Updated Thoughts On The 2020-21 Chicago White Sox Offseason

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 30: Yasmani Grandal #24 of the Chicago White Sox is congratulated by Jose Abreu #79 after Grandal hit a two-run home run against the Oakland Athletics during the eighth inning of Game Two of the American League Wild Card Round at RingCentral Coliseum on September 30, 2020 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

As a longtime Chicago White Sox fan, I can say this offseason has been quite a roller coaster ride. The disgust over the deciding third game of the 2020 American League Wild Card series against the A’s turned into absolute euphoria at the announcement that manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper had been relieved of their duties.

That quickly turned to surprise and confusion when general manager Rick Hahn did a 180 on his “what we’re looking for in a manager” talk, telling the press he wanted to hire a manager with recent championship experience, only to turn around and pass on the guy he was describing (A.J. Hinch) to bring back a nearly 80-year old Tony La Russa.

In turn, that negativity quickly turned around with the hiring of pitching coach Ethan Katz, who turned the career of Lucas Giolito around completely and will hopefully be the breath of fresh air the White Sox pitching staff has needed for five years or more.

While I really did think Hinch was the goal, I can live with La Russa for a couple of years managing the team because I know he’s well-schooled and one of the most successful managers in the history of the game. No one will out-manage him. But I do admit I’m worried about what comes after La Russa leaves the dugout, who will replace him.

As to the roster, I was never stupid enough to believe the White Sox would drop $30 million a year on Trevor Bauer, though I did think maybe there was a chance they would loosen the purse strings for George Springer, not at $30 million annually but maybe at or around $20 million. As it turns out, the purse strings are still quite taut, as instead of spending $30 million on one player, the White Sox will spend $15 million for two, acquiring starting pitcher Lance Lynn from the Texas Rangers and signing retread Adam Eaton as a free agent, with Lynn making $8 million in 2021 and Eaton pulling down $7 million.

So far, these are not the moves of a major market team gearing up for a championship run. These are the moves of a small market team who thinks they have enough in the tank to make a one-year run at a championship before it all comes crashing down.

Rick Hahn had said on numerous occasions that the White Sox would not be taking on “rentals,” or players with one year (or less, depending on when they were acquired) of control in exchange for younger talent that they had multiple years of control over. In a trade that reeks of Kenny Williams, the White Sox traded former Top 100 prospect Dane Dunning (who is basically under control until 2027, the last year he’ll be arb eligible) for ONE YEAR of Lance Lynn. And if Lynn goes out in his first Spring Training appearance and his elbow pops? The White Sox are just plain out of luck, without much depth behind him.

Big market championship teams have depth. They can overcome a serious injury and still make a run. If the White Sox were to lose one of their starting five, it’s anyone’s guess where they’re going to get a replacement. Pull Garrett Crochet out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation to work 200 innings? To put that into perspective, in three years at the University of Tennessee, Crochet worked a total of 132 innings. Jonathan Stiever? He has worked a total of 173 minor league innings. Of course, there’s always Reynaldo Lopez.

After those three, there is literally nothing. A major injury would be a disaster. Two major injuries would cripple the franchise in 2021 and possibly beyond, especially if the injury turned out to be a Tommy John situation. These are dangerous waters.

There is also the back end of the White Sox bullpen, as they are rumored to be pursuing Oakland A’s closer Liam Hendriks (or at least the Chicago press is hoping they are) while the White Sox own closer for the past two years, Alex Colome, is also a free agent. While the smart money says they’ve GOT to bring one of those two in to close, there’s also the possibility that they hand the job to Aaron Bummer and his $3 million contract.

Again, this is what small market teams do, they make due with what they can.

The offense can be otherworldly, assuming catcher Yasmani Grandal doesn’t get injured, third baseman Yoan Moncada bounces back from COVID-19, Luis Robert makes adjustments from his poor final month of the season and Eaton shows his three year regression with the Nationals is a fluke rather than a trend (everyone already knows what I think).

Barring injury, there’s no reason this team can’t win the American League Central with the team they have. But one catastrophic injury, especially in the rotation, and their goose is cooked. I’m still hopeful of at least one more starting pitcher as well as one of the two closers mentioned earlier and maybe an extra outfielder who can split time with Eaton or Jimenez in the outfield and also spend time at DH. I think the perfect pick for that spot would be Michael Brantley, of the Houston Astros. A veteran and a winner, with a .297 career batting average, he could play a day or two a week in the outfield while Eaton or Jimenez serves as DH, and then DH himself while those two play the outfield.

