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Rival Preview: Having a seller’s mentality this off-season may be a sign of things to come for the White Sox

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Photo credit:© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
1 month ago
It’s been an abrupt fall from the top of the American League Central for the Chicago White Sox. “The Southside”, as the team is also referred to, looked to be building a special team during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, but a multitude of issues (team culture, injuries, underperformance) have thrown a wet blanket on any chances of a dynasty.

2023 Recap

Chicago finished in fourth place in the AL Central last season with a 61-101 record. They won their first game of the season, and it would turn out to be the only time that they had a winning record. They would go on to post a 7-20 record in April, and from there, they never really stood a chance.
Offence: On paper, Chicago’s batting order didn’t look all that bad. But the game isn’t played on paper, and the White Sox failed to get above-average play from a lot of their key positions. They ranked in the bottom third in home runs and batting average, and they trailed only Oakland in RBIs and OPS. Although he didn’t have a great year with his new team, the White Sox definitely missed the presence of Jose Abreu in their lineup.
Amidst underperformance, the franchise witnessed a breakout season from CF Luis Robert Jr.. After playing only 98 games in 2022, Robert stayed healthy for the vast majority of 2023, playing in 145 games and all but two of them playing centre field. Robert slashed .264/.315/.542 with an .857 OPS, 38 home runs, 80 RBIs, and 36 doubles, with the latter three numbers being career-highs. Robert’s strikeout rate shot up to 28.9% (nine percentage points higher than ’22), but he’ll get cut some slack given how impactful he was at the plate.
3B Jake Burger gave the offensive a shot in the arm in the power department with the best season of his career, hitting 25 home runs with an .806 OPS despite batting only .214 at the plate. He was dealt to the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline and hit nine more home runs there.
Behind those two, the White Sox had a few “good” seasons from a slew of former top prospects in 1B Andrew Vaughn, DH Eloy Jimenez, and 3B Yoan Moncada. Vaughn, the third overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, set a career-high in hits (146), home runs (21), and RBIs (80) in just his third season at the big league level. While some of his numbers have shown improvement year-to-year, the White Sox are still waiting for the breakout season that shows glimpses of what Vaughn was able to accomplish in college.
Jimenez, who has struggled to stay on the field for a full 162 in his career, played 120 games last season, only two shy of his personal best. He hit 18 home runs with 64 RBIs and 23 doubles, but like Vaughn, the team knows there is more potential for Jimenez to reach with his power tool.
Since posting a .915 OPS in 2019, Moncada has failed to reach an OPS of .800 in a season. One of the bigger pieces of the Chris Sale-Red Sox trade suffered from hamstring injuries in 2022 and back injuries last season, but he was still able to put together a so-so .260/.305/.425 slash line with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs in 2023. Moncada is set to be a free agent next season, so his ability to stay healthy this season will be critical for his pending pay day.
In the first year of a five-year, $75 million deal, LF Andrew Benintendi slashed .262/.326/.356 with a .682 OPS, 5 home runs, 45 RBIs, and 34 doubles. While those aren’t terrible numbers, getting a 0.2 WAR from one of their highest-paid players won’t cut it for a team already on an uphill battle to compete in their division.
The White Sox were further hampered by the poor seasons of SS Tim Anderson and rookie RF Oscar Colas. After becoming an All-Star level leadoff hitter and batting average extraordinaire, Anderson took a couple of steps back during his 2023 campaign. Anderson slashed .245/.286/.296 last season with one home run and 25 RBIs with all but one of those statistics being career-lows. It was a tough way to enter free agency, but Anderson reached a deal with the Marlins in February.
Colas, on the other hand, was Chicago’s 2nd-ranked prospect entering the 2023 season, but he accumulated a .216/.257/.314 slash line with a .571 OPS, 5 home runs, and 19 RBIs through 75 games. Colas responded with a 2024 spring camp that gave him high marks from the White Sox front office and coaching staff, but he will start this season in Triple-A.
Pitching: Chicago’s pitching staff boasted a lot of strikeouts, but their group as a whole ranked 26th in the MLB in ERA and 24th in WHIP.
After finishing second in the AL Cy Young race in 2022, righty Dylan Cease regressed to posting a 4.58 ERA across 33 starts with a 1.42 WHIP and a 10.9 K/9. A lot of Cease’s underlying metrics worsened in 2023 as well; his chase rate, walk rate, and hard-hit percentage all took a dip to the “blue” on his Baseball Savant page. He had four months with an ERA north of four, but he ended the season on a high note with a 2.83 ERA in five September/October starts. Cease continued to provide durability, leading the American League in starts last season, bringing his running total to 97 over the past three seasons.
Mike Clevinger was solid across 24 starts last season, owning a 3.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and a 7.4 K/9. Clevinger was actually placed on waivers in August of last season after not garnering enough interest at the trade deadline. Whether it was a lack of interest in taking on Clevinger’s contract or his domestic violence and child abuse allegations from before the season, no team elected to snag him, and he was re-assigned to the White Sox after clearing waivers.
The White Sox were successful in trading a pair of other starters at the trade deadline, however, as they found Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn new homes for contending teams. Giolito upheld a 3.79 through 21 starts with the White Sox last year before being traded, and it would seem that he missed Chicago greatly as he posted a 6.96 ERA through his final 12 starts of the season with the Guardians and Angels. Almost the exact opposite happened to Lynn, who went from owning a 6.47 ERA in 21 starts in Chicago to going 7-2 with a 4.36 ERA in 11 starts with the Dodgers. Losing Giolito and Lynn at the deadline forced the promotion of Jesse Scholtens and Touki Toussaint to the pitching rotation down the stretch, both of which posted ERAs north of 4.90.
Nobody in Chicago’s bullpen reached 10 saves last season, and the group as a whole had a 4.88 ERA. The White Sox traded from this bunch as well, dealing Reynaldo Lopez and Kendall Graveman to the Angels and Astros, respectively.
Their bullpen did feature the breakouts of Gregory Santos and Keynan Middleton, two players who were both in their first seasons with the White Sox. Middleton was also traded at the trade deadline, but not before posting some of the best numbers of his career. With Chicago, Middleton appeared in 39 games and posted a 3.96 ERA with an 11.6 K/9. Middleton noticeably used his changeup significantly more than in previous seasons; he had successful results with the pitch before, and they carried over into last season when it was used more often.
Santos appeared in 60 games and pitched to the tune of a 3.96 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 9.0 K/9. Santos brought it velocity-wise, ranking in the 98th percentile in fastball velocity (98.8 mph). He also ranked in the 100th percentile in barrel percentage, something that contributed to a 0.3 HR/9. It was an extremely encouraging season for a guy with only five outings before 2023.

