Can Cleveland Solve Southpaws of Chicago’s Southside?
Bob Toth | On 01, Apr 2016
The Chicago White Sox have learned that winning the offseason does not always equate to winning in the season. It did not stop them from shuffling their roster around to try to fill the holes that emerged during the 2015 season.
After repairing a problematic bullpen, the team looked to be in good shape entering last season, but between defensive issues and inconsistent bats, the team just could not do enough to support a starting rotation that should have been good enough to compete. And curiously, despite several pending free agents on the roster, the White Sox stood still at the deadline and watched some movable commodities walk away for free at season’s end with nothing to show for it. Cleveland could be to thank for that, as the Indians were swept in a four-game series at Progressive Field and were outscored 26-5 as the MLB schedule entered the final week of July.
Those Indians, meanwhile, added several right-handed bats with a little bit of pop to them among their offseason additions, which could do wonders after a lefty heavy lineup in the past had to contend against the likes of a southpaw dominated starting rotation in Chi-town. One of the right-handed bats that the team had reportedly shown interest in, but ultimately did not acquire, was third baseman Todd Frazier, who found himself traded from Cincinnati to Chicago during the winter.
The two clubs will get reacquainted quickly, as the Tribe will head to the south side of Chicago next weekend on the front end of their first road trip of 2016.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Additions: C Alex Avila (Tigers), 3B Todd Frazier (Reds), OF Austin Jackson (Cubs), P Tommy Kahnle (Rockies), SP Mat Latos (Angels), IF Brett Lawrie (Athletics), IF Steve Lombardozzi (Pirates), C Dioner Navarro (Cubs), SS Jimmy Rollins (Dodgers), OF Vinny Rottino (Marlins), OF Jerry Sands (Indians), P Jacob Turner (Cubs)
Subtractions: IF Gordon Beckham (Braves), C Rob Brantly (Mariners), C Tyler Flowers (Flowers), 3B Conor Gillaspie (Giants), P Javy Guerra (Angels), 2B Micah Johnson (Dodgers), 1B Adam LaRoche (fatherhood), P Frankie Montas (Dodgers), SS Alexei Ramirez (Padres), SP Jeff Samardzija (Giants), C Geovany Soto (Angels), OF Trayce Thompson (Dodgers)
Last season: 76-86 (fourth place in AL Central)
Last season vs. CLE: 10-9 (outscored Indians 73-66)
The Sox were steadily mediocre in 2015, playing at a .500 clip or less for all but one month of last season. An eight-game winning streak, including four straight in Cleveland in late July, was the difference in their only winning month of the season, a 16-10 July.
Their best efforts in the American League Central last season came against the Tribe, who they defeated ten times in 19 opportunities. They were 9-10 against the Tigers, 7-12 against the Royals, and 6-13 against the Twins (who outscored Chicago by 51 runs in those 19 games).
Robin Ventura enters his fifth season as a manager in the Windy City after a long playing career that started near the banks of Lake Michigan. The results have yet to show for Ventura, who has posted three straight losing seasons after an 85-77 record and second place finish back in 2012. And now the pressure is that much hotter in the cooker as he enters the final year of his contract.
While the Indians presently employ a right-handed rotation, the White Sox have compiled a nearly lefty-exclusive starting pitching staff.
Sale is easily the best of the bunch. The ridiculously lanky southpaw led the staff with 13 wins in 2015 with a minuscule 1.09 WHIP. He was tops among their starters with a 11.8 strikeout per nine inning rate, sitting down a league-high 274 batters (and curiously leading baseball with 13 hit batters). He has finished in the top six of the Cy Young voting in each of the last four seasons. They also mark his four All-Star appearances of his career.
Carlos Rodon was 9-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 26 games (23 starts) last season and struck out 139 batters in 139 1/3 innings. He made a shaky debut against the Indians last April in relief, but the 23-year-old and third overall pick of the 2014 draft will be looked to contribute again at the top of the Sox rotation. Four-year-MLBer Jose Quintana will also join him as a lefty in the rotation after a third straight nine-win season in 2015. He has logged 200 innings or more in each of the last three seasons and fell just one strikeout short of matching his career high (178) last season. Soon-to-be 31-year-old lefty John Danks, in the final year of his contract, is playing out his big deal. He lost a career-high 15 games with a 4.71 ERA in 30 starts last season.
Latos gets the title as sole right-hander in the rotation, taking the position briefly held by Samardzija last season. Samardzija was 11-13 with two complete game shutouts in 32 starts, but also had the high mark on the staff with a 4.96 ERA. Latos (4-10, 4.95 ERA, 1.31 WHIP in 24 games) will look to fill his shoes, but is coming off a three-team tour in a disappointing 2015 season that began in Miami before hitting both Los Angeles clubs to close out his year.
The infield was the focal point of the offseason for the White Sox, who had utilized a revolving door approach at several positions and not getting the production that they needed.
The addition from Cincinnati of Frazier at third base solves their biggest problem, as the club used four different players extensively at the hot corner throughout last season. Tyler Saladino, who led the team in innings at the spot, will return. Beckham, Olt, and Conor Gillaspie (purchased by the Angels in July) have all moved on in the last nine months.
Frazier brings some strong power numbers to Chicago and is coming off of back-to-back All-Star seasons in the Queen City. Last season, his average dipped to .255, right around his career mark, but he delivered career highs in plate appearances, at bats, doubles (43), homers (35), and RBI (89). While his offense should help the lineup, his career .964 fielding percentage, including a career-worst .952 mark last season in his first full season used exclusively at third, will not solve the defensive issues for the club.
Trade acquisition Lawrie will take over at second base for Carlos Sanchez and the four-time Gold Glove winner and 2007 NL MVP Rollins, 37, will man shortstop. The latter will look to keep the seat warm for top prospect and former first round pick Tim Anderson, who will be working at Triple-A Charlotte to show improvements in the field and at the plate.
Jose Abreu will continue to occupy first base for the White Sox and designated hitter as needed, which has been the case in nearly a quarter of his appearances in the first two MLB seasons for the 29-year-old 2014 AL Rookie of the Year. The Cuban slugger has more homers (11) and RBI (25) against the Indians than any other team that he has faced in his two-year career, including six homers and five doubles last season with 15 RBI and a .333 batting average. On a positive note for Indians pitchers, they did strike him out 24 times and walked him just four times in 79 plate appearances in 2015.
After striking out on a couple mild outfield pursuits, Chicago added Jackson into an outfield picture that had Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, and Avisail Garcia already. They will share some playing time together and likely utilize the DH spot as well to do so.
The White Sox deleted the contacts of their three catchers used at US Cellular Field last season, as Flowers and Soto signed elsewhere in free agency and Brantly was claimed off of waivers during the spring. Avila and Navarro will take over the catching duties for the club.
While the White Sox did a lot to fix some glowing weaknesses again this offseason, they will need a lot from their short-term Band-Aid offseason acquisitions to supplement the young core. Otherwise, it could be another year spent closer to the cellar than the ceiling for the Sox.
Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu