The Chicago White Sox continued to demonstrate that their rebuild is behind them by making a big signing in free agency on Monday.
Chicago added ex-Oakland A’s closer Liam Hendriks, locking him down with a three-year $54million contract. This works toward one of their offseason goals of improving the bullpen, as they look to assert themselves as contenders in the American League.
Hendriks’ signing brings in a veteran closer who in five years for the Athletics was a formidable pitcher, with an ERA of 3.08, with 40 saves in 247 games, and recording a phenomenal 332 strikeouts in 263 innings pitched alongside a WHIP of just 1.129.
He’s playing his best baseball as he’s getting older, and over the last two seasons, he led the Majors among qualifying pitchers with an ERA of 1.79.
With this deal in the books, it’s time to take a look at what else the White Sox need to do this offseason. Here are some targets they should consider to bolster themselves as a legitimate force out of the AL Central.
Chicago White Sox: Remaining offseason needs
The White Sox have rebuilt well, and created a strong team, with the likes of outfield stars Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, shortstop Tim Anderson, third baseman Yoan Moncada and second baseman Nick Madrigal all locked up for three or more full years – and all players with huge long-term upside.
All of these positions are very much points of confidence for this young exciting roster – as well as more prospects waiting in the wings – and make their free agency search much easier, with only a few spots to fill. They signed Hendriks to stabilise the bullpen, and their trade for Lance Lynn in December also consolidated their starting rotation.
So, with such a strong roster, what positions can the ChiSox improve at, and who might they sign at each spot?
Signing an outfielder
It sounds quite alarming to say, but the only defensive position that the White Sox don’t already have a mid or long-term solution for is at right field.
The outfield position has multiple options in the pool of 2021, including some incredibly experienced and talented players.
George Springer of the Houston Astros is a free agent who has played centre field for one of the more dominant teams of the last decade – whether honourably or not – and he will be at the top of almost every team’s outfielder board in this free agency window.
The 31-year-old has finished in the top 13 of AL MVP voting on three occasions in the last four seasons, and has a combined WAR from the 2019 and abbreviated 2020 season of 8.6 wins above replacement, which is up at the top of the pile for all free agents.
He wouldn’t be a particularly cheap acquisition but he would make the White Sox outfield absolutely stacked. Michael Brantley plays left field alongside Springer, and his contract has expired too, meaning that if they couldn’t afford Springer, or wanted to spend elsewhere, Chicago could opt for the slightly older ex-Houston OF and have another very solid outfield option.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is another very talented outfielder. JBJ has spent the entirety of his eight-year career in centre for the Red Sox. He is the same age as Springer, but he’d be less expensive, and he would be a good fit in a rangy and athletic outfield. He had an OBP of .330 in the past two seasons, and has a nice mixture of solid power and speed, with 28 homers and 13 stolen bases in that span.
The White Sox already added Adam Eaton on a one-year deal in December, and he was probably the best traditional right fielder available, but I still think a better mid or long-term option would be very beneficial. They could even still consider re-signing Nomar Mazara.
As we’ve already recognised, the White Sox have a full lineup of great young talent, and if they could add one of the right fielders mentioned above or another solid outfielder to consolidate that role, they’ll have the full nine spots filled when they’re in the field.
As an American League team, though, they have one more essential position to consider – the Designated Hitter.
It is possible that they look to use prospect Andrew Vaughn as a DH, while fellow first-baseman Abreu has his spot in the diamond locked up, but because he hasn’t reached the Majors yet, I think that it is important to consider this a priority that they should look into in this offseason.
With Edwin Encarnacion out of the door, the White Sox would benefit a lot from bringing in a DH who could settle in for multiple years, and there are a few options who are still fairly young and could provide a spark for the White Sox offense.
Not only is the Dominican hitter only 30-years old, he is also a prolific hitter and played possibly his best ever season in the abbreviated 2020 campaign.
Over the past two years, he has hit 47 home runs on his way to an OPS of .886. While his batting average over that whole period is an unspectacular .272, in the 60-game season of 2020, Ozuna hit .338 and had an OBP of .431, leading to his incredible 1.067 OPS.
This phenomenal effort might drive the price of acquiring Ozuna up. If you can add the player who led the league in home runs and RBI’s, you shouldn’t be scared off by the price tag. I think this would be a fantastic addition to the team. One clear benefit of Ozuna is that he is good enough to feature every single day, DH or not (he played 39 games at DH and 21 in the outfield in 2020), and would be another great everyday bat in an already awesome lineup.
A cheaper option who doesn’t lack power is Derek Dietrich. The 31-year-old hasn’t found a permanent home since he left Miami, but he is a young hitter who hits the ball really damn hard. His career batting average is only .245, but he can drive the ball, and despite not getting much action in 2020, bouncing between teams, Dietrich has had multiple years with double-digit homers, and from 2016 through 2019, he was on a streak of 40+ RBI’s per season. While this option is very much a power bat, with no bells and whistles, Dietrich should be in consideration for any team looking for a DH.
Other possible names to consider: Brad Miller.
The rebuild is complete
The White Sox have done a phenomenal job of rebuilding their team and creating a lineup full of young players. They possesse ever-increasing upside all the way through the order and if they could add one or two more veterans through free agency, especially at right field, they will be an incredibly strong team.
With teams like the Padres setting their sights high with blockbuster trades and signings, and with the other team in Chicago seemingly taking a step back, it is going to be very exciting to see how this organisation puts the finishing touches on a team that is destined to contend well into October for years to come.