We continue our look at AL Central Division off-season plans with those South-Siders, the Chicago White Sox.
The 73-win White Sox clearly went through a rebuild last year under new General Manager Rick Hahn, and in doing so they found the 2014 Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, who slugged .317/.383/.581 with 36 HR 107 RBI. They also found a terrific lead-off man (and a thorn in the Royals side) in rookie centerfielder Adam Eaton, who hit .300/.362/.401. They will try to build on those two as well as young outfielder Avisail Garcia, but the White Sox may be looking to accelerate their rebuild by acquiring Major League talent. They made headline this week when they acquired pitcher Jeff Samardzija in a six-player deal with the Athletics, and signed closer David Robertson to a four-year contract. Earlier this off-season they also signed Kansas native first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year deal.
The White Sox had the third-worst pitching staff in the league last year, despite terrific performance from front-line starting pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Samardzija will join them to give the Sox one of the best front-line pitching trios in the league. However Chicago's pitching depth drops sharply after that with the expensive and mediocre John Danks, in the #4 slot, and a mess of fringe guys competing for the final rotation slot. The bullpen in front or David Robertson is still a bit of a work-in-progress, although young Jake Petricka performed well in the closer role last year.
We talked to Jim Margalus of our sister side South Side Sox to get the perspective of White Sox fans on their off-season plans.
Royals Review: Does the trade for Jeff Samardzija indicate the White Sox are looking to compete for a pennant this year or is this just about getting better and adding value?
Jim Margalus: I'd say it's both. They are looking to compete, because they have Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Adam Eaton in their primes, and that shouldn't be taken for granted for the sake of building a farm system. It's just hard to put a win estimate on it right now, because they're still a couple moves away from advancing beyond an uncomfortable amount of wishcasting.
That said, Samardzija has some value beyond this year. The 2015 season will kinda be a job interview for a possible long-term stay (although an early extension seems unlikely), and as long as he stays healthy, he's on track to be an easy qualifying offer.
Royals Review: How are White Sox fans reacting to the signing of David Robertson and how do you see the pen shaping up in front of him?
The White Sox bullpen was so bad last year that every upgrade is appreciated, no matter the cost. This one is pricey and probably a bad idea in terms of value, but they didn't have any compelling in-house solutions, so they had to go the free-agent route for him and Zach Duke.
In this case, the Sox are paying for saves to some degree, but they're also paying for an order to the bullpen. One that puts guys like Jake Petricka in situations more appropriate to his talent, rather than stretching him for the ninth inning because he's the best of what's left.
They're still a little thin and overreliant on Zach Putnam holding up, but maybe Daniel Webb makes his next stride, or Maikel Cleto's late-season changeup is his secret to sticking. Regardless of how those stories develop, they're in a better position to withstand that kind of uncertainty. Last year, Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario were supposed to be the bulwarks against chaos. Robertson seems like a safer bet to maintain order until the young arms really stake their claim.
Royals Review: Chicago has already signed first baseman Adam LaRoche to a deal. How does he fit into the lineup and will he play 1B or DH?
Jim Margalus: He's going to be the most-time DH, with Robin Ventura initially planning to play him at first twice a week. At the moment, he'll break up the righties in the middle of the order -- behind Abreu, ahead of Avisail Garcia.
Royals Review: Pitching seemed to be the White Sox weakness last year. How do they plan to fill out the rotation around Jeff Samardzija, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana?
Well, now Samardzija slides in at the top with Sale and Quintana, which is a huge boost over Scott Carroll, and knocks Hector Noesi and John Danks to the back end of the rotation. If the Sox are expecting to add one more starter, I'd imagine Danks has a better shot at hanging around -- he's making a lot of money, his stuff probably wouldn't play up out of the bullpen, and he pitched well enough to throw 190 innings (a handful of disaster starts screwed up his ERA). Carlos Rodon will be waiting in the wings, assuming he's the real deal. Service time considerations will probably take him out of the Opening Day roster mix, but he'll be in a position to crash the party, maybe as early as the second half of April.
Royals Review: The White Sox went young last year with some encouraging results. What young players do you see having a breakout season in 2015 that Royals fans should know about?
Jim Margalus: Avisail Garcia came back from tearing his labrum on an ugly dive attempt in April and had a respectable final month and a half. It's going to be fun to see what kind of player he turns into if/when fully healthy. He's not a sure bet given his aggression, but he also has pretty good bat-to-ball skills, which could make him the productive hacker. Rodon's going to be a heavy topic of conversation. Frank Montas could be a high-octane bullpen arm at some point, and second base right now stands as a battle between Carlos Sanchez (outstanding glove, small switch-hitter) and Micah Johnson (big wheels when healthy, but rough defensively).
Thanks to Jim Margalus of South Side Sox for talking with us. You can follow all the latest news on the Chicago White Sox at www.southsidesox.com.