As the 2015 season was nearing its end for the Chicago White Sox, most fans clung on to a promising hope waiting for them in the offseason. The top free agents in the league matched the biggest need for the team – an outfielder. Jason Heyward was the top prize; even if the price would be way too high, the possibility was still there. Even if they didn’t get Heyward, the second tier was very titillating with Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon. The consolation prize would still be a big upgrade for the White Sox and certainly they would land one of them just due to simple economics – demand was very high and the supply was available.
With Yoenis Cespedes signing with the New York Mets, all four of the top free agent outfielders have found their team for the 2016 season and the White Sox are left at the altar without a beau. The White Sox made improving their offense the main focus this offseason. They turned their defensive specialist catcher Tyler Flowers into an offensive platoon of Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro. They traded for Brett Lawrie and then followed up with a trade for Todd Frazier, pushing Lawrie to second base but improving (at least, offensively) two infield positions. All three starting outfielders had some inconsistency in 2015, some more than others, and the need for an upgrade to match the other moves seemed like a guarantee.
If the White Sox were able to look back at the 2015 outfield stats and mix and match month splits, they would have had an incredible entity. Adam Eaton, who led all White Sox positional players with a 3.6 fWAR, would have loved to take back his April. In 19 starts, Eaton hit for a measly .497 OPS, or a 42 OPS+. The rest of the season was consistently great, with a slight dip in August, but Eaton was one of the best offensive weapons on the team. His defense is around average, and the possibility of moving him out of center and into a corner may be a luxury for a complete team, but there is no need to upgrade on Eaton.
Melky Cabrera was a key acquisition and the finishing piece for what the White Sox FO believed to be a successful offseason before last year. He did not come out of the gate strong – a .620 OPS (78 OPS+) in April followed by a .518 OPS (48 OPS+) in May forced manager Ventura to move him down in the lineup, which led to him eventually righting the ship (1.024 OPS in July, 181 OPS+). Cabrera’s defense is below average and he may ultimately become a DH (he will turn 32 this season). His splits as a switch hitter are alarming, specifically against left-handed pitchers, but again, the White Sox have seen enough through his career that an upgrade isn’t imminent.
Avisail Garcia came into 2015’s Opening Day hoping to complete his first full regular season. He got off to a good start in 2014 after coming over from the Tigers late in 2013. However, a shoulder injury on April 9th cost him almost the entire season (he returned in August). Garcia’s first full season was a disappointment. It didn’t start that way; in April he hit for a .744 OPS (112 OPS+) and in May he hit for an .852 OPS (139 OPS+). (See, if the White Sox could have matched the strong hitting months from their outfielders, the team may have won a few more games). In the second half of the season, Garcia only hit for a .650 OPS (78 OPS+). His defense also left a lot to be desired and Garcia “earned” a -1.1 fWAR for the season, one of the worst everyday players in the league last season. It was his first full season in the majors, but there are several advanced statistics that show Garcia’s holes are numerous and a lot of improvement need to be made. It’s hard to give up on a player this young with a small amount of experience. However, a team who is in a win-now mode, as the White Sox have shown they are by their moves from the last two seasons, waiting for Garcia’s potential is probably not the right move.
With an upgrade in need, and plenty of options for upgrade, the White Sox seemed destined to land one of the four top outfielders. But here they are without one. There are a few more options left on the table.
Dexter Fowler has been a steady player throughout his career, having a solid season for the Chicago Cubs in 2015. Fowler would even provide the possibility of moving Eaton to a corner as he is a more highly touted center fielder. The downside is Fowler would cost a first round draft pick (currently the 28th pick) to acquire due to him having received a qualifying offer from the Cubs this offseason. The White Sox have been going through a re-focus on the draft and seem determined to keep their picks. Austin Jackson would seem like a lesser option for the White Sox, but would not cost a draft pick.
The other option would be for GM Rick Hahn to process a third trade this offseason. The Colorado Rockies have been rumored to sell one of their plethora of outfielders and there have been rumors all offseason that the Marlins have been shopping Marcell Ozuna.
The numbers seem to make it very clear that the need to make an upgrade in the outfield, or at least add to the depth, is a must. The team certainly has their own means of scouting and will make their decision based on the data they have, which may have them attempt another season of Avisail Garcia. The large upgrades have now found other teams, so the team must have not been able to match their cost with their valuation system. We as fans will have to wait and see if there’s a better valued move upcoming or if they will stand pat.