We’re trying to stay positive. Really. Super positive. The Sox are a good team. Really good. They have very few holes in their lineup. They have rising stars in LF, CF, 3B, SS, 2B; one of the top two catchers in baseball and the reigning AL MVP at 1B. Their RF and DH are human persons who have played baseball, with decent success and not enough to be sure, respectively. They have a very solid bullpen with best closer in baseball. They have a great set of top three starters, and two-three guys behind them with potential. These are good things!!
And yet…moves get made by other teams and one can’t help but feel the White Sox missed a chance to get better.
We’re at the time of the off-season where teams are grabbing vets on minor league deals. These are risk-free deals essentially because the players are not added to the 40-man roster and generally have to figure their way on. The Sox signed one guy early on, former Phillies OF Nick Williams. As I wrote at the time, he’s a candidate to take DH at-bats if Vaughn doesn’t, or take RF at-bats in the event of injury. They also have IF Tim Beckham…because he must have pictures Rick Hahn didn’t want to come out.
But the Sox let a few others slide by this week that makes you wonder if they aren’t just being too positive about the team as it stands.
Jed Lowrie signed with the A’s. He spent 2019 and 2020 hurt, but the switch hitting 2B, when healthy, isn’t far off of what Tommy LaStella would be. If he isn’t healthy…buh bye. If he’s healthy…he’s maybe the A’s starting 2B. And they’re a contender.
Adam Duvall reinvented himself as a Brave, mashing taters at a solid clip in a part time roll. He was signed for $2 million with a team option. Cheap power that lets Andrew Vaughn marinate in AAA or best Duvall in spring and send the guy out elsewhere.
Renato Nuñez. I had suggested Renato back when we were still coming to the conclusion that maybe the money wouldn’t be spent. Sure enough, the Tigers grabbed the DH/alleged infielder on a minor league deal. Nuñez launched 43 bombs as the Orioles DH in 2019-2020. Had 2020 been a full year, that might be over 60 dingers, 31 in 2019 and 12 over 52 games in 2020. Why he’s not worth bringing in as competition for Vaughn is astounding.
Lastly, the Red Sox traded Andrew Benintendi for Franchy Cordero, a 26-year-old OF with a checkered MLB career but potential still there, and the Royals 8th best Prospect. That would translate to roughly Adam Engel and Micker Adolfo. Benintendi was really good in 2017 and 2018, decent in 2019 and hurt in 2020. To hear the Red Sox side of things, Benintendi is Nomar Mazara levels of bad. But the numbers suggest he’s a good guy to have at the bottom of a lineup and possibly better.
But positivity is the word this week, right? So there’s upside in standing pat on these guys, right? Yeah, sure. Lowrie hasn’t played in a couple years, and might need more than spring training to get back to anything useful. Duvall and Nuñez are limited as right-handed, middlin average guys with power, and that’s an easy find. That’s a bench spot that could easily be Yermin Mercedes, or Jake Burger, and veteran or not they certainly don’t profile better than what Andrew Vaughn should be. Benintendi might not return to form. He’s also probably in need of playing daily; Adam Eaton is a better option because he isn’t in such a funk and Adam Engel might be a better fit in this team right now as the fourth OF.
Staying positive on staying in-house, the biggest issues facing the Sox are whether their best hitting prospect is ready to contribute and whether they will get growth from their fourth starter and find a reasonable fifth starter. But there are candidates in-house and NRI guys to fill both beyond the expected Andrew Vaughn and Carlos Rodón.
DH candidates: Gavin Sheets is trying to play his way into Adam Eaton’s job, and while his numbers aren’t awe-inspiring as first basemen go, his career .280 average and .766 OPS over 301 games in the minors coupled with some added flexibility as he converts to an OF might make for an interesting case if he out-hits Vaughn in spring training. I mentioned Nick Williams above and made my case for him earlier, but if he gets back to 2017-2018 he’s a nice option too. Yermin Mercedes was a guy that pre-Covid shutdown people thought had made a case to be on the 2020 roster, has a career .302 average and .857 OPS in over 600 minor league games averaging 21 homers per 162 games. If he mashes in spring training maybe he gets the first crack at DH, even as a third catcher. If you ever think Zack Collins will hit, he really has this year to show it, even if that means he’s a third catcher. NRI MATT Reynolds has never done anything in the majors but has better minors numbers and maybe he shows something. For those worried about Vaughn, the competition he faces isn’t sexy or big-name, but there are guys that are legitimately gunning to wield The Staff of Cork and Kerry as the DH. See? Positive!!
