The Cleveland Indians will get their first look of many at the Chicago White Sox as their American League Central Division foe comes to Progressive Field to open the 2017 home slate for the Tribe.
It was a busy and somewhat curious offseason for the Sox, who seemed to have the Benjamin Button complex and got younger and younger with each passing day. After finishing fourth in the Central with a 78-84 record in 2016, general manager Rick Hahn opted to deal off some of the older producers on the roster to begin collecting some younger talent, almost appearing to concede their fight for the division before the season began while looking ahead to 2018 and beyond.
The White Sox did not have a significant list of pending free agents following the completion of last season. Reliever Matt Albers, catcher Alex Avila, first baseman Justin Morneau, and outfielders Austin Jackson and J.B. Shuck were the biggest names in the lot, but none had made contributions that were going to be missed in the coming year.
But as the Winter Meetings played out from National Harbor, Maryland, the trade rumors swirled and the Windy City was afflicted with a pair of big trades. The biggest shocker was the team’s decision to send left-hander and perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for four prospects, including top Red Sox prospect Yoan Moncada.
The Pale Hose were not done shopping, however, as the next day they finalized a trade that would send multi-tooled outfielder Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals for a top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito, young right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, and 2016 first round draft pick Dane Dunning.
The team made a handful of minor moves in the offseason that have affected the roster to start the season. Outfielder Cody Asche made the club after signing a minor league deal, as did catcher Geovany Soto, who returns for a second season with the White Sox and an eleventh in the city of Chicago overall. Reliever Anthony Swarzak, a former member of the Indians, also made the club after signing a minor league deal in the offseason. Outfielder Peter Bourjos did not make the team as he was traded in the final days of spring training to the Tampa Bay Rays for future considerations.
Manager Rick Renteria’s club was subjected to further trade rumors throughout the offseason and there is plenty of speculation that the team will be active and selling off more commodities at the trade deadline in July.
Jose Quintana leads the pitching staff as the new number one starter with Sale gone. He was an All-Star for the first time in his career last season and set several new personal bests, including wins (13), ERA (3.20), strikeouts (181), WHIP (1.16), and innings pitched (208). It marked the fourth straight season for the left-hander with at least 32 starts made and 200 innings logged.
The veteran James Shields has begun his first full season in a White Sox uniform after being acquired early last season from the San Diego Padres. Free agent addition Derek Holland and veteran right-hander Miguel Gonzalez make up the back end of the staff, with right-hander Dylan Covey holding down a spot in the rotation with young left-hander Carlos Rodon on the 10-day disabled list with left biceps bursitis.
The back end of the Sox bullpen returns and should continue to be strong. David Robertson is the closer, but was one of many players thought to be movable this season. Nate Jones will work in a late inning role. Left-hander Dan Jennings is joined by right-handers Zach Putnam, Michael Ynoa, Tommy Kahnle, and Swarzak.
The infield returns largely the same for Chicago with big sluggers Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu handling the duties on the corners. The 31-year-old third baseman Frazier hit just .225 last year, but set new career highs with 40 homers and 98 RBI in his first season in Chicago after spending his first five MLB seasons in Cincinnati. Abreu was second on the club in hitting with a .293 average. He had 32 doubles and 25 homers while supplying his third straight 100-RBI season in just his third big league season.
The 23-year-old Tim Anderson will look to build off of a good debut season last year while working as the club’s every day shortstop. He was the team’s first round pick in 2013. The mustachioed Tyler Saladino put together a good season at second for the Sox last year and will team with Anderson up the middle. Matt Davidson and Yolmer “Carlos” Sanchez will provide extra infield relief.
Melky Cabrera remains the team’s left fielder after leading the club in hitting last season. Avisail Garcia will see action in right field. Switch-hitting rookie Jacob May, the 25-year-old grandson of long-time Major Leaguer Lee May, made his big league debut last week, but has yet to notch his first hit while logging innings in center field. Asche, a third baseman and left fielder by trade, has been working at designated hitter.
Leury Garcia will work in a utility role for the club and is able to play multiple infield and outfield spots.
It could be a tough season at Guaranteed Rate Field for Renteria in the dugout in his first season as manager of the White Sox after serving on Robin Ventura’s staff last season as the bench coach. He brings nine years of coaching experience with him, including eight in the minors and one with the Chicago Cubs in 2014, but he is tasked with guiding a club on the dangerous brink of a midseason fire sale. If the team does not find itself within striking distance by the time the weather warms, guys like Cabrera and Frazier, who are in the final years of their contracts, or controlled arms, like Quintana and Robertson, could find themselves on the moves to various pennant races around the league for younger, more cost controlled options.
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