If there was doubt that the Chicago White Sox‘s intentions were to set out a winning team in U.S. Cellular Field for the 2015 MLB season, the signing of Adam LaRoche erased that, and showed that Chicago is serious about not only making strides to make October baseball, but also make a run once they make postseason play.
LaRoche, one of the better bats that was available the market, agreed to a two-year, $25 million deal with the White Sox, solidifying the goal of postseason play. With the move, the White Sox bolstered their lineup and proved that this offseason was being taken seriously in an attempt to reach the eventual goal of October baseball.
If that goal is to be achieved, a better finish in the American League Central must be achieved. The White Sox, who finished 17 games behind the Detroit Tigers with a 73-89 record last year, have their work cut out for them, but the LaRoche signing indicates a sign of things to come.
Signing LaRoche really established the White Sox as major competitors in the market. The 35-year-old veteran bat had a strong season in 2014 as he managed to produce a strong 26 home runs to go along with 92 RBI and a career-best .362 OBP and a .259 batting average with the eventual National League East winners, the Washington Nationals.
LaRoche should be able to keep up that consistency, if not better it, now in the friendly confines of the hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field and the American League, where he’ll likely see significant time at designated hitter; a necessity at his age.
Most importantly, LaRoche will join reigning American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, with whom he will platoon, and split time with at at first base and DH, to form a fearsome middle of the order that is backed with power bats, as well as players capable of getting on base increasing the flexibility.
The White Sox got better. There are no questions to be asked, LaRoche severely helps make the middle order of the lineup look considerably better. The trade also, unquestionably, established the team as a team in the “win-now” mode.
But LaRoche is not enough, the question that should be asked is what more can Chicago do in order to become contenders in the American League Central, and eventually, October?
Develop the Bullpen:
The White Sox’s relief corps, which put up a mediocre 4.38 ERA in 2014, continues to be the achilles heel of the team, and an area requiring immediate change if talk of postseason baseball is to be brought up in Chicago.
Yes, Chicago signed Zach Duke to a three-year, $15 million deal; a player that will certainly help to restructure the lineup, but not solve every problem there. The 31-year-old left-hander had a career best year in 2014 with the Milwaukee Brewers, as he posted a 2.45 ERA in 58.2 innings.
White is looks to be that the White Sox will not be on the hunt for the big name relievers such as David Robertson and Andrew Miller. But more underrated names such as Sergio Romo, Rafael Soriano, and Francisco Rodriguez could be cheap, quality editions to a bullpen corps requiring major overhaul.
Add Depth to the Starting Rotation:
The front end of the White Sox heavily reliant rotation is established with a pair of dominant left handers in Chris Sale (2.17 ERA, 0.966 WHIP, 208 SO, 174 IP) and Jose Quintana (3.32 ERA, 1.243 WHIP, 178 SO, 200.1 IP), but the White Sox must build around the two aces if this season will look any different to last season.
A shocking statistic coming from behind Sale and Quintana is that no other regular starter posted an ERA below 4.00 over the course of last season. With a deep pool of starting pitchers, who stretch from aces to backups, the White Sox should be hot on the trail for two or three lower rotation starters to bolster what is a relatively reliant starting rotation as of right now.
Much like the situation with the bullpen, The White Sox are not likely to land the big free-agent arms such as Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, but there still remains a surplus amount of starters who can provide quality outings for a considerably lower contract.
Ervin Santana and Francisco Liriano both have an upside, though each rejected the qualifying offer and would cost a draft pick; something the White Sox might choose to use on an impact bat to pad the lineup.
Signing James Shields away from the division-rival Kansas City Royals sounds like a good idea, but then again, he likely would not come cheap after proving instrumental in getting Kansas into the postseason last season.
The ideal option for the White Sox looks to be 32-year-old right-hander Jason Hammel, who pitched part of last season with the Chicago Cubs, prior to going to the American League to pitch for the Oakland Athletics, is a solid arm behind the aces at the front end of the White Sox rotation.
Explore the Trade Market for Alexei Ramirez:
The idea of attempting to trade away an All-Star shortstop might seem like a move for a team that is rebuilding, but looking at what Alexei Ramirez might be worth on the open market, it might be wise for the White Sox to definitely explore what trade packages they might be able to receive in return, but must do so cautiously.
If the White Sox can land established starters or MLB-ready talent in prospects, filling multiple holes by moving Ramirez, it’s an idea worth considering for the long term aspirations. And if they are unable to move him for a respectable trade package, there is absolutely nothing wrong with retaining Ramirez.
Alexei Ramirez is more than capable of holding his own as he has proven for quite some time now, and he continued that consistency last season posting a .273/.305/.408 slash line to accompany 15 home runs and 73 RBI’s over the course of 622 at-bats.
He’d look good on any winning team, and with interest having already been shown by teams such as the New York Yankees, it is worth a go. Alexei Ramirez is a strong player capable of producing against some of the best pitchers in baseball, which is why the White Sox could expect a large sum in return for the shortstop.
Make a Play at Miguel Montero:
No doubt set to be one of the biggest discussions in the front office this offseason, the White Sox need to establish a clear direction in terms of the catching situation. While Tyler Flowers did post a .241/.297/.396 slash line to go along with 15 home runs and 50 RBI’s, while calling strong games from behind the plate, his hitting had a significant drop off in the second half, after a strong first half.
Enter Miguel Montero.
Montero, 31, started behind the plate in 131 games over the course of last year with some extra DH and pinch hitting duties thrown in during his time with the Arizona Diamondbacks. After a a 2013 season where he split time between the disabled list and behind the plate, and his hitting took a step back, but Montero rebounded in 2014 as he posted a slash line of .243/.329/.370. That’s not the best slash line possible, but he got on base, and he produced a OPS+ pf 95, which can be considered quite good for a catcher.
But what is the catch? Montero is tied down to a five-year, $60 million contract in which he is only in year three leaving him with two years left, prompting some financial restrictions in the long term for the White Sox, but it is definitely a move worth making to shore up the bottom part of the batting order, as well as a significant upgrade behind the plate.
Add a Big Bat in Melky Cabrera:
After Cabrera rejected a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Toronto Blue Jays, not much has been said of his situation on the market aside from teams expressing interest. One of those teams is the Chicago White Sox.
The 30-year-old switch-hitter posted a strong .301/.351/.458 slash line as well as 16 home runs and 73 RBI’s over the course of the 2014 season, certainly raising his stock this offseason. Established as one of the most potent outfielders available on the market this offseason, Cabrera would prove to be the starting left fielder in Chicago from the get-go due to the lack of depth. Currently, with Alejandro De Aza having joined Baltimore, and Dayan Viciedo starting in right field, the position is open leaving a gaping hole for the White Sox to plug.
It is worth bearing in mind that a team signing Cabrera will be required to sacrifice a draft pick as compensation due to the fact that Cabrera rejected his qualifying offer that Toronto put forward. With the White Sox currently owning a protected first-round choice, it would be a move much easier to deal with, making it a realistic signing.
In a hypothetical situation where the White Sox would have Miguel Montero, Cabrera would solidify a Chicago White Sox lineup already containing big name bats in Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu, Dayan Viciedo, Adam LaRoche, Alexei Ramirez, and Miguel Montero (hypothetically), making Cabrera the seventh big bat capable of providing consistent production. This would be a true power moving in establishing the White Sox as contenders in the American League, as well as a whole in the MLB.