Off-season Moves

Chicago’s first big move was trading lefty reliever Aaron Bummer to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for SP Michael Soroka, SP Jared Shuster, SS Nicky Lopez, SS Braden Shewmake, SP Riley Gowens. Bummer was a homegrown arm that had spent the last seven years with the White Sox. He’s coming off an “outlier” year in which he posted a 6.79 ERA (highest of his career) and a 5.6 BB/9 (highest since his rookie year). However, he did post his fourth consecutive season with a double-digit K/9.
A five-player return for any reliever is quite the haul, especially considering Bummer will be a free agent after this upcoming season. It’s been a tough road for Soroka since his outstanding rookie season in 2019 when he placed second in Rookie of the Year and sixth in Cy Young voting. He missed the entire 2021 and 2022 seasons due to two Achilles injuries/operations and has only pitched in 10 outings between 2020 and 2023. Last season, he bounced up and down between the majors and AAA, but he pitched in seven games (six starts) and posted a 6.40 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP before missing the final month of the season due to shoulder inflammation. Still only 26 years old, Soroka has looked solid thus far in Spring Training. Here’s to a healthy 2024 for the Calgary native.
Shuster made 11 starts with the Braves last season as a rookie, going 4-3 with a 5.81 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, and 4.4 BB/9. His ability to limit walks has been a concern since he was a prospect in Atlanta’s system, a place in which he hovered around the top 10 a couple of years prior to making his debut, but he should have a spot in the rotation right away, and the White Sox have a young pitcher to develop.
Lopez spent four and a half years with the Royals before finishing last season with the Braves. A .231/.326/.307 slash line won’t move the needle offensively, but Lopez’ value is with his speed and defensive flexibility.
Shewmake was a Top 7 prospect between 2020 and 2022, and he has a legitimate shot to see a lot of playing time this season at multiple defensive positions. He hit 16 home runs and 69 RBIs last season at AAA, but he will unfortunately start this season on the injured list with an ankle injury. It seems he may only be out 2-4 weeks, so expect him to be back on the MLB roster by summer. Gowens was drafted last summer by the Braves in the ninth round and was very good in the five outings he had between Single-A and the Florida Complex League (1.15 ERA, 12.6 K/9).
The White Sox filled the gap at shortstop by signing free agent Paul DeJong. DeJong played for three different teams last season, slashing .207/.258/.355 with a .612 OPS, 14 home runs, and 38 RBIs. His contract is only for one year and $1.75 million.
The White Sox continued to fill their rotation spots with veteran pitchers Erick Fedde and Chris Flexen. Fedde spent six seasons with the Washington Nationals before pitching in Korea last season for the KC Dinos. He found immediate success in that one year, going 20-6 with a 2.00 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a 10.4 K/9, all career-bests in professional baseball for him. Fedde credited the addition of the sweeper to his pitch mix for his improved numbers, and it earned him the pitching triple crown and the KBO equivalent of the Cy Young award. His deal with the White Sox is for two years and $15 million.
After posting back-to-back seasons with sub-4.00 ERAs, Flexen took a couple of steps back in 2023. He pitched to the tune of a 6.86 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, and a 6.5 K/9 in 29 outings (16 starts) between the Mariners and the Rockies. He can be used in a couple of different roles, but the White Sox appear set on using him as a starter. He has a deep pitching repertoire, but his changeup and curveball proved to be the most effective, generating 39.7% and 35.7 whiff rates, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, opponents hit .383 off of his low-90s fastball, which he threw 41% of the time.
Tim Hill and John Brebbia became the newest additions to Chicago’s bullpen this offseason. Hill was non-tendered by the Padres after a rough 2023 season, posting a 5.48 ERA across 48 outings. The biggest concern with Hill is that his strikeout rate has plummeted since the 2020 campaign; what was once 25.3% has now been cut in half to 12.9%. He was also very poor against righties last year, and although he was better against lefties, he wasn’t as effective as teams would like their lefty relievers to be against southpaws. Hill is still not that far removed from some solid seasons out of the ‘pen, so he could definitely become a trade target if he finds success early on in Chicago.
