 12 more of them in Dodger Blue after signing a $365 million deal.

A lot of people would’ve been pressing the White Sox to go all-out for Betts had he made it to the market, but his contract extension shows why fully operational stars are hard to hope for so long as they have exclusive negotiating rights with one team. Time will tell how much the White Sox will regret ignoring Harper, but if they go a third winter without figuring out the other corner spot, the value of time wasted might eclipse the actual money spent.

(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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We can only hope they have willingness to spend this offseason, with some money coming off the books with Encarnacion among others. I look at their offseason based entirely on Springer, Bauer, or Ozuna. If they land one of those 3, it will be a major success. If they don’t, I would consider it a failure no matter what else they did. No need for trades, just sign one of those 3 and don’t come up short for once.

If they settle for mediocre fixes where they need help the most, which is what we are used to seeing, it will be the same movie we’ve seen for the past 3-4 decades (aside from 2005), deserving of about as much enthusiasm as a cardboard fan cutout. Grandal cannot be the highest price tag free agent addition to complete the rebuild, period.


Thanks, Jim, for an insightful look into the perils and profits of free agency. My sense is that a playoff quality outfielder (and ideally lefty bat) solution is better addressed via a trade. The White Sox FO will more likely be willing to pay with prospects than $$ in these uncertain economic times, and the signal from the TLR signing suggests that its a win-now view, so prospects would now be more expendable.

As Cirensica

The lackluster production found in the free agency is what made me choose in my off season plan to just roll with Mazara one more year. He was bad, but most of the other options in RF available were bad too. THe WHite Sox were pretty good team even when Mazara was playing. On pace to 95 wins. So, on emore year of Mazara won’t hurt. Maybe he will untap the power. Use the money to get pitching instead of a RF.