Winter Report Card: Chicago White Sox
With little more than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013.
Chicago White Sox
2013 results: 63-99 (.389), 5th place in AL Central (Hot Stove Preview)
General manager Rick Hahn has been active in overhauling the White Sox since the middle of last season. In that time, he's traded rightfielder Alexis Rios, starters Jake Peavy and Hector Santiago and relievers Jesse Crain, Addison Reed and Matt Thornton.
Santiago and Reed were shipped to Arizona in separate trades this offseason and netted a prototypical leadoff hitter and plus up-the-middle defender in Eaton and an all-around third baseman in Davidson, both of whom are former top 100 prospects. Eaton, who had a .450 career on-base percentage in the minors, should be a boon for a club that ranked last in the AL with a .302 team OBP last season. A little prospect luster dissipated last year when a season that began with elbow problems limited him to 66 games and a .314 OBP, but he had a .382 OBP in 22 big league games in 2012. The White Sox had the league’s second-worst offensive production at third base last season (.635 OPS), and Davidson has the potential to improve upon that mark considerably. He hit three homers and had a .768 OPS in his 31-game major league debut.
The highest-upside -- and highest-risk -- move was the signing of Abreu from Cuba. He profiles as a power hitter to improve upon the aging Paul Konerko, who re-signed to remain in Chicago as a part-time player. The track record of recent Cuban hitters (Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes) has been good, though it remains to be seen if Abreu makes the transition as easily.
Belisario and Downs are both sinker-heavy relievers who can help make up for the loss of Reed. Belisario and holdovers Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom are candidates to become the new closer. Paulino missed last season after having Tommy John surgery but his 8.4 K/9 rate makes him an intriguing rotation candidate. Prospect Erik Johnson, who was good in his first five major league starts (3.25 ERA), is another candidate.
Unfinished business: Catcher
There are other areas of uncertainty for this club -- especially the production of infielders Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and Jeff Keppinger and its starting pitching depth -- but catcher is the most glaring need. For now, Chicago will have a spring training competition featuring Tyler Flowers, Josh Phegley, Hector Gimenez and Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto, though it’s unclear if any of them will solidly take reins of the starting job.
Preliminary Grade: A- The White Sox won 22 fewer games in 2013 than they did in '12, but Hahn’s active offseason appears to have set them up to make back a lot of those lost victories in 2014 and to be on an upward trajectory for the next few years, given the many years of control for Abreu, Davidson and Eaton.