Brebbia spent the last three years with the San Francisco Giants, most recently owning a 3.99 ERA and an 11.0 K/9 in 40 games last season. He missed a good chunk of the season with a right lat strain, and it was a shame as the injury occurred right when he was pitching his best baseball of the year. Used as a reliever/opener, Brebbia had 17 consecutive outings between April 29th and June 16th allowing one or zero runs prior to getting hurt.
After moving off the tandem of Yasmani Grandal and Seby Zavala, the White Sox signed veteran backstop Martin Maldonado to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Maldonado is now in his 14th major league season and will be playing for his sixth different team. He hasn’t always offered much with the bat, and that was again the cast last season as he slashed .191/.258/.348 with a .606 OPS, 15 home runs, and 36 RBIs. He could very well be being used as a bridge catcher until Chicago’s top catching prospect, Edgar Quero, is MLB-ready.
In early February, the White Sox traded RP Gregory Santos to the Mariners in exchange for RP Prelander Berroa, OF Zach DeLoach and a 2024 draft pick. I touched on how good Santos was earlier in this article, and he joins a Mariners bullpen that already has some legitimate velocity at the back end of their bullpen. According to MLB.com, Berroa has “a similar profile to Santos”, and it definitely checks out with Berroa’s strikeout numbers. He had a 13.9 K/9 in Double-A last season and struck out three batters in his 1.2 innings of work at the major league level, but his walk rate has consistently been marked as an issue. He works exclusively with a fastball and slider after scraping a changeup that he once had while being used as a starter. While he may start out in Triple-A, Berroa will definitely see major league time this season and could emerge as a late-inning pitcher for the White Sox.
DeLoach had a very encouraging 2023 at Triple-A last season, slashing .286/.387/.481 with an .868 OPS, 23 home runs, 88 RBIs, and 30 doubles. It was undoubtedly his best season in the minor leagues, and he earned a spot of Chicago’s 40-man roster after the trade. He’s gotten off to a slow start in Spring Training, and between what is already at the major league level and the minor league deals that other veterans have gotten, DeLoach will have to fight his way to earn playing time in the outfield.
Speaking of outfield depth, the White Sox also acquired CF Dominic Fletcher from the Diamondbacks in exchange for RP Christian Mena. Fletcher made his MLB debut last season in Arizona, but he was optioned back and forth several times. In the 28 games he did play, he slashed .301/.350/.441 with a .791 OPS, two homers, 14 RBIs, and five doubles. He has still not surpassed rookie status yet, and is the 16th-ranked prospect in Chicago’s system. At 26 years of age, Fletcher has high marks for his defence and ability to cover ground in all three outfield spots.
Finally, and most recently and most significantly, the White Sox traded SP Dylan Cease to the Padres in exchange for RP Drew Thorpe, RP Jairo Iriarte, OF Samuel Zavala, RP Steven Wilson. Thorpe, Iriarte, and Zavala are all now featured within the top 10 of Chicago’s prospects, while Wilson will have a spot in the White Sox’ bullpen this season.
In High-A and Double-A last season, Thorpe posted a 2.52 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, and an 11.8 K/9. Thorpe, who had just been traded from the Yankees to the Padres in the Juan Soto trade back in December, has a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, and a changeup that is his best pitch. Iriarte also pitched between High-A and Double-A last season, owning a 3.49 ERA and 12.8 K/9 through 21 starts. His fastball velocity is higher than Thorpe’s, but this came with a higher walk rate. He was moved to the bullpen at the end of last season as there was a chance he would be called up, but now he has a chance to be a starter with the White Sox.
Zavala is still a couple of years away from seeing the major leagues. Last season, he slashed .243/.391/.406 with a .797 OPS, 14 home runs, and 77 RBIs between Single-A and High-A. The 101 games he played at Single-A displayed his excellent plate discipline, and his arm strength in the outfield has been highlighted as his best asset defensively by MLB.com.
Minor League Deals: OF Wynton Bernard, SP Chad Kuhl, RP Jake Woodford, OF Brett Phillips, OF Rafael Ortega, OF Kevin Pillar, RP Dominic Leone, 3B Mike Moustakas, SP/RP Jesse Chavez, RP Bryan Shaw, RP Corey Knebel

