Are the White Sox the AL Central Favorites?

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Well, it’s safe to say that White Sox general manager Rick Hahn wasn’t kidding when he said that he planned on helping the organization field a competitive team in 2015. While everyone was talking about their crosstown neighbors, the Cubs, the White Sox have put themselves into contention for the Central Crown. That statement is only reinforced if Max Scherzer leaves the Tigers and James Shields leaves the Royals.

Coming into this offseason the White Sox had a few needs. First was the bullpen, whose 4.28 ERA was 28th in the league last year, better only than the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros, and the bullpen’s 36 saves last year was better than a mere 5 other teams. Hahn definitely fixed that problem. Lefty Zach Duke signed a 3-year 45 million dollar contract in November. Duke was 5-1 with a 2.45 ERA last year in 58.2 innings, and I’m fairly sure that Don Cooper can make Duke even better.

Next is the big one, David Robertson, former Yankees closer, who signed a 4-year, 46 million dollar contract Monday night. Robertson is a proven closer, mentored by Mariano Rivera for years, he had a 3.08 ERA last year to go with 39 saves and 13.4 Ks per nine innings. These two signing can push the youngsters like Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka into more comfortable set-up roles rather than high-pressure closing or 8th inning situations that veterans like Duke and Robertson are better made for. Manager Robin Ventura won’t have to worry anymore about protecting a one-run lead late in the game, because unlike the 2014 season, he and his team will now have a couple of guys who they know they can count on to secure a W for them.

The next problem for the White Sox was the lefty logjam in their rotation, as well as the pitching in general behind ace Chris Sale and solid 2nd Jose Quintana. The Sox drafted Carlos Rodon, another lefty, #3 overall in the amateur draft, and he could be on the major league roster as soon as Opening Day, even so, Hahn had to go and get a righty to slot somewhere in the rotation, preferably between Sale and Quintana. So Hahn went out and acquired former crosstown foe Jeff Samardzija, who could unquestionably be a #1 starter on almost any other team. The White Sox gave up RHP Chris Bassitt, infielder Marcus Semien, C Josh Phegley, and 1B Rangel Ravelo. The news that the Sox did not have to part with neither Alexei Ramirez nor exciting prospect Tim Anderson should make many fans happy as Samardzija is a potential one-year rental, and keeping Alexei keeps the offense pretty strong, as well as doesn’t leave a hole at SS. This makes the rotation stronger by leaps and bounds, and if Hector Noesi can keep the form he had over his last handful of starts, and John Danks can remain a serviceable option, this really is a strong rotation on the South side of Chicago.

The next item that Hahn had to address, although to a lesser degree, was an offense otutside of Jose Abreu, an impact bat to slot in at DH and occasionally at 1B. This was an area of need because the last few years of Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko had been disappointing at the least. So Hahn went and snatched Adam LaRoche right out of the Marlins hands on a 2 year deal. LaRoche is a good source of power, has a good glove, and can hit for relatively decent average. Abreu can be mentored a little more on the defensive end by LaRoche, and can progress even more as a star. The return from a torn labrum and mere 46 games played in 2014 of young outfielder Avisail Garcia will be a plus as well, and Adam Eaton will only get better, and hopefully is over his hamstring issues.

In an AL central that has seen the Tigers suddenly drop back to earth, the Royals ascend to relevance, as well as the Indians build themselves slowly into a solid team, the White Sox are now keeping pace with everyone else, and the playing field is pretty level, it would be hard to choose one above the rest. Although like previously mentioned, if the Royals lose Shields and the Tigers lose Scherzer, the Sox seem slightly above the others. However as it stands right now, Hahn could still stand to go and grab an upgrade at left field over Dayan Viciedo, and while Tyler Flowers is serviceable and has a good amount of power, he could stand to improve upon his average (has never batted above .250). Hahn could look into alternatives like Geovany Soto or Dioneer Navarro. All in all, the White Sox look like the team to beat in AL Central, and that division promises to be one of the top divisions to watch in 2015.

As always thanks for reading and keep checking back here at Baseball Essential  for updates and breaking news on all things this off season.

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