The Chicago White Sox are making big-boy moves on the open market this offseason, and it’s spewing life into their division, the American League Central.
For the longest time the AL Central has been a boring, easy-to-forecast division labeled as the worst five-team cluster in Major League Baseball. It has been that way due to the division being consistently top-heavy.
There has been a dominant team at the top, a competitive one close by, and two-to-three rebuilding teams. The Minnesota Twins repeated as division champions in the late 2000s; then the Detroit Tigers were the kings of the Central; the Kansas City Royals had a two-year glory run; the Cleveland Indians recently won the division in three consecutive seasons.
Now there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
The White Sox have been busy-beavers this offseason, and not because they’ve made several minor moves rather signing big-name players to lucrative deals. General Manager Rick Hahn has signed catcher Yasmani Grandal (four-year, $73 million deal) and left-handers Gio Gonzalez (one-year, $5 million deal) and Dallas Keuchel (three-year, $55.5 million deal).
The offseason fireworks may not even be over for the White Sox, as they have interest in the versatile Nicholas Castellanos (per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi) and first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman).
The southpaws provide much-needed veteran depth to a young starting rotation.
Outside of Lucas Giolito, who had a case for being an AL Cy Young Award finalist last season, the White Sox have experienced a great deal of unreliability and inconsistency on the mound in recent memory; Dylan Covey and Dylan Cease struggled mightily last season; Reynaldo Lopez, a bright spot for the White Sox in 2018, took a step back last season, low-lighted by surrendering a career-worse 35 home runs: Ivan Nova, a free agent, never got into a groove in 2019.
Gonzalez and Keuchel are proven groundball pitchers who have a bevy of postseason experience under their belt. They make a young, inexperienced starting rotation a reliable one with upside. Meanwhile, Grandal complements a deep offense.
The White have one of the best young positional cores in the sport, and they’ve gradually improved over the last few years, especially at the plate; Tim Anderson won the batting title last season, hitting .335; Yoan Moncada had a monster, breakout season at the plate, hitting .315 and posting a .915 OPS; Eloy Jimenez blasted 31 home runs and compiled 79 RBIs; Jose Abreu is one of the best first basemen in baseball; Adam Engel is a highlight reel in center field; catcher James McCann had the most productive season of his big-league career in 2019, totaling 18 home runs and 60 RBIs.
Grandal is one of the best catchers in the sport. He has blasted 22-plus home runs in each of the last four seasons, is a power hitter, has experience hitting near the top and bottom of an order, and is a steady force behind the plate — which comes in handy with young pitchers. A two-man catching rotation of Grandal and McCann would be stellar, and perhaps one serves as manager Rick Renteria‘s designated hitter when the other is behind the plate.
Last season the White Sox finished 72-89, which is about where expectations were in spring training; they had talent around the diamond and some young arms, but they weren’t a playoff contender. This is a ballclub that can give the top of the division, the Twins and Indians, a run for its money in 2020.
The Twins won 101 games in 2019, and while them getting swept by the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series dampened their season, they have the firepower to repeat as division champions. Their offense led MLB in home runs (307) and total bases (2,832) and was second in OPS (.832) last season, their positional core remains intact, and they sport a respectable starting rotation headlined by Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi.
The Indians won 93 games last season with Corey Kluber making just seven starts, Trevor Bauer being traded before the MLB trade deadline, and their offense fluttering in the first half of the season. With Kluber traded and management fielding trade calls on their franchise player, Francisco Lindor, the Indians will continue to make headlines this offseason. But even if the Indians trade Mr. Smile, they have an outside chance at making the playoffs given their budding starting pitching and productive lineup.
Heck, the Tigers, who won 47 games last season, have made some plausible moves this offseason, signing infielders C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop to one-year deals. Concurrently, the Kansas City Royals have high-octane bats such as Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier, and Adalberto Mondesi.
Does Chicago’s offseason make them the favorite to win the AL Central or even claim the second AL Wild Card seeding next season? No, and signing Castellanos and/or Encarnacion wouldn’t alter that either, but they have the talent to be in playoff contention going into the final week of the regular season. For a team that has posted a losing record in each of the last seven seasons and missed the playoffs in each of the last 11 seasons, such a result would be considerable progress.
You have two playoff-caliber teams, an offensive-savvy young ballclub, a team at least making an effort to field a competitive roster, and a budding team on the South Side.
The White Sox are on the rise and making moves to enhance their foundation. Deadbeat no more: there’s a buzz to the AL Central.