My take on Chicago’s 2024 outlook

Last season, it seemed as if the White Sox were still hanging onto the hope that their core of former top prospects could rekindle what got them to the playoffs in 2021. Unfortunately, the Twins have already passed them up, Cleveland will probably find a way to be better than them, and the Royals and Tigers are trending upwards, so the White Sox might be finding themselves in the basement this year.
With that being said, there could be many opportunities to trade away some of their current major league pieces. Yoan Moncada, for example, will be a free agent after this season, so if he’s able to put together stretches of good baseball, the White Sox may be able to get a decent return for him. They definitely deserve some credit for collecting some talented prospects this offseason in the Cease, Santos, and Bummer deals, and I’d expect that trend to continue.
Unfortunately, they have already lost Jesse Scholtens for the 2024 season as the potential starter will have to undergo Tommy John surgery. Former starter Michael Kopech has already been relegated to the bullpen, so top prospects Nick Nastrini or Jairo Iriarte may be in a position to claim the final spot in the rotation. Another name to keep an eye on to fill any rotation voids is Deivi Garcia, a former Yankees top prospect.
Between Moncada, Andrew Vaughn, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert Jr., the White Sox have so much potential at the plate and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them all form a feared batting order, but it’s gotten to the point now where I’ll believe it when I see it.
The biggest thing to keep an eye on this season is the team’s culture, something that was called out by reliever Keynan Middleton following his trade to the New York Yankees. Middleton highlighted that there was a lack of rules being held over the team, a statement that was followed up by given examples of players missing meetings and rookies sleeping in the bullpen. Per Middleton, these actions were followed up with zero consequences.
Manager Pedro Grifol will be entering his second year as manager of the White Sox this season, and it appears that the team may be looking to rebuild sooner rather than later. With that being said, this would be an optimal time to establish the standards that he expects to be upheld by members of the Chicago White Sox.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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