MLBTR will provide a broader view of each club’s winter plans when our annual Offseason Outlook series kicks off at the end of the regular season. Until then, the White Sox are the latest team to be featured in our quick look at this season’s non-contenders. We’ve already covered the Marlins, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers, Reds, and Phillies, and now let’s jump to the American League to look at the White Sox. A high-profile 2014-15 offseason had Chicago looking to vault back into contention, but instead they head into the final week battling to avoid the AL Central basement. Here are a few areas that the Sox will surely address in the coming months…
1. Improve the defense. Heading into today’s action, the White Sox ranked last among all teams in UZR/150 (-7.0) and third-last in Defensive Runs Saved (-40). Among Chicago players who played at least 900 innings in the field, second baseman Carlos Sanchez was the only one to post a positive UZR/150 or DRS total. Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton at least hit well enough to overshadow their poor glove work, while Alexei Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, Avisail Garcia and Adam LaRoche all posted below-average hitting totals along with shaky defense. The Sox can upgrade the defense at shortstop by declining their $10MM club option on Ramirez for 2016 (possibly replacing him with Tyler Saladino as a bridge to top prospect Tim Anderson, as CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes has suggested) and in right by moving Garcia to a part-time role. Sanchez and Saladino haven’t shown much at the plate as big leaguers, though if they keep up their strong defense, the White Sox may be willing to live with a couple of weak lineup spots. That said, if the team goes defense-first at a couple of positions, then they really need to focus on the other seven lineup spots in order to…
2. Improve the offense. As noted, Chicago simply had too many players who weren’t contributing either offensively or defensively in 2015. Aside from first base (Abreu) and center field (Eaton), you could argue that the White Sox could look for an upgrade at every other position on the field. Chicago is still hopeful that prospect Micah Johnson can blossom at second base in the wake of a fairly lackluster rookie year, plus Saladino and Sanchez could yet perhaps form a defense-first platoon at short if Ramirez isn’t brought back.
Cabrera and LaRoche are owed a combined $25MM in 2016, making them virtually unmovable for trade purposes, so the Sox might consider some kind of timeshare between the two and Abreu, where Abreu plays every day at either first or DH and LaRoche/Cabrera is in the other spot. Garcia probably won’t generate a big arbitration number in his first year of eligibility and he’s young enough to be kept, though an everyday spot has to be out of the question. These moves would open up both corner outfield spots for either a new addition or rookie Trayce Thompson, who has been very impressive since debuting in August.
This leaves third base and catcher as possible areas that could be augmented by the addition of a proven regular. The White Sox will likely try to bring back Geovany Soto to pair with Tyler Flowers, though Chicago could also decide to make a bigger splash with a larger-name backstop.
3. Decide on how much to spend this winter. While not many of GM Rick Hahn’s offseason moves paid off, the White Sox aren’t in bad financial shape. The club has roughly $88MM committed to nine players for 2016, and Flowers (who earned a modest $2.675MM in 2015) is probably the most notable of a handful of arb-eligible players. Hahn could therefore have maybe $20-$25MM to work with if owner Jerry Reindorf is willing to match this year’s payroll figure. This might not be a slam-dunk of an if, however — I could see Reinsdorf authorizing one major free agent signing but don’t expect a repeat of last winter’s acquisition spree given this season’s disappointing results. Slowing down to a full rebuild isn’t likely given that the club doesn’t want to waste another season of Abreu or Chris Sale in their prime, though Hahn may have to get a bit creative in making additions or perhaps in swapping a bad contract or another.
Looking at the list of this winter’s free agents, there aren’t any third basemen on the open market who would merit a huge contract and no catchers either, save perhaps Matt Wieters (who is no sure thing given his injury history and underwhelming 2015 numbers). This is just my speculation, but Ben Zobrist strikes me as a good free agent target for a White Sox team that is lacking at so many positions. Zobrist’s versatility could allow the Sox to use him every day around the diamond, and give them some flexibility in addressing other spots. If Chicago was to make just one “big signing,” a player like Zobrist would be a good fit.