Their most important players have shown big improvements, but the roster still has problems that need addressing in the coming years.
The White Sox have been rebuilding for a few years now. Realizing that their roster as constructed was not going to get them anywhere after the 2016 season, they decided to start tearing it down. They had an excellent start by trading Chris Sale to the Red Sox for a package that included top prospect Yoán Moncada, and then followed that up by trading Adam Eaton for top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito. During the 2017 season they executed another big trade, sending José Quintana across town to the Cubs in exchange for another top prospect, Eloy Jiménez.
After a 67-win season in 2017, I think many people were expecting to see a significant rise in the wins column for 2018. The White Sox would be getting full seasons from Giolito and Moncada, and there was hope that Carlos Rodón would finally have a breakthrough. Avisaíl García finally had the breakout season that many had been wanting to see for years. Expecting the 2018 White Sox to be competitive would have been silly, but maybe they could pull off a win total in the mid-seventies?
Well, not only did the White Sox fail to crack 70 wins last year, they were actually worse than the year before, finishing the 2018 season with only 62 wins. The players they were counting on to have big seasons simply did not come through, and in Giolito’s case, he was actually one of the worst players in baseball that year. He had a 6.39 RA9 with poor strikeout and walk rates, and actually led the league in walks allowed. I was actually a little surprised that his WAR was not worse than -1.3, but his defense did not do him any favors.
Moncada had a 2.0 WAR season, but a lot of that value came from being a second baseman, a position where he appears to be fringe average defensively. He was below average offensively, hitting .235/.315/.400, and that was with a .344 BABIP. He had good plate discipline with a walk rate over ten percent, but he struck out in a third of his plate appearances. Only Joey Gallo and Chris Davis struck out at a higher rate among qualified batters.
Rodón was solid in 20 starts last year, but that’s about it. García regressed badly, with a .304 wOBA that was over 70 points lower than the year before, so the White Sox decided not to bring him back for 2019. He ended up signing with the Rays, where he has bounced back some.
This year, things are going a lot better for the White Sox, thankfully. A 38-42 record does not look very good, and they have no shot at making the playoffs, but it puts them on track to win 77 games this year, which would be a gigantic improvement over the year before.
Giolito has more or less pulled off a reverse José Ramírez; he has gone from being one of the worst players in baseball to one of the best. It was speculated that his struggles originally came about while on the Nationals with pitching coach Mike Maddux. Seeing how outstanding Giolito has been, one has to wonder how badly Maddux screwed up with him.
I recommend checking out the sidebar to learn more, but in short, Giolito has turned himself into a Cy Young candidate. He has a 3.07 RA9 despite the White Sox continuing to have poor defense, and his 30.6 percent strikeout rate is nearly double what it was the year before. His 2.65 DRA ranks in the top ten among qualified pitchers.
Moncada is finally showing signs of becoming the player he was expected to be. One would think that the last thing one would want from someone who struck out a third of the time at the plate is to be more aggressive, but that is what he is doing, and it is working. He is not walking much anymore, and his 28 percent strikeout rate, while a significant improvement, is still not very good, but he is hitting .298/.352/.514. His .362 wOBA is over 50 points higher than the year before, and he is on track for a bout a 5 WAR season. I do have some concern as to how much the juiced balls are helping him, as he already has 13 HR when he had 17 all of last year.
Jiménez got off to a rough start for the year, hitting only .220/.273/.390 through May. However, he has come alive in June, hitting .298/.355/.631 for the month. I don’t expect him to have a 156 wRC+ for the rest of the year, but if he did, would anybody really be surprised?
As I mentioned in a recent article on catcher offense, James McCann has been phenomenal for the White Sox, hitting .320/.378/.519. His 140 wRC+ ranks second only to Willson Contreras among catchers with at least 200 PA.
Tim Anderson has also broken out a bit this year. Unfortunately he will be on the IL for four to six weeks, but before then he was hitting 317/.342/.491. He is never going to win any Gold Gloves at shortstop, but you can live with him giving back runs on defense with a 122 wRC+.
Obviously this team still needs work in order to return to contention. Rodón is going to miss at least a year due to Tommy John surgery, and hope is fading that he will ever be more than a back-end starter. McCann is only under contract through 2020, and José Abreu will be a free agent after this season, though the 32-year-old has been declining.
Outside of Giolito, the rotation has been a dumpster fire. Hopefully Michael Kopech will make a full recovery from his Tommy John surgery, but the team will need more than just two pitchers. Dylan Cease, who was also included in the Quintana trade, has high upside but has suffered from durability issues. They really need Dane Dunning, who is also out because of Tommy John, to be able to make the conversion from reliever to starter.
On the bright side, the upcoming free agent market for starters is looking pretty good. However, the White Sox have to make better efforts than they did when trying to sign Manny Machado. The White Sox have a relatively low payroll that projects to get even lower in the coming years. There is really no reason why they should not spend wildly in free agency over the next couple of years.
Things are looking up for the White Sox. It would be nice if their farm system had some more depth, but as I just mentioned, these are holes that can be filled via free agency. This team is set up to be the class of the AL Central in the next few years. If it does not happen because the team cheaped out, fans will rightfully be unhappy.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.