What about the 4th and 5th starters? Dylan Cease is changing his motion to get more control, and trying to repeat exactly what Lucas Giolito did in his turnaround. Time will tell, but Cease has a great set of footsteps to follow and appears to want to follow them precisely. Let’s say that Reynaldo Lopez was a victim of the weird start and stop and start again to the 2020 season and never got his arm right. Let’s say that he and Ricky and Coop never quite got on the same page in 2019, but his head is more tuned to Tony LaRussa and more importantly, Ethan Katz. Let’s say we get 2018 Reynaldo…with the 3.91 ERA, 1.272 WHIP and 9.7 K/9…that’s not a far cry from 2019 Lance Lynn, he of the 3.67 ERS, 1.219 WHIP and 10.6 K/9. There’s also Jonathon Stiever, who had two bad games with the big club last year but is a legitimate prospect who has a career 10 K/9 versus a paltry 1.9 BB/9. And…Michael…something. Co-Pet? Korpit? Coatitch? Whatever the guy’s name is he hasn’t pitched in a bit after TJ, but when it counts, down the stretch, he could be ready to roll and be rolling like the presumed ace he was before he was hurt. In the early going they may not even need a 5th starter all the time, but when they do, there are legit options! Positivity!!
NRI’s on which to keep an eye
The White Sox have 21 Non-Roster Invitees and very few of them are of any consequence, but here are the ones that you might hear tell of by the start of the season.
Jonathan Lucroy, as we discussed on the podcast, is a former all-star catcher who is perpetually traded at the deadline. That at least means that his skills are perpetually valued by contenders, always a good sign. He won’t be used as much as James McCann (at least you’d figure) and will be hitting primarily in favorable matchups. The question will be less about his bat and more about whether he’s better behind the plate than Collins, Mercedes or Seby Zavala. Lucroy is reportedly a fan of the coaching staff and his buy-in and experience probably makes him the opening day backup catcher. Watch whether he gets matched up with Giolito and/or Lance Lynn, who threw regularly to backups James McCann and Jeff Mathis.
Connor Sadzeck (pictured above) is a reliever that has a career 2.18 ERA in 33 games (33 innings) for the Rangers and Mariners. His 34 career strikeouts make him intriguing, his 26 career walks make him a project for Ethan Katz. If he finds command in the spring, he could sneak into the pen as a middle reliever.
Bennett Sousa sounds made up but he’s a lefty reliever with 63 games in the minors and a 2.06 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP built on a 10.25 K/9 over 1.8 BB/9 stat line. Another guy who could sneak in, especially if he gets righties out.
Tim Beckham is an infielder who you will be told was the #1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, eight picks ahead of the unrelated Gordon “The Savior” Beckham, who himself was 31 picks ahead of Lance Lynn, who was eight picks after the clearly fictional Tulane pitcher Shooter Hunt (really). You’ll also be told that Beckham (Tim) has never lived up to the lofty status of a #1 overall guy, even though he was pinched for PEDs and served an 80-game timeout. And he’s Danny Mendick’s problem now.
Emilio Vargas won’t make the team in all likelihood, but during one of his starts if it is broadcast, you’ll hear that he cleared waivers and came back to the Sox after being let go to make room for Carlos Rodon. What they won’t mention is that this Sox prospect was therefore unwanted by every team in baseball. Shoot, that was kind of negative.
Andrew Vaughn…evidently the guy can hit a baseball with repeated success. Feels like he could be a good story to watch. The fact that there are only his fellow prospects, Nick Williams and Matt Reynolds as competition makes me think we already know the ending. But since when is having your best prospect make the team a bad thing??
PECOTA can suck an egg: Future Positivity
The PECOTA projections came out and have the Sox third in the AL Central, finishing around .500. I declare shenanigans on that and you, the person, artificial intelligence or undefinable creature reading this can look forward to this here Blog breaking down the position-by-position matchup between the White Sox and other contenders, starting with the Cleveland Baseball Assemblage on the next entry. I’m positive this will go well and my analysis, whilst lacking the science and mathematics of others, will definitively prove the Sox are even with or ahead of their peers. Positivity!!!!