2020 ended up being a really fun year as a Chicago White Sox fan. Despite the shortened COVID affected 60 game season, the White Sox ended up 10 games over .500, its first baseman Jose Abreu is likely to win AL MVP, and the team earned its first playoff birth since 2008. While the team's early exit in the playoffs by the hands of the Oakland Athletics was sad and frustrating, this past year showed that the White Sox have a great young core and made fans confident this team will be competing for years to come. But all that being said, this team does still have some minor flaws and a team can always get better moving forward. So here are my realistic suggestions for how to do that, and what I think the White Sox should do in the offseason.
1) Sign Outfielder George Springer
The most glaringly obvious need that the White Sox have is in right field. This past offseason, the team traded their prospect Steele Walker to the Texas Rangers for highly touted, but never-quite-put-it-together outfielder Nomar Mazara. The White Sox gambled that Mazara just needed a change of scenery to live up to his potential, and that gambled failed. Mazara ended the 2020 season with a triple slash line of .228/.295/.294 and just one home run. He was given ample opportunity to perform in the regular season despite fans calling for his platoon partner Adam Engel (who ended 2020 with a triple slash line of .295/.333/.477 and three home runs) to get consistent starting playing time everyday. Come playoff time, with the Sox starting left fielder Eloy Jimenez on the bench due to a foot injury, manager Ricky Renteria started Adam Engel in right field and fresh off of the Injured List Leury Garcia in left, with Mazara sitting on the bench. Nomar Mazara ended up with a solid playoff series overall going 1 for 2 in relief in Game 2 and 2 for 4 with a walk and 2 RBIs in Game 3, but needlessly to say, the season as a whole speaks for itself and it said, "Nomar Mazara is not the answer in right."
In 2020, the White Sox had the 13th lowest (or 18th highest - however you want to look at it) payroll in the majors. This team is loaded with players on rookie deals, that they're basically only paying Jose Abreu, catcher Yasmani Grandal, and starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf has money to spend and has been willing to spend it in the past. When the White Sox thought they were competitive in 2016, the team had a payroll just under $116 million - literally more than double their 2020 payroll. There's no reason this team can't go out and buy a right fielder. This upcoming free agency has the following notable outfielder free agents: Michael Brantley, Jay Bruce, Robbie Grossman, Jon Jay... and the list of suitable names for a contender gets worse after that. The one notable exception: George Springer.
In 5 full seasons (2015-2019) and 2 partial seasons (2014, 2020), George Springer has a career triple slash line of .270/.361/.542. Over the past 4 years, Springer has finished in the Top 5 in WAR (per Fangraphs) among AL outfielders 3 times, finishing #2 behind Mike Trout in 2020. Springer isn't the greatest defender, but with Luis Robert managing center, Springer should have no problem transitioning to right field which will sand his defensive liabilities. The hopefully former Astros will be 32 coming into the 2021 season, which isn't ideal, but this White Sox team is built to win now, and there's no reason to expect Springer won't be able to perform at a high level for at least the next 3-4 years.
Further, position players of Springer's caliber just aren't available on the open market anymore, and there isn't a dearth of young talented outfielders, or even position players, that are expected to become free agents any time soon. When a player of Springer's caliber becomes available, you snatch him up immediately and don't look back. It's even better that Springer perfectly fills a hole that the White Sox have.
2) Let Manager Rick Renteria Go
On September 17, 2020, the Chicago White Sox was the first team in the American League to clinch a playoff birth. Since that time, they went 1-2 versus the Cincinnati Reds (playoff team), 0-4 versus the Cleveland Indians (playoff team), and 1-2 versus the Chicago Cubs (playoff team). At the time the Pale Hose clinched, they had (obviously) the best record in the A.L. and was on track to earn the #1 overall seed. They ended up 7th. If the Sox won one more game they would have been 3rd and won the A.L. Central (due to tiebreakers they ended up 7th, though still with the 5th best record in the A.L. and still would have been a playoff team under the playoff format of 2019). Maybe this team would have been bounced in the first round no matter what, but they win one more regular season game and they get to fly the "2020 AL Central Champions" banner forever.
The final three out of the past four games with Cleveland were winnable if not for the mistakes of Ricky Renteria. On September 22, 2020, at the bottom of the 10th inning, the Sox had a 3-1 lead. Stud relief rookie pitcher Matt Foster began the inning. He ended up giving a run and had runners on first and second. Not ideal with runners on base, but still, with only one more out to go, and AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez at the plate, Ricky chose to put in so-so reliever Jose Ruiz, who promptly gave up a 3-run home run and the White Sox lost the game. Ruiz would be sent down a few days later. The next night, on the 23rd, at the bottom of the 9th when the game is tied 2-2, Ricky throws out long reliever/starter Gio Gonzalez to start the inning who gives up a home run to Jordan Luplow to end the inning/game, and refused again to go to his star closer Alex Colome. The next night, on the 24th, at the bottom of the 7th, the White Sox were up 4-1 and Jimmy Cordero started the inning and promptly loaded the bases, but luckily ended up getting two outs and stranding runners on the base paths. The Sox only need one more out and who does Ricky go to to get this crucial out? Carlos Rodon. A starting pitcher coming off of an injury and hadn't come out of the bullpen since his rookie year. Rodon promptly allows a single and a double and the Indians leave the inning and won the game up 5-4.
