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After Rick Hahn’s final press conference of the 2019 season, some White Sox observers were surprised that the normally non-committal GM openly identified three areas he was looking to improve this offseason: right field, designated hitter, and starting pitcher. But Hahn’s startling lack of business-speak obscured the fact that he was only acknowledging the obvious.
White Sox designated hitters put up the fourth worst season in the history of the position. White Sox rightfielders only narrowly escaped an even worse feat thanks to a few decent games from Leury Garcia and Daniel Palka in September. And the team literally ran out of starting pitchers over the last two weeks of the season.
The White Sox need to upgrade those spots. There, feel free to praise MY candid transparency.
With these holes now acknowledged by fans and the front office alike, and in advance of the Sox Machine Offseason Plan Project launching soon, I thought I’d survey the market to see what exactly the Sox’s options are. I’ll start with perhaps the most urgent need, when considering the struggles on both sides of the ball: right field.
It would be baseball malpractice if the Sox ran any of these guys out there as the Opening Day rightfielder.
We already spent one season too many talking about those players, so let’s move on to free agents. I’ve separated them into tiers based on the player’s 2019 performance. Obviously one year doesn’t tell the complete story for every guy, but their most recent season is their most instructive, especially considering the Sox are generally a poor bet to turn any veteran signing around.
AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS
Elite (6+ wins): None
All Stars (4-6 wins): None
Above-Average (2.5-4 wins): Kole Calhoun (2.5 fWAR – team option), Nicholas Castellanos (2.8 fWAR), Brett Gardner (3.6), J.D. Martinez (3.2 – player option), Marcell Ozuna (2.6)
Yup, this is the best of the best.
Each will likely be expensive and each has drawbacks. Castellanos, Martinez, and Ozuna are all butchers in the field who would compound a teamwide lack of defensive skill. Calhoun is a year removed from playing at replacement level and the Angels could very well pick up his $14 million option. Gardner is 36 years old and, while he’s developed more power to offset his declining speed, that’s an age at which we’ve seen multiple Sox acquisitions look completely washed. After 11 years with the Yankees, it’s also hard to see him playing anywhere besides New York.
Despite the flaws, any of these signings would likely be an easy 3-4 win upgrade over what the Sox threw out there last year.
Assuming that there’s no interest in a reunion with Eaton or Garcia, the rest of these players are not particularly inspiring. Thames has a reasonably priced option, but might hit the market anyway because of the Brewers’ lineup depth and generally tight payroll. If he does, he’d be a sneaky good pickup here or as the big half of a DH platoon. Maybin and Pence are oft-injured vets who probably wouldn’t hold up under the rigors of everyday outfield play.
Below Average (under 1.5 wins): Corey Dickerson (1.0), Derek Dietrich (1.1), Jarrod Dyson (1.3), Adam Jones (-0.1), Nick Markakis (0.4 – team option), Gerardo Parra (-0.2), Yasiel Puig (1.2), Ben Zobrist (0.2)
If you’re like me, seeing Jones and Markakis potentially available gives you the chills. Signing either one for their dubious veteran presence would be extremely White Sox.
I’m a big Puig fan, but he’s coming off a pretty disappointing season and at this point he’s a long ways removed from his electric first two seasons, during which he was worth 9.4 wins in 252 games. That said, he remains relatively young (29 in December), the tools are still loud, and trust me when I say – as a Los Angeles resident and part-time Dodgers fan – that he can be hugely fun to watch. Scoff if you like, but the Sox aren’t even minimally fun! They could use some chaotic energy.
Dickerson has an interesting bat, but he can’t hit lefties, doesn’t walk much, and is arguably worse in the field than any player mentioned so far. None of the other guys in this tier are real everyday options, though maybe there’s a world in which Dyson or Dietrich are effective platoon players.
THE TRADE BLOCK
The trade market could feature more exciting options than free agency, but it’s difficult to know who’s really available, as well as who’s realistically acquirable without touching the Sox’s top prospects (Luis Robert, Michael Kopech, Nick Madrigal, and to a lesser extent Andrew Vaughn). That said, I’ll run down some of the more interesting names that might be out there as the offseason unfolds.
There have already been rumblings that the Red Sox could make Mookie Betts (6.6) available, because apparently they’re tired of winning World Series titles. Betts is only 27 and would easily be the best position player moved this winter. He’s only worth giving up Robert+ if he agrees to an immediate extension. Otherwise he only has one year of team control remaining, so he’s not a great choice for the Sox.
One tick down the star-o-meter, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Pirates move on from Starling Marte (3.0) as part of a mini-rebuild. He has two option years left at reasonable salaries, and is solidly above average on both sides of the ball. If it’s possible to get him without touching the top prospect tier (say, in a package built around Dane Dunning and Steele Walker) the Sox should make it happen.
Joc Pederson (3.0) has a been a rumored Sox target for years, and would be an excellent plug-and-play option for the 2020 season before he hits free agency in 2021. His lack of team control should keep the price down, and he’s expendable for a Dodgers club with about 14 qualified everyday outfielders.
Some quick hits: Tommy Pham (3.3) is entering his second arbitration year, which is about the time when good players get too expensive for the Rays. Mitch Haniger (1.1) was excellent in 2018 and has been injured in every other season of his career, so the rebuilding Mariners might want to move him before ’18 is completely in the rearview. Trey Mancini (3.6) broke out in 2019 and the Orioles are a decade away from competitiveness (give or take), but he’s another gloveless slugger. Stephen Piscotty (0.6), generally cromulent when healthy, is on a team-friendly deal through 2023; he didn’t make the A’s postseason roster, so it’s conceivable they could move on. The Yankees seem to hate Clint Frazier (0.1) despite his prospect pedigree and generally decent hitting at the ML-level… he’s also redundant with their other slugging outfielders. Adam Duvall (0.7) spent most of the 2019 season in AAA before coming up big for the Braves in the Division Series; he’s a righty, but otherwise answers the question “What if Daniel Palka could field?” Dexter Fowler (1.5) has two more years on his deal, and might be an actually productive version of Adam Jones if the Cards are willing to offset some salary.
Considering the number of underperforming outfielders who remain in the Sox system, it’s tough to gauge the organization’s long-term ambitions for right. But there’s no shortage of potential upgrades for them to sift through in the coming weeks.