The Chicago White Sox went 73-89 in 2014. It could be viewed as an improvement, as the team was 63-99 a year earlier. In manager Robin Ventura‘s first season as the team’s manager, 2012, the White Sox went 85-77, giving Ventura the AL Manager of the Year in his first season behind the bench. The White Sox knew they needed to get better if they wanted to compete with the likes of the Royals, Tigers and even Indians in the AL Central.
The White Sox had a very successful offseason, headlined by the trade for RHP Jeff Samardzija (7-13, 2.99, 33 starts, 202 Ks in just under 220 IP) from the Oakland Athletics. They followed that up by adding free agent 1B Adam LaRoche (.259, 26, 92), OF Melky Cabrera (.301, 16, 73) and RHP David Robertson (4-5, 3.08, 39 saves, 96 Ks in just over 64 IP). Moreover, the White Sox also made it a priority to have depth throughout the roster. This started with the signing of LHP Zach Duke (5-1, 2.45, 74 Ks in just under 59 IP) and continued with the trade for LHP Dan Jennings (0-2, 1.34, 47 games with Marlins). For the right side, they brought in RHPs Matt Albers and Jesse Crain. The White Sox then signed free-agent utility player Emilio Bonifacio (.259, 3, 24, 26 SB) and brought back infielder Gordon Beckham (.226, 9, 44). They signed C Geovany Soto (.250, 1, 11) and also brought in proven Cs George Kottaras and Rob Brantly.
The White Sox’ 2014 season is summarized with two players who stood out and one player who had his curtain call. Paul Konerko‘s great Chicago White Sox career ended last season and he deserved the respect he was given. On the field, 1B Jose Abreu (.317, 36, 107) had the offensive impact many in baseball thought he would have and what made him such a sought-after Cuban free agent. LHP Chris Sale (12-4, 2.17, 26 starts, 208 Ks in 174 IP) has continued to be as dominant a left handed starter as there is in all of MLB. Sale is currently dealing with a fractured foot which will keep him out of the mix opening day and maybe beyond. An honorable mention, which seems to be yearly, has to go to SS Alexei Ramirez (.273, 15, 75), who played in exactly 158 games for the 4th consecutive season.
After Sale and Samardzjia, the White Sox have LHPs Jose Quintana (9-11, 3.32, 32 starts) and John Danks (11-11, 4.74, 32 starts). RHP Hector Noesi (8-11, 4,39, 27 starts) was a surprise last season and leads the battle for the fifth spot with third overall pick in the 2014 draft Carlos Rodon. Brad Penny is also trying to make a comeback. If Rodon can prove he is ready this season, the rotation takes a completely different look, with Sale, Samardzjia, Quintana, Rodon and Danks (with the L-R-L-R-L).
RHP Nate Jones was set to be the White Sox closer last season, following the trade of RHP Addison Reed. Jones was one of two closers who saw their 2014 season end on their first appearance of the season. Both he and Mets RHP Bobby Parnell suffered elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery and because of that, neither are expected to impact their respective clubs in the first part of this season. What the White Sox did find is a series of RHPs who got the job done unexpectedly last season, led by Jake Petricka (1-6, 2.96, 14 saves, 67 games). The team also got a spark from RHPs Daniel Webb (6-5, 3.99, 57 games) and Zach Putnam (5-3, 1.98, 49 games). Putnam had pitched for his 4th team in the past 4 seasons. Former Dodgers RHP Javy Guerra (2-4, 2.91, 42 games) was on the comeback trail as well. Robertson, Duke and Jennings join Petricka, Guerra and two of the following: Putnam, Crain, Albers and Webb to make up a much improved White Sox bullpen.
The most intriguing thing to me is the White Sox OF, assuming everybody stays healthy. CF Adam Eaton (.300, 1, 35, 15 SB, 10 3B) is an even better defender. RF Avisail Garcia (.244, 7, 29) is ready to have a breakout season. After his September callup in 2012 for the Tigers got him his first postseason action, where he hit .455 with 5 hits and 3 RBI in the ALCS, helping the Tigers sweep the Yankees. He has not been able to stay healthy since and had his 2014 season cut short. C Tyler Flowers (.241, 15, 50) still has the upper hand, though he has more suitable MLB backups behind him, and Conor Gillaspie (.287, 7, 57) returns to play 3B. Second base belongs to, at the moment, Micah Johnson, who has never played a game at the big league level. Though he doesn’t have a lot of power, Johnson has hit almost .300 in his three professional seasons and is having a very good spring. Hope is 2013 first-round draft pick Tim Anderson (.303, 9, 40 in 84 minor league games) is ready for the big leagues this season. Bonifacio and Beckham will be in the mix as well.
The White Sox bench, in addition to Bonifacio and Beckham, will include OF Leury Garcia and 2B Carlos Sanchez, who is also in the mix with Johnson and Anderson, with J.B. Shuck (.293 for the Angels in 2013) the likely fourth OF. The majority of the top White Sox prospects, Rodon, Anderson, Johnson and Sanchez have been mentioned to this point. 2012 first-round draft pick Courtney Hawkins hit 19 HR in High-A last season but needs to cut down on his strikeouts. A couple players forgotten about were acquired in deals a couple years ago RHP Francellis Montas (5-0, 1.43, 15 minor league starts) and 3B Matt Davidson (.199, 20, 55 in AAA). Davidson has been forgotten about due the emergence of Gillaspie and Montas has emerged as the best pitching prospect of the Jake Peavy deal of 2013. Davidson needs to get his average up if he wants to get back into the discussion, but he does have 30-HR power.
I like the aggressiveness the White Sox have shown this off season. It shows they care and they have added several other options in case there is a need at multiple positions and spots in the pitching staff. Combine that with the influx of young players, and I think this team is ready to compete with anybody in the AL Central. Though I have them winning the AL Central, it is with an 85-77 record- the same record I have the Kansas City Royals finishing off with. In a 1 game playoff, I have the White Sox beating the Royals behind the left arm of Sale. So, technically, I have the White Sox finishing at 86-77, winning the AL Central by a game over the 85-78 Royals. And for those scoring at home, the White Sox O/U was set at 81 1/2.