This would also be good for top prospect Andrew Vaughn, who has never played above Class A and if he were handed the DH job with no safety net and failed, now you’ve got another hole in the lineup. Brantley would solve a lot of problems in one signing. You also can’t overestimate having a winning veteran in the clubhouse with a young team.

So at this point (December 18, 2020), I’m underwhelmed with the White Sox offseason so far. The bungled managerial hiring, trading seven years of Dane Dunning for one year of Lance Lynn and bringing back Adam Eaton were all poor decisions, but none of them should have lasting implications, as I doubt La Russa lasts more than two years in the dugout and Lynn and Eaton will both likely be gone in 2022, regardless of Eaton’s option.

However, a lot can be rectified by signing Brantley and either Colome or Hendriks, as well as another starter, preferably either Jose Quintana or James Paxton, who can fill in the back of the rotation, allow Dylan Cease to hold down the fifth spot as he works to regain his lost command, let Michael Kopech get himself back into game shape at AAA Charlotte after a full two years off and move Reynaldo Lopez into a swingman role as a long reliever and spot starter, a role I think he would excel in because he still has outstanding stuff.

Next year (2021) will mark 30 years I’ve been a Chicago White Sox fan, and while it’s been great to experience the 2005 World Series title and the division titles in 1993, 2000, 2005 and 2008 and the Wild Card appearance in 2020, that’s not much to show in 30 years. I’m hoping the 30 years going forward, and especially the next five or six, will exceed the previous 30, but this team needs to develop a winning attitude, not so much on the field as they do in the front office. So I’ll wait to see what happens between now and February before I make a final grade on the White Sox offseason. But there definitely needs to be some more improvement and it would still be cheaper overall than signing Trevor Bauer for $30 million.

Peace. And GO SOX!

The Jason J. Connor 2019 Winter Meetings Wrap Up: Chicago White Sox

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Overall, the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings, held in San Diego last week, will be remembered for being a lot more action-packed than previous installments. The signings of the top three free agents (Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon) were almost a watershed moment, since we had to wait until Spring Training had started last year for the top two free agents to finally sign their massive contracts.

At last year’s Winter Meetings, the Chicago White Sox made a blip-on-the-radar trade, acquiring starting pitcher Ivan Nova from the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor leaguer Yordi Rosario and $500,000 in International Bonus money. Not exactly setting the world on fire but bigger things were expected with the pursuit of Manny Machado. In the Rule 5 Draft, the White Sox selected pitcher Jordan Romano from the Toronto Blue Jays and immediately sold him to the Texas Rangers for cash considerations.

This year’s winter meetings were not much more exciting than last, and there’s no huge signing to look forward to that explains the lack of movement. The only White Sox transactions to take place were the acquisition of outfielder Nomar Mazara from the Texas Rangers for Steele Walker, the 46th overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft and considered the sixth-best prospect in the White Sox organization.

In the Rule 5 Draft, the White Sox made no moves until the minor league portion, when they selected pitcher Will Carter from the Yankees.

A lot of negativity came from the Mazara acquisition, and I can certainly see the reasoning, considering the fact that the front office made the point that they were going to really shake things up this offseason. A below-average corner outfielder isn’t exactly making anyone buy season tickets, so where do they go from here?

People are down on the team (as usual) but this time, it’s not so much the White Sox fault directly as it is the White Sox fault that they’re just not a “destination team.” It’s a fact that the White Sox offered more money to pitchers Zack Wheeler and Jordan Lyles, but both accepted less to sign with the Phillies and Rangers, respectively.

Both were interesting case studies in the White Sox not being a “destination.” Wheeler took less money because his wife wanted him closer to her New Jersey home, which made the White Sox look even more ridiculous since last off-season they figured the way to get Manny Machado was to tug at his heartstrings by bringing in his good buddy Jon Jay and his brother in law, Yonder Alonso. This year, family did matter.