I bring all that up, because in close games, Ricky clearly does not know how to handle his excellent bullpen. He ended up doing a little bit better job when he had to manage the bullpen heavily in Game 3 of the playoffs, but still made too many questionable decisions that helped contribute to the 6-4 loss. If Ricky can't properly manage a bullpen, especially when he has the arsenal of weapons at his disposal like he did in 2020, I'm not sure what he's good for.
The Chicago Cubs brought in Ricky awhile back during their re-building stage and promptly replaced him with Joe Maddon once the team was ready to "win now". The 2020 season showed the White Sox should do the same, because for as talented as this squad is, Rick Renteria is going to be the weight keeping this team down. Further, I'm not sure that team success necessarily equals manager/coach success. Mark Jackson was the head coach of the Golden State Warriors and brought them to the playoffs, but it was his replacement Steve Kerr that brought the team to the promised land. Same thing happened in the late 80's to Jerry Reinsdorf's other team, the Chicago Bulls, when Phil Jackson replaced Doug Collins. Dusty Baker's past success is the reason baseball keeps hiring him, and his inability to properly manage good teams is the reason he's never won a ring and keeps getting let go. This current White Sox team won and will continue to win games despite of Renteria, not because of him.
The question now becomes who should replace Renteria. That I don't have as good of an answer. I think the obvious replacement is A.J. Hinch - the former Astros manager who missed the entire 2020 season after serving a suspension for his role in the team's cheating scandal. Despite the team's cheating, I do think Hinch is a good manger and his track record even before then speaks for itself, but it also doesn't bode well for the White Sox, or any team that signs him, to hire a manager involved in one of the worst cheating scandals the sport as ever seen. That being said, if the White Sox don't hire him, he's still going to get a job, and ultimately, winning will cure all woes. It's certainly icky to hire Hinch, and I think all criticisms are valid, but I'm putting my morals to the side for wins.
Here's another name for you: A.J. Pierzynski. He has obvious ties to this ball club, I think he's an excellent announcer, and for some reason, former catchers make the best managers. Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Mike Scioscia, Joe Maddon, Bob Melvin, and David Ross are all former catchers who have has great success managing. Pierzynski would certainly be a riskier choice, but I think he has the pedigree.
Or maybe, this team just needs to be smart and do their due diligence. Maybe the best option is a third base coach I (or the fans) have never heard of. Properly prepare and interview smart and talented candidates that have a coaching philosophy that mirrors management's philosophy.
Just don't hire Ozzie Guillen. I know he seems like an obvious choice and he's a fan favorite, but I promise you, he's not a valid option.
3) Sign Starting Pitcher Trevor Bauer (or Marcus Stroman)
I know this is something White Sox Twitter has been clamoring for, and I would like another starting pitcher as well, but I don't think this is as much of a concern as maybe they make it out to be. For starters, the 1-2-3 of the rotation is already set with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and 2020 opt out Michael Kopech. Further, this team has Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning, and Jonathan Stiever waiting in the wings. If this team has trust in its process, the need to get another starting pitcher is not as strong as maybe vocal people on social media make it out to be. Further, something I feel like gets easily overlooked is that starting pitchers will always be available at the trade deadline. There's always at least 1-3 pitchers who are pitching great, but their team is doing so poorly that they get dumped for prospects. If the Sox want to roll the dice, and frankly I don't think the gamble is as risky as the perception is, they have a fall back come trade deadline.
That being said, I still believe they should get another starter in the offseason. Best case scenario, at least two, if not three pitchers (or actual best case scenario, all four) of Cease, Lopez, Dunning, and Stiever develop well AND the White Sox get either Bauer or Stroman in the offseason. Excellent. This is a good problem to have. You can never have enough good starting pitchers in case someone gets injured. Or you can just trade your surplus. However, on the flip side, there's no guarantee that Cease, Dunning, and/or Lopez will be good. Hell, there is no guarantee that Michael Kopech will be good in 2021. Cease and Lopez weren't very good this year. Now that doesn't mean anything per se, Lucas Giolito was basically the worst pitcher in the league in 2018 and now he's a bona fide stud, but there is a chance you still have another weak end of the rotation.
The reason to get another starting pitcher now as opposed to the trade deadline is opportunity cost. To get a pitcher during the offseason only costs money. The White Sox have money (in theory, their owner Jerry Riensdorf is known for being a cheapstake though). If they were to get a pitcher at the trade deadline, it will not only cost money but valuable prospects. Further, the prospects will most likely be ones to help the Sox win in the immediately future, because if they're in a position where they need to get another starter, that means that Cease, Lopez, and Dunning are either bad or injured, and thus most likely won't be a part of the trade package.
