Offseason Outlook: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have missed the playoffs for five consecutive years, but will continue to avoid a full-blown rebuilding effort.  This offseason will be focused on adding position players who can help in 2014 and beyond.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

With the summer trades of Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Jesse Crain, and Matt Thornton, three of whom are controllable beyond this year, did the White Sox finally signal a willingness to take a step backward in 2014 for the greater good?  The club hasn't made the playoffs since 2008, and GM Rick Hahn stocked up on young talent partially at the expense of veterans who may have provided more value in 2014.

Behind the plate, Flowers flopped this year and could be traded or non-tendered.  Josh Phegley, 26 in February, hit .316/.368/.597 at Triple-A, though it wasn't his first time at the level.  Phegley received over 200 plate appearances in the Majors and the catcher's offensive success did not carry over.  Hahn's comments last month about the catching situation, quoted here by Chuck Garfien of CSNChicago.com, suggest they'll consider making an acquisition.  At his season-ending press conference, Hahn expressed the desire to avoid short-term fixes in free agency, instead focusing on players who can contribute several years beyond 2014.  One possible fit is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a rare free agent who will play next year at age 29.  In theory, Saltalmacchia's greatest weakness, left-handed pitching, could be lessened by a right-handed hitting backup like Phegley.  In my free agent profile on Salty I predicted a four-year, $36MM deal, so the Sox could bring him in without committing a huge average annual value.  One impediment for the Sox would be potentially losing their second-round draft pick to sign him.

White Sox legend Paul Konerko seems likely to decide this month whether to retire or play in 2014.  The cleanest solution may be retirement, because no one wants to see him finish his career elsewhere, but the Sox might only be willing to provide a low-salary, part-time role.  Konerko told Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com he'd only consider such a role with the White Sox, but there's still potential for awkwardness.  For now, the Sox must keep an open mind for first base.  Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu checks all the boxes for the White Sox: long-term value, a contract that won't be monstrous by typical free agent standards, and no loss of a draft pick to sign him.  The White Sox have a history of signing Cuban players, and sent former GM/current VP Kenny Williams to Abreu's showcase in September.  In August, prior to the showcase, Williams said of Abreu to reporters, "If it’s big money, it’s big money.  Can we fit it into our equation? We’ve gone out and spent money before at given times. It has to fit into the current equation and our three-year look. But I need to see more video."

The White Sox have incumbent veterans in the middle infield with Beckham and Ramirez.  It's possible one could be traded to make way for Leury Garcia or Marcus Semien.  Ramirez continues to provide good value, but at age 32 has seen a dropoff in power.  With a potential three years of control, Ramirez's durability may appeal to teams scared off by Stephen Drew's injury history.

While the hot corner is a potential area for upgrade, Conor Gillaspie could be functional against right-handed pitching.  The Sox are stuck with Keppinger and might as well see if he can regain usefulness against southpaws to form the rest of the platoon.  Semien, Garcia, and Brent Morel could also contribute at third base if the team's middle infield remains locked in.  Still, I expect Hahn to be involved on any young third basemen that become available.

Avisail Garcia, the main piece acquired in the Peavy deal, is set as Rios' replacement in right field.  De Aza has been acceptable in center, and Viciedo finished strong and remains affordable.  De Aza could be pushed into the role of a good fourth outfielder, which would probably be necessary if the Sox intend to make a "hard push" for Chicago native Curtis Granderson, as reported by Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times in early October.  MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted a three-year, $45MM deal for Granderson, with the cost of a draft pick as well.  Paying good money and losing a draft pick for Granderson's age 33-35 seasons doesn't seem to fit with Hahn's plan.  A better match could be 30-year-old center fielder Chris Young, who was drafted by the White Sox in '01 and traded to the Diamondbacks in '05 for Javier Vazquez.  After an off year, Young is expected to have his $11MM club option declined by Oakland.  Though a one-year deal for Young wouldn't provide long-term value, risk would be limited and if he performs well he could become a trade chip.

After hitting .211/.326/.455 with 75 home runs over the last two seasons, is Dunn a trade candidate?  Thirty-four years old in November, Dunn is a tough fit for a lot of teams as a primary DH who whiffs a ton, struggles against left-handed pitching, and no longer posts a strong OBP due to the low batting average.  Still, in a market where Kendrys Morales is going to turn down a one-year, $14.1MM offer, Dunn could be moved if the White Sox pick up two-thirds of his salary.

Hahn said he will remain open-minded about trading young pitching, but will be careful about compromising the team's strength.  Sale and Danks seem locked in at the front and back of the rotation, respectively, while 24-year-old southpaw Jose Quintana put together a breakout year with a 3.51 ERA in 200 innings.  The remaining two spots should be filled by some combination of Hector Santiago, Erik Johnson, Andre Rienzo, and Dylan Axelrod.  While Chicago's 2014 rotation seems like a sleeper to be above average even without Peavy, I don't think they have the depth to trade Quintana unless they receive an offer they can't refuse.  One approach could be to stockpile depth though free agency, making trading a young pitcher slightly easier to stomach.

With Crain and Thornton out of the picture, Hahn might be compelled to do some bullpen tinkering.  Lindstrom wasn't bad to have around at $2.3MM, but the Sox have a tougher call with a $500K buyout or his $4MM option for '14.  Declining Lindstrom's option would leave Addison Reed and Nate Jones at the back end of the bullpen, with plenty of competition and question marks beyond the young pair.  Hahn may look at add multiple affordable veterans, one of them left-handed.   

"It's not in our nature to write off any season. I don't think that's appropriate in baseball today," Hahn told MLB.com's Scott Merkin in August.  You have to respect the White Sox for not fully punting on seasons in the name of stockpiling young players, as the Cubs and Mets have recently.  With the third overall draft pick next June, the White Sox will have their earliest pick since they took Harold Baines first overall in 1977, but at least they entered the 2013 season with the playoffs in mind.  Hahn intends to improve the team aggressively and quickly, which may be best accomplished by adding players in their 20s like Abreu and taking advantage of cheap seasons by Sale and Quintana.



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