Jordan Lyles, while not a huge acquisition, struck me as even more strange. He turned down less money to sign with the Rangers without giving a reason, but acknowledged the fact that his best season to date (12 wins in 28 starts with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.7 WAR) was a result of working with catcher Yasmani Grandal, now with the White Sox. But apparently working with the catcher that helped him succeed and making more money than he would have made with the White Sox was not enough to seal the deal.

I truly believe the White Sox were going into the Winter Meetings expecting to “win the offseason,” and they had the rug yanked right out from under them.

Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams love to fall back on the rebuild and use that as an excuse every time something doesn’t go their way. After the Machado deal went nowhere last year, the company line was “we were a year too early,” which I agree, made sense. However, what did I hear from Hahn after the Wheeler deal failed? “we are probably a year too early.” Yeah, that’s the kind of excuse that works exactly once.

Unlike every other team in baseball, the White Sox front office does not want to be competitive one second before they absolutely have to be. I’m not sure where this mindset came from, or if it’s just loser thought from a loser franchise, but they are already falling back on the “it’s just year four of the rebuild,” which I expected, but they are spicing it up a bit with “the rebuild slowed down in 2019 due to injuries in the minor leagues,” which means they can try to add a year or two at the end and make it a six or seven-year rebuild instead of five, simply to cover their butts for more losing seasons.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have signed Gerrit Cole to a nine-year contract and I doubt they are going to just lay down and let the White Sox walk all over them when it comes time for the Sox to finally be “competitive.” It may just get uglier.

I still see parts of this rebuild that remind me of the 20-year rebuild of the Pittsburgh Pirates, which began in 1993 and finally ended with a playoff appearance in 2013, the first of three Wild Card appearances. But, alas, it went nowhere, no World Series appearances, let alone a championship. Is that in the White Sox future? Maybe.

So, as we move from the 2019 Winter Meetings into the holiday season, little is expected to change until January rolls around. At that point, expect the remaining free agent pitchers (Ryu, Keuchel and Bumgarner) to finally find new homes and I don’t see the White Sox making a major push for any of the above. I see more of a plan of re-signing Ivan Nova and bringing in a pitcher like Shelby Miller on a minor league deal, like the White Sox did last offseason with Ervin Santana, which was a major disappointment.

The White Sox are not close to contending, regardless of what fan boys and manager Rick Renteria will tell you. The pitching staff has one verifiable starter in Lucas Giolito, followed by question marks with Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon (injury), Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez (poor production) and a few minor league options.

And the push for 2021 being the “White Sox year” when it comes to free agency, it seems the train has already left the station because 2021 is going to be one of the weakest free agent classes, especially for pitching, in the past decade or more.

Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts will absolutely be the gem of the players available, while a few will command big money deals and get them (including Astros outfielder George Springer, A’s shortstop Marcus Semien and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto potentially hitting the open market, depending on if any sign extensions before then).

The pitching that will be available is nothing to get excited over, the best likely being Robbie Ray of the Diamondbacks (an All Star in 2017) and Marcus Stroman of the Mets (a 2019 All Star despite finishing the season with a 10-13 record). Neither is the kind of pitcher you want as your #1 or #2 option on a championship team.

There is a part of me that truly believes the White Sox hope is that they can fill in their entire team with players they have drafted, minor leaguers they have acquired via trade and castoffs or “change of scenery” players and avoid having to pay a true “superstar” to play for the team. This will get to be a problem as guys like Yoan Moncada and Giolito head into salary arbitration and, eventually, free agency, unless they can pull the Chris Sale/Jose Quintana/Eloy Jimenez trick again and sign them to friendlier deals.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but look at the Astros, whose rebuild is the blueprint other teams like to follow, and even though they have a fantastic minor league system with a number of home-grown talents on their MLB roster, they still had to supplement that group with Cole, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Michael Brantley in order to reach the World Series. You have to acquire top talent to be a top team in this era.

So, a lackluster Winter Meetings performance (which is less the Sox fault than it was last year) will leave the team as a third place entity behind the Twins and Indians in 2020 and if Kopech and Cease and Lopez develop into front-line starters, a run at a Wild Card birth is possible but I’m thinking this team is going to finish 2020 at 82-80.

I’ll blog again in the event there is some kind of free agent signing or trade acquisition between now and the start of Spring Training. Thank you for reading.

And GO SOX!