The best pitcher on the open market this off season is Trevor Bauer. Bauer has stated he'll only take one year deals, which I actually think is perfect for the Sox because it gives them the flexibility if the aforementioned Case/Dunning/Lopez/Stiever do develop into legitimate, trustworthy back end starters. Usually pitchers of Bauer's caliber would require lengthy, maybe even backloaded deals, and you wouldn't want that to hamper the team when it comes time to give second contracts to its young studs. The White Sox are built to win in 2021 and beyond, and even if Bauer only helps for 2021, that's fine, the team can search for options next offseason. Unlike position players, there will always be good starting pitchers available.
The other reliable name on the open market is Marcus Stroman. He's still a tier below Bauer, but would be a great addition to any pitching staff. Maybe, just maybe, the other guy I would consider is bringing back Jose Quintana. He was obviously excellent during his first go-around with the Sox, but he's been less than impressive while playing on the North Side of town and is 32 years old. Both Bauer and Stroman are 30.
There are a handful of pitching hopefuls in the open market, and some I'm positive will have a resurgence with their 2021 team because that's just how baseball works, but I don't think I'd like the White Sox to pay for that gamble when they have plenty of cheap in-house talent that have a good and realistic chance to take a step forward. I also wouldn't mind trading 2 of Lopez/Dunning/Stiever for a reliable, proven commodity for 2-3 years if that's an option, but I don't know if that's realistic. It's not as preferable to just going out and buying a pitcher, but one I'll take for stability. I didn't throw Dylan Cease in there just because his stuff is so good, I'd rather risk relying on him knowing it's a possibility he'll fail than to send him to another team where he'll succeed.
4) Let James McCann Walk
Catcher and part-time DH James McCann is a free agent now, and I believe the Sox should let him walk. James McCann has been nothing short of excellent in his two years on the White Sox. He was the team's lone All-Star selection in 2019, and I chose him as the Second Team AL catcher in my 2020 All-Star blog post (there were no All-Star selections in 2020). Ultimately though, he's a luxury the team can't afford and shouldn't pay for.
I wish James McCann all the best, but he deserves to get starting catching money (and will most likely get it) and there's no reason for the White Sox to give it to him. If McCann is willing to take a large discount to stay with the Sox, then maybe I'd feel different otherwise, but I don't know why McCann would do that. The White Sox signed Yasmani Grandal to the largest contract they've ever given to a player last offseason, and regardless of your opinion of McCann or Grandal going forward, the answer is ultimately Grandal because of his deal. The bots on Twitter disagree with me, but c'est la vie. Personally, I would actually prefer McCann going forward, but no one is going to trade for Grandal and his contract, and this team should not waste their resources paying for two starting catchers. Also, its not like Grandal is some schlub either, he's a proven and good commodity.
Furthermore, the White Sox have top catching prospect and former first round pick Zach Collins and top hitting prospect Andrew Vaughn waiting in the wings. I get the Sox want to win now, but you also need to balance that with developing your top prospects. With McCann gone and thankfully DH Edwin Encarncion gone (he was only on a one-year contract and he played so poorly in 2020 I can't imagine the White Sox would even consider re-signing him) that leaves a second catcher and DH spot available for both Collins and Vaughn, and McCann's presence would only block their playing time and development. Former White Sox prospects Fernando Tatis Jr, Marcus Semien, and Chris Bassitt dominated in Game 2 of their respected playoff series, with the latter two doing it against the White Sox. Young players need time to grow and McCann in the lineup would hinder that. I could be persuaded that maybe the Sox need to sign a cheap DH to cover for the fact that both Collins and Vaughn might be terrible next year, but McCann is not that option because he would be too expensive. Further, a line up that would contain George Springer, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, and Nick Madrigal should be able to hide any struggles that either Collins or Vaughn might have. And that's assuming they do struggle.
5) Pay Closer Alex Colome (But Only If It's Not Terribly Expensive)
Alex Colume was a lights out closer for the White Sox in 2020 with an ERA of 0.81 and closing 12 of his 13 opportunities. In 2019, he successfully closed 30 of of his 33 opportunities. Colome is a good closer and you need shut down closer to win ball games and in the playoffs. I'm fine if the White Sox pay Colome a reasonable amount to be that guy.
But that being said, I'm not sure Colome is a lock down closer either. He doesn't have terribly good strike out numbers (and it's not like he has elite walking numbers either which leaves his K/BB ratio less to be desired) and his peripherals aren't the greatest. In 2020, Colome had a 2.97 FIP and a 4.26 xFIP. In 2019, his ERA/FIP/xFIP slash line was 2.80/4.08/4.61. Those numbers don't scream, "Pay This Man Right Now!".
Further, the White Sox have a good young bullpen with plenty of guys to step in and be the closer including rookie Garrett Crochet, who basically throws an average of 100 mph and can throw it in the strike zone. If this was pure resource allocation, then it makes more sense to make a guy already under contract to be the closer and pay for another reliever on the open market non-closer money, than to pay Alex Colome closer money - which he will get on the open market. But also, it's just money, and Jerry Reinsdorf has money. And while Colome will get more money because he's a closer than to just be in the bullpen, it's not like he's going to get Grandal money. He's still just a reliever and will compensated accordingly.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHAT THE WHITE SOX SHOULD DO THIS OFFSEASON?