Where will the 2019 season take the Chicago White Sox? Will they find themselves farther ahead in their youth movement and rebuilding process? Or will they find that they still have a couple more years before they can contend with the likes of the Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins?
The White Sox’s offseason could be considered a disappointment, as despite being rumored landing spots for the top two players on the free agent market this winter (Bryce Harper and Manny Machado), the southside club missed out on the pair and instead reallocated some funds to top prospect Eloy Jimenez, who has yet to make his Major League debut but will get the security of a sizeable financial commitment by his organization.
For manager Rick Renteria, this will be his third season of the rebuild. After the team went 67-95 in his first year at the helm in 2017, the team dropped five games further off of the pace in 2018, finishing the year with 100 losses for the first time since 1970 while extending their playoff drought to a full ten years (dating back to their first round knockout against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008). It marked just the fourth time in 118 years of White Sox baseball that the team hit the century mark in defeats.
If the influx of young talent develops as hoped, they could pose a threat in the division in the near future. This year may be too much to ask, however, as while the team has improved its lineup, its bullpen, and its rotation, there is still plenty of room for growth and further development.
KEY ADDITIONS (free agent signings unless indicated): 1B Yonder Alonso (trade with Cleveland), RP Alex Colome (trade with Seattle), SS Alcides Escobar, RP Kelvin Herrera, OF Jon Jay, C James McCann, P Ivan Nova (trade with Pittsburgh), SP Ervin Santana, OF Preston Tucker
The White Sox added players across the board, although none of the moves would be considered earth-shattering. Alonso was picked up in a trade with Cleveland, potentially with the motivation of trying to lure his brother-in-law Machado to town, and possibly to help mentor other fellow Cubans in the Sox clubhouse. Jay (also a close friend of Machado’s) should be an upgrade in the outfield, while both Colome and Herrera should bolster the bullpen around reliever Nate Jones. Tommy John surgeries have cost Chicago two of its top three pitching prospects, Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning, so the team added in the veteran arms of Nova and Santana, who will look to rebuild their value. Nova will command the second-largest salary on the Sox payroll in the final year of his contract, one year after going 9-9 with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 29 starts in his third season in Pittsburgh.
The team has moved along from some of the dead weight on the pitching staff, namely Shields, who the team bought out for $2 million. The remaining departures should not bear too much of an impact, as the biggest names to leave were Garcia, who was limited to 93 games in 2018 and signed with Tampa, and Davidson, who hit 20 homers and drove in 62 while hitting .228 over 123 games and is now with the Texas Rangers.
WHO TO WATCH:
Eloy Jimenez has had plenty of hype around him since he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs as part of the package for left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana. If Jimenez lives up to the expectations on him, the trade could be a steal for the Sox, who purged several years of control of Quintana. While the southpaw has been serviceable for the Cubs, posting a 20-14 record in 46 starts with a 3.93 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP on the northside of town, Jimenez appears to have a much higher ceiling.
The young prospect has done about all that could be asked at the minor league level and did so at the age of 21. He appeared in 108 games last season between Double-A and Triple-A and posted a combined .337/.384/.577 slash with 28 doubles, 22 homers, and 75 RBI while working primarily in left field at Birmingham and Charlotte. The right-handed hitting slugger was signed to a six-year, $43 million deal with two option years that could extend the price of the contract to $75 million. The 2018 White Sox Minor Leaguer of the Year likely would have been in the Majors late last season given that the Sox were not playing for anything, but service time manipulation reared its head. With that now out of the way with his financial windfall, despite never seeing a big league diamond, Jimenez will likely see his name on the lineup card day one of the season. That, however, remains to be officially announced or seen.
The number three prospect on MLB Pipeline and Baseball America rankings has hit .250 with a .273 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging mark with two doubles, two homers, and five RBI through his first 11 Cactus League games.
2019 SEASON OUTLOOK:
The Sox will be expecting big things from Opening Day starter Carlos Rodon, who looks to stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his big league career. He made just 20 starts in his fourth MLB season a year ago, going 6-8 with a 4.18 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP with a dramatic drop off to his strikeout rate. The rotation is still young in spots, with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez rounding out the staff around Rodon, Nova, and Santana. The bullpen should be better with the back-end trio of Colome, Herrera, and Jones, but Herrera has appeared in just seven spring games after surgery on his left foot.
The offense should see the usual contributions from Jose Abreu, but even those numbers dropped last season as he posted career lows across his stat sheet (including games played, hits, homers, RBI, batting average, and on-base percentage). The 32-year-old and two-time American League All-Star is entering the last year of his six-year, $68 million contract signed after the 2013 season. He could be a deadline move for the club, looking to free up some of his $16 million paycheck while adding further for the future. He may split time at first and DH with Alonso, who was dealt from Cleveland after producing a career-high 83 runs in the middle of the Tribe lineup in 2018.
Other questions revolve around the contributions in the infield. Can switch-hitter Yoan Moncada, now playing third base, find a way to reduce his alarmingly high strikeout rate and produce the power numbers that some have predicted since coming over in the Chris Sale trade? Tim Anderson, who Moncada joins on the left side of the infield, is coming off of a second straight solid season at the plate and his first 20-20 campaign, when he hit 20 homers, stole 26 bases, and drove in 64 runs while hitting .240 over 153 games. Now hitting some peak years at the age of 26, he will look to build off of a good spring (.296/.321/.463 through 19 games).
All in all, the White Sox look geared for a third place landing in the American League Central in 2019. They do not appear to be as bad as the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, but it is hard to see them improving dramatically from their 62-100 record of a year ago. The young talent and the potential of the pitching staff should push the Sox into the 70s in the win column, but anything beyond that would be quite a large stride in their rebuilding process.
Photo: David Banks/Getty Images